The Scouring of the Shire
Part of the beauty of The Lord of the Rings is the incredible depth that Tolkien was able to add to the setting of Middle-Earth. The reader is immersed in a diverse world with its own history, so much so that the world appears to exist outside of the reader’s own mind, as if Tolkien was describing something very real and yet inaccessible. Because of this, the reader becomes attached to Middle-Earth not only through the characters, but through the very world itself. We, just like the characters, lament the loss of the golden Mallorn trees of Lórien, and our anger mirrors Sam’s when we see the destruction of the Shire. Yet this immersive world can be a two-edged sword. Many people become so enamored with the setting of the story that they entirely miss what that story is trying to tell them.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the communitarians’ obsession with the Shire. It is easy to see why such a place might impress itself upon someone looking for the ideal community. The Shire sits nestled in rolling hills, and its green fields and lush forests spread out for miles. The people there are an industrious folk, yet quick to laugh, and eager to share the benefits that their rich land yields. And when their work is set aside, they sit down together at large tables overflowing with simple fare made by skilled hands and loving hearts. Such a picturesque paragon of what a community could be, perhaps even ought to be, stands in sharp contrast to the one that exists in modern society.
The communitarian looks at such an example, and is moved by its simple beauty. But when he turns to his own world, he sees only vice and excess. Rife with a thousand ill-sounding “-isms;” he sees a world in decay, in which moral depravity and greed are celebrated. Faced with such a scene, he would rather abandon the world to its fate. By withdrawing from modern society, which the communitarians claim to be the source of these evils, they believe that they can make a new society that mirrors the virtues and the qualities of the Shire.
Yet such thinking is a complete reversal of Tolkien’s story. The characters in The Lord of the Rings also faced a world of darkness and evil. Many people in that world despaired that they could ever achieve victory. Even the wisest in Middle-Earth knew there was little hope of defeating Sauron. It would have been easy to give in to such despair and hopelessness. It would have been understandable if the hobbits had refused to leave the comforts of the Shire. But instead, they went out into world, leaving behind their idyllic home in order to fight against the evil that surrounded them. They knew that if evil prevailed against the ancient strongholds of Minas Tirith and Helms Deep and Erebor, then their little home wouldn’t stand a chance. They couldn’t forsake the world and hold to the Shire in order to resist the darkness, rather, they were called to go out into the world and fight against the darkness in order to make places like the Shire possible.
We too are called out to battle. Where there is evil in the world, we must match it grim with vigor and steely determination. Like the Dúnedain, we too must labor to protect what is good and innocent, even if our numbers dwindle, even if our deeds go unrewarded. To abandon the fight would be suicide, and our fate would be no different from the Shire’s if Sauron had gained the Ring. We cannot prevail by ignoring the darkness that surrounds us to make isolated towns and villages. Only when the darkness is pushed back can we begin to make homes like the Shire. If more people valued food and cheer and song this would indeed be a merrier world. But if those people are to abandon the world to its fate, our suffering shall be all the more grievous for it.