A Shortcut to Mushrooms #9: “Old Tom and Muddy-feet”: The Maggot-Bombadil connection 


squire: Maggot fans will be glad to know Tolkien wrote more about him. There is an entire poem about Tom Bombadil’s visit to Bamfurlong – a poem written after LotR was completed, and most likely inspired by the passing note in LotR, that Tom often visited Maggot to keep up with the Shire: 


[Tom] made no secret that he owed his recent knowledge [of the doings of the Shire] largely to Farmer Maggot, whom he seemed to regard as a person of more importance than they had imagined. 'There's earth under his old feet, and clay on his fingers; wisdom in his bones, and both his eyes are open,' said Tom. (FotR, Chap. 7, p. 130) 


squire: Here is the complete poem, and here are the stanzas about Maggot: 

[Tom decides to voyage down the Withywindle] 


Little Bird sat on twig.   "Whillo, Tom!  I heed you.
I've a guess, I've a guess where your fancies lead you.
Shall I go, shall I go, bring him word to meet you?"


"No names, you tell-tale, or I'll skin and eat you,                     10
babbling in every ear things that don't concern you!
If you tell Willow-man where I've gone, I'll burn you,
roast you on a willow-spit.  That'll end your prying!"


Willow-wren cocked her tail, piped as she went flying:
"Catch me first, catch me first!  No names are needed.           15
I'll perch on his hither ear: the message will be heeded.
"Down by Mithe", I'll say, "just as the sun is sinking".
Hurry up, hurry up!  That's the time for drinking!"


[Tom goes down the river in his boat, teasing the various water-creatures and the local hobbits, who shoot his hat full of arrows] 


Red flowed the Brandywine; with flame the river kindled,           100
as sun sank beyond the Shire, and then to grey it dwindled.
Mithe Steps empty stood.  None was there to greet him.
Silent the Causeway lay.  Said Tom: "A merry meeting!"


Tom stumped along the road, as the light was falling.
Rushey lamps gleamed ahead.  He heard a voice him hailing.    
"Whoa there!"  Ponies stopped, wheels halted sliding.
Tom went plodding past, never looked beside him. 


"Ho there! beggarman tramping in the Marish!
What's your business here?  Hat all stuck with arrows!
Someone's warned you off, caught you at your sneaking?          
Come here!  Tell me now what it is you're seeking!
Shire-ale, I'll be bound, though you've not a penny.
I'll bid them lock their doors, and then you won't get any!" 


"Well, well, Muddy feet!  From one that's late for meeting
away back by the Mithe that's a surly greeting!                      
You old farmer fat that cannot walk for wheezing,
cart-drawn like a sack, ought to be more pleasing. 


Penny-wise tub-on-legs!  A beggar can't be a chooser,
or else I'd bid you go, and you would be the loser.
Come, Maggot!  Help me up!  A tankard now you owe me.       
Even in cockshut light an old friend should know me!"


Laughing they drove away, in Rushey never halting,
though the inn open stood and they could smell the malting.
They turned down Maggot's Lane, rattling and bumping,
Tom in the farmer's cart dancing round and jumping.              
Stars shone on Bamfurlong, and Maggot's house was lighted;
fire in the kitchen burned to welcome the benighted. 


Maggot's sons bowed at door, his daughters did their curtsy,
his wife brought tankards out for those that might be thirsty.
Songs they had and merry tales, the supping and the dancing; 
Goodman Maggot there for all his belt was prancing,
Tom did a hornpipe when he was not quaffing,
daughters did the Springle-ring, goodwife did the laughing.


When others went to bed in hay, fern or feather,
close in the inglenook they laid their heads together,               
old Tom and Muddy-feet, swapping all the tidings
from Barrow-downs to Tower Hills: of walking and ridings;
or wheat-ear and barley-corn, of sowing and of reaping;
queer tales from Bree, and talk at smithy, mill, and cheaping;
rumours in whispering trees, south-wind in the larches,
tall Watchers by the Ford, Shadows on the marshes.               


Old Maggot slept at last in chair beside the embers.
Ere dawn Tom was gone: as dreams one half remembers,
some merry, some sad, and some of hidden warnings.
None heard the door unlocked; a shower of rain at morning
his footprints washed away, at Mithe he left no traces,           
at Hays-end they heard no song nor sound of heavy paces.

[Tom finally returns home, towed up the river by the otters and swans] 


dernwyn: "Little folk I know there, kind at the day's end. Now and then I go there."

Did you scan in the Pauline Baynes drawing?  I like the tinting (as opposed to the straight black-and-white from the book).  

FarFromHome: A couple of points I noticed

1. Maggot doesn't recognize Tom at first. (How well does he know him? Have his other visits been like this one - ending as this one does, leaving no trace?)

2. Tom leaves before dawn, making no sound, leaving no footprints. His visit has become like a half-remembered dream.

It appears that Tom gets real information out of Maggot (about Frodo's visit, assuming that this does happen right after it, plus presumably all the rumours of the day), and Maggot is left with only half-remembered hints and hidden warnings from Tom.

Maggot seems to to be the kind to pick up a lot of gossip when he visits the local meeting-places, but considering that he displays the limited horizons of a typical hobbit ("You should never have gone mixing yourself up with Hobbiton folk, Mr Frodo. Folk are queer up there.") it's hard to imagine that he himself has much understanding of what he has heard - especially about the Tower Hills, and 'ridings', i.e. presumably about the movements of the Elves. He's shrewd enough, it seems, and knows something worrying is going on, but it's only people with the key to the riddle, like Tom (and Gandalf, who probably pumps Butterbur in the same way) who can put the rumours together. It's easy to imagine that Maggot is the source of a lot of the rumours that gradually percolate through the Shire, and that we first hear of through Sandyman.

Seeing Tom in this role reminds me of Gandalf's 'trickster' persona in the Hobbit - appearing and disappearing without warning, obviously knowing much more than they tell. Gandalf will become much more real, with doubts and challenges of his own, as the story progresses. Tom stays stuck in this fairytale persona, and that's perhaps why so many readers perceive him as an unresolved element in LOTR.

N.E. Brigand: Is it the same evening that Frodo meets Gildor? Thanks for reminding us about this poem; though it denies Owlyross’ theory about Maggot and Bombadil being the same person, there remains something to be said for the idea that the encounters with Maggot and Bombadil echo each other, rather as the language describing Bilbo and Frodo’s departure from Bag End was startlingly similar.

A couple small details.  You note that the other poem, "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil," is the same as was printed in the 1930s, but I thought I'd read somewhere that Tolkien made some emendations to the 1960s version--is that true?  And you  say that this poem ends as “Tom finally returns home, towed up the river by the otters and swans;” actually Tom apparently walks home, and it’s his boat that gets towed back by the animals three days later.

A few more scattered thoughts:

1.  In the poem’s first line, we read “The West Wind was calling,” it blows Tom a beech leaf, and this seems to inspire his journey.  Was Tom meant to visit Maggot?

2.  Tom and Maggot talk of “rumours in whispering trees,” possibly on the same evening that “The West wind was sighing in the branches.  Leaves were whispering,” as the Hobbits are about to meet Gildor’s elves.

3.  From the poem, “‘Nay then’, said Bombadil, ‘I am only rowing / just to smell the water like, not on errands going,’” while in the LotR, Tom tells the Hobbits, “I had an errand there:  gathering water lilies.”

4.  Tom wears a swan feather in the first poem and at the beginning of this one.  Then:

The King's fisher shut his beak, winked his eye, as singing

Tom passed under bough. Flash! then he went winging;

dropped down jewel-blue a feather, and Tom caught it

gleaming in a sun-ray: a pretty gift he thought it.

He stuck it in his tall hat, the old feather casting:

‘Blue now for Tom’, he said, ‘a merry hue and lasting!’

And in the LotR he wears a blue feather.

5.  What’s “Elvet-isle,” the swan’s home?  I can’t find it in the Encyclopedia of Arda.

6.      Tom Shippey makes something of “None heard the door unlocked; a shower of rain at morning / his footprints washed away, at Mithe he left no trace,” and also “O! silly-sallow-willow-stream! The oars they'd left him behind them! / Long they lay at Grindwall hythe for Tom to come and find them” but I can’t remember what exactly.

Kimi: Elvet is apparently an old word for swan. It's a placename in Britain.

I imagine Tolkien's Elvet-isle might be a small islet, too small to appear on the maps.

Here's a page on some of the names in this poem.

Roheryn: Tolkien's being punny again. Regarding the line: “O! silly-sallow-willow-stream! The oars they'd left him behind them!"

A minor point, but willows are in the genus Salix, family Salicaceae.  "Silly" willows evokes these names, at least for me.  Also, "sallow" is a kind of willow; not only does "sallow" also evoke the genus and family names, but (without seeing the lines surrounding this one) I'd guess Tolkien is playing on the two definitions of "sallow".

I love how Tolkien's  plays on words are often so subtle that they go right over most readers' heads.  I've read several explanations of others (exactly what they were escapes me at the moment, though) here in the Reading Room that had cetainly gone over my head.  I wonder...did he use such subtle humor merely for his own amusement (since few readers would catch it)?  Or did he use it to give extra depth to his writing?  Or did he really think most of us would catch it more often?

N.E. Brigand: I think Tolkien hoped more of us... would catch more of his jokes than we do.  For example, I should have caught the silly-sallow-Salix pun.  (*Tries to remember back to high school tree identification competion.*)

dna: Shippey suggests it a dream which would quash all our theories  ;-)

He cites as evidence the lines:

                        Ere dawn Tom was gone: as dreams one half remembers

                        some merry, some sad, and some of hidden warning.

Also he cites, as you allude to, the footprints being washed away, and the boat vanishing, is as if "Tom has gone back to his natural world, leaving Maggot and his mortal friends to meet their own fate, separate from his."

The Grindwall reference, he says, gives "a more 'downbeat' ending" than the first Bombadil poem, since Grindr, in the Poetic Edda, is the "gate that separates the living from the dead."

As for linking both the West Wind with fate or Higher Powers, and the donning of the blue feather with Bombadil's appearance in LotR... Brilliant!  


squire: 1. Could Bombadil have made this journey between the time Maggot dropped Frodo at the Ferry, and when Frodo showed up in the Withywindle valley? If not, when else might this visit have taken place?

N.E. Brigand: If "Bombadil Goes Boating" refers to any one specific journey by Tom and isn't an amalgam of Bombadil traditions, I think it may indeed describe events around the time of Frodo’s departure (something I’d not thought of before your questions) and certainly before Saruman’s takeover and then Scouring the next autumn, despite the concerns that others have expressed about Hobbit arrows.  The aggressiveness of Hobbits as described in the poem may indeed be an element of later days applied to an earlier story (like references to Christianity in pagan-set Beowulf) as Tolkien says the poem would have been written after Frodo's visit to Bombadil, which must mean after Frodo and his friends had returned to tell their tale.  But probably Hobbits along the Brandywine already kept bows in hand to frighten off trespassers--as Sam says to Ted at the Green Dragon:  "There are more that are turned back at the borders.  The Bounders have never been so busy before."  Hobbits in Buckland have the fence that extends in to the water at Grindwall, and the High Hay running all along the Old Forest, and they've been aggressive against enemies before, chopping and burning the encroaching trees as Merry describes.  That the hobbits were later unable (without much rousing—hmmm, must think about Hobbits as Ents…) to fend off large groups of ruffians indicates that the Rangers were earlier doing that task.  As Butterbur says in the RotK, “You see, we’re not used to such troubles; and the Rangers have all gone away, folk tell me.  I don’t think we’ve rightly understood till now what they did for us.”  And this is what clinches the timing for me:  the “Tall Watchers by the Ford” must be the Rangers, not yet gone away.  And yet not after their return following Aragorn’s coronation (Gandalf replies to Butterbur, “The Rangers have returned.  We came back with them.” but earlier in the poem, Tom tells the swan, “If one day the King returns, in upping he may take you.” [emphasis added]).

As others have noted, Bombadil’s visit with Maggot takes place in autumn.  However, I don’t think Bombadil can meet Maggot on the day of Frodo’s visit with the farmer, not because of Bombadil’s limitations, but because in the LotR, Maggot was returning straight home from the Ferry after dark, while in the poem, Bombadil meets the farmer just after sunset south of Rushey, which is some miles past Bamfurlong in the opposite direction from the Ferry.  However, this visit (or a visit) to Maggot almost certainly preceded Frodo’s arrival at the Withywindle, since Tom admits to Frodo that he “owes his recent knowledge [of Shire families and doings] largely to Farmer Maggot.”  What’s more, a limited case can be made for the visit occurring the previous evening, while Frodo was visiting with the Elves, for which the only evidence is that Bombadil’s boat-journey took place in fair weather, which the Hobbits experienced hiking to the Woody End, and the next day, as Tom left Bamfurlong early:  “None heard the door unlocked; a shower of rain at morning / his footprints washed away, at Mithe he left no traces,” and the Hobbits too met rain the morning after leaving Gildor.  Thematically, it would be a nice parallel for Frodo to be meeting with Elves while Maggot is meeting Bombadil, and of course, “It was also clear that Tom had dealings with the Elves, and it seemed that in some fashion, news had reached him from Gildor concerning the flight of Frodo.”

Canto di Númenor: In The House of Farmer Maggot It’s extremely likely that Tom could’ve visited Maggot only hours after Maggot had returned home from dropping Frodo off at the Ferry.  This would’ve allowed the hobbits a one night stay at Crickhollow before entering the Old Forest.  Since “Ere dawn Tom was gone,” Tom could’ve returned just in time.  In fact, in the house of Tom Bombadil, Tom mentions to Frodo and the hobbits, “We heard news of you, and learned that you were wandering.  We guessed you’d come ere long down to the water…”  [A chance meeting organized by the powers?]

Elvenesque: Just a few comments .. I dont have my books with me so I suppose I pose more questions than answers but I do have a few observations and a couple of comments. So here goes ..

Tom decides to go visiting at the begining of Autum from what I can gather 'The year was turning brown; the west wins was calling'. Does this tie in with Frodos journey or after it perhaps.

dernwyn: I think this trip occurred before Frodo and friends met up with Maggot.  It's a clear evening in the poem - the light of the setting sun is reflected on the Brandywine - not misty, and it's still dusk when Maggot picks Tom up.  But it's close to that day: Tom speaks of Watchers and Shadows, queer tales from Bree and rumors in whispering trees.  This reminds me of Gandalf's "hearing something" that makes him depart Bag End suddenly.  I've assumed the Ford mentioned is Sarn Ford, and the Watchers referred to the Rangers' increased watch on that region.

dna: I like it! I'll indeed consider this poem the events of Sept 25th from here on in!

This may answer *many* questions.  First, Bombadil's powers & motivations being a total mystery, I'll lean to the theory that he was a little more active in the protection of the hobbits than is let on.  With Nature at his beck & call, suppose he 'caught wind' of the rendez-vous of the hobbits & Elves on the 24th, thus inspiring his river journey the next day.

His approach could very well be responsible for the luck the hobbits had that day with respect to the Riders, etc.  The 'saviour theory' fully at work!  And maybe Curious' theory can be slightly altered to mean Bombadil, rather than the Valar.  (Maybe the fox was Bombadil in spirit - certainly the fox acts & talks very much like the animals in this poem!).

It was dark when Bombadil arrived at Maggot's.  The 2 of them discussed "all the tidings from Barrow-downs to Tower Hills: of walkings and of ridings... queer tales from Bree... rumours in whispering trees, south-wind in the larches, tall Watchers by the Ford, Shadows on the marches".  All of this sounds perfectly timed to the occasion.

Also, that night at Crickhollow, Frodo had his "vague dream" which sounds very much like a prelude to his dream at Bombadils.  Bombadil's influence?

The morning of the 26th, the hobbits (& Bombadil?) headed towards the Forest.  Could it have been Bombadil's doing for the trees to lead them down to the Withwindle, and for Old Man Willow to 'hold them there'?  (Nicely staged rescue, if so).

Finally, Bombadil's journey could have generally been pieced together by observant Bucklanders on the River, as well as the Maggot household themselves.  The fact that he left his boat at Grindwall for 3 days is a bit of a mystery, but perhaps he felt compelled to trot into the Forest on foot.  In any case, it was the animals that brought the boat back (minus the oars, of course).

drogo_drogo: Nice UUT I'll go with your idea as a way to explain the Hobbits' seemingly implausible ability to evade the Black Riders.  It would make more sense if there were some agent helping them out.  We do have clear signs that Gandalf, for example, aids Frodo later when he's fighting on Amon Hen, so why not assume that Bombadil is helping to manipulate things on behalf of the Hobbits, and then stages a meeting at Old Man Willow?

The alternative for me is to wish that the Black Riders had not been the Nazgul, so I'll take your UUT as a new spin on the issue.  Why not?

Mapalon: Some Thoughts... While I generally like the UUT you bring up here, I'm a bit doubtful about Old Man Willow's benevolence or his willingness to stage a rescue with Tom. Later on while answering the hobbits questions, he does make mention that the trees in general hold a strange bitterness for things that move upon the earth ("destroyers and usurpers"), so i'm willing to bet that Old man Willow's irritation (for lack of a better word) is probably quite genuine.

Perhaps Tom went and "let" Old Man Willow get a hold of our half-sized heroes for a private little laugh of his own, fully confident of his abilities to rescue them just in time.

Estelwyn: Queer tales It could have been any time between Frodo departing Bag End and arriving at Bombadil's, and most likely happens after Maggot dropped them at the Ferry.  Thanks to the Canto for the analysis confirming that this was actually possible.  On the other hand, if this visit in fact occurred *before* the three walkers arrived at Bamfurlong (while they were with the Elves at Woodhall say), then Maggot is even sneakier than we thought and revealed much less than he actually knew about what was going on.

Beren IV: Filling his cap with arrows This one line made me feel that the poem was set sometime after LotR, since I don't see the Hobbits this militarized until after the Battle of Bywater. Still, I have no doubt that Tom Bombadil could have made the trip to Maggot's house in that time - Tom has a wierd array of powers.

drogo_drogo: True I was also puzzled by the arrow-shooting Hobbits.  That is not in character for them at this stage, especially when they let the ruffians take over without putting up a fight (till those weirdos return in their spiffy foreign getups).

Canto di Númenor: Militarized?  Light infantry, maybe? This little section did throw me for a tiny loop - but I didn't consider the hobbits to be so much 'militarized' so much as a small band of hobbits defending their land against strangers.  I also think arrows through the hat serve as a better poetic device than a No Trespassing sign.

dna: [in reply to N.E. Brigand, above] But, do you not see it implausible that Bombadil met Maggot *before* the hobbits did?  There is no indication in Maggot, by either information or demeanor, that such an encounter could have occurred.  Everything he calls 'queer' the next day, would be unbelievably overstated.  Offset by a poem's silly chance meeting, slightly south and slightly earlier than was possible; and the perceived inconsistencies with respect to morning rain on consecutive days, chronicled well after the fact, I'll still go with Sept 25th as "the day Bombadil went boating".

N.E. Brigand: "Chance meeting?" Doesn't the little bird go to tell Maggot to meet Tom at sunset "down by Mithe?"  And doesn't Tom tell Maggot that he's "late for meeting?"

Plus the poem has Tom "supping" with the Maggots, and Farmer Maggot has told Frodo that they eat supper early "and mostly go to bed soon after the Sun"--that is, they're unlikely to be up for supping and dancing when Maggot returns from the Ferry.

As for Maggot not mentioning a visit from queer Tom, perhaps he doesn't find that so unusual:  they seem like old friends who meet now and again, both in the Marish and elsewhere--Merry says of Maggot, "I've heard that he used to go into the Old Forest at one time, and he has the reputation of knowing a good many strange things."

Additionally, I think Tom's visit to Maggot works better narratively before rather than after Frodo's arrival, as it may help to explain both Maggot's guesses about Frodo's situation and his pluck facing the Black Rider.  There would be less narrative value to Tom meeting Maggot after Frodo's visit, as Tom later admits to knowing about Frodo's journey from the Elves, not from Maggot.  (A further parallel:  both the Elves and Tom leave before their hobbit guests/hosts wake in the morning.  Maybe the elves overtook Tom on his trip home.)

Finally, Tom meets the hobbits, he says, while on an errand collecting lilies, not on his journey home from the Marish.

dna: poor choice of words Yes, you're absolutely right, not a chance meeting at all, under any scenario!

However, I'll stand by this credo, which others here have elucidated better than me:  LotR takes precedence.  No indication whatsoever that Maggot & Bombadil met prior to the hobbits' arrival, plus some indication that M & B met *between* the hobbits encounter with both, leads me to speculate this could only have occurred on the 25th.

The poem is quaint poesy, no matter how accurate to the motive & actual events the tale attempts to relate.  It was, as Tolkien himself pointed out at the very time of publication of the AoTB (and within his lifetime), written by an unknown Bucklander and ultimately included in the narrative framework of 'The Red Book'.  The accuracy of the details in this poem taking precedence over other evidence, more central to LotR, is an example of, what I now officially term to be the neurosis of TPM (Tolkien Publication Myopia) - using whatever book suits the purpose of the debate at hand, rather than constructing a level playing field, and sticking with it. 

Meeting at sunset somewhere on the Road? Eating & drinking in excess? Morning rain coming down? Vanishing without a trace? Talking animals?  -  all poetic license!   What the hobbit compilers of the Red Book scrutinized over - slightly more reliable.  Accepting any of this stuff as omniscient factual 'gospel of the truth', especially when Tolkien himslef (& alive) provided us with postulation otherwise - IMHO, not as reliable.

N.E. Brigand: "Talking animals? - all poetic license!" Even if we restrict examples to the LotR, there is still the fox.  And the "beasts and birds" that are told "to bring news of anything that bears on this matter to Saruman and Gandalf."  And maybe "badgers and their queer ways?"

I see no indication in the LotR of when Bombadil last spoke with Maggot; it need only have been recent enough for him to know "much about them and all their families, and indeed to know much of all the history and doings of the Shire down from days hardly remembered among the hobbits themselves ... but he made no secret that he owed his recent knowledge largely to Farmer Maggot, whom he seemed to regard as a person of more importance than they had imagined."

Add that to Merry's comment that "I've heard that he used to go into the Old Forest at one time, and he has the reputation of knowing a good many strange things," and I think a case can be made, just from the LotR, for Maggot and Tom having met on more than one occasion (thus perhaps not exceptional) and for such meetings to have been not explicitly discussed by Maggot with other hobbits.

But for all the LotR says, Maggot and Tom needn't have met sooner than sometime in the summer, recent enough to have the Shire's latest big news (that Frodo was moving to Crickhollow).  Tom's knowledge of Frodo's flight from the Black Riders comes, by his own admission, from Gildor.  There's also nothing to say where Tom and Maggot spoke.

However, presented with this poem and squire's clever suggestion that Tolkien may have meant it to relate directly to the events in these chapters (as the earlier Bombadil poem did not) I find the evidence, both in the poem and in the LotR, more compelling for a visit before Frodo's arrival at Bamfurlong than after (for example, the LotR has Bombadil, when he rescues the hobbits, on an errand for Goldberry, not returning from the Marish).  We may disagree, but I don't think that even using only evidence from the LotR to explain the poem (which practice doesn't make sense to me) refutes my argument.

dna: fair enough, and before I try to hammer a square peg, I'll admit the evidence for me is now leaning the other way.

First, the fox incident occurred on the night of the 23rd (I was thinking the 24th for some reason).  That was the very first night the hobbits spent in the wild.  Therefore, Tom's consciousness would have been alerted to their presence that night, if his powers extended in such a way.  Sam's mention of the wind being in the West, as you point out, could be alluding to this as well.

So, the next day, then, may have been Tom's trek, the same day the hobbits have their first encounter with the Rider, who is mysteriously provoked away.  Tom's river-journey could be seen as a metaphor for his 'communing' with nature.  Then they come across the Elves who may have been directed by Bombadil (and not Cirdan, after all) to look out for Frodo: thus Gildor's "Hail Frodo".  And that night, with Bombadil and Maggot conversing late, Frodo had a "dreamless slumber".

True, maybe the next day with the hobbits protected by the Elves until morning, and Bombadil satisfied that Maggot will see them protected for the rest of the day, he heads back - and not by river, since he leaves his boat behind.  Perhaps he will scout the route the hobbits will take, well into the forest? 

The rain is a bit of a mystery, as it rains early morning at Maggot's, but only in the "hot" of the day do clouds begin to "come from the West" from the hobbits' perspective.

But that night in Crickhollow, with Tom presumably back home, Frodo has his "vague dream" foreshadowing his dream at Bombadils.  This fits, and so does the fact that Tom left his boat for 3 days, which means until the morning of the 27th.  On this morning, with the hobbits safe inside his house, Tom has been up since "the grey dawn" and "walking wide... nosing wind and weather".  What better morning for summoning the boat back.  And he wakened Goldberry "singing under window".  Why, because she's the river-daughter, and he needed his boat carted up the river?

A few things though...

1) I still see this song as quaint poesy, written by an informed Bucklander, as Tolkien suggests, rather than an omniscient & accurate account.  

2) In any case, Tom's appearance at Old Man Willow would hardly seem to be a chance flower-gathering errand, as he mentions.  He is ambiguous: "Just chance brought me then, if chance you call it. It was no plan of mine, though I was waiting for you". He even then admits "We heard news of you, and learned that you were wandering. We guessed you'd come ere long down to the water: all paths lead that way".

3) Its still a bit of a mystery, however much of a casual friendship Maggot & Bombadil may have had, that neither Maggot, nor any of the household, made any mention, or acted in any way, that suggested Bombadil was there the night before. This is the only stickler for me.

N.E. Brigand: About the rain... you have a point.  However, the poem has, "a shower of rain at morning," not specifically early morning.  Granted there is an implication that the footprints were washed away before Maggot's folk were awake, but that's not specifically said.  I agree with you that the rain Frodo and Co. experienced arrived not long before noon.

Just speaking generally to some of your other points:  I like less the idea of Bombadil and Gildor being directed to help Frodo than the idea that they're more apt to recognize the work of fate and act accordingly:  Bombadil hears word that Frodo is wandering, expects that he'll be drawn towards the Withywindle, and nonetheless goes on a lily-gathering errand; if he's meant to meet and aid Frodo, then it will happen.

This has been a fun discussion.

[squire note: they were both wrong! see here.]  


squire: 2. What references to Lord of the Rings can you make out?

Canto di Númenor: Aside from the references to Bree, the various rivers and towns, the Barrow-downs, I’m quite intrigued to hear about their discussion of “tall Watchers by the Ford, Shadows on the marshes” – which I take to be the Black Riders.  If so, I can only imagine what Bombadil knows and feigns not to know.

Elvenesque: Where I can see there are 'queer tales from Bree' refered to - this also makes me think it was after the time that the Hobbits had been there.

dernwyn: Tolkien did like that Springle-ring, didn't he!

Estelwyn: With a bit of imagination, I think Maggot and Bombadil might have talked about:

·        the tidings from Barrow-downs to Tower Hills-- maybe bits of news one or both of them had picked up from the "wandering companies" of Elves (Gildor's, perhaps?)

·        walking and ridings --Bilbo's departure; Gandalf's comings and goings (on horseback); Frodo's departure from Bag End w. Pippin and Sam

·        queer tales from Bree -- the anxious nature of Gandalf's most recent passage through that town (after meeting Radagast)

UUT Butterbur is actually part of this "conspiracy" of benevolent oddballs, and Bombadil goes to Bree on occassion to hear news of comings and goings there, in much the same way as he visits Bamfurlong

·        talk at smithy, mill, and cheaping -- the rumours we've already witnessed being discussed at various inns, and workplaces, around the Shire

Qn: What's a "cheaping"?

dna: cheaping = inn/trading post OE ceap 'trade' < Latin caupo 'innkeeper'

·        south-wind in the larches -- news from the South Farthing, particularly as relates to troubles with Big Folk there (Sharkey's men from the south, perhaps?)

·        tall Watchers by the Ford -- assuming the Ford here is Sarn Ford, not the Buckleberry Ferry, the Watchers would be the increased Ranger patrols gaurding the borders of the Shire

·        Shadows on the marshes -- Black Riders in the Marish

NZ Strider: Good list of allusions to/evocations of the LotR; add perhaps for the lines

"... as dreams one half remembers,

...  a shower of rain at morning"

Frodo's dream in the House of Bombadil (at the start of "Fog on the Barrow-downs") in which Frodo sees a "grey rain-curtain" shortly before the dawn ("the vision melted into waking").  

squire: 3. Does anything in the poem contradict or vary from the characters and events in Lord of the Rings?

Canto di Númenor: The one noticeable thing which seems to contradict Bombadil’s character within the whole poem is his rough words towards animals.  Perhaps it’s just Bombadil keeping the animals in check – but I also found for such a gay, spirited figure, he sure did have some rough things to say!

However, we also learn a bit more about Maggot’s character.  Not a whole lot, per se, but he no longer just appears to be the Old Man with the dogs.

Elvenesque: The Tall Watchers by the Ford - are these Nazgul or are they Rangers or ??

Shadows on the Marshes??

Estelwyn: Ah, yeah.  Some of the things I listed above might be a stretch and not entirely consistent with the final version of LOTR, but those connections are what the Bombadil poem evokes for me.  I like the sense of being on familiar territory that it gives me. 

squire: 4. Notice anything about the meter and rhyme?

Canto di Númenor: “Hey! Come merry dol! derry dol! My darling!

Light goes the weather-wind and the feathered starling.”

One almost gets the impression Bombadil is narrating this poem about his visit to Maggot.

Elvenesque: Sounds as if it would be a song of some sort.

Just to add:

In the poem orcs are spelt orks.

Farmer Maggots children were still living with him - so it still could be in a frame work of years that Tom visited.

They spoke to each other as very old friends - in the way they called each other names such as 'Muddy feet' and 'Penny-wise-tub-on-legs'. To this they laughed like old friends would.

Also I always thought that the otter and the swan had stolen Toms boat away and left him to get home some other way. It was not until your footnate that I thought otherwise. Just a comment.

Thanks for all the work, its great.

dernwyn: The meter is an incredibly irregular iambic tetrameter, difficult to read in places, but fun when spoken with emphases and breaks.

NZ Strider: Quick note on the metre... For the Bombadil-poems Tolkien uses an extremely archaic type of metre best-known nowadays in nursery rhymes.  Basically, only stressed syllables count; and each half-line has two stressed syllables (with as many unstressed ones among them as you like).  Conventional counting of unstressed and stressed syllables to make regular feet just doesn't work for this type of metre. 

            From a common nursery rhyme, with the conventional feet written next to each line:

Twinkle, twinkle, || little star (2 trochees; one cretic)

How I wonder || what you are (one iamb, one trochee, one cretic)

Up above || the world so high (1 cretic; two iambs)

Like a diamond || in the sky. (two trochees; one cretic)

The metre only appears irregular if you try to analyse it in terms of conventional feet.  What is regular is that each half-line contains two stresses.  Thus:

                        TWINKle, TWINKle, || LITtle STAR

How I WONder || WHAT you ARE; etc. 

Bombadil-verses are slightly more complicated, but their only regularity is the two-stress half-line:

STARS shone on BAMfurlong, || and Maggot's HOUSE was LIGHTed;

FIRE in the KITCHen burned || to WELcome the beNIGHTed.  Etc. 

Note, by the way, that verbs seldom receive a strong stress.  However, they frequently take a sort of subsidiary stress, and Tolkien, when lengthening half-lines a bit, uses that additional subsidiary stress to good effect on occasion. 

             Note the internal rhyme in the first half-line:

Ere DAWN TOM was gone: || as DREAMS one half reMEMbers

The "half" in the second half-line probably takes a subsidiary stress as well to balance out the first half-line. 

Silly as the Bombadil-verses appear, they have some complicated metrical effects on occasion.

dernwyn: Great explanation of this complex rhyme, thank you!

And this also explains why the verses seem to need to be read aloud rather than read to oneself.

squire: Thanks, NZ I knew there was something odd there.

I thought I was seeing the sing-song of the traditional Bombadillo verse transform, as he visits Maggot, into something resembling the Anglo-saxon verse forms you've tutored us in.

What I saw was a very strong syntactical break mid-line, and hints of alliteration:

Laughing they drove away, // in Rushey never halting,

though the inn open stood // and they could smell the malting.

They turned down Maggot's Lane, // rattling and bumping,

Tom in the farmer's cart // dancing round and jumping.

Stars shone on Bamfurlong, // and Maggot's house was lighted;

fire in the kitchen burned // to welcome the benighted.

But the alliteration didn't seem to be there; and your explanation makes so much more sense overall. I do think the poem changes tone when Bombadil leaves the Withywindle and enters Maggot's world of the Marish.

an seleichan: and he talks like that, too  :-) We'll see this same meter to his conversation, when we get to his house, won't we? For instance:

"Hey! Come Frodo, tehre! Where be you a-going? Old Tom Bombadil's not as blind as that yet. Take off your golden ring! Your hand's more fair without it. Come back! Leave your game and sit down beside me! We must talk a while more, and think about the morning. Tom must teach the right road, and keep your feet from wandering."

But we're getting ahead of our chapters...  


squire: Just for fun and additional facts, here is Tolkien’s introduction to the collection of poems known as The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and other verses from The Red Book

"Nos. 1 and 2* evidently come from the Buckland. They show more knowledge of that country, and of the Dingle, the wooded valley of the Withywindle3, than any Hobbits west of the Marish were likely to possess. They also show that the Bucklanders knew Bombadil4, though, no doubt, they had as little understanding of his powers as the Shire-folk had of Gandalf’s: both were regarded as benevolent persons, mysterious maybe and unpredictable but nonetheless comic. No. 1 is the earlier piece, and is made up of various hobbit-versions of legends concerning Bombadil. No. 2 used similar traditions, though Tom’s raillery is here turned in jest upon his friends, who treat it with amusement (tinged with fear); but it was probably composed much later and after the visit of Frodo and his companions to the house of Bombadil."


Tolkien's Notes:

3: Grindwall was a small hythe on the north bank of the Withywindle; it was outside the Hay, and so was well watched and protected by a grind or fence extended into the water. Breredon (Briar Hill) was a little village on rising ground behind the hythe., in the narrow tongue between the end of the High Hay and the Brandywine. At the Mithe, the outflow of the Shirebourn, was a landing-stage, from which a lane ran to Deephallow and so on to the Causeway road that went through Rushey and Stock.

4: Indeed they probably gave him this name (it is Bucklandish in form) to add to his many older ones.

Additional notes by squire:

* The two Bombadil poems; ours is No. 2

In fact No. 1 is the “original” Tom Bombadil poem (“merry fellow…boots were yellow”) and was written by Tolkien in the 1930s as an amusement piece about his childrens’ doll’s sprite-like adventures. It long predates Lord of the Rings, and Bombadil’s outlandish appearance there. No. 2 was, of course, written after the Lord of the Rings, in the 1950s or 60s.


[Also, see Tolkien's letter on this poem, uncovered weeks later by N.E. Brigand]