Juan Manuel Grijalvo - Room in Bree
Published in 'Beyond Bree', January 2009
For reasons that we shall discuss later, this work starts with a quote from Tolkien:
"We all know the differences in kind, but we are not always sure how to place anything that we hear. A child may well believe a report that there are ogres in the next county; many grown-up persons find it easy to believe of another country; and as for another planet, very few adults seem able to imagine it as peopled, if at all, by anything but monsters of iniquity." (On Fairy-Stories, page 42).
Middle-earth is inhabited by various species of anthropomorphic beings. Usually, they keep apart. Bree is a multiracial society where Men and Hobbits live together, but it is the sole instance of such harmony. "Nowhere else in the world was this peculiar (but excellent) arrangement to be found" (I, 204).
In my submission, what Tolkien tells us about Middle-earth is at least as "real" as many books that look like historical chronicles, but are just advertisements, paid for... by the winners, of course. Tolkien's works have "applicability". Let us see what do you make from this:
"The Men and Dwarves were mostly talking of distant events and telling news of a kind that was becoming only too familiar. There was trouble away in the South, and it seemed that the Men who had come up the Greenway were on the move, looking for lands where they could find some peace. The Bree-folk were sympathetic, but plainly not very ready to take a large number of strangers into their little land. One of the travellers, a squint-eyed ill-favoured fellow, was foretelling that more and more people would be coming north in the near future. 'If room isn't found for them, they'll find it for themselves. They've a right to live, same as other folk,' he said loudly. The local inhabitants did not look pleased at the prospect." (I, 211).
And this was happening in Middle-earth. Here and now, when there are troubles in the South, people will flee, for instance, to the North. Nowadays there are no wars, famine or plague in Western Europe. For a long time, even until the first half of the 20th century, it was just the opposite. Millions of Europeans emigrated, for instance, to America. Usually, folks who are already settled somewhere do not like it overmuch when huge masses of aliens come suddenly from abroad, and stay for good in the next house.
Our Hobbit friends hear about the newcomers while they stay in Bree, in their eastward journey. When they come back homewards, they learn that "they're gone for robbers and live outside". They have not seen them because "they wouldn't go for armed folk, with swords and helmets and shields and all". Well and good... As Gandalf puts it, "if they are afraid of just five of us, then we have met worse enemies on our travels" (III, 330).
This association between immigration and crime is hardly a novelty. But Tolkien does not quantify it: all of them are "gone for robbers"? Actually not: "some were just poor bodies running away from trouble".
Upon their return to the Shire, they find again the same problem in a far worse way. Just after reaching the bridge over the Brandywine, they meet an old acquaintance: Bill Ferny. The foreigners have - quite literally - become the masters. Had Sharkey got a little more time, the situation might have had irreversible consequences.
Saruman uses several levers of power. The shirriffs, bought off with a cheap wage... Some morons who like to look important... The shamelessness of a few rascals... A vaguely socialist ideology, or national-socialist maybe, summed up in that curious sentence: gathering stuff up "for fair distribution" (III, 355), complete with ration coupons. Of course, fear. And as a last resource, actual violence. Sharkey's Men have succeeded in putting on their knees and at their service almost the whole Hobbit society. The only remnant of organized resistance is the rural aristocracy of Tuckland and their vassals, and they are not strong enough to regain control. And this will have to be done by force:
"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" (III, 347). In other words, "You will not rescue Lotho, or the Shire, only by having a trauma and getting depressed, my dear Frodo." Now perhaps we would add "by being politically correct."
Our heroes get the situation under control with a moderate amount of violence, but the Shire is only a tiny part of Middle-earth. Hobbits are not a piece of cake from the military viewpoint, but they are no match for a gang of Men or Orcs, if they know the most elementary counter-insurgency tactics. Had Sauron won the war, their fate would have been... I have no words.
By good management and good luck, the winner is Elessar Telcontar. He has reunited the Northern and Southern Kingdoms, and "the King's messengers will ride up the Greenway now, not bullies from Isengard" (III, 345). And neither will the armies of Mordor.
Now you may be wondering about the point I want to make. Tolkien's works have "applicability". Tolkien asserts with suspect vehemence that "The scouring of the Shire" has nothing at all to do with what the soldiers that returned alive from the trenches at the end of the First World War found at home (Foreword, 12). "Excusatio non petita..."
In Europe, we are making an economic union with the criteria of the Master of Esgaroth: "giving his mind to trade and tolls, to cargoes and gold, to which habit he owed his position" (H, 190).
The merchants of the Lake-town tell us that economic integration will bring political union. We will overcome eventual hindrances in the way as we reach them. As this goes on, the Master does what suits him best... in the name of "the people", of course. As if he were a disloyal Steward, ruling someone else's kingdom with objectives that I, for one, do not like.
Meanwhile, thousand upon thousands of "sans papiers" come to the gates of the cities, running away from trouble. Have you seen "Notre-Dame de Paris"? It is a wonderful musical play by Richard Cocciante and Luc Plamondon, based on the novel by Victor Hugo. As impassive spectators, we watch blood-curdling tragedies, and the players actually die right before our eyes, same as in "snuff movies".
You may think that Tolkien's proposal is a folly. Not at all. A King who is also a strong mythical figure, as Aragorn was, might gather many peoples in a political union, attached one by one to his dynasty. His influence will spread from the center: northwards, southwards, eastwards and... westwards. In this part of Middle-earth there are unperishable powers that we should not disturb...
You may think that these things are very difficult... I agree... fully and unreservedly. But, if you allow me a question, how will Europe be doing in ten years if we keep the same policies that we are using now? Read again "The Lord of the Rings". The answer to this... it is also there.
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