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Old 07-26-2004, 03:33 AM   #1
Estelyn Telcontar
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Estelyn Telcontar is battling Black Riders on Weathertop.Estelyn Telcontar is battling Black Riders on Weathertop.
Boots LotR -- Book 1 - Chapter 06 – The Old Forest

This chapter begins with darkness; though the hobbits are still in Crickhollow, their brief refuge, they are on the verge of leaving. The ominous Old Forest lies ahead of them, and Fatty Bolger’s words
Quote:
I only hope you will not need rescuing before the day is out.
are a premonition of the events to come.

The darkness of the forest pervades the chapter, with only Merry’s cheerfulness and a bit of light in the clearings brightening it up. The hobbits have only just left the Shire and already encounter danger not from the Ring or the Riders, but from a hostile environment that has nothing to do with Sauron’s influence, at least not directly so. I find it interesting that the trees can apparently understand human language, since they react to the words of the hobbits, especially those about the woods failing.

In this situation, where the hobbits have no choice but to take the path chosen for them by the trees, Sam’s bit of heroism saves the day, tiding them over until Tom Bombadil is introduced as their rescuer. (Insert nonsensical poetry here ) At the end of the chapter, an open door and light await them, with Goldberry’s welcoming song. I find the last sentence wonderfully evocative:
Quote:
And with that song the hobbits stood upon the threshold, and a golden light was all about them.
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Old 07-26-2004, 06:45 AM   #2
Tuor of Gondolin
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One observation here: the Old Forest trees enmity illustrates a depth brought to Middle-earth which PJ's movies missed, that there are autonomous forces for good and ill operating. Earlier, Gildor says:
"The Elves have their own labours and their own sorrows, and they are little concerned with the ways of hobbits, or of any other creatures upon earth."

And later Aragorn and Gimli about Caradhras. Aragorn:
"There are many evil and unfriendly things in the world that have little love for those that go on two legs, and yet are not in league with Sauron, but have purposes of their own. Some have been in this world longer than he."
"Caradhras was called the Cruel, and had an ill name," said Gimli, "long years ago, when rumour of Sauron had not been heard in these lands."

Middle-earth can be doubly treacherous, then. It is more then a matter of watching out for Sauron's agents. There are unsuspected and unplanned for agents for good and ill, perhaps operating independent of others, which is in a way more realistic and gives a feeling of depth to the world.

And, of course, it gives Tolkien the first of his chances to have trees react to two-legged "aggression".
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Old 07-26-2004, 07:21 AM   #3
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(Yes, this is a long post - anyone who feels daunted, please skip it, & just pretend it never happened!)

Well, after two, on the surface, slow, uneventful chapters, things start moving! We enter the Old Forest (I can hear the screams from some readers now - ‘Tom Bombadil- ARRGH!!!!!’)

We are now entering strange territory - the Old Forest & Old Tom. Where to begin?

Verlyn Flieger’s essay ‘Taking the Part of Trees’ (in JRR Tolkien & his Literary Resonances offers some insight into the nature of the Old Forest:

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‘Not just dark & mysterious & filled with little understood magic like the Mirkwood of The Hobbit, the Old Forest is consciously ill-intentioned toward those humans who invade it. The hobbits’ encounter with the Old Forest is the first really dangerous, frightening adventure that they experience in LR.
This can hardly be placed under the heading of ‘taking the part of trees’....What we are shown at this point in the narrative is Tolkien version of the standard fairy-tale dark wood on the order of those in ‘Snow White’ & ‘Hansel & Gretel’*.
But If we then look at Tom’s words in the next chapter regarding OMW we get a new insight:

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‘Tom’s words laid bare the hearts of trees & their thoughts, which were often dark & strange, & filled with a hatred of things that go free upon the earth, gnawing, biting, breaking, hacking, burning: destroyers & usurpers. It was not called the Old Forest without reason, for it was indeed ancient ... filled with pride & rooted wisdom, & with malice ...But none were more dangerous than the Great Willow: his heart was rotten, but his strength was green’
Flieger analyses this statement:

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“In critical terms (this passage) deconstructs itself...In the voice of Tom Bombadil, who understands the Old Forest if anyone does, tolkien begins by telling the hobbits (& us) that the thoughts of trees such as Old Man Willow are often ‘dark & strange,’ & ‘filled with hatred.’ But almost immediately we are given a legitimate reason for these dark thoughts, this hatred; they are engendered by the activities of ‘things that go free upon the earth.’ As used here, ‘free’ is a loaded word, for we are not accustomed to thinking of trees as ‘unfree,’ or indeed, connecting them with any concept of freedom versus restraint. We are being reminded of something so obvious that it’s easy to overlook: trees cannot run away. If someone starts hacking at a tree with an axe, the rooted tree has to stand & take the blows’
Compare Merry’s ‘matter-of-fact account of how the hobbits cut down ‘hundreds of trees & burned all the ground in a long strip,’ with the ‘hacking & burning’ of the earlier quote, & also with Treebeard’s lament:

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‘Down on the borders they (Saruman’s orcs) are felling trees - good trees.. Many of those trees were my friends, creatures I had known from nut & acorn; many had voices of their own that are lost forever now.’
We have to face the fact that the trees the hobbits cut down & burned also ‘had voices of their own that are lost forever now’ & that OMW’s anger & desire for revenge is no less understandable than Treebeard’s. Of course, it can be argued that OMW is ‘evil’ because, rather than seeking revenge against the particular hobbits responsible for the hacking & burning, he seeks to revenge himself on all who go on two legs. But Treebeard also revenges himself against all orcs, without interrogating each of them to find out if they were involved in cutting down ‘his’ trees. But perhaps OMW’s irrational anger is more understandable, as he, unlike Treebeard, cannot move, & simply has to remain where he is, at the heart of the Old Forest, aware of the destruction of ‘his’ trees, the loss of their voices forever, unable to come to their defence. Treebeard could have gone to the defence of ‘his’ trees, but didn’t, OMW, rooted to the earth, simply had to remain where he was, earthbound.

Yet, what struck me more forcefully re-reading this chapter, was the way its not simply OMW, or even the trees themselves, which are the threat - the whole forest, even the earth itself, seems to actively conspire. The land seems to change shape in order to direct the hobbits to the centre of the wood, seeming to become boggy, or solid, opening into gullies, raising itself up, lowering itself down as necessary. Even the air itself seems maliciously to ‘drug’ them, while the trees try to sing them to sleep so that OMW can consume them. And Tolkien communicates this dreamlikeness in some of the most beautiful prose in literature:

Quote:
A golden afternoon of late sunshine lay warm & drowsy upon the hidden land between. In the midst of it there wound lazily a dark river of brown water, bordered with ancient willows, arched over with willows, blocked with fallen willows, & flecked with thousands of willowleaves. The air was thick with them, fluttering yellow from the branches; for there was a warm & gentle breeze blowing softly in the valley, & the reeds were rustling, & the willow-boughs were creaking. (my italics)
which Shippey (Author of the Century) describes as ‘one of many brilliant passages of natural description in the Lord of the Rings’

But then the weirdest thing of all happens - Jolly Tom appears! Actually, the way he’s described, he seems to rise out of the earth:

Quote:
There was another burst of song, & then there appeared above the reeds an old battered hat with a tall crown & a long blue feather stuck in the band. With another hop & a bound there came into view a man, or so it seemed.
Now, I know some readers hate Tom with such a vengeance that they skip this chapter & the next two & jump straight to Bree, but Tom has grown on me through the years, & I always liked him anyway! I think some quotes might be relevant here.

Brian Rosebury, in Tolkien: A Cultural Phenomenon, describes Tom thus:

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The relation of Bombadil to his little country is like that of an unfallen Adam to the Garden of Eden. Bombadil’s freedom from fear is co-ordinate with his freedom from tyrannical intent: secure in a gardener-like status which it does not occur to him to exceed, his will cannot afflict or be afflicted by the wills of others.
Anne C Petty, in Tolkien in the Land of Heroes, points out:
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The Ring has no pull for Tom because his focus is elsewhere; that kind of power is irrelevant to him - in one sense, this is a very Buddha-like approach.... Tom’s powers are passive & elemental, not aggressive & rooted in immediacy.
And Verlyn Flieger, in A Question of Time:

Quote:
Tom Bombadil, stamping, chanting, crashing through the underbrush with his blue feather & his yellow boots, is not your ordinary, everyday kind of fellow. Tom is not less substantial than the waking world but more so. His vivid unreality makes the waking world around him seem pale & insubstantial in comparison... Both those who like him & those who find him ‘discordant’ may be responding in their separate ways to the same thing: the child’s drawing quality, the crayon colors (sic ), the absence of shading or depth that seem to characterise this episode. It can appear simplistic, it certainly seems one-dimensional. This is precisely what gives it the quality of dream. The Bombadil chapters have all the cheerful, bright aspect of a happy dream, one in which we can be assured, as we never wholly can in real life, that the dark fears are banished, the lights are on, & we are home & safe. Everything is all right.
And David Elton Gray compares Tom & the great Shaman Vainamoinen, of the Finnish Kalevala, in his essay JRR Tolkien & the Kalevala, in Tolkien & the Invention of Myth:

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for both Vainamoinen & Tom Bombadil power comes from their command of song & lore rather than from ownership & domination. Vainamoinen spends his time in endless singing, not singing songs of power, however, but rather songs of knowledge. Indeed, it would appear that he, like Tom Bombadil, sings for the simple pleasure of singing... As has been often noted, much of what tom says is, in fact, sung. As with Vainamoinen’s singing, Tom’s has power, & the power of his singing is clearly similar to Vainamoinen’s.
Well, that’s either sparked off loads of posts or knocked the wind out of everyone’s sails! Sorry if its the latter!


*One possibility which Flieger doesn’t explore is Tolkien’s ‘conceit’ - that LotR is a translation of the Red book of Westmarch - it was written by hobbits from their perspective. Tolkien himself may ‘take the part of trees as against all their enemies’ (letter 319) but that doesn’t mean that the hobbits do - a ‘well ordered & well farmed countryside’, which they love, requires the clearing of natural woodland - the two - as Flieger points out, cannot co-exist - one must be sacrificed in favour of the other. Treebeard may mourn:

Quote:
The broad days! Time was when I could walk & sing all day & hear no more than the echo of my own voice in the hollow hills.
but clearly the hobbits don’t. Treebeard may dream of the days when forest covered Middle earth, but Hobbits like to be in control of their land, & keep it in iits place.

Frodo’s song, ending with the line ‘For east or west all woods must fail’ wouldn’t be the kind of thing Treebeard would approve of - & nor, we can assert, would Tolkien.Merry's suggestion of tuning & giving the trees a rousing chorus of the song when they get out of the forest, in the light of the hobbits rampant destruction of the trees, is simply adding insult to injury. Perhaps Tolkien is making a subtle & easily missed point when he has Merry & Pippin enter Fangorn & meet Treebeard. Merry has a lesson to learn if he is to become Master of Buckland in the future, & have responsibility for the Old Forest.

Last edited by davem; 07-26-2004 at 07:27 AM.
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Old 07-26-2004, 09:39 AM   #4
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This is the first real adventure chapter in the book; so far we have had the Black Riders appear threateningly from time to time, but that threat has not yet been realized. It is something of a twist, then, to more or less forget the Black Riders for a chapter (indeed, for three chapters) and to suddenly put the Hobbits into an unrelated bit of trouble. In fact there is something rather odd about it, I think. Few authors would so carefully build up the threat of the Nazgul, and go to great lengths to illustrate the nature of the Ring and get its story started, only to drop these threads almost completely after just five chapters and present us with a three-chapter interlude concerning other things. One could (as Ralph Bakshi and Peter Jackson know very well) simply cut these three chapters out without creating many problems for the later narrative.

Why does Tolkien do this? I think the real answer is simply that, at the time he wrote these chapters, he didn't know any better. That is to say, he had not yet worked out the whole plot and in fact had not yet realized that LotR was going to be much different from The Hobbit. The Old Forest was conceived of as just an adventure that Frodo has along the way, for originally it was simply to be a story about Frodo's adventures. But of course later, when Tolkien did understand what LotR was going to be, he retained these chapters. I would guess that this was partly just habit - once the narrative got going, he never made any huge changes to parts he'd already written. A more commercially-minded author would probably have deleted the Old Forest, Tom Bombadil, and the Barrow-downs since they don't directly concern the main plot of the book.

But I think that there is value in these chapters as they are, as Tolkien must have realized. First of all, they are simply interesting in themselves. But that's not quite a sufficient explanation, for one can imagine any number of miscellaneous adventures that are interesting in themselves and yet were not and should not have been added to the text.

I think one virtue of these chapters is that identified by Tuor of Gondolin:
Quote:
One observation here: the Old Forest trees enmity illustrates a depth brought to Middle-earth which PJ's movies missed, that there are autonomous forces for good and ill operating.
That is, it would be unrealistic for the Hobbits only to encounter upon their journey servants of Sauron, or people and things relating directly to the central plot. To give them a few unrelated adventures adds a lot to the realism of Middle-earth.

Another thing this interlude does is to extend the threat of the Nazgul by delaying its resolution. Chapters 3, 4, and 5 have set up the Black Riders as a threat and we know that it will only be a matter of time before they begin to do more than simply sniff and scream. The reader anticipates some kind of confrontation with the Black Riders. That anticipation is firmly in place by the end of chapter 5. So through chapters 6, 7, and 8, on top of everything else, the reader is thinking about the Black Riders and still anticipating an eventual confrontation. To illustrate this point, imagine how much poorer Book I would be if these three chapters were placed after the Weathertop encounter.

And a final justification for not excising these chapters: while they are almost unrelated to the central plot, they are not completely so. There is the obvious relation, for example, between the Old Forest and Fangorn.

As for chapter 6 itself, what struck me on rereading it was the way Tolkien slowly builds up the tension right to the climax of the chapter. This is one of his chief strengths, I think; it's already been noted in relation to the Black Riders in chapters 3, 4, and 5. Here, we begin with the Old Forest being more or less just a forest, if one which, according to Merry, has queer things living in it. Then we find that the trees bar their way and make Pippin uneasy. Then Frodo's song seems to disturb them. Then briefly the tension is eased when they stand at the top of the hill and look out across the forest. Then they go on, making good progress at first, but slowly finding that the forest is forcing them in its desired direction. Then they become completely lost and unable to choose their own direction at all. Finally they arrive in the Withywindle valley itself and struggle with a strange drowsiness. Then suddenly Old Man Willow strikes, and in a brief space we have some minor heroics by Sam and the appearance of Tom Bombadil.

Looking at it this way, what Tolkien does is present a series of minor incidents each of which alters the tension in some way. Most add to it, a little bit at a time. One detracts from it - which only makes its eventual reappearance more striking. And only at the very climax does anything actually happen. A mistake too many authors make is to think that the reader is conscious only of what is happening at the moment, so that they think a constant level of action must be maintained for the story to be interesting. Tolkien realizes that readers have a memory and also a sense of anticipation, so that each of the little incidents he presents adds to the tension.

Davem wrote:
Quote:
We have to face the fact that the trees the hobbits cut down & burned also ‘had voices of their own that are lost forever now’ & that OMW’s anger & desire for revenge is no less understandable than Treebeard’s. Of course, it can be argued that OMW is ‘evil’ because, rather than seeking revenge against the particular hobbits responsible for the hacking & burning, he seeks to revenge himself on all who go on two legs. But Treebeard also revenges himself against all orcs, without interrogating each of them to find out if they were involved in cutting down ‘his’ trees. But perhaps OMW’s irrational anger is more understandable, as he, unlike Treebeard, cannot move, & simply has to remain where he is, at the heart of the Old Forest, aware of the destruction of ‘his’ trees, the loss of their voices forever, unable to come to their defence. Treebeard could have gone to the defence of ‘his’ trees, but didn’t, OMW, rooted to the earth, simply had to remain where he was, earthbound.
This is a good point. It seems that Old Man Willow and Treebeard may not be as different as one would, at first glance, believe. But I am not sure that it is correct to see the trees in all cases as representing Tolkien's sympathies. I've always thought that the Old Forest shows, contrary to what one might get from the rest of the book, that nature is not all "good". Nature is a force of its own and not necessarily allied with the good incarnates. This is complicated, though, by Tom Bombadil, who is clearly to be associated with nature but is quick to condemn Old Man Willow's assault on the Hobbits.

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Old 07-26-2004, 01:30 PM   #5
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Firstly, I can't comprehend what the book would be like without chapters 6 to 8, they add in, for want of a better word, a lot of 'magic' to the tale. And what's great about this 'magic' is that it is not of the hocus-pocus, casting spells type, but of the ancient, earth-based variety. There are sections later in the book which could also have easily been left out, e.g. the Woses, but they add to the sense of ancient history in Middle Earth.

Old Man Willow is a frightening figure, made all the more real when you think about the properties and uses of willow. It is a tree that can be chopped up and turned into a fence, which will mysteriously take root and sprout leaves. It is the tree which was (allegedly) used to construct the Wicker Man. And, in some British towns where they celebrate May Day with dancers dressed as 'Jack in the green', they use willow to make the framework for the costume.

Jack in the green is who I think of when I read about Tom Bombadil. It's probably been said a thousand times before, but to me he is The Green Man, the woodland spirit. He is the master of the woodlands and Old Man Willow, but I'm getting dangerously close to straying into the next chapter here.

Getting back to the chapter, I love the sense of how being lost in a woodland feels. When the path disappears, Mery is convinced that the trees are conspiring to hide it, and this is how it does feel when you get lost while out walking. The hobbits sense movements and sounds as though the trees are moving, which is another eerie sensation that can grip you.

As for fitting into the narrative, this chapter and the following two are technically well placed as they provide a transition from the world the hobbits (and readers) have got to know and feel comfortable in, to the wider world, untamed and altogether more dangerous.
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Old 07-26-2004, 02:29 PM   #6
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I agree that in this chapter we see the first contact with the unknown for the hobbits and I think it's nicely symbolised by the passage through the gate and the finality of its closing: with this act they leave behind all that is familiar and comforting to walk into and towards danger - the mists that envelope them are a clear (no pun intended ! ) signal for this.

What I'm not really sure of is the evil intent of the Old Forest - apart from Old Man Willow we never actually see the trees moving or actively doing something: I wonder whether this is just the product of the hobbits' imagination, aided by Merry's quite scary tale and combined with the strange environment they find themselves into. It might seem that the hobbits, taking with them their fears and doubts (and maybe some guilty feelings about the actions taken by their compatriots against the forest) give substance to the impression that nature is conspiring against them.
After all, when Old Man Willows exerts his "charms" the only one keeping his wits about him is Sam - the most levelheaded (and less imaginative ?) of the four.
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Old 07-26-2004, 03:21 PM   #7
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Hi, Fimbrethil, welcome to our discussion and the Downs!

In this chapter something struck me that I haven't noticed before. There was a certain 'magic' about it, very akin to that of the Hobbit. I think this is partly because it gets away from the darker aspects of the story (the Ring, the Black Riders) and while the adventure they have in the chapter is certainly dangerous, it is of the "simpler" sort. Even though the mood surrounding the Forest is very dark indeed - it goes from extremely foggy (somehow a very fitting way to begin the adventure) to a dark, queer sojourn through the Forest - the chapter seems almost light, especially compared to the rest of the book. Part of this is perhaps Merry's relative familiarity with the Forest and his way of taking the Forest so lightly (that is how it has always seemed to me anyway).

Something else that hadn't occurred to me in recent readings is the image of the path by the Withywindle that we are given. The scene is much more vivid right now than many images I get from books (being that I am one who does not generally get images when I read).
Quote:
Coming to the opening they found that they had made their way down through a cleft in a high steep bank, almost a cliff. At its feet was a wide space of grass and reeds; and in the distance could be glimpsed another bank almost as steep. A golden afternoon of late sunshine lay warm and drowsy upon the hidden land between. In the midst of it there wound lazily a dark river of brown water, bordered with ancient willows, arched over with willows, blocked with fallen willows, and flecked with thousands of faded willow-leaves. The air was thick with them, fluttering yellow from the brances; for there was a warm and gentle breeze blowing slftly in the valley and the reeds were rustling, and the willow-boughs were creaking.
One more reflection for now, and that is on a line I have always greatly enjoyed:
Quote:
In their shed they found the ponies; sturdy little beasts of the kind loved by hobbits, not speedy, but good for a long day's work.
In many of the threads people have posted on what different quotations, lines, and actions have said about Hobbits, and I am going to chip in my two cents about this. Hobbits love this kind of pony not because they are well-bred, fast, pretty, or anything like that, but because they are sturdy and will last an entire day of work - good hard work being one of the things that Hobbits delighted in, according to the Prologue.
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Old 07-27-2004, 01:48 AM   #8
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Pipe

Aiwendil said:

Quote:
This is the first real adventure chapter in the book; so far we have had the Black Riders appear threateningly from time to time, but that threat has not yet been realized.
Quite so. This is the start of the adventure where the hobbits find themselves in an unfamiliar (except for Merry) situation and have to deal with it themselves- very reminiscent of Bilbo and the dwarves being left to their own devices in Mirkwood after Gandalf left them. Both companies faced a dangerous, uninviting forest and both had no one else to guide them but a path and uncertain knowledge. This quote, I believe, sums up the situation perfectly-

Quote:
Fail- even as he said the word his voice faded into silence. The air seemed heavy and the making of words wearisome. Just behind them a large branch fell from an overhanging tree with a crash into the path. The trees seemed to close in before them.
'They do not like all that about ending and failing,' said Merry. Wait till we do get to the edge, and then we'll turn and give them a rousing chorus!'
He spoke cheerfully, and if he felt any great anxiety, he did not show it. The others did not answer. Thye were depressed. A heavy weight was settling steadily on Frodo's heart, and he regretted now every step forward that he had ever thought of challenging the menace of the trees.
Seem familiar? This is an interesting passage, because we see here that Merry is the leader of the hobbits, both geographically and mentally, and it is he who is trying to rouse their spirits, instead of Frodo, who is the older hobbit. This is the start not only of the hobbit's real adventures, but their personal character and determination is also being tested here- will they have the strength to go on, or will they turn back? Even though Bombadil rescues them, and they get into a few scrapes, it is what underpins the rest of the book- will they go on with their Quest to destroy the Ring or will they turn back and leave it for others. Here they still have a choice, but it is notable that they choose to go on; as they do later in the book.

Also, this passage seems to be a prelude, or taste, of Fangorn Forest later on in the book. The same type of forest, with dangerous creatures (i.e. Old Man Willow) and wild rivers, as well as trees that can move and 'talk', besides being an extension of Fangorn near the Shire, anyway, the Old Forest on the borders of Buckland sets up nicely what is going to be a major factor later on- Fangorn Forest- although we don't know it yet.

Tom Bombadil and Treebeard also seem to have a lot in common with me- both old, interested in nature (an understatement) and knowledgeable about the Elder Days.

Even at the very start, we can see that Tom is a very merry and kind fellow by assisting all the hobbits-

Quote:
Tom Bombadil burst out laughing. 'Well, my little fellows!' said he, stooping so that he peered into their faces. 'You shall come home with me! The table is all laden with yellow cream, honeycomb, and white bread and butter.'
Inviting four strangers (however harmless they appear) is not something most people would do. But then again Tom is not most people; he already appears to be a friendly and lively character and we can infer from his speech that Goldberry is his misteress. Another thing that certainly shows us that Tom is not normal is his (mostly) utterly weird, but lovable, songs!

Quote:
And with that song the hobbits stood upon the threshold, and a golden light was all about them.
As Estelyn said this quote is indeed very evocative, and keeps us interested in what is going to happen next, as it is a statement leading up to learning more about Tom and Goldberry, if you know what I mean.

Now let the song begin! Let us sing together
Of sun, stars, moon and mist, rain and cloudy weather,
Light on the budding leafe, dew on the feather,
Wind on the open hill, bells on the heather,
Reeds by the shady pool, lillies on the water:
Old Tom Bombadil and the River-daughter!

Delightful.
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Old 07-27-2004, 08:07 AM   #9
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1420! Close to Mordor, heading to doom.

In the first beginning chapters almost every chapter whenever the hobbits are in some sort of trouble they find a safe "haven" or house to rest at, Farmer Maggot's, Crickhollow, Tom Bombadil, Gildor's elves, Strider, Rivendell. Then past Rivendell as they start getting closer to Mount Doom, the "friendly" people start fading. You have Galadriel and Faramir, that's all I can remember. Then once leaving Faramir and entering into Mordor, they're on their own, no more "friendly" people to come give them a nice place to sleep at, or warm beds, well cooked meals...etc. If you look at some of the troubles in the beginning chapters, the Black Riders numerous times, Old man Willow, the Barrow-wright. The troubles towards the end are Shelob, Orcs at Cirith Ungol, Gollum, destroying the ring, all are probably "bigger" problems then the ones from the beginning, and also theres no one there to help them out they have to overcome it themself. Showing The growth of the Hobbits.
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Old 07-28-2004, 07:13 PM   #10
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Boots Tree is Company (or not)

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We are now entering strange territory - the Old Forest & Old Tom. (davem)
Indeed. And the sense of leaving familiar territory is, I think, wonderfully evoked by the following passages:


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Everything was still, and far-away noises seemed near and clear: fowls chattering in a yard, someone closing a door of a distant house.
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They mounted, and soon they were riding off into the mist, which seemed to open reluctantly before them and close forbiddingly behind them.
In the space of two paragraphs Tolkien reminds us, with the familiar sounds that they hear, that the Hobbits are leaving comfortable surroundings and highlights for us that they are now moving into dangerous and forbidding territory. The sense of danger is subtle at first, conveyed only by the description of their movement through the ominous mist. But, as Aiwendil has explained so well, the sense of tension continues throughout the chapter, building gradually and culminating with the Hobbits' encounter with Old Man Willow.

I found this line quite curious:


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"I don't know what stories you mean," Merry answered. "If you mean the old bogey-stories Fatty's nurses used to tell him, about goblins and wolves and things of that sort, I should say no ..."
Curious because the Hobbits are living in a world where goblins and wolves (of a most terrifying variety) do exist, and not too far from the Shire's borders. It is reminiscent of Sam's conversation with Ted Sandyman in The Green Dragon, when Sandyman derides Sam for his talk of Dragons and Tree-Men, dismissing them as fireside-tales and children's stories. The effect, I think, is to emphasise once again that, in this magical and dangerous world, the Shire is a place with which we can identify, since goblins and wolves do feature in our children's bogey-stories.

I have to put my hand up here and admit that I am not a great fan of Tom Bombadil ( ). I am one of those who finds his manner and ambiguity rather at odds with the remainder of the story, although I have come to appreciate him more over the years. I am, however, partial to the encounters with Old Man Willow and (later on) the Barrow-Wight. So it rather annoys me that the Hobbits have to be rescued by Old Tom in each of these encounters. In a sense, I would prefer that they were able to overcome these menaces themselves. I do, however, see the sense in what Boromir88 says:


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The troubles towards the end are Shelob, Orcs at Cirith Ungol, Gollum, destroying the ring, all are probably "bigger" problems then the ones from the beginning, and also theres no one there to help them out they have to overcome it themself. Showing The growth of the Hobbits.
They are not yet ready to deal with these dangers on their own, so they need someone (something? ) like Tom to help them out. If they did not, then they would not need to make their respective journeys. Although I am glad that, on each occasion, at least one Hobbit displays the ability to effect at least a partial rescue (Sam with Old Man Willow and Frodo with the Barrow-Wight).

A word about the Old Forest and, in particuar, Old Man Willow. Davem said:


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Yet, what struck me more forcefully re-reading this chapter, was the way its not simply OMW, or even the trees themselves, which are the threat - the whole forest, even the earth itself, seems to actively conspire.
While Fimbrethil commented:


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What I'm not really sure of is the evil intent of the Old Forest - apart from Old Man Willow we never actually see the trees moving or actively doing something: I wonder whether this is just the product of the hobbits' imagination, aided by Merry's quite scary tale and combined with the strange environment they find themselves into.
I think that there is sufficient evidence in this chapter that the forest itself is actively hostile towards them. Merry notes that the path to the Bonfire Glade has moved and concludes that the "trees do shift". A branch falls from an overhanging tree as if to express its distaste at Frodo's song. And, perhaps most convincingly, the Hobbits are maneuvred against their will towards the Withywindle valley by the trees, undergrowth and terrain. Each of these events by itself might be dismissed as mere coincidence or the Hobbits' overactive imagination. But their combined effect seems to me to make it clear that there is something more at work here.

And while I agree with davem that the whole Forest is actively conspiring against them, I would not agree that Old Man Willow is only one aspect of this. He seems to me to be the most important aspect, indeed the driving force behind it. Merry comments that:


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The Withywindle valley is said to be the queerest part of the whole wood - the centre from which all queerness comes, as it were.
Later, when Sam and Frodo try to kindle a fire against Old Man Willow in an effort to free Merry and Pippin, his anger spreads to the surrounding trees and runs out in ripples over the whole forest. And it is, of course, the Withywindle valley, and Old Man Willow himself, that the forest leads the Hobbits to. Old Man Willow, therefore, seems to be the source of the forest's spite and its controlling force.

Davem also said:


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We have to face the fact that the trees the hobbits cut down & burned also ‘had voices of their own that are lost forever now’ & that OMW’s anger & desire for revenge is no less understandable than Treebeard’s.
The Hobbits' burning of the Old Forest was, however, a response to a seeming assault by the trees on the Hedge. Now, maybe the forest felt threatened by the Hobbits' encroachment (with the establishment of Buckland), but it nevertheless made the first move. So I think that there is a diference here between Old Man Willow and Treebeard. The latter acts only in self(Fangorn)-defence, while the former seems to have a more active and unprovoked hatred of those that go on two feet. I think his actions, in contrast to those of Treebeard, can be described as evil. Doesn't Treebeard himself later say that there are trees who have turned rotten at the core?

Which brings me, finally, to Tolkien's seemingly ambivalent attitude toward trees in this chapter. We know that he himself greatly prized trees and, throughout the rest of the book, they are portrayed sympathetically. We have the instances in the opening chapters where hollow trees provide the Hobbits with refuge during their trek through the Shire (in stark contrast to the "refuge" that Old Man Willow provides within his trunk). And later we have the Elves' symbiotic relationship with the trees of Lothlorien and, of course, good old Treebeard and his pivotal intervention in the War of the Ring. So why does Tolkien portray trees as such enemies here? I am not so sure that it is, as davem suggests, an aspect of the "conceit" of the tale having been set down by the Hobbits. We have to take the events at face vaue and this, I think, includes Old Man Willow's unprovoked attack on them. I tend to agree, rather, with Aiwendil:


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I've always thought that the Old Forest shows, contrary to what one might get from the rest of the book, that nature is not all "good". Nature is a force of its own and not necessarily allied with the good incarnates.
Nevertheless, I still find Tolkien's portrayal of Old Man Willow, and the forest itself, as evil (or, at the very least, incredibly hostile) curious in light of his love for trees.

Yet again, a much longer post than I intended. Sorry.
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Old 07-29-2004, 12:59 AM   #11
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Tolkien

As many people have mentioned their first real adventure starts in this chapter.

At first it was just a threat. The Black Riders were there but the hobbits never made actual contact with the Black Riders. With Old Man Willow however they get into a physical conflict. The danger is no longer just a threat it has become more real than before.

The chapter starts very mysteriously with fog and becomes only more mysterious when the Hobbits enter the forrest. With such a build-up of the mood something has to happen of course. What also adds to the somewhat dreary mood is the strange dream Frodo had at the end of Chapter 5.

This chapter also made it clear to me that ME was indeed a very magical place. This chapter made ME more real to me because a real world has many mysteries that will never be answered. Our own is also full of mysteries plus our world has so many myths and legends just like ME. The amount of mysteries that are discovered in this chapter ( all those tales about the Old forest) adds to the book's historical feel.
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Old 07-29-2004, 06:24 AM   #12
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Hi, Fimbrethil, welcome to our discussion and the Downs!
Thanks ! It's a very interesting and mind-stimulating discussion

The Saucepan Man wrote:
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I think that there is sufficient evidence in this chapter that the forest itself is actively hostile towards them. Merry notes that the path to the Bonfire Glade has moved and concludes that the "trees do shift". A branch falls from an overhanging tree as if to express its distaste at Frodo's song. And, perhaps most convincingly, the Hobbits are maneuvred against their will towards the Withywindle valley by the trees, undergrowth and terrain. Each of these events by itself might be dismissed as mere coincidence or the Hobbits' overactive imagination. But their combined effect seems to me to make it clear that there is something more at work here.
I guess that both our views can stand up on their own , but given your further comments about how strange it is to see "evil" trees, considering Tolkien's attitude towards them, I think you might at least partially come my way: maybe the trees did not "shift" - paths are made by people and/or animals and can be overgrown by grass if not used, so other animals may create slightly different paths that take in the same direction; branches also fall on their own; terrains might be difficult and force you to take long detours ...
I'm thinking here of the often heard warning for heroes involved in a quest that <You will find nothing here that you don't bring yourself> (it echoes what my father used to say to me when I was a small child, afraid of the dark "there is nothing here that is not also here when it's light"): maybe the hobbits were simply adding their fears of the unknown into a difficult situation, making it worse.
(Old Man Willow, is, of course, another matter ....)
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Old 07-29-2004, 07:09 AM   #13
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Admission time: I have advised several people who were trying to read LotR and finding it difficult to “get into it” to skip over Tom Bombadil entirely. It has worked in almost every case, and I am delighted to say that these readers came back later to read these chapters. But still, as several people have already indicated, there is a sense in which these chapters are dispensable – they just don’t “fit” was I believe the word.

Clinging to the idea that anything that’s in a text must, be definition, have a place in it, and placing my faith in the artistry of Tolkien, I will now elaborate why I think this chapter is indispensable to the fabric of the whole.

I think that this interlude is an important and necessary reminder to the reader that while the story to come is going to be all about the War of the Ring, that this is not the whole story of Middle-Earth. The war between Elves and Melkor/Sauron has taken place within much of the historical time of Middle-Earth, but that conflict does not in and of itself define the nature of the world that is going to be created for us in the tale to come. History is the story of the people on the land, not the land itself, and with Old Man Willow and Tom Bombadil we are given mythic, almost allegorical, representations of that natural realm over and upon which history takes place, but over which, ultimately, history has no power. Sauron can enslave the land, the Elves can work within it and attempt to preserve it, but neither side can change its nature, nor can they make or unmake it.

The fact that these three chapters around Tom take place so much and so obviously ‘outside’ the rest of the story is very much the point. It’s a demonstration that for all the dangers and import of their quest, the hobbits are just taking part in a passing tale being acted out on the stage-of-reality offered by the natural realm.

The characterisation of this natural realm in Old Man Willow and Tom/Goldberry is tremendous, and – like I said – near allegorical. Take the description of the hobbits’ succumbing to OMW:

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They shut their eyes, and then it seemed that they could almost hear words, cool words, saying something about water and sleep. They gave themselves up to the spell and fell fast asleep at the foot of the great grey willow.
When we put this beside the description of Goldberry and Tom’s house there’s an awful lot that we can see in common with OMW (and I realise I’m looking ahead, but I think these three chapters of Tom are a united suite in ways that other chapter-chunks in the book are not). The “singing” of OMW is “about water and sleep” – this is precisely the kind of song that will lull them in Bombadil’s house. Just as they give “themselves up to the spell” here they will do so again with Tom. The relation between Tom/Goldberry (who must always be considered as a conjoined pair, I think) and OMW is not one of good versus evil – that kind of dichotomous relation is staged (in history) by the Elves and Sauron, and in this chapter is revealed to be a limited and limiting kind of understanding. The relation of T/GB and OMW is more complementary and perhaps even dependent (the wholly trite image of yin-yang comes to mind). Both powers work in the same way (through song) to the same end (sleep and rest) using the same medium (nature, particularly water) in the same place (the Old Forest just beyond the borders of the real and dissociated from historical time and its struggles).

This natural realm is a truly magic place. There is surprisingly little magic in the book: the Elves speak of their “art” and “crafting” and Sauron is all about “deceptions,” “lies” and “domination.” But here, just over the edge of the known, is a realm that casts a “spell” upon the hobbits. The historical conflict between “deceptions” and “art” that we characterise in terms of “evil” versus “good” is just not apparent or even relevant here. In this place is true magic – the power that springs from nature but moves beyond the natural. An unhistorical and wild force that escapes all attempts to categorise, anatomise or understand. Tom Bombadil is nonsensical, yes, because that is the nature of, well, nature – it is non-rational, utterly mysterious, and wholly alien and other.

Finally, I think that these chapters give us a glimpse into a realm that is like the Shire in its disconnect from the ‘great’ matters of the world at large, but in a different way. Whereas the hobbits are (wilfully) ignorant of the darkness and light of the wide world, Old Man Willow and Tom are fully aware of both, they just do not care for such matters – they are unimportant and irrelevant, in the long run. In this way, they ‘surpass’ the gazes of every other being in the book: even Gandalf and Treebeard are trapped in their historical view of the struggle between good and evil. I think that in the end, this interlude in the Old Forest allows us to see how Gildor is as limited in his view as he condemned the hobbits as being. Just as the Elf is this figure from the wide world who opens the hobbits’ eyes, Tom and OMW are figures from an unhistorical plane of existence (nature) that surpasses the historical combat between Gildor’s people and the Enemy.
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Old 07-29-2004, 07:36 AM   #14
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Originally posted by Lathriel
"I think that this interlude is an important and necessary reminder to the reader that while the story to come is going to be all about the War of the Ring, that this is not the whole story of Middle-Earth."
-------------------------------------

It is part of the artistry of giving Middle-earth depth and making it feel more "real." Among other examples, Gildor's earlier comments to Frodo:
"The Elves have their own labours and their own sorrows, and they are little concerned with the ways of hobbits, or of any other creatures upon earth."

and Sam's vision about them being part of a story that has been going on and will continue long after them.

and Caradhras acting as an autonomous evil force.
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Old 07-29-2004, 02:36 PM   #15
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Saucepan Man raised the question of:

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Tolkien's seemingly ambivalent attitude toward trees in this chapter
Perhaps the behaviour of the hobbits in this chapter - the story about clearing trees, Frodo and Sam lighting the fire - displays something of hobbit character. I see The Shire as an agrarian society, and while hobbits are most definitely nature-lovers, they are also farmers, and are quite prepared to 'tame' nature when necessary, as davem says. Evidence of this might include the presence of a mill on The Water, the High Hay at Buckland, enclosing the tree within the party tent at Bilbo's party and the tree clearance itself. Contrasting with this is how the elves of Lothlorien instead work with nature by building their homes in the trees, rather than of the trees. If this is intentional or not, who can say, but it does not, I think, conflict with Tolkien's own responses to the rural landscape he valued so highly, as this itself is a 'tamed' landscape.

Moving towards the idea of nature as a force unto itself, the contrast of the 'evil' Old Forest with the 'good' Fangorn (or is it?) is interesting, as the former is a woodland which has been under attack from the people who have moved to live on the borders, while Fangorn had apparently remained until then relatively undamaged. And Treebeard himself is moved by this destruction to act, so why should Old Man Willow not also act, after all he does not know the nature of the hobbits and their quest. This does show that there is indeed something deeper in Middle Earth than the events which happen upon it.

The inscrutable forces of nature and man's attempts to make sense of these are a feature of myth, legend and ancient history, and it's clear that Tolkien has incorporated this into his work. Far from being 'sidelines' to the story, I see the Old Forest chapters as essential in making the story deeper and richer. I argued with someone the other day about these chapters being extraneous. Part of my argument being that Lord of the Rings was not merely a project to be finished up efficiently, but a novel set in a place which needed bringing to life and making as vivid as possible. Yes, you could easily read LOTR without reading chapters 6 to 8, but you would also miss out on much of what makes the tale so unique. I've said to people that they could skip some of the poetry if they wish, but I hated having to say this as to me it misses the point to 'skip' things.
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Old 07-29-2004, 02:41 PM   #16
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Actually Tuor I think it was Fordim who said that
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Old 07-29-2004, 02:46 PM   #17
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Originally Posted by Lathriel
Actually Tuor I think it was Fordim who said that
Sadly, no, it was SaucepanMan.

But I was going to say it, SpM just beat me to it. Yeah, that's it. . .
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Old 07-29-2004, 04:48 PM   #18
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1420! Confusion?

lol, Fordhim Hedgethistle unless by some meaning that you are joking by this, but you are the one who wrote that comment lol.
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Old 07-29-2004, 07:56 PM   #19
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White Tree World War Tree

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Sadly, no, it was SaucepanMan.

But I was going to say it, SpM just beat me to it. Yeah, that's it. . .
Confused? I sure am! Either you're going mad, Fordim, or I am. And I think it's you, as that was a far too intelligent thing for me to say.


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If this is intentional or not, who can say, but it does not, I think, conflict with Tolkien's own responses to the rural landscape he valued so highly, as this itself is a 'tamed' landscape.
I was going to skip further discussion on this until we reached the Treebeard chapter, but it seems appropriate to air my thoughts here now. I do agree with your point, Lalwendë. But where does that leave Treebeard? Is it really as simple as Hobbits and Men having their habitat and Ents having theirs? I believe that Treebeard says that Fangorn was once part of one great swathe of forest that originally connected with the Old Forest (perhaps Treebeard and Old Man Willow are even distantly related). The greater part of this must have been cleared, presumably for Human habitation.


Quote:
Moving towards the idea of nature as a force unto itself, the contrast of the 'evil' Old Forest with the 'good' Fangorn (or is it?) is interesting, as the former is a woodland which has been under attack from the people who have moved to live on the borders, while Fangorn had apparently remained until then relatively undamaged.
So this is not necessarily the case. Both forests (having originally been one great forest) have been under attack in the past. Did Treebeard and his fellow Ents resist the Men who cut Fangorn down to its current size? Perhaps they did in some unwritten chapter of Middle-earth's history. Although Hobbits would not have been involved. The woods would have largely been cleared long before they came along. As far as I am aware, they did not need to cut back the Old Forest when Buckland was established and did not actually "attack" it until the Bonfire Glade incident. And that was, as I said earlier, in response to a threatening advance by the trees of the Old Forest. (Sufficient grounds? A preemptive strike by the Hobbits? Hmm, I'll leave that thought there.)

Hobbits would no doubt have cleared some residual woods for habitation, agriculture etc. And they do of course use wood as a material for building, making tools and burning for warmth, cooking etc. As do Men, Dwarves and even Elves, though. Even Rivendell, presumably, and the furniture within it, is largely wooden in construction.

The difficulty that I have is that the comradeship that Treebeard and his Entish fellows, in common with Old Man Willow, have with trees would appear to conflict significantly with the lifestyles and needs of the other races of Middle-earth. Of course, this all goes back to the "creation" (or perhaps a better word is conception) of the Ents by Yavanna , in response to her husband's "creation" of the Dwarves. She did so to protect the forests from the Dwarves' axes. But, as I have mentioned, it is not just Dwarves who have need of wood. All of the races use it. So Yavanna's actions would seem to have initiated an irreconcilable conflict between her own "creations" and Iluvatar's (other) Children.

This is not reflected in Treebeard's acceptance of Merry and Pippin and, later, other representatives of the races of Man, Dwarf and Elf (in contrast to his hatred of Orcs). But it is represented in the actions of Old Man Willow and his forest. They both have the same concerns so why do they not react in the same way? Perhaps Old Man Willow (like the Japanese soldier on the South Pacific Island) is still carrying on a war that his distant cousins elsewhere in Middle-earth have long since abandoned recognising the need to live in harmony with the other "good" races of Middle-earth. Is this the root ( ) of Old Man Willow's evil? Is it that he has not recognised that need for this harmony?

Hmm. Perhaps these matters were discussed at great length at the Entmoot. Perhaps the Ents went to great lengths (naturally) to debate how the (wood-consuming) actions of Saruman and his Orcs might be distinguished from those of the (similarly wood-consuming) free peoples. Perhaps I should wait until we get to the relevant chapter before going on ...

One further thought, though. Aren't the actions of Old Man Willow much more consistent with the conception of a race of sentient trees?
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Old 07-29-2004, 08:38 PM   #20
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I admit to being dotty, spotty and even a little potty, but mad I am not. I assure you all, that the point in question was made by Saucy himself in all of his clamourous glory. It was made in post #10 to be entirely precise, and to lay this debate to rest once and for all I hereby and forthwith quote the relevant paragraph in full:

Quote:
Which brings me, finally, to Tolkien's seemingly ambivalent attitude toward trees in this chapter. We know that he himself greatly prized trees and, throughout the rest of the book, they are portrayed sympathetically. We have the instances in the opening chapters where hollow trees provide the Hobbits with refuge during their trek through the Shire (in stark contrast to the "refuge" that Old Man Willow provides within his trunk). And later we have the Elves' symbiotic relationship with the trees of Lothlorien and, of course, good old Treebeard and his pivotal intervention in the War of the Ring. So why does Tolkien portray trees as such enemies here? I am not so sure that it is, as davem suggests, an aspect of the "conceit" of the tale having been set down by the Hobbits. We have to take the events at face vaue and this, I think, includes Old Man Willow's unprovoked attack on them. I tend to agree, rather, with Aiwendil:
As this post now has nothing to do with the chapter in question, I shall attempt to avert the wrath of the mods by bringing it back to the discussion at hand. . .

*ahem*

Old Man Willow's actions clearly demonstrate that, beyond all shadowy form of a doubt, balrogs had wings.

Tom's song is a clear indication that orcs possessed free will and could be saved.

The reference to Goldberry at the conclusion of the chapter makes it irrefutable that Arda was always round.
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Old 07-29-2004, 09:00 PM   #21
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:Sigh: I tried to join this discussion eariler but I was too confused and now I am even more so. I will check back when you guys seem to be talking about something of relevence.
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Old 07-29-2004, 09:44 PM   #22
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I remember how I felt at the beginning of this chapter the first time I read it. I felt that something awful was going to happen and then it turned out to be nothing. Then feeling of foreboding of the Hedge and the trees once they went through the gate, the stifling air in the forest, the "taking of the hobbits" by Old Man Willow and wondering what that Old Tom Bombadil was up to just when we get to the warmth of the house of Tom Bombadil-Tolkien really knew how to keep the reader guessing and how to bring their emotions to highs and lows in this chapter. What a wonderful storyteller and one of my most favorite chapters!!!!
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Old 07-30-2004, 02:15 AM   #23
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Tolkien does seem to have an ambiguous attitude to trees - he likes individual ones, he likes tame woodland - from the woods of the Shire to Lorien, but actual wildwood is always threatening - The Old Forest, Mirkwood, Taur nu Fuin. Come to think of it, all wild nature presents a threat to his created, sentient races.

I wonder if this is historical - wild forest was the habitation of real threats - not moving trees, but bears, wolves, wild boar. It was also the ideal place for all our ancestors fears to be projected upon. I think this comes across particularly in the dreamlike air of the Old Forest, which seems to exist in a state between dreaming & waking. How can a whole environment be 'alive' in that way? The earth itself seems conscious & malevolent. And then, as Flieger has pointed out, Tom appears, the most dreamlike being of all - possibly the most dreamlike being Tolkien created.

Truly wild nature is always awe inspiring, potentially threatening - like the trees that 'attacked' the hedge - it is always trying to reassert its old dominance. But that's also 'natural' - the trees are not behaving maliciously, they are simply doing what it is in their nature to do. On another level we seem to have the old world of the 'dreamtime' attempting to overwhelm the 'awakened' world of civilisation & sweep it away. In a way, the hobbits are passing into an older world, of dreams, myth, legends - of wizards, goblins, Magic, of fairy story. The 'sensible' hobbits like Ted Sandyman are the ones who have awakened from the dream & are fighting like mad to stay awake & not be overwhelmed by 'Old Man Willow's 'song' & be swallowed up by the dreamworld. Yet, they're the least admirable characters, the ones we'd least like to be.

And Frodo is the great dreamer, the one who is always half dreaming throughout his early life in the Shire, & who is most at home in the dreamworld of Middle Earth beyond the Shire's borders, who only seems to wake up once he leaves, & feels he is 'falling asleep again' when he returns home. Frodo is the one who, ultimately cannot go back home & must depart finally for the dreamworld in the West at the end. Frodo, it seems, never truly belongs in 'our' waking world - perhaps, like Galahad, he has been born solely to perform his task of taking the Ring to the Fire, & then departing back to the world of dreams. It increases the sense of isolation about him, perhaps also explaining why he is such an enigma, & why we are always drawn back to him & his story.

Just a thought.
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Old 07-30-2004, 06:43 AM   #24
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I assure you all, that the point in question was made by Saucy himself in all of his clamourous glory. It was made in post #10 to be entirely precise
Ah, confusion solved! We are talking at cross-posts. Tuor's original post that started all this quoted the following:


Quote:
"I think that this interlude is an important and necessary reminder to the reader that while the story to come is going to be all about the War of the Ring, that this is not the whole story of Middle-Earth."
A pertinent point made by none other than yourself, Mr Hedgethistle. I was just rattling on about trees.

And I will continue to do so ...


Quote:
Tolkien does seem to have an ambiguous attitude to trees - he likes individual ones, he likes tame woodland - from the woods of the Shire to Lorien, but actual wildwood is always threatening - The Old Forest, Mirkwood, Taur nu Fuin. Come to think of it, all wild nature presents a threat to his created, sentient races ... Truly wild nature is always awe inspiring, potentially threatening - like the trees that 'attacked' the hedge - it is always trying to reassert its old dominance. But that's also 'natural' - the trees are not behaving maliciously, they are simply doing what it is in their nature to do.
A very good point, davem. There is an inherent tension between the wild force of nature and the needs and lifestyles of sentient beings. Yet Treebeard seems to overcome this and see the need for harmony with the other (good) races of Middle-earth. Old Man Willow, on the other hand, carries on the "fight" against them. Perhaps Old Man Willow and Treebeard (plus Bombadil) represent the two sides of nature. On the one hand wild, threatening and unpredictable. On the other helpful and beneficial when treated with respect. So, depending on how it is approached, the natural world can be both hostile to and symbiotic with human existence (as represented by the non-treeish "good" races of Middle-earth).

Hold up! Have I just reached a conclusion. Goodness gracious, put t'kettle on mother!
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Old 07-31-2004, 02:16 AM   #25
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Here I pop in right in the middle of your discussion of trees, having absolutely nothing to say on the matter.

I want to take you back to one of my favourite bits in the book: the beginning of the quest.
And that is when, Frodo, brutally awakened from a precognitive dream of the Sea, by an unecessarily noisy Merry- is being told the memorable phrase (well, at least to me): "It is time to get up. It is half past four and very foggy." Imagine the sleepy hobbit, uprooted from his warm comfortable bed, the likes of which he doesn't hope to encounter in the future, preparing himself to face unknown dangers and sufferings. The first of which: stepping out on a foggy, chilly autumn morning at 5:a.m. *shudder* Or maybe I'm making too much out of it. But the fact remains, Merry's matter-of-fact words are a well known joke among me and my friends, when we want to point out the many disadvantages of a situation. (I am still unclear as to why they chose such an early hour to start. )

Second point I want to make is about Tom Bombadil. I for one really like him. He is a very cheerful character, always seeming to make fun of himself and the others, (including the Ring, but I'm saving this for later). Now, his appearance in the story is really mysterious. It would have been very easy for Tolkien to introduce him as if he just happened to be passing by, singing, and so he stumbled upon the hobbits. But instead, it's Frodo who finds him, after getting the unexplainable urge to run through the dangerous forest, crying for help. What made him do that? What do you suppose? Not reason, surely. Because he knew hobbits did not adventure so far inside the forest, and as for other things that did, they could have been just as dangerous as Old Man Willow.
Quote:
But Frodo, without any clear idea of why he did so, or what he hoped for, ran along the path crying help! help! help!.
And help does come, unexpectedly.
The fact that Tom Bombadil invites the hobbits to his house, singles him as someone special, as it has already been suggested. It's apparent that he already knows or guesses what the hobbits are setting out to do, but he is not worried, nor does he treat the matter with the seriousness one would expect him to. Now, the water-lillies - that's something to be serious and worried about. He is in his element, and the hobbits already feel safe with him. The feeling of safety is further illustrated by the 'wonderfully evokative', (as Estelyn put it):
Quote:
the hobbits stood upon the threshold and a golden light was about them.
That makes me think of safety, welcoming, and something else, that I cannot quite express.

PS: There's a really nice thread that talks about the different sort of 'feel' these beginning chapters have here
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Old 07-31-2004, 08:21 AM   #26
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More about trees...

Saucepan Man, you've got a good point about the possibility of Treebeard and Old Man Willow being in some way related or linked. I had a quick look forward to see what Treebeard says, and he does indeed say that the forests were once linked. What was interesting was that he said just as there are old Ents who have become more 'tree-ish', there are also trees which have become more 'ent-ish'. That may provide some reasoning for why Old Man Willow is driven to attack; his heart has gone "bad right through" as Treebeard puts it. He also hints at the evil side to many trees, including those of the Old Forest, as being a remnant of darker days, perhaps memories of Morgoth.
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Old 07-31-2004, 12:35 PM   #27
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I have found that this chapters always seems to lead to discussions about Old Man Willow being an Ent who has become Tree-ish. Is he not a Huorn (If that’s how you spell it)? But then we get into the whole issue of Sam's cousin seeing an Ent (or maybe Ent-wife) on the northern borders of the shire and making all the connections that perhaps he is "Old Woman Willow" which is absurd, Tolkien would have mentioned this otherwise, don’t you think?

I think that Old Man Willow may be some kind of central point in the forest's proverbial 'Nervous system' If you take my meaning. To me He seemed to fling the anger of the forest upon the Hobbits, It is my belief that this is because He remembers the Bonfire when many trees were killed and so is attempting some kind of revenge. Not just for himself, but also for the whole forest, I have had this belief for some time now but have never really spoken of it as it was too odd and hard to put into words what I actually mean.
I think that some how the whole forest must be interconnected, we know that the trees can speak to one another with their own tongs, but is there some kind of supernatural way that they all feel one another’s pain? As Old man Willow is the only one who went further than sticking a root out to trip them up I suspect he is a major Power in the Tree community.

I do not know about you but how Tom says "Is that All?" when Frodo and Sam tell him of what had happened it sort of suggests that it has happened before, maybe with a badger or something.

This, granted, may all be a complete pile of twaddle, if so, ignore it and I'll go sit in a corner and chew on some tree roots.
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Old 07-31-2004, 01:11 PM   #28
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Previously posted by Estelyn:

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The hobbits have only just left the Shire and already encounter danger not from the Ring or the Riders, but from a hostile environment that has nothing to do with Sauron’s influence,
this is an odd chapter to me because of the absence of such evils. It almost felt like Tolkien placed this scene in afterwards, or that he used this point in time to introduce the enigma Tom Bombadil. Does anyone know if anything of the sort occurred? I know he re-wrote riddles in the dark in the Hobbit at one point, was this chapter always in his plans?
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Old 07-31-2004, 03:07 PM   #29
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Of Course this is not the first time Tom has encountered Old Man Willow. In the Adventures of Tom Bombadil we have the following verses:

Quote:
Up woke Willow-man, began upon his singing,
sang Tom fast asleep under branches swinging;
in a crack caught him tight: snick! it closed together,
trapped Tom Bombadil, coat and hat and feather.

'Ha, Tom Bombadil! What be you a-thinking,
peeping inside my tree, watching me a-drinking
deep in my wooden house, tickling me with feather,
dripping wet down my face like a rainy weather?'

'You let me out again, Old Man Willow!
I am stiff lying here; they're no sort of pillow,
your hard crooked roots. Drink your river-water!
Go back to sleep again like the River-daughter!'

Willow-man let him loose when he heard him speaking;
locked fast his wooden house, muttering and creaking,
whispering inside the tree. Out from willow-dingle
Tom went walking on up the Withywindle.
Under the forest-eaves he sat a while a-listening:
on the boughs piping birds were chirruping and whistling.
Butterflies about his head went quivering and winking,
until grey clouds came up, as the sun was sinking.
What we have here is OMW attacking Tom in the way he attacked the Hobbits. He sings Tom to sleep & swallows him. Which raises the question of whether OMW is out for revenge simply against hobbits for their 'attack' on the forest, or whether he really is out for revenge against 'all that go on two legs, & also of Tom's relationship to the forest. Tom himself, it seems is percieved as a foe to the trees. This episode follows straight on from Tom's first encounter with Goldberry, who is also malicious:

Quote:
Old Tom in summertime walked about the meadows
gathering the buttercups, running after shadows,
tickling the bumblebees that buzzed among the flowers,
sitting by the waterside for hours upon hours.

There his beard dangled long down into the water:
up came Goldberry, the River-woman's daughter;
pulled Tom's hanging hair. In he went a-wallowing
under the water-lilies, bubbling and a-swallowing.

'Hey, Tom Bombadil! Whither are you going?'
said fair Goldberry. 'Bubbles you are blowing,
frightening the finny fish and the brown water-rat,
startling the dabchicks, and drowning your feather-hat!'

'You bring it back again, there's a pretty maiden!'
said Tom Bombadil. 'I do not care for wading.
Go down! Sleep again where the pools are shady
far below willow-roots, little water-lady!'

Back to her mother's house in the deepest hollow
swam young Goldberry. But Tom, he would not follow;
on knotted willow-roots he sat in sunny weather,
drying his yellow boots and his draggled feather.
So we have the 'spirit' of the Withywindle river & the spirit of the trees of the forest out to get Tom, almost as if he is percieved by them as an intruder - does Tom really belong in the forest, or is he an 'outsider'? If so, where does his power come from, & how can he be called the spirit of the countryside, & 'master'? His 'power' seems absolute, in that he can 'tame' both the elements of the forest with his song:

Quote:
He woke in morning-light, whistled like a starling,
sang, 'Come, derry-dol, merry-dol, my darling!'
He clapped on his battered hat, boots, and coat and feather;
opened the window wide to the sunny weather.

Wise old Bombadil, he was a wary fellow;
bright blue his jacket was, and his boots were yellow.
None ever caught old Tom in upland or in dingle,
walking the forest-paths, or by the Withywindle,
or out on the lily-pools in boat upon the water.
But one day Tom, he went and caught the River-daughter,
in green gown, flowing hair, sitting in the rushes,
singing old water-songs to birds upon the bushes.

He caught her, held her fast! Water-rats went scuttering
reeds hissed, herons cried, and her heart was fluttering.
Said Tom Bombadil: 'Here's my pretty maiden!
You shall come home with me! The table is all laden:
yellow cream, honeycomb, white bread and butter;
roses at the window-sill and peeping round the shutter.
You shall come under Hill! Never mind your mother
in her deep weedy pool: there you'll find no lover!'

Old Tom Bombadil had a merry wedding,
crowned all with buttercups, hat and feather shedding;
his bride with forgetmenots and flag-lilies for garland
was robed all in silver-green. He sang like a starling,
hummed like a honey-bee, lilted to the fiddle,
clasping his river-maid round her slender middle.
He seems 'master' here - OMW realeases him on command, Goldberry not only releases him at his word, but leaves her river & marries him.

So, who, or what, is Tom? He seems at once both an outsider, attacked by the forest spirits, yet able to control them absolutely.
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Old 07-31-2004, 03:41 PM   #30
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Hookbill, what I think (and looking at my post it wasn't really clear) is that Old Man Willow is more of a tree who has grown Entish. He can't move about as an Ent would, but he does have some of the intelligence or cunning of an Ent.

I know what you mean about Old Man Willow being a central point to the air of malice in the Old Forest, as though he is an influence on the other trees. So, here's one person who certainly thinks you've no need to eat tree-roots!

Davem, now I'll have to go and read Adventures of Tom Bombadil again! It's just struck me that Goldberry is rather like Ginny Greenteeth, the weed that floats on slow moving rivers and brooks, and which is supposed to be a female water spirit who drags the unwary under (this folk story is a very vivid childhood memory, probably told to me to make sure I stayed away from waterweed).
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Old 08-01-2004, 01:08 AM   #31
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lalwende
Davem, now I'll have to go and read Adventures of Tom Bombadil again! It's just struck me that Goldberry is rather like Ginny Greenteeth, the weed that floats on slow moving rivers and brooks, and which is supposed to be a female water spirit who drags the unwary under (this folk story is a very vivid childhood memory, probably told to me to make sure I stayed away from waterweed).
We speculated on this before, here:
http://forum.barrowdowns.com/showthr...ghlight=powler.

There's an interesting book on, among other things, Tolkien's sources, The Uncharted Realms of Tolkien, reviewed here:
http://home.insightbb.com/~sauron/UnchartedRealms.htm.

Interestingly enough, in the Poem Tom is captured by Goldberry, Willowman, a family of Badgers, & finally, in his bedroom, by the Barrow Wight, & he escapes in exactly the same way from all of them - by commanding them to go backto sleep.

Quote:
Goldberry:'You bring it back again, there's a pretty maiden!'
said Tom Bombadil. 'I do not care for wading.
Go down! Sleep again where the pools are shady
far below willow-roots, little water-lady!

OMW:''You let me out again, Old Man Willow!
I am stiff lying here; they're no sort of pillow,
your hard crooked roots. Drink your river-water!
Go back to sleep again like the River-daughter!

Badgers:''Now, old Badger-brock, do you hear me talking?
You show me out at once! I must be a-walking.
Show me to your backdoor under briar-roses;
then clean grimy paws, wipe your earthy noses!
Go back to sleep again on your straw pillow,
like fair Goldberry and Old Man Willow!'

Barrow Wight:'Go out! Shut the door, and never come back after!
Take away gleaming eyes, take your hollow laughter!
Go back to grassy mound, on your stony pillow
lay down your bony head, like Old Man Willow,
like young Goldberry, and Badger-folk in burrow!
Go back to buried gold and forgotten sorrow!'
Its as if they should all be asleep, their awakening is somehow 'wrong', & Tom's role in the forest is to keep them all somnolent.

Finally, jumping back to the last chapter's debate, on the meaning of the name [i]Brandywine[/] - in the other Bombadil poem, Bombadil goes Boating, there is this verse:

Quote:
Red flowed the Brandywine: with flame the river kindled.
as sun sank beyond the Shire
, and then to grey it dwindled.
Mithe Steps empty stood. None was there to greet him.
Silent the Causeway lay. Said Tom: 'A merry meeting!'
Perhaps the brandy/fire relationship comes from this - at sunset the brown waters are turned firey red by the sunlight????

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Old 08-01-2004, 08:01 AM   #32
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Good of you to quote the Bombadil verse from Tales of the Perilous Realm, davem. And answer to Bombadil, it is salutary to recall that Bombadil was a character already conceived before Tolkien began LotR, and was not part of the mythology of the Silm.

We could consider Tolkien's explanation of Tom in Letter # 153:

Quote:
In historical fact I put him in because I had already 'invented' him independently (he first appeared in the Oxford Magazine) and wanted an 'adventure' on the way. But I kept him in, and as he was, because he represents certain things otherwise left out. [N.B. Now there's a statement for you!] I do not mean him to be an allegory--or I should not have given him so particular embodying individual, and ridiculous a name--but 'allegory' is the only mode of exhibiting certain functions: he is then an 'allegory' , or an examplar, a particular embodying of pure (real) natural science: the spirit that desires knowledge of other things, their history and nature, [i]because they are 'other' and wholly idependent of the enquiring mind,a spirit coeval with the rational mind, and entirely unconcerned with 'doing' anything with knowledge: Zoology and Botany not Cattle-breeding or Agruculture. Even the Elves hardly show this: they are primarily artists.
Now, we can take this with a grain of salt or not. Is Tom's enigmatic nature (another explanation of him from Tolkien, Letter # 144) the result of this alien transposition into a tale not wholly suitable? Was Tolkien so taken with this idea of representing something disappearing from the modern world that he happily accepted the fact that Tom does not fit well? After all, the demand that all parts of a work of art cohere competely is not an absolute requirement, and one quite often neglected if not denigrated by nonsense and fantastical literatures. Yet if Tolkien were adamant and serious about this point that knowledge was becoming more and more mechanical and bent on domination, why did he choose to clothe it in a ridiculous figure which has drawn scorn and derision if not neglect?

(It is, I think, highly significant that on this thread we have had Fordim and Sauce indulge in some silly nonsense posts, yes, indeed it is, Silmiel of Imladris. But of course with a nod towards wit and cleverness.)

Clearly, I think, Tolkien wanted a character who was himself wholly 'other'. There are things that order and rationality cannot include. The passage I quoted above concludes with this observation:

Quote:
Also T.B. exhibits another point in his attitude to the Ring, and its failure to affect him. You must concentrate on some part, probably relatively small, of the World (Universe) whether to tell a tale, however long, or to learn anythig however fundamental--and therefore much will from that 'point of view' be left out, distorted on the circumference, or seem a discordant oddity. The power of the ring over all concerned, even the Wizards or Emissaries, is not a delusion--but it is not the whole picture, even of the then state and content of that part of the Universe.
Early in this thread Aiwendil made this observation about the worth of these three chapters, about why Tolkien did not excise them once he had straight in his mind what LotR was going to be about:

Quote:
Looking at it this way, what Tolkien does is present a series of minor incidents each of which alters the tension in some way. Most add to it, a little bit at a time. One detracts from it - which only makes its eventual reappearance more striking. And only at the very climax does anything actually happen . A mistake too many authors make is to think that the reader is conscious only of what is happening at the moment, so that they think a constant level of action must be maintained for the story to be interesting. Tolkien realizes that readers have a memory and also a sense of anticipation, so that each of the little incidents he presents adds to the tension.
Tolkien himself in the first extant reference in his Letters to Bombadil suggests that there was a narrative reason for including these three chapters. (My, I am doing a fair bit of quoting today.)

Quote:
Mr. Baggins began as a comic tale among conventional and inconsistent Grimm's fairy-tale dwarves, and got drawn into the edge of it--so that even Sauron the terrible peeped over the edge. And what more can hobbits do? They can be comic, but their comedy is suburban unless it is set against things more elemental. But the real fun about orcs and dragons (to my mind) was before their time. Perhaps a new (if similar) line? Do you think Tom Bombadil, the spirit of the (vanishing) Oxford and Berkshire countryside, could be made into the hero of a story? ...
This very early letter, before the sequel to the Hobbit was begun and while Tolkien was yet immersed in "the construction of elaborate and consistent mythology (and two languages)" shows Tolkien aware of the nature of narrative, of how to structure and organise events of a tale. Again, Tolkien appears to have been thinking of how to use Tom to contrast the hobbits and other events. Again, a recognition of how to use "the other" to set off his tale, even before it is written.

Having said all this in one post (that's what you get when I don't get around to posting on the thread for its entire week of life--you didn't think someone who constructed her entire RPG persona around Tom and Goldberry would not be here, did you?), I would like to return to davem comment about Goldberry.

davem wrote:

Quote:
This episode follows straight on from Tom's first encounter with Goldberry, who is also malicious
Well now, yes, Goldberry pulls Tom into the water. And she appears to be in line with other perils Tom faces, as davem has pointed out, Old Man Willow, the badger folk and the barrow wight. Yet does Tom fear her? Can we say he views her as malicious? Tom calls out to her, "You bring it back, you pretty maiden." From the first, he is aware of Goldberry's gender. And he returns to her, to capture her and take her away from her mother:

Quote:
Said Tom Bombadil: "Here's my pretty maiden!
You shall come home with me! The table is all laden
...
... Never mind your mother
in her deep weedy pool: there you'll find no lover!"
To me, there is little maliciousness here but much frisky play. Certainly, by the time we see Tom and Goldberry in The House of Bombadil, they have been much domesticated. This, however, is to jump ahead.

Oh, and, Evisse the Blue, I think you are right on about Tom's ability to make fun of himself. Maybe if Frodo had a little more sense of humour....
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Old 08-01-2004, 11:51 AM   #33
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bethberry
Yet does Tom fear her? Can we say he views her as malicious? Tom calls out to her, "You bring it back, you pretty maiden." From the first, he is aware of Goldberry's gender. And he returns to her, to capture her and take her away from her mother
Well, playing Devil's advocate, I have to point out that Tom doesn't fear any of his 'attackers'!Goldberry does play the part of all the River 'goddesses', pulling the unwary traveller down into her underwater realm. The whole tone of the poem is comic - even the barrow wight is presented as a kind of pantomime demon figure, & is given short shrift by Tom, who shoos him out of his house.

I have to say, I've always felt there was something very 'primal' about the whole Tom & Goldberry relationship, as if we're witnessing forces of nature personified, rather than simply two odd inhabitants of the forest. Goldberry is the spirit of the river - a very 'feminine' force, beautiful, mysterious, but also deep, dangerous, consuming, like the river which is her 'mother ' winding sinuously through the heart of the forest (Withywindle = 'winding through the withies/willows'), but what is Tom? He's someone who has come into the forest, master, but not an aspect of the wood, as it & its inhabitants don't seem to like him very much! If he doesn't completely 'belong' in the story, does he really 'belong' in the Forest, either? He's both incredibly wise & incredibly (annoyingly?) simple. And in the next chapter he gets worse (or better!) In the earliest draft he tells the hobbits he is ab-origine. He's the first - but the first what? He seems to have simply decided to pop up in the Old Forest, & instantly has the run of the place, whether the inhabitants want him or not - he seems to have done the same with Lord of the Rings. He pops up in the book & dominates three chapters, & then, apart from a couple of mentions by other characters, disappears again.

Perhaps that's what some readers find annoying - he's the extravert uncle, who embarrasses his nieces & nephews with his antics, who they usually wish would just be quiet & act his age, but he's also the one they run to when they're in trouble, because he's the one they know will get them out of it, & make everything alright again (& then he'll straightaway do something silly again). Its like he's joie de vivre given physical form, who'll always do just as he pleases, laughing his head off & singing nonsense all the while. You simply can't decide whether you want to slap him or hug him. Half of you just wants him to go away (& let life be SERIOUS!!!!- MY GOD - don't you realise there are BLACK RIDERS out there, & a Ring of Power to be dealt with! Get REAL Man, for once in your life!) & the other half of you never wants him to leave, because while he's around you're safe - however irrational that feeling of safety might be.

I suspect he knows full well that he annoys the hell out of some readers, & that's part of the fun for him - my advice to them is pretend (if you can) not to be annoyed by him, because that just makes him worse.

'He only does it to annoy, because he knows it teases'.
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Old 10-14-2004, 12:05 PM   #34
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Tom Bombadil and the Bucklanders

Hi, this is my first post to the Downs, and I have been thoroughly enjoying this chapter by chapter discussion. I am rereading the series (second time this century, third time in my life) in conjunction with the the Chapter-by-Chapter discussions on this forum, and it is expanding my appreciation and enjoyment of the book immensely.

As I was reading the chapters on Tom and the Old Forest, a question occurred to me: given that Tom was on friendly terms with Farmer Maggot and had regular dealings with the folk of Bree, how is it that the Bucklanders, Merry in particular, knew nothing of this incredibly powerful, charismatic and enigmatic individual living less than a day's journey from their home?

These are the sorts of things that I wonder

Resuming lurk mode...

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Old 10-14-2004, 12:18 PM   #35
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Welcome to the Downs Aldarion, and to the Chapter by Chapter discussion. Don't lurk! Come on in and participate. When do you expect you might be able to post on the most current chapter (currently we're talking about "The Bridge of Khazad-dum in Book Two).

It's an interesting question that you pose. I guess that the general ignorance of the hobbits toward Tom is another indication of their parochial and inward looking nature. What's intriguing about this in light of our discussion of Tom as a nature-spirit, is that the hobbits are all of them deeply in love with "tilled earth" -- they even live in the ground, and are thus very close to the earth and the natural. But they are unaware of Tom: maybe they are close to the earth in terms of cultivation and domestication. They know about "tilled earth" but are blind to the wild or untamed forces of nature represented by Tom?

But then, of course FARMER Maggot knows Tom -- is this why Maggot is such an imposing figure? He is a farmer and a friend of Tom, thus in touch with domesticated nature and wild nature? He has a full view of the natural world.

The more I hear and think about Maggot, the more fascinating a figure he becomes. . .
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Old 10-14-2004, 01:37 PM   #36
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Hi there Alda and welcome to the discussion side of the Downs. A bit different than chat, eh?

You pose a good question. For myself, I have always assumed that the "Hedge" and the bad blood caused years ago by the fire in the Bonfire Glade was the reason for the hobbits having very little to do with the Old Forest. This might account for their ignorance of Tom. It makes you wonder what he knows of the events of the Bonfire Glade, though, when the hobbits burned down trees and found over territory. (*hears the possibility of an RPG*) It is about the only bit of hobbit history we get which has the possibility of casting them in a less than friendly light.

Maggots feed on dead flesh--a very unsentimental name for the farmer. I think I would agree with Fordim that Farmer Maggot is one of those minor characters who really rewards closer examination.

Please do join in--posing that is, rather than lurking--on the rest of the Chapter by Chapter discussion threads.
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Old 10-14-2004, 02:34 PM   #37
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I'm only up to post 13 in this thread, but before I forget-- there have been many comparisons between Treebeard and Old Man Willow; but to me, Old Man Willow seems much less like an Ent to me, and much more like a Huorn. His "Devouring" of Merry and Pippin is analogous to the Huorns devouring orcs. The Huorns move, but underground, sort of swimming through it; they don't "walk" like Ents do.

Interesting that Merry and Pippin, the Devoured ones, were the ones to go on to Fangorn.

(In contrast to Ted Sandyman, I do believe Sam's friend/cousin/whatever *did* see an Ent, 'walking'....)

OK, back to reading....

Davem wrote:
Quote:
in the dreamlike air of the Old Forest, which seems to exist in a state between dreaming & waking.
....."Faerie". Yes, you do go on to spell that out... GOod stuff.

Davem also wrote:

Quote:
And Frodo is the great dreamer, the one who is always half dreaming throughout his early life in the Shire, & who is most at home in the dreamworld of Middle Earth beyond the Shire's borders, who only seems to wake up once he leaves, & feels he is 'falling asleep again' when he returns home.
YES!!! That is the best explaination for that line I have yet found; well said. Thanks for pulling that together.

Quote:
Frodo, it seems, never truly belongs in 'our' waking world - perhaps, like Galahad, he has been born solely to perform his task of taking the Ring to the Fire, & then departing back to the world of dreams.
More Wow.
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Old 10-14-2004, 03:27 PM   #38
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From my jottings and scribblings:

Early in the chapter, Frodo sings at the trees, but his will fails; His voice starts out strong, then fades, not because he is finished, but because the trees loom over him. This is a contrast to his Bombadil-summoning in the Barrow; there, his voice starts out weak, and ends up ringing out. 'Something' has changed by then.

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Northward, and to the left of the path, the lad seemed to be drier and more open, climbing up to slopes where the trees were thinner, and pines and firs replaced the oaks and ashes and other strange and nameless trees of the denser wood.
"Nameless" generally is not a compliment in Tolkien's style. Good things get named, at least by the elves! "Nameless trees" implies to me that they are not nice trees.

The contrast between Sam and Frodo is interesting; Frodo, dreamy and almost 'drownded', must be pulled out of the Withywindle and the Willow-Roots by Sam (later, Frodo pulls Sam out of the Anduin.) Then as they consider Merry & Piipin's plight, Frodo is cautious and hesitant; Sam is 'fierce'. It is Sam who sets the fire, and threatens to gnaw on the tree. While Sam is stamping out the fire, Frodo is running crying 'help, help' and feeling 'desperate: lost and witless'. This is a major contrast to his later temptation and courage in the Barrow.

Goldberry's voice falls silver-- like Nimrodel-- "Her voice as falling silver fell into the shining pool." To me, this is one of the most moving parts of this chapter:

Quote:
Then another clear voice, as young and as ancient as Spring, like the song of a glad water flowing down into the night from a bright morning in the hills, came falling like silver to meet them:

Now let the song begin! Let us sing together
Of sun, stars, moon and mist, rain and cloudy weather,
Light on the budding leaf, dew on the feather,
Wind on the open hill, bells on the heather,
Reeds by the shady pool, lilies on the water:
Old Tom Bombadil and the River-daughter!


And with that song the Hobbits stood upon the threshold, and a golden light was all about them.
To me the final sentence is evocative because of the song before it and the voice that sang them into the light. What kind of voice must that be! And who writes such songs! It evokes another of my favorite lines, from further forward in the book, Many Meetings: "They spoke... ... of the fair things they had seen in the world together: of Elves, of the stars, of trees, and the gentle fall of the bright year in the woods."
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Old 02-21-2008, 02:33 PM   #39
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One of the most interesting things about this chapter is the fact that for once in Tolkien's writing, trees are used as enemies with a negative image. We have the old story of the attacking trees that were burned (now that would certainly be politically incorrect today, wouldn't it?!), the devious malice of the trees in misleading them, and Old Man Willow, who would have killed the Hobbits if left to his own devices. For someone like Tolkien, who had a great love for trees, this is a departure, is it not?

At first, Merry is the strongest of the Hobbits, encouraging the others, finding the way, and showing little fear. However, Sam is the one who rescues them, the only one who doesn't fall asleep from OMW's singing. I wonder why?

I can't help but wonder about the trees' ability to understand human language. It's not just the feeling that becomes oppressing, but when Frodo sings about the failing trees and woods, Merry admonishes him that the trees do not like that. If we assume that the Old Forest trees are a kind of Huorn, and that Elves taught the Ents and trees to speak, I suppose it is possible - though why they should understand Common Speech rather than Entish or Elvish is not entirely clear to me.

During this chapter Tolkien is also skilfully building up the suspense that goes with the Barrow-downs, giving hints of its sinister reputation and making sure the readers know that it is an undesirable place to which the Hobbits do not want to go.

I love the sentence that tells us (without saying the name) that the Hobbits have come to the Withywindle:
Quote:
...bordered with ancient willows, arched over with willows, blocked with fallen willows, and flecked with thousands of faded willow-leaves.
Very evocative!

Tolkien's descriptive narrative is excellent in this chapter, not only showing us what the Old Forest looks like, but also making us feel the emotions that the Hobbits felt in there.

This is the Hobbits' first dangerous adventure outside of the Shire (and the danger within the Shire was brought in from outside, in the persons of the Black Riders). It shows that the perils do not begin in far-away foreign countries, but right outside their own borders.

One more thing - it's interesting to compare the Fatty of this chapter with the one at the end of the book - not only will his appearance have changed, but his courage will have grown so much that he leads a rebellion against the invasion of the Shire!
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Old 02-22-2008, 02:18 PM   #40
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Originally Posted by Estelyn Telcontar View Post
At the end of the chapter, an open door and light await them, with Goldberry’s welcoming song. I find the last sentence wonderfully evocative:
The last sentence is definitely wonderful, almost otherworldly. One would expect the hobbits in the next moment floating in the stellar space or something

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Originally Posted by Estelyn Telcontar View Post
One of the most interesting things about this chapter is the fact that for once in Tolkien's writing, trees are used as enemies with a negative image. We have the old story of the attacking trees that were burned (now that would certainly be politically incorrect today, wouldn't it?!), the devious malice of the trees in misleading them, and Old Man Willow, who would have killed the Hobbits if left to his own devices. For someone like Tolkien, who had a great love for trees, this is a departure, is it not?
Definitely. But I think it's this ambiguity Tolkien writes about always, even when he is mentioning the "magical realm", Faërie, he says that it's a world beautiful but dangerous. And if I make a little excourse into the future, Tom is going to tell the Hobbits later about the forest and explain some things about the trees' minds to them. And the Faërie comparision is quite appropriate here I think: the Hobbits, after what Tom tells them, feel like intruders in the place which is alien to them. But that's not, as I said, in the chapter itself, only in the next one (but I believe it still relativises seeing the trees as "evil" - the only "evil one" here who remains is the Old Man Willow).

Quote:
At first, Merry is the strongest of the Hobbits, encouraging the others, finding the way, and showing little fear. However, Sam is the one who rescues them, the only one who doesn't fall asleep from OMW's singing. I wonder why?
First, Merry is definitely the leader here, at least until the time when the Old Man Willow comes (or, to be precise, when they come to him). But Sam is quite, well, practic still and "mundane" (first thing he does is to look for the ponies), so maybe there is some reason that due to his practical mind he was less vulnerable to such "unnatural" things? He does not even believe Frodo that the tree pushed him into the water. Just a thought, I don't know

Quote:
I can't help but wonder about the trees' ability to understand human language. It's not just the feeling that becomes oppressing, but when Frodo sings about the failing trees and woods, Merry admonishes him that the trees do not like that. If we assume that the Old Forest trees are a kind of Huorn, and that Elves taught the Ents and trees to speak, I suppose it is possible - though why they should understand Common Speech rather than Entish or Elvish is not entirely clear to me.
I thought about it and now it seems to me that maybe the trees with their long life could, you know, listen to hobbits' language and learn it over the ages? They are their neighbours, after all; and Bombadil uses the language as well, speaking of it; and there were others earlier (some remnants of the Dúnedain from Arnor at one time were hiding in the Old Forest). And maybe, during all the ages, some more daring Hobbit who kept visiting the Old Forest may have talked to some trees, maybe not even realising what he's doing or that it has any actual effect, but the trees listened to him and learned to catch the meaning of some words.

Quote:
This is the Hobbits' first dangerous adventure outside of the Shire (and the danger within the Shire was brought in from outside, in the persons of the Black Riders). It shows that the perils do not begin in far-away foreign countries, but right outside their own borders.
One thing about Old Man Willow - I find it insteresting that he is in fact the first "otherworldly" creature (apart from the Black Riders) the Hobbits encounter. And since The Hobbit, it's the first creature of this type; and also a new one, unseen before.

Quote:
One more thing - it's interesting to compare the Fatty of this chapter with the one at the end of the book - not only will his appearance have changed, but his courage will have grown so much that he leads a rebellion against the invasion of the Shire!
Obviously. A reader always notices how the four hobbits' personalities have changed over the time of their adventure (Merry and Pippin being the strongest examples), but Fatty went through at least similar change.
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