Just wanted to keep you all informed…it’s that time of year again!  …FINALS!!  Boo hiss. 😉  So I won’t be writing anything new for the next two to three weeks. 


Of Barrow Wights and Old Man Willow

No other event or character is noticeably absent from The Fellowship of the Ring film than the Barrow Wight and Old Man Willow, with the obvious exception of Tom Bombadil.  Why were they left out?  Or, more importantly, why are they in Middle Earth to begin with?

To start, why were they dropped?  Recall, Tom Bombadil, Old Man Willow and the wight are all transplanted into Middle Earth from a poem Tolkein wrote years before LotR.  In many ways this insertion is glaringly evident.  The entire scenario slows down the plot.  It’s absurd and out of place.  So why did Tolkien include it?

The inclusion of these scenes demonstrates Tolkien’s genius.  Yes, they are odd.  Yes, they don’t quite fit.  But I believe they are  intentionally so.  Their seeming awkwardness makes them stand out.  It gets the reader’s attention; makes him or her want to puzzle out their existence. 

So, what is their reason for being? 

It’s quite simple if we return to Tolkien’s arguments about Tom Bombadil:

“‘The power of the Ring over all concerned, even the Wizards or Emissaries, is not delusion-but it is not the whole picture, even of the then state and content of the Universe.’” (Tolkien, Letter 153, p 192)

It is with Tom, Old Man Willow and the Barrow Wight that Tolkien attempts to show us the whole picture.  All evil is not invested in the Ring.  It is not even beholden to Sauron.  Evil exists.  Certainly Sauron is the greatest evil of the time, but he is not the only evil.  Just because he is the “supreme” evil of the time does not infer that all evil is connected back to him.

There is more to the picture.

Recall Tolkien’s attempts to write the sequel “The New Shadow.”  Here we see again the whole picture.  The destruction of the Ring may destroy Sauron, may kill a branch of evil, but not the tree.  The tree, to use Tolkien’s metaphor, never dies. 

The Old Forest, and the Barrow Downs require the reader to really explore the nature of evil and goodness.  It is not cut and dry.  It has no easy answer.  And so, “‘Not even at the Feast of Felling should the axe be hung up on the wall!’” (Peoples of Middle Earth, Tolkien 411)

Try Me: Creation

Ok Brit, here we go!  I’m going to focus on one particular piece of your question, the Creation of Middle Earth versus the Creation of our own; specifically focusing on some of the mechanisms behind them.

In the Beginning, there was only the One.  Iluvatar created the Ainur in the void, and gave to each of them gifts and talents.  And he lead them in the creation of a great Theme.  This Theme is the creation of Middle Earth in its entirety.  It is very important that Arda is created through music.  For many, and possibly Tolkien as well, music is considered the highest form of prayer.

Yet, more importantly, it is in the Music of the Ainur that the reader first sees the root of the fall.  It is the same sin of our own Creation.  It is the sin that leads to all others: Pride

Throughout Tolkien’s universe, he gives unceasing witness to the dangers of pride.  Pride lies at the root of all sin and evil.  Think of Adam and Eve.  God gave them no rules, save one: not to eat of the fruit of the Forbidden Tree.  In eating that fruit, they denied the authority of God, denied His trust and guidance.  In eating of the tree, they asserted that they knew better than God.  And so Man fell.

But to backtrack a bit…

The great Theme was underway, when Melkor thought of ways to better it and turn it to his own desires.  Again, corruption and evil is born of pride.  With each theme, Melkor’s grows in arrogance and bombastic pride, yet the theme of Eru is always the stronger, gently asserting itself in a crowd of turned backs.

The scene is especially touching.  No matter the discord and interruption, the great Theme goes on.  God is always there, asserting His will, often unheard under the bombast, but persistantly, unfailingly there for all who would but listen.

The fall of the Elves is the same, through pride.  Beginning with Feanor and the Noldor, pride takes root.  He denies credit and ownership of the Silmarils to all others.  Out of this pride in his own craft and material possession grows greed, hate and arrogance.  Instead of working with and obeying the Valar, and by extention Iluvatar, the Noldor decide they are more capable on their own.

The same is true of the grey elves, who refused to even pass over the sea to Valinor.  They refused the wisdom of the Valar, in favor of the land they loved.  God calls us to be humble servants of His will.  We need Him in our lives, any claim otherwise is just Pride

The pain and sorrows of Middle Earth begin and end in pride. 

Think of Saruman.  He believed he could study the power of the Enemy.  He believed he could enter into the affairs of Middle Earth, and order his life as he wished, forsaking his duty as an Istari.  Where did that lead him?

Think of Denethor.  He denied all sense.  In his despair, he denied hope, and took his own life.  In his pride, he believed if he alone could not defeat the Enemy, no one could.

Think of Earnur.  He denied all knowledge of the Witchking, heeding the insult to his prowess.  He thought himself greater than all others who had already died at the Nazgul’s hand. 

Think of Gollum.  He prided himself in his cleverness, in taking the Ring from Deagol, in finding Frodo and Sam and in his attempts to retake the Ring.  He gives up all else for the Ring, idolizing it.  Where does that lead him?

The list goes on.  But the key factor is that Pride is always at the heart of evil and wrong-doing.  This is true both in Middle Earth and in our own. 

Try Me: The melding of two Worlds

Turin Hurinson asked “What do you make of how the Lord of the Rings is a combination of originally separate worlds of the Hobbit and the Silmarillion? I love Tolkien’s works.  Is it conceivable that he would have been better off keeping them separate, and if not, why was it good that he combined them? It’s true we wouldn’t have LotR if he hadn’t, but I’m sure we would have had something equally impressive set only in the Hobbit world or (more likely) in Beleriand.”

First to start with fact.  I don’t have my copy of The Hobbit with me, so I’ll have to wing it a bit 😉

While in the trenches in France and while recovering in the field hospital during WWI, Tolkien began to write what would become the Quenta Silmarillion.  It was always the work of his heart.  He struggled with it, writing and rewriting it unceasingly throughout his life.  To see its hold on him, one has only to look at his epitaph.  His life, his tales, are one.  The question becomes, then, how could he possibly keep The Hobbit, and subsequently The Lord of the Rings, out of the world of the Silmarillion?

But there is also a flaw in the original question.  The Hobbit is most definitely not in its own isolated world.  It hangs in the balance between the new and the world of Tolkien’s heart.  Granted Hobbits and the Shire are not of Middle Earth, they are more akin to England, but somehow they found their way into the ongoing tale of the Silmarillion.  The Hobbit, in many ways, can be seen as Tolkien’s attempt to reconcile modern English society with Middle Earth.  What would happen if a bourgeois Englishman were suddenly dropped into Middle Earth?  This is the essential question of The Hobbit, and hobbits themselves.  Using the anacronism of hobbit-culture and medieval Middle Earth creates humor as well as a point of familiarity for the reader.  It also sets up an interesting new hero-type; one who is just like us. 

This may be the starting point of The Hobbit, but it still does not touch upon the world it came to inhabit.  Were they ever truly separate?  Possibly.  At least in the beginning.  Yet already Tolkien’s great tale had its hold on him.  It would come to take a larger and deeper role in his writings as he wrote.  With The Hobbit, we begin to see the first shadows of a distant mythical past of Gondolin, High Elves and “Goblin” wars.  To use Tom Shippey’s terminology, it is the first instance of “interlacement.”  The story of Bilbo begins to weave itself into a wider and grimmer one.  This becomes fully developed in The Lord of the Rings. 

Is it a good thing that hobbits found their way into Middle Earth?  As a literary element, yes, but who’s really interested in that?…except maybe the critics and literary intelligencia.  What do the hobbits do for Middle Earth? 

It is important to recall that the Silmarillion, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were meant to create a new mythology for England.  They are a type of pre-history.  Hobbits are a bridge in that history; between elves and men.  Hobbits are still “mythical.”  They have comparatively long lives.  They can hide unseen and move silently.  They are very practical, full of hobbit-sense.  They act as the transition from the world of Elves to the world of Men.  Yet, even that is a literary device…so what really do the hobbits bring to Middle Earth?

I would have to say, most importantly, the hobbits bring innocence back to Middle Earth.  After the War of the Jewels, the Domination of Sauron and the Fall of Numenor, what innocence is left in the world?  What happiness, untainted by loss, yearning and regret?  Hobbits are the bastion of innocence.  One could even say they are far too innocent. 

In the end, I believe it would have been impossible for Tolkien to avoid the melding of these two worlds.  And looking at the results, I don’t think it could have worked any other way.  Elves and Men needed the innocence of Hobbits, just as the Hobbits needed the sorrow and strength of Men and Elves to ground them.