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Chapter 6: The Old Forest [Apr. 12th, 2008|09:07 pm]
LOTR Community Reading Group

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[dreamflower02]
Here's some of the discussion of "The Old Forest", cross-posted from the Yahoo!group:

Beginning with Inkling--

And so in a dark, dank tunnel, with the clang of a heavy iron gate,
the hobbits officially leave the Shire behind them. A wonderfully
ominous image!

With Chapter 6, I think Tolkien really starts to hit his stride in
breaking away from "The Hobbit"-like tone and style of the previous
chapters...things are noticeably darker and more disquieting now,
starting with Frodo's startled waking from his dream of the Sea. The
stifling, malevolent presence of the Old Forest is masterfully drawn
in some of the longest descriptive passages to date.

That's all I have time for now, but TBC...

Kathy/Inkling

And so in a dark, dank tunnel, with the clang of a heavy iron gate,
the hobbits officially leave the Shire behind them. A wonderfully
ominous image!


Ominous indeed! It becomes ominous even before they arrive at the gate, what with riding into a "mist which seemed to close forbiddingly behind them". And all of Fredegar's dire predictions!

With Chapter 6, I think Tolkien really starts to hit his stride in
breaking away from "The Hobbit"-like tone and style of the previous
chapters...things are noticeably darker and more disquieting now,
starting with Frodo's startled waking from his dream of the Sea. The
stifling, malevolent presence of the Old Forest is masterfully drawn
in some of the longest descriptive passages to date.


I find it amazing how many people find this chapter and the next to be "irrelevant" to the story. It's *very* relevant! All of the Old Forest chapter is foreshadowing for the later encounter in Fangorn. Tom Bombadil rescues them, true, but he also gives them information they'll need later on.

There are a number of little things that are fascinatingly hinted at: the bonfire that Brandybucks used to drive back the trees, the fact that Merry and Frodo had been *in* the Old Forest before--little events that just cry out for exposition--or gap-filling fic!

One thing that I noticed here for the first time (amazing how in all my readings over the years, every single time, there is something new to notice!) is that this is the only place in which song *fails*. Everywhere else that JRRT injects song into the story, it tends to either hearten the characters, or to uplift them with the tales of old times. But here--and *only* here--the song seems just another part of the oppressive atmosphere, seems in fact to just make things *worse*! This is the only place it happens. Even in Mordor, song helps.

But not in the Old Forest.

And I've always wondered about Old Man Willow. Could he have been an Ent that became "treeish", or a huorn, or simply a black-hearted tree that had somehow had its awareness awakened?

This is also the first occasion on which we see the hobbits "paired off" in their perils: Frodo and Sam by the riverbank; Merry and Pippin trapped together in the tree. Could this entrapment by OMW have any significance in their being the ones who later encounter Treebeard?

Also: who likes Tom Bombadil? I confess that in my first reading, he irritated me, and I found him to be simply weird, and his speech patterns grated on my nerves. However, he's grown on me over the course of years, and now he's one of my very favorite characters, and I love his rhythmic speech!

Barbara
(Dreamflower)

On top of that the mist only opens reluctantly in the first place, as if the weather wants to keep them in place, neither going forward nor back.

I find it amazing how many people find this chapter and the next to be "irrelevant" to the story. It's *very* relevant! All of the Old Forest chapter is foreshadowing for the later encounter in Fangorn. Tom Bombadil rescues them, true, but he also gives them information they'll need later on.

I'm one of those people who still have trouble with this and the next chapter. On my first reading this was nearly the end of it. If not for the fact that I used this book to escape from learning, I was ready to put it aside. For me the story lost its way. I wanted to hear more of the Black Riders and the Ring, but both drop out of the story in this chapter, no mentioning of the pursuit, no mentioning of the ring, no wondering about Gandalf nothing. It seems like they are in a different world and whatever came before or after has no meaning.

I couldn't appreciate the foreshadowing on my first reading. Although I agree that Fangorn forest with the ents and Huorns is easier to swallow following after this chapter than if they would just arrive out of the blue.

[snip]

One thing that I noticed here for the first time (amazing how in all my readings over the years, every single time, there is something new to notice!) is that this is the only place in which song *fails*. Everywhere else that JRRT injects song into the story, it tends to either hearten the characters, or to uplift them with the tales of old times. But here--and *only* here--the song seems just another part of the oppressive atmosphere, seems in fact to just make things *worse*! This is the only place it happens. Even in Mordor, song helps.

But not in the Old Forest.


I noticed the thing with the song too. A failing song is very unusual in Tolkien's writings.



And I've always wondered about Old Man Willow. Could he have been an Ent that became "treeish", or a huorn, or simply a black-hearted tree that had somehow had its awareness awakened?

From the way huorn's are described later, I would tend to think he is a huorn without his minder.



This is also the first occasion on which we see the hobbits "paired off" in their perils: Frodo and Sam by the riverbank; Merry and Pippin trapped together in the tree. Could this entrapment by OMW have any significance in their being the ones who later encounter Treebeard?

I don't think at this point in the story Tolkien thought that far ahead. My guess would be that he simply reused this idea.



Also: who likes Tom Bombadil? I confess that in my first reading, he irritated me, and I found him to be simply weird, and his speech patterns grated on my nerves. However, he's grown on me over the course of years, and now he's one of my very favorite characters, and I love his rhythmic speech!

Tom Bombadil is still not my favorite character. I can't make sense of his weird behavior. I for one am happy that he doesn't have a bigger role ;-)

Chris

I think Old Forest chapter and Bombadil, in particular, make book deeper. Bombadil and
Goldberry don't obviously fit in ME nomenclature: are they Mayar? Valar, perhaps?
Presumably we know from Elven history everything about origin and structure of this word.
But characters like Bombadil (and hobbits, actually) make clear that Elven history is not
universal, the world is larger and has its mysteries beyond the scope of wisest insiders.
Just as Thranduil's questionable hospitality and shapeshifting Beor in Hobbit, Old Forest
falls out of the scheme.

Marina


> I find it amazing how many people find this chapter and the next
to be "irrelevant" to the story. It's *very* relevant! All of the
Old Forest chapter is foreshadowing for the later encounter in
Fangorn. Tom Bombadil rescues them, true, but he also gives them
information they'll need later on.



I agree with you that it's relevant, and with Marina that it adds
richness and depth to the whole. But Chris is right, too, in that it
diverts from the main storyline, and is certainly not essential to
it in any way...which is why I completely understand PJ's decision
to leave it out of his film.

It has the feel of coming from somewhere else...which, of course, it
does; "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil" predates LOTR.


> There are a number of little things that are fascinatingly hinted
at: the bonfire that Brandybucks used to drive back the trees, the
fact that Merry and Frodo had been *in* the Old Forest before--
little events that just cry out for exposition--or gap-filling fic!



I've seen a fic or two in which Frodo, at least, goes into the Old
Forest. But a story about the attack of the trees on the
Hedge...wouldn't that be great?


> One thing that I noticed here for the first time (amazing how in
all my readings over the years, every single time, there is
something new to notice!) is that this is the only place in which
song *fails*. Everywhere else that JRRT injects song into the
story, it tends to either hearten the characters, or to uplift them
with the tales of old times. But here--and *only* here--the song
seems just another part of the oppressive atmosphere, seems in fact
to just make things *worse*! This is the only place it happens.
Even in Mordor, song helps.

> But not in the Old Forest.



Good point...I've never noticed that either. It just adds to the
overall "otherness" of the Forest...the normal "two-leg" rules just
don't apply in this world of trees.


> And I've always wondered about Old Man Willow. Could he have been
an Ent that became "treeish", or a huorn, or simply a black-hearted
tree that had somehow had its awareness awakened?



I think the Forest is full of Huorns, given how they all move
around. (In fact I wrote a fic implying this very premise.) But
because of his power, OMW does seem to stand out...maybe he *is* an
Ent gone bad.


> This is also the first occasion on which we see the
hobbits "paired off" in their perils: Frodo and Sam by the
riverbank; Merry and Pippin trapped together in the tree. Could
this entrapment by OMW have any significance in their being the ones
who later encounter Treebeard?


> Also: who likes Tom Bombadil? I confess that in my first reading,
he irritated me, and I found him to be simply weird, and his speech
patterns grated on my nerves. However, he's grown on me over the
course of years, and now he's one of my very favorite characters,
and I love his rhythmic speech!



Yes, the poetic meter of Tom's speech is wonderful, isn't it? A very
impressive writing feat.

I'm very fond of Tom. Even as a kid I think I liked him, because he
and Goldberry seemed like fairy-tale characters. This is probably
the most "faery" part of the whole book, which may be why many don't
like it...a lot of adults are not comfortable with fairy tales, even
if they like sword-and-sorcery fantasy novels.

It's true that the Tom chapters introduce a style that's different
from both "The Hobbit" style of the early chapters and the epic
style of later LOTR, and I guess some find it jarring and/or
childish. I'm sure it's one of many things that would make Tolkien
flunk Creative Writing 101. But it works for me.

Kathy/Inkling
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