Welcome, dear readers, as always.
When Frodo and his companions meet what appear to be two beggars on the road home to the Shire, they are in for an unpleasant surprise.
(a splendid Ted Nasmith, who often chooses moments in Tolkien which no one else seems to have thought of)
“ ‘Well Saruman!’ said Gandalf. ‘Where are you going?’”
Saruman’s response is just what one would expect: self-pitying and spiteful, attacking Galadriel in particular:
“…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.”
He also has words for the Hobbits:
“…Well, it will serve you right when you come home, if you find things less good in the Southfarthing than you would like…” (The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 6, “Many Partings”)
Sam is, of course, right to say “And I didn’t like the sound of what he said about the Southfarthing” as the hobbits discover when they reach the Brandywine and the edge of the Shire:
“It was after nightfall when, wet and tired, the travelers came at last to the Brandywine, and they found the way barred. At either end of the Bridge there was a great spiked gate; and on the further side of the river they could see that some new houses had been built; two-storeyed with narrow straight-sided windows, bare and dimly lit and all very gloomy and un-Shirelike.”
It only gets worse from there, with hints of a kind of brutal communist-like regime
“It’s all those ‘gatherers” and ‘sharers”, I reckon, going round counting and measuring and taking off to storage. They do more gathering, and we never see most of the stuff again,” says Hob Hayward, who is, in fact, a servant of this new regime.
And, instead of an elected mayor, there is “the Chief” and, behind him, “Sharkey”, who turns out to be Sam’s foreboding personified: Saruman.
(by Inger Edelfeldt)
Saruman has been busy in the Shire:
“…’if they’re such fools, I will get ahead of them and teach them a lesson. One ill turn deserves another.’ It would have been a sharper lesson, if only you had given me a little more time and more Men. Still I have already done much that you will find it hard to mend or undo in your lives. And it will be pleasant to think of that and set it against my injuries.”
Besides reorganizing the Shire socially and politically, Saruman has been busy turning the countryside into an equivalent of early Industrial Revolution England—Tolkien’s own nightmare of what was happening before and in his own time:
“Still there seemed an unusual amount of burning going on, and smoke rose from many points round about. A great cloud of it was going up far away in the direction of the Woody End…
…they came to Bywater by its wide pool; and there they had their first really painful shock…there was a whole line of ugly new houses along Pool Side…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.” (The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter , “The Scouring of the Shire”)
Because of Saruman’s words, it’s possible to see this as simply a complex act of revenge, a payback by him for the loss of Isengard and his position as head of the Istari.
(by those Tolkien illustrator pioneers, the Hildebrandts)
Frodo, however, sees it as one part of something much larger and much worse:
“ ‘This is worse than Mordor!’ said Sam…
“ ‘Yes, this is Mordor,’ said Frodo. ‘Just one of its works. Saruman was doing its work all the time, even when he thought he was working for himself…’ “
This is a theme which we can trace all the way back to Gandalf’s description of his conversation with Saruman in “The Council of Elrond”, where Saruman has tried to enlist Gandalf on his side for the conquest of Gondor he anticipates:
“ ‘…A new Power is rising. Against it the old allies and policies will not avail us at all. There is no hope left in Elves or dying Numenor. This then is one choice before you, before us. We may join with that Power. It would be wise, Gandalf. There is hope that way. Victory is at hand; there will be rich reward for those that aided it. As the Power grows, its proved friends will also grow; and the Wise, such as you and I, may with patience come at last to direct its courses, to control it…’
‘Saruman,’ I said, ‘I have heard speeches of this kind before, but only in the mouths of emissaries sent from Mordor to deceive the ignorant…’ “ (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 2, “The Council of Elrond”)
As we learn, Saruman has unwisely believed that, in handling a palantir, his communications with Sauron have been simply an exchange of views between two sovereign powers.
This has led him to produce his own Mordor in miniature at Isengard, with its imitation of Mordor’s industrial power—
“But Saruman had slowly shaped it to his shifting purposes, and made it better, as he thought, being deceived—for all those arts and subtle devices, for which he forsook his former wisdom, and which fondly he imagined were his own, came but from Mordor; so that what he made was naught, only a little copy, a child’s model or a slave’s flattery, of that vast fortress, armoury, prison, furnace of great power, Barad-dur, the Dark Tower, which suffered no rival and laughed at flattery, biding its time, secure in its pride and its immeasurable strength.” (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 7, “The Road to Isengard”)
Something which appears in the Prologue to The Lord of the Rings, however, has led me to imagine that Saruman could be doing all of this not just for the sake of vengeance, but for a larger purpose, now that Sauron and Mordor are no more: making a comeback. Very early in that text, the narrator says of the Hobbits:
“They do not and did not understand or like machines more complicated than a forge-bellows, a water-mill, or a hand-loom, though they were skilful with tools.” (The Lord of the Rings, Prologue I “Concerning Hobbits”)
England, in the mid-18th century, was suffering an economic crisis. From the Middle Ages, it had long been a producer of wool and woolen goods for Europe.
This had always been a piece-work industry, in which everything had been done by hand.
With England’s rise to a dominant position in trade and shipping at the time of the Seven Years War, however, demand had begun rapidly to exceed supply. And the means to reorganize supply were the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution. The slowness of supply came from having to depend upon spinners (called “spinsters”)
the usual formula being that it took at least five spinsters to keep a weaver in thread. And here we see the “hand-loom” which the Hobbits understood.
The means of changing this came in the form of machines, which began to appear in the 1760s with James Hargreaves’ (1721-1778) “spinning jenny”,
which allowed one operator, turning a crank, to produce 24 bobbins of thread at once.
Since the Romans, people had used water power to grind wheat and other grains into flour—this is the “water-mill” which the Hobbits also understood. And JRRT provides us with a picture of one.
It was easy, then, for an ingenious engineer, Richard Arkwright (1732-1792),
to take the next step and figure out a way to hook a thread-producing machine to water power, thus removing the person turning the crank entirely and producing something which, in theory, could work seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. And it was a simple jump from there to factories with water-powered looms mechanically producing yard after yard of cloth.
Water power had its disadvantages: drought and winter freezes could stop the process, so the further step was to replace the water with the magic power of the 18th and early 19th centuries: steam. Here, the brilliant James Watt,
who, I suspect, thought that virtually everything could be powered by it, enters the picture.
And so were created steam-powered mills, with their smokey stacks—just the sort of thing which Frodo and Sam see with such dismay on their way to Bag End.
In time, however, mills of this sort could have other uses including producing standardized weapons. Although the idea of making muskets with interchangeable parts
dates to the later 18th century and possibly France, it would appear that a leader in the industry was the American, Eli Whitney (1765-1825),
and we see here his steam-powered arms factory, near New Haven, Connecticut, in 1827.
No one in the Third Age had firearms (although Saruman and Sauron both appear to have gunpowder—see “Fourth Age—Big Bang Theory”, 17 February, 2016), but the machines which might have stamped out musket parts could just as well have used the same power for stamping out swords and shields and and whatever clothing Saruman’s orcs wore could easily have been turned out in factories just like the one which appalls the Hobbits.
We are told that Saruman, in imitation of Sauron, had turned Isengard into a vast production site to further his plans of conquest: can we also imagine that he might have had it in mind to do the same to the Shire, with his mind “of metal and wheels” to try to replace Sauron at last?
Thanks for reading, as always.
Imagine driving a Stanley Steamer,
And know that, as ever, there’s