Summary and Analysis: <i>The Return of the King</i>
Book 6, Chapters 6–10 - Journey Home and the Scouring of the Shire
Eventually, Frodo and his companions decide to return home. Arwen gives Frodo her place on the ships that carry the elves to the Undying Lands beyond Middle-earth, should he find the memory of his journey unbearable. Accompanied by all their friends and the elves of Lothlórien and Rivendell, the hobbits begin the leisurely journey home. First, they travel to Rohan, where Éomer and Éowyn give Merry an ancient horn, whose sounding is said to hearten friends and frighten enemies. At Isengard, they learn that Treebeard has let the greatly diminished Saruman go, along with Wormtongue. As the group travels north, they come upon Saruman himself, traveling like a beggar with Wormtongue. Gandalf offers him a last chance, which he spurns. He exchanges a last spiteful word with the hobbits, warning them the Shire will be less welcoming than they expect. When they reach Rivendell, they tell Bilbo their story and relax for a while, bus soon their thoughts turn again to the Shire. Bilbo gives Frodo his book and notes, and, finally, the four hobbits begin the last stage of their journey, joined only by Gandalf.
On the anniversary of his stabbing at Weathertop, Frodo is troubled by the pain of his old wound, and passing the hill a few days later also bothers him. When they reach Bree, they find the once friendly town heavily armed. Although reassured at news of the king's return and nearly speechless at the idea that Strider is the king, Butterbur at the Prancing Pony has local troubles to worry about. Bandits have been attacking travelers, and trade from the Shire has come to a standstill. The hobbits are surprised to discover that in the innkeeper's eyes they look formidable in their armor and swords. The next day, they go on, wondering what has gone wrong in the Shire. When they reach the Barrowdowns, Gandalf leaves them to visit Tom Bombadil after he expresses confidence that they will be able to handle the Shire's problems. Only the four hobbit-friends remain when they reach the Brandywine Bridge.
They find the gate locked and a new ugly guardhouse built on the far side, and Merry and Pippin scale the gate to get in. A man comes out to quell the ruckus, but he runs away rather than deal with armed and determined resistance. The travelers soon learn that Lotho Sackville-Baggins has brought evil men into the Shire to intimidate the hobbits, ruling by a combination of force and fear. Many trees have been cut down and hobbits have been turned out of their homes, while factories have been built that pollute the environment. The four friends lead a rebellion, then find Saruman, still accompanied by Wormtongue, living in Bag End. The fallen wizard has masterminded this destruction of the Shire in the months they have lingered along the road. Frodo spares his life, but Wormtongue kills his master and is then killed himself by the hobbits.
The devastation of the Shire is terrible for the hobbits. As Sam exclaims, "This is worse than Mordor!" After Saruman and his henchmen are killed or driven out, the hobbits set to repairing the damage. The new factories and buildings are torn down, many of the destroyed homes are restored, and Sam uses the gift of earth from Galadriel's garden to restore the land. She also gave him a mallorn seed, and he plants it where the great tree had stood for Bilbo's birthday party. The next year proves the most bountiful in anyone's memory.
Merry and Pippin live together at Crickhollow, becoming the most glamorous hobbits in the Shire. Sam marries Rose Cotton and moves into Bag End with Frodo. But Frodo remains haunted by the memories of his ordeal, falling ill on the anniversary of the Ring's destruction and again on the anniversary of Weathertop. When Frodo finishes his book, he gives it to Sam and asks his friend to join him on one last journey. They go to meet Galadriel and Elrond, with Bilbo himself, and journey to the Gray Havens. There they find Gandalf waiting for them. Frodo has decided to leave Middle-earth with the elves. Merry and Pippin arrive to say goodbye and ride home with Sam. Sam returns home to his wife and daughter, settles in, and says simply, "Well, I'm back."
The extended farewell journey visits most of the significant locations of the quest and gradually drops members of the party, until the four original friends return to the Shire. It is as though Tolkien does not yet want to leave his world and his characters, but the long denouement has a thematic purpose as well. The hobbits have journeyed widely and experienced great hardships, growing in the process — quite literally in the case of Merry and Pippin. A happy homecoming, while it fits the story arc of a coming of age tale, would not acknowledge the changes they have undergone. Throughout the journey, the hobbits have always been helped. Even Frodo at the Cracks of Doom cannot fulfill his quest, and Gollum must complete it for him, however unintentionally.
The four hobbits have been away to war, but they learn that war also comes home. To pretend otherwise would be naïve and misleading. The ravaged Shire has been corrupted not just by Saruman, although they discover his involvement, but by the Shire-hobbits themselves. Arrogance and greed lured Lotho and others into taking advantage of their fellow hobbits, and even the good-hearted allowed it to happen, looking the other way until it was too late. The scouring of the Shire is the true test of the hobbit heroes. No king or wizard will help them here; they must do the job themselves. And they do. They face their ravaged homeland, expel the invaders, and work hard to make it better than it had ever been before.
Of all the hobbits, Frodo suffered the most and has the hardest time adjusting to home life again. Not every veteran can make that adjustment, as Tolkien himself saw after two World Wars. Once Frodo sees the Shire restored, and finishes recording the history for future generations, he gratefully accepts Arwen's gift, a place on the ship leaving Middle-earth. Within The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien leaves the Blessed Isle deliberately vague. Elves do not die, but unlike the mortal races they can leave behind the sorrows of Middle-earth. Frodo needs that freedom from care, the just reward for all that he has endured. Sam remains behind, ready to continue his life and to keep the memory of Frodo's sacrifice alive.
ironmongery something made of metal, such as armor.
weskit waistcoat, vest.