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As always, dear readers, welcome!

This is, we think, the last in our Shire Portrait series (although a 2-parter)—at least for the moment. In it, we intend to consider just how the Shire fell into the hands of “Sharkey” and his “boys”.

The Ring destroyed and the King returned, Gandalf, the Hobbits, and a party of Elves are traveling back toward Rivendell and beyond when they come upon Saruman and Grima, now no more than Saruman’s slave.


It is not a happy meeting, as can be imagined. When offered help, Saruman replies:

“All my hopes are ruined, but I would not share yours. If you have any…You have doomed yourselves, and you know it. And it will afford me some comfort as I wander to think that you pulled down your own house when you destroyed mine.” The Return of the King, Book 6, Chapter 6, “Many Partings”

In such a mood, it can be imagined how he treats the Hobbits—even when Merry offers him pipe-weed, which he does while commenting, less than tactfully, on its origin:

“ ‘You are welcome to it; it came from the flotsam of Isengard.’

‘Mine, mine, yes and dearly bought!’ cried Saruman, clutching at the pouch. ‘This is only a repayment in token; for you took more, I’ll be bound. Still, a beggar must be grateful, if a thief returns him even a morsel of his own. Well, it will serve you right when you come home, if you find things less good in the Southfarthing than you would like. Long may your land be short of leaf!’”

Saruman’s remark—a curse, really—resonates especially with Sam.

“’Ah!’ said Sam. ‘And bought he said. How, I wonder? And I didn’t like the sound of what he said about the Southfarthing. It’s time we got back.’” The Return of the King, Book 6, Chapter 6, “Many Partings”

This is a natural reaction on Sam’s part because of what he had seen in Galadriel’s mirror, we presume.


“’Hi!’ cried Sam in an outraged voice. ‘There’s that Ted Sandyman a-cutting down trees as he shouldn’t. They didn’t ought to be felled: it’s that avenue beyond the Mill that shades the road to Bywater…

But now Sam noticed that the Old Mill had vanished, and a large red-brick building was being put up where it stood. Lots of folk were busily at work. There was a tall red chimney nearby. Black smoke seemed to cloud the surface of the Mirror…

‘I can’t stay here,’ he said wildly. ‘I must go home. They’ve dug up Bagshot Row, and there’s the poor old Gaffer going down the Hill with his bits of things on a barrow…” The Fellowship of the Ring, Book 2, Chapter VII, “The Mirror of Galadriel”

At the time, Galadriel had told him

“’You cannot go home alone,’ said the Lady. ‘You did not wish to go home without your master before you looked in the Mirror, and yet you knew that evil things might well be happening in the Shire. Remember that the Mirror shows many things, and not all have yet come to pass. Some never come to be, unless those that behold the visions turn aside from their path to prevent them. The Mirror is dangerous as a guide to deeds.” The Fellowship of the Ring, Book 2, Chapter VII, “The Mirror of Galadriel”

[A footnote: suddenly, we are reminded of that scene on Dagobah in Star Wars V, when Luke has had a vision and immediately wants to rush off to Bespin.


“Luke: I saw—I saw a city in the clouds.

Yoda: [nods] Friends you have there.

Luke: They were in pain…

Yoda: It is the future you see.

Luke: The future?


Luke: Will they die?

Yoda: [closes his eyes for a moment] Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.

Luke: I’ve got to go to them.

Yoda: Decide you must, how to serve them best. If you leave now, help them you could; but you would destroy all for which they have fought, and suffered.” The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

As—using various websites—we provide links here—we can see that an imitation of the opening of the Hobbit—Bilbo and Gandalf meeting—appears in an early script of Star Wars IV, I think that the scene at Galadriel’s Mirror was somewhere back in G. Lucas’ wonderfully fertile brain—and, yes, we are big fans.]

“Secrets of the ‘Star Wars’ Drafts”

Was George Lucas Inspired by Tolkien?

Star Wars Origins: The Lord of the Rings

At this point, we know from two sources that Saruman has had commercial dealings with the Southfarthing.

First, of course, we’ve just seen it confirmed by Saruman’s response to Merry. Second is that scene at Isengard, where Gandalf, Theoden, Eomer, and Aragorn, travel with an escort and find there Merry and Pippin, who tell them of their discovery of two small casks:

“ ‘My dear Gimli, it is Longbottom Leaf! There were the Hornblower brandmarks on the barrels, as plain as plain. How it came here, I can’t imagine.” The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 9, “Flotsam and Jetsam”


Knowing, however, of Saruman’s increasing interest in the Shire, we can imagine that one of his agents, active in the Southfarthing, had acquired it for him. As the Appendix B, “The Tale of Years” tells us, under TA2953:

[Saruman] notes his [Gandalf’s] interest in the Shire. He soon begins to keep agents in Bree and the Southfarthing.” (page 1089 in Appendix B)

Spying was clearly only the beginning for Saruman, however. The actual evidence for his eventual take-over is scattered throughout The Lord of the Rings, but we believe that it can be pieced together to provide a picture of how it must have been done. It was a two-step process.

First, he appears to have gained knowledge of internal dissatisfaction within the Shire. Because there is really nothing political in the Shire–as readers will know from the first posting in this series, there is virtually no government—this unrest was domestic—as is said in the Prologue, “Families for the most part managed their own affairs.”

In the case of Bilbo and Frodo, the dissatisfied were the Sackville-Bagginses. We first met them in the last chapter of The Hobbit, where they were described as “Bilbo’s cousins” and were shown as being actively involved in the auction of the “effects of the late Bilbo Baggins Esquire”—as well as in the disappearance of some merchandise not auctioned off:

“Many of his silver spoons mysteriously disappeared and were never accounted for. Personally he suspected the Sackville-Bagginses. On their side they never admitted that the returned Baggins was genuine and they were not on friendly terms with Bilbo ever after.” The Hobbit, Chapter 19, “The Last Stage”

It was one more blow to the Sackville-Bagginses when Bilbo rescued the now-orphaned Frodo from “those queer Bucklanders” and brought him to live at Bag End, as Gaffer Gamgee related in The Ivy Bush:

“ ‘But I reckon it was a nasty knock for those Sackville-Bagginses. They thought they were going to get Bag End, that time he went off and was thought to be dead. And then he comes back and orders them off; and he goes on living and living, and never looking a day older, bless him! And suddenly he produces an heir, and has all the papers made out proper. The Sackville-Bagginses won’t never see the inside of Bag End now, or it is to be hoped not.’ “ The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 1, “A Long-Expected Party”

Bad blood, then, on several counts—and, for Saruman, looking for a way in, a great opportunity.

Bilbo might have suspected them of spoon-pilfering, but his was a more generous nature, however, and he even invited them to his and Frodo’s joint birthday party.

“The Sackville-Bagginses were not forgotten. Otho and his wife Lobelia were present. They disliked Bilbo and detested Frodo, but so magnificent was the invitation card, written in golden ink, that they had felt it impossible to refuse…” The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 1, “A Long-Expected Party”

On the other hand, Bilbo does not please them when he announces that Frodo is coming into “his inheritance”—

“The Sackville-Bagginses scowled, and wondered what was meant by ‘coming into his inheritance’ “ and, when Bilbo makes his startling disappearance, they “departed in wrath”. (quotations from Chapter One).

And yet they didn’t quite depart. It seems they have only stepped away from the party, only to return to cause trouble, demanding to see Bilbo’s will.

“Otho would have been Bilbo’s heir, but for the adoption of Frodo. He read the will carefully and snorted. It was, unfortunately, very clear and correct…” The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 1, “A Long-Expected Party”

Otho “snapped his fingers under Frodo’s nose and stumped off”, but Lobelia, his wife, remained, and Frodo later found her “still about the place, investigating nooks and corners, and tapping the floors. He escorted her firmly off the premises, after he had relieved her of several small (but rather valuable) articles that had somehow fallen inside her umbrella.” And she leaves with a kind of threat and what she believes is an insult:

“ ‘You’ll live to regret it, young fellow! Why didn’t you go too? You don’t belong here; you’re no Baggins—you—you’re a Brandybuck!’ ”

It’s never said why there is such an animus held by the Sackville-Bagginses against the Bagginses, but there is clearly something wrong with the S-Bs, from their covetousness to Lobelia’s open theft, and whatever is wrong is just what Saruman will find and exploit. Our next mention of them is oblique and it has to do with that pipe-weed. Merry and Pippin have been explaining how they had come to discover it at Isengard and all seems clear—

“ ‘All except one thing,’ said Aragorn: ‘leaf from the Southfarthing in Isengard. The more I consider it, the more curious I find it. I have never been in Isengard, but I have journeyed in this land, and I know well the empty countries that lie between Rohan and the Shire. Neither goods nor folk have passed that way for many a long year, not openly. Saruman had secret dealings with someone in the Shire, I guess. Wormtongues may be found in other houses than King Theoden’s…” The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 9, “Flotsam and Jetsam

With that faint foreboding, we hear no more until Gandalf and the Hobbits are once more leaving Bree and Butterbur says, almost in passing:

“ ‘I should have warned you before that all’s not well in the Shire neither, if what we hear is true. Funny goings on, they say.’ “ The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 7, “Homeward Bound”

With Butterbur’s words in their ears, the Hobbits ride out and conversation begins:

“ ‘I wonder what old Barliman was hinting at,’ said Frodo.

‘I can guess some of it,’ said Sam gloomily. ‘What I saw in the Mirror: trees cut down and all, and my old gaffer turned out of the Row. I ought to have hurried back quicker.’

‘And something’s wrong with the Southfarthing evidently,’ said Merry. ‘There’s a general shortage of pipe-weed.’

‘Whatever it is,’ said Pippin, ‘Lotho will be at the bottom of it: you can be sure of that.’”

Here again, after Aragorn’s remark long before, we see that pipe-weed turn up—and associated somehow with a Sackville-Baggins. Butterbur has already replied to Gandalf’s request for it that “That’s the one thing that we’re short of, seeing how we’ve only got what we grow ourselves, and that’s not enough. There’s none to be had from the Shire these days.”

It’s never explained why Pippin makes the connection with Lotho at this point—was the bad blood between the Bagginses and the Sackville-Bagginses part of a darker picture of the S-Bs? This seems more than possible when Gandalf adds to Pippin’s remark:

“ ‘Deep in, but not at the bottom,’ said Gandalf. ‘You have forgotten Saruman. He began to take an interest in the Shire before Mordor did.’”

And now we begin to see a potential bigger pattern: Saruman-an S-B-Shire and, with it, the second step in the take-over of the Shire, that from outside. But that’s for Shire Portrait 5b: “Hostile Take-Over.2”, next time.

Until then, thanks, as ever, for reading!