Literature Study GuidesThe Lord Of The RingsThe Fellowship Of The Ring Book 1 Chapter 6 Summary

The Lord of the Rings | Study Guide

J.R.R. Tolkien

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The Lord of the Rings | The Fellowship of the Ring (Book 1, Chapter 6) : The Old Forest | Summary

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Summary

The hobbits rise before dawn the next morning. Leaving a message for Gandalf with Fatty, they set out, riding sturdy ponies. Led by Merry, they pass through a high hedge, and enter the Old Forest, where "the trees do not like strangers." They walk a ways into the silent forest, along a path going gently uphill, feeling they are being observed, and disliked. Merry notices that the trees have shifted since the last time he was in the wood.

Crossing over a hill, the path begins to take them on a downward path, toward the Withywindle valley—a place with a sinister reputation. Yet, this is the way the path leads, and before long they find themselves at the Withywindle River. The way is difficult, and soon they become very tired. At the base of a large willow tree, Frodo, Merry, and Pippin fall asleep, and Sam feels himself beginning to drift off as well. Before he descends into slumber, however, he is awakened by small noises. Frodo has fallen in the water, and Merry and Pippin have become trapped in the willow tree's great trunk. Frodo and Sam yell for help, which comes in the form of a jolly old man—Tom Bombadil—who sings a song to Old Man Willow. Tom's song causes the tree to give up its captives.

Tom invites them to his house for supper. They follow his lead toward the house, where they hear singing.

Analysis

From the beginning of this chapter, it is clear Tolkien intends to spend some time developing Merry's character. Merry is fearless and confident as they head into the Old Forest, while the other hobbits are more hesitant. Because he has experience in the Old Forest, he becomes the leader of the group. He knows about the Old Forest, having lived near it, and shares that with the others: "Everything in it is very much more alive ... And the trees do not like strangers." The hobbits' (and readers') experiences in the Old Forest also set the stage for their later experiences in Fangorn Forest, as sentient trees play an important role in the story's plot.

Tolkien makes use of foreshadowing as the hobbits survey the country around them, beyond the borders of the Old Forest. To the east (often an evil direction in Tolkien's novels) lie the Barrow-downs, which have as "sinister a reputation in hobbit-legend as the Forest itself." Note also, the way they are forced to travel by the changing landscape is eastward.

The chapter also introduces the character of Tom Bombadil, who appears to have power over the Old Forest and its sentient trees. Tom seems unfazed by Old Man Willow, and cheerfully makes him release the hobbits.

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