Gazing into GHG’s Palantir: ‘Fog on the Barrow Downs’

The Grey Havens Group Palantir has seen and heard much, but it is unpredictable and often fell. As the mists clear, the withered leaves of conversation of earliest days are revealed in the barest shreds…

The quality of Tolkien’s prose does not get anywhere near the attention it deserves. As with each of the three Tom Bombadil chapters, the last, “Fog on the Barrow Downs” demonstrates clear lyricism, artistry and rhythmic quality. However, Tolkien’s prose is such that its beauty often remains hidden or obscured until it is read aloud, wherein its full glory is revealed.   Like elvish song, the aural quality of the writing is superb and will speak to the listener regardless of its meaning. ‘Cellar door’ anyone?

Tolkien states in Letters that if The Lord of the Rings has a central theme it would be Life, Death, and Immortality. These themes play into the dream sequence which begins the chapter.

Tom’s relationship with Goldberry continues to be an intriguing area of study. The parallels with pagan and ancient mythology abound; in particular the parallel with the story of Persephone and Hades. However, the links to English folklore and mythology, namely in the figure of The Green Man and the daughter of Gaia are particularly suited. Many of the events, “props,” and descriptions of these chapters also bear great resemblance to and may reflect pagan ritual and tradition centered on the autumnal equinox.

Tom and Goldberry have an equal, yet opposite nature: the silliness of Tom on a foundation of wisdom, and the graceful wisdom of Goldberry with an underlay of whimsy. They are two sides to the same coin, a sort of yin and yang. They depend upon and support and complete each other.

Ever notice that from the introduction of Tom in the Old Forest through to his departure at the road, Sam never speaks? And is barely mentioned? Tom’s home acts as a place of rest and recuperation, as well as fantasy and whimsy. Perhaps Sam, who is not affected by the song of Old Man Willow, does not require the care the others need at this moment. This omission also plays into the developing nature of the story, wherein Tolkien essentially discovered the narrative as he went. Sam grows into his central role slowly. These vignettes are only the opening scenes which set the foundation.

… until the hour of our next meeting.

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