Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Q&A: Why do you think Saruman Infiltrated the Shire?

Q: Why would Saruman choose the Shire of all places to take over and defile?

A: This is a many layered question and we don't really get a straight answer from the text, that is, The Scouring of the Shire, a chapter in The Return of the King.

We first hear of Saruman (prior to the capture of Isengard) in Many Partings:
As they came out again into open country at sundown they overtook an old man leaning on a staff, and he was clothed in rags of grey or dirty white, and at his heels went another beggar, slouching and whining.  "Well Saruman!"  said Gandalf.  "Where are you going?"  "What is that to you?" he answered.  "Will you still order my goings, and are you not content with my ruin?"
So Saruman is well aware that he has been beaten and he has been reduced to the level of a beggar.   He has apparently escaped (or was released by) Treebeard and has taken Grima Wormtongue with him.  Gandalf continues:
"If you had waited at Orthanc, you would have seen him [Aragorn] and he would have shown you wisdom and mercy."  "Then all the more reason to have left sooner," said Saruman; "for I desire neither of him.  Indeed if you wish for an answer to your first question, I am seeking a way out of his realm."
Photo from Tolkien Gateway
So then, Saruman is travelling North to escape Aragorn and Gondor in general.  What he doesn't realize, and what Gandalf points out in the next passage, is that Aragorn has reunited the kingdoms of Gondor in the South and Arnor in the North so that any way Saruman goes he will be in Aragorn's realm.  The Shire was originally part of the larger realm of Arnor in the days of Elendil, but it was eventually abandoned by the Dunedain.

It would make sense, then, that Saruman, realizing he would not be safe in Arnor, moved into the Shire which was still near his northerly quarters but not quite in Arnor.

The second reason I think Saruman chose the Shire is because of his obsession with Pipeweed.  Merry and Pippin had found pipeweed in The Two Towers, Flotsam and Jetsam.  Saruman must have already had ties to the Shire prior to his journey North.  From The Unfinished Tales:
Saruman and Gandalf argue about pipeweed.
Photo property of Newline Cinema.
Now truth to tell, observing Gandalf's love of the herb that he called 'pipe-weed' (for which, he said, if for nothing else, the Little People should be honoured), Saruman had affected to scoff at it, but in private he made trial of it, and soon began to use it; and for this reason the Shire remained important to him. Yet he dreaded lest this should be discovered, and his own mockery turned against him, so that he would be laughed at for imitating Gandalf, and scorned for doing so by stealth. This then was the reason for his great secrecy in all his dealings with the Shire...."
To recapitulate, the first reason I believe Saruman chose the Shire after Isengard was taken was because he was already headed North and needed a place to go outside of Aragorn's wide realm.  The second reason is because he already had ties within the Shire that supplied his pipeweed habit.

The final reason I suppose Saruman chose the Shire is, honestly, because it supports a theme that is important in The Lord of the Rings.  One of the horrors of war that are so clearly demonstrated by Tolkien, a war veteran himself, is that often times people go off to fight for their homeland but return to find it desolated.  Nowhere is safe from evil.

Also, the rebuilding of the Shire and resowing of the crops parallels and illustrates the healing that Frodo and Sam have to go through; they are changed, but the are not broken.

To summarize, the three reasons I believe the Shire was the target of Saruman's attack was a) he was heading North anyway and couldn't stay in Arnor, b) he already had ties with hobbits and pipeweed in the Shire, and c) it serves a deep literary purpose.

What other reasons do you think Tolkien had for sending Saruman to the Shire?

It must have slowed Saruman's mind too, if he thought he could take over the Shire.  He forgot to take four
important hobbits into consideration :)


  1. I think all your reasons are probably correct, but I also think it had a great deal to do with Saruman's deep-seated jealousy of Gandalf.
    His jealousy began when they were first given the mission to come to Middle Earth. Though Saruman was the most powerful, he was not the chosen one of Manwe, greatest of the Valar. Olorin/Gandalf was.
    It goes on from there, and Saruman's dislike for Gandalf continues to grow, especially when he finds out that Gandalf was given one of the three rings of power. I think that taking over the Shire, Gandalf's favorite place, was a way of sticking it to him in the very end.

    1. That's a very good point! Here is a quote just to back that up that comes from the Unfinished Tales:

      "Then Manwë asked, where was Olórin ? And Olórin, who was clad in grey, and having just entered from a journey had seated himself at the edge of the council, asked what Manwë would have of him. Manwë replied that he wished Olórin to go as the third messenger to Middle-earth...But Olórin declared that he was too weak for such a task, and that he feared Sauron. Then Manwë said that that was all the more reason why he should go, and that he commanded Olórin...But at that Varda looked up and said: "Not as the third;" and Curumo remembered it.

      Olorin was placed above Curumo, like you said, so I can see why he might be bitter. Good idea!

    2. I wonder what Olorin and Curumo looked like in their Maiar forms? That would be interesting to see.

    3. Indeed--I like to think they wear the same colors they do as wizards, though I don't have much evidence for that besides the above quote which says Olorin was wearing grey, which could have been a coincidence. As for their actual physical appearance, I have no idea. Sounds like a job for an artist!

    4. Methinks I have founde mine next great arte projecte!