Eat earth! Dig deep! Drink water! Go to sleep! (Day 21)

Making their way into the Old Forest, our hobbits become sleepy and lie down next to an old willow tree. But not all is as it seems. This is Old Man Willow, and he traps Merry and Pippin and tries to drown Frodo in the river! The uneasy Sam comes to Frodo’s rescue, but here we meet one of the strangest of Tolkien’s characters, Tom Bombadil.

Camera: Ansco Color Clipper || FujiChrome Velvia 50 (RVP), expired mid 90s, xpro

Camera: Ansco Color Clipper || FujiChrome Velvia 50 (RVP), expired mid 90s, xpro

Thoughts on the Passage – Book I, Chapter 6 (p115-120, 50th Anniv. Ed.)
I don’t think I can explain just how much I absolutely love the Old Forest and Tom Bombadil segments of LotR. They really do exist in their own world. The story could do almost as well without anything between Crickhollow and Bree, but I would miss everything about Old Man Willow, Tom, Goldberry and even the Barrow-wights. I know this isn’t a very common view, but I adore every word of Chapters six, seven and eight.

Today, I don’t want to get too into Bombadil, just yet. There will be more than enough time for him. Today I’m thinking about Old Man Willow. He is the most Ent-like of the trees in the Old Forest, but his heart is rotten and he is, maybe not evil, but really not a nice fellow. He seems to control the trees in the Old Forest, and while our hobbits followed the path along the Withywindle, they began to feel sleepy. Actually, this was part of Old Man Willow’s power: “Sleepiness seemed to be creeping out of the ground and up their legs, and falling softly out of the air upon their heads and eyes.”

Frodo, Pippin and Merry were drawn to a large willow tree and there they rested, each falling asleep. This was Old Man Willow, and he literally ate all of Pippin and half of Merry. Frodo he dunked in the water and held him under with a tree root. Sam, on the other hand, made it a point to stay awake, though he too was sleepy: “‘There’s more behind this than sun and warn air,’ he muttered to himself. ‘I don’t like this great big tree. I don’t trust it. Hark at it singing about sleep now! This won’t do at all!'”

Tolkien’s use of song – well, I could go on for days about it. From the Ainulindale to Finrod’s battle with Sauron to the Dwarves convincing Bilbo to come with them, it’s clear that songs are ridiculously powerful and enchanting. Old Man Willow’s song is no different.

He, like Tom, Goldberry and the Barrow-wights, were first introduced in a stand-alone poem written in the mid1930s. Only later did Tolkien fold them into Middle-earth. And I’m so glad that he did.

In the original poem, Old Man Willow swallows Tom, clothes still wet from when Goldberry, the river’s daughter, pulled him under. It’s Tom’s song that releases him from the Willow, putting the tree to sleep, just as he did to escape Goldberry. Tom then does the same to Badgers and the Barrow-wight. Tolkien makes a passing reference to badgers later on.

Anyway, Tom accidentally comes across the scene of the crime, singing a song to Old Man Willow to clear the way: “Poor old Willow-man, you tuck your roots away!/Tom’s in a hurry now. Evening will follow day.” Apparently, Tom must do this every time he goes near Old Man Willow. They clearly have a long history together.

And while Tom might be able to handle this old crooked tree, our hobbits cannot. Because of this, Tom gets serious. He puts his mouth up to the tree and sings, though the hobbits cannot hear the words. He backed off, broke off one of the Willow’s branches, hit him with it: “‘You let them out again, Old Man Willow!’ he said. ‘What be you a-thinking of? You should not be waking. Eat earth! Dig deep! Drink water! Go to sleep! Bombadil is talking!'”

It’s later explained that there are varying degrees of Ent-ness, from those who are almost like trees, to full on Ent, like Treebeard. Old Man Willow isn’t an Ent, but he’s not totally asleep, either. This Tom Bombadil tries to remedy, telling him to go back to sleep, to dig his roots into the ground and drink water like a good willow tree might. That he ends his command with “Bombadil is talking!” really strikes me. He’s not singing here. He’s serious, so cut the crap, tree.

In the next chapter, Tom explains to Frodo just why the trees act in such a way:

“Tom’s words laid bare the hearts of the trees and their thoughts, which were often dark and strange, and filled with a hatred of things that go free upon the earth, gnawing, biting, breaking, hacking, burning: destroyers and usurpers.”

But we shouldn’t feel too badly for them, at least not for Old Man Willow, whose “heart was rotten.” He was “a master of winds, and his song an thought ran through the woods on both sides of the river. His grey thirsty spirit drew power out of the earth and spread like fine root-threads in the ground, and invisible twig-fingers in the air, till it had under its dominion nearly all the trees of the Forest from the Hedge [in Buckleberry] to the Downs.”

Though Tom chastised Old Man Willow, he did not cast him out. He didn’t cut him down or burn him up. He simply put him in his place. Goldberry explains why: “The trees and the grasses and all things growing or living in the land belong each to themselves. Tom Bombadil is the Master. No one has ever caught old Tom walking in the forest, wading in the water, leaping on the hill-tops under light and shadow. He has no fear. Tom Bombadil is master.”

Of course, if we are to believe the old poem (said to have been written by hobbits in Buckland), Goldberry caught Tom wading in the water. But then, in turn, Tom caught Goldberry. Since then, and after a wedding (which makes the Barrow-wight cry), they lived together in the Old Forest.

About the Photo
The photo was taken along Crab Creek in central Washington. This passage reminded me of it:
“Everywhere the reeds and grasses were lush and tall […] but once found, the path was easy to follow […] There were armies of flies of all kinds buzzing round their ears, and the afternoon sun was burning on their backs.”

Thoughts on the Exercising
Well, okay. So I stopped at four miles. That’s just how it works sometimes. It’s probably because I worked on speed. I was hovering at 12-13+mph the whole way. Normally, I’ll start at 10mph and work my way up (slowly). Tomorrow, I’m going to do four again. We’ll see if I can eventually trick myself into doing six.

  • Miles today: 4
  • Miles thus far: 96
    • 39 miles to Bree
    • 118 miles to Weathertop
    • 364 miles to Rivendell
    • 1,683 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place: At Old Man Willow! (Map and Map)

These Trees Do Shift (Day 18)

Camera: Zeiss-Ikon Ikoflex || Film: FujiChrome Provia 400D (expired 08/1994)(xpro as C-41)

Camera: Zeiss-Ikon Ikoflex || Film: FujiChrome Provia 400D (expired 08/1994)(xpro as C-41)

Just now entering the Old Forest, our hobbits search for a path which seems to have moved. The trees are clearly playing tricks on them, but soon they find their way to the Bonfire Glade. There, they find a path, which holds more or less true for them as they continue up a slope.

Thoughts on the Passage – Book I, Chapter 6 (p110-112, 50th Anniv. Ed.)
At this point, it might seem that the tales of the Old Forest have frightened Frodo, Sam and Pippin. It would be understandable that hearing the stories from Merry put them on edge, so that the path seemed to move and even trees had will.

“Oi! Oi!” he [Pippin] cried. “I am not going to do anything. Just let me pass through, will you!”

The trees had not touched them, but seemed to crowd them in the absence of a path. This all changed when they reached the Bonfire Glade. As the name implies, this clearing has everything to do with the great burning that took place after the trees crowded the Hedge protecting Buckleberry from the Old Forest.

As explained yesterday,the hobbits of Buckland chopped down the trees and burned them, which in turn caused the trees of the Old Forest to act out in spite toward any two-legged thing who entered. This Glade is where the trees were burned.

Everything in the Bonfire Glade was green, where as the Forest was dark. For a reason not explicitly given, the Old Forest kept this space clear. Nevertheless, it wasn’t a pleasant place, covered in rough grass and tall weeds. “A dreary place: but it seemed a charming and cheerful garden after the close Forest.”

It gave the hobbits the hope needed to continue. Frodo had been considering turning back, and chastised Merry, who was leading them. But in the Glade they found the path. Frodo turned to song to cheer them on.

Unfortunately, the song ended with “For east or west all woods must fail…” This, the Forest did not like, and Merry chastised Frodo, though continued on in a cheerful mood.

Merry is a rock through this passage. He’s not outwardly shaken even an ounce. While Frodo nearly had the party turn around, Merry seemed as if it was just a casual stroll through the woods.

This being such a short passage, there’s not much more I can say about it. But here we are, four more miles closer to Rivendell.

“The air seemed heavy and the making of words wearisome.”

Thoughts on the Exercising
There’s this wonderful vegan donut shop in Seattle called Mighty-O. We’re there maybe once a week – seriously amazing. We were there today, as well. This is easily one of the top five reasons why I’m doing this project. Sure, I could lose some weight, I certainly want to get in better shape, and of course there’s the Tolkien angle, but being able to work off a couple of donuts is just so satisfying. And so today’s workout was dedicated to Mighty O Donuts! Huzzah for them!

  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 82
    • 53 miles to Bree
    • 132 miles to Weathertop
    • 376 miles to Rivendell
    • 1,697 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place: Moving up a rise in the Old Forest(Map)

Bogey Stories of the Old Forest (Day 17)

Former car tunnel on Sehome Hill, Bellingham, WA
Former car tunnel on Sehome Hill, Bellingham, WA

Camera: Polaroid Minute Maker || Film: Fuji FP-100C (negative scan)

Our hobbits are up early in the predawn, but don’t get on the road until 6am. Now riding ponies, they clop slowly along until they reach the hedge separating Buckleberry from the Old Forest, which they enter through a tunnel of sorts. They bid good-bye to Fatty Bolger and Merry tells Frodo, Sam and Pippin what he knows about these strange woods.

Thoughts on the Passage – Book I, Chapter 6 (p109-110, 50th Anniv. Ed.)
“There,” said Merry. “You have left the Shire, and are now outside, and on the edge of the Old Forest.” Hobbits seem to enjoy both the telling of stories and being suspicious. When they can combine the two pastimes, all the better. So it is with the Old Forest. Just as they entered the tunnel, Pippin asks Merry if the stories he’s heard about the place where true.

In this, Merry is more of an expert than anyone, since he’s been inside the Old Forest a few times – and once or twice at night! He didn’t believe the “old bogey-stories Fatty’s nurses used to tell him, about goblins and wolves and things of that sort.” Apparently, hobbits held that orcs and (I assume) wargs bandied about the Old Forest. According to Merry, that wasn’t true. “But the Forest is queer.”

Merry then goes on to tell what he knows. “Everything in it is very much more alive,” he explains, specifically mentioning the trees. “They watch you.” But not only do they watch, they’ll sometimes stick out a tree branch to trip you. Merry has heard for himself that the trees seemed to be whispering to each other. He has also heard that the trees can even walk, and relates a story about them attacking the Hedge which surrounds Buckleberry.

There doesn’t seem to be a date given anywhere for this attack, but the hobbits then cut down hundreds of trees and burned them. This was when they (the trees) became rather passive aggressive.

In letter #339 of The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, he says this: “In all my works I take the part of trees as against all their enemies. Lothlorien is beautiful because there the trees were loved; elsewhere forests are represented as awakening to consciousness of themselves. The Old Forest was hostile to two legged creatures because of the memory of many injuries.”

This was in response to an article that ran in the Daily Telegraph about forestry, saying that where there was once beauty, was now “transformed into a kind of Tolkien gloom….” He objected to the idea of “gloom” being connected with him and forests. He ends the letter: “The savage sound of the electric saw is never silent wherever trees are still found growing.”

In the case of this passage, Tolkien is siding with the Huorns – which are a sort of sub-species of Ents. According to Treebeard the Ent, there are trees that are more Ent-like, and Ents that are more tree-like. Huorns fall in the middle. And it is probably Huorns who occupy the Old Forest. And though Tolkien defends trees overall, the Old Forest is actually something a bit different, as we’ll see. Think of it as Mirkwood if Mirkwood had never been returned to Greenwood by the Elves. But there’s something older in this Forest. According to Treebeard, the trees here might even be older than he is.

“If there are no worse things ahead than the Old Forest, I shall be lucky.” – Frodo

Thoughts on the Exercising
Well, figuring that I should have taken a break today, I decided to unloosen the tension completely on the elliptical machine. It was like running (or whatever) on air. Of course, it was much easier, but I was able to get my heart rate up without my legs hurting. I’ll add a bit of tension next time (because it was seriously cake… mmmm, cake), but for now, I feel great again. And in my defense, Frodo and company are riding ponies at this point.

  • Miles today: 4
  • Miles thus far: 77
    • 58 miles to Bree
    • 137 miles to Weathertop
    • 381 miles to Rivendell
    • 1,702 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place: Just as we enter the Old Forest. (Map)