Wednesday 5 October 2016

Sleepy Hobbits? Or, Something Worse?

At The Sign Of The Green Dragon: Have we really become “Sleepy Hobbits”? Or, something worse? The Scouring Of The Shire is, arguably, the most important chapter in J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy. Far more than his thrilling depiction of the battles between Wizards, Orcs and Men, it shows how evil is born out of, and fed by, the fear and greed of ordinary, outwardly decent, individuals - even the Hobbits of the Shire.
ARE WE “SLEEPY HOBBITS” – or something worse? Certainly, it doesn’t sound very sinister. Martyn “Bomber” Bradbury’s description of the New Zealand electorate seems a lot more like gentle chiding than a full-blown assault. Kiwis are upbraided for their general failure to respond appropriately to the increasingly alarming news reaching their ears. Comparing them to the complacent patrons of Hobbiton’s Green Dragon, Martyn chastises New Zealanders for being much more interested in listening to gossip than hearing news.
Martyn’s characterisation acquires greater force, however, if his audience’s only reference point is Peter Jackson’s film version of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Apparently, growing concerns about the project’s burgeoning length required Jackson to leave out what is, in many respects, the most powerful chapter of the entire trilogy – The Scouring of the Shire.
It is only when Frodo, Merry, Pippin and Sam return home that the universal impact of Sauron’s bid for absolute power strikes them. With a rising sense of outrage, and horror, they see that their beloved Shire has been transformed into what Tolkien clearly wants his readers to recognise as an industrial wasteland. Worse still, the Hobbits themselves are in the process of being industrialised. The sturdy peasants and artisans of the trilogy’s opening chapters, along with their aristocratic masters, are on the point of being turned into proletarians. They have been driven from their hobbit-holes and herded into barracks. Trees have been cut down. The old flour mill belches black smoke.
Not everyone, however, believes this to be a bad thing.
“This country wants waking up and setting to rights … and Sharkey’s going to do it; and make it hard, if you drive him to it. You need a bigger Boss. And you’ll get one before the year is out if there’s any more trouble. Then you’ll learn a thing or two, you little rat folk.”
Even some hobbits have succumbed to the new order. Ted Sandyman, the miller, scoffs at Sam’s anguish at the Shire’s obliterated beauty:
“Don’t ‘ee like it, Sam? … But you always was soft. I thought you’d gone off in one o’ them ships you used to prattle about, sailing, sailing. What d’you come back for? We’ve work to do in the Shire now.”
Given the way Jackson behaved when his “independent contractors” made a bid for better wages and conditions, it is, perhaps, unsurprising that he decided to keep The Scouring of the Shire out of his movie.
Tolkien makes it clear that tyranny warrants only one response from those it oppresses: rebellion and revolt. Led by the four veterans of the War of the Ring, the Hobbits rise up against “Sharkey”, the new “Boss”, and overthrow his new order. More importantly, they follow the disease to its source – the Wizard Saruman, whose magic, corrupted by Sauron, has wrought so much havoc, even in the Shire.
It is only in Jackson’s movie that the Hobbits (with the obvious exceptions of Bilbo, Frodo, Merry, Pippin and Sam) are portrayed as sleepy and complacent. The film version, similarly, misrepresents the Shire itself. According to Jackson, it is a happy (if utterly powerless) Utopia from which brave souls, very occasionally, venture out, but into which nothing untoward – excepting, briefly, Sauron’s Black Riders – ever venture in.
Tolkien’s fantasy is much more realistic. His Shire is not overthrown by rampaging Orcs, but by the fear and greed of its own inhabitants. As the steadfast Farmer Cotton explains to Frodo:
“It all began with Pimple, as we call him … and it began as soon as you’d gone off, Mr Frodo. He’d funny ideas, had Pimple. Seems he wanted to own everything himself, and then order other folk about. It soon came out that he already did own a sight more than was good for him; and he was always grabbing more, though where he got the money was a mystery: mills and malt-houses and inns, and farms, and leaf-plantations. He’d already bought Sandyman’s mill before he came to Bag End, seemingly.”
If that doesn’t remind New Zealanders of the fate of their own beautiful country, then Martyn’s right, we really have become “Sleepy Hobbits”! Or, maybe, something even worse. Could it be that we, too, have fallen victim to our own Pimples, our own Ted Sandymans? That far too many of us have allowed ourselves to be ordered around by the Shirrifs? The Boss? By Sharkey?
We must hope not. Because in our own case – in our own Shire – we cannot rely upon four returning heroes to put things right. “Raising the Shire” is something we will have to do on our own. Forging our own swords. Stringing our own bows. Summoning our own neighbours. Only when we have fashioned our own horns and bugles will we, like Tolkien’s Hobbits in revolt, be able to send their clarion blasts echoing across New Zealand’s fields, towns and cities:
Awake! Awake! Fear, Fire, Foes! Awake!
Fire, Foes! Awake!
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 4 October 2016.


peteswriteplace said...

Sleepy hobbits? We have to concern ourselves about day to day things - poverty, unemployment, cost of living, homelessness - too busy to worry about the bigger picture. TPP? Key was recruited to do this to achieve NWO aims - but there are still a few of us who can see what is actually happening, or is liable to in the future. But many of us are getting older and lacking the energy we once had. Key and the Nats have to go, and Labour is the only vehicle to achieve it in coalition with the Greens and NZ First, in no particular order. Andrew has to be supported, and informed of any failings such as support for the TPP. bUt otherwise told to keep on the page!

Tiger Mountain said...

Karl Marx posited along these lines-“does a persons social being determine their political consciousness or vice versa?” in the 21st century it is not quite an either or proposition, and still relevant to the “sleepy Hobbit” meme

my take is that New Zealand is basically one rather munted little country with an enduring post colonial hangover, land of a thousand lawn mowing rounds; with beneficiary and working poor bashing barely second in popularity to rugby, while our glorious leader sets up an international tax haven largely unnoticed by the Hobbits!

a low wage economy for so long now that only those over 50 can recall when it was not so, thus the “sleepy Hobbitses” effect it seems may be a mixture of Rogernomics/Ruthanaisia legacy “don’t knows” along with Tory die hard “don’t want to knows”

our glorious leader will survive only as long as two things continue:
–a slim majority of those that do vote continue to be in deep denial due to the primacy of their property prices
–those that don’t vote stay alienated and or marginalised

jh said...

Reminds one of this Chris?:

greywarbler said...

Peter petterson good on you for being the first comment on this post, and being so prescient. I don't usually find agreement with you.

Chris what a powerful analogy that you have built on Bradbury's comment.
All eople aren't scandalised at people sleeping in the streets etc. Nor does it enter the minds of the advantaged that their success in this neo lib world, is being built on other's lives and bones as a foundation.

And they don't see that it could be so different, they still having lovely lives but with others having at least the basics, and opportunities to improve their earnings and join the social mobility conga dance. At present its a mad rush in a circle in not-very-musical chairs which becomes every chancier as the chairs gradually diminish in numbers.

The prophylactic today is technology it seems. While people can tap out things on small oblongs or onto screens, it comforts them that they are somehow isolating themselves from the hard, brutish world that others can see.

As in the Brit slogan from WW2 - Keep Calm and Carry On. And face life with a merry whistle or a quip as in the endearing Canadian DIY-with-duct-tape show Red and Green,"If the women don't find you handsome, they should at least find you handy". A sense of humour, a sharp nose for phonies, thought and analysis with determination and stamina, and also treasuring and camaraderie of true, kind and practical hearts and policies, may be able to carry people through to a worthwhile life and a niche in a stormy world.

Patricia said...

It would be interesting to know the average age of the commentators on this site. At 77 I do identify with what Peter Petersen says above. It is getting just too hard to get irate at the mess we have around us and the general acceptance of it all. Unfortunately the longer it goes on the fewer there are who remember the opportunities we had in New Zealand. Every pakeha generation, excluding the Maoris, improved their lot by coming to New Zealand and how envious their families back 'home' were. The Post war generation took the biggest leap forward, but then most of the western world did too. Then the economic structure was set up for the people and a whole generation benefited from it. But now world wide it is only for business.. Consequently we now have a Government which has a policy to accept child poverty for gods sake. And this in a country where in 1922 the children's dental health service was set up. I also agree that the left must mobilise as an articulate group to try to a stop what is happening to our people. My fear there is would that just result in division and National conquering? My greatest fear though is that we are being set up for a nuclear World War and once again we are being told, and we accept, Russia is the bad guy. What is the matter with us?

Polly. said...

Chris ,great piece of writing, I also believe (Tiger Mountain) that property prices which apparently are increasing in most places on the beaten track, will keep Key and Co in government which could well mean coalition with Winnie.
I don't think anybody including Winnie knows which way he will jump in 2017. The smart money will be on 'whoever offers the most'. Don't you just love MMP.
I am of the opinion that Labour made a tactical error in having a bob each-way on TPP. it looks like TPP is dead in the water in the USA and Labours timid-ness in policy will show up to many across NZ. Labour could easily rectify that mistake by declaring that will withdraw from TPP if elected, this would please their members and just as importantly 'Winnie'.
I will also look out were Willow Jean Prime lands on Labours list as she was promised a high listing place when Labour threw her under a bus in the Northland by-election. The Maori caucus in Labour will expect Labour to keep its promise.

The good news for Labour is that they seem to be rising in the polls, Roy Morgan/ UMR, though I do not know the reasons except it may be for curbing the screeching, or could it be that sleepy hobbits are awakening?.

SHG said...

Tolkien warned us what to look out for: people from the East, people with dark skin, and people who speak in working-class accents.

Nick R said...

"Sleepy hobbits" isn't gentle chiding, it is contempt for anyone who does not share Bradbury's preoccupations. It's just "wake up sheeple". It implies an arrogant belief that no reasonable person could possibly disagree with him. There is no possibility of disagreement. If we are content with something that he finds unacceptable we are sleepy hobbits - slow, stupid, complacent and deluded. There is nothing clever or attractive about this. It is a form of hectoring which is profoundly unlikely to convince anyone to change their mind about anything, ever. You don't persuade people by insulting them.

I actually see Bradbury's use of this term as an admission of failure. He's given up trying to persuade people through force of argument. Abuse is all he has left.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Bradbury certainly has an annoying style at times. Which didn't come across well when he read his columns aloud on national radio. But I don't think he's ever tried to persuade people by force of argument as such. He draws stuff to people's attention and let you know his opinion on it in no uncertain terms. And I much prefer his style to the general right wing patronising style as epitomised by David Farrah again on national radio, with its sprinkling of "of course"s and "naturally"s with the odd "everyone knows" or "every reasonable person" – just the assumption that no one could ever disagree with the man unless they are a raving lunatic sort of annoys me a tad.

jh said...

I would put the destruction of Hobbiton down to
1. Marxists. The ideology behind homogeneity is bad /diversity is good, which began when activists infiltrated Labour. The Burke Review of Immigration a deliberate strategy, based on a premise that the “infusion of new elements to New Zealand life has been of immense value to the development of this country to date and will, as a result of this Government’s review of immigration policy, become even more important in the future” (Burke 1986:330) had the explicit aim of dehomogenising New Zealand society. In so doing it throws out the baby with the bath water in so far as the people of a nation need to be able to maintain empathy and rally behind common goals. The globalists who prioritised diversity (National, Labour, Green Party) are forced to downplay the effects of rapid population growth.

Googling Lifestyle of a resort or "Lifestyle of a resort" brings up Life style Resorts but that isn't what I'm looking for. Resorts (Nice, Phuket) all started out like Hobbiton. The Googling exercise demonstrates the subaltern who is unable to speak up thanks to a. Money has a voice. b. The left has infrastructure but excludes dissenting voices e.g calling them "angry old white men".

greywarbler said...

Commenters here reading Patricia's, may feel nostalgic for things like the free dental service for kids and so on. I certainly did when I saw a Potton and Burton calendar featuring promotion posters from the past. It features rail, tourism, dental service - 12 different themes about our aspirations in the 1950's? to be a great little country. Now we are not great, getting smaller, and encouraging rich immigrants to buy what is left!

There's a small wall one for around $10 and a larger option as well. Nice art work to look at. Remember! Can we achieve the plan yet?

jh said...

In general, since the later 20th century, antagonistic views about immigrants have been frowned upon by government spokespeople and state institutions, television news and mainstream newspapers, and within the education system. New Zealanders’ politeness, courtesy and sense of fairness have largely combined to overcome hostility towards newcomers.

I used to get the strap for bad mouthing ork immigration!

Charles E said...

I think Tolkien was warning against the socialist, state capitalist industrialisation of nice conservative country folks' lives. Totalitarianism, national socialism. 'Workers' paradises''.
He would be delighted it was defeated and we now have a liberal post industrial and pretty green West. It's places like Russia & industrialising China Patricia which are heading back to the dark past he hated.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

" industrialising China Patricia which are heading back to the dark past he hated."

Not industrialising. Entering a post-industrial phase. Planning to concentrate on service industries and research and development. And also investing in massive post-industrial clean technologies.

And of course, Tolkien was very conservative and afraid of any sort of workers' revolution. In fact the Shire is pretty much feudal. I agree with Michael Moorcock, that Tolkien's writings are meant to comfort rather than challenge anyone's ideas. Romantic nonsense in effect. An England that never was – at least for most people. Anyone interested in a decent analysis of Tolkien should definitely read 'Epic Pooh'.

jh said...

I agree with Michael Moorcock, that Tolkien's writings are meant to comfort rather than challenge anyone's ideas. Romantic nonsense in effect. An England that never was – at least for most people.
I think the Shire represents human existence in conditions close to those that the human mind evolved in: a mixture of nature and family and kin relationships. It is unequivocal which way children captured by native Americans chose to go when they experienced modernity over the Indian life 10/13 chose the Indian way. That is not to say everything was perfect in those societies (obviously), when children were captured the cry babies got bashed against a tree and dumped for birds to eat.
Human nature (and ecology) is the fail area of the left.
The social sciences’ rejection of human nature has greatly reduced their ability to inform the West’s political culture. Ignoring the vast knowledge accumulated by the disciplines of behavioural biology has led to maladaptive policy and doctrine. This is especially true in Australia, where university departments of sociology, cultural anthropology and political science are devoid of biologically-oriented courses.

jh said...

Population Change and Its Implications: Auckland
Auckland is becoming more diverse. We use Q sampling to analyze peoples attitudes to diversity.
We ask a limited range of questions (all about diversity) and conclude that views are generally positive and this bodes well for Auckland.

Except that:
The Q-sort *represents the complexity of the topic of interest* and enables each participant to answer using its own experiences (Previte, et al., 2007).

Interpretation: We produce a spin piece for MBIE.

jh said...

Chris, do the people "own" the nation?

Dennis Frank said...

I agree with what jh wrote this morning. I'd just modify the romantic nonsense bit to point out that the forces of darkness were meant to reflect contemporary experience of fascism, which itself reflected contemporary experience of communism (the common factor being the totalitarian state). Leftists aren't keen on acknowledging that both Hitler & Stalin entered political life and gained influence as socialists, eh?

The shire most closely represents pastoral England in the early 19th century, as far as I can tell. Seems some local economies around villages supported the villagers sufficiently that poverty wasn't evident, so he generalised that picture to make it idyllic. He also had to eliminate local aristocracy from the picture. I first read The Hobbit in 1957 as a child, and even then the fit with the Rupert Bear stories, etc, cultural ambience was evident - so I reckon it had been the norm for more than a century by then.

I'm not so keen on the sleepy hobbit analogy to NZers. The only common factor is complacency. And in respect of nature & human nature, evolutionary psychology has given us helpful insights the past couple of decades but I still see it as too limiting a mechanist/materialist paradigm to go any further. There's deeper stuff that has more explanatory power. Archetypes, for instance.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Difficult to generalise about Native Americans, but if I was a kid I would have stayed with them too. They were treated far better in Native American society than they were in White American society. I'm not sure why you raise this point mind. Because Native American society was pretty different to the Shire.