Fog on the Barrow-downs

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Paul Raymond Gregory - Fog on the Barrow Downs.jpg
Fog on the Barrow-Downs
Chapter of The Fellowship of the Ring
EventFrodo and his companions are captured by Barrow-wights; they are rescued by Tom Bombadil.
Date28 September 3018
<  In the House of Tom Bombadil
At the Sign of the Prancing Pony  >

Fog on the Barrow-downs is the eighth chapter of the first book in The Fellowship of the Ring.

The Hobbits journey to the Barrow-downs, where they get lost and are captured by the Barrow-wights. Frodo summons Tom Bombadil, who rescues them and finds them each a sword from the Barrow-wights' stolen treasure. The Hobbits say farewell to Tom and set out towards Bree.

Summary[edit | edit source]

The Hobbits sleep well that night at Tom Bombadil's house. Frodo dreams of singing, rain, and grassy meadows. In the morning, the Hobbits once again eat breakfast alone. Tom bids them farewell, and they ride northwards towards the Barrow-downs.

As they leave, Frodo suddenly remembers that they haven't said farewell to Goldberry; however she appears at the top of the hill ahead of them, dancing. They make their way to her, and observe that the mists that previously shrouded the landscape have cleared away, giving them a view all the way to the Brandywine to the west, Withywindle to the south, and even a hint of the Misty Mountains to the east. The Hobbits bow silently to Goldberry and proceed; she watches them until they are nearly out of sight.

The Hobbits continue over and around the hills in a north-eastward direction. Climbing up a taller hill, they see to the north what Merry identifies as a row of trees, marking the East Road as it runs east from the Brandywine Bridge. This surprises the Hobbits, as it would mean they had covered a much greater distance than they'd assumed. To their direct east they spot green mounds on top of the hills, marked with tall standing stones that make them somewhat uneasy. Below them in a small hollow is another such stone, and they rest upon its eastern side and eat the food given to them by Tom.

The heat of the midday sun quickly exhausts the Hobbits; they lose track of time and fall asleep. When they wake, they are horrified to discover that the sun is already setting, and the area has become covered in a thick fog, seemingly centered on the standing stone. They scramble onto their ponies and set off northwards immediately, hoping to go straight towards the trees they had seen earlier. The mist becomes colder and damper as they proceed, and darkness quickly falls.

The Hobbits ride in single file so as not to become separated in the dark mist, with Frodo at the front. He reaches what he thinks is the opening at the northern end of the Barrow-downs, only to discover that he'd reached a pair of huge standing stones he had not seen earlier from the hilltop. His pony rears up, throws him off, and runs away. Frodo discovers that he is completely alone.

Frodo calls out to his companions, and eventually hears someone calling out to him from the east. The call turns into a desperate cry for help, and finally falls silent. Frodo finds himself at the top of a hill, still surrounded by the thick fog. He realizes that he'd been going the wrong way, and is now standing in front of one of the great barrows.

Frodo calls out one last time, and is answered by a shrill voice that seems to come from the ground itself:

"Here! I am waiting for you!""
Mysterious voice

Frodo tries to run, but instead loses his strength and falls to the ground. He sees a dark figure staring down at him with cold, glowing eyes. The figure grips him like cold iron, and he falls unconscious.

Frodo wakes up to find himself lying on a stone slab inside the barrow. He immediately realizes that he has been taken by a Barrow-wight, and is held motionless by its evil spell. He finds himself thinking about Bilbo and the little adventures they'd had together, and begins to wonder if this is the grim end to his adventure; however this gives him courage, and helps ward off the Wight's spell, allowing him to move a little.

Frodo notices an eerie glow emanating around him. He turns over, seeing Sam, Merry and Pippin lying on stone slabs beside him. They are motionless and pale like the freshly-deceased, and are dressed in white robes, wearing golden crowns, with treasures strewn about them. A single, long sword lies naked across their necks.

Frodo begins to hear a murmuring song, an evil incantation, filling the chamber:

"Cold be hand and heart and bone,
and cold be sleep under stone:
never more to wake on stony bed,
never, till the Sun fails and the Moon is dead.
In the black wind the stars shall die,
and still on gold here let them lie,
till the dark lord lifts up his hand
over dead sea and withered land.
The Barrow-wight's Chant

Frodo spots a pale light coming from a passage at the back of the chamber. Through the passage comes a long arm, which crawls on its fingertips towards Sam. For a moment, Frodo considers putting on The One Ring, escaping the barrow and abandoning his friends. He fights this desire, and eventually prevails. He leaps off the stone slab, grabbing a sword that was lying next to him, and hacks the hand off the ghostly arm. His sword shatters.

Frodo attempts to wake Merry, but to no avail. Suddenly, he remembers the song that Tom Bombadil had taught the Hobbits the night before, and begins singing it. Soon enough, he hears Tom's voice approaching, singing the next verse of his song. The wall of the barrow collapses, and sunlight streams in. Through the opening comes Tom Bombadil. He begins to sing a song commanding the Wights to disperse from this evil place. The sleeping Hobbits begin to stir.

Frodo and Tom carry the other Hobbits out of the barrow and into the morning sun. On the final trip inside, Frodo believes he saw the Wight's severed hand still wriggling. Finally, Tom goes in one last time and emerges with a pile of treasure, which he lays out on the grass.

Tom sings once again, commanding the Hobbits to wake up. As Merry regains consciousness, he initially seems to believe that he is one of the kings laid to rest in the barrow, and even recounts the final moments of his life. He quickly returns to himself.

Sam inquires as to the whereabouts of his clothes. Tom says that the clothes are lost forever, but bids the Hobbits take off the funeral shrouds that the Wight's spell had put on them and run naked through the grass, celebrating life. They do as he asked.

Tom dances away, singing the names of six ponies, calling them to return. He soon reappears with the Hobbits' five ponies, and a new, larger one called Fatty Lumpkin. He explains that this is his pony, which he will ride as he accompanies the Hobbits to the East Road. The narrator tells us that the other five ponies (all owned by Merry) had previously had no names, but will answer the names that Tom gave them for the rest of their lives.

The Hobbits retrieve spare clothes from their saddle packs, and sit down to have a meal. As they do, Tom returns to the treasure pile. He says that the treasure is now free for all takers, and explains that this would break the Wight's haunting of the barrow. For himself, he picks a brilliant brooch, which he intends to give as a gift to Goldberry.

Tom then takes four leaf-shaped daggers from the pile, and hands one to each Hobbit to use as a short-sword. The daggers look brand new, but Tom explains that they were made by the Men of Westernesse, a very long time ago. He says that these Men were once the enemies of Sauron, but were defeated by the evil king of Carn Dûm in the land of Angmar. As Tom tells this story, the Hobbits appear to experience a vision in which they see a shadowy army marching across the Barrow-downs, and behind them a man with a star on his brow.

The Hobbits and Tom Bombadil set out northwards. Frodo looks for the two huge standing stones he'd encountered earlier, but sees them nowhere. Soon enough, they reach the gap at the northern edge of the downs. They quickly realize that they could never have reached it before nightfall on the previous day. What they thought were the trees lining the East Road was nothing more than a hedge at the top of an artificial ditch, which Tom says is the border of a long-gone kingdom.

As evening falls, the Hobbits finally reach the East Road, and immediately recall the danger of the Black Riders which had been forgotten days before. Tom explains that down the road to the east lies the village of Bree. He instructs them to look for Barliman Butterbur, the proprietor of the Prancing Pony inn, vouching for his character. The Hobbits beg Tom to come have a drink with them at the inn, but Tom refuses, saying that this is the edge of his country; and that he must return to Goldberry. He bids them farewell and rides off, singing.

Night falls as the Hobbits ride towards Bree. Merry explains that both Hobbits and Men live there, and that Brandybucks visit the village occasionally as well. Sam hopes that the Prancing Pony will be similar to the Green Dragon back home. Frodo reminds the others that he is to be addressed by the name "Underhill", to keep his identity secret.

The chapter ends with the Hobbits finally spotting the village ahead, and make their way towards it through the darkness.

Composition[edit | edit source]

The chapter contains the phrase "glistered and sparkled on the grass". The typists miread J.R.R. Tolkien's "r" as "n" and typed glistened, which has been twice corrected back to glistered by Tolkien and printed correctly in the first edition of 1954; however it was reverted back to its mistaken form in the unauthorised resetting of the Fellowship, and failed to be noticed in subsequent editions. The process has been detected by Steve Frisby, and it was finally corrected in the 50th Anniversary Edition.[1]