Welcome, dear readers, to the second part of our last (for the moment?) posting on the Shire. This is actually a two-part posting and is devoted to the takeover of the Shire by “Sharkey” and his followers and how it might have happened, based upon evidence from the texts of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
We decided upon a two-part posting because we saw the takeover as a two-step process. Initially, we believe that Saruman looked for someone within the Shire to act as his agent there and, as a local agent, both to foment the kind of discontent which would provoke a demand for change, and to act as the leader of that change.
Because the Shire had so little government and most problems were dealt with within families, we wondered if that discontent wouldn’t begin as something Shire-wide, but be found within one or more families, instead.
With this in mind, we immediately thought of the Sackville-Bagginses. From the final chapter of The Hobbit, it was clear that the S-Bs (as they’re called) had grievances against their cousins, the Bagginses, mostly because they wanted Bag End and its contents.
How this led to leaguing with Saruman is not explained, but merely suggested, by Pippin, who says, of reported disturbance in the Southfarthing:
“ ‘Whatever it is…Lotho will be at the bottom of it: you can be sure of that.” The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 7, “Homeward Bound”
This is then confirmed when the hobbits reach the bridge over the Brandywine and one of the hobbit guards (Hob Hayward), mentions “the Chief…up at Bag End.”
Frodo, who has sold his house at Bag End (see The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 3, “Three is Company”) to the S-Bs, immediately asks Hob, “ ‘Chief? Chief? Do you mean Mr. Lotho?’ said Frodo.” The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 8, “The Scouring of the Shire”
Otho and Lobelia had been Bilbo’s enemies long ago, but, whereas Lobelia is still alive, Otho is long dead and Lotho (and yes, the word “loathe” must lie just below the surface here, though this is probably not his name in the Common Tongue, just as Pippin’s name isn’t Pippin), his son, has somehow become not the Mayor of the Shire (who is actually Will Whitfoot), but the much vaguer (and more menacing) “the Chief”. (We also note that “Mr. Lotho” is a courtesy title and one for established land-owners, really, and not for Lotho.)
The family theme is underlined when Hob replies that “we have to say ‘the Chief’ nowadays” and Frodo says, in turn:
“ ‘Do you indeed!’ said Frodo. ‘Well, I am glad he has dropped the Baggins at any rate. But it is evidently high time that the family dealt with him and put him in his place.’ ”
If Frodo’s remark suggests the familial aspect of justice in the Shire, the reply of an anonymous hobbit to it suggests the second or external step of the takeover:
“A hush fell on the hobbits beyond the gate. ‘It won’t do no good talking that way,’ said one. ‘He’ll get to hear of it. And if you make so much noise, you’ll wake the Chief’s Big Man.’ ”
As JRRT began The Lord of the Rings in 1937, just four years after the Nazis took control of Germany, “The Chief” surely has echoes of “Der Fuehrer”, which simply means “The Leader”.
In which case, should we associate the threat of “the Chief’s Big Man” with everything from the SA
to the Gestapo?
Merry, at least, certainly makes a connection with something which Butterbur had said earlier:
“It all comes of those newcomers and gangrels that began coming up the Greenway last year, as you may remember; but more came later. Some were just poor bodies running away from trouble; but most were bad men, full o’ thievery and mischief.” The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 7, “Homeward Bound”
Answering the anonymous voice, Merry says:
“If you mean that your precious Chief has been hiring ruffians out of the wild, then we’ve not come back too soon!”
When the Big Man appears, Merry’s conclusion is confirmed: it’s Bill Ferny, who, Butterbur believes, who had been involved in a minor battle in Bree, in which five hobbits had been killed:
“ ‘And Harry Goatleaf that used to be on the West-gate, and that Bill Ferny, they came in on the strangers’ side, and they’ve gone off with them; and it’s my belief they let them in. On the night of the fight I mean.’ “
If some of these “Big Men” were criminal drifters from the east, almost randomly recruited, there were others who were sent.
“ ‘It all began with Pimple, as we call him,’ said Farmer Cotton; ‘and it began as soon as you’d gone off, Mr. Frodo. He’d funny ideas, had Pimple. Seems he wanted to own everything himself, and then order other folk about. It soon came out that he already did own a sight more than was good for him; and he was always grabbing more, though where he got the money was a mystery: mills and malt-houses and inns, and farms, and leaf-plantations. He’d already bought Sandyman’s mill before he came to Bag End, seemingly.
Of course he started with a lot of property in the Southfarthing which he had from his dad; and it seems he’d been selling a lot o’ the best leaf, and sending it away quietly for a year or two. But at the end o’ last year he began sending away loads of stuff, not only leaf. Things began to get short, and winter coming on, too. Folk got angry, but he had an answer. A lot of Men, ruffians mostly, came with great wagons, some to carry off the goods south-away, and others to stay. And more came. And before we knew where we were they were planted here and there all over the Shire, and were felling trees and digging and building themselves sheds and houses just as they liked…”
There is a bit more to add to this. The “Big Men” were not alone. As in our own historical world of Nazi occupiers, there were those willing to collaborate, as Robin Smallburrow tells Sam:
“There’s hundreds of Shirriffs all told, and they want more, with all these new rules. Most of them are in it against their will, but not all. Even in the Shire there are some as like minding other folk’s business and talking big. And there’s worse than that: there’s a few as do spy-work for the Chief and his Men.”
With Farmer Cotton’s narrative, however, the two steps come together: the local was, indeed, as Pippin has suspected, Lotho. The external was a combination of opportunists, like Bill Ferny, and agents dispatched from an unnamed southern source, but we know that it was “Sharkey” who sent them, just as we know that “Sharkey” was Saruman, who was still capable of mischief—but not “in a small mean way”.
Thanks, as always, for reading.