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N.E. Brigand (Registered User)


Fri, 3/4/2005 at 12:28 PM EST


Microsoft Internet Explorer V6.0 using Windows 98

In Reply To:

great pacing in this section  <Entwife Wandlimb>  [3/4 @ 1:49 AM]  (4/7)


Re-post:  Higher Powers at work in the Shire


In the thread below this one, drogo drogo links to Curious’ thread of four months back, on the question of whether the trees in the Woody End are actively protecting the three hobbits as they journey to Buckland.  I’ve also linked to that thread, and for those who have a little time, I recommend reading the whole fascinating discussion, but for those new to the RR, I’d been planning to re-post my response to Curious in either this chapter’s discussion or the next, as a possibly useful summary of “evidence” of Higher Powers at work in the Shire.  (It is by no means the last word on the subject, as for example see just squire’s response to my original post).  Wanda’s question here, about why the Rider moved on from Frodo and then turned off the road into the trees, is as good an occasion as any.

N.E. Brigand:  “A conspiracy unmasked. (long)”  12/06/04 @ 19:04.

This rambles a bit, I’m afraid; I wanted to post while this thread was still active.

The more I read these passages, and people’s responses to them, the more I think you’re on to something, but the design may be more complex than you suggest.

That is, it seems the trees are, in their limited way, helping the hobbits elude the Black Riders and make their way from Bag End to Bucklebury Ferry.  However, they don’t act alone, but rather in concert with the west wind, the elves, and perhaps even Bilbo. (Not to mention a few more independent players like Gaffer Gamgee and Farmer Maggot, sometimes acting unknowingly.)

1. Hurried along by the west wind
To begin, I think your list should begin a few quotes earlier in the story.  Before the hobbits camp on the first night out from Bag End, the Green Hill Country they pass through is a mix of fields and woods.  Note the two tree references to “thin-clad birches, swaying in a light wind above their heads, made a black net against the pale sky” and
“ a deeply cloven track between tall trees that rustled their dry leaves in the night.”

Then at the bottom of a hill, Pippin asks to stop for the night.  Frodo agrees to stop at “the first likely spot,” but Sam says, “'The wind's in the West…If we get to the other side of this hill, we shall find a spot that is sheltered and snug enough, sir.  There is a dry fir-wood just ahead, if I remember rightly.”

So we are told three times that there is a wind, and the third time that it is a West wind, which pushes them to climb the next hill before they camp.

Then there the quote that dernwyn noted:  “Frodo woke up first, and found that a tree-root had made a hole in his back, and that his neck was stiff ... ‘And all my beautiful feather beds are sold to the Sackville-Bagginses!  These tree-roots would do them good.’” and your thought that the tree could be intentionally waking Frodo.  It’s not so far-fetched!  If they hadn’t pushed to the fir-wood, they wouldn’t be sleeping on uncomfortable tree roots.  Note that the next two mornings, in more comfortable bedding, Frodo is among the last to wake.

As it is, they still don’t get off until after 10 a.m., and spend most of the day crossing apparently open country, and “After some miles, however, the road ceased to roll up and down:  it climbed to the top of a steep bank in a weary zig-zagging sort of way, and then prepared to go down for the last time.  In front of them they saw the lower lands dotted with small clumps of trees that melted away in the distance to a brown woodland haze.  They were looking across the Woody End towards the Brandywine River.”

(Here I offer this mediation on another point of contention between you and squire:  the nature of forest edges in Middle Earth.  Note this description, and this one a little farther on:  “They were now on level ground, and the road after much winding lay straight ahead through grass-land sprinkled with tall trees, outliers of the approaching woods,” and also this one about approaching the Woody End, from the RotK:  “They rode gently down into the beginning of the trees as afternoon was wearing away” all indicate that the Woody End has a gradual margin.  (As does Fangorn: as the Uruk-hai approach, “the forest was dark and close.  Already they had passed a few outlying trees.”  Curiously, both scenes have a party on foot pursued by horsemen through scattered trees to the relative safety of the to deeper woods.)  However, on your side is this point:  if the Woody End grew completely naturally, why hasn’t it overgrown the whole of the uninhabited hills?)

The hobbits barely reach one of those Woody End outliers before being overtaken by a Black Rider. If they hadn’t pushed on the previous night, and woken when they did, they would’ve been completely in the open.

Then the rider misses Frodo first, because it is daylight (we later learn that the Riders are less effective during the day) and second, because he’s hidden behind the tree. Would any old tree do here?

2. A wayward Rider
The rider moves on, and, “Frodo crawled to the edge of the road and watched the rider, until he dwindled into the distance.  He could not be quite sure, but it seemed to him that suddenly, before it passed out of sight, the horse turned aside and went into the trees on the right.”  Why would the rider turn into the woods?  He has no reason to think Frodo has gone that way—is this some power of the trees?

We can’t say, but one effect the Rider’s course definitely has is to convince Frodo to leave the path, and hike cross country out of sight of the track but parallel to it.  However “this hindered them; for the grass was thick and tussocky, and the ground uneven, and the trees began to draw together into thickets.”  Are the hobbits being urged to slow down for some reason?  In any case, they reach the large hollow oak in time for supper, as you note, “The West wind was sighing in the branches.  Leaves were whispering.”  What are the wind and trees talking about?

3. Summoning the elves in Woody End
When they move on after supper, the hobbits sing a “walking song.”

Tom Shippey has rightly noted that this seemingly simple song seems to hint at entrances to Faerie, especially these lines:  “Still round the corner there may wait / A new road or a secret gate / And though we pass them by today / Tomorrow we may come this way / And take the hidden paths that run / Towards the Moon or to the Sun.”

I would add that Frodo sings it twice, here and in the RotK, both times in the Woody End, and that on both occasions the elves appear; we may not notice this the first time, because the Black Rider appears first.

Furthermore, there is the question of why Frodo sings this song.  First there is this: “After a time, as the stars grew thicker and brighter, the feeling of disquiet left them”.  Second, there is this:  “Bilbo Baggins had made the words, to a tune that was as old as the hills, and taught it to Frodo as they walked in the lanes of the Water-valley and talked about Adventure.”  This reminds me of Tom Bombadil, himself “old as the hills:”  “Then he taught them a rhyme to sing, if they by ill-luck fall into any danger or difficulty…”  Later we learn Bilbo had been with the elves in their Woody End hall—was he teaching the song “about Adventure” to Frodo for a reason?

Also there are these curious lines from the song:  “Mist and twilight, cloud and shade / Away shall fade! Away shall fade!”.  Consider this:  1. When the elves appear, “The black shadow straightened up and retreated. It climbed on to the shadowy horse and seemed to vanish across the lane into the darkness on the other side”--a shade fading away?  (And “the other side” is a bit creepy, in this context.)  2. This passage in the elves’ hall: “Then by some shift of airs all the mist was drawn away like a veil …The elves all burst into song.”  and 3. This famous imagery:  “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.”

Thus, expanding on Wanda’s idea of the Woody End as a door to a magical realm, I would add that maybe it is, for those who know the tune and the words.

4. On the magical nature of the Shire
Whether or not the sentient fox is a mere folksy Hobbit holdover or a sign of the magical nature of the Shire, he does have this curious thought:  “I have heard of strange doings in this land…”, which we may add to Gildor’s oft-quoted references about the Shire belonging to others besides Hobbits.

And what about this, also by Gildor?  “For it seems to me that you have set out only just in time, if indeed you are in time.  You must now make haste, and neither stay nor turn back; for the Shire is no longer any protection to you.”  Does this mean that the Shire (and its trees) isn’t protecting the hobbits?  Or that it was protecting them before?

5. Rain and reluctant bushes
Frodo’s conversation with Gildor spurs him to head straight on cross-country, fortunately, because a Black Rider is coming up behind them.  (Did it see Frodo meet up with the elves, and hold back until the elves were gone?)  He has a route planned, to “leave Woodhall to their left, and to cut slanting through the woods that clustered along the eastern side of the hills, until they reached the flats beyond.  Then they could make straight for the Ferry over country that was open, except for a few ditches and fences.”

Note that this would quickly take them out of the trees.  Then the terrain and weather come into play, as “clouds were beginning to come up from the West.  It looked likely to turn to rain,” and Frodo “soon found that the thicket was closer and more tangled than it had appeared.  There were no paths in the undergrowth, and they did not get on very fast.  When they had struggled to the bottom of the bank, they found a stream running down from the hills behind in a deeply dug bed with steep slippery sides overhung with brambles.  Most inconveniently it cut across the line they had chosen.  They could not jump over it, nor indeed get across it at all without getting wet, scratched, and muddy.  They halted, wondering what to do.”

The Black Rider’s appearance makes them change their plans and press into the undergrowth, but “Going on was not altogether easy.  They had packs to carry, and the bushes and brambles were reluctant to let them through.  They were cut off from the wind by the ridge behind, and the air was still and stuffy.  When they forced their way at last into more open ground, they were hot and tired and very scratched, and they were also no longer certain of the direction in which they were going.”  [emphasis added]

Realizing that this is the Stock Brook, Pippin leads them across the stream and an open stretch and back into a belt of trees, where “The ground was fairly level, and there was little undergrowth; but the trees were too close for them to see far ahead.  The leaves blew upwards in sudden gusts of wind, and spots of rain began to fall from the overcast sky.  Then the wind died away and the rain came streaming down.  They trudged along as fast as they could, over patches of grass, and through thick drifts of old leaves; and all about them the rain pattered and trickled.  They did not talk, but kept glancing back, and from side to side.”

So the trees and the weather confuse the hobbits, and keep them in the woods till they are well out of their original course, but practically on the doorstep of the man who can give them a safe ride through concealing fog (curiously the fog appears only on the Marish side of the river) to the Ferry.



Curious – “Are the tree of Woody End ‘awake?’”

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