Sunday, July 17, 2022

 Minas Tirith and The Shire: Parallel Problems on a Different Scale

In reviewing my highlights from my reading of The Lord of the Rings, a couple years ago I struck by some parallels between Minas Tirith and the Shire. This isn't a full treatment of the matter, but some simple observations based on fuzzy memory and haphazard highlights.

The reader gets an impression of Gondor's great city of Minas Tirith as a mighty fortress which has long held against the dark lord and his minions. It sounds both beautiful and invincible. When Frodo sees the fortress from afar, atop Amon Hen, hope leaps in his heart. It is "white-walled, many towered, proud and fair in its mountain-seat," with battlements glittering with steel. He also sees another fortress, "greater and more strong," the Tower of Barad-dur, and all hope leaves him. (Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, p. 401).

Tolkien continues to dribble details and descriptive elements which reveal that Minas Tirith is even weaker than it appears. It is a city which has allowed many of its strengths to dwindle into weakness, retreating before the darkness, and hiding its own light.

-Yet even so it was Gondor that brought about its own decay, falling by degrees into dotage... (p. 678)

-domed tombs of bygone kings (p. 752)

-falling year by year into decay; (p. 752)

-dead tree, and the falling drops dripped sadly from its barren and broken branches back into the clear water. (p. 753)

-avenue of kings long dead. (p. 754)

-‘It is a black night, and all the blacker since orders came that lights are to be dimmed within the City, and none are to shine out from the walls.' (p. 772)

-'The Darkness has begun. There will be no dawn.’(p. 772)

-comes from Mordor, lord,’ he said. ‘It began last night at sunset. From the hills in the Eastfold of your realm I saw it rise and creep across the sky, and all night as I rode it came behind eating up the stars. Now the great cloud hangs over all the land between here and the Mountains of Shadow; and it is deepening. War has already begun.’ (p. 801)

-But soon there were few left in Minas Tirith who had the heart to stand up and defy the hosts of Mordor. For yet another weapon, swifter than hunger, the Lord of the Dark Tower had: dread and despair. (p. 823)

Sauron attacks a sick and moribund opponent. Nevertheless, good prevails. Brave men and manifestations of magical--even divine--power save Minas Tirith from the first onslaught of Sauron's armies, and the destruction of the ring unmakes the evil one himself. The great city is saved and restored to glory.

But what about the Shire? The oft-overlooked end of the tale with the hobbits returning to what was formerly a garden paradise delivers a poignant message. The small heroes left to fight evil in far away places to prevent it from consuming their homes. When they return, evil has arrived before them, and their homeland has, like decaying Minas Tirith, lost, or at least forgotten its strengths. While Gondor is restored, the Shire has become a police state instead of a paradise. The gardens are destroyed. The Party Tree has been cut down. A parade of restrictions, rules, and misfortune are presented to the arriving heroes:

-It’s like a bit of the bad old times tales tell of, I say. It isn’t safe on the road and nobody goes far, and folk lock up early. We have to keep watchers all round the fence and put a lot of men on the gates at nights.’ (p. 992)

-‘I am sorry, Mr. Merry,’ said Hob, ‘but it isn’t allowed.’ ‘What isn’t allowed?’ ‘Taking in folk off-hand like, and eating extra food, and all that,’ said Hob. (p. 999)

-‘We grows a lot of food, but we don’t rightly know what becomes of it. It’s all these “gatherers” and “sharers”, I reckon, going round counting and measuring and taking off to storage. They do more gathering than sharing, and we never see most of the stuff again.’(p. 999)

-and on every wall there was a notice and a list of Rules (p. 1000)

-‘But if there are many of these ruffians,’ said Merry, ‘it will certainly mean fighting. You won’t rescue Lotho, or the Shire, just by being shocked and sad, my dear Frodo. (p. 1006)

-‘This is worse than Mordor!’ said Sam. ‘Much worse in a way. It comes home to you, as they say; because it is home, and you remember it before it was all ruined. (p. 1018)

Fortunately, the heroes are up to the task.

-But if I may be so bold, you’ve come back changed from your travels, and you look now like folk as can deal with troubles out of hand. (p. 995)

-You must settle its affairs yourselves; that is what you have been trained for. Do you not yet understand? (p. 996)

They refuse to obey the oppressive rules, rally the good folks, and overthrow the tyrant and his minions. They throw off the yoke of tyranny largely on their own, without supernatural aid. Merry does blow the horn he had received from Eowyn, which struck fear into the hearts of enemies. It is in the restoration where the magical or divine power is manifest: Galadriel's gift to Sam, along with the hobbits' hard work, make the Shire blossom again.

It's interesting to note that we first heard the Horn-call of Buckland in the Shire to sound the alarm against the black riders in the early chapters of the story--and it had not been heard then for over a hundred years. Boromir had a horn. Aragorn was given a silver horn. A number of horns call to battle and assembly on both sides of the conflict. At one point, Merry wishes he had a horn to blow and could ride to the rescue like Eomer--and he does so in the Shire.

Both Minas Tirith and the Shire suffered from evil's attacks and their own failure to resist sufficiently when they were strongest. They allowed themselves to be weakened. They neglected their strengths, and fear and despair stole their hope. Gandalf and Aragon brought new hope and strength to Minas Tirith. Merry, Pippin, Sam, and Frodo raised the Shire to remember their strength and provided hope for success amid fear and despair.

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