The aftermath of “The Scouring Of The Shire” is first, as Frodo frees those imprisoned under the rule of Lotho and Saruman. It’s loose thread tie-up time, as we meet Fatty Bolger, a rebel imprisoned early on. It has been a long time since Frodo almost got him killed in Book One and Fatty establishes his place as the “fifth Beatle” pretty strongly here, as the guy who missed out on all the adventures. Next, Lobelia, and the healing of an old family fracture, the previously hated crone losing her son, but gaining some measure of respect and popularity. That bitter-sweetness is prevalent throughout this chapter. Interesting that Tolkien decides to rehabilitate the Sackville-Bagginses and not the Sandyman’s. Perhaps he considered the miller’s to be beyond redemption, which may say more for the claims of allegory in the previous chapter.
Frodo takes charge of the political aspects on the recovery, while Merry and Pippin maintain their military command, routing what few ruffians are left in the Shire. All neat and tidy, and soon the last of the fighting is done. The first part of this chapter is left to the rebuilding effort as the hobbits clean up what devastation they can. Some traditional aspects of hobbit humour are inserted, as the rebuilt streets of Hobbiton get a paragraph assigned to their naming debates, the natives going for “New Row” over some more battle-like ideas. Everything is getting back to normal in the Shire.
The destruction of the trees gets a lot of focus, as Sam comes into the spotlight. His tears over their absence are heartfelt and his pain is well described, not being distressed so much for himself, but for the fact “only his great-grandchildren, he thought, would see the Shire as it ought to be.”
But, there was never a problem that J.R.R Tolkien couldn’t create a deus ex machina or eucatastrophe for, and this time its Galadriel’s gift to the gardener, with which he is able to make the Shire beautiful again in a fraction of the time. One more defeat for Saruman then, and Sam gets a happy ending in terms of his big desire. Also great is the conversation that Sam has with his three friends, with each showcasing a different part of their personality: Pippin wants him to just throw the grains in the air, Merry is a bit more practical, and Frodo is a mixture of both.
It is a time of plenty in the Shire as the years begin to pass in rapid fashion on the pages. The land of the hobbits becomes the land of milk and honey. It’s all very optimistic and cheerful, the hobbits coming out of the darkness to an even better time than before. It’s rural land, so it all comes down to good harvests in most areas, from crops to pipe-weed. It does go to extremes as Tolkien actually writes “no one was ill, and everyone was pleased” as if the dark days of war in the Shire were centuries ago.
I suppose this is the time for celebration, a real happy ending to beat all previous happy endings in the story. It doesn’t go too overboard – this section is a bare page at most – and one can perhaps forgive Tolkien for the impulse. The four heroes left the Shire to save it and this is their time to bask in a fulfilled objective. The author still has time to throw in some hobbit humour, reminding the reader that everyone was happy “except those who had to mow the grass”.
Trouble is there though, in the form of Frodo. Several dark moments are shown, as Frodo is found by a neighbour muttering “It is gone for ever…and now all is dark and empty”, clutching the necklace Arwen gave him. The signs of addiction and “cold turkey” imagery are striking. It’s to the extent that Frodo is actively hiding these “turns” from Sam, which is odd considering he’s probably the only person who can possibly relate.
Frodo is a Ring-bearer, and that is something that leaves a mark. It will never go away. That desire, that itch, that shadow, will never go away. It is the last, spiteful triumph of the Ring and its maker, that any who have had to suffer its weight will never really find peace again. Frodo, the Christ-on-Golgatha character, has carried the sins of Middle-Earth around his neck. Christ had to die. Frodo doesn’t get to live in the Shire.
Sam notes that Frodo has a lack of notice and “honour” in his home country, as Merry and Pippin get the lion’s share of attention. I guess quests to destroy magical rings might go over the hobbits’ heads just a little (as they did with Gaffer Gamgee in the last chapter). This seems to irritate Sam, but I fail to see what good such attention would bring to Frodo, who was fairly reluctant at times throughout his quest. I doubt the Frodo character would be delighted at the prospect of hero worship.
This stands in marked contrast to Merry and Pippin, who seem to thrive on such attention, a suitable reward perhaps for their adventures:
“Merry and Pippin lived together for some time at Crickhollow, and there was much coming and going between Buckland and Bag End. The two young Travellers cut a great dash in the Shire with their songs and their tales and their finery, and their wonderful parties. ‘Lordly’ folk called them, meaning nothing but good; for it warmed all hearts to see them go riding by with their mail-shirts so bright and their shields so splendid, laughing and singing songs of far away; 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.”
Time marches on in the Shire. Sam finally works up the courage to pop the question to Rosie (interestingly, he makes a nod towards hobbit social conventions in the process: “It seems she didn’t like my going abroad at all, poor lass; but as I hadn’t spoken, she couldn’t say so”). But he still feels the need to talk to Frodo before he actually goes through with it. The “master” still I suppose. Frodo is happy to bless such a union of course, but he still subtlety insists that Sam and the new missus move in with him. Not quite desperate, but still. Frodo seemingly wants a loyal friend to remain close. The darkness is still there.
I doubt Sam would have a problem moving into the hobbit version of a mansion of course. The Frodo/Sam relationship has been at the core of Book Six, and most of the whole tale, and it is also the main part of this final chapter. These sections reemphasize the close bonds between the two, in peacetime as they were in war.
Next thing you know, Sam is having kids. Tolkien is really going all out with the good stuff here. I don’t really have much to say about all this other then it being a way to greater ground the Sam character, in preparation for what is to come. Tolkien is fixing Sam’s feet firmly to the Shire, to his wife and children, because Frodo is no longer going to be around shortly.
His plans are shrouded in secrecy of course, probably because he knows Sam would try and talk him out if it. Another full circle really, since this is the same kind of stuff that Bilbo was pulling with Frodo in the first chapters of the book. The darkness surrounding Frodo grows apace as time passes, with vague and disturbing statements by him: “I am wounded…it will never really heal.” Such fits come on anniversaries of trauma, indicating a magical source, at least in part.
I said before that this chapter is about Frodo and Sam but it’s actually more about Sam on his own. Sam is the one who rebuilds the Shire. Sam is the one who goes off and gets married. Sam is the one who has kids. Sam is the one who basically looks after Frodo. And the last words of this tale are going to be for him. Sam is now the main character really, with Frodo already fading away, in the dreamland that is the Shire, a mere temporary respite.
This is confirmed even more as Frodo hands over his great history, the “Red Book” for Sam to finish, a metaphorical passing of the “main character” title. It also allows Tolkien to work in the rationale for his title, which has drawn occasional mentions before. Frodo’s most definite hint of what is to come is placed here:
“‘Why, you have nearly finished it, Mr. Frodo!’ Sam exclaimed. ‘Well, you have kept at it, I must say.’
‘I have quite finished, Sam,’ said Frodo. ‘The last pages are for you.’”
There is one last journey to make then, Frodo “wistfully” realising that Sam’s family responsibilities prevent him from going too far. Sam is conflicted about this, but Frodo is gracious enough to set his mind at ease: “’Poor Sam! It will feel like that, I am afraid,’ said Frodo. ‘But you will be healed. You were meant to be solid and whole, and you will be.’” Sam, grown enough during the course of his travels, guesses where this journey is headed.
Off they go riding out of the Shire, passing the tree where Frodo once hid from a Black Rider back in Book One, a memory from what must seem like a lifetime ago. “It seems like a dream now”, the act already becoming a legend and a myth. It’s one last trip down memory lane for these two, before we get into the point of the chapter.
The procession they find marching towards them is the climax of the “long defeat”, the wizards and elves leaving Middle-Earth for good, their powers on the wane, their task done. Bilbo is with them, the lovable old man making his last journey. The time has come for all this to pass away.
Frodo’s revealing to Sam is a heartbreaking moment, but Sam is smart enough to have figured out what’s really happening. Frodo has come to terms with the fact that the Shire will give him no rest and that he must seek recovery elsewhere. That means leaving Middle-Earth itself. Their final exchange is a potent one, foe the characters and the reader:
“‘But,’ said Sam, and tears started in his eyes, ‘I thought you were going to enjoy the Shire, too. for years and years, after all you have done.’
‘So I thought too, once. But I have been too deeply hurt, Sam. I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them. But you are my heir: all that I had and might have had I leave to you. And also you have Rose, and Elanor; and Frodo-lad will come, and Rosie-lass, and Merry, and Goldilocks, and Pippin; and perhaps more that I cannot see. Your hands and your wits will be needed everywhere. You will be the Mayor, of course, as long as you want to be, and the most famous gardener in history; and you will read things out of the Red Book, and keep alive the memory of the age that is gone, so that people will remember the Great Danger and so love their beloved land all the more. And that will keep you as busy and as happy as anyone can be, as long as your part of the Story goes on.”
Sam has his own purpose, as Frodo lays out. Frodo is cutting and running, choosing to leave behind what few responsibilities he had, the life he once led. That is not an option for Sam, not yet anyway. He has a family, children to look after. He has the Shire to protect. He has to be a leader now, the leader that he became on the quest to destroy the Ring. And more than that, it is his task to make sure that people remember, remember the “Great Danger”. Sam, the everyman, still has work to do. Frodo, on the other hand, is laying down his burdens.
The havens on the west coast is the destination. Gandalf is there, to make his final bow, and with him come Merry and Pippin. It is only fitting I suppose that these four should have such a moment. Gandalf, looking far more relaxed and happy then we may have ever seen him, is the one left to brush away the sadness and remind the three staying behind that “not all tears are an evil”, a beautiful sentiment. Plus, he was wise to remember that Merry and Pippin deserved their goodbyes, and that Sam could use some company on the road home.
It’s an emotional scene, as Frodo gives his last goodbyes and embarks. The ship sails away into the horizon, the Elves, Wizards and Ring-bearers of the world departing forever.
“And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed on into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.”
Our last glimpse of Frodo is on that boat, surveying a “a far green country” as it was in his dreams in the house of Bombadil, a place where he can rest. It is as happy an ending for Frodo Baggins as we can hope for after his trials, and there is certainly a sense of optimism about it, maybe even of a new adventure, one that we will not get to see, but at least this beginning of it is described in beautiful terms.
But Sam is left behind in the shadows, the sea already beginning to call to him, as it called to Frodo and calls to Legolas:
“But to Sam the evening deepened to darkness as he stood at the Haven; and as he looked at the grey sea he saw only a shadow on the waters that was soon lost in the West. There still he stood far into the night, hearing only the sigh and murmur of the waves on the shores of Middle-earth, and the sound of them sank deep into his heart.”
The three hobbits return home in silence, only for Merry and Pippin to begin singing as they near the Shire, typical of them. That is our last look at these two, the happy heroes, who have come through some grim times and retained that cheerful hobbit nature. Certainly, a fitting goodbye to Meridoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took.
So, all that is left is Sam, as we pass over the final sentences, he being drawn into his home by his wife, into the next chapter of his life. He returns from saying goodbye to the past of Middle-Earth, the magical folk, the bearer of great Rings of power. He returns to his home, to his future, to his family. Sam will always be there, dependable, loyal. He will never be gone long. He has been “there and back again”, as Bilbo was. The very last words of the text are meant to instil that feeling, a typical hobbit reaction to the momentous events that have transpired. Samwise Gamgee has seen it all, done it all, but at the very end all he has to say is: “Well, I’m back”.
Crafting a fitting conclusion to something as epic as The Lord Of The Rings is no easy task, and I’m sure Tolkien probably fretted a bit about what he was going to write. Indeed, at times he prevaricated over an epilogue section featuring an older Sam outlining the fates of various characters to one of his daughters. While elements of it are neat, not least the closing moments of Sam hearing the enticing sounds of the sea far off, it’s mostly a horror show of what today would be called “fan-service”, not unlike the atrocious final pages of J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter series.
Instead, he went for something more satisfying. A great deal of time is taken in elaborating on the glory days of the Shire that result from the events of the last chapter, and the general happiness of all and sundry. All except Frodo, whose growing discontent and unhappiness with his lot in life, something we have seen signs for throughout the later part of Book Six, comes to its fruition. Even as Sam continues to get everything he ever wanted, Frodo’s inner pain keeps “The Grey Havens” grounded.
And it is those two who dominate most of the final chapter, their parting one of the most heart-breaking in fantasy. Sam has followed Frodo everywhere and protected him from so much, but can’t save him from the inexorable demands of fate, and the need for sacrifice so that the world can be as it was. Sam will follow one day, surely, but must remain behind for now, his feet firmly planted. Though Frodo must depart Middle-Earth we can be happy that he will find a measure of peace across the sea, while Sam has plenty to be happy with back in the Shire. Final bittersweet glances at other characters abound, but “The Grey Havens” remains Frodo and Sam’s last chapter primarily.
So, we’ve come to journey’s end. I’m not quite done, some final thoughts on the saga will come next week. Hope you enjoyed.
For more Chapter by Chapter reviews of The Lord of the Rings, check out the index here.