Tuesday, June 21, 2016
The Scouring of the Shire: Tolkien and Brexit
This Thursday, as many of you likely know, is the Brexit vote, when the UK will be voting on whether to remain part of the European Union. It has been a hotly contested campaign with tight polls. People around the UK and in the U.S. have been arguing about all of the pros and cons of Brexit for months, but I thought that it might be a good idea to get the perspective of a very prominent Englishman whose voice I have not heard brought up in the discussion. That person is JRR Tolkien.
Seeing how Tolkien passed away decades ago, it would be difficult to get his direct opinion on the matter. However,quite fortunately for us and all posterity, Tolkien left behind his voluminous writings from which we can glean his views. There are many places that could be drawn upon in this instance, but I think the best example would be the chapter at the end of The Return of the King called "The Scouring of the Shire."
It is unfortunate that many people are unfamiliar with this section of Lord of the Rings since it was cut from Peter Jackson's movie adaption. To quickly catch everyone up to speed, unlike in the movie, Saruman does not fall off the top of Orthanc and get impaled on a spike. Rather, while the heroes are off fighting Sauron, Saruman convinces Treebeard to let him go free through the power of his persuasion. It turns out that Saruman had been meddling in the Shire for quite some time and had assembled a gang of thugs that was oppressing and wrecking the Shire.
When Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin arrive at the border of the Shire they find that things have changed drastically since they left. Saruman and his goons have instituted numerous oppressive laws, destroyed the environment, created polluting factories, chopped down the party tree, created ugly public work projects, and thrown the Mayor of Michel Delving, and anyone else who opposes them, into the Lockholes.
To make a longer story short, the heroes simply can't let this stand and go about rousing the hobbits from their complacency, at which point Saruman and his thugs are quickly dispatched with. Order is restored and traditional institutions resume their functioning.
Now that you are up to speed, you might be asking "what does this have to do with Brexit?" This might begin to make more sense once one understands that to Tolkien, the hobbits are Englishmen. In fact, the Shire and its societal structure are entirely based on historical English institutions (as the wonderful Dr. Tom Shippey explains in this excellent lecture on the politics of Tolkien). The scouring of the Shire represents a restoration of the traditional institutions of decentralized self-governance that Tolkien viewed as immensely superior to the all-consuming bureaucratic centralizing state monoliths that have come to dominate everyone's lives in the last century or so.
Speaking of bureaucratic monoliths, once one has come to understand the above points it is quite easy to fit the EU into this scenario thanks to Tolkiens use of timeless applicability in his writings.
The EU bureaucratic elites and the false cosmopolitans of the UK have undergone what Tolkien scholar, Dr. Tom Shippey, calls "the wraithing process," in which a person is made hollow by the pursuit of some abstraction, in this case, European centralization. Saruman is the perfect example of someone who has undergone the wraithing process. He started out with good intentions, but somewhere along the way he got lost and ends up becoming a force for evil himself. And in doing so he comes to disdain everyone he views as beneath him.
Once you have come to view yourself as being superior to everyone else, then it becomes a very short step to come to the view that you should be ruling these silly little people. Saruman demonstrates this when he says to Gandalf, "Our time is at hand: the world of Men, which we must rule. But we must have power, power to order all things as we will, for that good which only the Wise can see."
Such sentiment can be found in any central planner around the world, but is especially clear in those involved in the EU project, a project designed to, like Saruman's goons in the Shire, lay waste to any and all traditions, customs, and norms which have built and preserved societies. Looking at the power hungry EU central planners one can easily call to mind the attitude of one of Saruman's thugs when he declares that "you little folks are getting too uppish... This country wants waking up and setting to rights." He then goes on to threaten that if Lotho Sackville-Baggins (who turned traitor and was collaborating with Saruman) doesn't toe the line they will simply replace him with someone who does. (Quite an ominous implication if the EU continues to follow Tolkien's script.)
However, Tolkien had great faith in the resiliency and power of traditional institutions and this comes out in the story. Upon his departure, Merry had been the horn of Eorl the Young, by Eowyn. Whoever blows this horn "shall set fear in the hearts of his enemies and joy in the hearts of his friends." Once Merry blows this horn the paralysis over the Shire dissipates and the hobbits rise up and defeat their oppressors with relative ease.
Tom Shippey points out, with great insight, that "if Tolkien were to choose a symbol for his story and message, it would be, I think, the horn of Eorl. He would have liked to blow it in his own country, and disperse the cloud of post-war and post-faith disillusionment, depression, acquiescence, which so strangely (and twice in his lifetime) followed on victory. And perhaps he did."
We can only hope that, come Thursday, the citizens of the UK have indeed heard Tolkien's horn of Eorl through his work and the works of other heroes of liberty, and will vote to throw out all the EU wraiths and all the Lotho-like traitors who believe they know what's best for everyone else. There would still be a long way to go, but it would be the first step on the path to scouring and restoring the Shire.
I am indebted to Dr. Tom Shippey, and in particular his excellent book J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century, for coming to understand the many political themes throughout Tolkien's work. I highly recommend reading it, and, if you do decide to read it, I would be most appreciative if you considered purchasing it through the Amazon Associate link above.