Adapt That is thrilled to welcome guest writer Anna from Between Horizons for today’s post. Anna has passionately studied medieval literature and the works of J.R.R. Tolkien at Hope College and Western Michigan University and also dances professionally in her native Vermont.
J. R. R. Tolkien’s works have had a vast influence on modern fantasy at large, and there are an enormous number of adaptations of his Middle-earth stories. Today, I want to talk about what has been, for me, one of the most important of these many adaptations: Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings film trilogy. Or, to be more specific, the single most crucial scene in the three films—the scene that teaches us the most about Tolkien’s hobbits, that demonstrates how important their involvement was in the quest to destroy the Ring, that proves how much our hobbit friends grow and mature over the course of their journey towards Mount Doom. You know which scene I’m thinking of. This post will focus on the Scouring of the Shire.
Oh. Oh, wait. Sorry. My bad. That’s not actually in the movies, is it? Awkward.
You may be wondering, is this really problematic? Why is the Scouring so important, and if it really is as vital to the Lord of the Rings narrative as this one blogger seems to think, why did Peter Jackson leave it out?
The Importance of Being Scoured
First things first. Why is the Scouring of the Shire, which fills the penultimate chapter of The Return of the King, important? What does this self-contained hobbit conflict have to do with the greater quest to destroy the Ring, and was it really a poor choice for Jackson to leave this episode out? You’re in luck. I happen to have a lot of words to say on this subject. Let’s start with a look at what the Scouring is, and what it accomplishes in Tolkien’s books.
The Shire that Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin leave at the beginning of The Lord of the Rings is an idyllic environment, where community, abundance, and a delight in good stewardship reign. It is scarcely short of paradise, and the Shirefolk don’t care two shakes of a lamb’s tail about the rest of Middle-earth. They have all they need to thrive within their own borders—why bother themselves about anyone outside? But this is not what the four hobbits find when they return from their quest, scarcely fourteen months later. Instead of green fields and friendly neighbors, the fabulous four find dirt, grime, ugly shacks, and door after door closed in their faces. In fact, they have to dish out some threats to even get over the border! Ouch. They discover that Saruman has come to their homeland and is polluting it from the inside out. The hobbits are, however, fully prepared to deal with this terror that greets them, and the Scouring is their fight to reclaim their homeland from the evils that now fill it. But why is this battle important?
First, the Scouring demonstrates the personal growth Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin undergo on their journey. During the Ring Quest, the four hobbits entered the greater world of Middle-earth for the first time. Suddenly, they were forced to recognize that things that happen outside the Shire’s borders are actually very important, and worth knowing about and participating in. The Scouring is where we finally see the changes that take place in the four hobbits during their journey, and discover the huge amount of character growth and broadening of perspective they have gained. Pippin, for example, who, at the start of the journey, cared more about food, baths, and a pint or six than anything else, is able to approach Saruman’s dangerous ruffians and say, “You are speaking to the King’s friend, and one of the most renowned in all the lands of the West. You are a ruffian and a fool. Down on your knees in the road and ask pardon, or I will set this troll’s bane in you!” (Tolkien, Lord of the Rings 982).Wow. I’m scared, how about you?
Second, the Scouring initiates a change in how the Shirefolk interact with the world around them. The events of the Scouring help Hobbits to broaden their perspectives and step out of their sheltered mindsets. Whereas before the Shirefolk took no notice of anything outside their personal realm, now the events of the Scouring make it clear that the outside world cannot be fenced out forever, and that in order to continue to thrive as they have been, the Shirefolk must begin to look outward to embrace their place in the greater realm of Middle-earth and learn about the world in which they are situated. In fact, the life-changing events of the Scouring not only cause Hobbits to become more interested in their own personal history, but, Tolkien writes, “The greater families were also concerned with events in the Kingdom at large, and many of their members studied its ancient histories and legends” (Tolkien, Lord of the Rings 13). What amazing growth, for a community once content to call folk from Bree, the neighboring town, foreigners!
The Scouring of the Shire: To be, or not to be?
Sadly, Peter Jackson chose not to include this pivotal scene in his films, save in a terribly brief glimpse Frodo gets in Galadriel’s mirror, of some things…that have not yet come to pass, if you catch my drift. Why would Jackson choose to leave out such a crucial episode? As far as my research can tell me, Jackson himself never made an official statement on his decision to leave out the Scouring. There are, however, plenty of theories, and a statement by screenwriter Philippa Boyens. Boyens said in an interview, “Unfortunately, as wonderful and brilliant as [The Scouring of the Shire] is, it’s not something we believe our film could sustain. You can’t have a huge climax that your main characters have been striving for, for three films, and then start the story up again and play out an episodic ending. An audience sitting in the cinema just wouldn’t go for it.”
Boyens is right. Including the Scouring would have added another half hour, or more, to the run-time of the final film in the trilogy, as well as another ending. As far as good-stopping-points go, we already have the actual destruction of the Ring and the fall of Sauron, the moment Frodo wakes up in Gondor, Aragorn’s coronation, the hobbits’ return to the Shire, and the departure from the Gray Havens. That’s five good endings right there. Including the Scouring would just throw another one into the mix, and the additional conflict would likely have only detracted from the main climax of the films. These are good reasons to leave the Scouring out.
So, was it really a bad idea for Jackson to leave this scene out? In answer to that, I still have to say yes—but with reservations. The Scouring is the event that causes Hobbits to start to look outside themselves, to question and learn about the world they live in, and to contribute to it. And the Scouring is the event that shows us just how much little Pippin has grown up, just how strong and wise a leader Merry is, just how fit Sam is to become the next Mayor of the Shire, and just how much toll bearing the Ring for so long took on Frodo’s mind and body. Without the Scouring, the four hobbits’ return to the Shire is almost anticlimactic and, well, small. The hobbits go from duking it out with Sauron himself, from all the glory of the White City of Gondor, from the coronation and wedding of King Elessar…to the Shire, just as green and quiet as ever. Without the Scouring, without the personal fight for their own homes, the four hobbits return from the vastness of Middle-earth to the limits of a home that is too small for them now, in their great growth and strength of character and wisdom. The battle for Middle-earth is over, but there is nothing, in Jackson’s Shire, to show that it ever happened, or that it even mattered to the folk back home.
In reality, I know Boyens was right—the typical theater audience wouldn’t want an already very long film to stretch on any more than it needed to, and would likely have only seen the Scouring as an anticlimax detracting from the power of the earlier climax on the slopes of Mount Doom. But I can’t help wishing it existed in Jackson’s films. How do you pick up the threads of an old life? Frodo asks at the end of the Return of the King film. How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand there is no going back? No going back, indeed. There was never quite meant to be.
Images: New Line Cinema
Source: Tolkien, J. R. R. The Lord of the Rings. Single volume edition. Boston: Mariner Books, 2002.