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Rómenna Meeting Report - December 9, 1984
December 9, 1984
We began our discussion of the hobbits' journey through the Old Forest with the quip from Randolph that the trees in the Forest were "mean sons of beeches." That led into an inquiry on what kind of trees actually were in the Forest. Tolkien mentions pines and firs in the higher areas, and the oaks and alders and "nameless trees" of the deep forest. And the willows, of course. We also wondered what had been the model for the Old Forest, whether it was a place that Tolkien had been himself. It didn't sound to us like an English or French forest. The Black Forest in Germany was suggested, and Per said the description reminded him of forests in Scandinavia, especially the thickets of heavy undergrowth which he remembered struggling through with difficulty. The description was good enough for Tolkien to have been in such a forest, but we couldn't think of any evidence for Tolkien having been to Scandinavia before he wrote The Lord of the Rings.
This time the hobbits do take bearings as they travel (Merry being especially good at it), but unfortunately the forest is actively trying to get them lost. We noted that they seem to assume that only people make paths, never having heard of game trails. On the other hand, we didn't see any mentions of animals in the descriptions of the Forest. Perhaps the trees don't like animals much. It was mentioned that in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, animals appear as characters in the poems, for instance the badgers, the otter, and the kingfisher and swan.
We wondered what Old Man willow intended to do with Merry and Pippin once he'd captured them. We couldn't think of any specific purpose it might have had in mind, and decided it would probably just have kept them in there.
We now passed on to the fertile subject of Tom Bombadil. He states that he is "Eldest," which led to the suggestion that he was possibly the "first Maia in" when the Valar and Maiar entered Arda. His saying that he had seen "the dark under the stars when it was fearless, before the Dark Lord came from Outside" would seem to suggest that he predated Morgoth, although it's not clear which Dark Lord he's referring to. We decided that he wasn't easily classifiable, but that he certainly belongs.
In the Letters, Tolkien describes Bombadil as being something like an embodiment of "pure science," which observes without getting involved or taking responsibility. This is why the Ring has no effect on him; since he has no desire for power, it can't get any hold on him. He was described as a sort of "Maia Henry David Thoreau." Mention was made of Celtic deities; male deities tended to be associated with a tribal group, and female ones with a piece of land. We tried to apply this to Tom and Goldberry, but realized that Tom, being closely associated with a particular piece of land, was more like the female Celtic deities than the male ones! It was also pointed out that Goldberry was associated with water (perhaps Tom is Earth and Goldberry is Water). Tom was also compared to Pan. All in all he is a creature of contradictions. We wondered if Tolkien had more or less put him in at an early stage of the composition and had forgotten either to take him out or to explain him, but we decided that Tolkien was such a perfectionist that such carelessness was unlikely. Later on we found the passage in the Letters that describes Bombadil as an intentional enigma. We concluded by imagining the meeting of Gandalf and Tom which Gandalf mentions near the end of the book; that must have been interesting.
All of the hobbits (except Sam) have dreams in Bombadil's house, but Frodo's are the most interesting; on the first night he dreams of Gandalf and sees his rescue from Saruman's tower, and on the second night he has a dream or vision of Valinor.
We went on to discuss the barrow-wights. We clarified that they are dark spirits from elsewhere, not the spirits or ghosts of the people buried in the barrows, who were the lords and ladies of the kingdom that had formerly been there. We got sidetracked trying to decide whether they had been nobles of Cardolan or Arthedain, and then trying to decide whether the Shire was considered part of/had been chartered from Cardolan or Arthedain. We were at least able to come to a decision on the second matter, since the king who chartered the Shire was Argeleb II, and the kings of Arthedain were the ones who used the Ar- prefix (after Cardolan and Rhudaur had fallen to the Witch-King of Angmar). We decided that the brooch that Tom took from the barrow had probably belonged to a Dúnadan lady that Tom had known.
We were astonished at the naiveté of the hobbits, shown by the fact that they had never considered that they might have to fight on their travels; the first they do consider it is when Tom gives them each a small sword from the barrow. They had, after all, heard about Bilbo's adventures, in which he had had to fight. Probably that all seemed very long ago and far away, something that didn't really apply to them. We decided that Gandalf should have given Frodo a Boy Scout manual.
Tom guides the hobbits as far as Bree and then leaves them. We went far enough to note that "bree" is a Celtic word for "hill" and note the presence of other Celtic words in the Bree-land, and we also noticed that Sam is so parochial that he doesn't know what kind of folk live in Bree. The rest of the hobbits' sojourn there, however, will have to wait for our next discussion.