Book I, Chapter Five: A Conspiracy Unmasked
The hobbits continue along Ferry Lane and when they approach the ferry, Merry leads the way over the Brandywine River. The friendly Bucklander people, who were very fond of boats, inhabit this area of the marsh. As they are traveling, the hobbits realize that they are being followed by a dark shrouded figure. They hurry and narrowly escape. Soon they arrive at Frodo's new home in Crickhollow, which does look very much like his old home. Fatty Bolger greets them and the group is soon merry and jovial with plenty of food and drink abounding.
In discussing Frodo's future, the hobbits express their desire to help Frodo on his adventure but Frodo expresses misgivings. Eventually, his friends are forced to admit that they know much of the secrets involving Bilbo's disappearance, Gandalf's advice and the ring enabling its bearer to disappear. At first, Frodo is horrified that his friends would spy on him but in the end, he is comforted by the extent of their willingness to protect him and the sacrifices they are willing to make on his behalf in spite of their limited knowledge. Planning the journey, for Frodo cannot stay long, it is agreed that the group will avoid the main road so as to elude the Black Riders. But this forces them to sojourn in the Old Forest - a rather unpalatable option. Fatty Bolger remains at Crickhollow to keep up appearances; he will also brief Gandalf on what has transpired whenever Gandalf arrives.
This chapter foreshadows the future difficulties of the journey and of Fatty Bolger's role as a sentinel. The archetypal Old Forest, briefly mentioned here, will become more important in Chapter Six. The images of dark and light are also very archetypal in this work as it is in all of Tolkien's writing: dark vs. light = evil vs. good. The Black Rider can be juxtaposed with the lamps of the shire. The shire can also be read as an allusion to Britain and the English country life (the Bucklanders especially). Finally, two of the narrative's dominant themes are treated here. The first theme concerns the idea of "home;" especially as Tolkien's world is a fictional one, it is interesting to note how important home is for Frodo, who lives in a world that does not exist. Nonetheless, he suffers the same pangs of homesickness that afflict all heroes who are on a quest. The second theme, involving the truthfulness and trustworthiness of Frodo's friends is ultimately a question of character that recurs throughout the novel.
Book I, Chapter Six: The Old Forest
Frodo wakes up and finds Merry urging him to get ready to go. The others are already awake and time is of the essence. Soon after six o'clock they are ready to leave and Fatty Bolger accompanies them for a bit, before returning to Crickhollow. Merry leads the company along a Hedge until he reaches the entrance of the Old Forest. At this point, the hobbits enter, intending to take a very direct route that avoids traveling through the center of this rather formidable place. At one point, they find a place called Bonfire Glade and this location affords them a view of the forest, the large tracts of land that they still have to cross - and it is also a respite from the dense thick forest.
Bonfire Glade is also a piece of evidence attesting to the difficult and awkwardly strained relationship between the hobbits and nature. The trees attack the hobbits and the hobbits respond in kind. At one point in their journey, the group encounters some of this hostility first-hand. Trees shift to block the straight-forward route, edging the caravan deeper into the center of the Old Forest. Roots jut out from the ground in order to trip the ponies. Ultimately, an especially aggressive tree called Old Man Willow encircles two of the hobbits and they are trapped inside of the tree. Fortunately, a fellow by the name of Tom Bombadil is passing through the area and he is very well acquainted with the antics of Old Man Willow. He rescues the hobbits and brings them to safety in his own residence. Again, the company has been saved.
One of the recurring scenes of this novel is the near escape of the awkward and naïve group. One of the ironies of the story is that the heroes are not innately heroic; they only survive with the help of others. One development as the trilogy unfolds focuses on Frodo's maturation into a true and more independent hero. Until then, we find a host of side characters that are created with a specific utility in mind. Bombadil is the necessary character at the necessary time and after he plays his role in this scene, the story continues without him.
As for archetypes, the conflict between the hobbits and the Old Forest is very much like the basic struggles between humankind and nature. The Bonfire Glade is a symbol of the discord that is now rampant in Middle Earth. This chapter also shows how animated nature is in the world of Tolkien. This is not to say that the Old Forest is necessarily evil and/or on the side of Sauron - but they are not vegetative entities without their own agendas. Finally, the characterization of Tom Bombadil as a wise nature-man reinforces the idea of Middle Earth as a mysterious place in which wisdom and knowledge are both extremely valuable. Indeed, one of the major themes of the work concerns wisdom and knowledge: we see this in the ring, in the advice of Gandalf and now with Bombadil who we might consider as a stand-in for Gandalf until he arrives.
Book I, Chapter Seven: In the House of Tom Bombadil
When the hobbits enter Tom Bombadil's house, his wife, Goldberry, greets them. She has long blond hair and she is wearing a green gown; she is surrounded by water lilies and she looks like she is enthroned as a queen. She tells them to "laugh and be merry" and also to "fear nothing! For tonight you are under the roof of Tom Bombadil." Tom escorts the hobbits to a room where they are able to wash themselves and prepare for a meal. Because they are in the company of Tom Bombadil, the hobbits are very merry and their fears subside. They are surprised to discover that they are singing out loud at the table. That night, Frodo dreams about the Black Riders and when he wakes in the middle of the night, he questions his own courage. It is not long, though, before he falls asleep again. The hobbits spend the next day in Bombadil's house because of the impending rain.
During the day, the hobbits listen to Tom's many stories that really comprise a history of the region. Both Tom and the Old Forest are old survivors who have seen many things. Tom explains that he is "Eldest" and that he "was here before the river and the trees." Later in the evening, Tom plies the hobbits with questions, though he already knows much of their story. The hobbits show him the ring and when he puts it on his finger, he does not disappear. The hobbits are a little concerned, but Tom keeps them calm and they settle down for the night.
One interesting feature of Tolkien's characterization of the heroes is the fact of their dependence upon so many sources of aid. This group is not independent and they only survive because of their good fortune. Tom Bombadil is a character from Tolkien's earlier writing and he provides a greater context for the world in which the trilogy takes place. In this chapter, Tolkien's personification of the Old Forest is intense. Like Bombadil, the forest is "ancient, a survivor of vast forgotten woods;" more important, however, is the fact that "the countless years had filled them with pride and rooted wisdom, and with malice" - human (or at least, animal) characteristics. Again, "nature" in Tolkien's world is not simple vegetable life.
On a thematic level, this chapter focuses on the theme of hospitality, which is important not only because the travelers have left their homes but also because the travelers are surrounded by enemies. Tom Bombadil is also associated with various images of nature and growth, indicating to the reader that he is a character that the hobbits can trust. We can look at the meal that they share as a symbol of the bond between them. Throughout the story, we will see how true bonds of allegiance and, in Bombadil's case, patient kind-heartedness, produce very strong relationships between strangers.
Book I, Chapter Eight: Fog on the Barrow-Downs
The night is fairly quiet until Frodo hears a sweet singing sound while he is sleeping. After breakfast, the hobbits leave Bombadil's house and a little bit later, while they are on the road, they look back in the direction of the house and they see Goldberry waving at them. Goldberry encourages them and reminds them to hold to their purpose. The group continues, moving along the road as it slowly transforms into a valley, which is only followed by more valleys. After a few hours, they see that they are descending into the forest. They wake up, after a few hours of unintended sleep, feeling groggy and miserable.
As they travel, a cold, damp mist that seems to be entrapping them surrounds the hobbits. Darkness looms ahead and Frodo hopes that they have found the north-gate of the Barrow-downs, their exit from the forest. Instead, Frodo falls into the darkness and finds himself alone - even his pony is gone. Frodo calls out for Sam, Pippin and Merry but he cannot find them; then, he hears cries of "help, help!" An evil-sounding voice groans from the ground and the last thing Frodo remembers is an icy grip that seizes him. Frodo wakes up and discovers that he is trapped inside of a barrow. Frodo makes his way to the others and finds that they are under a magical spell, soon to be killed. When Frodo hears an evil song (incantation) in the air, he calls for Tom Bombadil, who soon appears on the scene. The hobbits are saved (again) and Tom banishes the barrow-wight from the region. The hobbits are reunited with their ponies and Bombadil travels with them until they make their way out of the forest. They continue on, heading for an old inn called The Prancing Pony, located in the town of Bree.
This is a work within the "fantasy" genre and in creating the hobbits' world, Tolkien relies upon his academic and literary interest in medireview literature. Goldberry's characterization is much in line with the traditional stories of knights and ladies (who encourage the warriors). Her hair and her dress are both described as flag/banner images another medireview tradition. The barrow-wight that stores up treasures is an allusion to Grendel's mother, the fearsome villain in the Anglo-Saxon epic, Beowulf. Another simile describes her as "small and slender like a sunlit flower" but only after she has completed her role. A recurring motif in this chapter, and several others, is the power of sleep and forgetfulness as a magical force. Again and again, the hobbits find themselves sleepy, groggy or unconscious. Down in the barrows, the sleep is a metaphor for death, just as the barrows are metaphorical graves. Consequently, Frodo hears voices from the earth, fears for his own life and feels an "icy touch" grip him.