Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Black Shorts, Blackshirts, Blueshirts, Brownshirts, Charlie Chaplin, dictatorships, Eoin O'Duffy, facism, fascis, Francisco Franco, Industrial Revolution, Jeeves and Wooster, P.G. Wodehouse, Sir Oswald Mosley, Sir Roderick Spode, Sturm Abteilung, The Code of the Woosters, The Great Dictator, The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, The Scouring of the Shire, Tolkien, Vidkun Quisling, Vittorio Immanuele III
As ever, welcome, dear readers.
Some time ago, we did a posting on The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 8, “The Scouring of the Shire”.
At that time, our emphasis was upon its reflection of JRRT’s dislike for the effects of the Industrial Revolution on rural England
and the importance of the chapter to closure in The Lord of the Rings.
In this posting, we want to look at it from another direction and to view Sharkey’s Shire as a kind of proto-fascist state.
Although the word “fascist” is now used pretty loosely as a verbal attack on politicians and political parties with a rightward-lean, it had a more specific meaning in the 1920s and 1930s. Then, fascists were believers in a kind of militarized state, in which the economy might be in the hands of the government, and the government in the hands of a few (a kind of oligarchy) or even of one, a dictator. (Here’s a LINK if you want to know more.)
was the first of these who actually succeeded in coming to power. In Italy, in 1922, he organized a march on the capital, Rome, which would lead to his becoming the head of state (although Italy remained a monarchy, the monarch, Vittorio Immanuele III, was brought out for state occasions only).
Mussolini, to make his power look like a natural historical progression, began using ancient Roman symbols. One of these was the mark of the escorts to Roman magistrates, the fascis, a bundle of birch rods with an axe in the middle, the sign that a magistrate had the power to inflict not only corporal punishment—the rods—but even death—the axe—on citizens. This bundle was carried by a lictor, a minor officer of state. The number of these lictors who marched in front of the magistrate signaled just how important the magistrate was.
Mussolini had his bullyboys, the “Blackshirts”
To emphasize this connection with the imperial past, he went so far as to impress the old initials of ancient Rome, SPQR (Senatus Populusque Romanus—“the Roman Senate and People”) on everything public in sight—even manhole covers (they’re still there to this day).
And his use of the symbol of the fascis was the basis of the term fascism—they’re even all around his tomb.
Mussolini might have been the first of these leaders—or would-be leaders—during this pre-war era, but there were plenty more. There was Eoin O’Duffy in Ireland, leading his thugs, called “Blueshirts”,
to Vidkun Quisling, with his Nasjonal Samling (“National Party”), who, after the Nazis conquered Norway, actually became leader there,
to Francisco Franco, in Spain,
to Hitler, in Germany,
whose original goon/enforcers were the SA—Sturm Abteilung (“Storm Detachment”) or “Brownshirts”.
In England, Tolkien would have been well aware of Sir Oswald Mosley and his British Union of Fascists.
Hitler had been mocked by the famous silent film comedian, Charlie Chaplin, in his 1940, The Great Dictator,
but, closer to home, Mosley had become a figure of fun in the comic novels of PG Wodehouse
as “Sir Roderick Spode”. Here he is, memorably portrayed in the 1990-1993 television adaptation, Jeeves and Wooster, by John Turner—much of whose posture was a direct imitation of Mussolini,
even down to his pathetic followers, the “Black Shorts”.
His first appearance was in Wodehouse’s 1938 novel, The Code of the Woosters,
where he is described as:
“About seven feet in height, and swathed in a plaid ulster which made him look about six feet across, he caught the eye and arrested it. It was as if Nature had intended to make a gorilla, and had changed its mind at the last moment…
“I don’t know if you have ever seen those pictures in the papers of Dictators with tilted chins and blazing eyes, inflaming the populace with fiery words on the occasion of the opening of a new skittle alley, but that was what he reminded me of.” (The Code of the Woosters, Chapter One)
(Here’s a LINK to a free edition of the book, in case you’d like to read it—and why wouldn’t you? And this is a “plaid ulster” in case you’ve never seen one.)
Everything in the “Scouring” chapter, from the “great spiked gate” on the bridge over the Brandywine, to the “Chief’s Men”—who should be wearing brown tunics—to the very name “Chief”, instead of the old Shire title, “Mayor”, reeks of fascism, and, combined with:
“The pleasant row of old hobbit-holes in the bank on the north side of the Pool were deserted, and their little gardens that used to run down bright to the water’s edge were rank with weeds Worse, there was a whole line of the ugly new houses all along Pool Side, where the Hobbiton Road ran close to the bank. An avenue of trees had stood there. They were all gone. And looking with dismay up the road towards Bag End they saw a tall chimney of brick in the distance. It was pouring out black smoke into the evening air.”
links that political movement to the despoliation of the old natural world by the Industrial Revolution.
Behavior in this new Shire is based upon “orders” and here we really see the hand of Sharkey, who is, of course, Saruman. Here’s what he says to try to seduce Gandalf into joining him:
“A new Power is rising…As the Power grows, its proved friends will also grow…We can bide our time, we can keep our thoughts in our hearts, deploring maybe evils done by the way, but approving the high and ultimate purpose: Knowledge, Rule, Order…” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 2, “The Council of Elrond”)
And the most important element in that purpose is “Order”. It’s no wonder that Saruman is murdered.
Thanks, as always, for reading and