Tolkien Tuesday #12

5 April 2022

Playing a bit of catch up here, so for this week’s Tolkien Tuesday I’m covering the whole of Chapter 6, The Old Forest, and I must say, I think this might be my favourite chapter yet.

The Reading, and Ensuing Thoughts

I’ve reverted back to the above edition of The Fellowship of the Ring, illustrated by Alan Lee.

In this chapter, Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin have finally left the Shire and immediately they are confronted by the reality of the tales of the Old Forest. Footpaths that move, trees which exude animosity to those who walk under them, and shepherd the wary and unwary alike towards the deepest, darkest, most dangerous parts of the forest… And here they do find danger as they fall under the spell of the forest, before rescue arrives in the shape of one of the strangest, perplexing, and probably most divisive characters in The Lord of the Rings. Tom Bombadil. More on him next week…

The geography of this area was fascinating, especially the diverse mixture of tree species which made up the forest itself. There is oak, ash and “other strange and nameless trees of the denser woods”, as well as pines and fir, but perhaps the most standout species, given the hobbits path through the Old Forest and the name of the main geographical feature of the forest, the River Withywindle, is willow.

Middle Earth Musings and Meditations

As I read this chapter, one of the most stand out aspects of it was how well Tolkien captures our fear of getting lost in the woods. An apparently endless expanse of almost identical landscape, with little to no natural daylight filtering down through the dense forest canopy above, and woodland paths that move…this certainly taps into our primal fear of being lost, and subsequently our fear of never being found. And, the more we panic, the more we are open to the possibility that there is something beyond the edge of our vision that means us harm…

Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Pexels.com

Folklore, myth, legend and fairy tales are full of stories – and warnings – about what dangers may be awaiting us in the woods. And it was here, contemplating this, that my thoughts went off on a bit of a tangent…starting with Little Red Riding Hood, and Hansel and Gretel, and ending with perhaps one of my most favourite characters from eastern European fairy tales, Baba Yaga.

When I eventually found my way back to the Old Forest, it was the sentience of the forest described by Tolkien which captured my attention. That, and the notion that trees can intentionally harm other living things. Which got me thinking, if this was really the case, how many ancient woodlands and expanses of forest would have been spared the axe to make way for stupid railway lines (yes, I’m looking at you HS2!) and the innumerable housing developments, business parks and ghastly warehouses which seem to be replacing every green space in this country…And they call this progress 😦

Elsewhere

The River Withywindle which flows through the Old Forest, is said to be inspired by the River Cherwell which is a tributary of the River Thames, joining it at Oxford. (ref: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/River_Cherwell)

I came across this fact a few years ago when I was writing my review of the British Library Crime Classis, Death on the Cherwell by Mavis Doriel Hay (which you can find over on my book review blog, should you be interested), and thought to squirrel away this nugget of information in case I might need it. And another fun fact, when we visit Stratford-upon-Avon, (photos from these trips I’ve shared on this blog before), our journey crosses the Cherwell.

But can I say I’ve crossed the Withywindle? I would like to think so…

The Lord of the Rings Question of the Week:

What were your thoughts about Old Man Willow in this chapter?

To me, Old Man Willow personifies Angry Nature, and what happens when we don’t respect, and deliberately abuse, the natural world. When we turn our environment against us. Yet interestingly, in this instance, this means nature and the forest are in effect enemies of the hobbits, which is surprising because we often think of Tolkien writing favourably about the natural world.

17 thoughts on “Tolkien Tuesday #12

  1. Great observation about the forests in myth and our subconscious mind!
    Old man Willow was scary when I first read it. Now I think the character of this forest is another foreshadowing, of Fangorn and the Ents this time. The mostly asleep trees don’t dislike the hobbits, they dislike every creature capable of cutting and burning, and they have reasons, we’ve been told.
    Are there beavers in Middle earth, I wonder?

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Yay! So glad I decided to read the whole chapter in anticipation of your return.
    Yes, I have to agree that Old Man Willow is angry at the disrespect shown by man (or hobbit). I like to think they would be more help if they were treated better.
    I really enjoyed this chapter, too.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I remember the characters voice in the movie most of all. It was deep, rich and airy. It was a voice I would expect a several hundred year old tree to have. But how true was your statement that it had a flavor of anger and resentment towards man and his axe. All he wanted was to be left alone.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I think of all the chapters, this is my favourite. Obviously, cos I spent my childhood in the woods. But these days woods are mostly friendly (yes, I have got lost once or twice, esp when following the fungi-trail) but in days past… dark eerie places, inhabited by a gaggle of folklore characters (upon which I based my own created Grimmen)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Tolkien Tuesday #13 | Sammi Cox

  6. Oh my goodness, I am SO far behind! Okay, catching up a bit..

    I love your insight about how this taps into that primal fear of getting lost in the woods. It especially rang true because I just watched the film version of “Into the Woods” in anticipation of watching a live theater performance next week — and obviously the dangers of the woods are a big theme there.

    I saw Old Man Willow as a terrifying force of nature, yes, but I didn’t see him as representing a cautionary tale about Nature lashing back if we mistreat it. I guess because the hobbits (at least, these particular hobbits) didn’t do anything to mistreat the woods, or Old Man Willow, or trees in general. It seems like this forest has been there for a long time, undisturbed by people, and thus wouldn’t have much to be angry at people about. I saw him more as a wild creature, like a dragon, or an ancient shark — only one who’s locked in one place, and woe betide anyone ignorant enough to come within his grasp. More like a fairy tale vibe: those who ignore the old stories don’t know how to avoid the dangers of the magical world.

    What did strike me was this hint that Tom Bombadill and Old Man Willow had known each other for a very long time, and had had this tiff before. I also was intrigued by how powerful Tom’s songs are, and that he is able to save the day gently but firmly, without resorting to violence or destruction, in contrast to how some of the hot-headed elves and humans have acted in the past, and act later in these books.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m keeping up with the reading but falling behind with the comments lol Some things never change 🙂

      I love your thoughts here, Joy, especially the fairy tale vibe of the Old Forest. I see that warning aspect, that need to be cautious in these isolated places because you don’t know what you will find there – or what will find you.

      Also a great point about Tom not needing to resort to violence, which is something I think I missed. He is powerful and gentle, yet no less powerful for being gentle.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, I love how he can be powerful and gentle. Even when others use magic, it can be violent. But Tom is a wonderful example of “Music soothes the savage beast.” ❤ Imagine if Gandalf had been able to *calm* the Balrog instead of attack him.

        Like

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