'Homeward Bound' was the title I gave to the penultimate episode of the 1981 BBC radio dramatisation of The Lord of the Rings, originally broadcast on this Sunday, forty years ago.
The great challenge of the serialisation – after the crisis-after-crisis driven story that reaches its narrative peak in episodes twenty-three and twenty-four with the destruction of the One Ring and Sauron's power and the coronation of Gondor's returning King – is the lengthy and anticlimactic homeward journey with its serial partings and farewells.
All of this textual material had to be ruthlessly compressed to work within the tight structure of weekly half-hour episodes. Despite the demands of condensing Tolkien's rich text, I remained determined that – although heavily edited – the Scouring of the Shire and the Grima's murder of Saruman on the doorstep of Bag End – would be retained since, without those events, the whole drama would be less meaningful.
"The very end of the war, I hope," said Merry.
"I hope so," said Frodo and sighed. The very last stroke. But to think that it should fall here, at the very door of Bag End! Among all my hopes and fears at least I never expected that."
But Tolkien knew that, in some way or another, battles – large and small – all end at our own front door...
Eric Fraser's original illustration for Radio Times takes the sober, haunting image of the sadly despoiled Shire found by the heroes on their return from war.