Friday, January 28, 2022

Scouring and repairing

Some of us have wished that Jackson's LOTR films had included the narrative from Tolkien's chapter “The Scouring of the Shire” but, of course, that would have precluded killing off Saruman earlier in the films. Today Alan Jacobs on that chapter from Return of the King:
...[Y]ou should always pay attention to Tolkien’s words, especially when they are in any way unusual. He could have said “cleansing” or “purification” or could have invoked a very different image for putting things right. But scouring is what we do to something that is not just dirty but has become encrusted — to a surface to which something foreign (old food, rust) has become affixed and cannot easily be removed. Scouring requires strenuous effort because the foreign object is highly resistant to removal — it seems to want to remain. And the foreign material obscures the character of the object: the shining thing cannot shine. ....

And so when faced with an object that requires scouring we are tempted, sometimes, to throw it away and start over — to give up on it. But let’s look a little deeper into the word. The OED tells me that there are closely related terms in other European languages and that they all trace back to a key Latin word: cūrāre, care (from which we also get “cure”). Scouring is ex + cūrāre, to care for something by cleaning it out. To cure it. To return it to its proper cleanliness and shine and gloss.

To repair it. And the hobbits have to repair the Shire because it is their home. Starting over is not an option. ....

There is in both scouring and repairing a strong suggestion of restoration: of bringing something back to its ideal condition and proper function. .... When we are away from home, home naturally falls into disrepair; and does so even more quickly if it is not left alone but rather is despoiled by those who do not love it. This can be seen as vividly in the Odyssey as in The Lord of the Rings.

A question to ask myself: What do I despair of repairing? I would rather discard than scour. Scouring is a lot of work for an uncertain result. But I will do it for anything and anywhere I think of as my harbor, my place of refuge — my home.
Alan Jacobs, "scouring," Snakes and Ladders, January 28, 2022.

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