In the Christian tradition and particularly the Roman Catholic rite song has always played an important role in worship and prayer. Song was and is popularly believed to be the most potent form of prayer; the most moving and most likely to be heard by God. This does not discount other forms of prayer, but song has a very special place in the Catholic faith and mass. Reading about Tom Bombadil and Goldberry brings this great tradition to mind and reminds me in many ways of the monastic tradition, where almost all prayer was conducted by means of song. It makes for an interesting interpretation of Tom, doesn’t it?
But then there’s Old Man Willow, who Tom says is “a mighty singer.” Here the similarities, obviously, fail. Yet there still remains the truth that there is some mysterious power in song, and that power is infectious, as is seen in the hobbits.
Before going to bed, Goldberry gives the hobbits this warning:
“Heed no nightly noises! For nothing passes door and window here save moonlight and starlight and the wind off the hill-top.”
When the hobbits go to sleep that night, Frodo, Pippin and Merry dream. They dream vivid, terrifying dreams of such vividness that they are compelled to search for truth in them upon waking. All three dreams devolve into nightmarish fantasy, usually focusing on past horrors.
Yet there is one unique dream: that of Frodo. His dream, at least at first, is a true dream. We and he don’t know it yet, but he is seeing Gandalf’s escape from Isengard, which occured eight days prior to the night at Bombadil’s house. In all cases then, the hobbits see the past in some manner. Yet Frodo’s is the true past. Why?
There are two possiblities: either it is the effect of the Ring’s power or it is the effect of grace or eucatastrophe. Either works, but it is evident that another power is at work.
In preparing this post I had another thought I found to be quite intriguing. Only the hobbits who were affected by Old Man Willow dream. Sam did not. Sam fought off the effects of Old Man Willow’s singing and remained free of his power. Frodo, Pippin and Merry all fell asleep under his song and succumbed to his mechanations. And recall, Tom Bombadil admitted Old Man Willow is a mighty singer. It may be a slight stretch, but could the dreams have originated from Old Man Willow? It also seems suspect that Goldberry and Tom knew they would dream and have nightmares. Does this indicate some lasting hold of the Willow’s or just the haunted aura of the Old Forest and the Barrow Downs?