As The Hobbits Are About to Return to The Shire Gandalf tells them, “That is what you have been trained for”.

On first thoughts it seems a strange thing for Gandalf to say.

“That is what you have been trained for.”

After all, as we thought about last week in the piece on the talk with Barliman Butterbur, the hobbits have just passed through the great events of the age and they have played a decisive role in them. Surely if there had been a need for training it would have been before they left the Shire in the first place and yet there was none. Frodo and his companions set out as if they were friends on a walking holiday. If it had not been for Tom Bombadil they would not even have reached Bree. If it had not been for Aragorn they would not have reached Rivendell. If being rescued by others is what we call training then in the early stage of this journey they had plenty of it. What they had little or nothing of was experience of getting themselves out of their own troubles. That did not really come until after the breaking of the Fellowship at Parth Galen.

After that Merry and Pippin were prisoners of the Uruk-hai of Isengard and they had to make their own escape using the confusion of battle as their cover. Frodo and Sam found their own way out of the Emyn Muil and then they captured Gollum and made him their guide.

We do not need to rehearse all the events that followed but we can agree that when Gandalf said to them, “You will need no help. You are grown up now. Grown indeed very high; among the great you are, and I have no longer any fear for any of you,” he is not trying to flatter them. Not that Gandalf has ever been given to flattery!

The hobbits are among the great. Their deeds bear witness to this. But they do not know that they are. They still see Aragorn, Faramir, Éowyn, Éomer and, of course, Gandalf, as great, but not themselves. Despite all that they have accomplished when Merry hears that Saruman may be behind the strange goings on in the Shire of which they have heard rumours he declares that he is glad that Gandalf is with them to sort everything out.

Perhaps what we see here is the common behaviour of young people who, having had their first taste of serious responsibility, return home and want their parents to take charge again. If that is so then Gandalf does what good parents should do. He tells them that it is time for them to be true adults now and to sort out their own problems. And then he says something that is even a little shocking. He tells them that he is done with being a parent.

“My time is over: it is no longer my task to set things to rights, nor to help folk to do so.”

Gandalf is off for a long talk with Tom Bombadil. The hobbits will have to sort out their own problems. Later on Saruman will draw attention to this supposed irresponsibility on Gandalf’s part. “When his tools have done their task he drops them,” he says.

But Gandalf is entirely correct. The hobbits have been trained to sort out the problems of their own country. They have endured great suffering and they have done great deeds. The challenges posed by the power grab that Lotho Sackville-Baggins makes after Frodo and his companions leave the Shire and the destruction wreaked by Saruman and his band of robbers are easily dealt with. They learn how strong and how wise they are. They have increased while Saruman has been diminished.

But these are events that we will turn to in coming weeks. Now we are with Frodo and his companions as Gandalf races away upon Shadowfax and they have that strange feeling that no one is going to come to solve all their problems, that they will have to do it themselves. But soon they will recall who they are and what they have done. It will not be long before they have put all to rights.


16 thoughts on “As The Hobbits Are About to Return to The Shire Gandalf tells them, “That is what you have been trained for”.

  1. And they wouldn’t have even made it to Crickhollow without Sam, twice at least saving them from the Black Rider. And lets not forget Gildor and his company. Cheers for all the grace-filled aid the hobbits received!

    Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie 🙂

    • Those are points well made, Anne Marie ☺ That would lead to a reflection on grace or, as Thomas Shippey does in his Road to Middle-earth, a reflection on wyrd.
      God bless you, Anne Marie 😊

  2. As always, many thanks. An interesting story: I am reading “The Scouring of the Shire” to my son who is 13. We have been sort of reading forever in spits and spurts. I’ve been enjoying doing random local voices but have run out, I’m afraid.
    Nicolas noted something interesting: “The tone has changed,” he said. “It’s like history instead of myth. We’re back in the shire.” A good reader’s response to shape our literary criticism!

    • I am seriously impressed by Nicholas as a critical reader! As I say to my own children, I always know when I have read something good because it stimulates my own thinking. In this case I found that Nicholas’s insight led me to go back to the wonderful ending to “Homeward Bound” when Merry speaks of waking up and Frodo of falling asleep. I think that I would like to write a piece on this next week but I will need to do a lot of thinking first. It is about the contrast between history and mythology.
      On the reading of The Scouring of the Shire I am sure that you are having lots of fun! I am convinced that the Shirefolk speak in Worcestershire accents. I have a particular love for the speech of some of the farmers here. There is a slowness of rythm that denotes carefulness rather than stupidity. Woe betide the person who mistakes the former for the latter!

      • My daughter, Beckie, is currently on tour in Ireland with her university choir. They are taking a song in the Irish language with them. Now that is what I call brave! And many thanks for the link! Fascinating.

      • There’s an Irishman who until recently worked in my team. He’s a brilliant guy but sadly he’s moved companies. Anyway, he does an ‘inhaled yes’ … though not quite like the one in the video Brenton linked. I thought it was just one of Ray’s quirks. But maybe there’s more to it!

      • I don’t think if Brenton will pick up your comment. Depends on whether WordPress alert him to it, I guess. I would love to know his reflection on it. Does Prince Edward Island have an old Irish connection or do these inhaled sounds also exist in the west of Scotland? Fascinating! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Thank you for this wonderful insight, Stephen! It seems that it might yet be difficult for the Hobbits to feel great. They’re not used to such a role. Even after accomplishing so much. At least, not yet. And their doing something on their own accord, without Gandalf’s guidance, can be their coming of age.

    • I think that Frodo has finished his work. He and Sam might have accomplished his task without the support of the rest of the Fellowship but he has no desire to do anything else. Sam does, of course. He has a family to build. And Merry and Pippin have always been rooted in the Shire. You have to start with something you know, they say. But they all bring what they know to say to their fellow hobbits, ” You don’t have to to be bullied by these people. You are stronger than they are”.
      Many thanks for leaving this comment, Olga.

  4. I feel like it can be disputed that even though the Hobbits are well equipped to deal with their problems- Gandalf can still warn them that this may have happened over the course of the war. Saruman quote about Gandalf not caring did strike a chord with me in the fact that Gandalf did kind of use the Hobbits but once they go back to their home land does nothing to help. I do understand that the Hobbits do not need others to help them (I.e Aragorn or Gandalf etc ) but it would’ve been nice to have a warning of sorts…

    • Thank you so much for leaving a comment on this blog. I do hope that you will visit again!
      It is a tough call on how much support you should or shouldn’t give at any time. I have daughters, both of whom are in their early twenties, and I am liable either to give too much or too little support. I was a proud young man who wanted to be as independent as possible. I wouldn’t tell my parents even when I was in big trouble.
      Gandalf does tell the hobbits that Saruman is likely to be behind the problems in the Shire but he also tells them (and rightly so) that they are capable of sorting out the problems by themselves. The only reason why the hobbits of the Shire have not already dealt with Saruman is because they don’t believe that they can. As soon as the four travellers give them leadership the whole thing is all over pretty quickly.
      And as for Saruman’s criticism of Gandalf surely the point is that Saruman still underestimates hobbits. It is as if he is saying, “You poor little hobbits. Is there no-one to look after you?” Gandalf is right when he says that the travellers are among the Great.
      What do you think?

      • They are among the great and have grown but i do feel like Saruman’s remark is correct in a way and that Gandalf shouldn’t have said the remark that he had about them growing and if they understood.
        I do not have kids but letting go of them for school and letting go of dealing with danger by themselves are two separate things.
        Love your insights and will continue to visit often! 🙂

      • A few years ago I heard someone say that you know you are an adult when you realise that the grown-ups are not going to turn up. You have to sort it out yourself. No one turned up in Shelob’s Lair when Sam Gamgee faced Shelob alone. And Merry seems to have forgotten that no-one came to his rescue when he and Éowyn faced the Witch King of Angmar on the Pelennor Fields. But who can blame him for wanting the mighty Gandalf to sort Saruman out? And who can blame Gandalf for saying that he has spent thousands of years sorting things out and it is time for a rest? And soon the hobbits will find that they are not up against the mighty Saruman of Isengard but a rather sad leader of a bunch of bandits whose time is almost up.

  5. Two things: 1) Learning through observation is a certain kind of training! Just because they were rescued by Aragorn, Tom, et al, it doesn’t mean they weren’t learning. Also, just consider the amount of training they underwent insofar as discovering the world outside their comfort zone(s). Learning the world is a much bigger place than The Shire is highly educational in and of itself.
    2) I am reminded of Sam’s feelings about the locals’ attitudes towards Frodo upon his return.

    “Frodo dropped quietly out of all doings of the Shire, and Sam was pained to notice how little honour he had in his own country. Few people knew or wanted to know about his deeds and adventures; their admiration and respect were given mostly to Mr. Meriadoc and Mr. Peregrin and (if Sam had known it) to himself.”

    Sam still sees Frodo, Merry and Pippin as above himself. He doesn’t question the honour given to Pippin and Merry, but he does wonder why Frodo doesn’t receive greater honour and doesn’t notice the honour given to himself.

    • Many thanks for your thoughtful response to what I wrote, Jeremiah. I appreciate it very much and agree with you wholeheartedly. Every part of the hobbits’ journey was an education, including the parts in which they had to be rescued. I smiled at the thought that the journey to the Cracks of Doom was a preparation for dealing with the problems of the Shire. One would have thought it should be the other way round. But that is how life is. Everything that we experience prepares us for the next challenge. The men, like my father, who took part in the invasion of June 1944 in Normandy had to become husbands, fathers and useful members of their communities. Right now I am learning the challenges of being a good father to children growing into adulthood among other things (!) The learning never ceases.
      On Frodo in the Shire after the Battle of Bywater I do hope that you will offer your own thoughts when I write about this. For myself I believe that from the time he left Bilbo in Rivendell Frodo knew that the Shire was no longer his true home.

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