The Rise and Fall of Lotho Pimple

I suspect that Lotho Sackville-Baggins was well aware of the name by which he was known in the Shire although doubtless few, if any, would dare use it to his face. I rather think that he came to hold his resentment about the name close to himself as a kind of possession, one that he would nourish and that he would use in order to find energy to fuel his main project, “to own everything himself” as Farmer Cotton puts it. It takes a lot of energy to suppress the true self. To gain the whole world, as the gospels put it,  it is necessary to lose one’s own soul first.

Resentment was a part of the spiritual atmosphere in which Lotho grew up. His parents devoted over seventy-five years of their lives resenting the way that Bilbo Baggins had returned unexpectedly to Bag End from his travels and claimed possession of it once more. Lotho inherited the resentment and the belief that self-worth is intimately associated with possession. His father, Otho, was already a successful businessman growing and selling pipeweed in the South Farthing of the Shire, a business that Lotho inherited, but Lotho had a stroke of luck that transformed his fortunes.

When Saruman first became aware of Gandalf’s liking for smoking pipeweed he sneered at it. But as with every aspect of his relationship with Gandalf his attempt to show himself the superior was merely an affectation.  Saruman knew that Cirdan of the Grey Havens had chosen Gandalf above himself to receive the Elven Ring of Fire and that Galadriel had wanted Gandalf to be the head of the White Council over Saruman and he resented this.

Readers will have noted already the central role that the word, resentment, plays in this sad story, but, as René Girard shows in his mimetic theory, resentment is closely related to envy and to imitation. Saruman desired not only to possess what he perceived Gandalf to possess but he desired to be like Gandalf. He wanted to be admired as he believed Gandalf to be admired and so he began to smoke pipeweed. Of course pipeweed was never the reason that Gandalf was admired but mimetic desire has a way of playing tricks on us. We attach ourselves to certain behaviours as part of the bigger project of becoming the person we admire. In this case it was the smoking of pipeweed.

Saruman became Lotho’s biggest customer and the source of his growing wealth. In an economy based primarily on barter, like the Shire’s, in which money had not played a significant contribution up till then the sudden arrival of money changed things rapidly. Lotho began to buy up more and more property, “mills and malt-houses and inns, and farms, and leaf-plantations.” In other words he became a monopolistic capitalist.

It is necessary here to recognise that in every purchase that Lotho made in this stage of his career two parties were required. Someone had to be a willing seller as well as a willing buyer. There were plenty of hobbits for whom money appeared as a better option that the hard work required to make a decent living out of a farm or a mill or an inn or malt-house.

Eventually Lotho’s desire to grow his business empire inevitably led to resentment and he brought in Saruman’s men as enforcers. Now purchase between willing parties was no longer necessary and Lotho could simply seize what he desired but the forces that he had unleashed in the Shire were to prove too great for him to be able to control.é When Saruman was driven out of Isengard he turned his attention and his anger to the Shire. The Shire and its inhabitants had been the cause, as Saruman perceived it, of his downfall, and once he had arrived in the Shire himself he had no more need of a middle-man. Lotho who had played that role and believed it to be essential was now to discover that he was simply a tool to be disposed of when of no further use. Frodo was aware quite early in his arrival in the Shire of Lotho’s fate and that he would need to be rescued from the very forces that he had unleashed.


8 thoughts on “The Rise and Fall of Lotho Pimple

  1. I never thought about that ironic, hypocritical fact concerning Saruman tossing Lotho aside in the same way that he accuses Gandalf of tossing the four travelling companions aside. Had I not also read your recent posts, I don’t know that I would have ever picked up on it. Great write up, Stephen.

    • Many thanks, Jeremiah. I appreciate that. I find it of great value in terms of my own self-awareness to note the things that I accuse others of.
      I am with Frodo in feeling sorry for Lotho. It must have been a lonely and a bitter end and I think that Frodo could see it coming even before Saruman brags about it.

  2. Economists say that the primary function of money is to make reciprocal exchange possible between people who don’t trust each other. It’s all too common, though, for people to jump from there to doing mostly transactions with people whom they don’t trust.

    • As a trainer/educator for an Anglican diocese I had control of a modest budget. It was a source of some pride to be able to pay a fair price for the services of a poorly paid academic and there are academics without tenure in the UK who are very poorly paid indeed. I was also proud of being able to provide an excellent and popular training programme at a reasonable cost with careful housekeeping. My mistake was that I boasted (too loudly!) that the biggest budgetary item in the programme was my remuneration package. You can imagine what my employers did next!
      I guess that my point in my musing is about seeking to find the “thou” in every transaction. My trainees were often lay volunteers on moderate incomes and their willingness to offer time to a church programme was something worthy of my respect. I read a meditation recently that argued that money is a love token that recognises that I don’t have anything that my local grocer might need right now so I give the token instead. And in the UK my token has a nice picture of the Queen on it which makes everyone happy!

  3. I almost didn’t read this as I do not care for the S-B’s anymore than Bilbo did, but I am glad I did. Now I feel some pity and sorrow for Lotho that I never would have otherwise because of the poisonous atmosphere he grew up in with his parents. Frodo was right to try to rescue him. Alas it was too late. What a sad end.

    Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie 🙂

    • Tolkien’s sympathy for the S-Bs, expressed mainly through Frodo, is something really touching, I think. I used to think that Frodo does not offer very much to the liberation of the Shire but as I read this again I am changing my mind. What he does is to keep gently reminding people of what they are fighting for. It is for a kind and generous Shire. It is not victory at any price. And it has an effect on Lobelia. Her heart is softened at the end of her life. Well done, Frodo!
      God bless you, Anne Marie 😊

  4. It’s interesting to see how Saruman’s desire to imitate Gandalf, to be like him influenced his behaviour. He was no longer the person he initially was, so his aspiration to be someone he wasn’t led to his ruin. I think it began very early in his ‘career’ — this dissatisfaction with his position, others’ respect for Gandalf that irritated him. How often we see a similar pattern of behaviour in our lives! People who envy others and their success, who crave for admiration — they do everything to imitate those who are admired, and try to bring them down at the same time. Their inner vulnerability and lack of confidence show so clearly in these actions.

    • I agree with you entirely Olga. Girard’s thesis is fascinating and quite exhaustive, showing this theme throughout world literature. A particular favourite of mine is his book on Shakespeare entitled, A Theatre of Envy.

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