The Hobbits enter the Old Forest thinking it a better route for eluding the danger of the Black Riders. What they find is that the trees are directing and deflecting them to the Withywindle valley: the center of evil in the forest, and home to Old Man Willow. Join us as we continue the adventure in chapter six of The Lord Of The Rings.
The Old Forest
The morning after arriving at Crickhollow the hobbits were up by 4:30 and leaving soon after six o’clock. Making their way through fields in the still, quiet morning they came to a shed housing six ponies that were to take them on the journey through the Old Forest. The Old Forest! What trouble lay ahead, Pippin wondered. Merry lost no time in painting a disturbing picture by way of campfire (or should we say, bonfire?) stories. If Meriadoc embellished for effect, the reality of the situation was perhaps even more disturbing.
A Hobbit’s Way Is Not In Himself
The plan was to head Northeast in as true a line as the trail would permit. Instead, the trees of the Old Forest forced the hobbits in almost the opposite direction, and to the very place they most wanted to avoid: the Withywindle valley. According to Merry:
‘We don’t want to go that way! The Withywindle valley is said to be the queerest part of the whole wood –the centre from which all the queerness comes, as it were.’
The Lord Of The Rings, The Old Forest, pg. 113
The place they most desperately tried to navigate away from is exactly where they ended up. Their desire was peace and safe travel; the reality was a meeting with Old Man Willow! This is reminiscent of the prophet who said, it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps (Jeremiah 10:23).
Calling On The Name Of Tom Bombadil
Pippin’s entire body was trapped inside Old Man Willow; Merry was half in and half out after both fell to a sleeping spell. Sam, out of sheer desperation and aggravation, was threatening to gnaw the terrible tree with his teeth, or to scorch it with fire. What else could be done?
But Frodo, without any clear idea of why he did so, or what he hoped for, ran along the path crying help! help! help!
Ibid., pg. 118
And, as if right on cue, Tom Bombadil – one of the most enigmatic characters in all of J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendarium – answers the call. This is an example of what the Professor coined a ‘eucatastrophe’: the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears (letter 89). One can’t help but to see David and Yahweh in this. Time and again David called out in moments of great need, and God answered. This is exemplified by an unknown author:
Psalm 116:1-9 NASB
I love the Lord, because He hears
My voice and my supplications.
Because He has inclined His ear to me,
Therefore I shall call upon Him as long as I live.
The cords of death encompassed me
And the terrors of Sheol came upon me;
I found distress and sorrow.
Then I called upon the name of the Lord:
“O Lord, I beseech You, save my life!”
Gracious is the Lord, and righteous;
Yes, our God is compassionate.
The Lord preserves the simple;
I was brought low, and He saved me.
Return to your rest, O my soul,
For the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.
For You have rescued my soul from death,
My eyes from tears,
My feet from stumbling.
I shall walk before the Lord
In the land of the living.
What stood out to you in the THE OLD FOREST? Let us know in the comments below.
On The Secret Fire Podcast we travel chapter-by-chapter and book-by-book through J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth viewing it through Christian lenses. We invite you to join us each week as we continue the adventure on the Arkenstone server in Lord Of The Rings Online. We meet at the Three Farthing Stone in the Shire.
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