To be honest, this is one of my least-favorite chapters of all the books. I find the Old Forest really creepy, for one thing. But also, even considering how much danger befalls Merry and Pippin, it's kind of a slow chapter. For me, anyway. It makes me sleepy!
And here we meet someone who is not in the movies at all: Tom Bombadil. I remember there was a great deal of fan outrage when The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) came out over the fact that he was entirely cut out. I can understand that, since he gets several chapters in the book and is a fascinating character. But I can also understand why Peter Jackson cut him out, because you can't put e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g in a movie that's in a book (unless it's a very short book, which this isn't), and the whole point of this chapter and the next two is that the hobbits have gotten sidetracked already, and they're barely out of the shire. Sidetracks are not great for a fast-moving movie.
Anyway, the hobbits get sidetracked. They start out with the best intentions, right? Let's avoid the road and go through the Old Forest so that we can avoid danger. But the Old Forest turns out to be dangerous too, much more dangerous than they ever dreamed.
Now, we know that Tolkien didn't mean this book to be an allegory of Christian life. But we certainly can see things in the book that remind us of Christian truths. Since Tolkien was a Christian whose faith infused every part of his life, naturally it would be reflected in his writings. And I think that the whole part in the Old Forest is a very good representation of how good intentions can go wrong.
It's so easy to think we're avoiding something bad, only to ensnare ourselves in something worse. That's one of the worst part of living in this fallen world, I think. Good intentions aren't enough. Especially if you don't know much about the decision you're making. None of the hobbits have been very far into the Old Forest. They don't know what they're getting into. They're naive, and that almost costs them their lives. The Bible tells us to be "wise as serpents and innocent as doves" -- to be aware of the dangers and sins around us, so aware that we know not to get involved in them.
Okay, so that's one thing that the Old Forest chapter has going on. The other is that it's a great image of the fact that we live in a fallen world. The forest was once part of a perfect creation. But now it's corrupted, twisted, evil. Just like our fallen world, it actively works against Frodo and his companions, deceiving them and harming them, finally trying to kill them.
But they get rescued. "Frodo, without any clear idea of why he did so, or what he hoped for, ran along the path crying help! help! help!" (p. 116). He behaves like a Christian crying out in prayer, not seeing any way that God could help, but asking for help all the same. And help comes to the hobbits in the form of Tom Bombadil. We'll talk a lot about him in the next chapter post
Sleepiness seemed to be creeping out of the ground and up their legs, and falling softly out of the air upon them (p. 114).
Other Discussion Questions:
1. Did you get sleepy during this chapter?
2. Can you think of any ways Peter Jackson could have included Tom Bombadil in his movie?