The Old Forest

From Tolkien Gateway
Roger Garland - Tom Bombadil.jpg
The Old Forest
Chapter of The Fellowship of the Ring
EventOld Man Willow attacks the Hobbits; Tom Bombadil saves them with his song.
Date26 September 3018
LocationThe Old Forest
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The Old Forest is the sixth chapter of the first book in The Fellowship of the Ring.

In this chapter, the Hobbits venture into the Old Forest in an attempt to evade the Black Riders. They are nearly killed by the angry Old Man Willow, but are saved at the last moment by Tom Bombadil, who invites them to his home at the edge of the forest.

Summary[edit | edit source]

Frodo is awakened from his strange dream by Merry, shortly before dawn. Frodo, Merry, Sam and Pippin, together with Fatty Bolger, prepare the ponies and set off east towards the edge of the Old Forest. They reach the impassable Buckland Hedge, where Merry reveals a hidden tunnel through the foliage that the Brandybucks sometimes use to enter the woods. They bid Fatty farewell.

At the end of the tunnel the party passes through an iron gate, and Merry announces that they have now finally left The Shire. He warns the others that the trees in the Forest do not like strangers and will try to scare them away, especially during the night. He reports having once heard the trees whispering to each other, passing along news and plotting together. He then tells the story of how the trees once attempted to attack the Hedge, but the Hobbits chopped many of them down and made a great bonfire at Bonfire Glade; after which the trees ceased their attacks but became quite unfriendly.

Merry attempts to locate what is supposed to be a wide path leading to the Bonfire Glade, but with no luck. The forest grows eerily quiet as the party advances into it, and the Hobbits soon sense that they are being watched. Pippin's stress gets to him, and finally he shouts:

"Oi! Oi! I am not going to do anything. Just let me pass through, will you!"
Peregrin Took

Merry chastises Pippin for his outburst. Despite never finding the path he was looking for, he finally locates Bonfire Glade. The glade is overgrown, but still clear of trees. The party is encouraged to find a straight path leading out the other side. They speculate that the woods might have just given up and are trying to hasten their departure; However as they continue up this path, the atmosphere becomes even heavier upon them. Frodo attempts to alleviate the tension by singing O! Wanderers in the Shadowed Land, but quickly realizes that the verse might not be seen favorably by the trees.

"For east or west all woods must fail . . ."
O! Wanderers in the Shadowed Land

The path runs straight for several miles, finally leading the party up to a hilltop that peaks above the treeline. Looking over the treetops, Merry spots the contours of the Withywindle winding its way through the forest to the south. He warns the others that they must avoid the river, as it is the source of the forest's queerness. Unfortunately, no other landmarks can be seen, and particularly not the Hobbits destination: the East Road, somewhere to the north. After a short meal on the hill the mists fade away, revealing the end of the wood and the Barrow Downs beyond it to the east. This cheers the Hobbits, though they'd rather not go that way due to the area's sinister reputation.

The party attempts to make its way north towards the East Road, but they quickly discover that the trees have grown in a way that's forcing them ever southwards - towards the Withywindle at the heart of the forest. Despite their best efforts to change directions, the party ends up following the path until they finally reach the willow-lined river in the afternoon.

Merry scouts ahead, discovering another path on the other side of the river, leading further eastwards. Pippin begins to grow suspicious, accusing the Forest of trying to lead them into a dead end and stranding them there. Nevertheless, the Hobbits carry on eastwards along the river.

Soon enough, the Hobbits begin to feel very drowsy. Despite Frodo's encouragement to continue, Merry insists on resting in the shade of a great willow tree. He and Pippin lie down between the willow's large roots, which seem almost designed to be comfortable for them. Frodo looks up at the willow: old and gnarled but unnaturally soothing. He decides to sit on one of the tree's great waterside roots and paddle his feet in the Withywindle to fight off the drowsiness. As he does, he hears the tree singing softly about water and sleep. Frodo then falls asleep, too.

Sam detects an unnatural quality to this drowsiness, and resolves to fight it off. As he wrangles two of the ponies who had strayed away, he hears a loud splash followed by the sound of a wooden door locking shut. Rushing over, he finds Frodo lying face-down in the water underneath one of the willow's heavy roots. Sam struggles to pull him out.

"Do you know, Sam, the beastly tree threw me in! I felt it. The big root just twisted round and tipped me in!"
Frodo Baggins

Sam initially dismisses this as a dream, but to their horror Sam and Frodo discover that the tree's roots had swallowed Pippin, and half of Merry. Sam and Frodo kick and pull at the roots, but to no avail. Sam suggests using fire to hurt the tree, but Frodo is afraid to burn Merry and Pippin. When they hear the sound of a sinister, far-off laughter, they decide to try it anyway. They start a small fire at the base of the tree, but then hear Merry screaming from inside the roots:

"Put it out! Put it out! He'll squeeze me in two, if you don't. He says so!"
Meriadoc Brandybuck

As Sam puts out the fire, Frodo obeys a sudden urge to run up the path and scream for help. He hears a voice coming up the path, singing:

"Hey dol! merry dol! ring a dong dillo!
Ring a dong! hop along! fal lal the willow!
Tom Bom, jolly Tom, Tom Bombadillo!
Tom Bombadil's Song, first verse

Frodo and Sam stand entranced as the song continues, rapidly approaching them. Finally, a strange figure appears on the path: a short, bearded man, dressed in colorful clothes and a feathered cap, carrying several white water-lilies on top of a large leaf. Frodo begs for the man's help. The man introduces himself as Tom Bombadil, speaking in measured verses, almost rhyming as he talks. He calls the willow tree "Old Man Willow", and assures the Hobbits that he knows how to deal with it.

Tom sets his water lilies down carefully, and proceeds to sing quietly into the folds of the tree. He then breaks off a branch and strikes the tree with it, commanding the tree to "eat, dig, drink and sleep". He pulls Merry out of the roots, and then a loud cracking sound is heard, followed by Pipping being spat out of Old Man Willow's trunk. The tree's folds close, and the forest seems to fall silent again.

The Hobbits thank Tom, who immediately invites them to his home. They follow almost unthinkingly. Tom soon disappears ahead of them, continuing his song so that they can follow. The song eventually stops, but the Hobbits continue down the path. Evening soon falls, and the Forest begins to appear ever more sinister.

Just as they are about to fall exhausted, the Hobbits suddenly reach the eastern edge of the Old Forest. Beyond it lies a wide open, well-tended grassy meadow, with a stone path leading up to a small house on the side of a hill. The door of the house opens, and light streams out. They hear the final verse of Tom Bombadil's song welcoming them in for merriment. As they approach, Tom's voice is replaced by a sweet, clear one:

"Now let the song begin! Let us sing together
Of Sun, stars, moon and mist, rain and cloudy weather,
Light on the budding leaf, dew on the feather,
Wind on the open hill, bells on the heather,
Reeds by the shady pool, lilies on the water:
Old Tom Bombadil and the River-daughter!
Goldberry's verse

The Hobbits reach the door, and are bathed in golden light.