As the hobbits are on the way home, they meet Saruman walking around, defeated and angry. When they finally get back to their home village(s), they find that they are utterly destroyed and turned into some kind of police state nightmare, apparently led by Saruman.

First of all, it was very unclear to me how Saruman could have managed to do this so quickly. He must have started long before meeting the hobbits on the way home, right? And he was just out on some kind of errand? He didn't rush straight to their village, managed to manipulate everyone and turned it into a dystopian nightmare in the matter of days... correct?

But my main question is: Why exactly? Was there some purpose to this other than simply "getting back at" the hobbits, by deliberately destroying their homes? Even Saruman had no belief/intention to "create a new Isengard and restore evil" after the defeat of both himself and Sauron, right? And even Saruman didn't think that the new buildings looked good or that he was going some kind of "improvement"? He just did everything he could to mess with the hobbits for stopping his evil plans earlier?

The way I understood it, it was already kind of in a state of terror from the management of the "kinda evil" hobbit (whose name escapes me), but Saruman arrived and took over and made it much, much worse. But still, I wonder if he really could have done it so quickly, and solely as an act of revenge. It seems petty even for Saruman.

1 Answer 1


Saruman's links to the Shire start long before his arrival there.

In "The Two Towers," chapter "Floatsam and Jetsam", when Aragon, Gimli, and Legolas meet Merry and Pippin in Orthanc:

Gimli took some and rubbed in in his palms and sniffed it. 'It feels good, and it smells good,' he said.

'It is good!" said Merry. 'My dear Gimli, it is Longbottom Leaf! There were the Hornblower brandmarks on the barrels, as plain as plain. How it came here, I can't imagine. For Saruman's private use, I fancy. I never knew that it went so far abroad. But it comes in handy now?"

And near the end of the same chapter:

'All except one thing,' said Aragon: 'leaf from the Southfarthing in Isengard. The more I consider it, the more curious I find it. I have never been in Isengard, but I have journeyed in this land, and I know well the empty countries that lie between Rohan and the Shire. Neither goods nor folk have passed that way for many a long year, not openly. Saruman had secret dealings with someone in the Shire, I guess. Wormtongues may be found in other houses than King Theoden's. Was there a date on the barrels?'

In "Return of the King," chapter "The Scouring of the Shire:"

'There isn't no pipe-weed now,' said Hob; 'at least only for the Chief's men. All the stocks seem to have gone. We do hear that waggon-loads of it went away down the old roud out of the Southfarthing, over Sarn Ford way. That would be the end o' last year after you left. But it had been going away quietly before that, in a small way. That Lotho -'

As far as purpose, we get some of that in the same chapter:

'I did not,' said Frodo. 'But I might have guessed. A little mischief in a mean way: Gandalf warned me that you were still capable of it.'

'Quite capable,' said Saruman, ' and more than a little. You made me laugh, you hobbit-lordlings, riding along with all those great people, so secure and so pleased with your little selves. You thought you had done very well out of it all, and could not just amble back and have a quiet time in the country. Saruman's home cold be all wrecked, and he could be turned out, but no one could touch yours. Oh no! Gandalf would look after your affairs."

Saruman laughed again. 'Not he! When his tools have done their task he drops them. But you must go dangling after him, dawdling and talking, and riding round twice as far as you needed. "Well," thought I, "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 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.

The meeting in Isengard occurred on March 5, 3019. Gandalf, Frodo, etc. pass Saruman on Aug 28, 3019, and Frodo, etc., arrive that the Brandywine bridge on the evening of Oct 30, 3019. So we are talking about at least seven months, and probably closer to a year to establish connections, and close to two months of time in the Shire to do his work.

  • A very thorough answer (+1) but I think Saruman's interest in Hobbits and the Shire goes back much further. Specifically, the Uruk-Hai were looking for halfling prisoners when they attacked the Fellowship. Going back, it is plausible that Saruman started moving openly against the Shire as soon as he broke with Gandalf. It is hinted (Bill Ferny et al) that he had had spies at Bree secretly before this. Saruman knew Gandalf was interested in the Shire, so it would have been natural for him to want to know why.
    – mikado
    Commented Oct 20, 2020 at 22:33
  • yes, i was thinking of those southerners mentioned in the fellowship too. the connections were there before and he certainly had the motivation to do it once he could devote his full voice/energy to the task in person it would move much more quickly.
    – flowerbug
    Commented Oct 27, 2020 at 0:59

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