Tolkien Re-read Part II: The Fellowship of the Ring (Chapter 8)


Last time in the Tolkien Re-read, Frodo & Friends traveled through the Old Forest, got attacked by a sentient willow tree, met the weirdly mysterious Tom Bombadil, and Gandalf continued to be missing in action (probably due to circumstances out of his control, if Frodo’s dream is any indication).

Previous posts for the Tolkien Re-read (including my re-read of The Hobbit) can be found here.

A quick note: I’m reading from the Houghton Mifflin movie tie-in hardcover from 2001, but the text should match Del Rey’s more recent tie-in edition (pictured right). Each post will cover one or two chapters and include footnotes of useless trivia that you can read or ignore at your discretion—they’re mostly there to contain the worst of my nerd-babble. Also, there might be spoilers ahead. For the most part, the posts will keep in time with the chapters I’m discussing from The Fellowship of the Ring, but I can’t guarantee I won’t geek out about related things from later in the trilogy or elsewhere in Tolkien lore. If you’ve at least seen the movies, it won’t be a problem, but I shall do my best to avoid spoilery content for the sake of the uninitiated

The Fellowship of the Ring – Book I

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
     Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
     One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
     One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
     One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

Chapter 8: Fog on the Barrow-Downs

In the morning, the hobbits bid farewell to Tom Bombadil and Goldberry and head East to the Barrow-Downs.

Walking, a List

? They walk until they’re free of the forest
? They walk along the floor of a hollow
? They walk around the foot of a steep hill
? They walk up hills and down hills until they’re in the middle of the hilly country known as the Barrow-Downs

At midday they climb a hill with a wide, flat top and a single standing stone at its center. From there they are able to spot a “long dark line” to the North, which Merry says must be the line of trees that grow along the East Road. Heartened by this news, and the assurance that they should make the road by sunset, they stop for lunch on that hill.

It’s pretty hot out, so they sit with their backs to the standing stone (one of many that are scattered throughout the Downs) while they eat. The stone is surprisingly (suspiciously?) cool to the touch, despite the heat of the day, but the hobbits think little of it.

(Something tells me I’m gonna need more of those gifs before this book is over.)

With their bellies full and their ponies wandering nearby, the hobbits eventually drift off to sleep.

(Yup. Definitely gonna need those gifs. To the internet!)

They awake much later to find the sun setting and the barrows blanketed in a thick fog that is climbing up and over their hill, completely enclosing them.

Relevant Quote Break!

The fog rolled up [the hill] and rose above them, and as it mounted it bent over their heads until it became a roof: they were shut in a hall of mist whose central pillar was the standing stone.

Concerned (though probably not nearly as concerned as they should be), the hobbits take heart in remembering how close they are to the road. Certain of the direction they need to travel to reach it, they lead their ponies away from the standing stone and carefully ride north through the fog.

Eventually, Frodo sees what he thinks is the end of the hills and, in his foolish excitement (doesn’t he know he’s on a perilous adventure?) rushes out ahead of Pippin, Sam, and Merry. But what Frodo thinks are markers at the border of the Barrow-Downs are, in fact, two standing stones similar to the one the hobbits unluckily fell asleep near that afternoon. These particular stones, however, lean towards each other to create a sort of archway. (Run away!)

Before Frodo realizes what they are, he’s passed between them—and the moment he does it becomes dark all around him. His pony panics, tosses him, and bolts off into the mist. This is when Frodo notices that he is alone. He calls out to Merry, Pippin, and Sam, but there is no response.

Rather a bit frightened, Frodo begins shouting for his companions and eventually hears a reply. He heads in the direction of the voices—which, of course, leads him up a steep hill. He calls again, but this time the voices seem “far ahead and high above him.”

Relevant Quote Break!

“Frodo! Hoy!” came the thin voices out of the mist: and then a cry that sounded like help, help! often repeated, ending with a last help! that trailed off into a long wail suddenly cut short.

Frodo frantically climbs until he reaches the top of the hill. He calls again for his friends, but there is no answer this time. Instead, the air becomes unbearably cold (bad news bears!) and an icy wind begins to carry the fog away from Frodo in “shreds and tatters.” His breath mists in front of him (nope, not good) and stars come out overhead.

Favorite Quote Break!

He imagined suddenly that he caught a muffled cry, and he made towards it; and even as he went forward the mist was rolled up and thrust aside, and the starry sky was unveiled.

(Did you get the salt, Frodo?)

Now that the fog is gone, Frodo can see that he stands on a hilltop and to his right looms a great barrow. Angry and afraid, he calls out again to his friends, but it is not their voices that respond to him.

Relevant Quote Break!

“Here!” said a voice, deep and cold, that seemed to come out of the ground. “I am waiting for you!”

(You didn’t get the salt, did you, Frodo.)

Frodo, unable to run away, collapses to the ground and looks up just in time to see a “tall dark figure like a shadow against the stars” before an iron-cold grip closes around him and he passes out. When he awakes he is inside a barrow, captured by a Barrow-wight. Despite his fear, Frodo manages to keep completely still in the darkness and think about how he might escape.

Then the chamber Frodo is in begins to brighten with a “pale greenish light,” and he is able to spot Sam, Pippin, and Merry lying nearby. They’re dressed all in white and they appear deathly pale. Around them are treasures, including swords that lay at their sides and shields placed at their feet and one long sword set across their necks.

And, then, Frodo hears singing.

Favorite Quote Break!

Out of the formless stream of sad but horrible sounds, strings of words would now and again shape themselves: grim, hard, cold words, heartless and miserable. The night was railing against the morning of which it was bereaved, and the cold was cursing the warmth for which it hungered.

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.
In the black wind the stars shall die,
and still on gold here let them lie,
till the dark lord lifts his hand
over dead sea and withered land.

(You guys! OMG, you guys! I love this lyric.)

Along with the singing, Frodo hears a scraping sound from behind him and in the pale light he’s able to see that a long arm is “groping, walking on its fingers” towards the sword lying on Sam.

Frodo is overcome with thoughts of escape, of abandoning his friends and running free, though grieving for Merry, Pippin, and Sam. (Seriously, Frodo? Worst friend.) Afterall, Gandalf would agree that there was nothing Frodo could have done to save them. (Seriously, Frodo?) But then courage awakes in Frodo and he realizes he can’t leave his friends so easily. (Better.) He reaches into his pocket for the Ring so that he might become invisible. (Okay, less good. Let’s not do that.) The arm creeps closer and Frodo finds his resolve, reaching instead for the short sword that lay beside him. (It looks like we have a protagonist, folks.)

Sword in hand, Frodo stands over his fallen companions and hacks at the crawling arm, hewing the hand off at the wrist and shattering his sword at the same time. A shriek follows and the light vanishes, and in the dark there is snarling.

Frodo then remembers the rhyme that Tom Bombadil taught them in case they ran into any trouble and he begins to say the words: Ho! Tom Bombadil, Tom Bombadillo!

Relevant Quote Break!

There was a loud rumbling sound, as of stones rolling and falling, and suddenly light streamed in, real light, the plain light of day. A low door-like opening appeared at the end of the chamber beyond Frodo’s feet; and there was Tom’s head (hat, feather, and all) framed against the light of the sun rising red behind him.

Tom Bombadil steps into the chamber and, using another one of his magic rhymes, chases off (seals away?) the Barrow-wight. Then Tom and Frodo carry the other (still unconscious) hobbits out of the barrow and into the sun. They lay them on the grass and Tom recites yet another magic rhyme, and soon Merry, Pippin, and Sam stir into wakefulness.

The hobbits are disoriented (and more than a little confused by their strange dress), but soon they remember the Barrow-wight and feel pretty good about the fact that they managed to escape. While the hobbits change into more hobbitish clothes, Tom Bombadil skips off to find their ponies.

When Tom returns (ponies in tow) he announces that he’ll be taking the hobbits to the East Road himself, in order to make sure that they get there safely. (Finally! These hobbits are just useless on their own.) Before departing, Tom raids the treasure inside the barrow and selects a dagger for each hobbit—which are large enough to serve as swords for them—and tells them the weapons were crafted by the Men of Westernesse** before they “were overcome by the evil king of Carn Dûm in the Land of Angmar.”***

Relevant Quote Break!

Tom:  Few now remember [the Men of Westernesse], yet still some go wandering, sons of forgotten kings walking in loneliness, guarding from evil things folk that are heedless.

(Strider, when?)

With this, they all mount their ponies and head for the East Road.

Walking, Another List

? They ride their ponies over the Barrow-Downs
? The hobbits realize the East Road is farther away than they thought
? They encounter a line of bushes growing along a deep dike and Tom says it was once the boundary of a kingdom
? They reach open land
? They finally reach the East Road at sunset

Upon reaching the road, the hobbits suddenly remember the danger of the Black Riders and become anxious.

Favorite Quote Break!

Pippin: Do you think we may be pursued tonight?
Tom: No, I hope not tonight, nor perhaps the next day. But do not trust my guess; for I cannot tell for certain. Out east my knowledge fails. Tom is not master of Riders from the Black Land far beyond his country.

With that, Tom leaves them, but not before telling them to walk four miles up the road to the village of Bree, where they’ll find an inn called The Prancing Pony. Tom knows the innkeeper—Barliman Butterbur—and advises Frodo & Friends to spend the night there.

The hobbits are sad to part ways with Tom Bombadil (a sentiment I do not share with them), but the worldly Merry raises their spirits by informing them that Bree will have hobbits as well as Big Folk in it, and that he’s heard good things about The Prancing Pony from his kin, who occasionally travel there.

And, so, the hobbits ride to Bree, looking forward to a meal and a warm bed.

*Cold be hand and heart and bone: The Barrow-wights were cut from the movies, but Gollum sings this (with slightly changed words) in The Two Towers movie: “Cold be heart and hand and bone/and cold be travellers far from home/They do no see what lies ahead/when sun has faded and moon is dead.” A clip of the scene I’m talking about can be found here, but be warned that it could be slightly spoilery.
**Men of Westernesse: Westernesse is another name for the fallen kingdom of Númenor. Here, Tom Bombadil is referring to the Dúnedain, desecendents of the Númenorians who survived the fall and settled in Middle-earth (in this case, in what is now the lost realm of Arnor).
***Land of Angmar: Angmar (and its capital, Carn Dûm) is located in the Mountains of Angmar in the northern stretches of the Misty Mountains. It was ruled by the Witch-king of Angmar who, in the Second Age, was one of the nine lords of men whom Sauron gave rings of power to (and, thus, he is now one of the Nine, aka the Nazgûl, aka Ringwraiths, aka Black Riders). The Witch-king is responsible for the destruction of the western kingdoms of Men in Arnor (Arthedain, Cardolan, and Rhuduar). Here, have a map. You’ll notice that Hobbiton was once part of the kingdom of Arthedain. This is why, as mentioned way back in the prologue, when hobbits first settled the Shire, they had to get permission from the King in Fornost.


That’s it for Chapter 8 (and Tom Bombadil, thank goodness). The hobbits traversed the infamous Barrow-Downs, got caught by a Barrow-wight, stole daggers from the tomb of some ancient, undead princeling, and finally made it to the East Road. Stay tuned for more from the Tolkien Re-read! Chapters 9 and 10 are next!

Logan Balestrino is the Publishing Assistant for Del Rey/Spectra and Digital Content at the Random House Publishing Group. She is prone to Doctor Who rants, anime marathons, and extensive ramblings on Elven lineage and the creation of language in Middle-earth. When Logan isn’t working or hanging upside down at her aerials class, she can usually be found saving Hyrule or talking herself out of buying another pair of shoes.