Sunday, December 3, 2017

Another LOTR Read-Along: Fog on the Barrow-downs (FOTR 1, 8)

This is my least-favorite chapter in the whole trilogy. I find it really creepy. Doesn't make me fall asleep, at least! But all that stuff about the fog and the echoing voices, and then the crawling hand of the barrow wight -- yuck! Good for reading around Halloween, I suppose, but I'm glad the majority of the book is not like this.

But if you like it, that's okay ;-) Could be we'll hit chapters I love that you don't!

One good thing about this chapter is that it gives Frodo a chance to discover that he can be heroic. Which is important, I think -- that "seed of courage" Tolkien talks about on page 137 is awakened here, and he's going to need that so much in the pages ahead.

Favorite Lines:

The mist was flowing past him now in shreds and tatters (p. 136).

The night was railing against the morning of which it was bereaved, and the cold was cursing the warmth for which it hungered (p. 137).

"Few now remember them," Tom murmured, "yet still some go wandering, sons of forgotten kings walking in loneliness, guarding from evil things folk that are heedless" (p. 142).

Discussion Questions:

Why didn't Tom Bombadil escort the hobbits to the road in the first place? They clearly got into trouble out in the forest on their own before.


  1. This chapter is a little creepy. Especially the crawling arm part. :-Z I love the descriptions of the fog! :-D I think, maybe; Tom just wanted to give the Hobbits a chance to find the road themselves without him. I'm not exactly sure. :-Z I never realized that Tom basically referenced Aragorn in this chapter!!! That's awesome!!! XD

    1. MEM, yeah, it's just creepy, and I am not a fan of creepy.

      But I do like that Tom Bombadil is aware of Aragorn! Very nifty.

  2. I am skipping comments on the previous two chapters because those two together with this one seemed to be a bit like a side story (plus much like you, I found The Old Forest a bit boring. And this one as well).

    Now, these three chapters are definitely weird. Tom Bombadil, as fantastic as he is, is weird. And even tough this is not supposed to be any kind of historical or religious allegory, it is impossible not to read this and wonder what is really going on.

    Besides everything that you have mentioned in this post and the previous one on In the House of Tom Bombadil, what really caught my attention in here is that Frodo has choices when he feels that he and his friends are in danger. He can put on the ring and try to get away on his own or he can sing a song and hope that Tom Bombadil will aid the company once more. The way I see it, this is some sort of reinterpretation of the Bible's story of Adam and Eve. They could choose the apple and knowledge or they could choose God and let God be their guide. And Frodo did not choose the Ring/apple. So yes, it's all weird and creepy and I'm still wondering what these three chapters really mean.

    1. Irene, yeah, Tom Bombadil can be a bit of a puzzle. Maybe it's because we WANT him to represent or embody some idea or other? I've heard that he and Goldberry were inspired by Finnish folklore. I've read that he's goodness personified, sort of balancing out the evil of Sauron. I've read that he's sort of an embodiment of pacifism, wanting to be untouched by the strife around you. I've heard them described as a representation of Adam and Eve if they had not sinned. I think they all do make some sense. But I have never yet fully decided what I think of these three chapters!

      I do like your idea of Frodo's temptation to use the ring's power as a bit of a reworking of the Garden of Eden, though I think the whole story has to do with temptation, not just this section.

  3. So many theories and all of them so interesting. I think that you're totally spot on saying that we see what WE want to see. Even if I considered Tom and Goldberry to be inspired by Finnish folklore, I couldn't help but thinking that those folk characters would be just an embodiment for something else, and for me that something else would be a deity, if not God himself. (I hope that all makes sense). So yes, I think there can be as many theories as readers.

    And even though I haven't gotten that far yet, I also thought that all that Christian symbolism would totally make sense with the fellowship being made up of thirteen people and one of them betraying Frodo, only to then sacrifice himself for the common good ... anyway, I'm going to fast in here and relying on the films. I'll wait and see what happens in the books :)

    1. Irene, I think LOTR is more open to interpretation too because it is not an allegory. As Tolkien says, we have to be careful not to confuse applicability with allegory -- there are similarities between things in our world and things in his, but he didn't write this with specific symbols of real-world things in mind. So while, for instance, Saruman's powerful and persuasive voice can remind us of someone like Hitler, he did not write Saruman as a representation of Hitler.

      The Fellowship is only made up of 9 people, so I definitely don't think Tolkien intended any kind of Judas-like symbolism in the story of Boromir. Boromir's story is a beautiful example of the process from temptation to a fall into sin, repentance, confession, and forgiveness. Likewise, his besetting sin is pride in his own strength, not greed like Judas'.

    2. Ups, I totally mixed up the numbers in here (blush). You're so right, there were only nine people. I'm probably trying to see more than there is by now :)

    3. Hee! No big :-) There are a lot of numbers of things/people going on.

    4. You know, I've been pondering your words a lot and I think you're totally right about Tolkien writing no allegories whatsoever. I think I found this part of the book particularly troublesome because it stirred memories of my religion class back at high school. Tom Bombadil's words totally echoed those of the nun who was teaching us back then.

      By now, I totally agree with you. The way I see it, Tolkien made up his very own world and infused it life and its own creation myths. And we can always find similarities between Middle-Earth and our own world, just like there were always similarities to be found among different culture's beliefs. Like, it is striking that all over the world people tried to come up with supernatural explanations for meteorological phenomena or creation myths and they can be somewhat related in spite of the previous isolation or different regions and their peoples. But that's all. The way Tolkien created Middle-Earth, it is impossible that it could be an allegory because it is supposed to be something totally independent from us, if that makes sense.

    5. Irene, yes, I like what you say here -- that Tolkien's story is totally independent from the real history of the world. So sure, there will be similarities with things that happen in the real world, but they're not representational or allegorical or even entirely metaphorical.


What do you think?

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