Resurrection and the Barrow Downs

Firstly, I’d like to wish you all a blessed and joyous Easter!

As today is Easter, and we’ve passed through Good Friday and Holy Saturday, this put me in a particular frame of mind which I found perfectly suited for reading “Fog on the Barrow-Downs.” There is such wonderful symbolism that can be applied to this chapter. Whether it was ever the intent of Tolkien in writing it, I don’t know, but this chapter literally sings of Resurrection.

The hobbits are tricked and trapped by the wight in its barrow-mound. There, Sam, Merry, and Pippin fall into a death-like trance. Frodo is miraculously awake and sings for their salvation: Tom Bombadil. His coming reverberates through the land, making it seem the very ground is singing. And with “a loud rumbling sound, as of stones rolling and falling, and suddenly light streamed in, real light, the plain light of day” the tomb was opened. For me, at this time of year there can be no greater symbolism than this, the opening of the tomb and the entrance of light. This is but one small moment of eucatastrophe, in which both Tom and Frodo act as the instruments of Grace.

It is also a moment of rebirth. The hobbits are awakened from their sleep and marvel at the cleanness of the grass, the brightness of the sun. Finding themselves clothed in burial robes and girt in gold chains, they cast of the raiment of death and run naked on the grass. They are reborn to the joy of living and breathing in the world. The casting off of their clothes I found particularly significant. During the Stations of the Cross, the tenth station: Jesus is stripped of His garments is almost always paired with the words of the prophet Job: “Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb and naked shall I go back again.”

The hobbits were dressed in the clothes of death by the wight, in stripping themselves of these garments they reclaim their life. They are, in a sense, reborn.

There is one other Biblical application that jumped out at me reading today. As usual, I return to the question of the nature of Tom Bombadil. As yet I, nor anyone else excepting perhaps Tolkien himself, know who he is supposed to be or what. But reading today, I found a new link that I found quite appealing. It came as Tom named the hobbits’ ponies, which the narrative told they would answer to the rest of their lives. Naming is a powerful thing and this episode bears great resemblance to the naming of the creatures of the land, sea and air in Genesis. So perhaps Tom can be interpreted as a sort of Adam figure in Middle Earth. Maybe even the Adam who never fell from Grace.

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The nature of Courage and Hobbits

It is said repeatedly throughout Tolkien’s works in Middle Earth that hobbits are a hard and courageous lot in spite of their plump and peaceful ways. There is a core of hardness at the center of each hobbit, which with significant hardship will bloom into a courage and strength to be reckoned with.

But what is courage? Is it only a personality trait; a description of the nature of one’s actions? That seems a bit too simplistic, and I think “Fog on the Barrow-Downs” has something very powerful to say about the full meaning of having courage. Courage is not a simple word, a noun, an adjective about a person. It is not just a concept, a passive tag to identify what we do. In some ways it is a being unto itself, and ultimately boils down to one word: obligation.

When trapped by the Barrow-Wight, Frodo feels the intense draw of the Ring; it wants to escape and return to its master. It cannot be trapped and incorporated into the Wight’s horde. And so it puts tremendous pressure on Frodo to place the ring on his finger and escape. Now it can be argued that this is nothing to do with the ring and everything to do with Frodo’s fear. But I think his attempts to rationalize this potential action and his compulsive groping for the ring are evidence that the ring is very much active in Frodo’s thoughts and judgment.

One thing and one thing only pulls Frodo out of this temptation: courage. Courage is not about lack of fear or surmounting it. It is about obligation; knowing what is right and though the consequences and obstacles may be difficult and fearful, doing it anyways. And so, though disoriented and weak from his contact with the wight, Frodo strikes back, cuts off the wight’s hand and sings for Tom Bombadil.