Another in my FS (the Far Side): series of blog posts.
Trying to understand a situation through someone else's perspective is critical.
To do this you need to take a step back, withdraw your own conclusions and ask yourself why? If you spoke a different language, lived in a different climate, had a different educational background, or if your experiences were not the same as another person, you would likely come to different conclusions. Try to find them.
How we communicate has changed dramatically.
Today, it is very easy to connect with people the world over. At the same time, more and more frequently these interactions are filtered and 'personalized' based on past activity and consumption.
As a result, despite the abundance of information available, we are seeing more and more of what is consistent with what we've seen in the past. Our past is constantly being reinforced with similar content creating an echo-chamber of information.
You have to break out of these barriers and think more broadly in order to take advantage of what is available today, or you'll be destined to make assumptions.
This is the fourth in my writing prompts using aphorisms from Gracian's Pocket Oracle.
Both reality and manner. Substance is not 'stance' enough: you must also heed circumstance. The wrong manner turns everything sour, even justice and reason. The right one makes up for everything: it turns a 'no' golden, sweetens truth, and makes even old age look pretty. The 'how' of things is very important, and a pleasant manner captures the affection of others. A bel portarse is precious in life. Speak and act well and you will get out of any difficult situation.
This one is straight-forward. It is more important how you deliver your message than the accuracy of the message. Gracian supports this by stating that even justice and reason can be undone by poor delivery, whereas the right manner of delivery 'makes up for everything'.
Maybe Gracian is so direct in this instance, because it is so hard for a younger person who is more idealistic to accept it.
Despite age and experience, I don't want to accept it. I want to believe truth exists, that something just will be accepted and that reason will be understood.
The sad fact is that Gracian appears to be mostly right.
It is too good to be true! We are taught if it seems to good to be true, it probably is, yet there are those people who keep putting 'it' out there and other people who keep accepting it as true, until they learn the hard way it is not.
Which brings us around to vanity. Gracian isn't saying directly that you are vain, but he is saying that vanity plays into what people want to believe and hence they do. If you want to get out of any given situation, you need to speak well and back it with your physical being - your expression and body language. It requires not one or two aspects only, but a complete package to achieve success.
Introducing the FS (the Far Side): series of blog posts. In the midst of cleaning out a drawer this past weekend, I came across a stack of one a day calendar tear-offs featuring Gary Larson's the Far Side that I had kept and not looked at in some time. I figured it would be fun to revisit them and comment in posts for each.
This begs the question, how do you know unknowns or consider unknown-unknowns? And for this you need a comparison to 'normalcy' or in other words an expectation. It could even be to an ideal.
The difference, a gap analysis, between what you see and what you expect helps identify what is missing or additive, between the two. Now you have a sense of your known-unknowns.
The unknown-unknowns are often factors that lead to disruption. They are the 'things' that are not the norm, they are 'outside the box', they are likely to lead to radical change, for better or worse.
These are much harder to identify and sometimes simply the awareness of them with a general understanding to be alert to them will prepare one to deal with them if they arise.
When one thinks about it, most of us are employed by the fact that there are problems that need to be solved. And most of life is a sequence of problems to solve and challenges to overcome. Then once in a great while, we get confronted with the absurd (think the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man) and Larson reminds us that it is okay to laugh at it.
This is the third in my writing prompts using aphorisms from Gracian's Pocket Oracle.
#11 Associate with those you can learn from. Let friendly relations be a school of erudition, and conversation, refined teaching. Make your friends your teachers and blend the usefulness of learning with the pleasure of conversation. Enjoy the company of people of understanding. What you say will be rewarded with applause; what you hear, with learning. What draws us to others, ordinarily, is our own interest, and here that interest is ennobled. The prudent frequent the homes of courtly heroes: theaters of heroism, not palaces of vanity. Some are renowned for their learning and good judgment: oracles of all greatness through example and friendship. Those who accompany them form a courtly academy of gallant discretion and wisdom.
To begin, Gracian makes a statement. He does not say, if you associate, indicating that you will associate with others and therefore you need to choose wisely.
"You are who your friends are" or some variation of this quote is both common and age old. It was the first thing that came to mind when I read this.
Gracian, however, doesn't begin there. First he implores the reader to identify the company one keeps as a school. He noted 'friendly relations.' To me this implies not only camaraderie, but also openness and acceptance.
Next he explains how to benefit. Be willing to learn from these people, absorb what they know and expose through conversation.
Only then does he note that the people should be those of 'understanding." They should be courtly heroes, not vain. They should be renowned for learning and good judgment.
Then, the group, the school as it were, will become a "courtly academy of gallant discretion and wisdom."
In the midst of describing the people, he notes, "What you say will be rewarded with applause; what you hear, with learning. What draws us to others, ordinarily, is our own interest, and here that interest is ennobled."
What you hear with learning is the most straightforward as that is the premise of the entire piece.
Being rewarded with applause I'm not so sure about. It strikes me as vain to seek applause for your thoughts, at the same time, this could speak to the overall environment which is encouraging, open as I noted earlier, to hear and discuss topics without prejudice.
The final sentence I take to be another reinforcement of learning. If your interest is to learn from these people and if it is done as prescribed here, then the learning goes to another level.
The notion of 'the company you keep' is age old. Here Gracian reminds the reader of its being and place, while explaining how to benefit most from it.
What are your thoughts?
This is the second in my writing prompts using aphorisms from Gracian's Pocket Oracle.
4. Knowledge and courage take turns at greatness. Because they are immortal, they can make you so. You are as much as you know, and if you are wise you can do anything. The uninformed person is a dark world unto himself. Judgment and strength: eyes and hands. Without courage, wisdom bears no fruit.
Gracian begins by stating that knowledge and courage are immortal and if one possesses each they too can become immortal.
The great question is "Why?" Why are knowledge and courage immortal?
History appears to support Gracian in that the most knowledgeable people of all time are remembered and often have had to have courage, because their beliefs and writing went against convention or they had to overcome significant obstacles to accomplish their goals.
When generally searching to get a sense of who others deem to be most knowledgeable, often the results focus on intelligence or more specifically, those with the highest IQ.
The word 'knowledge' (according to the Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories) is Middle English, whose source is Old English 'cnawan'. The word "was originally a verb in the sense 'acknowledge, recognize'."
Know has two strands, 'apprehend' and 'comprehend'.
The ability to apprehend everything that is known and further to comprehend it all is something that is unattainable today and likely ever. Aristotle (384 - 322 BC) is often attributed with being the last person to "know everything". Da Vinci (1452-1519), Shakespeare (1564-1616), and Goethe (1749-1832) are also cited by various sources as being in this 'class' of individuals.
While these individuals surely had very high intelligence, they are more well known for the diversity of their knowledge as compared to Newton or Galileo who were more specifically known for their work in math and science.
Courage is also Middle English and was 'once referred to the heart as the seat of feelings'. It is derived from Old French 'corage'.
'Having heart' is often associated with courage. It is a 'fighting spirit'. It demonstrates one's desire to achieve.
In the next sentence, Gracian goes beyond having knowledge and courage by adding being wise. Wise is related to 'wit', which is 'have knowledge of'. Being wise is then using one's knowledge and experience to make 'good' or 'right' decisions. In doing so, one 'can do anything'.
He closes with two sentences: "Judgment and strength: eyes and hands. Without courage, wisdom bears no fruit."
Here he reinforces his opening statement that knowledge and courage must work together to achieve success.
So what about, "The uninformed person is a dark world unto himself."?
This sentence seems out of sorts with everything else in this passage. It strikes me more as the start of a promo for the book itself, "The uninformed person is a dark world unto himself. Learn how to be enlightened, live well, and be immortalized in history by reading this book!"
I don't think this is what Gracian had in mind, though.
The entire work is based on, as stated in the introduction, "a book of strategies for knowing, judging, and acting: for making one's way in the world and achieving distinction and perfection." The opposite of which is one who does none of these things, the 'uninformed' person and being such that individual is in a solitary place without hope for improvement.
This person has neither knowledge or courage and by extension wisdom or strength.
What do you think?
This is the first in my writing prompts using aphorisms from Gracian's Pocket Oracle.
2. Character and intelligence. The poles your talent spins on, displaying your gifts. One without the other brings only half of success. It isn't enough to be intelligent; you must also have the right character. The fool fails by behaving without regard to his condition, position, origin, or friendships.
Without delving into what is the 'right character' and what constitutes being 'intelligent', Gracian does state the two must both be possessed by the individual to achieve success.
This reminds me of Sun Tzu saying (to summarize) 'know your enemy and yourself and in one hundred battles you will never be in peril, when ignorant of the enemy, but you know yourself, the outcome is even, and when you know not yourself or your enemy you are certain to be in peril in every battle' (The Art of War, Chapter III, #'s 31, 32, and 33).
Both require internal and external understanding.
Gracian is not as clear on this point until one reads the last sentence regarding the fool. If one's condition, position, origin or friendships are not considered, then one is a fool. So external understanding is as important as internal.
Looking externally, then, allows one to rightly or otherwise, assess their own character and intelligence as compared to others.
Character is a Middle English word that was taken from French via Latin and initially from the Greek kharakter, 'a stamping tool' (The Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories). In the early 16th century it came to mean a 'token, feature, or trait' and after that 'a description, especially of a person's qualities.'
As such, character requires a qualifier and how you are perceived by others is critical to your success. The perception will most likely be derived by how you present yourself to others, but it will also be based on what others who do not know you learn from those who do.
Act as if no one were watching, or some variation, is often considered a definition of one's character in that a person's true self is how that individual acts when no one is watching. On the other hand it also cautions that what is presented to others isn't always a true indication of the individual.
The ideal then is to present one's self consistently in both instances. This, however, doesn't mean one will present one's self well. The consensus is that social norms will change how one acts in public to accommodate them, whereas when not in public the true self will be revealed.
The goal then, is to act alone as one would in public.
Intelligence is derived from intellect, another Middle English word, based on the Latin, intellectus, 'understanding', from intellegere 'to understand' or literally 'choose between'. The term was little used before the 16th century.
The 'choose between' is intriguing. It implies to me that given two choices, the person with intelligence will choose the 'right' one. Of course intelligence as we consider it today is far more complex than a single option of choosing between this or that.
I've personally found that the most intelligent people are those who can take very complicated concepts or situations and make them understandable to the layman.
For fun, let's represent Character and Intelligence as literal paired poles. Each pole would be bound one to the other, but heighted based on the quality each one possesses.
The bond would be you, the individual person.
Now we come to your 'talent'. Regardless of your character or intelligence, you possess talent.
At issue is the quality of your talent and the extent to which you 'display your gifts.'
Here I would insert 'balance'. The better one can align character and intelligence, the more one's talent can 'spin' or flourish and thereby be projected for better or worst.
The higher the poles of character and intelligence, being well-balanced, will result in talent spinning faster (than if the two were unbalanced and unsteady) and therefore, given their height, projecting further without being obstructed by others.
As is found throughout Gracian's work, there is a lot to digest in a short piece of his writing.
Hope you enjoyed these musings on aphorism #2. Feel free to post your thoughts or comments!
In college I first read Baltasar Gracian's The Art of Worldly Wisdom: A Pocket Oracle, translated by Christopher Mauerer.
Gracian was a Spanish Jesuit (b. 1601, d. 1658) priest who wrote many works including this one. The Pocket Oracle is comprised of 300 aphorisms with brief commentary on each.
Per the introduction (p. v), "Like all aphorisms, these are meant to be read slowly, a few at a time."
I thought it would be a good exercise to revisit this book and use some, not all, of these aphorisms as writing prompts.
I'll title each: Gracian: # title.
You can read what I and many others think of this book on Goodreads.
On the afternoon of Thursday, March 12, 2020 a stream of news came out announcing the suspension and cancellation of most every major sporting league and the NCAA.
Over the past 25 days across the country and especially in the northeast, significant restrictions have been put in place to decrease the spread of the Corona virus or COVID-19.
As a result, businesses have closed, people have lost their jobs, food and supplies have been hoarded resulting in shortages for many others, those with jobs have been told to work from home unless their work is deemed essential and schools have closed with online learning being 'the new norm'.
There are many articles and posts about how people are coping, or not, with the current environment.
My experience is probably a little different from most. For the past 3.5 years I've worked from home. I understand the value of having a routine and a schedule outside the office environment most people have.
In mid-January, my position was eliminated due to company down-sizing (I've since learned that at least some people have been forced to take reduced salaries and full hours, meaning they can't apply for unemployment to cover the lost income).
From mid-January through late February, I worked on getting my next job. I established a new routine and schedule. While I became increasingly concerned about finding work as the COVID-19 impact became more significant, I stuck to my routine and it has benefited me tremendously.
What I did.
I recognized I couldn't apply for jobs eight hours a day every day, but I wanted to keep my daily routine as routine as possible.
I mostly kept to the same hours of waking up and going to bed and I got to 'work' at the same time.
Early on, I started by updating online profiles, resume, and cover-letters (I maintain one for marketing and one for project management and customize as needed) first thing in the morning.
Then I began to update profiles on job sites and setting up new job alerts for each. I also created this website, as I found many applications asked for a personal site in addition to LinkedIn profile and Twitter handle/profile.
Finally, related to the job search, I reached out to professional contacts and alerted them to my situation and let them know if they knew of any positions or contacts that could be of help to let me know.
I also wanted to keep up my exercise routine. In the fall, I had started playing racquetball once or twice a week and for the holiday's I got a membership at the racquet club that included unlimited free use of the gym, I started going three times a week. Typically, I tried to go around lunch time when it was a gym only day and after work when it was a racquetball day. So I kept to roughly the same times.
The other key points in my daily schedule and routine was waiting until after dinner for any TV and social with a few exceptions (ie messages on LinkedIn). After dinner, I'd watch the news for 30 minutes while going through Feedly and tagging articles to queue up in Buffer to be shared with Twitter. The article review is how I keep up with industry news, best practice, trends, and insights. I also have feeds of personal interest.
Once I reviewed articles and social, I'd dedicate some time each night to read. I mostly enjoy fiction at night and it helps relax and take a break from the screens before bed.
What I'm Doing Now.
I'm keeping pretty much to everything above with a few exceptions. The gym closed due to the COVID-19 restrictions, so I took up either walking each day or if I won't get my step count in, I'll ride the exercise bike at the house. I also dug up a set of dumb bells and an old bench to do a basic workout each day.
I'm writing a blog post a week (or trying to). And I've taken up online courses. I've been starting my day with a lesson or two. I'm taking classes from Code Academy, Khan Academy, and Google Analytics Academy. The courses I'm taking are a mix of areas I have some familiarity with, but limited (such as SQL and R) and ones I'm taking as a refresher (Analytics).
With the weather getting nicer, I'm mixing in yard work with walks. The yard work is both necessary and satisfying in that you get exercise and you get something tangible done. Some of the things I'm doing are annual and some are very much overdue. I've also been cleaning out things and throwing away 'stuff' that has built up through the years, which is also personally satisfying.
To keep with my project management background, I added the ProjectPlus for Agile Chrome plug-in and started managing my day using a professional and personal kanban board. In this way, I open the app and my day is laid out for me.
Why it Works for Me.
I've always believed an individual has to be well rounded.
Baltasar Gracian was a Jesuit priest who lived from 1601 to 1658 and wrote The Art of Worldly Wisdom: A Pocket Oracle. The book is a collection of 300 aphorisms that provide, "strategies for knowing, judging, and acting: for making one's way in the world and achieving distinction and perfection." (Introduction p. v)
My favorite is number 6 Reach Perfection. "No one is born that way. Perfect yourself daily, both personally and professionally, until you become a consummate being, rounding off your gifts and reaching eminence."
While my primary focus is securing my next position, I am also learning, reinforcing what I know, and keeping current professionally. I am reading, writing, and exercising. And I'm spending time with my family.
I always implored to my children, and I've emphasized this for my self at this trying time, focus on what is within your control, influence what you can influence, and don't waste time worrying about things beyond your control or influence.
Putting these things together work for me. Despite everything happening, I feel good and am at peace with myself.
What works for you?
Rather long post, just saying.
‘Do what?’ said Pippin.
‘Raise the Shire!’ said Merry.
(RK p. 286)
For Tolkien reading day 2020 ‘The Scouring of the Shire’ was one of the Tolkien Society’s suggestions for the theme “Nature and Industry”.
I decided to read ‘Homeward Bound’ and ‘The Scouring of the Shire.’ I’ve always found ‘The Scouring of the Shire’ to be one of my favorite chapters in The Lord of the Rings (LoTR), but I hadn’t really dug into it too deeply. I included ‘Homeward Bound’, because I saw this chapter as foreshadowing much of what was to come.
In addition to the Return of the King (RK) versions, I also read the History of Middle Earth (HoME) versions, and searched for references in Shippey’s Author of the Century (AC) and Road to Middle Earth (RME).
To warm-up, I read several blog posts on the ‘Scouring of the Shire’. Each one focused on either Tolkien’s experience in the war and returning from war or it was about the rise of industrialization, which was counter to Tolkien’s love of the countryside and trees or both.
Attributing Tolkien’s experience to the LoTR is commonly done and something that Tolkien did not care for, but he did not completely deny. Shippey wrote, “‘The Scouring of the Shire’ had ‘some basis in experience’ though no ‘contemporary political reference whatsoever,’ not even to Britain’s Socialist ‘austerity’ government of 1945-1950.” (RME p. 169). The basis was more likely from Tolkien’s childhood, “when places like his old home in Sarehole, Warwickshire, were being drawn into the industrial Birmingham conurbation.” (AC p. 167).
A few addressed the chapter as the true coming of age moment for the four hobbits. This is how I had previously taken this chapter. It was the ‘culmination’ of their experience. Everything they had encountered and learned was now put toward doing good in their own community and setting the course for their individual futures.
“At last the hobbits had their faces turned towards home. They were eager now to see the Shire again; but at first they rode only slowly, for Frodo had been ill at ease.” (RK p. 268)
Frodo was on the anniversary of his wound and nearing the site of it. He speaks with Gandalf who has continued journeying with them as all the others have gone their own way.
“‘Alas! There are some wounds that cannot be wholly cured,’ said Gandalf.
‘I fear it may be so with mine,’ said Frodo. ‘There is no real going back. Though I may come to the Shire, it will not seem the same; for I shall not be the same.’” (RK p. 268)
While the dialogue is specific to Gandalf and Frodo, I take this passage with a larger meaning. As the ring-bearer, Frodo, may be the most impacted, but Sam, Merry and Pippin will also never be the same as a result of their experience on this journey.
‘Homeward Bound’ covers the journey from east of Weathertop to the departure of Gandalf to visit Tom Bombadil. At Bree, the party finds the gate shut and not wanting outsiders. Arriving at the Prancing Pony, Butterbur welcomes them and they learn things are not well in Bree and he eventually tells them the same is true of the Shire.
In their discussion with Butterbur and again in their time in the Common Room the next day, the hobbits all take note that the great events away south are of little to no interest to the people and that they have hardly any knowledge of what has been transpiring. With the understanding of all that has happened, the hobbits find this hard to believe.
Having been so integral in the events, Frodo’s words were beginning to ring true. The Shire will not seem the same as it had, nor will the four hobbits to all they encounter and had known them before. “The four hobbits like riders upon errantry out of almost forgotten tales” (RK p. 274).
Upon their departure as Butterbur reluctantly tells them all is not well in the Shire, he also tells them that from the changes in them that he has seen, he believes they will take care of themselves and set things right.
As they ride toward the Shire, Sam recalls the memory of the image he saw in Galadriel’s mirror. Pippin lays the blame on Lotho, but Gandalf reminds the hobbits, “You have forgotten Saruman. He began to take an interest in the Shire before Mordor did” (RK p. 275).
In an earlier version, Gandalf does not mention Saruman. Had the hobbits been confronted with Lotho, as opposed to Saruman, the stakes would not have been so high. Lotho was an equal as a hobbit, whereas Saruman was the head of the White Council. While Lotho felt cheated by Frodo for becoming Bilbo’s heir, Saruman felt cheated by Frodo for having denied him the One Ring and ability to rule over all.
Gandalf then tells the hobbits he won’t be joining them on their final journey to the Shire. He intends to sit down and have a long talk with Tom Bombadil. He goes on to tell them that they have grown up and been trained for what lies ahead. They are ready and he is done helping and righting ways.
Again, the earlier version has Gandalf going with the hobbits to the Shire, but his being present and serving a role in the scouring would prevent the hobbits from ‘completing’ their journey and coming into their own.
“‘Well here we are, just the four of us that started out together,’ said Merry.” (RK p. 276). This was very near the end of ‘Homeward Bound’, and as I considered this chapter, Merry’s words could have made for a decent ending. Decent, but still wanting.
‘Homeward Bound’ in foreshadowing some of the events to come begins to draw the distinction between the Shire then and now, as well as the hobbits. The Shire has changed, not for the better, but the reader does not know the extent and the hobbits have changed, as the reader is reminded through the perspective of the others in Bree and Gandalf himself.
Returning home demonstrates how changed the four hobbits, the travellers, have each become and in their own way, as well as how the bigger events that have transpired impacted the Shire. At the same time, it reinforces the shire-folks’ concern for local affairs without regard to the bigger ones. Finally, as the travellers have changed, so too has Saruman.
Similar to their arrival at Bree, the four hobbits come at night. It is damp and cold. They are tired. They find a gate on both ends of the Brandywine bridge where there hadn’t been ones before. They also notice new, un-hobbitlike, buildings on the far side of the river. After some time they are told to go away and to read the notice on the gate, which in the dark they don’t see.
Merry recognizes a hobbit, Hob Hayward, and addresses him. They learn the “Chief” is at Bag-End. Frodo assumes it is Lotho despite Gandalf’s warning of Saruman (RK p. 277).
When entrance continues to be denied, it is Merry who takes action, calling Pippin to join him; they climb the gate and enter. Then one of the ruffians, big men, arrives. It is Bill Ferny from Bree. At first, he is confident of bullying the little people, until he catches the glint of the swords held by Merry and Pippin. Merry addresses him by name, commands him to open the gate, and tells him to leave and never return, which he does.
In this scene, Merry is truly an adult hobbit. Moreso, he is battle hardened and has taken the lead. It is also noted a few pages later that they (Merry and Pippin) are “uncommonly large and strong-looking” (RK p. 279). So, thanks to the Ent draught they have significantly physically changed, too, especially in the eyes of their fellow hobbits.
Many of the lines and actions attributed to Merry in these early passages were originally spoken by Frodo or Gandalf. The removal of Gandalf allows for the development of the hobbits.
Frodo, though, is at first an aggressive leader in the early versions of this chapter. Through revision, he becomes more thoughtful and ultimately pacifist. His role is more of adviser and protector of all, while the others remind him that fighting will be inevitable under the current conditions.
Within the gates, the four learn the inns have all been closed, food and wood for fire is rationed, and there are many rules to follow. The rationing is based on the sharing and gathering, or more to the point the gathering without sharing done by the men at the expense of the hobbits.
The expansion of rules leads to the need for enforcement and to that end more and more hobbits are enlisted to serve as Shirriffs.
On the main road, heading to Frogmorton, they encounter a band of Shirriffs who are there to arrest them. In this scene, Frodo is “inclined to laugh” (RK p. 280) and asks what is going on? Being told the four are being arrested and read the charges, Frodo asks, “And what else?”
Sam speaks up next and the Shirriff responds, resulting in laughter from the four.
Frodo then replies, “I am going where I please, and in my own time. I happen to be going to Bag End on business, but if you insist on going too, well that is your affair.’” (RK p. 280). He then says shortly after being told not to forget he has been arrested, “Never. But I may forgive you.”
This is the last instance in the final version that Frodo acts in this manner. The more he sees, the more he is saddened.
The next day the arrested hobbits head out to Bag-End on their ponies. Merry has the Shirriffs lead the way as “Merry, Pippin, and Sam sat at their ease laughing and talking and singing, while the Shirriffs stumped along trying to look stern and important. Frodo, however, was silent and looked rather sad and thoughtful.” (RK p. 282)
Originally, it was Frodo who drove the Shirriffs, so this is truly the turning point in the direction Frodo would take through this chapter and those remaining. As Merry continues to take the lead in the final version, Frodo becomes more resigned and thoughtful than he had been.
Frodo is the first of the four to be thinking about the macro aspects of what is happening in the Shire, while the others are focused on the micro ones. Part of this could be attributed to age, Frodo is older than the others, and he also has had more ‘bigger’ discussions than the others, particularly with Gandalf, through the years.
The driving of the hobbit Sherriffs, some who enjoy their role and many more who do not, but don’t know how to get out of it, points out the division created of hobbit vs. hobbit, which is a likely potential source of Frodo’s sadness.
Arriving at Bywater, “they had their first really painful shock. This was Frodo and Sam’s own country, and they found out now that they cared about it more than any other place in the world.” (RK p. 283). Homes were missing, some burned down, trees were gone, and ugly houses were erected. In the distance a tall chimney of brick blew black smoke into the sky from the area of Bag End.
At the Green Dragon, the hobbits encounter a half dozen ruffians. Merry toys with them in his responses before aggravating them. At that point Frodo speaks up ‘quietly’. Frodo attempts to talk through things with the ruffian. When told Saruman is a ‘beggar in the wilderness’, the ruffian becomes very direct with Frodo, insulting him. It is too much for Pippin.
Pippin, the youngest of the four and possibly still the most apt to act before thinking, throws off his cloak declaring, “I am a messenger of the king,’ he said. ‘You are speaking to the King’s friend, and one of the most renowned in all the lands of the West. You are a ruffian and a fool. Down on your knees in the road and ask pardon, or I will set this troll’s bane in you!” (RK p. 285) Merry and Sam drew their swords and stood alongside Pippin. The ruffians turned and fled.
It is at this point that Frodo explains to Pippin and the others how he believes things have transpired in the Shire regarding Lotho, the bringing in of the ruffians, and the trap Lotho has now found himself in.
Pippin is incredulous that after everything they return to the Shire to save Lotho. “Of all the ends to our journey that is the very last I should have thought of: to have to fight half-orcs and ruffians in the Shire itself - to rescue Lotho Pimple!” (RK p. 285).
Frodo considers fighting and acknowledges it may come to that, but killing must be avoided. Merry and Pippin impress upon Frodo that they may have scared the ruffians in small numbers, but it won’t happen again and they will come with greater numbers and be better prepared.
Frodo seeks a peaceful way to resolve the current state of the Shire and return it to what it once was, but Merry and Pippin are more realistic given the situation.
Sam suggests going to Tom Cotton’s.
At this point, the four have mostly shown who they have become. One way of highlighting this is by considering them opposite another from this chapter. As Tolkien seems to take to pairings, such as orcs and elves and trolls and Ents, I tried to consider the opposite pairings in this chapter: Saruman and Frodo, Wormtongue and Sam, Bill Ferny and Merry, and Ted Sandyman and Pippin.
Saruman becomes corrupted in his desire for power and seeks it through the Ring. Frodo is a reluctant leader, who by virtue of being possessor of the Ring, feels obligated to be the Ring-bearer and destroy it. By doing so it breaks him as well.
Having lost most of his power, Isengard, and being left with his voice and Wormtongue, Saruman seeks revenge on the hobbits by destroying the Shire. The hobbits meeting Saruman on the road only strengthens his resolve. Despite the damage he has done, Frodo does not wish him death. In frustration Saruman stabs Frodo. Again, Frodo calls off the hobbits from harming Saruman.
When Saruman begins to leave, Frodo offers Wormtongue to stay, eat and rest as he has done nothing to Frodo. Now, Saruman sees the last thing he has in danger of being taken away from him, too. He tells of Wormtongue murdering Lotho in his sleep, kicks him and demands him to follow, at which point Wormtongue pulls a knife, kills his master and is shot by hobbits before Frodo can stop them.
Frodo shows himself full of mercy and Saruman the opposite.
Both Wormtongue and Sam are loyal to their respective masters, but for very different reasons. Wormtongue was loyal to Saruman for power of his own. He didn’t need dominion over all, but he did want power that he could wield over others and Saruman was his means to that end.
Sam was loyal to his master out of respect and love. Early on, Sam is depicted akin to a loyal dog at his master’s feet. He grows into a faithful servant who is willing to put his own life on the line for his master to gain nothing for himself except personal satisfaction.
Merry throughout is more thoughtful and a bit more reserved than the more spontaneous Pippin. This could be chalked up to maturity, but it is also a difference in personality and character. Merry breaks orders for the purpose of ‘doing his part’ as every other race was doing. He suffers great pain in stabbing the Witch-King. In the Shire he takes the lead and seems to intuitively understand what needs to be done.
On the other hand, Bill Ferny, a big person, is thoughtful, but only in a way that benefits himself. He does read situations, but does so for self-preservation. This is most obvious when he goes from being a ruffian to fleeing the Shire upon seeing the swords of Merry and Pippin.
Pippin, as mentioned, is the youngest of the four hobbits, and often acts impulsively and isn’t always so aware of what is happening on a larger scale - he just wants to be a part of it. He is the most carefree of the four.
Ted Sandyman, a hobbit, thinks he is aware of what is happening on a larger scale, but really doesn’t. He feels good about himself when others are down or put down.
The remainder of the chapters solidify how they will be remembered based on their deeds in the Shire itself, with those acts outside of it barely known in the Shire, but honored throughout the West.
Beyond character development, though, there is something more in this chapter.
To Sam’s suggestion of going to Farmer Cotton’s, Merry replies,
“No! It’s no good ‘getting under cover’. That is just what people have been doing, and just what these ruffians like. They will simply come down on us in force, corner us, and then drive us out, or burn us in. No, we have got to do something at once.’
‘Do what?’ said Pippin.
‘Raise the Shire!’ said Merry.” (RK p. 286)
This is what I missed when I only thought of this chapter in terms of the characters coming of age. The real significance was addressed by Tom Shippey in J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century (AC p. 219, 220) as he explains how the rebellion in the Shire begins when Merry blows the Horn of Eorl the Young, given to him by Eowyn. When sounded, the hobbits’ paralysis dissipates and everyone seems to wake up.
Shippey calls it a rejection of despair.
He goes on to say:
“If Tolkien were to choose a symbol for his story and its message, it would be, I think, the horn of Eorl. He would have liked to blow it in his own country, and disperse the cloud of post-war and post-faith disillusionment, depression, acquiescence, which so strangely (and twice in his lifetime) followed on victory. And perhaps he did.” (AC p. 220, 221).
Destroying the Ring stopped Sauron and it was a victory in preventing further loss, but the true victory is revealed in rejecting the despair felt by all who live through such times.
It is not the point of feeling relief that things won’t get worse, it is the lifting of despair knowing and believing that things will be better. The raising of the Shire was the rejection of despair. The hobbits, together, could and would take action to be independant once again.
In closing, is ‘the Scouring of the Shire’ about nature and industry? Kind of, but not really. It is included to highlight how the four hobbits have grown individually and most importantly, it demonstrates the power of unity and rejecting despair.
In 2003, the Tolkien Society started celebrating Tolkien Reading Day. "The 25th of March was chosen as the date on which the Ring was destroyed, completing Frodo’s quest and vanquishing Sauron." You can read the Society's post on 2020 here. If you are going social with how you are celebrating use the tag: #readtolkienathome2020 and many continue to use #TolkienReadingDay.
People are encouraged to read any fiction or non-fiction Tolkien related work, but a theme is offered for those who find it hard to choose.
This year's theme is "Nature and Industry."
One of the suggested readings is Leaf by Niggle. This short work by Tolkien ranks at the top of my list along with The Hobbit, LoTR, and anything related to Turin.
I happen to have read it last week, so I'm looking for something else to dive into tonight.
Another recommendation is LoTR's Scouring of the Shire. I decided to read Homeward Bound and Scouring of the Shire from The History of Middle Earth, Volume IX, Sauron Defeated.
Enjoy and have a great read!