Today in Tolkien - September 26th
Today the hobbits enter the old forest, get captured by a tree, and meet Tom Bombadil. Gandalf is riding north across the Enedwaith (the area beyween the Isen and Greyflood).
One of the first things to note here is that the hobbits’ troubles with Huorns and Barrow-wights, resulting in them twice needing to be rescued by Bombadil, are not (solely) the result of ineptitude or bad luck. From “The Hunt for the Ring” in Unfinished Tales:
But the Black Captain [the Witch-king] established a camp at Andrath [a short distance south of Bree]; and from there some others were sent to watch and patrol the eastern borders [of the Shire], while he himself visited the Barrow-downs. In notes on the movements of the Black Riders at that time it is said that the Black Captain stayed there for some days, and the Barrow-wights were roused, and all things of evil spirit, hostile to Elves and Men, were on the watch with malice in the Old Forest and on the Barrow-downs.
The Witch-king is deliberately blocking off exits from the Shire other than the road, in order to catch Frodo; there are no safe options. This explains why the hobbits have so many problems, when Merry’s been in the Old Forest before several times with little trouble. Merry’s thoughtful and perceptive and has already observed that the trees are “very much more alive, more aware of what is going on” and “do not like strangers.” They have reason! The Old Forest is the last remnant of a great forest that once covered most of Eriador and the lands southward was, IIRC, intensively logged by the Númenoreans, mostly for shipbuilding, until only fragments of it remained.
There are various interpretations of Bombadil, but my reading of him is as a Maia who is sort of genius locus, the spirit of a place - specifically the ancient forests of Eriador, or perhaps this specific patch of land (which is why he does not leave it). Within this area, he has considerable power and authority - and knowledge, as he tells the hobbits its history; outside it, little. Personally, I suspect that Caradhras is another such spirit, whose hostility was his own personality and had little to do with either Saruman or Sauron.
Near nightfall the hobbits reach the house of Tom Bombadil, just past the eastern edge of the forest below the slopes of the Barrow-downs. Tom seems to like humans - at any rate enough to take their general form, and their style of house construction, more than an elven one - though both his looks and his house are also hobbitish so he may be emulating his neighbours.
In the night, Frodo, Merry, and Pippin all have dreams; Merry and Pippin’s are about the forest, but Frodo’s is different:
In the dead night, Frodo lay in a dream without light. Then he saw the young moon rising; under its thin light there loomed before him a great black wall of rock, pierced by a dark arch like a great gate. It seemed to Frodo that he was lifted up, and passing over he saw that the rock-wall was a circle of hills, and that within it was a plain, and in the midst of the plain stood a pinnacle of stone, like a vast tower but not made by hands. On its top stood the figure of a man. The moon as it rose seemed for a moment to hang above his head and glistened in his white hair as the wind stirred it. Up from the dark plain below came the crying of fell voices, and the howling of many wolves. Suddenly a shadow, like the shape of great wings, passed across the moon. The figure lifted his arms and a light flashed from the staff that he wielded. A mighty eagle swept down and bore him away. The voices wailed and the wolves yammered. There was a noise like a strong wind blowing, and on it was borne the sound of hoofs, galloping, galloping, galloping from the east. “Black Riders!” thought Frodo as he wakened, with the sound of the hoofs still echoing in his mind.
As Frodo realizes later at the Council of Elrond, this is Gandalf’s escape from Orthanc, and the hooves are not Black Riders but Gandalf rising north. He is dreaming of the past; Gandalf’s escape was several days ago. Perhaps Irmo is trying to give him a hint about what has delayed Gandalf, and that Gandalf is on the way. One of the characteristic features of The Lord of the Rings is that the specific causes and nature of apparently-supernatural events often go unexplained; we are simply given to understand that there are many powers working in the world, for good and evil, and not all are identified.
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NAMES OF THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING
Frodo, Maura (Old English and Westron respectively for "Wise by Experience"); Baggins, Labingi (English and Westron for "Bagging", "Eating between Meals", "Bag End"); Iorhael ("Frodo", "Old and Wise"); Daur ("Noble"); Bingo (earlier name for him); Bronwe athan Harthad (earlier name given to Frodo by Gandalf, "Endurance beyond Hope")
Samwise, Banazîr ("Simple-Minded", "Half-Minded"); Gamgee, Galbasi ("Gamwich"); Perhael ("Samwise", "Half-Wise")
Meriadoc, Kalimac (Welsh for "Great Lord"); Brandybuck, Brandagamba ("Brandybuck"); Marmaduke (earlier name for him)
Peregrin, Razanur ("Pilgrim"); Took, Tûk ("Took"); Pippin ("Apple"); Ernil i Pheriannath ("Prince of the Halflings")
Boromir ("Steadfast Jewel", "Steadfast Gem")
Gimli (Old Norse for "Fire", otherwise "Star", "Star in the Sky"); Gloinul ("Son of Gloin")
*I didn't mention Aragorn, Legolas and Gandalf because I've already mentioned them on other posts - Aragorn on the FINWЁAN NAMES post, Legolas on the NAMES OF SINDAR HOUSES post, Gandalf on the NAMES OF THE MAIAR post.
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Today in Tolkien - September 25th
Today gets two full chapters of Fellowship of the Ring: “A Short Cut to Mushrooms” and “A Conspiracy Unmasked.”
Sam is particularly affected by his conversation with the elves, and seems to have gained a perspective that will stay with him through the whole of the quest:
I don’t know how to say it, but after last night I feel different. I seem to see ahead, in a kind of way. I know we are going to take a very long road, into darkness; but I know I can’t turn back. It isn’t to see Elves now, nor dragons, nor mountains, that I want - I don’t rightly know what I want: but I have something to do before the end, and it lies ahead, not in the Shire. I must see it through, sir, if you understand me.
It seems as though Sam has had an almost Elvish glimpse of foresight; this memory comes back far later, at the very darkest parrt of the journey, when he thinks that Frodo is dead in Cirith Ungol:
And then he remembered his own voice speaking words that at the time he did not understand himself, at the beginning of their journey: I have something to do before the end. I must see it through, sir, if you understand.
…“What am I to do then?” he cried again, and now he seemed plainly to know the hard answer: see it through. Another lonely journey, and the worst.
And so he takes upon himself the Ring, and the quest to Mount Doom, and as a result prevents Sauron from getting it. The seeds of that pivotal moment are sown in this chance-meeting with elves.
Looking at the map of the Shire at the start of The Fellowship of the Ring, it seems like the hobbits’ ‘short cut’ today takes them south from near Woodhall to the upper parts of the Stockbrook; dowmstream along the Stockbrook a ways, and then south across it before it’s fully exited the forest of Woody End; then, accidentally, south (rather than west) through a part of Woody End. But I’m not sure about that; if it’s accurate, they spend a large part of the day getting quite turned around and heading south rather than east. But Farmer Maggot only lives about five miles from Bucklebury Ferry, so the hobbits must have managed to walk most of the way there, and by Frodo’s estimate it would have been 18 miles even without getting turned around.
At any rate, Frodo is probably prudent in deciding to stay off the road, as they have three more encounters (well, two sightings and one hearing) with Black Riders, to add to the two the previous day - one shortly after they start out, one in the afternoon when they are in the woods, and the one that they see from the far side of the Brandywine just after getting off Bucklebury Ferry.
This chapter (and the last one, with Gildor’s people) is a strong illustration of the importance Tolkien places on friendship and kindness and unexpected help. Not for Tolkien the ‘lone hero against the world’ story! (Indeed, those who insist on isolating themselves are almost always acting out of pride, and are almost always corrupted.) The hobbits only escape the Black Riders thanks to the aid first of the elves and later of Farmer Maggot, who drives them to the ferry; and Frodo and Sam would have been much worse off the later parts of their journey if Merry and Pippin hadn’t insisted on coming along. Later there’s Bombadil, and then Aragorn, and Glorfindel, and later Galadriel, and Treebeard, and Faramir. And while a few of these meetings - Glorfindel, who was spent specifically to seek them, and Lothlórien - are planned, most are not. Providence in Middle-earth seems to work in large part through ‘chance-meeting’, just as it did with Gandalf and Thorin immediately before the events of The Hobbit (recounted in “The Quest of Erebor” in Unfinished Tales). Even in the Silmarillion such chance-meetings have great importance, as between Finrod and the Beorings or Beren and Lúthien. They are quite clearly intended to be understood as more than mere chance.
And I love Merry’s statement on friendship when they insist on coming with Frodo:
You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin - to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours - closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo.
I’ve read the books more times than I can count, and I still can’t decipher the meaning of Frodo’s dream at the end:
He seemed to looking out of a high window over a dark sea of tangled trees. Down below among the roots there was a sound of creatures crawling and snuffling. He felt sure they would smell him out sooner or later.
Then he heard a noise in the distance. At first he thought it was a great wind coming over the leaves of the forest. Then he knew that it was not leaves, but the sound of the Sea far-off; a sound he had never heard in waking life, though it had often troubled his dreams. Suddenly he found he was in the open. There were no trees after all. He was on a dark heath, and thete was a strange salt smell in the air. Looking up he saw before him a tall white tower, standing alone on a high ridge. A great desire cam over him to climb the tower and see the Sea. He started to struggle up the ridge towards the tower: but suddenly a light came into the sky, and there was a noise of thunder.
It’s possible that the first part of the dream is conveying Gandalf imprisoned in Orthanc. The second part, Frodo’s dream of climbing a tower and seeing the sea, may be related to where he will be three years hence, on his journey to the Grey Havens. This journey lasts from September 22nd to 29th, so by the they are likely west of the Shire by the 25th:
… going about the south skirts of the White Downs, they came to the Far Downs, and to the Towers, and looked on the distant Sea.
The Prologue to FOTR mentions that:
Three Elf-towers of immemorial age were still to be seen on the Tower Hills beyond the western marches. They shone far off in the moonlight. The tallest was furthest away, standing upon a green mound. The Hobbits of the Westfarthing said that one could see the Sea from the top of that tower; but no hobbit had ever been known to climb it.
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