THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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The Scouring of the Shire

I am striking a better balance now between online and offline. Having taken a blogging break after my Great American Tour, I have returned to a slimmed-down daily diet of blogs old and new, but am restricting consumption to once a day. This, and a serious attempt to get back to regular sleeping habits has helped a lot. I now find I am reading "real" books with pleasure again, without straining to concentrate.

I re-read The Lord of the Rings over the weekend. It's the only novel I have ever returned to more than twice and I long ago lost count of how many times I have re-read it. An index of my success in retraining my concentration is that I found myself looking up a "new" word that I have clearly read umpteen times without noticing; "thrawn". It's a useful one too; very applicable to our modern rulers.

The book seems to have fallen out of favour with the current generation. The Misses Paine cordially dislike it. Nor was their view changed by Peter Jackson's films. They tolerated the first one, but found The Two Towers tedious. I love it myself but acknowledge they have a point. Jackson clearly got carried away with the powers granted him by CGI; manouevering more armies than Tolkien ever did - and marching legions of photogenic elves that never featured in the original.

I read each book and watched each film in turn and noticed all the ways in which Jackson strayed - sometimes justifiably and sometimes not - from his text. For example "The Scouring of the Shire" is one of my favourite chapters of the book but he omits it from the film; his hobbits return to a Shire unaffected by the great events of the story.

In Tolkien's version, of course, the Shire had been much affected. I had forgotten just how out of step with current political "thought" (if mindless conventionalism can be dignified as such) Tolkien's account is. Perhaps one reason why modern social democrats (as most Brits now are) do not take to Tolkien's masterpiece is his account of the practical effects of "Sarumanism" on the hobbits' homeland.

    'I am sorry, Mr Merry,' said Hob, 'but it isn't allowed.'

    'What isn't allowed?'

    'Taking in folk off-hand like, and eating extra food, and all that,' said Hob.

    'What's the matter with the place?' said Merry. 'Has it been a bad year, or what? I thought it had been a fine summer and harvest.'

    'Well no, the year's been good enough,' said Hob. 'We grows a lot of food, but we don't rightly know what becomes of it. It's all these "gatherers" and "sharers", I reckon, going around counting and measuring and taking off to storage. They do more gathering than sharing, and we never see most of the stuff again.'

Or how about the career of a "Shirriff" (hobbit policeman) under the new regime?

    'We're the First Eastfarthing Troop now. There's hundreds of Shirriffs all told, and they want more, with all these new rules. Most of them are in it against their will, but not all. Even in the Shire there are some as like minding other folk's business and talking big. And there's worse than that: there's a few as does spy-work for the Chief and his Men.'

It strikes me that this chapter of The Lord of the Rings gives as good an account as could be hoped for in modern literature of what it would be like to roll back a social-democratic state. In the story, most hobbits welcome the return of their old freedoms and are happy to be released from the burden of snooping, spying and busybodying. But of course their "gathering/sharing" regime has been in place less than a year. It would be a far more difficult task in the England on which the Shire was so clearly based.

Can readers suggest other passages in modern literature that are as clearly anti-statist?


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I think you are right, at least in the sense that - faced with unlimited power concentrated in a monarch and shared only with an hereditary caste- the people fought hard over centuries to control it. That's why Magna Carta, the Great Writ of habeas corpus, and Parliament's monopoly of taxation were so important, for example.

Part of the problem in Britain is that for most of our history, Parliament was **not** the fount of all power, but the peoples' lobby to limit the monarch's and aristocracy's power. Even now that it has long since gained all power itself, we tend to think of it as the solution not the problem. Parliament controlled the monarch by limiting his tax income. We now need someone to apply the same controls to Parliament.


Maybe all that heredity, majesty and nobless oblige are just old fashioned immunisation, training and control mechanisms... to help limit and control the evil?


Tolkien didn't just write about the little people, he was *for* us. The One Ring *is* power and the story is about how evil people love it and good people (with difficulty) reject it. It is a problem with government, even proper limited government, that only bad people will ever want to do it. All the more reason to limit its scope, o contain the damage the wicked drawn to it can do. 

Of course all that love of heredity and majesty doesn't sit well with libertarianism, though one could wish modern scoundrels had some sense of noblesse oblige. 

Andrew Duffin

There's another great message in the same work, and it occurs when the leaders of the West are discussing how they will wrong-foot the great evil by destroying the ring of power rather than using it; Gandalf says "the idea that we would wish to overthrow him and have no-one in his place does not occur to his mind".

How heartily does one wish, that we could overthrow all the modern statist meddlers and busybodies, and have no-one and nothing in their place!


Yes the scouring sounds much too close to home to be allowed to come widely to public conciousness. I was wondering, do you think many of those readers in the 60s used that as a manual?

David Davis

The Lord of The Rings will in the fullness of time be reckoned as one of the (rather many as it turns out) creative high points of English literature and civilisation. I apply this both to the original books and to PJackson's film. These latter - truncated though they had to be - were possiblt the best attenpt to visualise the stories as could be managed.

And, imagine trying to get "The Scouring of The Shire" properly through the libdem and HollywoodNazi censors in Blair's Britain and Clintons USA (as it them was...)


A good interesting post. I agree that the Tolkein books are very worthy and make good points.

I think they were quite as political as animal farm or 1984, making points for sure, just much better disguised.

They were very well researched it is obvious. But I am (sacriligiously?) not so sure they were well written.

They are something I felt I _ought_ to read, they were obviously 'cool' and had been big.. I really tried but I just couldn't struggle on. I got lost somewhere in a wood with some ents, gave up and went home.

Thank goodness for the movies, now I don't have to feel quite so guiltily philistine ^_^

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