The Scouring of the Shire

From Tolkien Gateway
The Scouring of the Shire
Chapter of The Return of the King
EventFrodo and his companions help the hobbits overthrow the men; Saruman and Gríma die.
Date30 October-3 November 3019
LocationThe Shire
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The Scouring of the Shire is the eighth chapter of the second book in The Return of the King.


The Hobbits found the bridge at Brandywine closed with a large spiked gate. When they demanded entrance, a frightened gatekeeper informed them that he was under orders from the Chief at Bag End to let no one enter between sundown and sunrise. Frodo guessed that the Chief must be Lotho, his greedy relative. Merry and Pippin climbed over the gate. The four hobbits set out for Hobbiton and encountered a large group of Hobbit Shirriffs, who informed them they were under arrest. The four hobbits laughed and moved on. One of the Shirriffs quietly warned Sam that the Chief had many Men in his service.

Leaving the Shirriffs behind, the four hobbits found a half-dozen Men who claimed they did not answer to Lotho, the Hobbit Chief, but to another mysterious boss named Sharkey. The men threatened Frodo, but the other three hobbits drew swords. The men turned and fled. Sam rode on to find Tom Cotton, the oldest hobbit in the region. Farmer Cotton and his sons gathered the entire village to fight. The band of Men returned, but surrendered after a brief fight.

After the battle, Farmer Cotton explained that shortly after the Hobbits first left, Lotho had begun to purchase farmland, causing a shortage of food in Hobbiton. Cotton said that a gang of Men from the south had taken over the town. The next morning, a band of nearly one hundred Men approached Hobbiton. Pippin arrived with his relatives, and a fierce battle ensued. Seventy of the Men died in the Battle of Bywater, as the conflict was forever remembered.

The three remaining companions led an envoy to Frodo's home, Bag End, to deal with the new Chief. To their surprise, the hobbits found Saruman standing at the gate to Bag End. Saruman—who, it turned out, was the mysterious boss Sharkey—pronounced a curse upon the Shire if any hobbit should harm him. Frodo assured his friends that Saruman had no power, but he forbid them to kill the wizard. As Saruman passed by Frodo, he drew a knife and stabbed Frodo, but Frodo's armor shielded him.

Frodo again demanded that his companions show mercy on the old wizard. Frodo's clemency, however, enraged Saruman. Frodo asked about his relative Lotho, and Saruman informed Frodo that his servant, Wormtongue, had killed Lotho in his sleep. Wormtongue, standing nearby, cried out that Saruman had ordered him to do so. Saruman kicked Wormtongue, but Wormtongue stabbed the old wizard. Wormtongue fled with a yell, but three Hobbit arrows killed him. From Saruman's corpse, a grey mist rose and blew away.


Christopher Tolkien considers that already in August 1939, J.R.R. Tolkien had thought that during the War of the Ring, there is also some war in the Shire, caused by the Sackville-Bagginses, and later thought to make Saruman's ruffians responsible. The chapter was being written in summer 1948 when finally Tolkien decided that Sharkey was Saruman himself.[1][2] At first Saruman wasn't present in person in the Shire, this was added only later. Frodo's role was also more active, until the book was revised in 1949.[3]

When The Return of the King was published, the chapter was interpreted as being a commentary on the situation in England, which Tolkien denied in the Foreword to the second edition, stating that the idea had come to him since much earlier.[4]