“There is no real going back. Though I may come to the Shire, it will not seem the same. I am wounded with knife, sting, and tooth, and a long burden. Where shall I find rest?”
It’s been a year since Weathertop, and the Hobbits are nearing home. Frodo’s unease seems to dissipate the next day, but when they arrive at Bree, conversation casts long shadows and ill portent.
Gandalf and the Hobbits share news with Barliman Butterbur, still the innkeeper at the Prancing Pony. It seems he’s the only thing that hasn’t changed. The locals are frightened and dazzled by the Hobbits’ strange armor and weaponry. Pipeweed supplies are running low, and have stopped coming from the Shire altogether. Strangers are no longer as welcome as they once were. But Gandalf assures Butterbur that things will change now that Sauron is vanquished and a new king sits upon the throne.
When the Company sets off, Sam is reunited with Bill, the pony having found his way home since they parted at Moria. The Hobbits are glad to have Gandalf with them as they head towards the strange goings-on at the Shire. Gandalf reminds them that Saruman is on the loose and had an interest in the Shire long before Sauron, and then he drops the bomb on them that he won’t be going with them. He states that his time is over and assures them that they will not need his help. Shadowfax makes a leap, and Gandalf is gone. Frodo remarks that he feels as though he is falling asleep again now that the adventures are over. This last remark has never really sat well with me, given that Gandalf pretty much told them, “Saruman’s in the Shire, and you’re on your own.” Not exactly the most subtle of foreshadowing on Tolkien’s part.
It’s hard to believe there’s only two chapters left. Sure, we still have the Appendices to work through after that, but still…