of the Rings : Book 1, Chapter 8
Fog On The Barrow Downs
A Discussion Led by Aradan
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Chapter VIII Discussion: 1. "With a
wave of her arm she bade them look round…" - Aradan
After leaving Tom Bombadil’s house, the Hobbits appear to have reached another boundary, with the forest on one side and the barrow downs on the other. The forest was dangerous, but it was, to a certain extent familiar (at least to Merry). The barrow downs mark the start of completely unknown territory. The hobbits, however, still seem to be behaving as though they’re out for a Sunday afternoon trot on their ponies.
paragraph of this chapter contains some superb landscape description. Is
Tolkien reminding us again, in this passage, of the sort of countryside
(and, by implication, the way of life) that may be lost if they fail on
That paragraph - Eledhwen
I've just reread it carefully twice - wow. Fabulously descriptive. It's really poetic. It strikes me that all the lands - North, South, and East - are depicted as being hazy, somewhere unknown. Most notably, East (the direction they're heading, towards Rivendell) is the direction that 'spoke to them, out of memory and old tales, of the high and distant mountains'. Everywhere else fades into the distance, 'featureless and shadowy'. East is most attractive. Also, the West is hidden behind trees - the true unknown; you can't even guess what may lie that way, and indeed we never find out until the very end of the entire book.
That is my favorite paragraph in the whole book! - Annael
The bit about "vanished into a guess . . . it reminded them, out of memory and old tales, of the high and distant mountains" always speaks to me. But then, mountains are magic places to me.
Thought re the movie version - Annael
This is the kind of passage that will be hard to do in the movie (not just because Goldberry won't be in it). You can't film a description of something! At least they're using locations that match what Tolkien envisioned. But more than that, I hope that PJ will include a scene somewhere, before or after Bree, where the hobbits stand on a hill and see the mountains in the distance for the first time in their lives, and somehow convey the wonder of that moment to us. Through voice over perhaps, if the film is narrated?
I would hope... - Aradan
...that the quality of the writing in the book is translated into quality cinematography in the film.
yes and no - Phwghre
True, to the west lies The West, a haven hidden from knowledge. But also to the West and hidden by the forest is the familiar haven of the Shire. This is a chance to return west along a well traveled road to the known or to continue east into the unknown.
The songs of strange birds -
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Chapter VIII Discussion:
with the wind in the left eye and a blessing on your footsteps." - Aradan
How did the hobbits come to get lost? Was it the malign influence of the barrow wights or did they just have a poor sense of direction? (A midday meal with a tendency to fall asleep after good food did not help.) Is the standing stone in the hollow circle having a malign influence?
The hardening process has just begun. - Annael
They're three days out from the Shire, two of which they've spent with Tom. Really it's only their second day of travel. They haven't yet learned to be suspicious and cautious all the time. I can't quite blame them, nor do I see them as "idiots." They went into the Old Forest as a calculated choice to evade another, definite danger, and it was the right choice even though they got out of their depth and needed rescuing.
And although they'll need rescuing again - and again - the
point is that it will NOT be the great hardy warriors who fulfill the
quest. The very qualities that make the hobbits seem like the worst
choice possible are what will enable Frodo - and Sam - to resist the
lure of the ring.
No need for spells - Phwghre
I don't believe that it is necessary to invoke evil forces eminating from the barrows to explain the Hobbits' actions. They were experienced with the safety of the Shire. It was a beautiful day. Goldberry had packed one mean pic-a-nic basket. And suddenly, the weather changed, it got dark, and they got lost. Their foolish decisions were made way before they entered the region where I would expect the barrows' power to reign. It is only natural that the lay of the land funneled them into the barrows--this feature would have influenced the original builders' decision on where to construct the sight.
I especially appreciate
Malbeth's notion that seeing the cavelier behaviour of Tom put them off
their natural fear of the region.
Eerie... - Malbeth
I was thinking that maybe the hobbits were careless because Tom's house seemed such a safe haven, and he seemed so unconcerned about any danger, but I didn't post anything about that. Yikes, Phwghre, are you reading my mind? But then I looked at Blue's post, and I see that's what you were referring to...whew.
sorry - Phwghre
Apologies to both Malbeth and Blue for assigning that idea to the wrong authour. My thesis advisor always complains, to no avail, about my throughness in checking references.
Deceivingly familiar - Blue
The hobbits leave Tom's house nearly as light-hearted as he seems to be, and it appears to them that the main road is really quite near. It turns out that, even if it weren't for being captured by the barrow wight, they could not have made the road in less than a full day of traveling. This mistaken perspective is something that frequently happens to someone unfamiliar with relatively featureless terrain, like the downs seem to be - things are much farther away than they seem. I think that simple disorientation, and a bit of carelessness, is a big part of how they get lost. But I wouldn't discount the barrow wights as actively luring unwary travelers to their doom.
Careless - Malbeth
I'm sure there was some influence from the wight, but it was most carelessness. They're trying to get past this very dangerous place to continue their all-inportant mission, and they stop for a long, relaxing lunch. Apparently they didn't learn much in the Old Forest.
question: Why didn't Tom and/or Goldberry escort them to the road, like
Tom did after rescuing them? The Downs were certainly part of his
That is just what struck me, Malbeth...Why didn't
Tom... - Patty
take them to the road from the beginning? He knew the lure and power of the wights? But then, perhaps, as Annael said...this is part of the hardening process, and in fact, Tom knew that they needed to go through this to better prepare them for the even worse things to happen later. Since we don't know exactly who Tom is, we don't know the limits of his foreseeing powers.
Maybe it was a test... - Malbeth
...or an exercise to prepare them for hardships to come. But if that were the case, wouldn't Tom have kept a close eye on them, and intervened as soon as they got caught? On the other hand, maybe he did, and was waiting until the last minute to see if any of them was strong enough to take action, which Frodo did. Or maybe JRRT just wanted another dangerous adventure before they got to Bree.
Very interesting possibility - Blue
Tom will not pass his "borders", and yet teaches the Hobbits a song to sing in case they are in trouble again. It is as if he expects that they will need his assistance even so close to home . And, both he and Goldberry warn the hobbits to stay clear of the barrow downs themselves. Tom makes an interesting observation that they should avoid the barrows unless they they are made of stern stuff indeed and have "hearts that do no falter". It is significant that it is indeed Frodo, the ringbearer, whose heart does not falter here. Perhaps it is a test indeed, to see if Frodo really is up to the task ahead of him.
Bumblers - Phwghre
JRRT went out of his way to make the hobbits appear to be real eejits in the Book One of the Fellowship. Rescued by elves, farmers, woodland spirits, and rangers, it's amazing they made it out of Hobbiton.
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Chapter VIII Discussion: 3. Some info
on the REAL Barrow Downs - Aradan
Salisbury Plain is a sparsely populated, treeless plateau in Southern England, an easy day trip (by car) from Tolkien’s home in Oxford. Being of only marginal agricultural use, the plain has been virtually untouched for thousands of years, and still contains many prehistoric earthworks, stone circles (such as Stonehenge), and barrows.
Most of the barrows on Salisbury Plain are simple burial mounds, that is, a mound of soil raised over the grave of a king or chieftain, as a marker. Some of the barrows, however, are chamber tombs, and contain a stone lined chamber (in which the bodies of the original occupants would have been laid) connected to the outside world by a long, low tunnel.
In an area called the Marlborough Downs (on the northern side of Salisbury plain, and about 30miles / 50 km from Oxford) there is one particularly well preserved chamber barrow, the West Kennett long barrow, which is open to public access. I’ve been inside this barrow myself , and I can promise you that the barrow and the landscape around it matches Tolkien’s description exactly.
Very true. - Eledhwen
I've been there too, a while ago, and those stone circles and barrows are quite incredible - such a power of history, a sense of age, like you can't get anywhere else (including Roman ruins, really, as these circles are less ruined.)
Thanks for adding this info, Aradan... - Patty
I think that, mist shrouded this area would be enough to really frighten ME, and I'm sure the hobbits would become very frighened and out of their reckoning, being not very worldly.
Nice link! - Blue
I suspect that you are right. Some of Tolkien's descriptions of places are so vivid that they must be based on real locations - and this sure looks like the Barrow Downs.
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Chapter VIII Discussion: 4. Cold be
hand and heart and bone. - Aradan
We’ve already touched on the question “What is a wight?” but who exactly are the barrow-wights of the Barrow-downs? Originally, I thought that they were simply the ghosts of the original occupants of the barrows “turned bad”, but now I’m not so sure.
Are they malignant spirits (man or elf) who happen to have taken up residence in the barrows, in the hope of trapping passing travellers? (If they are, then, considering that the road detours the downs altogether, and the reputation that the Barrow Downs have gained in the folklore of Middle-earth, they must have very few victims.)
What was this particular barrow wight’s motive in capturing the hobbits in the first place? What does it want from the Hobbits? (Or any other unwary travellers, for that matter.)
Does the wight know about the ring? (If the wights were originally sent
to the barrows by the witch king, as the Encyclopaedia of Arda suggests,
then perhaps they are working with him to try to capture Frodo.)
Ive always thought they were sent there by the witch
king - Hengist
Bit im not sure wether he corrupted the spirits of the dead or got them from else where. I dont think they were under active control and wernt out to get the hobbits, just get anyone they can as that is their nature. So why would the witch king want them there. that i think is obvious - the treasures buried with the dead! Many of the great and good of arnor were buried in the barrows in full arms and armour - weapons that can hurt the witch king after thats where merry got his sword to kill the witch king.
ive always thought that the WK just put them there to stop people getting those weapons - even if they were into grave robbing.
The incantation leads me to think... - EowynII
...that somehow the wights do indeed have a direct connection to Sauron...remember the closing lines of the incantation, which mention the dark lord raising his hand over withered land, etc., etc. Are the wights in league with Sauron, and trying to waylay Frodo for that reason? Hard to say...they could have had purposes of their own, like the Balrog did.
'I stand in Minas Anor, the Tower of the Sun', she said; 'And behold!
The Shadow has departed!'....
The (sort of) Zen answer... - Gaffer
Why are there Wights in the Barrows? Because Barrows are where Wights live/exist.
Okay, so as an answer I guess it leaves a lot to be desired, but I guess I never gave it much more thought than that.
I never pictured them as being in actual league with Sauron or the Witch King, other than the fact that they are both part of the evil team.
I'd just sort of made the assumption that you find rabbits in rabbitholes. Cows in Cowpastures, monkeys in trees, and Wights in Barrows. If I were a creepy, mysterious, undead, magical, evil being, where else would I hang my hat? Some dead person's tomb.
I think once you accept the fact that such a creature exists, it's only a short step to expect them to take up residence in the nearest tomb, whether they are allied with Sauron or not.
As to why he would capture passers by? Because that's what Barrow Wights do...*
*I say this in the sense that Tolkien largely made up the
creatures he calls Barrow Wights, and so giving them Barrows as
homes, and making them capture people who wander into their lairs is
simply to describe their nature.
Who/what are the barrow wights - Blue
I'm like you. I originally thought that the barrow wights were basically the ghosts of the people who were buried in the barrows, but now I think that is incorrect. Based on what Tom tells the hobbits, and on their own experience/dreams while captured, the barrow wights were some kind of spirit that were sent from outside, by the Witch King, or perhaps by Sauron himself , to occupy the barrows.
I don't think that they are
trying to capture the ring exactly; just anyone foolish enough to wander
onto the Barrow Downs. In the Adventures of Tom Bombadil, the wight
actually comes to Tom's house and tries to capture him there. So, I'm
thinking that Tolkien imagines that it is the nature of the Barrow
Wights to try to capture folk.
Supernatural beings. - Eledhwen
There aren't many of these in LOTR. No vampires, precious few ghosts (aside from the Dead Marshes and the Dead which follow Aragorn), nothing which gets inside your head ... The wights seem to be the only supernatural manifestation. Maybe they're sort of mummies - they're buried in barrows, after all - whose spirits live on; or as someone suggested yesterday, bodies inhabited by spirits. They're certainly malignant, and I think would be classed as allies of Morgoth and Sauron, but they seem to be under their own control.
I don't think it's as organised as that. - Kimi
The following is complete speculation on my part; merely my thoughts, backed up by nothing that I've found in Tolkien's writings.
The wights are evil spirits of some sort (spirits of what, I wonder?), and were in ancient times under the control of the Witch-King of Angmar. But I don't think there's any actual communication between the wraiths and the wights.
The wights do seem to have some sort of allegiance to Morgoth (the wight's song implies this). Their purpose in… ah… unlife seems to be trapping unwary creatures and imprisoning them in their barrows until the end of the world. They might be in some sense under Sauron's influence, and if so there might be an extra imperative for them to capture Frodo. Not all evil creatures are under Sauron's control (e.g. Old Man Willow and Shelob), but the wights, if they were indeed once under the control of the Witch King, may well be.
Which leads to what I suspect may be your next question: why doesn't
Frodo fall under the wight's spell in the same way as his friends? But
I'll leave you to pose this one! :-)
You're right. That's the very question I was
going to post later today! - Aradan
Great minds think alike, eh?
I agree with you. I don't think that there is any collusion between the witch king and the wights, but it's worth considering as a possibility.
I think that the wights are just throwbacks to an earlier age. They simply behave the way they do because they were "programmed" by Morgoth, and have little conscious will or ability to do otherwise.
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Chapter VIII Discussion: 5. "An icy
touch froze his bones, and he remembered no more. " - Aradan
Why is it that Frodo awoke in the barrow although the other hobbits remained unconscious? (It certainly seems that the wight was not expecting that any of the hobbits would have re-awoken.) Is it because Frodo has a particular strength that the other Hobbits did not have? Or was it the influence of the Ring, trying to get back to its master? (Trapped inside a barrow in the pocket of a dead hobbit would somewhat reduce its chances of ever getting back to Mordor.)
I don't think we need look any farther than... - Gaffer
the fact that he was taken separately from the rest. The others were all captured together apparently (Frodo heard them crying for help.) Perhaps the Wight captured them, and was in the process of setting up the ritual or whatever with just the three, and came across Frodo as an added bonus, and set him on a shelf until he was done with the first three, which he had already begun.
I suppose it could have something to do
with the Ring, but I never really felt that way on reading that passage.
That's okay, but... - Aradan
...even if Frodo was put into a "holding" spell to keep him out of the way whilst the wight finished dealing with the other three, it seems to me that Frodo woke earlier than the wight was expecting. Either the wight was incompetant and didn't put a strong enough spell on Frodo to begin with, or there was a particular quality that Frodo had that helped him to resist the spell.
Or - Gaffer
The Wight just wasn't really afraid of anything that Frodo might do. Little tiny Hobbit dude vs. Big bad Wight. A spot of overconfidence maybe?
Frodo was trapped inside it's lair. As
far as the Wight knew, he had no way out. He was unarmed, and a
Yes. I think we can agree... - Aradan
...that the wight was no Einstein. In fact, it probably didn't have much of a conciousness at all. It just acted instinctively, "collecting" people that happened to wander into its territory and taking them back to its lair. The idea that one should fight back probably never crossed its mind (if it had a mind.)
Exactly. - Gaffer
The wight was acting according to its nature. I have the feeling that at this point in the story, Tolkien was still in transition from children's story to epic literature.
He pulled the idea of the Barrow Wights out of his (hat) and made them sort of undead creatures who lived in tombs and captured unsuspecting travellors and put spells on them. Just another of the many denizens of Middle Earth.
It's certainly possible that Tolkien intended it to be understood that the Ring somehow protected Frodo from the spells of the Wight. I'm just saying that in all the times I've read it, I've never gotten that impression.
I'd always sort of just assumed that Frodo waking up
in the lair was akin to him waking up in jail. He was
stuck. To the Wight, it wouldn't matter if he was awake
or asleep. Whatever spell or inate magic the Wight used
to subdue him was different from the magic used to
enchant the other three Hobbits for whatever ritual it
was that the Wight was enacting.
This is the explanation that most struck me as I read it too, Gaffer. - Patty
What Bombadil said - Blue
He warns the hobbits to avoid the downs, unless they are stern folk whose hearts never falter. And that is why Frodo awoke. Also, it doesn't appear that whatever "spell" it was that the wight was using on the other three was being used on Frodo. They are laid out, side by side, in white robes, bejeweled, and with a sword lain across their necks. Why not Frodo? Maybe it's not so much that Frodo awakes by virtue of the power of the ring, as that the wight perhaps could not weave such a spell over a holder of the ring.
Your mention of Frodo's "pocket" reminded me: - GaladrielTX
Tolkien mentions that Merry, Pippin, and Sam had been dressed in white clothing; and I assume Frodo was, too. When Tom comes to rescue them, he tells them they'll never find their old clothes again. So what happened to the Ring that Frodo always kept in his pocket?
Frodo's clothes weren't taken. - Kimi
Another sign that the wight had not been able to cast the same sort of spell over him.
or . . . - Annael
he got caught considerably later than the others.
Good point. It may well be - Kimi
no more than that.
It had been hanging on his nck around a light
chain since Rivendell... - EowynII
..they'd taken it from his pocket after the Fords, and placed it 'round his neck on a chain...so even if Frodo's clothes were changed like the other hobbits', the Ring would still have remained with him...
'I stand in Minas Anor, the Tower of the Sun', she said;
'And behold! The Shadow has departed!'....
But they hadn't been to Rivendell! - Eledhwen
However the chain thing still goes, as Bilbo seemed to have had it on a chain, as Frodo reports it changing size in 'Shadows of the Past'. I agree that probably the wight had no power over the bearer of the Ring.
Duh! What crack was I smokin'? - EowynII
It may also have been... - Aelric
...the feeling that the Ring would be taken from him that awakened him and made him stronger. Certainly it (the Ring) did play some part in it. Also, Frodo "different". He is not the plain shire hobbits that Sam, Merry and Pippin are. He was "meant" to have the Ring. Perhaps this instance at the Barrow shows this. Is there a hand guiding them all through this?
The Ring seems the likely culprit. - Kimi
I hadn't thought of the Ring itself causing Frodo to wake, but now that you've suggested it, it seems reasonably likely.
I'd had a vague idea that the influence that the Ring already has over Frodo gave him a partial immunity to the spells of the wight, but I think I prefer your suggestion.
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Chapter VIII Discussion: 6. "There was
Tom’s head (hat, feather and all)" - Aradan
This is the second time in three chapters that Tom has rescued the hobbits from danger. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, “Once may be regarded as misfortune, twice sounds like carelessness.” In both cases, Frodo amongst all the hobbits behaves the most sensibly, but, also in both cases, he is not quite resourceful enough to save them on his own. What does Tolkien do to prevent this “re-cycling” of plot lines from become repetitious? What have the hobbits learned (if anything) from their earlier encounter with Old Willow Man?
Sorry about the echo... - Aradan
...in the subject line. Must have happened when I cut and pasted the title from my notes (not sure how, though.)
My take on both questions - Blue
I agree with Patty about the encounter with Old Man Willow. Sam acts the most sensibly there, although his efforts do more harm than good. Frodo simply runs about in a panic calling for help. And, without Tom, they never would have escaped from Old Man Willow.
In the Barrow Downs, it is Frodo who acts. And, I would venture to say that it is he who saves the others, not Tom. Frodo then remembers the song that Tom taught him, not simply crying for help randomly. Tom simply opens the door after Frodo has already defeated the wight. I suppose that, without Tom, it would simply have been a matter of finding the door. Once outside in the sunlight, I expect that the others would recover.
I think that this shows that Frodo, in particular, has grown in this small part of their trip.
As for Tom being nearby, I think that he was looking for them before
Frodo called. But, I don't think that he was following them. The Ponies
had run away in fear, and word of that had probably come to him. After
all, the Hobbits spent the entire night in the Barrow. So, he was
undoubtedly looking for them - he had Fatty Lumpkin with him nearby, and
undoubtedly realized that they must have been captured on the Barrow
I forgot about the ponies - Good point! - Aradan
I think the first time with old man willow... - Patty
actually Sam acted the most sensibly. But these are all new experiences for all the hobbits...as Annael said, "a hardening process"...
Also... - Aradan
Tom arrives amazingly promptly. Has he been lurking
outside the barrow, waiting for Frodo to call him? Or does he have
supernatural powers that enable him to be in the right place at the
I would say lurking. - Malbeth
I think Tom probably has some extaordinary powers within his realm, but in this case I believe that Tom was keeping an eye on the hobbits to be sure they made safely out of his realm. As for the first time, with Old Man Willow, maybe it was just fate; it was 'meant' for Tom to be there, just as Bilbo was 'meant' to find the ring in the dark.
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Chapter VIII Discussion: 7. "Free to
all finders, birds, beasts, Elves and Men, and all kindly creatures" - Aradan
Tom Bombadil removes all the treasure from the barrow and lays it out in the sunshine. Is the power of the wight somehow connected to the treasure, and by taking it from the barrow, does this in some way destroy (or reduce) the wight’s power? What does this tell us about Tolkien’s attitude towards material wealth?
The wights have something in common - Blue
with dragons, who plunder the dwarf hoardes and sleep in mounds of treasure, but never enjoy a penny of it.
I don't know that there is so
much an anti-materialism message here as there is ascribing simple
avarice to dragons and to wights. It is rather like everyone wanting the
Silmarils, or Sauron hoarding all of the mithril he can find. Tolkien
doesn't seem to be saying that simple wealth is a bad thing, but that
hoarding treasure for no purpose other than to possess it is. Bilbo is
probably the best example of this - he gives away the treasure he got
from his adventure, because he viewed Smaug's hoard as ill-gotten. Frodo
has the price of the Shire and everything in it on his back - but at
least the mithril coat is useful to him.
Barrow treasure - Eledhwen
Does Tom feel no qualms about taking the treasure from a burial mound because it's inhabited by evil spirits? Otherwise this could easily be interpreted as similar to robbing a pyramid, surely - taking from the dead? Anyone?
I think the treasure has become tainted - Kimi
by the barrow-wight's possession of the mound.
Tom puts the treasure out in the open "for so the spell of the mound should be broken and scattered and no Wight ever come back to it."
He does take one piece for Goldberry, but as Patty says, that's
for sentimental reasons.
Combination. - septembrist
I think the power of the wight is connected to the treasure. That is why they "reside" in the barrows rather than in the forest or other remote areas.
Tom disperses the treasure because the wight no longer has need of it and I think does does not believe in hoarding or waste of material wealth or anything else.
Tom reminds me of Native American beliefs that the land is not ours to own or control, but to accept its gifts and help to preserve it. Also, wealth is not to be hoarded but shared with the tribe, especially those with less fortunate or in need.
I would say that he recognizes the value... - Patty
of material wealth, hence his mention of leaving it out for all takers, but it, like the ring, has no power over him, or else he would have taken more than the brooch which he seemed to just take for "sentimental value" as it were.
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Chapter VIII Discussion: 8. "Tom’s
country ends here: he’ll not pass the borders." - Aradan
Could Tom have continued with the Hobbits to Bree (or even further) if he had wanted to, or was there some something that tied Tom to that particular piece of countryside and prevented him from ever leaving? (A desire to return to Goldberry accepted, of course.)
One more thought about Goldberry - Blue
Tolkien writes, both in LOTR and in the earlier poetry, that Tom found Goldberry in the river and took her from her mother to his house. But Goldberry, as some kind of naiad (or at least whatever it is in Tolkien's world inspired the Greek notion of naiads) is, in the ambiguity of her species, we may well imagine to be as much the seducer as the seduced. In some of the Greek myths of naiads and other kinds of nymphs, a mortal who becomes the consort of a nymph may become bound to her world. Part of the whole mythology of nymphs is that they inhabit a particular lake, or river, or tree, etc... So, perhaps by taking Goldberry has his wife, Tom has become confined to the Withywindle Valley.
I though that... - Bard
He was probably known in Bree. He knew the Prancing Pony and who owned it, that means he either went there or someone from Bree knew him and visited him. The Breelanders would probably think of him as some eccentric who lived in the hills.
Who is the real "Eldest"? - Ugly
I seem to remember both Bombadil and Treebeard referred to as the eldest. I lean towards Bombadil because he said something like he was there before the forests, but my memory might be off. I do know that later in the trilogy, Treebeard is always referred to as "Eldest".
I think we need to indulge in a little sophistry - Kimi
The logic goes something like:
Treebeard is the Oldest living creature created in Middle-earth. Bombadil, whatever he is, was either created outside Middle-earth (e.g. a Maia), or is not alive in the ordinary, physical sense.
Well, I said it was sophistry!
If Bombadil is a Maia, why can Gandalf - Ugly
be overthrown by Sauron's power with the ring, but Tom could resist if the 'power is in the earth itself.'
My confusion is
the use of the term to describe two different characters in the
I don't actually think Tom B. is a Maia - Kimi
That was just an example of what he might be. I think he's an enema... sorry, enigma.
But I agree whole-heartedly
with GaladrielTX's comments about the differences in the
natures and powers of different Maiar.
I believe the Maiar all had different
levels and types of power. - GaladrielTX
For example, Saruman was a Maia but he pretty much pales in comparison to Sauron's strength. So who's to say that Tom isn't just a Maia over whom the Ring just has no power?
Alternatively, you could look at the motivation of the Maiar
who were tempted by the Ring: Saruman's chief motivation is
the swaying of the minds of others and power over them. So
the Ring has a great allure to him. The way of the Ring to
Gandalf's heart is through pity: He is tempted to use it to
better the lives of the miserable. But Tom is a very
self-sufficient creature. The world doesn't mean much to
him so there's little to tempt him.
Well, Yvanna made the Ents - Blue
after she found out about Aule making the Dwarves.
I tend to think that Bombadil, whatever he is, is older than Treebeard.
I always got the feeling . . . - Annael
. . . that Tom is also saying "grow up!" to the hobbits. In a kindly way, he's warning them that they have to learn to rely on themselves much more, be more careful. And indeed, Frodo gets the message & tells the other hobbits that they have to be careful at Bree, to call him "Mr. Underhill," etc.
Of course WE know that Strider is hiding nearby &
hearing all of this - and that he will be the one "at hand" to help them
through their next trials. But the hobbits don't know that. They are
beginning to see that they can't act like they usually do on a trip.
Yes, I've always had a similar feeling. - Gaffer
(let me apologize in advance, though I'm actually writing this sentence after the fact. Bombadil is actually one of my favorite speculative subjects, and I tend to ramble, as I have done here.)
That Tom is telling them that they can't expect to rely on help to come running in every situation. Like a parent finally kicking his 34 year old son out of the house.
But discussion of Bombadil is always so interesting. I truly believe that at the core, Bombadil was just an invention of Tolkien's that was included before the scope and tone of the books expanded beyond a children's story, and that Tolkien liked the character so much that he couldn't bear to part with him.
This aspect of Tolkien is one of the things that makes this book so unique and rich. A modern author would look at the Bombadil chapters, and perhaps say "hmmm, that needs to be tightened up. Bombadil will have to go."
But Tolkien thought it made a good story, so he left it in.
So in this light, it comes down to sheer speculation on the part of the reader when discussing who or what Bombadil is, and in the end, he can be whatever an individual reader wants him to be. More than practically any other aspect of the books, Bombadil is probably the most open for interpretation precisely because of the fact that he doesn't seem to fit in anywhere.
I don't think that anybody in the book, including Gandalf, truly knows who Bombadil is either.
But of the tidbits we do get, we can derive some interesting things. The very fact that the Ring does not affect him is stunning if you stop to think about it. Clearly the Maia fear the Ring, and are fully subject to it's effects.
As far as I'm concerned, this makes Bombadil more powerful than either Gandalf, or even Sauron, who are of the Maia.
That being the case, one could almost argue that Bombadil's self imposed borders are as symbol of his incorruptibility. Clearly he is very powerful, yet he has no desire to exert that power over the lives of others. And so he keeps himself inside those borders to separate himself from the world he could affect.
I've often wondered if his apparent lack of concern for the outside world was derived not from apathy, but rather from foreknowledge. It wasn't that he didn't care, it was simply that he already knew how things would turn out.
Even to Gandalf and Elrond, this outlook might be mistaken for unconcern.
Of course, if this is the case, that makes Bombadil Eru. Of course there are many in-story arguments against this, but again I say, I truly don't think Tolkien ever had the desire to fit him into his mythology, which means that we are free to do so in whatever way we like (so THERE).
In my book, Bombadil is Eru. His borders are self imposed because
he is an observer of the world, not a participant in it. He stays
there because he knows that the song is playing itself out, and he
is just in the balcony listening. Were he to leave the balcony, and
enter the orchestra pit, he would be affecting the music.
My previous remark aside, I do love your - Kimi
point about Tolkien's not being a "typical" author, and that being one of the reasons we love his work so much. Thank God (and Rayner Unwin) that LOTR was permitted to be published in the form it was.
Well, you're free to interpret however you
want to, - Kimi
of course, but Tolkien did state categorically that in his opinion Bombadil was not Eru.
Beyond that you can speculate in any direction you like, but if you try to make Bombadil into Eru you really are arguing against the author. I suspect (and this part is only my opinion) that Tolkien would have seen his portrayal of Tom as bordering on blasphemous if Tom was really Eru.
Speculation is always fun, of course!
Elrond says - Blue
that he knew of Iarwain Ben-adar(if Tom is indeed the same person) walking abroad in the forests of Beleriand an age ago, so it is clear that Tom can leave the borders which he has set for himself. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he can change his mind about what his borders are. As Septembrist points out, Gandalf said that, if invited to the Council, he would not have come - not that he could not have come. He is simply not interested in what is going on in the rest of the world - in the end Gandalf says that Tom would not me much interested in anything that transpired in the whole adventure - except for the Ents.
But, it may be that his power is intimitely tied to the land which he has chosen. Within it, he is master according to Goldberry. But Tom himself says that he is not master of Black Riders from the East. Does this mean no more than that Sauron is their master, or is he implying that he has no power over them? Given that Tom appears to have powers over the wights, it cannot be simply that Tom has no power over spirits, as opposed to things of nature, or indeed that he has no power over things associated with evil in general or Sauron in particular. So is it that he has no power because they come from outside his realm? Of course Frodo thought that, if anyone knew how to deal with the Black Riders, Bombadil would.
The idea that Bombadil's power is intimately connected with his land
is underscored by the debate over whether sending the ring to Bombadil
would be a good idea. It is said that the power to resist Sauron, when
all else has failed, is not in him, unless that power is in the earth
Not bothered. - Eledhwen
He just didn't care much about the world outside - I don't think there was anything stopping him going elsewhere, but he had no desire to leave.
Gandalf said... - septembrist
that Tom "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".
Gandalf does not say cannot but will not. It seems that Tom can leave his land if he so wishes but has willfully chosen not to leave for any reason but his own.
Hmmmm.... - Aelric
I don't think it has anything to do with being a "prisoner" so to speak. The elves are described as being "beyong the point of affective concern", I think Tom is always at that point, unless it has to do with the land he has set as a boundary for himself. He is content and not bothered or concerned with what happens on the "outside", nor has he ever been. So yes, he could have travelled on to Bree, and as far as he wished (even Elrond thought to summon him to the Council). Tom tied himself to his home and that is where he will stay.
Just a guess on my part... - Malbeth
I have no evidence to back this up, but it doesn't seem right for him to be a prisoner in his territory. I do suppose he hadn't been outside for a very long time, and that whatever his 'powers' were, they were limited to within the borders of his country.
I'll bet somebody has some
evidence to back this up or set me straight.
I know people like that - Binky
not supernatural beings of course...:) but people who are not interested in the outside world..they don't read the news...the don't read much of anything now that I think of it... only care about what is happening in their little kingdom...
hmm..now that I think about I read somewhere that C.S. Lewis' housekeeper was like that...wasn't interested in anything beyond what went on in her household...wouldn't talk about anything else. Lewis was always kind to her of course but she apparently rubbed his more intellectual friends the wrong way...hmmmm
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Chapter VIII: 9. Final Conclusions - Aradan
The Hobbits continue on their journey, and the landscape continues its gradual transformation from the familiar (the Shire) to the unfamiliar. Now that they’ve reached the Barrow Downs, even the birds are different.
The Hobbits, lulled into a false sense of security by Tom’s optimism and Goldberry’s hospitality, set off on a beautiful sunny morning directly north towards the Great East Road. They can even see the line of trees that marks the line of the road (or at least they think that they can) so they settle down for a midday meal of unsurpassed excellence, thinking that it will be only a short step before they reach the road and are looking for a camping place for the evening.
The hobbits fall asleep, and while they are asleep the fog falls. They do not panic but make a gallant effort to find their way off the downs; unfortunately their navigation lets them down and they fall victim to the barrow wight.
Frodo, the last to be captured, awakens inside the barrow. For some reason (maybe the Ring, maybe Frodo’s personality, maybe the wight hadn’t got round to “dealing” with him properly yet) the wight’s spells don’t have quite as strong a hold over him as they do over the others. It looks as though some kind of “ceremony” is about to take place, in which Merry, Pippin and Sam are going to be sacrificed. Frodo briefly flirts with the idea of saving himself and abandoning his friends; but when the crunch comes he takes the initiative, picking up a sword and severing the wight’s hand at the wrist. This is in contrast to when the hobbits fell into the clutches of Old Man Willow, just two days earlier. The best that Frodo could manage then was to run around calling “help”. Already he has “grown” sufficiently to take charge and save his friends’ lives.
Frodo, not entirely sure what to do next, calls upon the only person that he knows can help: Tom Bombadil. Tom Bombadil (who may have been lurking outside the barrow, listening specifically for Frodo to “call”) arrives to reveal the exit from the barrow. Tom empties the barrow of its treasure, thereby “exorcising” the wight. The unconscious hobbits are revived, and Tom helps them on their way to Bree. From now on, however, they are on their own.
It is almost as though the events of this chapter were a training session for the hobbits, a test to see if Frodo is worthy to be the Ringbearer, and Tom Bombadil was his tutor. The “training” is now over, they have passed the test, and the hobbits can start the real adventure.
Thanks to all of you! - Aradan
I’ve really enjoyed it, and I’d like to do another chapter some time… but not just yet!
The discussion, though, would not have been anywhere near as interesting if it wasn’t for all the people who made a contribution. So I’d like to give a big thankyou to everyone who posted a response or asked a question.
Also, I hope that every one who just came to read but didn’t want to contribute also gained something. Thanks for passing by!
And I’d also like to thank the Academy… (oops! Sorry, wrong speech!)
Most enjoyable , Aradan, and thanks to everyone for the additional insights! - Patty
Wow! These chap[ter reviews are bringing up a lot of
great points! - Robin
It makes rereading the books a totally different experience!
a chance of walking round the country and seeing folk, and hearing the
news, and knowing where the good beer was."
Very well done, Aradan! Thanks to you and - Kimi
all contributors. It's been enlightening, and fun.
Excellent job Aradan - Blue
Thank you for leading this week's discussion, and thanks to everyone who participated this week. It's really amazing how much "meat" is really in chapters like this one which, at first blush, seem not to have that much to do with the larger story.
Well done this week, Aradan! *applause!* - Aelric
I will miss Tom not being in the movies, but I think PJ can omit him easily without causing any major damage to the plot. The swords will come from Aragorn in Bree (that's my guess anyway) or else somewhere along the line. Alas for Tom Bombadil whom I love!
Yes, a big thank you to everyone for the past two
weeks' discussion! - Malbeth
This section from the Old Forest to Bree has never been one of my favorites, but these last couple of weeks discussing Tom, Goldberry, barrows and their wights, etc. have been absolutely fascinating. I've gained many new insights thanks to all of you folks, and am really looking forward to future chapters.
Thanks to Aradan and all for the enlightening discussion! - septembrist
Nice summing up, Aradan! - Eledhwen
Good week's discussion, too. I especially enjoyed wondering about the nature of the wights. Thank you!
Yes, indeed! - GaladrielTX
Thanks for all the info about the real barrows. I vaguely remember hearing that some still existed, but I probably would never have seen one or learned any more about them if it hadn't been for you. Fascinating stuff.
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