Feb 2 2009 1:49pm
LotR re-read: Fellowship I.8, “Fog on the Barrow-downs”

cover of The Fellowship of the Ring And now for chapter 8 of The Fellowship of the Ring, “Fog on the Barrow-downs.” The usual spoilers and commentary follow. (And, for those of you who followed this project in its prior incarnation, this is the first completely new post.)

What Happens

Frodo has a dream or vision of “a far green country.” After breakfast, the hobbits bid farewell to Tom Bombadil and Goldberry, separately. They head out over the Barrow-downs in hot sunny weather, and have lunch on top of a hill. They fall asleep and wake to find it sunset and the Downs covered with fog. They set out anyway, steering for the Road based on their memory of the view. Frodo, at the front of the line, sees what he thinks is the northern boundary and hurries forward, but ends up passing through two standing stones. He falls off his rearing pony and then discovers that he’s become separated from the others. Following what he thinks are cries for help, he finds himself on top of a hill with the fog clearing away. A Barrow-wight seizes him and he passes out.

When Frodo wakes, he sees the other three hobbits lying dressed in white, adorned with treasure, and with a naked sword across their necks. He hears the Barrow-wight’s incantation bidding that they not wake “till the dark lord lifts his hand / over dead sea and withered land,” and sees the wight’s hand seeking the hilt of the sword. He momentarily thinks of using the Ring to escape, but instead grabs a nearby sword and breaks off the wight’s hand. He then remembers and sings the song to summon Bombadil.

Bombail arrives, banishes the wight, wakes the hobbits, finds their ponies, and breaks the spell on the mound. He takes a blue-stoned brooch for Goldberry and gives the hobbits long daggers made by Men of Westernesse, invoking for them a vision, as he does, of what will prove to be the Rangers and Aragorn. He accompanies them to the edge of the Downs and refuses to pass his country’s borders, but advises them to stay at a Bree inn called The Prancing Pony. The chapter ends with the hobbits hurrying toward Bree.


First of all, Ursula K. Le Guin has very closely analyzed this chapter in her essay “Rhythmic Pattern in The Lord of the Rings,” originally published in Meditations on Middle-earth, edited by Karen Haber, and republished in the collection The Wave in the Mind and on the web (possibly without permission, I can’t tell) here. To crib from my own prior summary, Le Guin reads this chapter to support her thesis that

The rhythm that shapes and directs [Tolkien’s] narrative is noticeable, was noticeable to me, because it is very strong and very simple, as simple as a rhythm can be: two beats. Stress, release. Inbreath, outbreath. A heartbeat. A walking gait—but on so vast a scale, so capable of endlessly complex and subtle variation, that it carries the whole enormous narrative straight through from beginning to end, from There to Back Again, without faltering.

She lists recurrent elements and reversals of the chapter, and notes that “[t]hese reversals are not simple binary flips. The positive causes or grows from the negative state, and the negative from the position.” I can give a sense of the way she analyzes the chapter’s events by excerpting her discussion of the very end:

The shadow of menace is inescapable. The chapter that began with a hopeful day-break vision of brightness ends in a tired evening gloom. These are the final sentences:

Darkness came down quickly, as they plodded slowly downhill and up again, until at last they saw lights twinkling some distance ahead.

Before them rose Bree-hill barring the way, a dark mass against misty stars; and under its western flank nestled a large village. Towards it they now hurried, desiring only to find a fire, and a door between them and the night.

These few lines of straightforward narrative description are full of rapid reversals: darkness/lights twinkling—downhill/up again—the rise of Bree-hill/the village under it (west of it)—a dark mass/misty stars—a fire/the night. They are like drumbeats. Reading the lines aloud I can’t help thinking of a Beethoven finale, as in the Ninth Symphony: the absolute certainty and definition of crashing chord and silence, repeated, repeated again. Yet the tone is quiet, the language simple, and the emotions evoked are quiet, simple, common: a longing to end the day’s journey, to be inside by the fire, out of the night.

After all, the whole trilogy ends on much the same note. From darkness into the firelight. “Well,” Sam says, “I’m back.”

Le Guin also points out that the chapter is connected to the rest of the book, first by its oblique references to the bigger picture (the Rangers, the Dark Lord, etc.) and second by how the Barrow-wight’s appearance foreshadows Sauron’s, “a tall dark figure like a shadow against the stars.”

I first read this essay at the start of this project, and it’s been hugely influential on my approach to the text. I highly recommend reading the whole thing.

* * *

What’s left to talk about after Le Guin’s essay? Well, a few things.

First, there’s what we know from reading the whole book is a glimpse of Frodo’s ultimate reward/escape:

But either in his dreams or out of them, he could not tell which, Frodo heard a sweet singing running in his mind; a song that seemed to come like a pale light behind a grey rain-curtain, and growing stronger to turn the veil all to glass and silver, until at last it was rolled back, and a far green country opened before him under a swift sunrise.

Something I’ve read, and now I cannot find the reference, pointed out that Frodo dreams truest at Tom’s house, between this and Gandalf. If the Gandalf dream was actually the Ring, then Tom can’t get credit, but in any case, this is a lovely image containing quiet, non-threatening reversals.

* * *

The intrusive omniscient narrator makes a reappearance on the Downs, first to raise and, simultaneously, discount a possibility of supernatural doings:

Riding over the hills, and eating their fill, the warm sun and the scent of turf, lying a little too long, stretching out their legs and looking at the sky above their noses: these things are, perhaps, enough to explain what happened [when the hobbits fell asleep on the hilltop].

And then to tell us that

There is a seed of courage hidden (often deeply, it is true) in the heart of the fattest and most timid hobbit, wailing for some final and desperate danger to make it grow.

Perhaps a bit of narrative comfort as we return to dangerous events, or is that reading too much into it?

Speaking of possibly-supernatural doings, I wonder about later effects of the fog. Frodo’s memory of Tom had “disappeared with the first coming of the fog,” and it was really not very smart of the hobbits to leave the hilltop and strike out into the fog, even if “they now had so great a dislike for that hollow place about the stone that no thought of remaining there.” On the other hand, it doesn’t seem very, well, Tolkien-ish that there should be something mind-deadening about the fog, does it?

* * *

The encounter with the Barrow-wight:

In “Frodo and the Great War,”1 John Garth suggests that the surreal nature of this scene, particularly the green light, may have been influenced by WWI gas attacks. (More about this article later, when it’s relevant.) It is certainly a very odd scene when compared to the tone of the book so far, especially the Barrow-wight’s hand “walking on its fingers” toward the sword across the hobbits’ necks—great image, doesn’t make a lot of logistical sense to me, just like why Frodo wasn’t placed among the three—then breaking off and “wriggling still, like a wounded spider” when Frodo leaves. Despite the spider reference, the descriptions seem peculiarly inorganic to me, and I’m not sure if there’s anything else like it in the book.

* * *

I found it interesting that Merry had the dream/vision of the mound’s inhabitants being slain by the men of Carn Dûm, those led by the now-chief Ringwraith. It’s not foreshadowing since it’s Pippin who eventually confronts the Witch King; is Merry more sensitive to such things? I don’t remember anything that would suggest that from later on, but I’ll keep an eye out.

They do all get the “vision as it were of a great expanse of years behind them, like a vast shadowy plain over which there strode shapes of Men, tall and grim with bright swords, and last came one with a star on his brow.” This is another way Tom puts them in a historical context, even if they don’t understand the full significance yet.

(This is also the point where they think that they hadn’t anticipated having to fight; I was going to joke that this is how you can tell that they hadn’t read fantasy novels, but you know, they all knew Bilbo’s stories, shouldn’t that have served as an equivalent?)

* * *

Okay, I had a serious “these people are weird” moment when the hobbits run naked on the grass, and pretty much always have. Tell me I’m not the only one?

* * *

Two minor last comments.

First, Tom tells the hobbits that they must forgive their ponies, “for though their hearts are faithful, to face fear of Barrow-wights is not what they were made for.” This rings some faint bell in my mind, but I can’t think of what. Does it suggest anything to you all?

Second, I could do without the enormous thumping-down of tone in Sam’s comment that Tom is “a caution and no mistake. I reckon we may go a good deal further and see naught better, nor queerer.”

1 Published in The Lord of the Rings, 1954-2004: Scholarship in Honor of Richard E. Blackwelder, ed. Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull, Marquette University Press, 2006.

« Fellowship I.7 | Index | Fellowship I.9 »

1. Capper
Actually, it is Merry that faces the Witch King when he is riding with Eowyn, not Pippin.
Kate Nepveu
2. katenepveu
. . . how did I do that?

(I think I got stuck on Merry = Rohan and Pippin = Gondor and forgot that Pippin stayed within the city during the battle.)

Thank you for the correction. *slinks off in shame*
3. KJHass
The Hobbits frolicking naked at Tom's insistence has always struck me as a bit weird, too. But I think Tolkien's point with it was for the Hobbits to symbolically wash away the evil of the barrow wight experience by doing something purely innocent, in the way that little children will run around naked and think nothing of it (until an adult tells them they should). That or Tom is a pervy Hobbit fancier (just kidding).
Soon Lee
4. SoonLee
The hobbit running round naked thing? I thought it illustrated their innocence (small of stature, child-like in many ways), and my reaction that it was weird said more about my own baggage. Or perhaps it contrasted the world of the hobbits vs. ours.
Lance Weber
5. LanceWeber
I've always wondered if his depiction of ponies served to reinforce our view of hobbits. The contrasts between the ponies of the first book and the mighty steeds of the second/third books seems a direct reflection of the relationship between hobbits and mighty Elves, Rangers and Men.
6. Chris Johnstone
Hm. I posted a comment under the previous Tom Bombadil chapter, but it seems to have been eaten by the internet (basically, I said that Tom, the voice that haunts the pass above Moria and the Ents all occupy the same nature category. They serve to point out to the reader that the whole world doesn't revolve around everyone vs Sauron. Tom doesn't much care. The voice on the wind hates all things that have the shape and wits of men, and presumably hates Sauron and orcs too, and the ents only get involved when they have a vested interest too. They could just as easily have sacked Gondor if it'd been Gondor cutting down their forests).

Anyway, as for this chapter, something that strikes me about it now, that hasn't previously is the echoes of K.M. Briggs theories about fairies and the dead. Once you go back far enough most fairies in English tradition are connected with the dead in some way, they often haunt grassy mounds (barrows) and people who die in an in-between sort of way (death on a battlefield at twilight, death before marriage for a girl, death before naming for a baby) often end up in the world of fairy.

The green colours that occur in the barrow-wights world under the barrow could easily be (conscious or unconcious) references to green as the colour of Faerie. The barrow-wights themselves could be viewed as a traditional pre-modern sort of fairy--a hill haunting spirit of someone who is trapped on earth, neither destined for heaven or hell. In tLotR they exist only within the context of Sauron (he sends evil spirits to stir up the bones, I think). In The adventures of Tom Bombadil, the Barrow-Wight (there is only one) behaves much more like an unseelie ghost/fairy of an Anglo-Saxon sort of tradition.

Just a thought anyway.

And yes, the prancing around naked things always struck me as odd, although it has to be kept in mind that it strikes me as odd the same way as photographs of dozens of naked boys playing in a river in about 1910 strike me as odd. It's my modern perspective that makes it odd. It was written no doubt, to generate a feeling of innocence.

The ponies things is interesting. Tolkien again and again comes back to how tremendously clever, brave and good ponies are. I'd never thought of it as being a bit like pony-horse/hobbit-human, but maybe that's part of it.

Or maybe Tolkien just wanted a pony as a child and never quite got over it...

7. Iain Coleman
One thing I love about this chapter is that it is so closely tied to the ancient landscape of Britain. Go walking in the right bits of the countryside and you will come upon standing stones and barrows whose history is lost in local legend. There's a sense of deep mystery to these objects, and yet you can just walk past them on a stroll through the countryside. Bth the Old Forest and the Barrow-Downs are heightened versions of a long country walk in Britain. As we get to the dramatic landscapes of the Misty Mountains and beyond, we gain in spectacle but lose this feeling of a familiar environment having its latent terrors unleashed.
Linda Frear
8. tanguera
I noticed the interjection of the omniscient voice as well with the statement that the standing stone they lunch under was "more like a warning." But of course hunger overtook them.

It is interesting that it took a barrow-wight to firm Frodo's resolve for the journey ahead of him. He made a conscious decision not to abandon his friends as well. Tom reinforces this when he says that finding themselves again is what matters, not their clothing.

Is the barrow-wight referring to Sauron when he sings:
"till the dark lord lifts his hand
over dead sea and withered land"

Also, by Tom's reaction to the broach he took for Goldberry, I wonder whether he knew the original owner. I also found it strange that even with the black riders, old forest and barrow-wights, until Tom handed the hobbits the Westernesse blades, they had no thoughts that fighting would be necessary. This one line certainly shows the true nature of the hobbits (that and their burning need to stop and eat despite warning signs.)

If Tom won't cross the border of his lands, how does he know about Butterbur?
9. Graydon
Chris Johnstone @6 --

Also note that Frodo can't find the landmarks he remembers from the process of getting lost after Tom rescues them. That's a very lost-in-the-otherworld thing to have happen.

So is the change from some near-dead state to "only sleeping" after Tom declaims over them, and certainly there is a sense in which those trapped in the old fay otherworld were dead.

The barrow-wights are supposed to be animating the dead in some way or another, and presumably you can get from there to the spider-walking hand; the fell spirit doesn't have trivial control over the bones it needs to move to draw the sword across Sam, Pippin, and Merry's necks.

The sword Frodo grabs shattering from the nature of the thing struck only otherwise happens when Eowyn kills the Witch-King. This might be because the barrow-wights and the ring-wraiths were originally conceptually closer (after Norse sources) or because of Tolkien's conception of undead in general. It is interesting that this is in some ways the most overtly heroic thing Frodo does, saving his companions from death or worse, and yet no one but him remembers it. Sam, Merry, and Pippin might not have known until they read the Red Book.

Tanguera @8 --

The barrow-wights were sent there by the Witch-King of Angmar, which is fairly recently as such things go; after the final fall of the North Kingdom. (Only about a thousand years...)

Since it's that late, they could be using Sauron's "Morgoth religion" (what he was chief priest of in Numenor) as well as direct references to Sauron. (Or to no specific dark lord.) I think the imagery works better for Morgoth than Sauron, but I don't think it's determinable from the available text.
Soon Lee
10. SoonLee
tanguera @8:
If Tom won't cross the border of his lands, how does he know about Butterbur?

That's something that I found inconsistent too - the idea that Tom Bombadil doesn't leave his domain, and yet, knows Butterbur & Maggot, and the lady who wore the brooch. Butterbur especially, is not someone who came across as a traveller.
Just re-read the relevant section: Bombadil says only of the Prancing Pony that "Barliman Butterbur is the worthy keeper". So Bombadil may have heard of Butterbur from other travellers?
Re: the barrow wight.
My conception of it was that it was a disembodied arm only. That's reinforced by the description, "a long arm was groping, walking on its fingers toward Sam". But a re-read now makes it clear that when Frodo was captured, it was by a "tall dark figure".
Kate Nepveu
11. katenepveu
Mass comment replies, ahoy! This time by topic, not poster.

Re: naked hobbits: KJHass, SoonLee, I agree that child-like innocence was the goal, it's just a reminder of how much times have changed. Chris Johnstone, thanks for the comment about an independent historical basis for the attitude, with the 1910 picture.

Re: ponies: LanceWeber, interesting about ponies : hobbits :: mighty steeds : Big People warriors. I'm leaning towards Tom's comment weighing against that--the ponies might not have been made to face Barrow-wights, but if the omniscience narrator is to be believed, eventually every hobbit would find the deeply-buried ability to do so--but we could also read it as, well, Barrow-wights aren't part of the everyday for hobbits either, but that just goes to show how brave they are when they do face them. Chris Johnstone, my memory says you're right about ponies being praised, but so are horses too, I think? So I still don't have any conclusions there.

Re: the Barrow as Faerie/otherworld: Chris Johnstone, Graydon, that's very interesting and makes a lot of sense to me, both generally and also the idea that the wight is animating the bones of the dead--I'd thought of it as more a critter in its own right. And I can't believe I overlooked that the sword also shattered; obviously I was too distracted by the hand.

Re: miscellany: Iain Coleman, the contrast between familiarity and terror in the landscape may be something lost to non-British readers; I'm not sure I'm getting it, even knowing on an intellectual level that Tolkien was tying much of what he did closely to local landscapes.

And tanguera, I positively adore your comment about the true nature of hobbits being to stop and eat lunch. =>

(Finally, for anyone who may have had a comment lost: make sure that you see a confirmation message at the TOP OF THE PAGE, above the START of the POST, before you navigate away. It's counterintuitive, but until you see that, you've just previewed your comment, not posted it, no matter how much it might look like you've posted.)
Andrew Foss
12. alfoss1540
Is there anywhere in The Silmarilion or other books that specifically discusses the deaths of those in the Barrows. I remember when I read it I was looking for references, but that was 20 years ago. I do not recall.
13. dulac3
@alfoss1540 I believe that the inhabitants of the Barrow Downs and even a sequence of the wars in Arnor that led to their creation (and ultimate haunting) are detailed to a certain extent in the appendices at the end of RotK.
14. Graydon
alfoss @12 --

"The Peoples of Middle Earth" discusses the history of the barrow downs; there isn't a story about the fall of Cardolan, one of the successor kingdoms of fragmented Arnor.

The original burials are very old, First Age and pre-contact with elves, as the tribes that eventually became the three houses of the Elf-friends moved westward toward Beleriand. There were more barrow-graves made in the Third Age, but the sacredness of the place stemmed from the presence of the graves of the distant ancestors of the Elf-friends, and the people of the successor-kingdom of Arnor recognizing the barrows for the tombs of their distant ancestors.

So sending the barrow-wights as an area-denial strategy was both effective and rather nasty on the part of the Witch-King; this is a big part of symbolic importance/legitimacy of Arnor fallen to the Dark Lord.

Oh, and about the running naked thing -- symbolic rebirth. When you pass under the earth and are reborn as your heroic self, you start off naked that time, too. Very traditional.
15. Chris Johnstone
Graydon @ 9+14 There do seem to be some fairy motifs mixed in with the barrow-wights, but you're right of course, there are clear undead motifs too -- and these link them to the ring-wraiths quite strongly. Both barrow-wights and ring-wraiths share some Norse Draugnr-ish characteristics in particular, but what strikes me about both barrow-wights and ring-wraiths is that Tolkien did an interesting job of mixing up different elements from different folklores, so that the end result was unique and yet still reminds the reader of folkloric sorts of things. It feels powerfully genuine, but not quite clearly from any set of legends or folktales that we've read.

As for the naked hobbits, you mentioned symbolic rebirth, and I'm embarrassed to say I didn't even think of it. Yes, that's likely a big part of the symbolism involved here.

Kate Nepveu @ 11 Interesting point about the adoration of horses too. Just as an odd aside, I do remember reading one of the Tolkien letters in which he expresses concern at how some readers had written him fan letters that were more upset about the loss of horses during the charge of the Rohirrim than they were about the loss of the men riding the horses. I think he was concerned about the idea that people were taking an anti-human message from his work, or perhaps it was just that he thought there was an anti-human trend in society in general. I don't recall. But either way, perhaps he brought it on himself by making his ponies and horses so generally marvelous.

p.s. and yes, my mistake was to not do the word verification thingy the first time I posted. Ah well.
16. Graydon
Chris @15 --

Well, except that "fay" and "undead" are not, if you go far enough back and especially in the Norse sources, all that distinct as concepts. So yes, there are fairy motifs in there, and undead ones, and I think it's much of a piece.

Tolkien did try to produce the ur-version a lot, something that could have come down to our day as we have it. The "Man in the Moon" poem as the precursor of the much elided and compressed nursery rhyme, for instance.

So I think you're quite right to see the fairy imagery. Any fay imagery in Tolkien gets complicated very quickly by the presence of elves who aren't really those elves, but I think this is a pretty clear case of taking something extant (Norse grave-dwelling creatures) and filtering it back through the imagined history to get something else. And then it took on something of a life of its own, and we have the restless evil dead being used as area denial weapons in a long, long war.
Michael Ikeda
17. mikeda

One thing to note is that, except for the point where he says goodbye to the hobbits, we're never actually told what the borders of "Tom's country" are. Based on what is said at the Council of Elrond, the borders don't correspond to anything obvious in the terrain.

For what it's worth, in the poem collection "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil" (presented as being a selection of poems from the Red Book) one of the poems "Bombadil Goes Boating" includes a visit by Tom to Maggot's farm. Both of the poems in the collection that involve Tom are attributed to the Bucklanders in the "author's preface".

Note that Tolkien's "author's preface" to the collection suggests that the poem was written AFTER Frodo and his companions visited Tom. The "author's preface" also says that Bombadil was probably a name given to him by the Bucklanders.

(It isn't clear how much "Bombadil Goes Boating" is supposed to represent "real" events. However Chapter 1-7 indicates that Tom does keep in contact with Farmer Maggot and it would seem easier for this to involve Tom visiting Farmer Maggot rather than the reverse.)
18. Suburbanbanshee
If you liked Ursula K. LeGuin's essay on Tolkien's narrative structure, you'll love Diana Wynne Jones' one. And she actually took a class with Tolkien and stuck it out to the bitter end. :) Seriously, though, good stuff.

If you like the barrow wight, you should read about the cursed sword Turfing in the Norse saga. Good stuff.

Apparently fog in our world has a mind-deadening effect, as an awful lot of people do stupid things when caught in it. Tolkien as a walker was probably quite aware of Stupid Things People Do on Moors.
Soon Lee
19. SoonLee
mikeda @17:

Fair enough. I guess it's because I think of Tom's domain (without any proof) as the wild areas, which would exclude farmed or settled areas like Maggot's.

Re:the horses.
Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but I seem to recall some connection between Tolkien & horses during WWI which could explain his love of them?
Linda Frear
20. tanguera
Graydon @14, do you think that the sacredness of the barrows is one reason Tom never freed any wights before the hobbits came along and disturbed them? It is one thing I wondered about. If Tom could break mound's spell, why didn't he do it earlier?
Andrew Foss
21. alfoss1540
Another interesting thing to consider - Tolkien Plot Device - characters recieving gifts of weaponry West of Rivendale. Bilbo-Sting, Gandalf-Glamdring, Torin-Orchrist in The Hobbit. Merry - The sword that kills the Nazgul king. Any additional thoughts?
Sam Kelly
23. Eithin
Re: miscellany: Iain Coleman, the contrast between familiarity and terror in the landscape may be something lost to non-British readers; I'm not sure I'm getting it, even knowing on an intellectual level that Tolkien was tying much of what he did closely to local landscapes.

It's an incredibly British thing, and related to the faerie business - this is our land. People - often our families - have lived on it for generations beyond counting, and we know it incredibly well. But it can always surprise you - you can see some morning unaware, where the good green earth becomes something rich and strange. Or fog can roll in, and you find yourself walking in Elfland... or a storm come hammering down, and then you're forcibly reminded that you're living on the lower slopes of Caradhras and it hates you.

CS Lewis wrote similar things, looking at how perspective can change how a land appears, and GK Chesterton was really interested in those sudden perceptual shifts where everything looks weird.

Mooreffoc is a fantastic word, but it could be seen written up in every town in this land. It is Coffee-room, viewed from the inside through a glass door, as it was seen by Dickens on a dark London day; and it was used by Chesterton to denote the queerness of things that have become trite, when they are seen suddenly from a new angle. - JRRT on GKC. (From On Fairy-stories, I think.)
24. clovis
I always find it a shame that this sequence is invariably dropped from the adaptations as it is the one point where Frodo, completely alone, stands up to his fears and reveals his innate bravery. Losing this makes Frodo, to me anyway, a character who tends to react rather than act and is so subtly diminished.

The ponies reference, is this not echoed later when Sam's pony bolts? Sam says something about how he just was not brave enough to face up to etc (trying to avoid spoilers here).

Naked hobbits, yes I found that disconcerting myself but as has previously been pointed out, public nudity was more common and less commented on as long as it was all chaps together. Kilvert has a diary entry bemoaning the presence of women on the beach as it means he has to put a swimming costume on; Oxford has (maybe had by now) a field on the Isis where the dons could strip off and swim nude - Parson's Pleasance or something similar it was called and of course there is the whole re-birth imagery. I think it is safe to say that Tolkien saw it as an image of innocence.

Again here we have Bombadil reflected on deep time, a sequence I found one of the most affecting in the book so far. I think Graydon and Chris Johnstone are spot on identifying the wights as coming from the fairy tradition and the norse tradition and so somewhat seperate from the elves/Sauron/Gondor main story-line.
25. clovis
Something completely seperate here. When reading I like to have 'appropriate' music on in the background (eg sea shanties for Patrick O'Brian). Leaving aside the various soundtracks available, and indeed the gloriously 1960's Bo Hanson album of instrumental music inspired by the book, I was wondering if anyone has any suggestions. I am re-reading at about the same speed as the posts and so far have found that English pastoral music, especially Ralph Vaughn Williams, is answering nicely and am planning to move to Sibelius, Mahler and Wagner as we move towards Rohan and Gondor. Anyone any thoughts?
Andrew Foss
26. alfoss1540
Music -
Besides Rivendell by Rush (Fly by Night album) or Ramble On by Led Zepplin . . .

I'd try the seasonal albums by George Winston (autumn particularly). Last month I would have suggested Winter Solstice X-Mas albums.

Leave aside the LOTR soundtrack if you like. They are still among my favorites - especially while reading the series.
27. Graydon
tanguera @20 --

I don't think the barrows had only the one wight in them, or that Tom would (or necessarily could) overcome all of them.

Nor do I think Tom considered himself responsible for the Barrow-downs in general; those four hobbits, specifically and particularly, after he'd given them means and permission to summon him to their aid, yes. The particular and creepy side effects of the five thousand year long War of the Elves and Sauron that happen to be lingering near where he lives, not so much.

Remember what Goldberry says during "In the house of Tom Bombadil", when Frodo asks if "all this strange land belongs to him"—"'No indeed!' she answered, and her smile faded. 'That would indeed be a burden,' she added in a low voice, as if to herself."

Tom holds no dominion, and so no dominion is held over him. But because he holds no dominion, he does not have (I think) any geographic borders as such; he has his accustomed places and paths, his house, and his friends, but not geographic borders in the sense that the Shire or Gondor have borders.

I think what Tom says to the hobbits about coming with them—"Tom's country ends here; he will not pass the borders"—is much more about metaphorical country and the scope of the responsibility he can undertake, rather than a fixed geographic notion of territory that would forbid him to go into Bree for a beer (or visit Maggot's farm in the Shire) at some other time.
Michael Ikeda
28. mikeda

Although the discussion at the Council of Elrond does suggest that there ARE geographic boundaries to Tom's country, although they apparently don't fit anything obvious on the actual terrain.

(There is, of course, the possibility that the Council is mistaken about this.)
Kate Nepveu
29. katenepveu
Suburbanbanshee, I gather the Diana Wynne Jones essay you refer to is "The Shape of the Narrative in The Lord of The Rings", originally printed in J. R. R. Tolkien, This Far Land, edited by Robert Giddings? My local library has that, so I'll have to check it out.

And, good point about dumb things done by hikers. It reminds me of Bill Bryson's flirtation with hypothermia in _A Walk in the Woods_.

SoonLee @ 19, I don't remember anything biographical regarding horses & WWI, but I only know Tolkien's biography in bits and pieces.

Everyone else--thank you for holding up an interesting and enlightening discussion while I am having a seriously brain-dead week!
30. DaveT
Wow, great music question. I'll try to cover the "classical" side; others can do the rock and jazz better than I. I might chime in on folk later.


For the Shire and Bree: as English-pastoral as you can get. Vaughn Williams, Delius, Percy Grainger, Holst for instrumental; Howells, Britten, and Rutter for vocal.

Weathertop: "Night on Bald Mountain" :-)

Rivendell: still English, but back it up a century or three: Purcell, Byrd, Tallis, Dowland, Britten's "Ceremony of Carols"

Wilderland: Sibelius, Grieg, William Walton, Smetana, Stravinsky's "A Soldier's Tale", Beethoven symphonies 5 7 8, Saint-Saens "Organ Symphony", Prokofiev, Brahms ...

Moria: Arvo Pa"rt

Lothlorien: Resphighi "Ancient Airs and Dances", Faure, Debussy, Durufle, Distler, Hindemith "Six Chansons"

To be continued... :-)
31. Ralph Giles doesn’t seem very, well, Tolkien-ish that there should be something mind-deadening about the fog, does it?

I read this as the mind-deadening part being the dark. Although it's sunny and pleasant on top of the down where they stop for lunch, the stone is menacing, and you know from the beginning it's a bad idea to tarry. I thought it was the magic of the wrights that encouraged them to fall asleep, and it was already too late when they didn't pass the downs by nightfall. The fog is there to be lost in, but it is a symptom, not the cause, of their confusion.

Thanks for the discussion of the wights being spirits animating the bones of the dead. I'd never understood the connection there, or why the skeletons would wish the hobbits ill in the first place.

The crawling hand reminded me of a similar creature in Coraline. Not an connection I expected to find!

Anyway, thanks for the fascinating series. I've just been rereading the books as well, and it's been fun to follow the discussions here. Looking forward to many more.
32. Graydon
mikeda @28 --

At the council, Gandalf says '... is withdrawn into a little land, within bounds that he has set, though none can see them, waiting perhaps for a change of days, and he will not step beyond them.'

I think this can be read as "specific geographic bounds (though they are very hard to figure out)" or as "limiting his conduct and interaction with others to follow a set of rules no one but Tom knows"; I prefer the second reading. In part I prefer this because it's Gandalf saying "none can see them"; that's not "no hobbit or normal man", that's "neither the Wise nor the Rangers of the North nor the Eagles of the Misty Mountains nor Beorn of the Bear-shape nor the woods-wise elf who remembers the wood that was in the world's beginning". At which point I find simple geographic obscurity becoming implausible.

On logistical grounds I also think it's hard to argue that Tom won't leave some narrow geographic confines that have no one in them with thumbs but him and Goldberry. The alternative is material subcreative magic (poof! slippers!) and I have trouble with that; both are obviously rather magical (rain for washing day!) but that sort of magic departs drastically from how Tolkien imagines the subject everywhere else.

Given the lack of being able to create things directly, I think Tom has to be leaving the geographic bounds of the Old Forest and the Barrow Downs; his boots may wear very slow for the sake of his will on them but his table has "yellow cream and honeycomb, and white bread, and butter" on it, "milk, cheese, and green herbs and ripe berries gathered", and he must be getting those from somewhere. However good a bee-keeper Tom might be, or how clever they are with the milk cattle (though I would have expected the hobbits to notice both or Tom to have had to attend to the milking), white bread means wheat fields and a real mill.

Given that real mill, somewhere, Tom's bounds become those of responsibility and custom, and he's had a very long time to develop idiosyncratic custom, that even Gandalf couldn't divine.
Andrew Mason
33. AnotherAndrew
Graydon@27: Doesn't Frodo ask that question because Goldberry calls Tom 'the master'? I had taken this to mean that though the land doesn't belong to him, he still has some kind of authority over it.

I think, though, that one can combine the idea that Tom's country is geographically limited with the idea that what he is basically doing is limiting the scope of his responsibility. He says 'he will not pass the borders', not 'he cannot'; on this occasion, his responsibility is to escort his guests to the edge of 'his' land, and going further is neither required nor, perhaps, helpful (as he wouldn't be able to protect them there). That doesn't stop him crossing the borders for other reasons at other times.
Andrew Foss
34. alfoss1540
Graydon -

Gandalf may have been making an obscure reference to the 3 Elven Rings of Power (cannot be spoken of openly) - and specifically regarding enchanted areas of Middle Earth (Rivendell, Lothlorien, Fangorn, etc). Tom's Land and the Old Forest hold enchantment, though the geographic boundries are not understood. And that territory is not under the sway of some of the others.

Gandalf's dominion and charge is over Middle Earth, but where does his ring hold dominion over? The Shire? Gray Havens?? Where???
Kate Nepveu
35. katenepveu
alfoss1540, I think the other two rings are associated with Rivendell & Lothlorien because that's where their wielders _stay put_, not because of anything intrinsically geographic about the rings.
Andrew Foss
36. alfoss1540
But their power provides an enchantment over the land. What enchantment does Gandalf's ring give?

Is it over all Middle Earth? Is it over an area? Is it some other enchantment? I need to read more about the specific powers they have.
Kate Nepveu
37. katenepveu
Oh, I see.

Appendix B quotes Cirdan as saying to Gandalf, "Take this ring, Master, for your labours will be heavy; but it will support you in the weariness that you have taken upon yourself. For this is the Ring of Fire, and with it you may rekindle hearts in a world that grows chill."
38. dulac3
alfoss1540 @36

To more or less reiterate Kate's comment: Gandalf's ring seemed to have sway over the hearts and minds of men, at least that appears to be how he used it. It was a tool to help him in his role as counsellor and encourager of the enemies of Sauron.

Also, I think the geographic sway of the other two elven rings really only existed because that happened to be how Elrond and Galadriel used them. My memory is that the elven rings functioned in such a way as to basically help keep things the way they were, to reduce and possibly even stave off decay, and also perhaps to 'improve' them a bit...this was a perennial fixation of the elves in their immortal lives: to stop everything else from changing so much. Elrond and Galdriel chose to create strongholds that to some extent preserved the glories of the elder days (remember in Tolkien's cosmology everything is progressively getting worse, not better). Notice how it is an accepted fact that Lothlorien and Rivendell with both fade once the power of their rings is no more. The rings don't have to work geographically...unless they're used that way.

Gandalf's ring probably could have been used this way...imagine him holding Orthanc instead of Saruman and using the ring to create a stronghold f power (this is probably exactly what Saruman would have done with it). Instead he used it to help others and bring encouragment and preservation wherever he happened to be...the effects were much less visible than those of the other two rings, probably precisely because he used it in a much more extensive/widespread way...he didn't concentrate it's powers in one place or for one purpose only.
39. Graydon
AnotherAndrew @33 --

But Goldberry's answer is "No one has ever caught old Tom walking in the forest, wading in the water, leaping on the hill-tops under light and shadow. He has no fear. Tom Bombadil is Master."

I take that to mean he's not even primus inter pares, so much as he's Master because no one has ever been able to seriously threaten him.

The Old Forest is literally that, the last or a last remnant of the wood of the years of the stars, before the making of the Sun and Moon. It's got trees of unspecified ancient kind in it, "the fathers of the fathers of trees, remembering times when they were lords"; over "nearly all" of these Old Man Willow has dominion. So the language about territorial or social (if that applies to witful trees) dominion is there and does get used, just not about Tom.

So I think Tom's mastery is a function of having himself no master, rather than of any dominion he himself can be said to hold.
40. goshawk
As to the question regarding Tolkien and horses, as I recall it, he was for quite a while in charge of breaking and training horses for the front in WWI. I also seem to recall a comment in whatever history I was reading that it grieved him deeply that he was sending his charges out to (very likely) die under horrible circumstances. So there *is* a distinct connection between the author and love of horses. And as a horse-crazy little girl reading the books for the first time, this endeared the author to me rather more than any particular literary inventions. =P
Soon Lee
41. SoonLee
graydon @27:
I think what Tom says to the hobbits about coming with them—"Tom's country ends here; he will not pass the borders"—is much more about metaphorical country and the scope of the responsibility he can undertake, rather than a fixed geographic notion of territory

That's a neat interpretation, that Tom's domain is metaphorical. Poetic.
Soon Lee
42. SoonLee
Re:Tolkien & horses.

I've remembered/worked out where I got the idea. It was in the DVD extras* of "The Return of the King" that Brian Sibley & John Garth relate how Tolkien joined King Edward's Horse before the War and was involved in breaking-in horses.

Relevant excerpt from "Tolkien and the Great War" by John Garth via Google Books

*Yes, I've watched them all before. Why do you ask?
43. clovis
Alfoss1540 and DaveT - thanks for the suggestions. I've nothing against listening to the soundtracks (Steven Oliver's one for the BBC radio adaptation for preference), they just seemed obvious. DaveT - great call on early music for Rivendell. Tallis and Purcell seem perfect to me. Like the rest of your suggestions, or at least those I've heard/heard of. The rest I'll try and track down. As to rock music, the Rush song I don't know, nor even the Led Zeppelin one so will chase them up. I find prog rock seems to answer - Lord of the Rings by Bo Hansson, The Court of the Crimson King by King Crimson, The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Eachother by Van der Graaf Generator and From the Witchwood by Strawbs. The Clannad soundtrack to the '80s TV series Robin of Sherwood (had a different title in the US, Robin Hood I think) and perhaps some English folk - the Albion Band and Fairport Convention spring to mind.
44. DaveT

If you like the Albion Band and Fairport Convention, don't forget Steeleye Span and Five Hand Reel.

Personally, I can't really listen to music with understandable words when I'm reading; the language part of my brain gets sidetracked. I'd go for instrumental or choral (since the words are generally impossible to make out anyway).

If you've never heard Arvo Pa"rt, then definitely try to find a copy of his "Miserere" for Moria.
Kate Nepveu
45. katenepveu
SoonLee: ah! Garth has a whole book? I found his article of the same title very informative and thought-provoking; I'll have to check this out. Thanks.
46. clovis
Whoops, forgot to mention, if listening to Court of the Crimson King while reading LOTR do skip 20th Century Schizoid Man. It doesn't have quite the right ambience.

Just got a best of Part from the library which does not have the miserere. Hey ho.
47. Jason-L
"like why Frodo wasn’t placed among the three"

Frodo bears the Ring, which is why I always thought the Barrow-wight doesn't include him in the sacrifice. In some ways, this foreshadows the lonely burden the Ring imposes upon him.
Kate Nepveu
48. katenepveu
Jason-L, are you saying you think that the Barrow-wight KNEW that Frodo had the Ring?
Deborah Roggie
49. debraji
I think that all evil things were stirred up somehow when the Ring was near--the Barrow-Wights, the Watcher in the Water, the Balrog.... It draws them. That's why the Watcher grabbed Frodo.
50. Graydon
denbraji @49 --

There's a bit in Unfinished Tales about the hunt for the Ring in which it's explicitly the Witch-King doing the stirring up of the evil things, it's not the Ring as such, it's the Lord of the Nazgul trying to find the Ring.

I think it's enough in the case of the Barrow-wight to suppose that Frodo, separated from the others, was captured at a different time, in terms of what the Barrow-wight is doing. The first three were captured sooner, and the sacrifice is all set up and proceeding; Frodo gets stuck on a slab to wait his turn (no longer sword being available) and being Frodo and laden with destiny, wakes up much sooner than the Barrow-wight expected or planed for, and then, being Frodo and laden with destiny, manages to do something effective. I don't think the Barrow-Wight knew Frodo had the Ring; it's not clear that Barrow-wights know about the Ring at all, never mind being capable of detecting its presence. They're pretty limited creatures.
Deborah Roggie
51. debraji
Obviously I need to break out my copy of Unfinished Tales and see what I've been missing. It's been a while. Thanks, Graydon.
52. JeffC
The Bombadil chapters, from a purely technical point, serve numerous purposes, some which you've touched on, some mentioned in comments.

First of all, the trip through the Old Forest and Bombadil's lands puts the hobbits outside the scope of the Black Riders. The hobbits need to escape, and the Riders could have followed them anywhere except a region whose borders they couldn't physically pass, and the only person with that kind of power would also be immune to the effects of the ring, in my opinion. Thus Bombadil's power makes perfect sense, and I think Tolkien's explanation is the best one. The main thing is, they couldn't have made it from Crickhollow to Bree without a power like Bombadil shielding them.

These chapters also introduce the hobbits and the reader to the wider world - one of unguessed depth and history - and show them that there are greater things even than the Ring of Power.

Then there is the matter of the daggers, without which Gondor would have fallen. Such weapons would be well hidden and well guarded and far beyond the capacity of the hobbits to obtain. They needed a Bombadil for that. The only other option would have been for them to find the daggers lying about, or for someone to give them the daggers (as was done in the movie), which would have fractured believability.

Finally, Frodo faces his first real test with the Ring. As Gandalf later says, this was the most dangerous time, even more so than the fight at Weathertop. If Frodo had abandoned his friends, he would have become the slave the ring and the story would have been over. But because he resisted in the barrow, he was able to resist until the very end.
53. JeffC

Tom doesn't need wheat fields and mills. He has dealings with hobbits. There is a reference in the previous chapter to his being familiar with Farmer Maggot.
Ethan Pope
54. Unforsaken
Clovis and DaveT: Speaking of LOTR and background music- When I first read LOTR about 10 years ago, I was deeply infatauted with Lynyrd Skynyrd. To this day, every time I hear "Tuesday's Gone" it makes me think of the Grey Havens and the passing of the ring-bearers into the Blessed Realms.
55. Will Belegon
Regarding Gandalf's Ring:
Although Olorin is, if memory serves, a fire spirit, I have always seen greater influence from Narya. Gandalf shows a particular control and influence of fire throughout the books. For example, fireworks or the burning pinecones he uses to attack Wargs in The Hobbit.

I think there is a more direct physical influence from Narya.
56. tree_and_leaf
Rather late to the party, but one reason for the Unexpected Naked Hobbits is the fact that the enchantment of the barrow wight removed their clothes and replaced them with white clothes - symbolic shrouds, I suppose (or maybe it was the barrow wight who was the pervy hobbit fancier?). Quite apart from the rebirth symbolism, though that's important too, I can quite see why the hobbits couldn't stand to keep them on (they were probably mouldy and clammy to boot), even if it meant having to run around naked until the ponies returned with their baggage and fresh clothes... and given that it was sunny, it probably warmed them up faster.
Kate Nepveu
57. katenepveu
tree_and_leaf, I'm sure they wouldn't like to wear them, yeah, but it's particularly in combination with running around. I know people have done throughout history, but the idea always seems improbable and uncomfortable to me. =>
58. Jormengrund
The mention of ponies also reminds me of the skinwalker that Bilbo and company run into in the Hobbit series. I mean, Gandalf makes mention of the horses that he protects, and there's some mention of them being his children.. But there's something about the wording that niggles at my brain, and I don't have my books anywhere near to reference!

Maybe I'm way off course, but heck, it's still nibbling at my mind..

Thanks for the insight into these grand books!
59. legionseagle
Jormengrund @58 I think it would be Beorn you might be thinking of? The man/bear who has ponies and dogs serving his tables, and who lends ponies to the Dwarves and Bilbo which must at all costs be sent home before Mirkwood, and which Beorn tracks until they decide to do the right thing?
60. Carolinehist
Re the running around naked. Nakedness in all male groups, often associated with swimming, was much more acceptable in the late 19th and early 20th century than today. There's a wonderful scene in the film of 'Room with a View' where the men are swimming and larking about naked, and the women walking nearby avoid the situation. It is innocent and adult, although EM Forster may have been aware of less innocent aspects.
61. hirthman
If Tolkein's life is being brought into this (re horses) his translation of Gawain and the Green Knight may be relevant to an analysis of the barrow-wight/Bombadil story. The green-ness is natural, ancient, unalterable. There is also a mind-deadening mist/fog in Gawain

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment