Tolkien Geek

Blogging J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" and other aimless pursuits.


FOTR: Bk 1, Ch 8

Fog On The Barrow-Downs
"They would soon now be going forward into lands wholly strange to them, and beyond all but the most vague and distant legends of the Shire, and in the gathering twilight they longed for home."
The chapter opens with a gorgeous passage that not only got included in Peter Jackson's Return of the King but inspired that film's main song, recorded by Annie Lennox. In Frodo's last night in the house of Tom Bombadil, he dreams again:
"Frodo heard a sweet singing running in his mind: a song that seemed to come like a pale light behind a grey rain-curtain, and growing stronger to turn the veil all to glass and silver, until at last it was rolled back, and a far green country opened before him under a swift sunrise."
This verbiage is used by Gandalf during the siege of Minas Tirith to reassure Pippin that death is not the end, but merely another path - one that we all must take. Gandalf's words paraphrase the passage above:
"The grey rain curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass...and then you see it. White shores. And beyond...a far green country under a swift sunrise."
If there was any imagery that could provide more positive reassurance of the experience of death, I've never heard it. The description is of the Undying Lands, which men actually do not get to see. Their fate is to become one with Eru, the one - a fate denied the Elves until the end of time. But whether you see this as a vision of heaven or an hallucination brought on by the trauma of passing out of this world, it is most encouraging. In any case, the dream or vision that Frodo experience reveals Frodo's fate to the reader. Though she does not know it yet.

In the morning, Frodo and the hobbits bid Tom and Goldberry farewell and head North along the Western slopes of the Barrow-Downs. And as they journey they find themselves strangely drawn further East, up along the Downs. Now, for those unfamiliar with Tolkien's grand vision of this world's history we need to remind them that this part of Middle-Earth was at one time part of the Northern Kingdom of the Numenorean realms in exile - namely Arnor. Whereas Gondor was the Southern Kingdom, Arnor was it's Northern counterpart which stretched from the Blue Mountains in the West to the Misty mountains in the East.

In a nutshell, Elendil (the father of Isildur) ruled both realms from his throne in Annuminas. Upon his death at the Battle of Dagorlad at the end of the Second Age, in which Sauron was slain. Isildur, his eldest son, assumed his rule while the descendents of his younger brother Anarion - also killed during the siege of Barad-dur - ruled Gondor from Osgiliath. (Editor's note: Isildur, being the older of the two brothers, remained the true heir of Elendil as ruler of the entire race of Numenoreans.) Isildur was killed at the Gladden Fields - on his victory tour back to Arnor - and the Northern Kingdom was ruled by his descendents. Unfortunately, upon the death of Earendur - the tenth King - Arnor was broken up into three separate states - Arthedain, Cardolan and Rhudaur. This was due to a power dispute between Earendur's three sons. The Witch-King of Angmar (aka the Lord of the Nazgul) made war upon the broken kingdoms for many years and all fell into ruin.

During these wars, the area through which the hobbits now traveled, became a grave-yard for these Numenorean warriors and kings. From The Complete Tolkien Companion by J.E.A. Tyler: "The hills were crowned with old stone circles, isolated dolmens and numerous 'barrows', or stone-chambered burial-mounds, where the early Men had buried their noble dead." Evil spirits from Angmar, under the ultimate control of Sauron's spirit, invaded these tombs and animated and possessed the dead bodies buried within. These spirits were known as "Barrow-Wights".

This is the evil that awaited the hobbits as they trekked across the haunted lands. While taking a rest, the hobbits fall asleep and awoke to find the lands around them covered in a fog. Disoriented, they made their way the best they could but soon realized that they were lost. They encountered two huge standing stones jutting out from the land like jagged teeth. Before long they lost track of each other and Frodo tried to make his way through this nightmare:
"He imagined suddenly that he caught a muffled cry, and he made towards it; and even as he went forward the mist was rolled up and thrust aside, and the starry sky was unveiled. A glance showed him that he was now facing southwards and was on a round hill-top, which he must have climbed from the north, out of the east the biting wind was blowing. To his right there loomed against the westward stars a dark black shape. A great barrow stood there.

"Where are you?" he cried again, both angry and afraid.

"Here!" said a voice, deep and cold, that seemed to come out of the ground. "I am waiting for you!"

At the feel of an icy touch, Frodo blacks out.

He wakes, lying inside one of the Barrows - a pale, greenish light glowing all around him. He sees lying near him Sam, Merry and Pippin, looking deathly pale and all clad in white. Across their necks lay a long sword. A hand, at the end of a long arm, comes groping along on its fingers and Frodo wonders what he will do.

But a courage awakens in him and he seizes a short sword near him and whacks the hand off of the phantom arm. A shriek and a snarling noise results and Frodo remembers the song that Tom taught him. He sings it and Tom's voice answers - also in song. Before long, stones are rolled away and light enters the Barrow. Tom appears at the opening to the Barrow and his words are like kryptonite to the Barrow-Wights. Once again, Tom Bombadil comes to the hobbits' rescue.

With the help of his words, Tom awakens the hobbits. After a time, Tom finds their wayward ponies and the hobbits are able to change back into clothes from their packs. Out of the Barrow, from which they were imprisoned, Tom finds four long, leaf-shaped daggers and gives one to each of them. The significance of this moment is important because of the role Merry's dagger will play in the destruction of the Lord of the Nazgul.

This blade, being wrought by the Numenorean men of Westernesse, has a special power that enables it to harm the Lord of the Nazgul. Certainly the Witch-King had no reason to think he would ever encounter such a blade again. Had the hobbits not gotten lost and captured by the Barrow-Wights (and had Tom not saved them) then the Chief Nazgul would not have been killed by Eowyn (with the help of Merry). The fate of many a character during the Battle of the Pelennor Fields would have been different - perhaps even the final result of the battle itself.

As Tom tells the hobbits of the men who once wielded these blades, he mentions that the sons of these forgotten kings still wander, "walking in loneliness, guarding from evil things the folk that are heedless". It is the Dunedain, the Rangers of the North, that he is describing. As they listen, the hobbits see a vision of Men. One of them has a star upon his brow. This vision foreshadows the introduction of a new and significant character that we will meet in the next chapter. It is also a scene that they will see in reality in Chapter VI of "The Return of the King" on their journey home.

Tom then escorts the hobbits to the boundaries of his lands, saying "Tom's country ends here: he will not pass its borders. Tom has his house to mind, and Goldberry is waiting". As he bids them goodbye, the travelers then head for the East Road and on to the village of Bree. We never encounter Tom Bombadil again.

[Chronology: September 28th 3018 T.A.]

Next: At The Sign Of The Prancing Pony

(revised 8/22/06)


At 3:31 PM, Blogger Dreamspinner said...

You make me want to reread the books. Again. :)

At 3:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And again and again and again. I'm always finding something new each time I re-read it.

It also gives me an apprecaition of how much of the books PJ was able to cram in to just three movies (approx 12 hours)

At 1:43 AM, Blogger Nancy Reyes said...

Ah, good. You are reposting.
I linked you to my lowly blog.

At 8:47 PM, Blogger Kate Woodbury said...

Thank you for the location (Book, Chapter) of the "green country" quote. I'm impressed by how many of Tolkien's poems/poetic language Jackson included in the movies!


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