A white Citroen Berlingo overtook. A car for all sorts and conditions of people, flower-shaped decals in green and purple across the back of the car suggested the driver might be of a more bohemian inclination than the average motorist on the M5 motorway.
The hippyish impression created by the flowers was reinforced by a sticker on the rear of the car, below the middle of the back window. “Not all those who wander are lost.”
The words are from JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, they are written by the wizard Gandalf the Grey to Frodo Baggins, they are from a poem Gandalf sends:
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
Looking ahead through the clouds of spray from an articulated lorry, it was undoubtedly a very wet grey, day in February. Looking around at the damp West Country landscape, there was not much sense of being in a shire, only shapeless buildings, tarmac and concrete.
What a contrast it would be to be in the Shire created by Tolkien’s imagining, to be in the land of Hobbits and pre-industrial utopia.
There was a temptation to try to follow the Citroen. Perhaps somewhere among the vast variety that is Somerset, there was a village comparable with those of the Shire, perhaps among the sturdy yeomen folk of the community there would be found a grey bearded wizard who still gave sound advice and who penned memorable lines of verse.
The low grey clouded mistiness recalled how Tolkien’s story had unfolded, the journeys beyond the idyll of the Shire, the places where the sun did not shine on flower-bedecked rusticism.
At the end of it all, Frodo Baggins does not live happily ever after among his Hobbit friends. Instead, a year after being wounded by a Dark Rider, he departs with the elves to sail to the Grey Havens, that offshore Tír na nÓg from which no-one returns. His friends remain, recalling the trials and horrors through which they had passed.
The final version of Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Tolkien’s work edited out the point of the story. The story culminates with the cleansing of the Shire, the Hobbits assuming power themselves to expel the dark forces. The mission of Frodo and his friends had been necessary because without it, even the Shire would have been destroyed.
Perhaps the Citroen was bound for an idyllic destination, perhaps its driver knew that idylls were sometimes only reached through struggle.