The Scouring of the American Shire

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“Do you not yet understand? My time is over: it is no longer my task to set things to rights, nor to help folk to do so. And as for you, my dear friends, you will need no help. You are grown up now. Grown indeed very high; among the great you are, and I have no longer any fear at all for any of you.”

The Lord of the Rings, Loc. 996

“‘Good, good!’ cried Farmer Cotton. ‘So it’s begun at last! I’ve been itching for trouble all this year, but folks wouldn’t help.”

The Lord of the Rings, Loc. 1008

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There are many things to be learned in Middle Earth, and this would include things that we all once knew, but have since forgotten. And the things we have forgotten fall into two categories. We have forgotten some of the things we have already completely lost, and we have also forgotten the foundation of some of the remaining things we (for some reason) still have. We have forgotten what is long gone, and we have forgotten what might still preserve our remaining good.

In The Lord of the Rings, the hobbits of the Shire, protected as they were by the Rangers, took all their peace and security for granted. All that peace and security was somehow their birthright. It was just how things were, of necessity. It would just continue, right? All by itself, isn’t that correct? Well, no.

In other words, they forgot the basis of their security and safety long before they actually lost their security and safety. And this meant that once they were in trouble, and knew they were in trouble, they were leaderless and didn’t know the way out. When despotic and irrational rule takes over any people, the corruption is centralized and organized, while the unhappiness with the corruption is decentralized and not organized at all. The corrupt ones are organized and have a plan, and those who suffer under their ministrations haven’t even thought about a plan.

But once the hobbits had that necessary leadership—which came in the form of Merry and Pippin, and Frodo and Sam—they found they had hidden reserves. These hobbits of the Shire found they had hidden reserves because they were rallied by those four adventurous hobbits who had found out earlier about their hidden reserves.

I recently finished reading The Lord of the Rings (yet again), and the penultimate chapter is The Scouring of the Shire—which to my mind is the most satisfying episode in the whole trilogy, and as you well know, that is saying something.

But this time through, it was different. It struck me, reading through that chapter, that there were numerous things that Americans of our generation really need to learn from this. And so I have assembled some of those lessons in a reasonable order, and have made some observations about what the hobbits learned. I was astonished at how much their situation was parallel to ours.

Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

The experienced hobbits arrived back at the border of the Shire, and they immediately discovered that something terrible had happened. Samwise had earlier had a glimpse of the destruction that had been wrought in the Shire when he looked in Galadriel’s pool, but what they discovered when they arrived home was far worse than trees chopped down and belching smoke stakes built. What they discovered was that something awful had apparently happened to the inhabitants of the Shire. The hobbits themselves had come under a perverse sort of despotic legalism. The Chief didn’t hold with beer, and for some reason the hobbits were going along with it.

“and everything except Rules got shorter and shorter”

The Lord of the Rings, Loc. 1012

The hobbits at the gate still seemed ill at ease, evidently some rule or other was being broken . . .

The Lord of the Rings, Loc. 1000

In their absence, the rules had multiplied, and the rules that were oppressing all the hobbits were somehow being mostly enforced by the hobbits.

There’s hundreds of Shirriffs all told, and they want more, with all these new rules.

The Lord of the Rings, Loc. 1002

And Sam knew exactly what he thought about it.

‘All right, all right!’ said Sam. ‘That’s quite enough. I don’t want to hear no more. No welcome, no beer, no smoke, and a lot of rules and orc-talk instead. I hoped to have a rest, but I can see there’s work and trouble ahead. Let’s sleep and forget it till morning!’

The Lord of the Rings, Loc. 1000

But then, when they went to go to bed, they found that the accommodations were not what they would have expected in a place like the Shire, and sure enough, presiding over the rows of hard beds were a censorious notice and list of Rules.

In the upper rooms were little rows of hard beds, and on every wall there was a notice and a list of Rules. Pippin tore them down.

The Lord of the Rings, Loc. 1000

Later on, after the Shire had been set to rights, and all the Rules had been revoked, Sam was able to reduce the sheriff department to a more appropriate size.

The only thing that he did as Deputy Mayor was to reduce the Shirriffs to their proper functions and numbers.

The Lord of the Rings, Loc. 1021

No Real Debate

One of the striking things about the return of Merry, Pippin, Frodo and Sam is that they did not have any agonizing discussions about Romans 13. They did not have extended debates into the night about whether or not the new regime in the Shire was legitimate or not. They did not need to do this because the fact of its illegitimacy was stinking obvious.

They did not need to consult with one another about how to think about what had been done to the Shire. They knew what had been done to the Shire, and their reactions were spontaneous and on point.

‘And if hobbits of the Shire are to be kept out in the wet on a night like this, I’ll tear down your notice when I find it.’

The Lord of the Rings, Loc. 998

. . . he tore it down and threw it over the gate.

The Lord of the Rings, Loc. 999

So when they first arrived back, they caught the guards flatfooted. But the word of their arrival back got around overnight, and so that is why they met with resistance that was a little more stout. And again, the resistance they met was made up of . . . hobbits.

But as they came to the east end of the village they met a barrier with a large board saying NO ROAD; and behind it stood a large band of Shirriffs with staves in their hands and feathers in their caps, looking both important and rather scared . . . ‘This is what it is, Mr. Baggins,’ said the leader of the Shirriffs, a two-feather hobbit: ‘You’re arrested for Gate-breaking, and Tearing up of Rules, and Assaulting Gate-keepers, and Trespassing, and Sleeping in Shire-buildings without Leave, and Bribing Guards with Food’ . . . ‘I can add some more, if you’d like it,’ said Sam. ‘Calling your Chief Names, Wishing to punch his Pimply Face, and Thinking you Shirriffs look a lot of Tom-fools.’

The Lord of the Rings, Loc. 1001

Waiting for the Moment

Because the encroaching tyranny was coordinated, and because the resistance was not coordinated at all, it had been relatively easy for the bad guys to outmaneuver the hobbits generally. There were earlier signs of resistance, long before the return of The Four, but it broke out in onesies and twosies, and so consequently it was fairly easy to haul those conspiracy theorists, white supremacists and vaccine-deniers off.

‘Then there was a bit of trouble, but not enough.

The Lord of the Rings, Loc. 1012

But at the same time, the entire Shire was being provoked, constantly, and so all that was necessary was for someone to raise the right flag, at the right time, and in the right way.

They just want a match, though, and they’ll go up in fire.

The Lord of the Rings, Loc. 1007

When that finally happened, 19 hobbits were killed in the Battle of Bywater, but it was the price of liberty. By means of his designs, Saruman had made the conflict inevitable, and it was going to come. The room was filled with fumes, and it was just a matter of time before a spark ignited it.

You won’t rescue Lotho, or the Shire, just by being shocked and sad, my dear Frodo.’

The Lord of the Rings, Loc. 1006

Merry Appears on Tucker Carlson and Says a Few Things

So then, the Shire was ripe for resistance. What was to be done?

‘Raise the Shire!’ said Merry. ‘Now! Wake all our people! They hate all this, you can see: all of them except perhaps one or two rascals, and a few fools that want to be important, but don’t at all understand what is really going on.

The Lord of the Rings, Loc. 1007

Merry provides us with two crucial things here. The first is that he says what is to be done—the Shire must be raised, called to arms. The Shire must be given a rallying point.

The second thing was that Merry points out that the Shire can be raised. He sees that the hobbits hate what is happening—including all the hobbits who are enforcing it—and he divides the handful of exceptions into two categories. These two categories are categories that we have with us today, even down unto the present hour. We also have a handful of rascals, and we too have the self-important fools who do not understand at all what is happening, and who do not have any idea how they are being manipulated and used.

Needing to be Shown the Way Out

The hobbits were unaccustomed to conflict, and did not know what to do in the face of conflict. They did not like where they were, but what was the alternative? There was in fact an alternative, but in order to know what that alternative was, you had to have looked on the face of Galadriel, and also, against all odds, you had to have crawled up the side of Mount Doom.

The rank and file hobbits back in the Shire needed leaders to help them to do the right thing.

But don’t be hard on me. What can I do?

The Lord of the Rings, Loc. 1002

When Frodo is giving instructions on what to do in the coming conflict, he makes a distinction between hobbits who had really gone bad, and hobbits who were simply bewildered and outwitted. The vast majority of them were in this latter category. There were some who had become evil, but most were just befuddled.

“Really gone over, I mean; not just obeying ruffians’ orders because they are frightened.”

The Lord of the Rings, Loc. 1006

For many of them, they were just following orders. They were simply obeying the rules. Your pastor shut your church down for a year because Sharkey told him to.

‘I’m sorry, Master Merry, but we have orders.’ ‘Whose orders?’

The Lord of the Rings, Loc. 998

And that is always the question. By what standard? Whose orders?

But once the revolt started, even the hobbits who had become shirriffs promptly quit, and joined with the rebellion.

. . . most of them took off their feathers and joined in the revolt.

The Lord of the Rings, Loc. 1009

And as momentum started to build, everything became a little festive.

Some of the village-folk had lit a large fire, just to enliven things, and also because it was one of the things forbidden by the Chief. It burned bright as night came on.

The Lord of the Rings, Loc. 1008


Many Christian leaders have disgraced themselves, along with their office, in how they have responded to this pig’s breakfast of a civic meltdown. They have wanted to just go along with the Great Reset, pretending that everything is somehow normal. But nothing is normal—everything is skewed and out of joint.

But being a scared or outmaneuvered hobbit is not the sin against the Holy Ghost. There is a way back. The situation is not irretrievable.

‘But don’t forget I’ve arrested you.’ ‘I won’t,’ said Frodo. ‘Never. But I may forgive you.”

The Lord of the Rings, Loc. 1001

The way back is not by pretending that you were part of the resistance all along. No, the way back is to acknowledge your fault and complicity, and seek Frodo’s forgiveness humbly.

What Isn’t Allowed Anymore

The Biden regime has already floated the idea of not allowing interstate travel for the unvaccinated. If they get their way, all sorts of ordinary things will be prohibited—like eating in restaurants, or driving to Mount Rushmore, or gathering with the saints to worship God.

‘What isn’t allowed?’ ‘Taking in folk off-hand like, and eating extra food, and all that,’ said Hob.

The Lord of the Rings, Loc. 999

And he doesn’t hold with folk moving about; so if they will or they must, then they has to go to the Shirriff-house and explain their business.’

The Lord of the Rings, Loc. 1002

Yes, you had better get down there right now and explain your business. Be sure to take your papers. They are going to want to see your papers.

Let me think about that for a minute—no.

And of course the prohibited things were not actually destroyed, but rather were gathered in order to solve the grievous problem of inequity.

“’for fair distribution’: which meant they got it and we didn’t . . .”

The Lord of the Rings, Loc. 1013

But this is not shrill defiance, but rather a joyful and valiant defiance.

Merry, Pippin, and Sam sat at their ease laughing and talking and singing, while the Shirriffs stumped along trying to look stern and important.

The Lord of the Rings, Loc. 1003

But the fact that it was joyful did not make it any less potent, or any less confrontational.

‘We shall break a good many things yet, and not ask you to answer,’ said Pippin. ‘Good luck to you!’

The Lord of the Rings, Loc. 1003

Fearless hobbits with bright swords and grim faces were a great surprise.

The Lord of the Rings, Loc. 1005

Colliding Paradigms

Nothing was more apparent than that the Shire needed to be put to rights. And so, of course, that is exactly the language that is used by the thugs.

‘This country wants waking up and setting to rights,’ said the ruffian,

The Lord of the Rings, Loc. 1005

The people who are wrecking everything are doing it in the name of fixing everything. They are doing it for the children, and they are fighting racism, and they are taking up the cause of mistreated women everywhere, and they are deeply distressed over income inequality, and they are fighting the spread of the next SuperDuperVariant. Oh, and they have all the beer.

The Hazard of Red Pilled Hobbits

Once the revolt really started, there was a very real danger of over-reaction. Frodo, as the one who had been transformed by having borne the burden of the Ring, played a special role in the scouring of the Shire.

Frodo’s “chief part had been to prevent the hobbits in their wrath at their losses, from slaying those of their enemies who threw down their weapons.”

The Lord of the Rings, Loc. 1016

But Frodo was already destined for the Grey Havens, and although he loved the Shire dearly, he could not be at peace there. He had carried the Ring for too long, and so he would need to depart from Middle Earth. But Merry, Pippin and Sam were another matter.

and if they were now large and magnificent, they were unchanged otherwise, unless they were indeed more fairspoken and more jovial and full of merriment than ever before.

The Lord of the Rings, Loc. 1025

This is key. There was a qualitative difference in the authority that they offered to the Shire, over against the thuggish despotism of Sharkey’s men. They did not simply return to the Shire in order to fight grimly for the right of others to pursue joy. No, they fought with their joy. It was the deadliest weapon they had.

Frodo had become otherworldly, but the remaining three hobbits were very earthy. But their authority in the Shire was safe because of how they had grown. So Frodo prevented the hobbits generally from over-reacting, but if he had not been there, the three would have done the same.

A Few Takeaways

If you are a sentient being, walking around in this fin-de-siècle travesty of ours, and doing so with your eyes open, it should be obvious to you that nothing about this is normal. Look at the presidential election again. Look at the collapse of Afghanistan. Look at all the scary COVID variants designed to keep you in your basement. Look at your beloved America, and ask yourself how on earth we let it turn into this outhouse fire.

So something has to give, and if it doesn’t give now it will have to give later. But if it gives later, there will be more debris to clean up. So it really ought to be now.

There are about 100 million Americans who have not gotten the vaccine. With any luck, we can keep it that way. We are simply providing a large control group for an actual scientific evaluation, and besides, they can’t fire 100 million people. If they fail at getting this vaccine implemented across the board, they will have failed. That would be an entirely good thing. Just say no. There is a certain loveliness in that word.

In the meantime, if you are a Christian and you have been tempted to discouragement, then I would like to give you this invitation. Pull down your copy of The Lord of the Rings, turn to that chapter, and read through it slowly. Savor every paragraph. Note all the parallels. Put the book down and reflect on it. And listen for the horn that will raise the Shire.