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With Sarumanís warning that the Shire is destroyed ringing in their ears, the Hobbits head for Bagís End. On the way they stop at the Prancing Pony, where the Landlord Butterbur is delighted to see them. He tells them that the old pony Bill returned safely and is quite well. Sadly, though, he tells them that the Shire is in trouble. There are ruffians, wolves and highway robbers. Also, the Shire seems to be under the control of some bad Hobbits.
Near the Barrow-downs Gandalf takes leave of the Hobbits, saying that they must handle their own troubles from now on, of which they will have plenty. He goes off on Shadowfax to meet and talk with Tom Bombadil, and the four Hobbits are left alone, just as they were when they first started out. Merry says that having left the others behind one after another feels like a dream fading away. But Frodo says that, to him, it is like falling asleep once more.
The action begins to wind down after the dramatic fight with Sauron, and the destruction of the Ring. But Tolkien is ever the plotter, so he reminds his readers that all is not over. The Shire is in trouble and the adventurers have much work to do to restore their old way of living.
The dream-like dropping-off of their companions is a gentle way of winding down the narrative, one that contributes to the fable-like atmosphere of the novel.