Tolkien Tuesday #18

~ 17 May 2022 ~

Welcome to this week’s Tolkien Tuesday…Today we begin chapter 10, I muse on Middle-Earth inspired artwork, and make a little confession, before wrapping up with a creative-writing themed question of the week. Go and get a cuppa. I’ll wait… πŸ™‚

The Reading, and Ensuing Thoughts

This week we began Chapter 10: Strider.

The three hobbits return to their parlour and find Merry is not there. It is only then they noticed that Strider has followed them in. Introductions are made and Strider reminds them that Frodo promised to have a quiet talk with him, though he adds, what he has to share comes with a price. This raises their suspicions, but Strider tries to allay their fears by saying all he wants is to come along with them.

Naturally, Frodo isn’t keen on allowing a stranger to join them and this act of caution pleases Strider. He then proceeds to tell them what he knows: that he overheard them talking to Tom Bombadil and heard the name Baggins, and that he followed them into Bree and tried to get an audience with them at The Prancing Pony, but Barliman Butterbur would not grant it or give them a message.

Strider also reveals he knows what Frodo is carrying and that its secret means very much to his friends. He warns them of the danger they are in, that there are enemies even in Bree, and that tomorrow they must flee and he offers to guide them along hidden paths to their destination. Before more can be learned or revealed, they are interrupted by a knock at the door by the landlord.

Butterbur, a busy and forgetful man, has remembered (at last) he has a letter for Frodo from Gandalf from three months ago and forgot to send it on. He also warns them that people (including Strider) have been asking after the name “Baggins”.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

One of my favourite lines in this chapter, though there are many, is when Butterbur, who seems to understand there is something dark going on but doesn’t actually know what it is, points out that the hobbit’s behaviour isn’t as low key as it should be: “…your party might be on a holiday!”

Next week we conclude Chapter 10: Strider.

Middle Earth Musings and Meditations

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about The Lord of the Rings / Middle Earth illustrations and artwork that I’ve come across over the years, and how interestingly, the majority of it always seems to resonate with me in some way. It’s not often (and I can’t actually recall a time), when I’ve seen something and thought, “No, that doesn’t look right at all!”

Perhaps there is an element of most post LOTR film trilogy artwork that I’ve seen, made by fans especially, to be influenced by the aesthetic of the film and the artists involved with them. But seeing as though I liked the aesthetic of the film, and the set design, character costumes, and pretty much everything visual resonated with me and brought to life the story more or less as I imagined it, it’s easy to see why.

Have you ever come across LOTR artwork that you just didn’t like?

Elsewhere

Not much to report here this week. The only thing I read outside the first half of chapter 10 was the second half…yes, I was weak and had to read it all! πŸ˜‰

The Lord of the Rings Question of the Week:

From a creative writing viewpoint, what is the most important lesson you’ve learned from Tolkien?

World building. The more you know about the world your story is set in, the more realistic and believable the narrative will be. World building not only provides structure for a story but it adds dimension to it and reminds the reader how interconnected aspects of life are. Readers want to see what the character sees, to hear (snippets of) languages the people of that world use, to understand the laws of the land, to listen to its history, to understand the rules of magic and know what is – or isn’t – possible, because these things influence your plot and subplots.

This doesn’t mean that you have to know every little detail about the world. Of course, that wouldn’t be constructive for most authors, and (if I remember correctly) Tolkien deliberately left his Legendarium incomplete that others could later add to it. But having a working knowledge of a number of different aspects of that world will be beneficial to you and your story in the long run.

Tolkien Tuesday #17

~ 10 May 2022 ~

This week’s reading heralds in another favourite part of the story, both in the book and the film…So grab your copy, a cuppa and maybe a biscuit or two, and let’s start talking Tolkien…

The Reading, and Ensuing Thoughts

This week we conclude Chapter 9: At The Sign of The Prancing Pony.

Frodo, Sam and Pippin head to the common room of The Prancing Pony and are introduced to the company by the landlord. Frodo sits quietly alone, drinking, whilst Sam and Pippin share news with the Bree-lander hobbits about the Shire.

Frodo then feels the eyes of a stranger sitting in the shadows upon him, and enquires of Butterbur who the man is. It transpires that he’s a Ranger, known locally as Strider. Strider invites Frodo to join him, yet immediately he feels uncomfortable beneath his scrutiny.

Frodo then overhears Pippin talking about subjects too close to home and decides to distract the audience by reciting one of Bilbo’s songs, only to cause a scene himself and disappear when he accidently puts on the ring. Sam and Pippin suddenly find themselves alone as the local hobbits move away, and three suspicious-looking men leave.

Frodo returns to Strider’s table and takes off the ring. Strider asks if he might speak with him later, as does Butterbur, who remembers he has something to tell him.

Photo by James Wheeler on Pexels.com

This is an interesting chapter. We are told that new information is about to be revealed to the hobbits from two sources, suggesting that, like the location of Bree, they are soon to find themselves at a cross-roads with decisions having to be made. Also we are given a glimpse into the nature of the ring and how it responds, not only to the internal desires of the wearer, but also to those whose company it finds itself in.

Next week: we begin Chapter 10: Strider.

Middle Earth Musings and Meditations

One of the things I am really enjoying about this re-read is that I’ve had time to think about and dwell on each scene as it plays out. And, stemming from that, I’ve found myself often wondering about these scenes from a different character’s perspective. The second part of Chapter 9 is definitely one of those scenes.

I would love to have an account of it from Strider’s POV. What is he thinking as he’s sitting in those shadows of The Prancing Pony, smoking his pipe, and looking on? What does he make of Frodo, Sam and Pippin? What’s running through his head when Frodo inadvertently puts on the ring and vanishes before a room full of people? Is it a struggle for him to remain calm? What is he thinking as the room empties, knowing everyone who leaves is taking with them an account of strange hobbits and disappearing tricks – gossip to be shared with everyone they meet for potentially a good long while yet?

Elsewhere

I’ve been reading around a fair few areas this week, as my interest seems to be continually snagged by everything Middle Earth at the moment. Some of the subjects included: Rangers, Arnor, Gondolin and Dol Amroth. I’m also trying hard to resist beginning a re-read of “Unfinished Tales”…but I suspect I will cave on that soon enough πŸ™‚

The Lord of the Rings Question of the Week:

If you had to describe this chapter in five words, which ones would you pick? Why those five?

My five words are:

  1. Atmospheric
  2. Anticipation
  3. Motivations
  4. Distraction
  5. (pending) Revelations

The scene is certainly atmospheric. It’s lively and very busy, and as I read I could sense the level of anticipation in the room and the characters grow. There is an expectation of something impending, whether a disaster as Frodo fears Pippin might cause, or his own ill-judged attempt at distraction. There are also a great number of different motivations in the company, and a diverse number of reasons for why they are present at this particular time. The chapter ends with Frodo being asked to speak privately with both Strider and Butterbur, these pending revelations interestingly giving him cause for concern. After the start to the journey they’ve had, I appreciate his wariness, and feel his perhaps a little less naΓ―ve than he was at the start.

Tolkien Tuesday #16

~ 3 May 2022 ~

On this overcast and pretty miserable to-look-at grey morning, it was extraordinarily difficult to limit myself to only half a chapter’s reading…the pull of the storytelling, the cosiness of that parlour, and my anticipation of what’s to come, is like a warm blanket I don’t want to get out from under…So as soon as I’ve written this post, there’s a good chance I am going to finish the chapter…

Photo by Adrian Vocalan on Pexels.com

The Reading, and Ensuing Thoughts

This week we began Chapter 9: At The Sign of The Prancing Pony.

The hobbits arrive at the gated village of Bree, the main settlement in Bree-land. After an uncomfortable conversation with Old Harry the gatekeeper, who asked too many questions for their liking, they make their way to The Prancing Pony, as per the instructions of Tom Bombadil. Here they find a lively, welcoming inn, but it is unusually very busy.

Barliman Butterbur, the owner of the inn, finds them lodgings and gets them set up in a private parlour, where they can rest and enjoy a quiet, substantial meal, after which they must decide how to spend the rest of the evening. Merry, who decides not to join the inn’s other company in the main tap room, reminds them they are supposed to be fleeing in secret. Pippin, in turn, reminds Merry that should he go outside for a walk, it might not be safe.

The opening passages of the chapter are concerned with explaining Bree’s place in the world, quite literally in terms of its geography, but also with regards to its historical context. I enjoyed reading this introduction to the place, reminding me of what you might find in a travel guide to Middle Earth.

Next week: the conclusion of Chapter 9: At The Sign of The Prancing Pony.

Middle Earth Musings and Meditations

An Ode to Bree

I like Bree, and the chapters set here are some of my favourite in The Lord of The Rings.

I like the setting. As I mentioned in the last post, I really like the first look we are given of the village at the end of the previous chapter. I like that it is situated at an ancient crossroads of the East Road and the Greenway.

I like the history of the area, how the Big Folk claim descent from the First Men (the Kings of which were buried in the Barrow-Downs), and how the Little Folk claim Bree to be the oldest hobbit settlement in Middle Earth.

I like the cosmopolitan nature of the town. I like the fact that it is seen as somewhat unique because hobbits and men live side-by-side and get along well. A lesson here, methinks.

I like that Rangers frequent it, and find it interesting that locals like to hear news and stories from them, but keep themselves apart. Unsurprisingly, I would like to listen to them too. I suspect Rangers have an aura about them which both fascinates and reminds you to be wary, for there is clearly more to them than meets the eye.

Bree is one of those Middle Earth locations where I wish it was given its own story as I would love to spend more time there and meet more of the inhabitants.

Elsewhere

Not much to report here this week…

The Lord of the Rings Question of the Week:

So we have arrived safely at The Prancing Pony. After a good hearty meal in the private parlour, how would you choose to spend the rest of your evening, if you were travelling with Sam, Frodo, Merry and Pippin? Would you join the rest of the company in the inn? Would you remain in the parlour? Would you go out for a little walk? Or would you go straight up to bed?

I could see myself doing any of the four options on a normal trip, but if I was with the hobbits, and after the day they’ve had, my instinct would be to shy away from others. A quiet night’s rest would be sorely tempting. Yet, spending time in the company of strangers and listening to their stories would offer a welcome distraction to the worries and concerns that are no doubt plaguing them. So my intention would be this: to mix a little with the company, listening rather than talking (which is my default state of being anyway), then a little walk before bed and hopefully a good night’s sleep.

But we know that’s not going to happen…

Tolkien Tuesday #15

~ 26 April 2022 ~

The temperature has dropped a few degrees here in recent days, but the sky is clear and blue, and the sun shining wonderfully. (At least, it was until this afternoon…hello clouds). With a hot cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit – only one, I was being good πŸ˜‰ – all I needed was my copy of The Fellowship of the Ring and my notebook, to get this week’s Tolkien Tuesday off to a perfect start…

The Reading, and Ensuing Thoughts

This week we concluded reading Chapter 8, Fog on the Barrow-Downs, and I’m still reading from the same edition as last week.

Frodo, after having his courage stirred within him on seeing the plight of his friends, manages to break part of the spell of the barrow-wights, recalling the song that will bring Tom Bombadil to their aid. He comes and rescues them, undoing the spell of this particular barrow. He then makes the decision to accompany them to the edge of his domain, but cannot go any further because he will not pass the borders of his country.

Although there is only four miles to go between where Tom takes his leave and the village of Bree, the hobbits feel every one. Nervous to be back on the Road, memories of Black Riders return and with them a yearning to be back home in safer times.

Photo by S Migaj on Pexels.com

I love how this chapter ends: with a view of Bree in the dark, muted golden light shining out of windows of the village, Bree Hill in the background beneath the stars. It’s the sort of sight every weary traveller longs for after a hard day, carrying with it the promise of safety and rest.

Another favourite part of this chapter is when Merry awakens with memories of an attack by the men of Carn Dum, giving the reader the barest of hints of something that happened generations ago.

Although this is one of my favourite chapters from the books, there are a couple of things I’m not keen on. The first is the animated dead hand that moves about on its own, walking on its fingers. When I was younger, I thought it was fun and added to the drama and scariness of the scene, but now I’m not so sure. On this re-reading, I felt like it made the scene lighter somehow, less dark and scary – reminding me more of The Hobbit. The second was the strange scene where the hobbits run about in the sunshine naked. I understand this is to signify cleansing after their ordeal, and the restoration of innocence after crossing a boundary and entering an other world, but to my modern mindset it comes across a little bit weird and jarring.

Next week we begin Chapter 9, At The Sign of the Prancing Pony.

Middle Earth Musings and Meditations

A question which has struck me since finishing this re-reading of Fog on the Barrow-Downs is this: why do the more powerful people of Middle Earth trust Frodo, and thus the other three hobbits, to manage on their own? It is something which never occurred to me before as I would have been reading quicker, and thus would have been carried along with adventure of the story and the need to read what happens next. However, as I’m reading much slower this time it dawned on me that I never fully realised just how much help the hobbits needed with so little distance covered.

When the High Elves met them at the start of their journey, Gildor knew the danger they were in and it’s implied, though not explicitly said (if I remember correctly), that their presence protected the hobbits from the black rider(s) that night. But the following day, when the hobbits woke, the elves had already gone.

Then Tom has to rescue the hobbits from the enchantments of Old Man Willow, yet when it’s time for them to leave his cottage, a few words of warning to keep clear of the barrow-downs, and a song to sing should they get into any bother, and they are sent off on their way, only to be rescued again less than a day later.

Gandalf also believed that they should be fine for a while yet, though I accept that this is a misjudgement on his part, as we learn from Frodo’s dream at Tom’s. The hobbits are not armed until the end of this chapter. Only then does the idea that they might have to fight occur to them.

This isn’t criticism of the story, nor of the characters that appear when help is needed and then disappear again when things are fine again. I’m thinking in terms of the story and the characters of the hobbits themselves. And then it occurred to me, at this point in the story, the hobbits do not know how to survive in a world beyond the Shire, in a world where evil is very real. They are ill-prepared as well as ill-equipped to face it. But more than that, they are not ready to face it on their own.

Photo by Pok Rie on Pexels.com

As we’ve seen from this chapter, their courage must be awoken, and their mindset has to be altered. It’s almost a lesson in becoming mentally prepared to take on the challenge ahead of them. And, whilst they are undergoing this process, there is a safety net of more powerful folk around them, ready to help if they should stumble. After all, they need to gain the experience of this world if they are to survive in it.

Elsewhere

I’m finding that with this re-read, I am being inspired by the story beyond my usual writing and reading endeavours. A few weeks ago, while the hobbits were at the cottage in Crickhollow, I had finished a cowl I had knitted on a knitting loom. Wanting to share the pattern on my design blog, I knew I needed a name for it…and the one I picked? The only one which suggested itself: Crickhollow Cowl. What I really like about this kind of interconnection between my different hobbies is that whenever I make one of these cowls, I will always think of that cottage and that part of The Fellowship of the Ring, the cosiness and the bonds of friendship.

The Lord of the Rings Question of the Week:

We’re over a third of the way through The Fellowship of the Ring by this point, and I was wondering, what has been your favourite part of the story so far? Has a particular character stood out to you? Has a scene or image stayed with you long after reading it? Perhaps you have a favourite location? What are your favourite things from chapters 1-8?

Here’s my list of favourite things:

  • Favourite chapter: Fog on the Barrow-Downs
  • Favourite character: Of the hobbits – Sam | Minor character – Farmer Maggot | Major non-hobbit character – couldn’t really pick one as a favourite, though both Gandalf, Gildor, and Tom Bombadil and Goldberry are interesting
  • Favourite locations: Bag End, cottage at Crickhollow, Barrow-Downs
  • Favourite name or word: Withywindle, Gildor Inglorion
  • Favourite passage for tension and atmosphere: I have two: 1) when the Black Rider’s cry is answered by another one in Chapter 4: A Short Cut to Mushrooms; 2) when the hobbits are trying to negotiate their way through the fog and Frodo realises he’s lost his friends in the dark in Chapter 8, Fog on the Barrow-Downs
  • Favourite piece of poetry or song: the walking song from Chapter 3: Three is Company, especially the lines:

A sudden tree or standing stone

That none have seen but we alone

(from verse 1)

&

And take the hidden paths that run

Towards the Moon or to the Sun

(from verse 2)

Tolkien Tuesday #14

~ 19 April 2022 ~

As soon as I posted last week’s reading notes and thoughts, I started reading my favourite chapter, Fog on the Barrow-Downs, straight away…In fact, I read this week’s half a chapter twice…because…well, why not?

The Reading, and Ensuing Thoughts

I’m continuing on with this edition of The Fellowship of the Ring, illustrated by Alan Lee. This week we’re back to the normal reading schedule of half a chapter a week. And so we begin Fog on the Barrow-Downs…

The hobbits take their leave of Tom Bombadil and Goldberry, and make their way northwards, their warning to keep away from the Barrow-downs, still ringing in their ears. At first they make good progress, but the sinister magic of the place begins to work against them, and what starts out as a short lunch break turns into a nightmare. In the shadow of the Barrow-downs they rest, and unaccountably sleep away the rest of the day.

When they wake, night is falling around them. They do their best to find their way but soon Frodo finds himself alone, in the dark. He thinks he hears cries for help and so goes off in search of the others. Yet disoriented and unfamiliar with the area, things take a dark turn, when he is captured by a barrow-wight, and falls under its spell. When he is next conscious, it is to find Sam, Merry and Pippin decked out in shrouds and surrounded by burial goods, ready to be sacrificed.

As I read these six-and-a-bit pages, I was struck again with how Tolkien uses weather, time of day / night, environment, and myth, legend and history to build tension, create atmosphere, and especially in this chapter, introduce a very tangible sense of fear in the reader. These areas are after all, the things over which we have very little control.

Middle Earth Musings and Meditations

I’ve been fascinated by barrows since I was a child, and I attribute, at least in part, my love of landscape and history of people in the landscape, to them. There is just something very evocative, and something very present, about the ancient dead being buried, with or without treasure, in these man-made mounds, many of which are on a scale that alters the landscape, and our perception of it, itself.

One of my little pet projects I’ve been working on, on and off for years, is inspired by the bones of woman buried in a barrow. The story is told in a mixture of poetry and prose, and is far from complete, but here, should you wish to read it, is the opening verse:

1: The Barrow

She lies sleeping

On a bed of stone

Surrounded by riches

Decorating her bones

White-washed by

The passage of time

It’s been many long years

Since her dark secrets leached tears

Sammi Cox – from an as yet untitled Work in Progress…

Elsewhere

I returned to my two trusty volumes by David Day (“Characters from Tolkien”, and “Tolkien: The Illustrated Encyclopedia”) to read further about Barrow-wights and the Barrow-Downs. From the first, I was fascinated by the description of what Barrow-wights are: demons possessing the bones and armour of the first Kings of Men. From the second, I was intrigued by this quote, explaining some of the historical context of this location:

“Considered by many during the Third Age to be the most ancient burial ground of Men on Middle-earth, they were revered by the Dunedain of Arnor.”

(From Tolkien: The Illustrated Encyclopedia by David Day, page 64)

The Lord of the Rings Question of the Week:

What do you think is the theme to this chapter? Is there one aspect of the narrative that stood out to you as you read this week’s text?

To me, Fog on the Barrow-Downs, is about courage. I think it is in this chapter that we are given our first glimpse of why Frodo is trusted by Gandalf (and others) with this quest he is on. His courage, faced with the almost impossible task of trying to save himself and his friends from a very powerful, very dark, supernatural being, doesn’t fail him. As he is lying on the cold ground of the barrow, we are given clear indicators that the hobbits have crossed some kind of boundary between their world and the next, or have moved into an otherworld (similar to the world of fairy in folklore), but he doesn’t give into despair with that realisation, but rather his resolve is hardened. We see this with how Tolkien describes the change in Frodo in this scene: “…he no longer felt limp like a helpless prey.”

Tolkien Tuesday #13

13 April 2022

So here is yesterday’s Tolkien Tuesday post today…on a Wednesday…I know…Sigh… And tomorrow, I shall catch-up with previous week’s comments…Another sigh!

The Reading, and Ensuing Thoughts

I’m continuing on with this edition of The Fellowship of the Ring, illustrated by Alan Lee. This week I read the whole of Chapter 7: In The House of Tom Bombadil, because I still had one week to catch up on after my time away from blogging.

The four hobbits have been rescued from Old Man Willow by Tom Bombadil, who has directed them to his house, where they will be safe. When they arrive, they find a beautiful woman there, Goldberry, the River’s Daughter, and wife of Tom. And here they spend a few days in sanctuary, an enclave of peace and safety in the middle of the ancient, dangerous Old Forest.

Whilst there, they rest and recover from the trials of the journey so far. And although they are only a few days out from the Shire, their adventure has already been adventurous. A proper baptism of fire. Their first experience of the world outside of their home has not been an easy one. But Tom does his best to prepare them for what’s ahead.

One of the standouts (from last week’s chapter and this one) is the mental strength of Sam. He is least affected by Old Man Willow’s evil whispers, and also when the others dream, he sleeps soundly.

Next week, we begin Chapter 8: Fog on the Barrow-Downs…which just so happens to be one of my favourite chapters in the whole of The Lord of the Rings! Yippee!!

Middle Earth Musings and Meditations

Unsurprisingly, I think, my musings followed the same path as Chapter 7…

There is an element of fairy tale surrounding the part of the book set in the Old Forest. First the forest itself, as we discussed last time. Then there is the magical cottage at it’s heart: the home of Tom Bombadil and Goldberry, where the dangerous things outside (whether physical or magical in origin) cannot cross the threshold. Within, all are safe. And this is a potent image.

Photo by Malte Luk on Pexels.com

Combine this with the characters which inhabit this space: an elemental woman (the daughter of the river, who is evidently connected to the element of water) and a powerful, magical figure who alone can save the hobbits from harm (Could Tom possibly be an elemental himself? An earth elemental, perhaps, given his connection to the forest and landscape?)

Throw into the mix the spell-like magic which is present: the dreams, the plentiful food at meal times, Tom’s immunity to the ring, the inability to follow the passage of time. Then there is the aspect of storytelling, of sharing lore and myth and legend, and history. Knowledge, and power therein, of many things, including warnings of the dangers which lurk “out there”, beyond the safety of the cottage.

All these things come together to give us the enchantment of a fairy tale. And if the reader happens to be a writer, a lesson in writing one.

Elsewhere

This week has all been about Tom Bombadil, so I returned to The Tolkien Society website and re-read the FAQs pertaining to him.

You can find that here: https://www.tolkiensociety.org/author/faq/

The Lord of the Rings Question of the Week:

This week’s question is an easy one (probably…maybe…perhaps… πŸ™‚ ). Do you like Tom Bombadil? Why? Why not?

I have an interesting history with Tom Bombadil. When I first read The Lord of the Rings aged 9 or 10 (I was in year 5 at school), I didn’t mind him. I thought he was fun, with his singing and his dancing, and his blue jacket and yellow boots. However, as I got a little older, I found him a little jarring, with his “Hey dol! merry dol! ring a dong dillo!” etc. He seemed a little silly, a little childish. Something I had to endure to get to the Barrow-Downs! Naturally, I had missed the point.

It wasn’t until my late teens that I became aware of his importance as a character. Up to this point he had been a means of safety, a provider of sanctuary, to the hobbits. But he is the oldest living thing in Middle Earth!

“Eldest, that’s what I am. Mark my words, my friends: Tom was here before the river and trees; Tom remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn.”

And that is what makes him amazing. How I would love to sit before the hearth in his home and listen to the stories of what the world was like when it was young, before the Elves had crossed the sea, before Old Man Williow had become bitter…

Yet more than that, Tom Bombadil is a magical enigma. He’s clearly powerful, long-lived / immortal but who or what is he? What is his purpose in Middle Earth? When Frodo asks Goldberry, “Who is Tom Bombadil?”, she answers, “He is.” And that answer says it all, doesn’t it?

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.

Tolkien Tuesday #11

15 March 2022

I almost ran out of time to get this post written and posted on the “proper” day today, but here it is, our weekly chat on all things Tolkien…

The Reading, and Ensuing Thoughts

For this week’s reading we concluded Chapter 5, A Conspiracy Unmasked.

Last week the hobbits arrived at the cottage in Crickhollow. This week, the conspiracy we thought was about to be unmasked turned out not to be the only one in operation. Here, again, Frodo is shown he has more support in this venture than he believed, even though he is reluctant to accept it for fear of bringing his friends to any harm.

We learn a lot about the personality of the hobbits too. Frodo wants to protect those he cares about, and they want to protect him in return. Merry shows he is sensible, practical, intelligent and very astute. Pippin, although quieter on the whole, lightens the mood in the manner in which he calls out Frodo to reveal what is really going. Fatty Bolger is afraid of the Old Forest, more so it seems than the threat of an encounter with a Black Rider (is that because he is the only one who hasn’t seen one yet?) And Sam, who often appears as rustic and open-faced, has proven he is the master of cunning investigative work…

And my last point in this section: I’ve always been uncomfortable with the nickname of Fredegar Bolger being “Fatty”. It seems unnecessary and unkind, and at odds with what we’ve come to expect of the story so far, and of the characters and their friendship, so I always find it jarring.

Next week we begin Chapter 6, The Old Forest. Anyone else excited?

Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Pexels.com

Middle Earth Musings and Meditations

This week in my “musings” section I could have written (at length) about two aspects of the book covered. The first was “secrets” and the second, “dreams”. However, my thoughts were sprawling and would have made this post impossibly long, but I am attempting to bring these bits and pieces together to form a coherent whole (eventually) behind the scenes, as it were. So, some time in the future, I might have an essay or two to share. But for now, my attention has turned towards something else which struck me.

As I read these few pages of Chapter Five, I couldn’t help but think that in actuality, the Fellowship begins here at Crickhollow, with the revelation of this conspiracy. Only it is friendship rather than a common purpose which has brought them together. This quote from Merry, spoken when Frodo comments, “But it does not seem that I can trust anyone,” captures this perfectly:

“…But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone…We are your friends, Frodo.”

They understand the peril and yet they cannot allow him to walk into it without them. And it’s not necessarily that they believe they can truly help him though they will try, even if the danger is great. After all, they are small hobbits, not Big Folk, and there’s not a swordsman or archer amongst them; their duty isn’t to go and protect him. It’s their duty to go because they are friends.

This is also reinforced, I think, by the hobbits cry of, “Three cheers for Captain Frodo and company!”

Elsewhere

Not much to report under this heading this week as I’ve only read this week’s allocated reading and nothing else. So I thought I would share the next book cover in the film tie-in set (HarperCollins, 2012) I’m currently reading from:

The Lord of the Rings Question of the Week:

So, your choice this week is this: go with Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin into the spooky Old Forest where tales tell of strange things, or remain at the cottage in Crickhollow with Fredegar Bolger and attempt to deceive the locals (and anyone else who might turn up) that Frodo hasn’t left the Shire. Which do you pick and why?

Even though I could be very happy forever in the cottage at Crickhollow, I am so heading off into the Old Forest. I love spooky places, places full of mystery and I love woodlands and forests, especially ones that have folklore and myth and legend attached to them. And it’s clear from the way the Old Forest is spoken of that the locals who dwell on the edge of The Shire believe it to be somehow magical. Yes, dangerous and sinister too, but I’ll take my chances because you know, magical.

Tolkien Tuesday #10

8 March 2022

The sun is shining bright and strong here, and the sky is clear blue with barely a hint of cloud to mar its perfection. So grab a cup of something, and maybe a bite to nibble on (we are reading about hobbits after all, and soon it will be time for afternoon tea in my neck of the woods πŸ˜‰ ), and lets settle down for our weekly chat about Middle Earth…

The Reading, and Ensuing Thoughts

This week we started reading the fifth chapter, A Conspiracy Unmasked. It’s another short chapter, and the way the scenes are spread out meant I only read four and a half pages, so there will probably be little to discuss this week.

Also, I started reading from another edition, this time a film tie-in edition from HarperCollins from 2012. I needed a lighter-weight paperback to carry in my bag when out and about, and this one was perfect for the job. It comes from a four book box set, the three Lord of the Rings volumes plus The Hobbit.

Frodo, Sam and Pippin have met up with Merry, and they have managed to cross the Brandywine at Bucklebury in safety. However, one of the black riders has deduced they have reached the other side of the river. From there they have gone on to the cottage Frodo has bought at Crickhollow in Buckland, and they are quite exhausted after their journey from Bag End.

Part of this chapter felt like it was important in terms of showcasing the depth of Sam’s character, especially his awareness of what is going on around him. His crossing of the river is a notable milestone in his own journey as he is the only one of the hobbits who has not crossed the river before, and as I read this it made me think of the Rubicon. Might this crossing mark a point of no return?

“He had a strange feeling as the slow gurgling stream slipped by: his old life lay behind in the mists, dark adventure lay in front.”

Also, Sam is the only hobbit looking back towards the side of the river they have just left, “as if to take farewell of the Shire”, and “for a moment had a passing wish that Mr. Frodo could have gone on living quietly at Bag End”. Here you get the sense that Sam is wondering what they will have to see, hear, endure and survive before they will be able to return home. Needless to say, it’s hard to ignore the present day real world echoes in this passage as we consider what refugees, not only in and from Ukraine, but elsewhere and as a result of other conflicts, have had to endure.

Middle Earth Musings and Meditations

This week’s theme for musing on is “Location, Location, Location…”

I love the description of the cottage at Crickhollow in this part of Chapter 5. I love how it is on it’s own, tucked away, set in the middle of a circular lawn which is surrounded by trees. You will have already noticed this, I’m sure, I am not the most social of blog hostesses (no doubt in part to suffering from anxiety and agoraphobia), but I try my best. Yet in “real world” terms, I’m even less social. So the location of this cottage sounds wonderful to me. The isolation, the solitude, though not practical, does appeal.

I also love the description of the cottage itself. It’s a hobbit house rather than a hobbit hole, with round windows and door, and a turf roof. Inside all the rooms are accessed by a hallway that runs along the middle of the house from one end to the other. The impression given is homely and quaint and comfortable, warm and welcoming, just like Bag End.

Elsewhere

I’ve added another copy of The Silmarillion to my Tolkien bookshelf. This time it’s a HarperCollins edition from 2006, in hardcover, with the dust jacket illustration by Tolkien. I can’t believe I stumbled across this by chance in charity shop for only Β£1! It’s a gorgeous book, lovely to look at and hold, and read – yes, I’ve started to flick through it. How long before I actually start reading it, I wonder…It’s been a few years and more, since I last read The Silmarillion, and with all the talk about it at the moment, I’m finding myself drawn to it…

Side note: I love how the word “Silmarillion” sounds. It flows right off the tongue, in the same way as another word I love, “Mabinogion”.

The Lord of the Rings Question of the Week:

We’ve now been given two wonderful descriptions of the typical hobbit dwellings of the Shire: the hobbit hole or burrow, below ground, usually dug into the side of a hill, like Bag End, and the long, low, above ground structure, roofed with turf, like the cottage at Crickhollow, which are made to look like hobbit holes. Which one would you prefer to live in?

Interestingly, I always thought I wanted to live at Bag End, but I must have forgotten how wonderful the cottage at Crickhollow sounded, or else its charms had no effect on me in previous reads. Today, my answer would definitely be the latter, and the reasons for this are simple enough: hobbit houses have all the charming features of hobbit holes, but with the added benefit of being above ground, which I assume might mean that there would be fewer chance encounters with creepy, crawling things, at least compared to a dwelling completely surrounded by earth. If you were to end up with a hole in the wood panelling, who knows what might get in! So, a hobbit house please!

Tolkien Tuesday #9

1 March 2022

I thought very long and hard about posting today’s Tolkien Tuesday piece. The world has become such a dark place since the last post. My grandfather came from Ukraine, and my family has always been so proud of our Ukrainian heritage. My heart aches for Ukraine, for the people of Ukraine and for those Ukrainians who are separated from loved ones at this time. Praying for Peace.

So a shorter instalment from me this week. I am aware I am behind with previous weeks comments but that will be remedied over the next day or two. Take care all x

The Reading, and Ensuing Thoughts

This week we concluded reading the short fourth chapter, A Short Cut to Mushrooms.

In the few remaining pages of this chapter, we are given another glimpse of the Shire, one slightly different to what we have so far seen. Countryside changes to farmland, nature giving way to land which “became steadily more tame and well-ordered”, and hobbit homes instead of being holes under the ground are houses above ground. We are also given the impression that hobbits, at least in this area close to the border, are a bit clannish.

The threat posed by the Black Riders hasn’t lessened, but the fear the hobbits feel because of them has been slightly reduced as the weather has improved and they are crossing land known to both Frodo and Pippin, if not Sam. Things begin to change when they reach Bamfurlong and Farmer Maggot’s farm.

Next up, we begin the first half of Chapter 5: A Conspiracy Unmasked…

Middle Earth Musings and Meditations

This week’s Middle Earth Musing focuses very much on “The Importance of Farmer Maggot on Frodo Baggin’s Outlook”. If I had written an essay this week, this would certainly have been its title πŸ™‚

Photo by Alexandr Podvalny on Pexels.com

The way I see it, Farmer Maggot serves three functions:

  1. Frodo is forced to overcome a longstanding fear of Farmer Maggot’s dogs. This is important because what he will face further along his journey is potentially so much worse than farm hounds. If he can’t face up to this, what chance does he have against a bigger, stronger, more powerful threat? But he does overcome his fear, he triumphs and that in and off itself bolsters his courage.
  2. Farmer Maggot is the second chance meeting to offer Frodo help unlooked for (the first is from the High Elves), reminding him that although he may not know what dangers lie ahead and what enemies he might encounter, there will be friends and allies to be found too. He is not as alone as he might feel.
  3. Farmer Maggot, (a little like The Gaffer) stands up to a Black Rider and refuses to be intimated by him, even though he can sense the evil within him. What’s more, he shelters Frodo, Sam and Pippin, and then helps them get to Bucklebury Ferry, doing so whilst knowing this strange fellow is still around looking for Baggins. This is a clear depiction to both Frodo and the readers of the notion that Hobbits can be brave when pitted against a greater adversary.

The encounter with Farmer Maggot ensures Frodo (and the others) are not demoralised so early on in their journey.

Elsewhere

I have been exploring what’s to be found over on the Tolkien Estate website. I especially enjoyed looking at Tolkien’s painting and artwork for The Lord of the Rings, as well as the maps and examples of calligraphy. High recommended! I look forward to exploring the site further.

The Lord of the Rings Question of the Week:

What are your thoughts on Farmer Maggot? Have I overstated his importance in my Middle Earth Musing? Do you agree or disagree with any of the points I made? Or have I missed the most important aspect in his role / appearance in the story? If so, what is it?

It’s interesting how I was struck by the points I made above for this re-reading, as I never have before thought of Farmer Maggot in terms of his importance to the mindset of Frodo and perhaps the other hobbits too. In fact, I didn’t think of Farmer Maggot much at all, except to say I enjoyed the part of the chapter he was in, and comparing it to how he is portrayed in the film. I guess this is proof positive of the benefit of a slow, mindful re-read…