Study Guide

The Fellowship of the Ring Book 1, Chapter 6

By J.R.R. Tolkien

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Book 1, Chapter 6

The Old Forest

  • They set out in the chill, foggy early morning.
  • Frodo tells Fatty to let Gandalf know where they have gone, if he arrives at Crickhollow looking for Frodo. A guy can hope.
  • Merry leads Sam, Frodo, and Pippin to the edge of the Old Forest. They are finally leaving the Shire. (Seems like it took them a while...)
  • Merry confirms that the Old Forest is a strange place: the trees appear to watch you, and at night, dark things come out.
  • As they walk through the Forest with their ponies, the four Hobbits start to feel more and more as though they are "being watched with disapproval, deepening to dislike and even enmity" (1.6.17).
  • The trees don't seem to like the Hobbits much.
  • In fact, Merry finally confirms that the trees are shifting to hide the paths through the Forest.
  • Finally, they find a glade, which is a relief after the claustrophobic Forest.
  • Frodo tries to strike up a song, but it appears to piss off the trees even more, somehow.
  • Frodo is just about to suggest going back (if that's possible) when they stumble on a straight path leading up to a hill. The Hobbits rush up to the clearing on top of the hill.
  • Merry shows them the line of the Withywindle River; that direction is the most dangerous of all, so they won't turn that way.
  • But as they push on the path down the other side of the hill, they suddenly realize with some horror that it's leading them right towards the Withywindle valley. How did that happen?
  • They choose to leave the path and go north, but everywhere they turn, the trees "seemed deeper and darker" (1.6.36). Creepy.
  • They keep getting forced southeast, towards the Withywindle, and after an hour, the Hobbits have gotten completely lost.
  • Finally, they emerge into the sunlight: they are at the banks of the River Withywindle.
  • The weather gets hot and the flies are merciless, so Merry demands that they stop and nap.
  • Frodo shouts that they have to get out of the Forest first, but then he starts to feel tremendously sleepy. He collapses onto the grass.
  • He sees that they are at the roots of an ancient willow tree, and Merry and Pippin lie down with their backs to the tree's trunk.
  • The trunk opens large cracks and starts to swallow them. We weren't kidding about the trees not liking them.
  • Sam can hear the willow singing and starts to suspect that this sudden sleepiness isn't natural.
  • Sam finds Frodo half-soaked in the Withywindle, held down by a tree root but not struggling.
  • He wakes Frodo, and they go to look for Merry and Pippin; they find them half swallowed by the cracks in the tree's trunk. 911!
  • They try to free them by burning the tree, but Merry suddenly wakes up and shouts, "Put it out! [...] They'll squeeze me in two, if you don't. He says so!" (1.6.67).
  • Frodo and Sam stop burning the tree, but now they really don't know what to do. This is nuts.
  • Frodo shouts out for help without even knowing who he's calling for.
  • But, against all odds, someone answers: a man in a blue coat with a long brown beard. His face is creased with laughter, and he's singing loudly. He introduces himself as Tom Bombadil.
  • He begins to sing to the willow tree – Old Man Willow – and the tree opens up and lets Merry and Pippin go. Who knew: after all of Frodo's songs, this was the time he should have used one.
  • Tom Bombadil leads the Hobbits through the forest. As he goes, he sings a song promising them that they will not be hurt, as long as they travel with him.
  • They arrive at a glade where Tom Bombadil's house lies; the house is right at the edge of the Barrow-downs.
  • As Tom Bombadil arrives, a voice from inside the house sings a greeting: "Now let the song begin! Let us sing together [...] Old Tom Bombadil and the River-daughter!" (1.6.87).
  • And the Hobbits walk into the house. The adventure continues...

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