FoTR - Fog On The Barrow-Downs: Bk I, Chapter VIII

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FoTR - Fog On The Barrow-Downs: Bk I, Chapter VIII

Postby Philipa » Sat Nov 19, 2005 4:07 pm

Fog On The Barrow-Downs

Image

© John Howe




The Hobbits are now on their way again but their journey is not without peril. Being forwarned by Tom Bombadil and stories from the Shire they set off with trepidation. It is not easy crossing the Barrow-downs but when the fog sets in and the companions are lost they are trapped by one of the greedy
Barrow-wights.


Cold be hand and heart and bone,
and cold be sleep under stone:
never more to wake on stony bed,
never, till the Sun fails and the Moon is dead,
and still on gold here let them lie,
till the dark lord lifts his hand
over dead sea and withered land.


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Postby Philipa » Sun Nov 20, 2005 2:01 am

I think in this chapter we see Frodo as an immerging fearless being. He draws his strength from words of Bilbo:

There is a seed of courage hidden (often deeply, it is true) in the heart of the fattest and most timid hobbit, waiting for some final and desperate danger to make it grow.


For me, Frodo is an amalgamation of his mentors Bilbo and Gandalf. His love for things un-hobbit like such as Elves and other non-hobbit creatures is from Bilbo. Goldberry even calls him ‘elf friend’. And Gandalf sense of need with the completion to the task was instilled in Frodo when excepting the Ring. Frodo was really tested in the burrow and over came his fear to remember Tom's words.
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Postby librislove » Sun Nov 20, 2005 4:53 am

Yes-it is here we see Frodo acting on his own instead of waiting for rescue and/or advice for the first time, and acting decisively and courageously in the face of great horror. Indeed, I think Gandalf says at the Council that he was never more in danger than at this moment. We begin to see just what Frodo is made of, and to know Gandalf has chosen the right Ringbearer.
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Postby Philipa » Sun Nov 20, 2005 7:20 pm

Did anyone else note the parting of the hobbits and the gestures of Goldberry:

Goldberry, now small and slender like a sunlit flower against the sky: she was standing still watching them, and her hands were stretched out towards them. As they looked she gave a clear call, and lifting up her hand she turned and vanished behind the hill.


was similiar to Galadriel's parting wave?
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Postby Merry » Sun Nov 20, 2005 8:47 pm

Yes, good insights, all! The barrow-wight episode is really one of the creepiest in all LOTR, I think.

Philipa, I tend to think of Galadriel and Goldberry as examples of the goddess archetype in Tolkien. It's a sort of goddess-y gesture, don't you think?

I'm taken with Howe's illustration above. Does Tolkien really describe the wight, apart from its creeping hand? And is a barrow just a burial mound? Is that what they are called in England? I wonder if, when Tolkien wrote this chapter, he had already forseen the connection with the barrow treasure and the death of the Witch-king of Angmar? And who was the mysterious woman who wore the blue brooch that Tom found?

Questions, questions, questions!
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Postby Lindariel » Mon Nov 21, 2005 3:46 pm

Ah, yes Merry, I recall a discussion about the mystery lady of the blue brooch quite a while ago in WRoR. Someone had proposed that the lady was none other than Elrond's wife Celebrian, who sailed for the West because she was unable to recover from the horror of being captured and "tormented" (what a euphemism!) by orcs in the Misty Mountains. However, the timeline is entirely wrong for this to be the case.

Here's what I was able to glean about the mystery lady at the time:

According to Appendix A, it is thought that the mound in which Frodo and his companions were imprisoned had been the grave of the last prince of Cardolan (one of the three kingdoms of divided Arnor), who fell in the war of 1409 against the Witch King of Angmar. Very likely the brooch belonged to his wife, mother, or daughter.

Celebrian was attacked by orcs in the Misty Mountains in 2509 as she traveled to Lorien from Rivendell, well after the barrow was already established and infested with barrow-wights.

Who was the mystery lady? I don't believe we are intended to know.


A barrow is indeed simply a burial-mound. The barrow-wights are original creations of Professor Tolkien. Here's what the Encyclopedia of Arda has to say about the barrow-wights:

Evil spirits sent to dwell in the Barrow-downs by the Witch-king of Angmar during his wars with the remnant of Arnor, and who remained there long after the realm of Angmar itself had vanished from the world.

The word wight comes from Old English wiht, a word with a very broad meaning that could signify a person, a creature or even just a thing. That word in itself didn't have any particularly evil connotations, but the related Old Saxon wiht, which literally meant 'thing', could be used to also refer to demons. It may be that Tolkien had this connection to the underworld in mind when he chose to refer to the grave-spirits of the Barrow-downs as 'wights'.


A wonderfully creepy creature to add to our lexicon of horrors to be found in graveyards!
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Postby Philipa » Mon Nov 21, 2005 5:22 pm

I was wondering if someone could point us to who the mystery lady was. Sad but fun there are still mysteries in the histories of Middle-earth.

As I had read this chapter over (only for the second time mind you) I was contemplating trying to find the history of the geographical area itself. It would enrich the story to know of the trials thats occured there.

Another thought...is the 'evil king of Carn Dûm' the Witch King of Angmar?
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Postby bruce rerek » Mon Nov 21, 2005 6:46 pm

I have to concur with Lindariel as to the lady with the blue brooch. We have often seen the image of a benificent lady bestoying a blessing upon the Ring Bearer. I think that in terms of Tolkien's mytho-base that Elbereth, the lady of light is at center and her grace is manifested in many cases with other women.

Notice also that in a dream Frodo gets a vision of the undying lands - a far greener country opened before him under a swift sunrise. Since his departure the forces of good have revealed themselves in many forms and symbols - They are not alone to face evil.

The barrow is the traditional burial ground going back not only to Anor but the very first Edain. Angmar defiled it and placed his hedious creatures in the graves. Is it not ironic that not only did the heirlooms left there sever the barrow-wight's hand, but will be the weapon that would fall the witch king at Pellenor?

I also find the Hobbits naked among the clean grass a very profound statement about the restorative nature of what was made in wonder and love. Tom reminds them that the loss of clothes are of little loss if you escape drowning. We shall see what this clothing can mean when mortaility is contrasted to the rolling back of this grey rain cloud.
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Postby Philipa » Tue Nov 22, 2005 12:06 am

bruce rerek wrote:I have to concur with Lindariel as to the lady with the blue brooch. We have often seen the image of a benificent lady bestoying a blessing upon the Ring Bearer. I think that in terms of Tolkien's mytho-base that Elbereth, the lady of light is at center and her grace is manifested in many cases with other women.


Bruce could you clarify this statement? I don't understand how your statment agrees with Lindariel's. I believe her comment was to dispute the mystery lady as being Celebrian but does not shed light on who the lady could have been.
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Postby bruce rerek » Wed Nov 23, 2005 4:02 pm

Philipa,
What I meant was that the attributes of the several ladies seemed to all share that of Elbereth.
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Postby Philipa » Wed Nov 23, 2005 4:47 pm

Thank you bruce...I see now. I agree and it is wonderful that the only mean and bitter woman Tolkien created was Berúthiel. Of course, that is if we don't count spiders. :wink:
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Postby librislove » Wed Nov 23, 2005 8:01 pm

But let's not forget that he also made the point that being a woman in Middle Earth (or anywhere) was not all Goldberry and Galadriel. Although not bitter like Beruthiel--Eowyn, Celebrian, and Finduilas seemed to suffer much anguish in relative silence, with only Eowyn finding her way out of the dark.
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Postby Philipa » Wed Nov 23, 2005 8:52 pm

Yes, they suffered in silence another pious act if your a Christian. A very feminine trait indeed.
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Postby Lindariel » Fri Nov 25, 2005 5:26 pm

I don't know that I agree with the concept of these ladies suffering in silence. Tolkien simply has not chosen to report what they might have had to say about their various plights.

Finduilas "sickened" and died while Faramir was still a very young child. Whether she contracted some sort of disease (tuberculosis? cancer? who knows?), or pined away for her seaside home in Dol Amroth, or was a sensitive soul who could not withstand the horror of living so close to Mordor and witnessing the gradual dissolution of her husband's sanity, or some combination of these three situations, we simply do not know. But I think it is quite a leap to assume she suffered in silence. Tolkien is the silent one, giving us peeks and hints, but saying nothing definitive about the poor lady's plight.

Likewise with Celebrian, Tolkien reports that she was captured and "tormented" by orcs, sustaining a poisoned arrow wound in the process. I don't think it takes much imagination to figure out what the Professor meant by "tormented." It took Elrond many days and nights to "heal" her. Aside from her poisoned wound, I believe this means he had to exert tremendous effort to call her wandering, wounded spirit and mind back to some semblance of sanity after her horrible ordeal. She was never the same afterwards and eventually decided to depart for the Undying Lands to seek final solace for her grief and horror at having been so violated. I can't imagine this decision was made in "silence." However, the Professor does not chose to share the details of her pain with us or to relate the discussion with Elrond and her children that ultimately led to her decision to depart. Again, this is Tolkien's silence, not Celebrian's.

I also do not believe that Eowyn "suffered in silence." She may have been more vocal earlier on about her concerns for Theoden and her desire to take a more active role in helping her people. But after years of having her concerns squelched by the machinations of Grima Wormtongue and/or ignored or passed over by her brother who had a more traditional view of her role, she lapsed into silence, eventually becoming grave, cold, and bitter "when all her life seemed shrinking, and the walls of her bower closing in about her, a hutch to trammel some wild thing in?"

Even then, once our heroes appeared in Edoras, Eowyn dared to speak up, asking to be allowed to go to war with the men -- "I am of the House of Eorl and not a serving-woman. I can ride and wield blade, and I do not fear either pain or death" -- and especially to accompany Aragorn on the Paths of the Dead. She even came very close to declaring her love for Aragorn directly at that point, "They go only because they would not be parted from thee -- because they love thee." Quite a daring declaration for a young lady!

Where Eowyn is somewhat silent is in her refusal to give voice to her inward pain, whether this is from past experience with having her feelings and needs ignored by the ailing King and her brother under the press of greater concerns or whether it is something that her strength and pride simply will not let her do. Yet even this she eventually confesses to Aragorn when he asks what she fears: "A cage . . . . To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire."

I would advocate that Eowyn did indeed voice her pain and grief. It was not noticed by her uncle or brother, maliciously reinforced by Grima, and ultimately perceived and understood by Aragorn, who was in no position to help her at the time.
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Postby librislove » Fri Nov 25, 2005 6:18 pm

You may very well be right, Lindariel--I hope you are. But my point was "seemed to have suffereed in relative silence," and my intent was simply to point out that not all the ladies of Middle Earth lived lives of great blessing--some struggled. Indeed, I would even argue that we don't know how Goldberry might have struggled during her life, and Galadriel certainly had some very difficult times and struggled with her ambiiton. Perhaps the light of Elbereth comes through overcoming adversity, both from within and without.
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