The Last Stage

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Introduction:

The amount of research one can do in investigating Tom and Goldberry isn’t endless. Inevitably the time nears to wrap matters up. But I make no apology for sidetracking. Because any digressions encountered by the reader along the way have been necessary. They have been planned additions. As the intent has been to expose a whole new dimension to understanding Tolkien’s books. A dimension which to date has evaded even the most scholastically inclined.

If my research is correct, we have all been ignorant as to the depths and variety of oceans Tolkien plumbed. We have been unaware of the degree to which classic English fairy-tale pervaded his stories. Nor have we understood the influence of England’s Renaissance era on his works. More specifically we have failed to recognize the extent of academic matter subtly blended into early chapters of his magnum opus: The Lord of the Rings.

What I’ve tried to create with a continuous set of interlinked articles is a coherent and logical story. A story backed up by relevant quotation evidence that casts new perspectives by digging down into the weeds and bringing out details that desperately have needed to be brought to our attention. Much as I would like to have done – to have conveyed a unified theory in a single concise essay was simply an impossible task. That is not my fault – but lies solely with our Professor. It’s a direct reflection of Tolkien – the scholar, the story-teller, the literary artist, the genius. One cannot just grasp the root of a single character or point, and understand all without connecting to others. And beyond the fantasy, lie links to our world. A resulting spider web means every explanation ends up being voluminous – but in the end it all meshes together – and rather neatly at that!

This last set of five essays attempt to further unify previous threads. In reaching back to my initial postulation of Bombadil being cast as the ‘audience of the great cosmogonic play’ – we shall be reminded of why the concept of ‘theater’ was so important to Tolkien. Finally we shall see how it all cross-links with legend, religion and ancient English history.

 

Part I – Cross Winds from the West

By now, those who have followed my articles closely will not be surprised at Tolkien’s ingenuity. Especially when it comes to concealment. This first article will expose how cleverly Bombadil was tied in with the Christian faith beyond previous discussion. To accomplish that I will focus on ‘directions’ – starting out with Tolkien’s favorite point on the compass: the West!

Now the subject of the ‘West’ and its immense importance to the mythology is worth many an essay. I however, will only focus on its relevance when it comes to Bombadil. And the angle I’m going to first discuss the matter through – is the ‘wind’. For what we need is a breath of fresh air!

Zephyrus the Greek God of the West Wind was not unknown to the Professor. We encounter him in the Sir Gawain and the Green Knight tale:

“Zeferus, Zepyhrus, the West Wind”,
– Sir Gawain & the Green Knight, Index of Names, Tolkien & E.V. Gordon, 1925

“After the season of summer with the soft winds when Zephyrus blows himself gently on seeds and herbs …”.
– Sir Gawain & the Green Knight, lines 516-517, Tolkien & E.V. Gordon, 1925

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Image result for Zephyrus, the Greek god of the west wind with the goddess Chloris, W. A. Bouguereau, 1875

Flora And Zephyr – Jacopo Amigoni, 1730’s

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And again in Chaucer’s works which Tolkien was greatly familiar with:

“Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth …”.
– Canterbury Tales, General Prologue, Geoffery Chaucer

By the Greeks, Zephyrus was sometimes imagined as an equine deity – the sire of horses. Such a mythological link didn’t escape the Professor. Provided was a fitting description of Gandalf’s steed Shadowfax and a vestigial trace to our world:

“ ‘Were the breath of the West Wind to take a body visible, even so would it appear,’ ”.
– The Two Towers, The King of the Golden Hall

Of the four chief legendary winds of our world, Zephyrus was reputedly the gentlest, most breeze-like and the bringer of growth and prosperity. Accordingly for the mythology – Tom Bombadil viewed the West Wind as kind too:

“The old year was turning brown; the West Wind was calling; … I’ve caught a happy day blown me by the breezes!”
– The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, Bombadil goes Boating

And so did Goldberry. The proverb-like advice given to northbound hobbits was to stay true and keep the:

“… wind in the left eye …”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Fog on the Barrow-downs

Blocked by the ridge of their noses – a lucky westerly breeze would do the trick. For just like Greek myth, wind emanating from the west1 and blowing eastwards was also supposed to bring good fortune and benevolence. Of course for the tale it was blessed Aman that was located in the far west before its removal from our physical world, and it was Manwë’s fabled winds sourced thence which were meant to disperse evil.

In contrast the East Wind was not anywhere as kind. In Christianity it was a fierce east wind which brought devastation and destruction to mankind. Two well-known examples are:

Moses calls upon the east wind to bring a plague of locusts.
– The Bible, Exodus

It was the east wind which blasted the grain in Pharaoh’s dream.
– The Bible, Genesis

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‘The Plague of Locusts’, illustration for “Exodus”, Jan Luyken, 1700

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Likewise the East Wind blew cruelly as Frodo approached the barrow:

“Out of the east the biting wind was blowing.”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Fog on the Barrow-downs

Without doubt ‘direction’ was of supreme importance. Danger lurked from taking the wrong choice. Yes, misfortune struck the hobbits when they slept on the ‘east’ side of the standing stone soon after leaving Tom’s house. And Barrow doors which faced ‘east’ (at least the Barrow of capture did), would naturally be the least safe way to pass.

Instructions were doled out with due reason. The hobbits were prudently advised to travel:

“… over the western and lower slopes of the Downs; …”;
– The Fellowship of the Ring, In the House of Tom Bombadil

and if they strayed too close to a barrow to pass:

“… by on the west-side, …”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, In the House of Tom Bombadil

Tolkien was also at pains to stress how outside the Barrow – the ‘west’ side provided safety. Because the unconscious hobbits were carried out by Tom and purposely laid down on that particular side of the mound. Facing the ‘west’, with words of power, was the direction necessary to revive (or more likely, ‘recall’) their spirits.

Despite the circumstances of the times in which The Lord of the Rings was written, the Professor made it clear that the reality of the east being the threat to beloved England was not an implied allegorical allusion. The ‘west’ being the side of ‘blessedness’ for the tale also had no modern day message or equivalence:

“The goodness of the West and the badness of the East has no modern reference.”
– The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide: Chronology, Hammond & Scull, 6 Aug 1965

However the fabled west, for the mythology, once held Númenor (an Atlantean analogue) and Aman. This echoed much ancient history of the British Isles from surviving Celtic tales. For the Celts, legendary Hy Brasil and the islands of the Otherworld lay to the west.

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Hy-Brasil on a map from 1325

Hy Brasil depicted to the west of Ireland on an ancient map, 1325 

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Anwnn too in Welsh Celtic lore had an island counterpart to the more commonly discussed below earth location. Known as the ‘land of the dead’ far out to the west of the British Isles, it was here that mortal spirits would tarry before completing their journey. Yet it was not just Celtic recordings but the existence of medieval English writings confirming such tales which likely influenced the Professor:

“In the South English Legendary version of the ‘Life of St Brendan’, a maiden tells Abbot Beryn that he ought to thank Jesus Christ for leading him to the Paradise in the West, …”.
– The Road to Middle-earth, ‘On the Cold Hill’s Side’, T. Shippey 

So finally we have a connection of ‘the West’ to ‘Jesus Christ’. And so, though these salvation analogues were not a “modern reference”, for the more ancient setting of the mythology Tolkien adapted them to fit his character Tom. Tom was steeped in unshakable Christian symbolism.

“Really? How is this?’, you may ask.

The answer is intriguing. It stems from a deduction that Bombadil’s front door faced ‘west’: the direction for the receipt of ‘good news’. A clue which leads to exposing a much greater matter. With that, for the first time since Karen Fonstad’s effort in The Atlas of Middle-earth – we are going to take a detailed look at the shape of Tom and Goldberry’s house!

Now one may rightfully wonder why Tolkien declined to draw out Tom’s home (which occupies a whole chapter of The Lord of The Rings) yet decided to sketch both aerial and frontal views of Cotton’s farm2. Well perhaps he did and the view has been lost? Or perhaps he did and it just hasn’t been released to the public? Much more likely, in my opinion, is the design was so simple – in being preconceived as special – that he didn’t need to. He knew in his head exactly what shape it was going to be.

The marvelous thing about Tolkien’s works is the depth and detail of the scenes. One can often picture in one’s mind’s eye a vivid layout of the surroundings. The other impressive part is how the image isn’t always instantaneous – because information tends not to be dumped on the reader in one large glob. Instead it is gradually built-up as bits spread throughout the text slowly come together to form a credible whole. The technique is masterful – as what appears to be casual storytelling – really is not. There is purpose behind Tolkien’s method – but the final result is so well blended that all one initially perceives is a seamless flow of a gripping story.

So turning back to Bombadil’s abode, there is a distinct possibility Tolkien had something very special in mind when formulating its architecture. Nestled between the edge of the Old Forest and the Barrow-downs and providing a haven from two places of evil repute, there was something about it that nobody else has picked up on. It may have been conceived as part of an intentional puzzle for the reader, or it may just have been fabricated for Tolkien’s self-satisfaction. In any case – that will be for the reader to decide. So let’s explore its layout using information and clues the Professor provided. Unfortunately (as I will later discuss) Fonstad’s view (bottom right below) differs from mine.

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Image result for bombadil house fonstad

The Atlas of Middle-earth, K.W. Fonstad

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Now an impression of a small3 rural cottage was relayed upon initial entry since the hobbits felt they were:

“ … knocking at a cottage door …”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, In the House of Tom Bombadil

Small – because we can reasonably conclude that the original house had just two rooms on the ground level, consisting of a combined living/dining room and a separate kitchen:

“They were in a long low room, … Goldberry busied herself about the table; …” …
“Tom could be heard about the house, clattering in the kitchen, …”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, In the House of Tom Bombadil

It is likely that there was only one bedroom upstairs – namely Tom and Goldberry’s. The square footage of the upstairs living area, as far as I can discern, was smaller than ground level – with the bedroom lying over the kitchen. That is because Tolkien told us the long low living/dining room was:

“… filled with the light of lamps swinging from the beams of the roof; …”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, In the House of Tom Bombadil

Note how the Professor carefully used the term ‘roof’ instead of ‘ceiling’. Thus we can conclude there was no other structure above. Despite the living/dining room being ‘low’, its roof was likely a sloping or angled design and covered on the exterior with thatch material:

“Water dripped down from the thatched eaves above.”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, In the House of Tom Bombadil

The later lower floor addition – described as a ‘penthouse’, completed the living quarters. This is the area in which the hobbits slept. What we should also note – is how once again – the room was ‘low’:

“They came to a low room with a sloping roof (a penthouse, it seemed, built on to the north end of the house).”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, In the House of Tom Bombadil

What seems to be stressed is how humble a dwelling this was. Beyond the ‘low’ rooms, Tom and Goldberry’s house was minimalist in terms of furnishings:

(a) The furniture was rudimentary – a wooden dining table and chairs fabricated from river rushes. There were no beds in the penthouse – merely mattresses (presumably hobbit-sized). There were no couches, ancillary tables, sideboards, cabinets, floor rugs, etc. – just a few basic footstools.
(b) No ornaments, artwork or decorative paraphernalia were described apart from some hanging mats.
(c) What was present was very functional: candles for the dining table and mantelpiece, and lamps for the ceiling; single color curtains for the windows and fresh rushes strewn as flooring – providing a warm shield against the cold flagged stone. Mere pots and ewers were available for washing; while drinking vessels were just ‘bowls’ – not cups, mugs or tankards!

The house and associated contents were basic to the extreme. There is not even a mention of a bathroom4 (in contrast to Frodo’s house at Crickhollow). And so one can conclude this couple by today’s standards, or even reasonably prosperous hobbit one’s, truly led a ‘simple life’.

‘Yet so what?’, the reader might respond.
‘What’s the big deal?’

None really apart from the humble abode resonates with Tolkien’s own thoughts of holiness on Earth as conveyed to Clyde Kilby. Tolkien:

“… was moved by the degradation of the birth of Christ in a stable with its filth and manure and saw it is a symbol of the real nature of holy things in a fallen world.”
– Tolkien and The Silmarillion, Tolkien as Christian Writer, Clyde Kilby

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Image result for clyde kilby tolkien and the silmarillion

Front cover of Tolkien and The Silmarillion, C. Kilby, 1976

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However before one can even dare to suggest similar linkage and expect to be believed – one must first fully explain the significance behind the shape of the merry couple’s abode. It is vital to decipher this part of a ‘puzzle’ for it is pretty key in Tolkien’s ‘master plan’. It is by no accident that we can reasonably work out its design.

Tolkien told us the hobbits stepped into:

“… a long low room, …”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, In the House of Tom Bombadil

Given such a simply relayed depiction, one can reasonably conclude that it was rectangular – with the entry door at the near end, and Goldberry adjacent to the far wall. Both the front door wall and the one situated behind Goldberry must have been the rooms’ shorter sides.

My own conclusion clashes with Fonstad’s, where she has drawn a ‘wide’ room from the hobbits perspective. Yet mine is more logical since it also ties in better with some of the known facts. For instance, we know the hobbits entered the room with a few timid steps after which Goldberry leaped over the lily-laden pots and ‘ran’ to physically greet them. All of this conveys some distance being involved which is more consistent with a ‘long’ dimension. Nor must we forget that ‘long’ was from the hobbits viewpoint, and could be taken as meaning that the room was not squarish – thus conveying shape as opposed to some nebulous length. 

In any case per the text – the table was positioned nearer the door while Goldberry, seated in her chair, was further away being at the far side of the room. We know:

“The room looked westward …”,
– The Fellowship of the Ring, In the House of Tom Bombadil

subsequently leading us to conclude it had only one window; because the text repeatedly mentions just ‘the’ window in this area. However a single window to light up the whole room during the day doesn’t exactly convey a feeling of spaciousness. Yes, the room appears to have been ‘small’.

Previously in leaving the Old Forest, and as the hobbits hurried towards Tom’s house:

“… a wide yellow beam flowed out brightly from a door that was opened.”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, In the House of Tom Bombadil

Behind the residence:

“… the Barrow-downs stalked away into the eastern night.”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, In the House of Tom Bombadil

So from this we can reasonably conclude the hobbits were travelling from west to east. Thus the outer door was in the short west wall of the original construction along with the previously noted window.

As far as the inside of the living/dining room, there appears to have been only one interior door. In the opposite wall to the entrance was the door leading to the kitchen. We can discern this must have been in the east wall because after looking out of the west-facing window on a later occasion, the hobbits turned around to see:

“… Goldberry stood in the door behind, …”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, In the House of Tom Bombadil

Which Tom then used to bring in their supper:

“Suddenly he hopped through the door and disappeared. Quickly he returned, bearing a large and laden tray.”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, In the House of Tom Bombadil

But via a short passageway and then by taking a sharp turn, the door also led into the addition: the ‘penthouse’ which was:

“… built on to the north end of the house).”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, In the House of Tom Bombadil

So the interior door in the eastern wall must have been reasonably close to the north side of the living/dining room. And the passage must also have led to the kitchen and stairwell. Because of the simple nature of the dwelling there is no reason not to believe the kitchen was anything else but rectangular itself, sharing the same width as the living/dining room. In other words the original house was nothing more than one simple long rectangle in plan-form area with four straight exterior walls.

Then the added penthouse must then have formed a tee in being situated on the north end of the house. There is nothing to suggest that it was as long as the living/dining room plus kitchen – along the common wall that is. Indeed quite the opposite can be sensibly deduced. Since the penthouse eastern window looked out on to a kitchen garden – that implies a corner was present; one wall constituted by the kitchen itself. Similarly one might reasonably assume another corner nook was present at the front of the house, as the western penthouse window looked out on a flower garden. It would not be wholly unreasonable to presume that if one looked from the sky downwards – the aerial shape would have been one where the add-on was centrally located in relation to the overall house, resulting in a reasonably symmetric Tee.

 

Image result for TEE SHAPE

 

Or was it?

It is at this point – I think Tolkien would have asked us to use some logic along the following lines:

“I feel it is better not to state everything (and indeed it is more realistic, since in chronicles and accounts of ‘real’ history, many facts that some enquirer would like to know are omitted, and the truth has to be discovered or guessed from such evidence as there is).”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #268

Why is such an approach necessary? Because there is another part of the house structure which needs to be evaluated.

Kitchen

What about the chimney-stack?

We know that Goldberry’s chair was close to the eastern wall of the living room. Logically Tom’s seat would have been nearby and the positioning of both would likely be fairly close to the fireplace. Besides warmth for themselves – the lilies would have appreciated it too! And so indeed – Tom was close to the fireside:

“With that he jumped out of his chair, and with a bound took a candle from the chimney-shelf …”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, In the House of Tom Bombadil   (my emphasis)

while the hobbit chairs were adjacent to his:

“Tom sat on a while beside them …”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, In the House of Tom Bombadil   (my emphasis)

Which makes one wonder against which wall would the chimney have been located?

Not against the northern wall, for why build a penthouse around a chimney stack? And that goes for the eastern wall too, as it is doubtful it would have been sandwiched within the kitchen interface5. For both of these scenarios chimney stacks are not easy to clean or service and present additional fire-risk for thatched roofs. It is best if a chimney is located against an exterior wall6. So the most logical site would have been against the long southern wall7 given we are told the hearth was ‘wide’. But as far as positioning, the fireplace must have been located over towards the room’s eastern side nearer the seating, and somewhat away from the front door and western wall.

Certainly some of the chimney protruded into the room as Tom’s wet boots were:

“… put in the chimney-corner.”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, In the House of Tom Bombadil

But with many traditional English cottages – the majority of the stack often lies outside the house. That is especially true when it comes to smaller residences where the chimney would take up much valuable space. Just as problematic – if it lay fully inside a narrowish room, against a long wall, then heat would radiate only locally and not efficiently warm up the entire room.

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Image result for medieval cottage ireland thatched

Medieval thatched roof cottage with large exterior chimney-stack

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So given that we are told the hearth was wide – one might reasonably believe the chimney stack itself was large too. Given that cottage stacks are invariably rectangular in cross-section – we have a situation whereby the stack was likely located is an offset position and toward the seating end of the room, yet mainly outside the interior. So if one thinks about where the chimney lay relative to the overall southern wall of the entire house, which includes the kitchen as well as living/dining room, one might conclude that it was likely to have been relatively central. In all probability just like the penthouse.

So what would the hobbits have seen from the brow of the sheltering hill upon departure? Would they have not wanted to take one last view of Bombadil’s house and bid farewell?

Hmm … they looked in every feature-laden direction but down. And I have a feeling Tolkien wanted the reader to figure that out. This place of sanctuary, which they so reluctantly left, should have been important to them.

If they had looked downwards and viewed the residence below they ought to have seen a shape of utmost importance. One that we all know. Not the shape of a Tee – but the shape of a ‘cross’!

It was the shape of the house, or its exaggerated shadow under the morning sun, that Tolkien wanted the truly curious reader to see in his or her mind’s eye.

Tom’s humble residence was one that had holy significance, echoed by:

“…. I have deliberately written a tale, which is built on or out of certain ‘religious’ ideas, …”. 
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #211

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Image result for christian cross shadow

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Angelic Tom, from whom the tales of St. Michael in England sprang, foreshadowed the great Christian symbol and the ‘good news’ to come!

Footnotes:

1  Other examples of a beneficial West Wind in The Lord of the Rings include Treebeard’s song and Théoden’s renewal of vigor:

“When woodland halls are green and cool, and wind in the West, Come back to me!”
– The Two Towers, Treebeard

“ ‘… But a west wind has shaken the boughs,’ ”.
– The Two Towers, Helm’s Deep

 See Tolkien: Artist & Illustrator, Hammond & Scull, Figure 175.

3  Per the drafts, Tom Bombadil:

“… lives in a little house …”.
– The Return of the Shadow, Tom Bombadil

 I doubt there was one upstairs. I just can’t picture Tom making multiple trips up and down the stairs carrying pails of hot water.

 Besides, Goldberry’s chair up against the eastern wall and facing the outer door is wrongly positioned for there to be a fireplace along the same wall.

6  There are no pictures drawn specifically for The Lord of the Rings depicting ‘conventional’ homes. The sketch of Cotton’s farm (see Note 1) does appear to show an ‘exterior’ chimney against a kitchen wall.

 A wide hearth and thus a correspondingly wide fire-place would be a logical feature for the long southern wall – perhaps answering why it lacked a window.

 

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Tudor, Elizabethan and Jacobean Connections

This essay is best viewed in single page format. If it appears in two column style – an adjustment can be made by selecting zoom at 125% to 175% under the ‘Settings’ tab.
Part III – The Iberian Hob Bit

‘Hobbits’ – eh?

Ever thought if there was more behind the name? More than we currently know that is. Ever thought why hobbits were ‘designed’ as small yet so very human-like?

Hmm … the Professor must have had his reasons. Perhaps we can uncover them if matters are viewed from a combination of angles. Perhaps we can attain convergence if those angles include not only fairy-tale/myth/legend but also scientific and personal knowledge. But first to the former!

Tolkien’s bent towards mythology and fairy-story undoubtedly became ingrained from early youth. At the forefront lay a strong desire to discover origins. To answer the how, why, when and where behind them presented a worthy intellectual challenge:

“… I feel strongly, the fascination of the attempt to unravel the intricately knotted and ramified history of fairy-tales.
– Tolkien On Fairy-stories, Manuscript B, Flieger and Anderson

Of course the very last knot in disentangling a singular tale is the one identifying the source of its invention and the writer who first documented it. Such knowledge was highly desirable:

“… I am interested in mythological ‘invention’, and the mystery of literary creation …”.
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #180

Buried deep in the past, most often the information is just not traceable. Nevertheless, in discussing the three components making up the history of a fairy-story, Tolkien pronounced:

“… invention is the most important and fundamental, and … mysterious.”
– On Fairy-stories, 1939 (Essay available in The Tolkien Reader)

Mysterious because there is no universal law of nature governing the event. Moreover the cause of ignition which sends a spark inspiring genuine literary creativity is usually a well-guarded matter. For some strange reason writers prefer to surround the subject with an aura of mystique. They tend not to spill all and go ‘open kimono’. Instead they often skirt around the heart of the matter, offer tantalizing details – yet fail to exercise full disclosure.

Occasionally the reason revolves around something too personal to divulge. Other times it’s personal yet thoroughly uninteresting or utterly trivial to anyone but the author. But sometimes that spark of imagination is not true creation but sub-creation. By that I mean it arises through piggy-backing off somebody else’s work.

Tolkien candidly admitted that:

“… no one of us can really invent or ‘create’ in a void, we can only reconstruct and perhaps impress a personal pattern on ‘ancestral’ material …”.
– Tolkien Letter to L.M. Cutts, 26th October 1958

Hmm … “ ‘ancestral’ material” – eh? That’s a pretty wide ranging sector. Albeit for an Englishman, and a philologist no less, one might reasonably narrow the range. Saying that, it certainly wouldn’t be too presumptuous to assume “ ‘ancestral’ material” encompassed historical English literature!

So as I have suggested in my previous essay, the seed from which The Hobbit tale sprouted, and indeed Tolkien’s acquiring of the name ‘Bilbo’ – came from bandying about in his head a possible fairy-tale extraction. One which could be disseminated from Thomas Dekker’s play: Match me in London. And one that could be construed as ‘fair use’ of another’s work, because of its tangential employment. For once excised the idea was to manipulate basic threads of the plot into a kind of parody. This would be a way of Tolkien impressing his own personal stamp on ‘ancestral material’. Can we honestly say that’s an impossibility? Does such a form of sub-creation really sound so unreasonable?

If we step back and take an honest look at Tolkien’s non-academic works, from what we know – satire and parody played a subtle part in much of the corpus. Adding to my prior list from Part II we can throw in Farmer Giles of Ham:

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Image result for Farmer Giles of Ham

Farmer Giles of Ham, J.R.R. Tolkien (1978 Edition)

 

“Farmer Giles of Ham represents Tolkien’s only medieval parody that both imitates a medieval form or genre and also burlesques medieval literary conventions, ideas, and characters …”.
– Tolkien’s Art: A Mythology for England, Jane Chance, 2001

We can also include The Notion Club Papers – an Oxford based discussion club loosely modeled as a nostalgic parody of Tolkien’s own closely-knit literary circle, the Inklings. Nor should we ignore Leaf by Niggle – an oft conjectured self-parody. Then is it so unbelievable that The Hobbit and The Root of the Boot could have parodied elements or themes too?

The logical answer is – ‘Not really’. Indeed there shouldn’t be much of a surprise among academics at all. Given the strength of the evidence in comparing matters from The Hobbit against Match me in London – this avenue of investigation ought to remain open. For indeed we must conclude that Tolkien’s The Hobbit is not entirely unique. Yes it is utterly flabbergasting that another work exists where a character called Bilbo not only talks of a fire-breathing dragon, but also of an article to be worn that causes invisibility. And to boot we have a cry very much akin to the immortal one screamed by Gollum in accusing Baggins of being a ‘thief’. These major threads dominating our particular tale – absolutely cannot have been accidental happenings or sheer coincidence. That would defy all odds.

Sensibly then, one should try and dig deeper and see if more can be understood about the foundations of Tolkien’s magnificent fairy-story. Perhaps we might glimpse Dasent’s ox swish his tail before being served as ‘soup’. Though the Professor would likely not approve – for us it is far too interesting a matter to drop; the ox had a personality before being led to the butcher and it is the beast I would like to get to know better. In other words, the hero and this diminutive branch of the human race quite possibly had more associations to Renaissance England than all we have learned so far. And to that end – while I beg the Professor’s pardon – I’m going to try to peer back in time. Let’s see if it’s feasible to reconstruct what Tolkien was mulling over in his head in the late 20’s and early 30’s.

Some would say straightaway that’s a near impossible task fraught with all sorts of peril. ‘Of course it’s difficult, and hard to sell’, would be my response. I acknowledge it’s pushing the boundaries of acceptable scholarship. But that doesn’t mean one shouldn’t try. Our toolbox should heartily use the hammer of logic – even if involves driving nails of speculation into a wooden sign whose post requires orienting in the right direction through dexterous intuition. Indeed we should relish the opportunity to sift the few clues in our possession and eke out what we can that makes sense. One never knows what might result. So with that mode of thinking it’s time to take another look at the English Renaissance era while duly taking account of the Professor’s works.

One of the first things worth looking into is Tolkien’s choice of the name ‘Sackville’ for Bilbo’s relations. Tom Shippey in Author of the 20th Century examines its French connotations quite extensively, but I shall instead try to address what wasn’t resolved – and that is inquire on who Tolkien had in mind when he said:

“Sackville is an English name (of more aristocratic association than Baggins).”
– Nomenclature of The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien

Fortunately there aren’t too many notables possessing such a distinct surname so the task is far from arduous. Prominent persons include: Sir Richard Sackville, Sir Thomas Sackville, Sir William Sackville and Vita Sackville-West. Of the four, perhaps the most interesting to us would be Sir Thomas Sackville – because here we have another Elizabethan dramatist. The first Earl of Dorset and one-time chancellor of Oxford University owned Knole House – an immense mansion in Sevenoaks. He also owned other properties including Dover Castle (though residence was never taken up). At some point pre-1900 the castle’s moat was dredged and, remarkably from our viewpoint1, a ‘silver spoon’ was salvaged2!

As a playwright, Thomas Sackville co-authored The Tragedie of Gorboduc (1561) – so reminiscent (in lead character’s name) of The Lord of the Rings hobbit, Gorbadoc3.

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Play Pamphlet – The Tragedie of Gorboduc, T. Norton & T. Sackville, 1561

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Yet I am not the first to mention this. So I stake no claim. But what I will point out is that Thomas Sackville wrote a famous letter commending the translation, by one Sir Thomas Hoby, of a famous and widely distributed Italian Renaissance work in England – Baldassare Castiglione’s Il libro del cortegiano (The Book of the Courtier):

“… Whose passing skill, lo, Hobbie’s pen displaies.
To Britaine folk, a work of worthy praise.”
– prefixed to Sir Thomas Hoby’s translation of The Book of the Courtier

The Book of the Courtier was one of those rare publications that have, again, a picture of a fabled flying creature on its title page – evoking, for us, a match with Sackville’s Gorboduc and Dekker’s Match me in London play quartos.

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The Book of the Courtier, Baldassare Castiglione, 1528

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So given a rather sticky web, it is now an opportune time to highlight another extraordinary connection. Several historical figures from the Elizabethan era – who intriguingly have ‘Hob’ as part of their surname, also have links to ‘bits’ of The Hobbit.

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(a) Sir Thomas Hoby (1530 – 1566)

Note how Hoby is spelled ‘Hobbie’ in Sackville’s letter – just one letter away from ‘Hobbit’. The well-traveled Hoby who toured France and Italy for four years kept a detailed diary of his adventure. The expedition was reputedly the most extensive one undertaken by an Englishman that century. His translation of The Courtier . greatly influenced English etiquette and how nobility and upper-class gentlemen should behave.

<<Echoes of the bourgeoisMr. Baggins and his distant travels – recorded in “his personal memoirs” per The Hobbit dust jacket blurb.>>

(b) Sir Thomas Posthumous Hoby (1566 – 1640)

The younger son of Sir Thomas Hoby. An extremely tiny man – he has been mentioned as the inspiration behind Shakespeare’s Malvolio in Twelfth Night– a play which has a scene of drunken merrymaking. Shakespeare supposedly satirically poked fun at Hoby, ridiculing him for issuing a legal complaint against overly boisterous neighbors who had entered his house uninvited, made themselves at home, eaten his food, drank his wine, and insulted him.

<<Echoes of diminutive Hobbits and the Unexpected Party at Bilbo’s residence.>>

(c) Sir Thomas Hobbes (1588 – 1679)

A famous English political philosopher. Quoted upon his death-bed as ready to take his last voyage: “… a great leap in the dark”.

<<Echoes of Bilbo evading Gollum with:

“No great leap for a man, but a leap in the dark.”
– The Hobbit, Riddles in the Dark>>

(d) Thomas Hobson (1544 – 1631)

From whom the phrase ‘Hobson’s choice’ is derived. Meaning there is only one on offer – and not really a choice at all.

<<Echo of Bilbo’s choice of escape path under the Misty Mountains not really being a dilemma – because given the situation there really was no alternative:

“ ‘Go back?’ he thought. ‘No good at all! Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do!’ ”
– The Hobbit, Riddles in the Dark>>

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Thomas Hobson, 1630

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What the observant reader might also have noticed is that as well as the ‘Hob’ to these Renaissance era individuals, they are commonly linked by the forename ‘Thomas’6. A coincidence or not? Maybe ‘not’! For the root meaning of ‘Thomas’ is ‘twin’7. And so one might speculate Tolkien put all these connected people together. To the point where the literature surrounding them would somehow be reflected as a ‘literary twin’ in his new English fairy-tale (a ‘twin’ of Match me in London).

The plan might well have oriented around the contents possessing parodied elements, while the title (and thus the name of his newly invented race) would result from devious wordplay. Yes the ‘Hob’ part of these famous Elizabethan persons names would be appended with ‘bits’. Comically, this would then reflect pieces of their works (or history) foreseen to be incorporated into the tale. Hmm … perhaps that’s how the name ‘Hobbit’ came to arise in Tolkien’s mind while marking those examination papers!

So one might, not unreasonably, conclude that there’s a good chance the Professor just simply constructed another ‘low’ philological and satirical jest. An extremely complex man and especially deep thinker, it seems that Tolkien had already a collection of thoughts consciously rattling about before that Eureka moment of: ‘I have it’!

“… I invented the word hobbit, and can say no more about it than it seemed to me to fit the creatures that I had already in mind …”.
– Tolkien letter to L.M. Cutts, 26 October 1958    (my emphasis)

Of course ‘Hobbit’ is rooted in the word ‘Hob’: 

“ ‘Hob’ : A sprite, hobgoblin.”
– The English Dialect Dictionary8, Item 3, Joseph Wright, 1898-1905

And of course Tolkien had this uppermost in his thoughts9. Though surely it must have crossed his mind that an all-important question would inevitably be raised – and likely – early on. As a philologist he ought to have a philological answer ready. Upon The Hobbit’s 1937 release, even one of his colleagues at Leeds University wanted him to:

“… speak learnedly of hobbits, and say whether they derived their name from ‘hobs’ or ‘rabbits’.”
– The Annotated Hobbit, Introduction (quote by G.H. Cowling), Douglas Anderson

But Tolkien never gave a philological reply – at least not one in that time-frame. Instead much later in The Return of the King appendices he provided what appears to be a remarkable feat of reverse engineering. The word ‘hobbit’ supposedly had its source in ‘holbytla’ – described to mean ‘hole-builder’.

But we should not be confused or distracted. For once again, when critically examined, the information is internal to the tale. Thus the search for an external source has simmered away in the background10. And adding to the list of possibilities is my own.

Tolkien’s late statement: 

“Hobbit  This, I confess, is my own invention; but not one devised at random.”
– The Peoples of Middle-earth, The Appendix on Languages

is entirely believable. However I believe the real non-random reason behind settling on ‘hobbit’ had hardly anything to do with ‘rabbit’ or the word ‘holbytla’. Instead it had an awful lot to do with parodying famous Elizabethans and jesting wordplay. Yes indeed:

“Oh what a tangled web they weave who try a new word to conceive!”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, #319

Needless to say I cannot for sure prove that fellow researchers have all been barking up the wrong tree. But doesn’t it strike you, given all the accumulated ‘parody material’ presented in my research to date, that there might have been far more to Tolkien’s humorous side than previously understood? Professor Tom Shippey is convinced that apart from the personal aspect11, ‘Baggins’ has a duality in both possessing a funny side and a philological one. The funny part being that the name in Lancashire and Yorkshire dialect closely resembles terminology for ‘a meal’ – which hobbits relish partaking in. While the philological one is the word ‘Bagging’ appearing in Haigh’s A New Glossary of the Dialect of the Huddersfield District, a publication which Tolkien contributed to the Foreword.

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A New Glossary of the Dialect of the Huddersfield District, W. Haigh, 1928

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To my knowledge it has never been brought up that ‘gins’ might have been added to the ‘Bag’ (of Jane Neave’s Bag End) simply because:

“Let no man hereafter despise the Higgin’s, Wiggin’s or any other names ending in gins, they can prove as ancient a descent as any with a Norman prefix.”
– The Gentleman’s Magazine, 1858    (my emphasis)

Or because Tolkien likely modeled Bilbo on the eponymous English hero ‘Jack’12. And the only surname Jack (of beanstalk lore) ever possessed was ‘Spriggins’ – where once again we must note the ‘gins’ ending to that name:

“The Story of Jack Spriggins and the Enchanted Bean.”
– Round About our Coal-Fire, 1734

Much though these are important points, really what I am trying to stress is that if Shippey is correct, as far as ‘Baggins’ having both a comic and serious side, then there is every reason to believe the word ‘Hobbit’ was invented no differently!

Switching gears way from The Hobbit and on to The Lord of the Rings, it seems that Tolkien initially thought of continuing to role Bilbo as an antecedent to Jack of English folklore. As I have already set out (see What a Colorful Pair – Part IV), there are plenty of pointers in The Hobbit harking back to the ‘Jack tales’. In the early drafts of The Lord of the Rings there are a few more concerning Farmer Maggot that I haven’t already mentioned.

Bilbo is described as having to defend himself and his nephew against the ogreish Farmer Maggot and his dog. He kills the animal with a stick, a most unusual action for a hobbit:

“He set a great dog on us, … Bilbo broke its head with that thick stick of his.”
– The Return of the Shadow, A Short Cut to Mushrooms, Note 6

Such a violent act ties back to two specific Jack tales. One where a magical stick is used to apply beatings upon the correct command:

“ ‘Up stick and at it’ ”.
– Jack and His Bargains, The Uses of Enchantment, Jack and The Beanstalk, B. Bettelheim, 1989

And another where a giant (who grinds men’s bones in a mill to make bread) has his dog killed by Jack:

“The giant had a favourite dog, … Jack killed the dog, …”.
– More English Fairytales, The Blinded Giant, Joseph Jacobs, 1894

Ultimately Tolkien abandoned his own akin story-line for an unknown reason. Maybe he thought the link of Bilbo back to Jack would become too obvious. I can’t be absolutely sure, but what I do know is that the storied adventures of Jack – arguably the greatest thief of all time – had migrated all across England, with their source supposedly lying in Cornwall.

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Jack kills the Cornish Giant Cormoran

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But Tolkien might have asked himself how far back in history did that go? Perhaps the initial tale which seeded Jack belonged to prehistory: “long ago in the quiet of the world”? My feeling is that Tolkien could live with a Spanish sounding Bilbo, as being apt for representing Jack, because of: ‘Iberian man’!

Tolkien was frightfully interested13 in the origins of the British peoples as he confessed to his son, Christopher:

“I read till 11.50, browsing through the packed and to me enthralling pages of Stenton’s Anglo-Saxon England. … I hope one day you’ll be able (if you wish) to delve into this intriguing story of the origins of our peculiar people.”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #95

It was K.W. Humboldt’s ‘Iberian theory’ put forward c. 1817-1821 about racial movements across south-western Europe that caught the imagination in the late 1800’s of some of the brightest historians, anthropologists and ethnologists in Britain. The German’s work pointed British research to conclude the prehistory of their peoples lay in migrations from eastern Europe. Eventually a body of these immigrants found their way on to British soil through what is now Wales and the far west of England. This most ancient group of settlers were loosely termed ‘Iberians’.

In 1880 Professor W.B. Dawkins described the British Iberians at some length in Chapter IX – The Neolithic inhabitants of Britain of Iberian Race in his well-received publication: Early Man in Britain and his place in the Tertiary Period. Fifteen years later for the Scarborough meeting of The Royal Archaeological Institute of Great Britain he opened with:

“The theory that the Neolithic inhabitants of the British Isles are represented by the Basques and small dark Iberic population of Europe generally, has stood the test of twenty-five years of criticism, and still holds the field.”
The Archaeological Journal, Volume 52, Opening Address of the Antiquarian Section, 1895

Investigations into the earliest ancestors of the British had drawn a myriad of respected researchers. The theories and evidence behind Iberian settlers gained great traction, while Humboldt’s groundwork was deservedly acknowledged:

“Since his time the anthropological researches of Broca, Thurnam and Davis, Huxley, Busk, Beddoe, Virchow, Tubino and others have proved the existence in Europe from Neolithic times, of a race, small of stature, which is common among the Basques as well as all over the Iberian peninsula. This Neolithic race has consequently been nicknamed ‘Iberians,’ and it is now common to speak of the ‘Iberian’ ancestry of the people of Britain, recognizing the the racial characteristics of ‘Iberians’ in the ‘small swarthy Welshman’, the ‘small dark Highlander,’ and the ‘Black Celts to the West of the Shannon.”
The Archaeological Journal, Volume 52, Opening Address of the Antiquarian Section, 1895    (my underlined emphasis)

Even Tolkien’s tutor at Oxford University, Sir John Rhys, had involved himself in the overall debate:

“Celtic immigrants into these islands found them without inhabitants, or that they arrived in sufficient force to exterminate them. … it has been supposed that the people whom the Celts found here must have been of Iberian origin, and nearly akin to the ancient inhabitants of Aquitania and the Basques of modern times.”
– Lectures on Welsh Philology, Lecture IV, John Rhys, 1877

But for us it is significant that the eminent medievalist and folklorist Sabine Baring-Gould at least partially agreed:

“The original population of Cornwall was probably Iberic, of the same primitive race as the dark-haired population of Ireland, before the island was invaded and subjugated by the Celts.”
– Cornwall, History, Sabine Baring-Gould, 1910

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 The Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould, 1834 – 1924

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Because crucially he helped widen the debate to consider traditions and beliefs about the fairies – the ‘little folk’:

“By the 1880’s such leading folklorists as Sabine Baring-Gould, Andrew Lang, Joseph Jacobs, and Sir John Rhys were examining oral testimony on the nature and the customs of the ‘little folk’ and the historical and archaeological remains left by them.”
– Strange and Secret Peoples: Fairies and Victorian Consciousness, On the Origins of Fairies, Carole G. Silver, 2000

As such I have a feeling, though I cannot prove it, Baring-Gould influenced Tolkien. For he along with fellow mythologist David MacRitchie14 made a connection of some of the ‘little folk’ being pygmy peoples. According to Baring-Gould, they were the source of small fairy creatures in the myths spread across south-western England:

Everything comes out of an egg or a seed. And I suspect that there did exist a small people, not so small as these imps are represented, but comparatively small beside the Aryans who lived in all those countries in which the tradition of their existence lingers on.”
– A Book of Folk-lore, Pixies and Brownies, Sabine Baring-Gould, 1913

It’s quite possible Tolkien took inspiration from little and big people living side-by-side, and much of what Baring-Gould said below about these pygmies essentially being ‘hole-dwellers’:

“They were a people who did not build at all. They lived in caves, or, if in the open, in huts made by bending branches over and covering then with sods of turf. Consequently in folktales they are always represented as either emerging from caverns or from under mounds.”
– A Book of Folk-lore, Sabine Baring-Gould, 1913

Not quite tiny – but nevertheless much smaller humans – are these what Tolkien decided the race of Hobbits really were? Connected loosely through the traditional ‘little folk’ of Cornish folktales, was his invention really a smaller race of migratory man? So maybe Jack of folklore, and thus Bilbo of The Hobbit, was envisaged by Tolkien as one of:

“Sabine Baring-Gould’s pre-Celtic Iberian Pygmies, …”.
– Strange and Secret Peoples: Fairies and Victorian Consciousness, Changelings in Folklore and Medical Theory, Carole G. Silver, 2000

What is really intriguing in all of this is how some of the ‘little folk’ of Cornwall and Devon (the English south-west) were called ‘Spriggans’. These murky little beings of local folklore are defined by Tolkien’s former tutor in his dialectal dictionary as: 

“ ‘Spriggan’ : “A fairy, sprite, a goblin; …”.
– The English Dialect Dictionary, Joseph Wright, 1898-1905

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Spriggan Sculpture, Marilyn Collins, Crouch End, London

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Such a definition ties in quite well with that given earlier for a ‘Hob’ – another ‘sprite’ or ‘hobgoblin’. In addition one cannot help but notice ‘Spriggans’ and ‘Spriggins’ are remarkably similar, both construction-wise and phonetically. Leaving one to wonder if they shared a common etymological and linguistic origin. Though once again I have no proof – maybe Tolkien wondered that too? Then was Jack ‘Spriggins’ of Beanstalk fame really a little ‘Iberian man’ who had, over the ages, become confused as a Hob (a sprite or English goblin)? Were the larger Celtic race ultimately the source of the many giants Jack overcame? Is this how Tolkien satisfied an inner urge to unravel the history behind a fairy-tale? Had he purposely picked on England’s most famous folklore character?

Who knows what the passage of time had done in mutating names? But if the answers to all those questions asked in the previous paragraph are ‘yes’, Tolkien could easily live with our hobbit Mr Baggins having Iberian roots. Yes, ‘Bilbo’ with such a Spanish sounding name could still be English and aboriginal. Indeed to our Professor, ‘Bilbo Baggins’ was as English as an Englishman could possibly be!

Footnotes:

1  In connecting to The Hobbit:

“Many of his silver spoons mysteriously disappeared and were never accounted for. Personally he suspected the Sackville-Bagginses.”
– The Hobbit, The Last Stage

2  See: Photography, Volume 6, Tunbridge Wells Amateur, 1894.

3  Scholars have observed that ‘Gorbadoc’ was spelled ‘Gorboduc’ in predecessor manuscripts of The Lord of the Rings on several occasions.

4  Tolkien remarks on Bilbo’s character reveal how he felt about Bilbo prior to his adventure:

“Bilbo… had a good share of hobbit virtues: shrewd sense, generosity, patience and fortitude, and also a strong ‘spark’ yet unkindled. The story and its sequel are not about ‘types’ or the cure of bourgeois smugness by wider experience, but about the achievements of specially graced and gifted individuals.”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #281    (my underlined emphasis)

5  Malvolio is taken aback by the frivolity and drunken singing of Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, Feste and Maria. The line:

“SIR TOBY … Dost thou think because thou art virtuous there shall be no more cakes and ale?”,
– Twelfth Night, Act II, Scene iii, William Shakespeare

is thought to satirize Posthumous Hoby’s prayer interruption by the unwanted squatters. Incidentally “A niece of King Gorboduc” is mentioned briefly by the Fool in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, thus providing a link back to the Sackville dynasty.

6  In addition to Thomas Dekker and Thomas Sackville!

7  Courtesy of Wikipedia:

“Thomas … is ultimately derived from the Aramaic personal name meaning ‘twin’.”

8  Tolkien might well have turned to Joseph Wright’s dictionary to understand the full usage of ‘Hob’ across England. Indeed the entry occupies nearly two pages.

9  That’s not to say that Tolkien didn’t have other thoughts in his mind that felt apt and he found appealing when it came to ‘Hobbit’:

“It might have been associated with Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt. Certainly not rabbit, as some people think. Babbitt has the same bourgeois smugness that hobbits do. His world is the same limited place.”
– Interview with Charlotte and Denis Plimmer, 1968

“I must admit that its faint suggestion of rabbit appealed to me.”
– The Peoples of Middle-earth, The Appendix on Lanuages

10  For example see: Mythlore, Volume 30, Number 3, Issue 11 7/118, Spring 2012 – The Myths of the Author: Tolkien and the Medieval Origins of the Word Hobbit, Michael Livingston.

11  Meaning ‘Bag End’, Jane Neave’s farm.

12  See: What a Colorful Pair – Part IV.

13  At the time of his Lecture: On Fairy-stories in 1939 – Tolkien was certainly familiar with E.B. Tylor’s Primitive Culture, 1871 – see Tolkien On Fairy-stories, Flieger and Anderson (Manuscript A Commentary [182]). Tylor was the supposed leading authority on comparative anthropology of that era. 

14  MacRitchie’s theory became known in the late 19th century by folklorists as ‘Ethnological or Pygmy Theory’. Per Wikipedia, ‘David Macritchie’:

“Fairy Euhemerism, as developed by MacRitchie attempts to explain the origin of fairies in British folklore and regards fairies as being of a folk-memory of a ‘small-statured pre-Celtic race’ or what Tylor (see Note 13) theorised as possible folk memories of the aborigines of Britain.”

 

Tudor, Elizabethan and Jacobean Connections

This essay is best viewed in single page format. If it appears in two column style – an adjustment can be made by selecting zoom at 125% to 175% under the ‘Settings’ tab.
Part II – Match me a Bilbo in London

Much beloved, and for many their all-time favorite character, is the remarkable Bilbo Baggins. In speech, personality and mannerisms, Tolkien’s endearing invention initially comes across as the quintessential polite, mind your own business, English gentleman – not quite aristocratic, but certainly prosperous and respectable. Yet there is one obvious part to his composition that is very un-English. And that of course is his first name. Where in the world did Tolkien come up with it? Exactly what or who was the source of his inspiration?

Though a variety of possibilities have been proposed, none are entirely convincing. Not enough to say ‘case closed’. And who knows perhaps the Professor intentionally made it difficult for us? In which case, badly needed is a fresh injection of ideas. Perhaps overdue is a paradigm shift because there’s a very good chance the searches to date have all been executed in the wrong place.

Before we get too deep into our pursuit, we must first take a long hard look at what Tolkien himself said about naming. In The Peoples of Middle-earth he commented that ‘Bilbo’ was in a grouping of several other hobbit names which:

“… had no ‘meaning’ or derivation or connexion with books or legends: …”.
– The Peoples of Middle-earth, The Appendix on Languages

However a caveat was imposed. He conveyed the limitation applied only to names Hobbits gave each other. In other words these were matters ‘internal’ to the tale. What I am most interested in is the inspirational trigger ‘external’ to the tale. Despite the statement below being directed at The Lord of the Rings, there is every reason to believe an external-based naming process (Item (2) below) was established practice – even in the days of writing The Hobbit:

“The etymology of words and names in my story has two sides: (1) their etymology within the story; and (2) the sources from which I, as an author, derive them.”
– Letter to Gene Wolfe from Tolkien, November 1966

What else did Tolkien have to say about Mr. Baggins that is relevant to discovering a credible source? Perhaps most disconcerting is the very official reply given to the editor of The Observer newspaper. When questioned on the ‘invented’ name for the furry-footed creatures he’d called ‘Hobbits’ and when asked to tell more about Bilbo Baggins, he offered up something quite surprising:

“… I do not remember anything about the name and inception of the hero.”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #25

In taking this at face value many scholars have simply opted to give up. Tolkien’s statement is very factual. He advised us not to bother and look:

“I could guess, of course, but the guesses would have no more authority than those of future researchers, and I leave the game to them.”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #25

According to his declaration – there is no answer; readers postulations might be as good as his. So in other words with ‘Bilbo’ and ‘Baggins’ – further investigation is pointless. Then we should ask – why should it be a “game”?

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Illustration by J.R.R. Tolkien depicting Bilbo

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So if we are to believe Tolkien we are faced with the prospect of ‘Bilbo’ possessing no etymological origin. At least not one known to Tolkien or thoughtfully constructed by him. This would then be a case unlike ‘Smaug’ whom the Professor derived from:

“… the past tense of the primitive Germanic verb Smugan, to squeeze through a hole: – a low philological jest.”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #25    (italicized emphasis on Smugan)

Hmm … this is kind of odd – ‘Smaug’ had a source but not ‘Bilbo’? Upon further pondering and critical examination we have to take a deep breath and shake our heads. From all we know about Tolkien would he have really just come up with ‘Bilbo Baggins’ without considerable thought. Are we truly expected to believe the very hero of our tale had his names picked randomly? Could this really just be a case of the Professor phonetically liking the combination of two funny sounding words?

The scholar John Rateliff has suggested:

“ ‘Bilbo’ is both a short, simple made-up name appropriate for the hero of a children’s book … Bilbo is almost certainly Tolkien’s own coinage.”
– The History of The Hobbit, The Name ‘Bilbo’, John Rateliff

However though this sounds plausible Tolkien’s explicit newspaper denial is one rare occasion where we must question his veracity and re-examine the issue. Because we know in directly contradicting The Observer assertion he much later provided an ‘external’ origination. Part of ‘Baggins’ was:

“Intended to recall ‘bag’ and meant to be associated (by hobbits) with Bag End … (It was the local name for my aunt’s farm in Worcestershire, which was at the end of a lane leading to it and no further).”
– Guide to the Names in The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien

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Bag End in the 1920's

Jane Neave’s Farm-house, ‘Bag End’, Dormston, Worcestershire

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The Professor can’t have it both ways. And it is highly doubtful that a temporary lapse of memory occurred while writing his ‘no knowledge’ disclaimer. Which is why one can rightfully dig deeper. And so upon further reflection left open is the possibility of ‘Bilbo’ still having a structured basis rooted in a philological sense to England. Equally – Tolkien might have plucked the name from elsewhere!

In stepping back and looking at the big picture, there is no doubt that the 1937 release of his new fairy tale to the public at large put Tolkien under considerable pressure. Greatly desired was the book to be a hit. Thus an unexpected attack questioning the originality of his core ‘Hobbit’ invention must have been hugely disappointing. He might have been flustered to the point of volunteering material which was not quite truthful. But only I suspect to quash any further inquiries – especially by academics. In my view this is highly understandable. After all, his professional reputation could have been tarnished – and as you will see, present were problematic things he’d rather not disclose.

Now the fore-name ‘Bilbo’ is an extremely rare one as far as its appearance in the English speaking world. Tom Shippey has discovered a hillin Herefordshire called ‘Great Bilbo’ – though its naming origin remains a mystery. Mark Hooker in The Hobbitonian Anthology has investigated, what I deem as unlikely, links to the French Monsieur Bilboquet. More convincing is a connection to the cup and ball game known as bilbo-catch which historically may have had its origin in a ‘ring’ and ‘finger’ toy – which again has a French connection. The trouble with all of this is that Tolkien appears not to have been overly fond of his Gallic neighbors, and Bilbo’s relations (with their frenchified double-barreled surnames) were not exactly portrayed as a pleasant lot. Nevertheless the theory has considerable merit. Certainly it is one of the two best explanations currently out there. The other being that ‘Bilbo’ was derived from the Spanish sword known as a ‘bilboe’ – thus aptly tying the hero to Sting acquired from the trolls’ lair.

In my view, both proposals have a fundamental flaw for the reason the hero’s naming would then result from an ill-fitting chronological sequence. Per the tale the name ‘Bilbo’ came before the incidents of acquiring the sword or the ring slipping on finger event, not after the fact. A point that Tolkien would have been aware of and thus, I feel, he would have dismissed such propositions.

No – in my opinion the name ‘Bilbo’ must have been originally sourced ‘external’ to The Hobbit and not be related to events within the tale itself. Something in our real world must have triggered ‘Bilbo’ – a bit like the ‘Bag’ of Baggins and likewise ‘Sackville’:

“Sackville is an English name (of more aristocraticassociation than Baggins).”
– Guide to the Names in The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien

Whether the name stemmed from a submerged:

“… ‘leaf-mould’ of memories …”,
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #324

or whether there was another factor – I will leave it to the reader to judge. But if we could come up with a reasonably solid idea and the actual name of a character called ‘Bilbo’ elsewhere in the English-speaking world, and if simultaneously we could come up with some decent connectivity to parts of The Hobbit – then surely it would leapfrog pre-existing theories and jump to the front of the queue. Because we know that Tolkien had indeed set a precedent. By plucking the names of the dwarves (and starring wizard) out of ancient Norse texts – the Professor has used external sources from our real world.

“… the names of the Dwarves in The Hobbit (and additions in the L.R.) are derived from the lists in Völuspá of the names of dvergar; …”.
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #297

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Dwarf List: ‘Völuspá’ (not all versions have the same spelling)

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There is then no real reason why we should discount a similar process of ‘plucking’ being used as the basis to arrive at ‘Bilbo’. But from where? If not from books – then maybe from something closely related?

Perhaps the faintest of clues exist in the oft-told story of how one day while marking School Certificate examination papers Tolkien came up with the sentence:

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”
– The Hobbit, An Unexpected Party

Sure, all the attention has been focused on the momentous occasion of creating the word ‘hobbit’, but nevertheless since ‘Bilbo’ follows not long after the first written sentence – maybe the tale was beginning to brew in Tolkien’s head. Even though he freely admitted that after writing the first line:

“I did nothing about it, for a long time, …”,
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #163

that’s not sufficient to discount other strands to the initial storyline having formed very early-on.

It is at this point we need to employ some conjecture. It might seem a stretch for some – but at least there is some logic involved. One might ask oneself what examination papers were they? Could they have had an effect on Tolkien’s thoughts as his bored mind wandered? Did the idea behind the first line extend well beyond it, and did the examination papers influence that?

It is recorded since his days at Leeds University the marking of school papers became:

“… an annual chore which he will undertake for many years …”.
– The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide, Chronology – Summer 1922, Hammond and Scull

Details of what he actually marked are scant. There is a good possibility that the test paper at the moment of inspiration was of English Literature – and the subject was Shakespearian in nature (or writings of that era). One rare recording tells us he:

“… read two hundred answers on ‘Caesar’s ghost’, …”.
– The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide, Chronology – 22 July 1925, Hammond and Scull

No wonder his mind was apt to wander!

Now Tolkien’s accumulated English historical knowledge is known to be very much centered on a period of English history prior to the 1400’s. From the Anglo-Saxons to Middle-english and the age of Chaucer, the Professor’s expert acquaintance is undeniable. Yet less well-known is the likelihood of a vast array of stored information concerning the late Elizabethan and Jacobean eras: the so-called ‘Golden Age’. Oh most certainly Tolkien knew his Shakespeare:

“I went to King Edward’s School and spent most of my time learning Latin and Greek; but I also learned English. Not English Literature! Except Shakespeare …”.
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #163

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Image result for king edward school tolkien

King Edward’s School, Birmingham – Probably pre-1930

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Yet we also know that he graduated in 1915 from Exeter College at Oxford University with a First-class honours degree in English Language and Literature. Rateliff is probably correct in factually remarking Tolkien:

“… was of course familiar with the full range of English literature up to about 1830 …”.
– The History of The Hobbit, Addendum: The Seventh Phase, John Rateliff

And that gels. Because I would argue that one does not become a Professor of English Language and Literature at Merton without a broader base of familiarity and understanding. For when it comes to literature there was far more to the English Renaissance era than works produced by the Bard of Avon. So just maybe in this particular corner of Tolkien’s reading arena, something triggered an intriguing naming. Perhaps something has been missed by all scholars to date? And the reason why this particular period is so worth investigating, is the inclusion of indisputable Elizabethan/Jacobean vocabulary in Songs for the Philologists; a time period of creativity not that far removed from writing that first famous Hobbit sentence. Adding to this is my contention that the three trolls of The Hobbit were sourced from the same historical era. Thus we have a legitimate line of inquiry. One that we cannot easily discard or tar as absurd.

So we are finally approaching the revelation I’ve been trying to get to all along. That paradigm shift I spoke about earlier now needs to be played out. Needed to be investigated is what many may deem unlikely – a potential adoption of ‘Bilbo’ that has something to do with Elizabethan and Jacobean England. With that thought I must harp back to Shakespeare and his plays.

Foregoing discussion on Tolkien’s recorded dislike of the Bard, I much prefer to balance that out by focusing on the philological side of the equation. Having worked for the forerunner of the Oxford English Dictionary, I’m certain Tolkien would have known that Shakespeare was the inventor (or most likely the first documented user) of more ‘new’ words than any other historical figure as well as its single most quoted person:

“The works of Shakespeare (1564–1616) are more widely quoted in OED than those of any other author …”.
– OED website, Shakespeare in the OED

And the source of these ‘new’ words were of course a set of voluminous plays. Indeed on that basis the Elizabethan/Jacobean time periods were equally rich with dramas from other famed playwrights – where once again many ‘new’ words arose to find their way into our lexicon. These matters should have been dominant in Tolkien’s thoughts. Especially as the Professor said:

“I like history, and am moved by it, but its finest moments for me are those in which it throws light on words and names!”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #205

One can only conclude that as a professional philologist Tolkien had no choice but to actively engage in specialist study. Fortunately both Leeds Universityand the Bodleianat Oxford housed acclaimed collections of many of the earliest surviving works from these eras. Wouldn’t you have thought there’s a good chance the Professor took advantage of the facilities?

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.Image result for shakespeare first folio bodleian

William Shakespeare’s First Folio, Bodleian Library, Oxford

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Unfortunately the written evidence of Tolkien studying playwrights other than Shakespeare is rather sparse. The most obvious allusion is to Thomas Nashe (per Have with You to Saffron-Walden) in his English and Welsh essay where mentioned is a variant of the more modernistic giant refrain: ‘fe-fi-fo-fum’. But there is one other occasion that a truly remarkable statement was made:

“Adults are allowed to study anything: even old theatre-programmes, …”.
– Tolkien On Fairy-stories, Manuscript B, Flieger and Anderson

Hmm … ‘theatre-programmes’. Not quite ‘books’!

From this ever so revealing sentence, the implication is that Tolkien indeed took some time out to pursue such an interest. Otherwise why mention a relatively obscure branch of literature? Don’t you get the feeling that Tolkien the philologist, who was always interested in ‘roots’, might well have looked at some of the earliest English examples?

As I have already discussed in What a Colorful Pair!, Part IV, I believe Tolkien was well aware of the famous Cony-catching play pamphlets printed for Robert Greene’s plays. Also I believe that there was one other which attracted his attention. A theatre-programme that caught his eye because of a dragon-like5 frontispiece to the quarto:

“I find ‘dragons’ a fascinating product of imagination.”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #122

“I desired dragons with a profound desire.”
– Essay On Fairy-stories, J.R.R. Tolkien, 1939

And that drawing was for a Jacobean play written by Thomas Dekker6 titled: Match me in London7!

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Quarto of Dekker’s ‘Match me in London’, 1631

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Dragon pictures are a rarity among the many play pamphlets that have survived from the English renaissance era. Indeed I can find only one other8. But it is not just the ‘fire-drake’ mentioned in the play who draws interest, it is the character called ‘Bilbo’ who speaks of it:

“BILBO: Another fire-drake!”
– Match me in London, Act 1 – Scene 2, Play by Thomas Dekker

How intriguing! How alluring a connection!

Now featured right at the beginning of Act I, Bilbo is cast as a high-ranking servant of a Spanish nobleman. As one of the two opening actors, Bilbo’s first words are also strikingly evocative:

“BILBO: Thieves, thieves, thieves, …”.
– Match me in London, Act 1 – Scene 1, Play by Thomas Dekker

In this case they resound with Gollum’s famous cry – originally drafted as:

“Thief, thief, thief!”
– The History of The Hobbit, The 1947 Hobbit, John Rateliff

Clearly we already have accumulated three strong tangencies – but there are also several more!

Match me in London is a play set around fictional Spanish nobility. I will not summarize it for that would extend this essay considerably. In any case there are many freely available sources which do an admirable job. Instead I shall bring to attention some other likenesses in comparing matters in the play against The Hobbit.

Bilbo himself is a shrewd and generally faithful servant9. In a way he is not too unlike Mr. Baggins. With his master Malevento (a wise fatherly Gandalf-type figure) he sets out on a quest to track down a missing Tormiella – the nobleman’s ‘jewel’ of a daughter. She has been in the unwanted clutches of the ‘fire-drake’ Gazetto but elopes with her true love: Cordolente. The ‘diamond’ is seemingly lost yet at the close ends up in the hands of the rightful ‘owner’ – a parodying echo of the fate of Thorin in the triangle with Smaug and the Arkenstone (or its forerunner, the Gem of Girion).

Bilbo, the bachelor, parts ways with his master and follows Cordolente (‘Thorin’) and is not reunited with Malevento until much travel has occurred towards the latter setting of the play. Adding to the pursuit of the beautiful ‘gem’ is the King of Spain who also fails in his lustful attempt to woo Tormiella – in a way echoing Thranduil as one of multiple parties seeking to claim a great treasure.

“KING: How shall I get a sight of this rich diamond?”
– Match me in London, Act 1 – Scene 4, Play by Thomas Dekker

Within the play there are mentions of Bilbo opening a door on a fateful day and a cloak of invisibility – not too far removed from Bilbo in The Hobbit finding the hidden Lonely Mountain door and his acquiring a ring of invisibility.

“BILBO: I’ll beat down the door and put him in mind of a … fatal day for doors to be broken open.”
– Match me in London, Act 1 – Scene 1, Play by Thomas Dekker

“BILBO: Unless he wore the invisible cloak.”
– Match me in London, Act 2 – Scene 1, Play by Thomas Dekker

Interestingly it is Bilbo in Dekker’s play who cries out:

“BILBO: … You do me wrong, sir. Though I go in breeches, I am not the roaring girl you take me for.”
– Match me in London, Act 1 – Scene 2, Play by Thomas Dekker

Again a tangency hinting back at our Bilbo (who by the way also wears breeches) not really being a thief. When asked by Malevento: “What thief seest thou?”, the paradoxical quip back is:

“BILBO: … That ill-favor’d thief, in your candle. None else, not I.”
– Match me in London, Act 1 – Scene 1, Play by Thomas Dekker

In any case “the roaring girl” alludes to another Dekker play based on a famous Elizabethan female thief named Molly Frith (aka Moll Cutpurse) who dressed in male attire.

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Frontispiece Quarto of Dekker & Middleton’s,’The Roaring Girl’, 1611

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All of this repertoire, which I am suggesting Tolkien engaged in perusing, may have triggered memories of his own household being robbed in Leeds by a dishonest maid and her unsavory cohorts:

“The Tolkien house is ransacked by burglars. … The family discover that their new maid … is a member of a gang of thieves.”
– The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide, Chronology – Late November-early December 1923, Hammond and Scull

Getting back to the play, when it comes to the plot, we are told that Bilbo is in danger as the ‘fire-drake’ approaches:

“TORMIELLA: You dally with fire, haste, haste, … ”.
– Match me in London, Act 1 – Scene 2, Play by Thomas Dekker

Prior to this Dekker had Bilbo lightheartedly (yet ominously) describe Gazetto’s abode as one of:

“BILBO: … everlasting Thunder, …”.
– Match me in London, Act 1 – Scene 2, Play by Thomas Dekker

As soon as the ‘dragon’ Gazetto finds out the ‘treasure’ has gone we are told (in an echo of Smaug’s exhibited rage in leaving his bed and chasing after Bilbo):

“BILBO: Signior Gazetto is horne-mad, and leapt out of his Bed, … so that I think he comes running stark naked after me.”
– Match me in London, Act 1 – Scene 2, Play by Thomas Dekker

Remarkably in this foreign setting, the cause behind the lost treasure is thievery involving not a Spaniard but:

BILBO: Tis some Englishman has stol’n her, …” !
– Match me in London, Act 1 – Scene 2, Play by Thomas Dekker

The ‘dragon’ though, has to patiently wait for revenge:

“GAZETTO: Till then my vengeance sleepes, …”. 
– Match me in London, Act 5 – Scene 2, Play by Thomas Dekker

Other notable similarities in Dekker’s drama reminiscent of various points and scenes in The Hobbit include the seeking of Tormiella in the dark, Bilbo’s trotting and aching heels, a mention of ‘woolly feet’, unstable empty barrels in rough waters, and a single destiny changing arrow:

“BILBO: … I cannot see my young mistress …  … ’tis so dark.”
– Match me in London, Act 1 – Scene 1, Play by Thomas Dekker

“BILBO: … my heels ache with trotting, …”.
– Match me in London, Act 1 – Scene 2, Play by Thomas Dekker

“GAZETTO: … Thanks, vengeance; thou as last art come, Though with wooly feet, …”.
– Match me in London, Act 2 – Scene 1, Play by Thomas Dekker

“KING: … give this tumbling whale Empty barrels to play with till this troublous seas, …”.
– Match me in London, Act 5 – Scene 1, Play by Thomas Dekker

“KING: … Th’ast but one arrow to shoote, and that’s thy flight,”
– Match me in London, Act 5 – Scene 1, Play by Thomas Dekker

As to the later part of the plot, Bilbo becomes a shopkeeper10 in keeping close to Tormiella (the ‘gem’) and Cordolente (‘Thorin’). Visited by his old master Malevento (‘Gandalf’), Cordolente is told to look after Bilbo:

“MALEVENTO: Oh, pray son, use Bilbo Caveare11 well.”
– Match me in London, Act 4 – Scene 2, Play by Thomas Dekker

However it is Bilbo that allows the ‘gem’ to be taken away to the King by Lady Dildoman. Seemingly lost, Cordolente then argues with the King (‘Thranduil’) to have her returned. Right at the end of the play, the King relinquishes his claim and allows the ‘diamond’ back into the hands of Cordolente where she rightfully belongs. So once again we see many plot parallels with The Hobbit. Surely this is beyond coincidence!

How far Tolkien went with his clever plan – I cannot say. Was Dildoman meant to represent Bard – Thranduil’s ‘stooge’? Was evil Prince John in failing to usurp the King meant to lampoon Bolg in his failed attempt to seize a kingdom? Perhaps that’s carrying things a bit too far. But one thing is for sure and that is Dekker’s play has that implausible fairy tale ending where all the good folk live ‘happily ever after’!

All of these noted tangencies feed the fire of parody to a ‘roaring’ crescendo. It’s hard not to believe Tolkien began The Hobbit with subtle parodying intent. Certainly he admitted:

“Mr Baggins began as a comic tale …”.
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #19

It is interesting to note that even his children parodied two of the main characters of The Hobbit well before the book was published and perhaps when it was only partly written down. Michael Tolkien recollects in early readings parodied names such as:

“… Scandalf the wizard and Throw-in the head dwarf …”.
– The History of The Hobbit, Chronology of Composition, John Rateliff

Moreover Tolkien was not shy of using parody himself:

“ ‘The King of the Green Dozen’ is the story of the King of Iwerddon … The Story, which is set in Wales, parodies the ‘high’ style of narrative.”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Notes to Letter #33     (my underlined emphasis)

“The toponymy of The Shire … is a ‘parody‘ of that of rural England, …”.
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #190    (my underlined emphasis)

“I had the remarkable, and in the event extremely enjoyable, experience in Holland. … The dinner … speeches were interleaved between the courses. … My final reply was I hope adequate, … It was partly a parody of Bilbo’s speech in Chapter I.”.
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #206    (my underlined emphasis)

Professor Tolkien definitely possessed a humorous side – and now perhaps his most intimate secrets are being revealed. In comparing Match me in London against The Hobbit it would be too much to expect everything to line-up scene for scene or character for character. For indeed there is much latitude available with this kind of literary technique. Nonetheless surely the true origin of Tolkien’s very special fairy tale lies in a Jacobean play. Surely at the very least – an initial skeleton plot came from the Jacobean drama12. For its hard to deny aspects of Dekker’s tragi-comedy13, as it is known, appear to be richly reflected in the tragic and comedic story of The Hobbit!

Yet despite some scintillating evidence, the reader would be right to skeptically pose the questions:

‘Why select such a Spanish sounding name’?
‘Why choose a fictional play set in Spain’?

I agree – this all seems – so not English. Though as a counter, we must remember that the Match me in London title begs an English parallel to the Spanish setting – and Tolkien seems to have taken up the challenge. Yet for those who want more evidence, we shall see in my next essay a very good reason why ‘Bilbo’ was so befitting!

Footnotes:

1  See The Road to Middle-earth, The Bourgeois Burglar.

2  One might reasonably presume that Tolkien was aware of at least one (and probably more) of the aristocrats in England who had historically possessed ‘Sackville’ as a surname.

3  Housed today inSpecial Collections’ and The Brotherton Gallery.

4  Many housed today in the Weston Library.

5  The creature depicted is possibly a gryphon – but it is certainly dragonesque enough to arouse curiosity.

6  Extract from The British Library Web-site: The Bellman of London, 1608

“Thomas Dekker (c. 1572–1632) was an English dramatist and pamphleteer. In 1608 he published his most popular tract, The Belman of London, one of a series of ‘cony-catching’ pamphlets that Dekker wrote to expose the various scams and deceptions of contemporary criminals and confidence tricksters.”

Note the commonality of Dekker’s ‘cony-catching’ pamphlets with those of Robert Greene (see What a Colorful Pair!, Part IV).

7  All quotes are translated from Elizabethan English to a more modern form of English for ease of understanding.

The quote & print source used in this analysis is per The University of Michigan Library (quod.lib.umich.edu):

A tragi-comedy: called, Match mee in London As it hath beene often presented; first, at the Bull in St. Iohns-street; and lately, at the Priuate-House in Drury-Lane, called the Phœnix Written by Tho: Dekker.
Dekker, Thomas, ca. 1572-1632.
London: Printed by B. Alsop and T. Favvcet, for H. Seile, at the Tygers-head in St. Pauls Church-yard, 1631.

8  A quarto for Shakespeare’s: The Tragic History of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, dated 1605 and printed by I.R. for N.L.

9  Definitely the junior member of the expedition at outset, Bilbo is nonetheless not a ‘servant’. The view of others in the tale is less forgiving. Bilbo is referred to as:

“… that queer little creature that is said to be their servant.”
– The Hobbit, A Thief in the Night

10  A faint connection of Gloin likening Bilbo to a ‘grocer’ at outset.

11  ‘Caveare’ was Elizabethan spelling for ‘caviar’ – regarded as a ‘bourgeois’ dish in those times – as it is now.

12  Nor can we discount Tolkien going back to Dekker’s play for inspiration – even after The Hobbit was first published.

13  Courtesy of Literary Devices.net:

“Tragicomedy is a literary device used in fictional works. It contains both tragedy and comedy. Mostly, the characters in tragicomedy are exaggerated and sometimes there might be a happy ending after a series of unfortunate events.”

Revisions:

4/15/2018   Was: “towards the latter part of the play.”, Is:“towards the latter setting of the play.”

Was: “BILBO: Thieves, thieves, thieves!”, Is: “BILBO: Thieves, thieves, thieves, …”.

Was: “And then to round things off it is Gazetto (the ‘dragon’) who seeks revenge for his lost treasure (Tormiella) while we are told by:

“BILBO: Tis some Englishman has stol’n her, …” !
– Match me in London, Act 1 – Scene 2, Play by Thomas Dekker

Is: “Getting back to the play, when it comes to the plot … added through to: 

“Gazetto: Till then my vengeance sleepes, …”. 
– Match me in London, Act 1 – Scene 2, Play by Thomas Dekker

4/16/18   Reordered following paragraph and subsequent associated quotes: “Other notable similarities in Dekker’s drama reminiscent of various points and scenes in The Hobbit include the mention of ‘woolly feet’, unstable empty barrels in rough waters, a single destiny changing arrow, Bilbo’s trotting and aching heels, and his seeking of Tormiella in the dark:”.

Added from: “As to the later part of the plot. …” to “… beyond coincidence!”

Was: The Master of Laketown”, Is: “Bard”.

Added new notes 10 and 11. Reordered later ones.

 

Tudor, Elizabethan and Jacobean Connections

This essay is best viewed in single page format. If it appears in two column style – an adjustment can be made by selecting zoom at 125% to 175% under the ‘Settings’ tab.
Introduction:

Right now is an ideal time to take a break from Tom (and Goldberry). Until this point the going has been a tad frenetic leaving way too much information for easy digestion and assimilation. What might help enhance our understanding of this fascinating couple is pondering adjacent matters where much also remains of mystery. For in researching the dynamic duo – other doors have opened behind which lie rooms filled with the promise of discovery. As I continue to reiterate – the effort, thought and academia put into the early Bombadil related chapters of The Lord of the Rings is literary artistry truly at a professorial level. It certainly spilt over to subsequent chapters.

Some, no doubt, will be disappointed that Tom is not featuring prominently in this three-part series. Don’t be. Tantalizingly, there are still many eye-opening revelations in store. In the interim – this first essay will focus on ‘idioms, proverbs and poetry’, while the others will take some pointers from the first and then turn back to The Hobbit. Therein will be explored matters which I believe Tolkien did not want to openly admit. I am going to pursue a train of logic which ought to help us understand a little more about the hero: Bilbo!

 

Part I – Plagiarized Proverbs and Parodied Playwrights

A suitable point to start divulging a new twist to one of Tolkien’s early works is to wind the clock back to The Hobbit. I want to highlight another way how the Professor made sure that his Middle-earth world was connected to ours. Beyond fairy tale and myth, other methods were found.

Even when first putting pen to paper we know the setting was of a time period:

“… long ago in the quiet of the world, …”.
– The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien

A sensible and reputable method of forming a loose-knit bond to our own age was through sayings and proverbs some of which are now lost or survive only in reconstituted form. When discussing hobbits the narrator relates:

“… they have a fund of wisdom and wise sayings that men have mostly never heard or have forgotten long ago.”
– The Hobbit, Riddles in the Dark

Obscure examples (and some that are less so) include:

Chapter 12: “third time pays for all”
Chapter 12: “Every worm has his weak spot”
Chapter 13: “While there’s life, there’s hope” 
Chapter 15: “It is an ill wind, … that blows no one any good” 
Chapter 5: “out of sight and out of mind”1.
– The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien

Those not wholly erased from use in our present day sometimes underwent considerable rephrasing:

“ ‘Escaping goblins to be caught by wolves!’ … and it became a proverb, though we now say ‘out of the frying-pan into the fire’ in the same sort of uncomfortable situations.”
– The Hobbit, Out of the Frying-Pan into the Fire

And Tolkien left his readers a little puzzle to solve by themselves:

“ ‘Never laugh at live dragons, …’ … became a favourite saying … and passed into a proverb.”
– The Hobbit, Inside Information

What would today’s equivalent be? Perhaps in Tolkien’s mind it evolved into:

‘Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.’

Or conceivably even:

‘Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.’

Just like The Hobbit riddles had ancient sourcesand handed-down usage, so did the proverbs and sayings. A few can be readily tracked down in our world. For example attributions range from Theocritus in classic Greek writings, to the anonymous author of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in the era of Middle English; even to Tudor times and The Proverbs of John Heywood.

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The Proverbs of John Heywood, 1546 – Notes by Julian Sharman, 1874

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For the mythology such sayings, maxims and adages were not just confined to The HobbitThe Lord of the Rings is littered with them. Perhaps little recognized from a quantity standpoint is the cluster which crop up in Bree:

“It never rains but it pours”
“I’m run off my feet”
“One thing drives out another”
“All that is gold does not glitter”
“there’s no accounting for East and West”
“handsome is as handsome does”7 
“You have put your foot in it”
“vanishing into thin air”
“Not all those who wander are lost”
“Strange as News from Bree”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, At the Sign of the Prancing Pony & Strider

Beside this ample selection, it appears Tolkien injected a wry touch of humor (beyond the obvious ‘Town Hole’ jest) for these particular chapters.

What were the A,B,C’S that young Shire hobbits learned? G was for ‘Grand’ but perhaps the A,B,C’S stood for some local geographical places?

Maybe Archet Bree, Combe and Staddle!

And where else would one mind their Ps and Qs but in an inn.

“ ‘… Mind your Ps and Qs, …’ ”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, At the Sign of the Prancing Pony

For traditionally the saying lies in the landlord and customer keeping a close eye on ‘Pints’ and Quarts’ and not getting these measures mixed up when it came to charging or paying!

But surely the biggest inside joke was the ‘Prancing Pony’ itself. Why, one may wonder, did Tolkien decide on such a name for an inn? Was there something behind the imagery of a pony rearing up on its two hind legs?

Hmm … the inside joke was that indeed the landlord had to ‘pony up’ 30 silver pennies!

Now the expression ‘pony up’ was first recorded in England by Thomas Darlington within a glossary of The Folk-speech of South Cheshire issued in 1887. However it is possible Tolkien knew that the first two words of a psalm in an Anglican prayer-book, which was always sung on March the 25th, are ‘Legem pone’. The Latin term became associated with the remittance of debts and was used allusively to convey ‘payment of money’ or ‘cash down’. That meaning of ‘legem pone’ was recorded as early as 1570 by the Elizabethan Thomas Tusser. Coincidentally enough the phrase was most strongly associated to an English quarter day – a day like Michaelmas Day, that debts were settled and payments were made:

“Use (legem pone) to paie at thy daie,
but vse not (Oremus) for often delaie:
Yet (Praesta quaesumus) out of a grate,
Of al other collects, the lender doth hate.”
– Fiue Hundred Pointes of Good Husbandrie, Thomas Tusser, 1580

Hmm … perhaps Tolkien decided Latin, a mispronounced pony and legendary money had all got mixed up in the cauldron of story and history. Perhaps the inn at Bree was the mythical source of it all!

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Legem pone (Psalm 119) and Michaelmas Day – Appearing on Common Calendar

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Now another literary avenue Tolkien did not neglect was to force connectivity through nursery rhymes. This was achieved at Bree through Frodo’s song that we all know was an interesting expansion of the modern-day The Cat and the Fiddle. Curiously Tolkien worked on this rhyme, and adapted several other well-known ones to his liking9, many years before The Lord of the Rings. The oddest part about the whole matter from my view is that Tolkien titled his original version in 1923 as A Nursery Rhyme Undone and its Scandalous Secret Unlocked.

Now in our world, several ancient English nursery rhymes are known to be allegorical in nature. Historians have speculated The Cat and the Fiddle to have a deeper meaning. It is supposedly a covert parody of Elizabeth 1st and her court. A ‘scandalous secret’ is explained by the Opies in The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes and summarized in a Washington Post article:

“A … credible story involves England’s Queen Elizabeth I and her court. A 16th century dance, current in her time, was called ‘Hey diddle diddle,’ and Elizabeth had a fondness for dancing to fiddle music. Because she tended to toy with hapless ministers, she sometimes was called ‘the cat.’ The ‘little dog’ could be Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, whom Elizabeth considered marrying and of whom she once said: ‘He is like my little lap dog.’ As for the dish and the spoon, according to The Annotated Mother Goose by William and Ceil Baring-Gould, the courtier who carried ceremonial dishes at state dinners was called ‘the dish,’ and that the lady-in-waiting who tasted the queen’s food to ascertain that it wasn’t poisoned was known as ‘the spoon.’ In fact, a ‘dish’ did elope with a ‘spoon.’ Edward, Earl of Hertford, and Lady Katherine Grey, sister of the ill-fated Lady Jane Grey, fell in love and were married secretly. When Elizabeth found out, she had both imprisoned in the Tower of London, where they lived out their lives, producing two children.”
– The Realities behind the Rhymes, Washington Post, Jennifer Howard, 11 June 1997

Why should this attract my attention? Well because the real thrust of this particular piece of sleuthing is to shine the spotlight on more Elizabethan connections and hark back to the trolls of The Hobbit. These three villains, you might remember (per Color Symbolism – Part IV), starred in an intentional parody of three famous Elizabethan playwrights. At least that is my claim.

So since this renaissance era seems to continually pop up –we ought to take a closer look at another verse in The Lord of the Rings – namely one sung by Sam, which is commonly referred to as the Troll Song. For most there will be no need to jog the memory, nevertheless the first verse is quoted below:

“Troll sat alone on his seat of stone,
And munched and mumbled a bare old bone;
For many a year he had gnawed it near,
For meat was hard to come by.
Done by! Gum by!
In a cave in the hills he dwelt alone,
And meat was hard to come by.”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Flight to the Ford

Among scholars it is common knowledge that the origin of this poetry lay well before work was initiated on The Lord of the Rings. For that matter, well before even The Hobbit. It first surfaced as Pēro & Pōdex (Latin for ‘Boot’ and ‘Bottom’) around 1926. Later in 1936 an upgraded version made it into a booklet called Songs for the Philologists privately printed at University College London under the auspices of a former Leeds University student of Tolkien’s. Within this short publication (taken from typescripts handed out at Leeds) were other selections of poetry by Tolkien, but I shall focus exclusively on the troll piece.

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Image result for songs for the philologists

Songs for the Philologists, 1936

 

Published as The Root of the Boot, the Professor had a particular fondness for it – even to the point of recommending a particular tune to which it should be recited. Fortunately we are aware of all the changes10 from Pēro & Pōdex to The Root of the Boot and thenceforth for The Lord of the Rings.

One of the first items one might question is the reason behind The Root of the Boot’s inclusion into a Leeds University typescript in the first place. Why was it there? What philological significance did it have? It is arguably the most comic of Tolkien’s contributions subsumed into Songs for the Philologists and seems a tad out of place. Certainly some obscure words are included, not in modern-day vocabulary; so of course it might be of some philological interest to university students, who were of course the intended primary audience. But apart from spreading mirth and tickling his own fancy – was there more to it all? Did it have a deeper meaning?

Tolkien, as I have grown to believe, never created anything of literary originality without a decent amount of thought behind it. So can we come up with a reason that has the ring of truth to it? As I have already suggested an Elizabethan angle to the trolls in The Hobbit, could the same have been the basis for the troll in The Root of the Boot too? Could there be more to the published poem than initially registers? Could it have had, like other English nursery rhymes, some allegorical intent? And if so, could the changes made along the way to the final configuration lend us some clues?

To address the above questions there are three items of interest which I want to bring out and briefly discuss before I launch into a more detailed analysis.

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(a) The expunging of any matter related to Christianity

The 1936 precursors to the Troll Song have a definite Christian undertone. Unmistakable references are made to Heaven and Hell, along with eternal burning damnation. The classic crowning halo surrounding the heads of medieval depicted angels/saints is mentioned as well as holy Sunday and a churchyard. The mild oath ‘Oddsteeth’ is a carry-down from Elizabethan usage and meant to convey swearing by ‘God’s Teeth’.

By The Lord of the Rings all religious allusions were removed or replaced with more suitable language. This certainly kept the updated poem in line with the tale’s overall lack of religion:

“It is a monotheistic world of ‘natural theology’. The odd fact that there are no churches, temples, or religious rites and ceremonies, is simply part of the historical climate depicted.”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #165

(b) The ‘Tom’ of the poetry was not Bombadil

Since we know that Bombadil was not lame – we can immediately eliminate him as a candidate:

“Tom’s leg is game, since home he came,
And his bootless foot is lasting lame;”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Flight to the Ford

“Now Tom goes lame since home he came,
And his bootless foot is grievous game;”
– The Root of the Boot, Songs for the Philologists, J.R.R. Tolkien, E.V. Gordon & others, 1936    (correspondingly identical lines to those in Pēro & Pōdex)

Bombadil’s origin, as stated in the novel, is unknown; he is ‘fatherless’. Besides having an uncle named John (The Root of the Boot and Pēro & Pōdex) or Tim (Troll Song) would provide part of a family-tree and imply that indeed he had a ‘father’. Which ever way one chooses to interpret ‘fatherlesss’11 – the fit isn’t good. Even though the Troll Song reappears12 in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil issued in 1962, nevertheless there are many persons called Tom as the name is far from uncommon or unique.

(c) Elizabethan/Jacobean Playwright Involvement

Some of the more obscure words in the poems also appear in Elizabethan/Jacobean texts – particularly plays. Included are:

‘nuncle’ – Shakespeare, King Lear (meaning: mine uncle)
‘bootless’ – Shakespeare, King Lear, The Two Noble Kinsmen (meaning: useless)
‘mumbled’ – Shakespeare, The Two Noble Kinsmen (meaning: grumbled)        
‘portal’ – Shakespeare, Hamlet (meaning: doorway)

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Now of the three matters discussed above – items (a) and (b) are interesting, but merely side issues – so it is the last one (c) that I’m going to dwell upon. Naturally, when one thinks of English playwrights – the Bard of Avon is the first person to come to mind. But I am not about to step onto a well-trodden road and at length reiterate what many other scholars have already observed and written about. Namely Tolkien’s aversion to Shakespeare whose works he:

“… disliked cordially …”.
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #163

All that I will emphasize is that resentment is documented to have been present from schooldays and one can easily imagine such disdain remained with him throughout life. So was the troll in the The Root of the Boot and Pēro & Pōdex a parody of William Shakespeare? Was The Hobbit troll called William synchronized with these early poems? After his Leeds University days, had Tolkien simply continued to voice a long-standing dislike through a second farcical parody?

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‘The Root of the Boot’ – Songs for the Philologists, 1936

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We have to remember The Hobbit was the Professor’s first lengthy publication meant for the general public. By no means was he a seasoned writer of fairy tales. We also have to remember that when it came to the plot, Tolkien had no idea Bilbo would eventually be swept into a greater story. He openly admitted:

“Mr Baggins began as a comic tale …”.
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #19     (my emphasis)

Nobody should doubt the early featuring trolls were part of that initial thought-line. Yet Tolkien clearly had regrets with The Hobbit troll naming as voiced much later on:

“… I should not have called the troll William”.
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #153    (italicized emphasis on ‘William’)

And I would reason that in the process of writing The Lord of the Rings he realized he’d made a serious mistake. Tom, Bert and Bill were so out of place with the rest of the names – that they stood out like a sore thumb. Perhaps someone some day would come along and guess his clever little secret? And then ‘poof’ – the illusion of a secondary world with an inner consistency of reality would vanish in a flash! What a disaster that would be!

Yes if the trolls of The Hobbit were indeed modeled on Elizabethan playwrights then how could he justify a mythology-based invented era of long ago? It was one thing taking Norse names for the dwarves and aged wizard from ancient scripts – but quite another admitting the trolls were an inside joke! Yes some of the ancient sources were definitely mythical in nature; and names like Elrond, Beorn, Dain and Smaug encountered far away from ‘home’ simply conveyed a sense of the foreign to the English audience for which the children’s fairy tale was primarily meant. No one would question the authenticity of his invented world from his naming of such characters. However Tom, Bert and Bill were collectively quite another thing!

Once The Lord of the Rings developed into a serious adult fairy tale – I suspect Tolkien realized he couldn’t afford to be so slack. He needed material for the novel and conveniently some of his earlier works could be adapted. The Root of the Boot was certainly one choice. But he had to be careful as allegorical implications were a strict no-no. So I believe that one subtle change was deliberately made to quell the possibility of associating the poem to a parody. One simple change, which would wholly quash any potential disputation, was the recasting of ‘nuncle John’ to ‘nuncle Tim’. Compare:

“It looks like the leg o’ me nuncle John”
– The Root of the Boot, Songs for the Philologists, J.R.R. Tolkien, E.V. Gordon & others, 1936

to:

“For it looks like the shin o’ my nuncle Tim,”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Flight to the Ford

One must ask oneself why did Tolkien decide on such an alteration. ‘John’ or ‘Tim’ – what did it matter?

Oh but it did – for it would entirely destroy the original parody. As my proposition is that Tolkien made the change, because ‘John’ in The Root of the Boot was a lampooning of a relatively well-known playwright from Elizabethan/Tudor times; namely ‘John Heywood’. And he was cast in the poem alongside two famous others. Those being ‘William Shakespeare’ and ‘Thomas Heywood’.

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Now I’m not about to embark on a biography of the Heywoods. There are many sources available for finding out more about their lives and works. A few details that I want to highlight are summarized below.

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Thomas Heywood (c. 1574 – 1641)

(a) A prolific playwright and a probable rival of William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616).
(b) Aired discontent at ‘borrowing’ among playwrights – particularly his own poetry by Shakespeare (Jaggard affair13).

John Heywood (c. 1497 – c. 1580)

(a) Another prominent English playwright who died before William Shakespeare’s career took off.
(b) Better known as the first English collector (not inventor) of adages and proverbs.
(c) Shakespeare ‘borrowed’ some of his collected phrases. The following bear great similarity to those documented in various John Heywood works:

“All’s Well That Ends Well” – play title c. 1604
“He must needs go whom the devil drives” – All’s Well that Ends Well
“the ill wind which blows no man to good” – King Henry IV
“fast bind, fast find” – The Merchant of Venice
“Happy man be his dole” – The Merry Wives of Windsor
“swine eat all the draff” – The Merry Wives of Windsor
“Let the world slide” – Taming of the Shrew
“Shall I not take mine ease in mine inn?” – King Henry IV
“Two may keep counsel when the third’s away” – Titus Andronicus

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So given the above information on the Heywoods – perhaps you can see where I’m heading. Finally the underlying meaning behind The Root of the Boot is plainly before us. It squarely has a philological backbone. Tolkien has satirically poked fun at Shakespeare (and his contemporaries) for using other people’s works. The poem (as previously provided) can be ‘undone and its scandalous secret unlocked’ when interpreted as follows:

So the troll is a caricature of William Shakespeare. Tom is Thomas Heywood. His uncle14 is John Heywood.

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Thomas Heywood’s ‘An Apology for Actors’ – Connection to Shakespeare

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By depicting Shakespeare as ‘chewing on the bones’ of his uncle and grumbling15 at the same time – effectively Tom charges the Bard of using John Heywood’s proverbs and epigrams without permission:

“A troll sat alone on his seat of stone,
And munched and mumbled a bare old bone; …
‘Young man,’ says the troll. ‘that bone I stole;”.

– The Root of the Boot, Songs for the Philologists, J.R.R. Tolkien, E.V. Gordon & others, 1936 

This was plagiarism – so to speak. Shakespeare, in Tolkien’s mind, should have known better. Even if the ‘stolen’ material constituted everyday catch-phrases – as explicitly stated in Pēro & Pōdex, Shakespeare should have: “ask thee leave of me nuncle”.  

And so this literature, which was illicitly dug up, was literally portrayed as grave robbery. That is why Shakespeare is cast as a ‘troll’. The Bard of Avon who rose far above his peers – immortal and all alone, and whose place in English literature was set in stone, had a stain on his character.

Nevertheless though Shakespeare’s actions were not right, a case of outright larceny fails to stand up to legal scrutiny. Writers after all, had up to that time in English history ‘borrowed’ from each other with hardly any legal consequences. Thus an accusation of literary theft is overall not a worthy one. Besides Tom admits that his uncle was no saint in ‘thieving’ phrases from predecessors too:

“For old man John was as proper a thief”.
– The Root of the Boot, Songs for the Philologists, J.R.R. Tolkien, E.V. Gordon & others, 1936 

The charge on Shakespeare thus rebounds on Tom – who comes off much worse16 after booting the troll:

“Now Tom goes lame since home he came,
And his bootless17 foot is grievous game;”.
– The Root of the Boot, Songs for the Philologists, J.R.R. Tolkien, E.V. Gordon & others, 1936 

While Shakespeare’s reputation remained unaffected: 

“But troll’s old seat is much the same,”.
– The Root of the Boot, Songs for the Philologists, J.R.R. Tolkien, E.V. Gordon & others, 1936

John Heywood was a devout Catholic hence the inclusion of the usual black attire for Sunday mass:

“As ever wore black on a Sunday -”.
– The Root of the Boot, Songs for the Philologists, J.R.R. Tolkien, E.V. Gordon & others, 1936 

Uncle John of course was deservedly laid to rest in a churchyard with birches18 – because he played his role as one of the earliest English philologists through his collection of phrases and sayings set forth in his book of proverbs.

“It looks like the leg o’ me nuncle John
As should be a-lyin’ in churchyard .
Searchyard, Birchyard! etc.”.
– The Root of the Boot, Songs for the Philologists, J.R.R. Tolkien, E.V. Gordon & others, 1936 

However just like Shakespeare continued to ‘chew on his bones’ – so have many followed in the Bard’s footsteps – including Tolkien himself!

Yes the Professor also ‘borrowed’ several of Heywood’s amassed phrases for The Hobbit:

“Out of the Frying-Pan into the Fire” – Chapter 6 title
“out of sight and out of mind” – Chapter 5
“It is an ill wind, … that blows no one any good” – Chapter 14

And continued to do so for The Lord of the Rings!

So there we have it: The Root of the Boot – a complex web of proverbs, plagiarism and playwrights – cemented together by a parody masterfully depicted through rhyme. Yes, Tolkien made us think about ‘titles’ in relation to content. No, they were not casually invented. Just as the chapter title: At the sign of the Prancing Pony, and its contents, had ‘signs’ of connections to ‘paying-up’ (legem pone), ancient words/sayings and Tudor/Elizabethan personages – so similarly did The Root of the Boot. Except in the case of the latter the pay-up was of a different kind. For we should think of Boot in the sense of a verb instead of a noun. What exactly was the source (Root) of the kick up (Boot) the backside? In my opinion it was simply a historically famous incident – that Tolkien thought was not only amusing – but of great philological interest!

Hard to believe? Not convinced? Perhaps you might be swayed by the ‘shocking’ revelations in Part II. Never-ever put forward before is entirely new evidence for Tolkien’s choice of the name: Bilbo. And even Mr. Baggins, in anticipating his encounter with Smaug, would have agreed:

There is no fyre without some smoke” !
– The Proverbs of John Heywood, 1546

Footnotes:

1  Expressed by the narrator. But still a possibly translation of Bilbo’s from the Red Book. Matches saying in The Proverbs of John Heywood, 1546: “Time is tickell, and out of sight out of minde”.

2  Recorded in 1570 by Thomas Howell, New Sonnets and Pretty Pamphlets: “Count not they chickens that unhatched be, weigh words as wind til though find certainty.”

3  Highly similar to the saying in The Tragedie of Gorbuduc by Thomas Norton and Thomas Sackville, 1561. Partially reflected in The Hobbit, Queer Lodgings: “Hope for the best and with a tremendous slice of luck …”

4  Several can be traced to The Book of Exeter.

5  Similar to Shakespeare’s original expression in The Merchant of  Venice1596: “All that glisters is not gold”.

6  Equivalent to our modern-day: ‘there’s no accounting for taste’.

7  Appears in John Ray’s: A compleat collection of English proverbs, 1670.

8  Akin to Shakepeare’s expression in The Tempest, 1610: “… melted into air, into thin air”.

9  See The History of the Hobbit by John Rateliff, Note 18 to Chapter V Gollum.

10  See Christopher Tolkien’s commentary in The Return of the Shadow, Arrival at BreePēro & Pōdex is provided in full in John Rateliff’s The History of the Hobbit.

11  See Tom Bombadil: Cracking The ‘Enigma’ Code, Part III, (b).

12  Titled: The Stone Troll.

13  Thomas Heywood complained about William Jaggard wrongly attributing his poems to Shakespeare in The Passionate Pilgrim, 1599. Shakespeare apparently knew about it but is thought to have, for many years, turned a blind eye to the misappropriation.

14  Historians have speculated that both John and Thomas Heywood were related. Especially because they were both writers of plays – a seeming family tradition. However there is no absolute proof of this. In any case, Tolkien might have been thinking along the lines of a ‘lost’ family-tree connection, that would still make an older John – genealogically Thomas’ uncle. 

15  Grumbling in that it was unfair to be singled out. After all such ‘stealing’ had been going on since the dawn of writing.

16  A reflection perhaps of Thomas Heywood having to eat ‘humble pie’ in eventually removing the blame for The Passionate Pilgrim affair from Shakespeare (and placing it entirely on Jaggard) in his An Apology for Actors, 1612

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Thomas Heywood’s ‘An Apology for Actors’, 1612 – Airing Grievances against W. Jaggard

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17  Thomas Heywood also used the term ‘Bootless’ in at least two of his plays: Edward IV and The Wise-woman of Hogsdon.

18  See explanation by Christopher Tolkien in The Return of the Shadow, Arrival at Bree. ‘Birches’ represented philological studies while ‘oaks’ symbolized modern literature. These two branches of the English syllabus had different proponents in the Leeds University English department during Tolkien’s tenure. So the poem could quite well also portray a ‘Lit’ versus ‘Lang’ skirmish.

Revisions

3/14/18    Is: “three-part series”, Was: “two-part series”.

Is: “while the others”, Was: “while the second”.

Angel and Demon, Gospel and Fairy-story

 

Part IV – Barrows, Battles and Biblical Beings

When it came to ‘barrows’ there is little doubt Tolkien grew reasonably familiar with them from studying North European lore. As well as knowledge obtained from literature – likely was some first-hand experience too:

“The Oxford Don and author J.R.R. Tolkien lived nearby and travelled to the Lambourn Downs with his family and friends. He was impressed by the downs with their sarsen stones, barrows and hill forts and painted pictures of Lambourn in 1912.”
– Wikipedia article on ‘Lambourn’     (my emphasis)

“After Tolkien acquired a car … they would drive west into Berkshire and up onto White Horse Hill to see Wayland’s Smithy, the ancient long-barrow near Uffington.” 
–  J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment, Michael Drout      (my emphasis)

No barrows are explicitly mentioned in The Hobbit, however Tolkien’s own art depicts the approach to King Thranduil’s Hall as vaguely similar to Newgrange – a Neolithic tomb located in Ireland.

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Newgrange, County Meath, Ireland

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Artwork by J.R.R. Tolkien

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Real world barrows come in all shapes and sizes. From what we can tell the Wight’s barrow in The Lord of the Rings was unlike Newgrange, and much closer in size and design to Wayland’s Smithy on the Berkshire Downs. Topographically though, its location differed in being set atop a hill.

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Wayland’s Smithy Long Barrow, Oxfordshire, England

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In pagan and early Christian times barrow burials in Britain were usually reserved for dignitaries (to which the novel is in good-keeping). Graves were often oriented west-east. West was the direction of the Celtic Otherworld and also Christians believed that this positioning allowed the dead to face Christ when he raised them on Resurrection Day. Once the mounded tombs of the dead enriched with earthly treasures, in mythological writings (if not plundered by men) barrows became the feared abodes of monstrous entities: dragons and wights:

“… the dragon in legend is a potent creation of men’s imagination, richer in significance than his barrow is in gold.”
– Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics, Sir Israel Gollancz Lecture, 1936

“… that terrible northern imagination to which I have ventured to give the name ‘barrow-wights’. The ‘undead’. Those dreadful creatures that inhabit tombs and mounds. They are not living: they have left humanity, but they are ‘undead’.”
– Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary, J.R.R. Tolkien

It was in Norse tradition that barrows had most strongly an association to evil spirits of the kind in The Lord of the Rings. It is quite probable that the Icelandic Grettir’s Saga greatly influenced a young Tolkien:

“… ‘barrow-wights’ … Glámr in the story of Grettir the Strong is a well-known example.”
– Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary, J.R.R. Tolkien

Enough that the eerie setting and gripping battle with the barrow-denizen Karr culminated in a decision to include a wight, barrow-treasure and a pseudo battle-scene. It is worthwhile partly repeating the evocative episode – for not only the vivid terror of the encounter, but also because it is somewhat reminiscent of Grendel’s fight with Beowulf – a matter that surely would have drawn Tolkien’s attention:

“Then Grettir entered into the barrow, and right dark it was, and a smell there was therein none of the sweetest. Now he groped about to see how things were below; first he found horse-bones, and then he stumbled against the arm of a high-chair, and in that chair found a man sitting; great treasures of gold and silver were heaped together there, and a small chest was set under the feet of him full of silver; all these riches Grettir carried together to the rope; but as he went out through the barrow he was griped at right strongly; thereon he let go the treasure and rushed against the barrow-dweller, and now they set on one another unsparingly enough.

Everything in their way was kicked out of place, the barrow-wight setting on with hideous eagerness; Grettir gave back before him for a long time, till at last it came to this, that he saw it would not do to hoard his strength any more; now neither spared the other, and they were brought to where the horse-bones were, and thereabout they wrestled long. And now one, now the other, fell on his knee; but the end of the strife was, that the barrow-dweller fell over on his back with huge din. Then ran Audun from the holding of the rope, and deemed Grettir dead. But Grettir drew the sword, ‘Jokul’s gift,’ and drave it at the neck of the barrow-bider so that it took off his head, and Grettir laid it at the thigh of him.”
– Grettir’s Saga, Chapter 18, Translation from the Icelandic tale by William Morris & Eirikr Magnusson, 1869

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Karr the Old seizes Grettir, Henry Justice Ford, 1901

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From Norse origins, barrow-wights were firmly expanded to inhabit English barrows in a fictional depiction by Tolkien himself. In his fragmentary piece recreating the aftermath of The Battle of Maldon:

“TORHTHELM. Why, Tída, you! The time seemed long alone among the lost. They lie so queer. I’ve watched and waited, till the wind sighing was like words whispered by walking ghosts that in my ears muttered.
TÍDWALD. And your eyes fancied barrow-wights and bogies.”
– The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son, Essays and Studies for 1953, J.R.R. Tolkien

But though some had been invaded to become the dwelling of demonic spirits, we must also note barrows have always been closely linked in the folklore of the British Isles to fairy-folk.

The Shee (Sidhe-folk) of Celtic legends dwelt below mounds and barrows in a fabled subterranean realm constituting a dimensionally adjacent otherworld. Making up part of mixed legends, the land of the Shee was sometimes referred to by the Irish as the “Tír na nÓg” – the country of the young. Similarly the Welsh had their own otherworld known as “Gwlâd yr Hâv” – the land of summer. And the Scottish had their version too.

It was to these places that mortal spirits sped and then lingered after death:

“In Ireland this world and the world we go to after death are not far apart.”
– The Celtic Twilight, W. B. Yeats, 1893

“Many go to the Tir-na-nog in sleep, and some are said to have remained there, and only a vacant form is left behind without the light in the eyes which marks the presence of a soul.”
– The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries, W.Y. Evans Wentz, 1911: Quote by G.W. Russell

“Highlanders ‘superstitiously believe the souls of their Predecessors to dwell’ in the fairy-hills. ‘And for that end, say they, a Mote or Mount was dedicate beside every Churchyard, to receive the souls till their adjacent bodies arise, and so become as a Fairy hill.’ ”
– The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies, Fairyland and Hades, Robert Kirk and Andrew Lang, 1893

I have a distinct feeling Tolkien included such mythology in The Lord of the Rings when it came to Sam, Pippin and Merry’s state of unconsciousness inside the barrow. Had their souls departed? Tolkien had Merry make it more blatant in the drafts:

“ ‘I begin to remember … I thought I was dead …’ ”.
– The Return of the Shadow, The Barrow-wight

It is perhaps from tarrying in a proximate otherworld which allowed their souls to be recalled. Because spiritually this was not their final destination.

Anyhow such Celtic mythology was consistent with that of the English:

“With this he anointed the ears, eyelids, nostrils, lips, and finger-tips, of the two brothers, and they sprang at once into life, and declared that their souls had been away, but had now returned.”
– English Fairy Tales, Childe Rowland, Joseph Jacobs, 1890

Now the exact geographical location of this elusively idyllic yet parallel world varied among the many recorded accounts of the Celts. Some scribes placed it underground and others across an ocean. Tolkien covered both bases by implying spiritual recollection from the latter location as well:

“ ‘You’ve found yourselves again out of the deep water. Clothes are but little loss, …’ ”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Fog on the Barrow-downs    

A clue that the Professor researched material of this type can be deduced from his marked copy of Andrew Lang’s Yellow Fairy Book. In The Land of Souls story we have a connection of an old man (just like Tom) possessing power over departed spirits:

“… in the murmur of the wind he heard the Master of Life saying to him, ‘Return whither you came, for I have work for you to do, and your people need you, and for many years you shall rule over them. At the gate my messenger awaits you, and you shall take again your body which you left behind, and he will show you what you are to do.”
– The Yellow Fairy Book, In the Land of Souls, Andrew Lang, 1890

Ultimately it appears Tolkien rejected explicit use of this particular fairy tale because of its American-Indian origin. Unsuitable for a North European climate, Tolkien noted in the margin of his copy:

“Red Indians”.
– Tolkien on Fairy-stories, Bibliographies, Flieger and Anderson, 2014

Nevertheless in returning our focus back on Saint Michael from Part I, one can see how his apocryphal accreditation as a caller of souls has a link back to fairy tale and local legends.

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Last Judgment Triptych, Hans Memling, 1467-1471

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This Tolkien could take advantage of. Perhaps more so because there was an otherworld land strongly allied to England and adjoined to its own soil. Moreover it was connected to a saint.

From the famed account of the Green Children of Woolpit who had emerged from underground in Norfolk back in the 12th century, it was claimed:

We are inhabitants of the land of St. Martin, who is regarded with peculiar veneration in the country which gave us birth. … where the people are green.” 
– Historia rerum Anglicarum, Book 1, Ch. 27, William of Newburgh, 1189

Now there are merely four saints named Martin appearing in historical records prior to the 12th Century. None of them warrant the honor of having an otherworld named after them – at least that is what Tolkien might have thought. Indeed what would a human saint have to do with a wholly different dimension than the one which we live in? Other such cases are distinctly lacking. Unsurprisingly so – for mortals inherently lack the power of godly creation. This area was exclusively reserved for the divine.

Given the children were quite young and initially unschooled in the English language, perhaps they were slightly mistaken. Or perhaps the account had become muddled in translation. Feasibly it was not ‘St. Martin’s Land’ but really ‘St. Michael’s Land’. A land that he could rationalize God’s heavenly beings would have access to. A land reconcilable as Faerie – inhabited by fairy-folk – the so called ‘fallen angels’ of ancient religious manuscripts:

“St. Michael fought Lucifer and his companions (1^)* ^fo overcame the rebel angels and drove them to hell. Ton ordors of angels were created, the tenth of which went to perdition. Good and evil angels cause dreamsand the nightmare. Out cast angels ai^ elves in the woods and on the downs, …”.
– The Early South-English Legendary c. 1280-1290, Bodleian Library, Horstmann translation    (my emphasis)

Hmm – ‘angels on the downs’ – part of the ‘true tradition’ of English folklore!

Then as to Tom – he was the perfect invention that could be molded to befit a storied archangel, epitomize the ‘English fairy’, and serve as the tie to a legendary otherworld below England’s very soil – all at the same time. Yes, it’s hard not to conclude that Tolkien made Tom the source and ‘true’ origin of these aspects of our folklore and legends in his great tale. And certainly I am not the only researcher to have reflected on the impact of these early texts and St. Michael’s involvement:

“I am also persuaded that Tolkien found stimulus in the … legends of St. Michael … in The Early South English Legendary …”.
– The Road to Middle-earth, Tolkien’s Sources, The True Tradition, Tom Shippey

Yet despite some weighty evidence, the web of intrigue spun around Tom has many other strands worthwhile exploring. One of the stickiest leads us back to The BibleNow in Parts I and III of this series, investigated were several links of our merry fellow to The New Testament. Chronologically earlier biblical links however are much sparser. One matter where Tolkien likely exploited the connection of our ancient world to his mythical one was the ancient manuscript called The Testament of Solomon. Accounted as the wisest mortal there ever has been or will be – King Solomon possessed a great ring. It was a ring from God delivered personally by the Archangel Michael:

“And it came about through my prayer that grace was given to me from the Lord Sabaoth by Michael his archangel. [He brought me] a little ring, having a seal consisting of an engraved stone, and said to me: ‘Take, O Solomon, king, son of David, the gift which the Lord God has sent thee, the highest Sabaoth. With it thou shalt lock up all demons of the earth, male and female; and with their help thou shalt build up Jerusalem. …’ ”.
– The Testament of Solomon, translated by F. C. Conybeare from the codex of the Paris Library

So already one can see akin traces present in Tolkien’s storyline. As usual the shading is subtle but nonetheless it exists. A wise Frodo is handed back the One Ring by Bombadil. An all-powerful ring capable of controlling the satanic Sauron and his demonic Nazgûl. A ring engraved with words of power yet ineffective on just one Middle-earth being. An unfallen being known as Tom Bombadil whom Tolkien mirrored as ‘Michael’ – a Hebrew name which is literally translated as: “Who is like God?”

Conceivably then we have an answer to Tom’s riddling question to Frodo:

“ ‘Don’t you know my name yet? …’ ”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, In the House of Tom Bombadil 

To be considered rhetorically:

“ ‘… who are you, alone, yourself and nameless? …’ ”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, In the House of Tom Bombadil 

Perhaps there is an answer. Perhaps someone like God! 

Because quite remarkably, the literal translation of ‘Michael’ poses us effectively the same question. So just maybe ‘Michael’ is:

“ ‘… the only answer. …’ ” !
– The Fellowship of the Ring, In the House of Tom Bombadil 

Tracking back to Solomon, the biblical resonance of the Archangel handing over to a mortal an omnipotent engraved ring with the capacity of dominating evil beings is an undertone that cannot be missed. Of course not everything matches. Tolkien would not have expected it – nor should we!

There is little doubt Tolkien knew the story of Solomon:

“ Solomon’s seal was a pentangle in a circle … which is supposed to have had its beginning in the building of the temple by Solomon.”
– Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Notes to Line 625, Tolkien & Gordon, 1925

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Vessel from 150 -350 BC showing the Seal of Solomon

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In the same text per notes to line 632, 642 and 645 commentary is provided on the significance of the pentangle emblazoned on Sir Gawain’s shield with regards to the ‘Five Virtues’, Five Wounds of Christ’ and ‘Five Joys’. But the Professor knew the origin of the five-pointed star was far older than Christ’s arrival on the planet. For he recognized it was on the Archangel’s ring that the pentangle was engraved:

“ ‘ … [But] thou [must] wear this seal of God. And this engraving of the seal of the ring sent thee is a Pentalpha.’ ”.
– The Testament of Solomon, translated by F. C. Conybeare from the codex of the Paris Library “

It was a sign of God’s power that none of the fallen could overcome, be they mortal or divine. From gleaning what we can – if indeed the Professor had knowledge of The Testament of Solomon, then he would likely have been aware of related Arabic and Jewish stories. The most famous of which tells of Solomon recovering his ring from a fish which had swallowed it – after losing it to a demon. Again the legend has close undertones to the Déagol/Sméagol/Isilidur/Sauron part of Tolkien’s tale. And so now we see more connections of Tolkien’s mythology to the medieval work of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight as well as an even older history.

What was the exact truth behind Solomon’s ring? No one today really knows. And so a blending of the barest of facts was an easy avenue to relate once again his world to ours. How deep Tolkien went with the Bombadil/Michael/pentangle theme is unknown. How subtle the threads Tolkien decided to weave cannot be ascertained with surety. However there are traces of embedded symbolism of the pentangle2 in The Lord of the Rings chapters featuring Bombadil. And I think he accomplished this in three ways:

(a) As a jest. The hobbit’s were under angelic Tom’s protection while spending the night in a penthousewith an angled roof – amusingly then – under a sign of a ‘pent’ ‘angle’:

“They came to a low room with a sloping roof (a penthouse, it seemed, built on to the north end of the house).”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, In the House of Tom Bombadil

(b) As a connection to fairy-land – known in Arthurian legend as Avalon – the Isle of Apples:

“There was a fire in the wide hearth before them, and it was burning with a sweet smell, as if it were built of apple-wood.”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, In the House of Tom Bombadil

An apple when suitably sliced has its innards shaped in the form of a pentangle.

 

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(c) As a link to the five-petaled flax flower whose sepals display a pentangular pattern:

“He chose for himself from the pile a brooch set with blue stones, many shaded like flax-flowers …”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Fog on the Barrow-downs

 

Image result for flax flower calyx

 

Such subtleties certainly bind the whole ‘story’ I have produced much more tightly. Certainly these type of cross-connections were not beyond Tolkien’s intellect or imagination. Indeed they make the academic foundations of The Lord of the Rings more visible and stronger; and to someone like me – the Bombadil episode emerges as all the more satisfying.

In any case, counter-balanced against the medieval Five Virtues/Joys/Wounds symbolized by the pentangle are the five fingers of the Devil. All of these in medieval lore are associated with evil lust to catch humanity:

“The first is, eating before it is time to eat. The second is when a man gets himself too delicate food or drink. The third is when men eat too much, and beyond measure. The fourth is fastidiousness, with great attention paid to the preparation and dressing of food. The fifth is to eat too greedily. These are the five fingers of the Devil’s hand wherewith he draws folk into sin.

This is the Devil’s other hand, with five fingers to catch the people into his slavery. The first finger is the foolish interchange of glances between the foolish woman and the foolish man, which slays just as the basilisk slays folk by the venom of its sight; for the lust of the eyes follows the lust of the heart. The second finger is vile touching in wicked manner; and thereupon Solomonsays that he who touches and handles a woman fares like the man that handles the scorpion which stings and suddenly slays by its poisoning; even as, if any man touch warm pitch, it defiles his fingers. The third is vile words, which are like fire, which immediately burns the heart. The fourth finger is kissing; and truly he were a great fool who would kiss the mouth of a burning oven or of a furnace. …”.
– Canterbury Tales (modern translation), The Parson’s Tale, G. Chaucer, 1380

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Image result for maddoo black hand curtain tolkien

Maddo, Pictures by J.R.R. Tolkien, Hammond & Scull

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If I were to wager a guess, Tolkien’s intention was to have Bombadil and the barrow scene as the true origin of the folklorish pentangle and devil’s five fingers. The powerful imagery of the hand dates back even further than Chaucer. Indeed to the Early South-English Legendary where Satan:

“His fingers, wherewith he tempts men, have particolar names. The devil begins his temptation of men with bis litae finger.”
– The Early South-English Legendary C. 1280-1290, Bodleian Library, Horstmann translation

Animated5 by a spell from the Barrow-wight, the slaying of Frodo by the corpse hand and a subsequent capture of the Ring would have truly left mankind in a desperate state.

Mixed in with these legends of England were some from other areas of the British Isles. The Barrow-wight (of Tolkien’s conceit) was perhaps, to the Professor, the source of the Irish Púca6 – a malevolent spirit of the fairy-folk. Blackberries too are entwined in the legend. They are not to be eaten after the festival of Samhain because the Púca spits (or urinates) on them leaving them inedible. And also similar to English folklore, the Irish proverb goes:

“At Michaelmas the devil puts his foot on the blackberries.”
– Publications of the Folk-lore Society, Volume 2, St. Michael’s Day, 1879

But Tolkien’s desire for historical and mythological continuity meant he could selectively take core principles and discernible facts and stitch together a magnificently coherent story. His mythology would be the feigned source of our world’s early legends which had become embellished and distorted when passed down the generations. So it was not the devil, Púca or even Barrow-wight that did the stamping – it was Tom:

“… he thought he saw a severed hand wriggling still, like a wounded spider, in a heap of fallen earth. Tom went back in again, and there was a sound of much thumping and stamping.”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Fog on the Barrow-downs

And it was not blackberries that were stamped upon but rather the black hand still animated by the residual effect of the Wights’ spell. Equipped with a magical girdle omnipotent Tom would be more than a match for the demon. Perhaps that’s how the origin of an ancient prayer arose:

“Gabriel is my lorica. / Michael is my belt. / Raphael is my shield. / Uriel is my protector. / Rumiel is my defender. / Phanniel is my health.”
– Kuypers, The Prayer Book of Aedeluald, pg. 153    (my emphasis)

And perhaps that’s why the imagery of Satan underneath Michael’s foot is so prevalent in medieval and renaissance art.

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St . Michael Defeating Satan, Raphael, 1518

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At the point where the crawling arm in the barrow was severed at the wrist:

“There was a shriek … In the dark there was a snarling noise.”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Fog on the Barrow-downs

Because shrieking and snarling is typical of what demons do when intimidating or under attack:

“There abides Minos horribly, and snarls; he examines the sins at the entrance; …”.
– The Divine Comedy, Canto V, Dante 1320, translation by C.E. Norton

“ ‘Be quiet!’, said Jesus sternly. ‘Come out of him!’
The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.7 ”
– The Bible, New International Version, Mark 1: 25-26

In line with biblical tradition it was barren lands where the demon was banished:

“Shrivel like the cold mist, like the winds go wailing,
Out into the barren lands far beyond the mountains!”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Fog on the Barrow-downs

For the desert, where Jesus was tempted by Satan, is classically the abode of demons:

“The demons Resheph, Lilith and Azazel clearly show the influence of the DESERT and other religions upon Israel. Resheph was the Caananite god of plague and pestilence (Deut 32:24 “burning heat”, “plague”; Hab 3:5), Lilith was the Mesapotomian storm demon who in the OT becane a night demon of the wilderness (Isa 24:14 “night hag”, and Azazel was the desert demon …”.
– Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ‘Demon in the Old Testament’, W. Mills. & R. Bullard, 1990

And then returning to Solomon and the building of his great temple for God, demons of angelic origin were employed; but in this task it was forbidden to use ‘iron’:

“In building the temple, only blocks dressed at the quarry were used, and no hammer, chisel or any other iron tool was heard at the temple site while it was being built.”
– The Bible, New International Version, 1 Kings 7 

Conybeare in commenting on The Testament of Solomon observes:

“… the fear of iron on the part of evil spirits is a feature common to both old and recent folk-lore.
– The Jewish Encyclopedia: Apocrypha-Benash, Isidore Singer, Cyrus Adler

In line with the extensive discussion in Part II, we have an answer why fairies (fallen angels per ancient English texts) were also averse to ‘iron’. This was the decree of God:

The word of the Lord came to Solomon: “As for this temple you are building, if you follow my decrees, observe my laws and keep all my commands and obey them, I will fulfill through you the promise I gave to David your father. And I will live among the Israelites and will not abandon my people Israel.”
– The Bible, New International Version, 1 Kings 12:13 

And that edict appears to have been obeyed by Tom in his avoidance of all things made of ‘iron’!

So to summarize – what I have exposed is a submerged layer of religious parallelism beyond the obvious. How deep Tolkien went in entwining Tom in with a Christian theme is hard to say. But from my research – I think there are still some surprises to be uncovered. To come, we will see how I believe Tolkien left us a pair of puzzles that when solved expose the foremost of Christian symbols in the Bombadil chapters. These of course are: The Fish and The Cross!

Can you figure out what he did?

Footnotes:

1  Consistent with the hobbits’ experiences while under the auspices of Tom.

2  Note that the pentangle did explicitly make it into the mythology:

“The land of Númenor resembled in outline a five-pointed star, or pentangle, …”.
– Unfinished Tales, A Description of the Island of Númenor, J.R.R. Tolkien 

3  Originally a simple structure (Middle English homilies describe Jesus’ birthplace in the manger as a ‘penthouse’).
 
4  Once again we have a connection back to Solomon.

5  Remote animation appears to be Tolkien’s own touch. Such an ability is not reflected in the tales of the ‘undead’ corpses known as the Draugr and  Haugbui of Norse legends – ultimately the source of Tolkien’s Wight.

6  Tolkien’s awareness of this mythological creature can be gleaned from:

“… Anglo-Saxon púcel ‘goblin demon’, a relative of the word púca from which Puck is derived …”.
– Unfinished Tales, Part Four – The Drúedain, J.R.R. Tolkien 

7  Cited is one of several instances of demonic spirits ‘shrieking’ on expulsion by the power of Jesus.

 

Revisions:

1/14/18 – Added: “Hmm – ‘angels on the downs’ – part of the ‘true tradition’ of English folklore!”

Was: “As for Tom”, Is: “Then as to Tom”.

Added from: “Conceivably then” to “Tracking back to Solomon”.

 

Angel and Demon, Gospel and Fairy-story

This essay is best viewed in single page format. If it appears in two column style – an adjustment can be made by selecting zoom at 125% to 175% under the ‘Settings’ tab.
Part III – The Gospel According to Tom

The average rational person is right to be wary of conspiracy theories, hidden agendas and so called cryptic secrets. Yet remarkably the evidence gathered so far points to a plausible basis for some organized trickery within The Lord of the Rings. However once everything is exposed the reader will see it really is not trickery but a hitherto invisible framework which is built on solid foundations. But to draw such a conclusion with reasonable certainty, we still have a ways to go.

Unlocking the safe holding Tolkien’s innermost concealments requires knowledge of a specialist kind. Unfortunately mythology and fairy-stories are simply not everybody’s cup of tea. Thus the Forest of Days in which the Tree of Tales resides has often been avoided as the foliage is dense. Besides it is full of bewildering paths which have led even the inquisitive astray. Moreover the undergrowth of garbled and stunted mythology narrowing our route is not easily slashed aside. For most – the machete is, in any case, missing from the toolbox due to a general lack of schooling and education in Celtic legends. Or it has rusted away in some forgotten corner consonant with recessed memories of childhood fairy tales adults can only dimly recall.

So the task is a tough one. Indeed daunting for the less scholastically inclined. To approach the inner nave where the Tree is located requires the sharpest of blades to clear away the last brush. Because the researcher then has to scrutinize The Lord of the Rings text for signs of the subtlest of pertinent insertions. 

Once we get close to the Tree the realization soon dawns that Bombadil’s name is not inscribed on just one of the leaves carpeting the forest floor – but many. And as we get even closer, the branches are seen to have not just mythology and fairy tales carved in the bark, but also religious stories. Whether we like it or not – to reveal more of the underlying matter and mystique surrounding angelic Tom – a probing of the religious kind is deserved. Especially as his affiliation to the Archangel Michael has hurtled to the forefront of this investigation.

The good news is that though mythology over time has become interwoven with religion, the latter is closer to many peoples hearts. Even those not of the Christian faith – many understand and are familiar with the stories forming the cornerstones behind the Old and New Testaments. Which conveniently leads us back to Tolkien, his faith and The Lord of the Rings. 

Though many articles have been written concerning what has been perceived to reflect Tolkien’s statement:

“The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; …”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #142

– few of them consider or even touch upon Tom. And those that do barely scratch the surface. My intent is not to rehash matters already well-discussed among seasoned scholars where Christian symbolism within the novel is strongly suspected. Instead the intent is to break new ground. Indeed that has been my primary aim all along. To bring to your attention unrealized academia underpinning the Bombadil episode. For I have taken the approach of the entire affair involving Tom and Goldberry simply being an exercise. In doing so, I have imagined myself as one of the Professors’ students and The Lord of the Rings as a text book. Because not to be forgotten is the elephant in the room – namely Tolkien the scholar, teacher and lecturer. What he chose to include in The Lord of the Rings has already been established to be based very much on academic material. So why not Bombadil too?

Tolkien’s vast array of knowledge in terms of in-depth detail was not just confined to specialist medieval works, languages and philology. There were others areas of expertise. We have already seen how his personal passion on botany has been adeptly entwined in the characterization of Goldberry. So how can we possibly neglect looking at our merry couple through a lens of religion? Especially since a life-long bond to Catholicism meant a vast reservoir of accumulated information was his to tap at whim. Such depth of understanding is readily reflected in the Professor being tasked to translate Jonah for The Jerusalem Bible. There is virtually no scholar of any repute who will claim Tolkien’s expertise was lacking in the realm of biblical knowledge.

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Acknowledgements for The Jerusalem Bible included J.R.R. Tolkien

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So included in a scrutiny of the text involving Tom must be a search for Christianity. It’s a quest that I wholly acknowledge Tolkien would not have wanted his readership to embark on. For in the end, he preferred us to view his opus as work of art. Not for us to peel away the paint to reveal the early sketches below – but to enjoy and revel in the finished product. Impertinently then on my part I’m once again going to dive into dangerous waters.

Before I begin to relate new discussion points – a few comments on Tolkien’s style and technique are necessary. There is no doubt that certain Christian themes were inserted into the text. One should heed that the method employed was one where:

“… the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #142

However The Lord of the Rings constituting a grandiose fairy tale meant that nothing was overt:

“Myth and fairy-story must, as all art, reflect and contain in solution elements of moral and religious truth (or error), but not explicit, …”.
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #131     (my emphasis)

Nevertheless the Christian themes were there – but subtly infused with delicate finesse. Tolkien also took the tack of declining to embed messages – and of course – nothing should ever be pinpointed as directly allegorical. The Professor was too clever a man to consciously allow that to happen. 

In voicing he was under no constraint to follow:

“… formalized Christian theology, …”,
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #269

we must ask ourselves – how could he? For the inevitable result would have manifested itself as instantly recognizable allegory. So where does that leave us? How can we best interpret the: religious element is absorbed into the story? In pondering the matter, my own conclusion is that it was a cleverly crafted substratal schema which made The Lord of the Rings in his mind:

“… a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; …”.
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #142

And Tolkien was so pleased that those of similar outlook saw:

“ ‘ … a world in which some sort of faith seems to be everywhere without a visible source, like light from an invisible lamp’ ”.
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #328

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God’s Word as set down in the Christian Bible guided Tolkien’s Story-line

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So in other words fragments and echoes are all that we can mine. Similarities but not outright copies. Parallels but not obvious mimicry. Another way of putting matters is – the best we can hope for is to observe points of tangency – and not directly match biblical events detail for detail. Undoubtedly such a search is on firm ground. The Lord of the Rings is described by Tolkien himself as a:

“… heroic-fairy-romance …”.
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #131

While the Gospels related a:

“… a fairy-story: the greatest.”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #89

Moreover the mini tale of the side-adventure with Tom embraces all the essence of a fairy-story. Because it contains the essential elements of ‘fantasy, recovery, escape and consolation’ within. A ‘perfect fairy-story’ in itself and one that could almost stand alone. With a blend of religion and fairy-tale in mind – the reader ought now to be fore-armed to proceed.

 

Gospel Parallels

(a) The first and perhaps the most obvious parallel I’m going to expose is one in which Tom is only a fringe player. If I asked the question of the reader:

‘What is the most infamous financial transaction in the history of our world’, there will be I’m sure, some scratching of heads.

Some might think of the ‘give-away’ of Alaska by Russia. Others might think of the many unscrupulous Ponzi schemes which have robbed decent folk of their lifelong savings – leaving them destitute beyond any hope of recovery. But Tolkien I contend would have thought that personal wealth or even that of a country, no matter how many millions were involved, as relatively unimportant. Such monies were not even in the same league as the amount agreed to trade the life of Jesus Christ by one notorious man. For it was Judas Iscariot who betrayed the ‘Son of God’ for a mere 30 pieces of silver!

Do any of us seriously believe that Tolkien was unaware of the infamous amount or its significance? Of course he knew. And of course the working-in of a theme of betrayal, silver coins as well as a matching quantity into his book was purposely done. It was Barliman Butterbur whose hospitality was spurned by one (or more) of his guests, with the price of treachery ultimately being 30 silver pennies!

“… thirty silver pennies was a sore blow to him, …”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, A Knife in the Dark

This was the extent of Christian symbolism Tolkien decided to display: betrayal of the innocent and 30 pieces of silver. There were no disciples or pharisees involved nor a Christ like figure who was crucified. But there was enough embedded that an unmistakable echo would resound in the hearts of those of like faith.

Tom’s part was only peripheral. He rectified the financial situation by sending the escaped ponies back as restitution for the innkeeper’s loss. In other words from a pure financial standpoint some small good eventually came out of the original monetary transaction. In a way this parallels the biblical account where Judas’ 30 silver pieces were eventually used to buy a ‘potter’s field’ to bury the dead of foreign faith/origin.

So now that one Christian aspect involving Tom has been made plain1 – we can rightfully ponder whether there is more. What else is symbolized in these early chapters? Not just that, we must also ask ourselves: what was the Professor’s purpose?

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Judas Returning the Thirty Silver Pieces by Rembrandt, 1629

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Unsurprisingly the rest is much more subtle. To be honest it is so subtle that only Tolkien himself can provide verification. A cloaked inclusion of Christian elements was possibly effected to subconsciously reassure the reader (and perhaps himself) that even in pagan times a Christian God was not wholly absent. A remark by a reader in which Tolkien showed particular delight probably captures what he hoped the religiously astute would grasp. Once again:

“… but you’, he said, ‘create a world in which some sort of faith seems to be everywhere without a visible source, like light from an invisible lamp.”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #328

It is unlikely that there were direct moralistic parables or Catholic preaching inserted into the text. Indeed Tolkien vociferously denied such presence. Yet nonetheless the faintest of biblical resonances appear spread throughout the episode. Possibly included were these additional New Testament parallels:

(b) Jesus’ first miracle where water was turned to wine – echoed in the Hobbits’ first meal with Tom and Goldberry:

“The drink in their drinking-bowls seemed to be clear cold water, yet it went to their hearts like wine …”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, In the House of Tom Bombadil

(c) Jesus bringing Lazarus back to life. The opening of Lazarus’ tomb by rolling aside the entrance stone, and the miracle of his raising from the dead – echoed by Tom’s opening of the Barrow tomb and spiritual recall of Sam, Merry and Pippin:

“There was a loud rumbling sound, as of stones rolling and falling, …”, and
“Wake and here me calling!”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Fog on the Barrow-downs

(d) Jesus on numerous occasions exorcising unclean spirits, echoed by the departure of a spirit which appears to have cohabited with Merry:

“ ‘… Ah! the spear in my heart! … What am I saying? …’ ”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Fog on the Barrow-downs

The Roman soldiers’ spear to check for Jesus’ death while nailed to the Cross is also reputed to have penetrated through to this vital organ.

(e) Baptism – echoed by Tom’s words outside the Barrow:

“ ‘You’ve found yourselves again, out of the deep water. Clothes are but little loss …’ ”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Fog on the Barrow-downs

(f) The annual ritual of Tom delivering white water-lilies to Goldberry is somewhat akin to the depiction in famous religious art of another archangel (Gabriel) bringing white Madonna lilies to Mary at the time of the Annunciation (Spring).

“I had an errand there: gathering water-lilies, green leaves and lilies white to please my pretty lady, …”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, In The House of Tom Bombadil

Water-lilies they may have been in the case of Tom – but nevertheless the likeness is a close one. Perhaps Christian imagery was the true:

“… water-lily motive, …”
– The Return of the Shadow, Tom Bombadil

Tolkien was so keen on developing. For though it was Fall, Bombadil undoubtedly brought “lilies of Spring” to Goldberry, Thus once again we are left with a form of veiled Christian symbolism!

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Annunciation by Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1472 – 1475

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Nor is Tolkien the only one to have associated Cherwell’s water-lilies to the blessed Madonna. The Oxford poet Frederick Faber2 published a book of poetry in 1840 titled: The Cherwell Water-Lily and Other Poems. In it, the first poem (of the same name) directly linked Mary to the river’s water-lily. Three lines in particular stand out:

“Deep rung St. Mary’s stately chime

Fair Lily! thou a type must be
Of Virgin Love and Purity”.

If Tolkien had ever read the verse – the last two lines would surely have a struck a chord with Goldberry:

“Thou art to him a very fairy
A widowed father’s only daughter.”

Daughter of the river the water-lily was described to be – but for Tolkien’s tale it was Goldberry who was the fairy-like “river-daughter”3.

(g) Though not directly involving Bombadil, it was just after Michaelmas Day closed that the attack on The Prancing Pony took place. The cock crow at dawn, heard in the inn quarters, signaled a sellout had already taken place:

“He opened his eyes, and heard a cock crowing lustily in the inn-yard.”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, A Knife in the Dark

Likewise in a synchronized attack, the Black Riders waited for Michaelmas Day to pass before raiding Crickhollow. Again a cock crowed:

“… a cock crowed far away. The cold hour before dawn was passing.”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, A Knife in the Dark

The betrayal in this instance was probably unwitting or passive:

“ ‘ … And it is possible that in the morning even a Black Rider that rode up and asked for Mr. Baggins would be let through. It is pretty generally known that you are coming back to live at Crickhollow.’ ”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, A Conspiracy Unmasked

A third cock crow in The Return of the King symbolized Denethor’s desertion of stewardship duty had finally occurred:

“Gandalf did not move. And in that very moment, away behind in some courtyard of the City, a cock crowed. Shrill and clear he crowed, recking nothing of wizardry or war, …”.
– The Return of the King, The Siege of Gondor

The three cock crows and associated betrayals in The Lord of the Rings echo the prediction of Jesus when it came to his apostle Simon Peter:

“ ‘… before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.’ ”
– The Bible, New International Version, Luke 22:34

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Image result for simon peter bloch

Peter’s Denial by Carl Heinrich Bloch, 1875

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This is the way Tolkien mixed in the biblical message. Not a single rooster crow  – but three separate ones, each signaling a specific betrayal had just occurred.

(h) The prediction of Christ’s resurrection – echoed on the day Bombadil defeated the demon – the revelation that one day:

“ … The crownless again shall be king.”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Strider

With these eight examples – Tolkien made sure that core elements of The New Testament were symbolically represented in the chapters linked to Bombadil. One wouldn’t be able to identify the exact source. All that could be felt was the warmth of the Christian radiation.

Am I done with religion and Tom? The answer to that is an emphatic: No! The last essay in this series will explore more direct connections to St. Michael. My aim is to enlighten the reader on the building blocks behind the scene inside the Barrow. To be discussed among other subjects is Solomon’s ring, Sir Gawain’s pentangle and the animated imagery of the crawling hand!

Footnotes:

1  The biblical analogy is made all the more obvious by the sheer scarcity of other mentions of money in The Lord of the Rings. Especially when it came to specific amounts.

A progressive rejection of the early Christian disciple names ‘Timothy Titus’ and ‘Barnabas’ for the inn-keeper (see The Return of the Shadow) also took place in drafting out the plot. From such naming, one can logically deduce that Tolkien was actively thinking along biblical lines.

2  Tolkien had other connections to Frederick Faber. As one of the more important clergy-men of the Birmingham Oratory, Faber was at one point second to Cardinal Newman (the founder) himself. Tolkien was brought up under the guardianship of Father Francis Morgan (after his mother had died) who knew Cardinal Newman personally. The Oratory and the teachings of the resident priests were well known to Tolkien in early childhood. It was here that the regular ritual of the Blessed Sacrament became ingrained.

Religious study was most certainly part of the curriculum and Father Faber’s books were likely to have been read and studied. As well as The Cherwell Water-lily, other books written by Faber include The Blessed Sacrament and The Foot of the Cross; or, The Sorrows of Mary. Such material has been so well regarded that it is even in print today. Tolkien’s devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and Mary is recorded in his letters (Letters #49 & #142). In such respects he seems to have followed in the mindset and footsteps of Father Faber.

It is possible that the ‘sighs’ of the River-woman on the bank in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil for the loss of Goldberry had Christian undertones. The two Saint Mary’s Church’s associated to Oxford University lie reasonably close by to the Cherwell (University Church of St. Mary the Virgin & St. Mary Magdalen). At times they too mourn the departure of the child and the Saviour. From Faber’s work – Mary’s loss is poignantly depicted:

“When the sound of the scourging went up to heaven, the smothered sighs of Mary’s bursting heart went up with it.”
– The Sorrows of Mary, The Compassion of Mary, Frederick Faber    (my emphasis)

 Tolkien may have been aware that the river Cherwell in Oxfordshire had some historic basis for a resident water-nymph. Thus the Withywindle was a correspondingly suitable candidate from a mythological standpoint. 

“… Where many a Water-Nymph her Streamlet leads …
… Sometimes, we from the Cherwell’s winding Stream …”.
– Juvenile Poems on several occasions, By a gentleman of Oxford, 1764

According to A Thames Voyage by Thomas Noel of Merton College, Oxford:

“… The water-nymph’s delight !
Those milk-white cups with a golden-core, …”.
– The Flowering Plants of Great Britain, Vol. I, Anne Pratt, 1855

In Michael Drayton’s Poly-Olbion, many English rivers are depicted with their own-water-nymph. The Cherwell too possesses one (see map center below).

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Map extract from the Poly-Olbion, Michael Drayton, c. 1613

Angel and Demon, Gospel and Fairy-story

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Part II: Celtic Gods and Fairies Ironed Out

Tolkien once famously wrote:

“… I have always been seeking material, things of a certain tone and air, and not simple knowledge. Also – and here I hope I shall not sound absurd – I was from early days grieved by the poverty of my own beloved country: it had no stories of its own (bound up with its tongue and soil), not of the quality that I sought, and found (as an ingredient) in legends of other lands.”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #131

This rather sorrowful soul baring has been presumed to convey the driving impulse behind the sprouting of his mythology. Yet though the Silmarillion tales started the process, undoubtedly an eventual carryover to The Lord of the Rings aimed at and resulted in a grand and largely unified work. The heart of the newer myth was based of course upon the race of Hobbits and the Shire – Tolkien’s representation of ancient peoples in rural England from a bygone era.

One way connectivity could be provided to his feigned era was through mythological works. The Professor was patently aware that there existed an abundance of folklore and simple fairy tales which the English could claim as their very own. Sadly alongside the plethora of ‘lower mythologies’, written epics were distinctly lacking. What survived of ‘higher mythologies’ had grave faults:

“… the Arthurian world, but powerful as it is, it is imperfectly naturalized, associated with the soil of Britain but not with English; and does not replace what I felt to be missing. For one thing its ‘faerie’ is too lavish, and fantastical, incoherent and repetitive. For another and more important thing: it is involved in, and explicitly contains the Christian religion.”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #131

It was the latter matter that obviously perturbed him most. However Tolkien almost entirely dodged the issue when it came to ‘religion’. He left a feeble and unsatisfactory explanation:

“For reasons which I will not elaborate, that seems to me fatal. Myth and fairy-story must, as all art, reflect and contain in solution elements of moral and religious truth (or error), but not explicit, not in the known form of the primary ‘real’ world.”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #131

But why was it a taboo, in his eyes, for fairy tales to possess explicit elements of religion? Why, for example, shouldn’t the Sir Gawain and the Green Knight story (whose root clearly lies after the New Testament) contain open references to Christianity? Why shouldn’t it still be classifiable as a ‘true’ fairy tale? Didn’t fairies come under the rule of God? So why did an incompatibility exist?

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Related image

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Whatever the answers, Tolkien felt there was something not quite right about it all. Unless there is some standard, unbeknownst to me, I suspect the reasons were more personal than justifiable by logic or innate law of the Universe. In any case for our fairy tale of interest, the setting in antiquity of The Lord of the Rings, was such that:

“… the ‘Third Age’ was not a Christian world.”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #165

Despite an essentially pagan era, Tolkien articulated that:

“I have deliberately written a tale, which is built on or out of certain ‘religious’ ideas, but is not an allegory of them (or anything else), and does not mention them overtly, still less preach them, …”.
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #211    (Tolkien’s italicized emphasis on ‘not’)

So what were these ‘religious’ ideas? How had he built them into his story? Obviously they weren’t ‘explicit’, so where are they concealed? And more importantly for us – how is Tom Bombadil involved?

Perhaps one of the keys to Tolkien’s rationale with Tom lies in his On Fairy-stories paper:

“Andrew Lang said … that mythology and religion … are two distinct things that have become inextricably entangled, though mythology is in itself almost devoid of religious significance.”
– On Fairy-stories, Lecture by J.R.R. Tolkien St. Andrews 1939, Available in Tree and Leaf

So though undoubtedly myth and religion had over the ages become interwoven, it is the Professor’s openness to historical sundering and refusion that attracts my attention:

“Yet these things have in fact become entangled — or maybe they were sundered long ago and have since groped slowly, through a labyrinth of error, through confusion, back towards refusion.”
– On Fairy-stories, Lecture by J.R.R. Tolkien St. Andrews 1939, Available in Tree and Leaf

Was Tom caught up in an intricate Web of Story involving sundering and refusion? The reason why I ask is that, as revealed in The Road to Fairy Land Part II and Part I of this series, we have his unexpected association to the Celtic god Lugh and the Christian Archangel Michael. Remarkably there is a strong affinity between them in our world.

Clustered across the landscape of Oxfordshire and Berkshire are several concentrations of churches named after St. Michael. Researchers have pointed out that a unique St. Michael ‘ley line’ exists over a larger extent of England. Very simply put, ley lines are alignments of monuments, religious places and prehistoric sites in a straight line. It is possible Tolkien was aware of Alfred Watkins and his ley line theory1, but at the time of writing his opus the St. Michael one had not been discovered. I’m sure the Professor would have been quite unsurprised that the English St. Michael ley line ran across both Berkshire and Oxfordshire – yes, Bombadil country!

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The St. Michael Ley Line 

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Even without specific ley line knowledge, I have little doubt Tolkien knew St. Michael permeated the soil of the local countryside; and that belonging ran deep into history. Evidence suggests a cult of the archangel particularly flourished in England during the Middle Ages. It appears St. Michael took over from the pagan god Lugh:

“In the Gnosis, St. Michael symbolizes the sun, and thus very appropriately at St. Michael’s Mount, Cornwall, at Mont St. Michel, Carnac, and also at Mont St. Michel on the coast of Normandy, replaced the Great God of Light and Life, held in supreme honour among the ancient Celts.”
– The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries, W. Y. Evans-Wentz, 1911

As part of the assimilation, the ancient Celtic calendar feast: Lughnasa, named in honor of the deity Lugh, was absorbed into the Christian calendar and celebrated instead on Michaelmas day:

“The Christian Church did not oppose the continuation of the festival marking the beginning of the harvest…..but the different names applied to it obscured its pagan origin. As the Christian church often substituted the archangel Michael for Lugh, the festival was transformed into St. Michael’s Day or Michaelmas and moved to 29 September.”
– Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, James MacKillop, 1998

“In Scotland the Lughnasa celebrations tend to group around St. Michael’s Day or Michaelmas on September 29, the archangel Michael having been substituted after Christianization for Lugh.”
– The Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore, Patricia Monaghan, 2004

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St. Michael and the Devil, Book of Hours, 15th Century
(Halo and  Sun Imagery!)

 

So now one can see why and how cleverly Tolkien slotted in links to both Michael2 and Lugh3 within his mythology. Bombadil in Tolkien’s mind – I conclude, was the mythical forerunner and true root of the legends behind these two in the British Isles. And really it didn’t matter in which chronological order our history had them arising. Given Tolkien’s comment, I can imagine these two had fused, sundered and refused from his feigned Age to ours.

Lugh the Irish cognate of the continental Gaul god Lugus isn’t the only Celtic deity I wish to discuss. But before I go on to examine his Welsh counterpart Lleu (another deity of light), I want to briefly mention the Celtic god ‘Esus’ from Gaul. There is little known about him – yet what information we do have tells us his Celtic name translates as ‘Master’, and that he has power over the willow-tree.

A Bas-relief from France depicts him as a bearded woodman, and ancient writings record trees, in association to the god, were used to bind people against for punishment purposes. From all of this one can see shades of Master Bombadil’s rebuke of Old Man Willow and the trapping of Merry and Pippin incident!

“ ‘My friends are caught in the willow-tree,’ cried Frodo breathlessly.”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, The Old Forest

“Tom, sprang away, and breaking off a hanging branch smote the side of the willow with it.”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, The Old Forest

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Esus, Stone Carving found under Notre Dame Cathedral, France
(The god is depicted as smiting a willow tree)

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Along with Esus – also contrived, I believe, as possessing a fragmentary link in antiquity to Bombadil is Lleu of The Mabinogion. Lleu’s title was similar to Lugh’s – yet slightly different. He was known as Lleu Llaw Gyffes: ‘Bright One of the steady hand’. A semblance of such dexterity likely appears through Tom and his careful transportation of Goldberry’s water-lilies:

“In his hands he carried on a large leaf as on a tray a small pile of white water-lilies.”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, The Old Forest

We then see the leaf and lilies skillfully balanced in one hand:

“ ‘Whoa! Whoa! steady there!’ cried the old man, holding up one hand, …”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, The Old Forest

Even after his leap, in outrage at the willow’s entrapment of the two younger hobbits, no lilies were lost:

“ ‘What?’ shouted Tom Bombadil, leaping up in the air.”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, The Old Forest

It isn’t till after his aerial display of gymnastics that we see him:

“Setting down his lilies carefully on the grass, …”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, The Old Forest

Hmm … Bombadil certainly possessed a ‘steady hand’ – no arguing that!

Now Lleu in legend was married to the beautiful goddess: Blodeuwedd4, whose name means ‘flower face’5. Supposedly she was made by a great magician from the essence of flowers alone solely to be Lleu’s bride. Again we see resonances in Goldberry’s close relationship with water-lilies which I have emphasized in great detail in Goldberry, The Enigmatic Mrs Bombadil, Part I. One should recall how the etymological name of the yellow variety – has roots which roughly translate to: ‘be a bride’!

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Lleu’s Betrayal, Celtic Myth and Legend, C. Squire, 1908

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In the fourth branch of The Mabinogion we are told how Lleu was practically invincible. Only under extreme circumstances could he be slain. When asked by Blodeuwedd, Lleu reveals it must be from a wound inflicted by a special spear – but there were other conditions:

“And I cannot be slain within a house, nor without. I cannot be slain on horseback nor on foot.” “Verily,” said she, “in what manner then canst thou be slain?” “I will tell thee,” said he. “By making a bath for me by the side of a river, and by putting a roof over the cauldron, and thatching it well and tightly, and bringing a buck, and putting it beside the cauldron. Then if I place one foot on the buck’s back, and the other on the edge of the cauldron, whosoever strikes me thus will cause my death.” “Well,” said she, “I thank Heaven that it will be easy to avoid this.”
– The Mabinogion translated by Lady Charlotte Guest, 1849 edition

Tolkien must have had a good laugh – for I have a strong suspicion he knew the story behind one of the most famous of Welsh deities6. Looking past the comical side – just as I have tried to do – he might have observed that Lleu’s vulnerability occurred while naked. Perhaps his personage was missing a vital piece of clothing. Perhaps it was garb associated to another legend largely set in Wales, namely: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight7? Perhaps Lleu was only susceptible when deprived of a certain ‘green girdle’. And maybe the other requirements were mere fluff. Speculation I know – but that’s what mythology is all about. Piecing together fragments of truth from various legends might lead to one not unreasonably guessing what lay behind a bizarre ‘Achilles heel’.

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Lleu rises as an Eagle, The Mabinogion, Lady Guest translation, 1877
(Courtesy of Wikipedia)

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Jumping back to Goldberry – there are more connections to her in Welsh folklore by way of human looking female water-nymphs. Beautiful maidens known as the ‘Gwragedd Annwn’ inhabited hill-side lakes, and were sometimes reported as combing their tresses on the surface of the water. Categorized as Welsh fairies (Tylwyth Teg8) and devoid of all fish appendages, they were similar to Fouqués’ Undine whom I discussed in: Goldberry, The Enigmatic Mrs Bombadil Part II. Such a similarity was pointed out by Sir John Rhys (Tolkien’s one-time tutor) under the chapter title: Undine’s Kymric Sisters in Welsh and Manx (Volume 1, 1901).

Now in Welsh folklore it was not unusual for a man to take a fairy wife9:

“Tylwyth Teg … fairy maidens may become the wives of human men.”
An Encyclopedia of Fairies, Katherine Briggs, 1976

Several orally handed down tales collected in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s10 share common aspects involving mortal nuptials with the Gwragedd Annwn. One feature is that the maiden, usually as a dowry, brings along super-productive cattle which greatly enrich11 the household. Another curiosity is that the marriage contract is deemed broken if the husband strikes the wife three times. Even if it is accidental or even if the blow is the lightest of taps – it makes no difference. Thrown into the mix – the relationship is also terminated if she is struck by anything made of ‘iron’. And indeed we see this latter occurrence in the case of a Welsh water-nymph who agrees to become the wife of a common herdsman.

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The Lady of The Lake, The Welsh Fairy Book, W. J. Thomas, 1908

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In the version related by Elias Owen, once again the ‘little old man’12 pops-up in the fairy tale:

“… but before he could take her away, a little fat old man came to them and begged him to give her back to him, to which the youth would not listen.”
– A Collection of the Folk-tales and Legends of North Wales, Elias Owen, 1887

An agreement:

“… was made between them that he was to have her to wife until he touched her skin with iron, …”.
– A Collection of the Folk-tales and Legends of North Wales, Elias Owen, 1887    (my emphasis)

This, to the husband’s dismay, accidentally happened. Consequently the green clad fairy woman abruptly departed while taking her cattle (and progeny from previous generations) with her into the lake:

“ ‘Come thou Einion’s yellow one,
   Stray horns–speckled one of the Lake,
   And the hornless Dodin,
   Arise, come home.’ ”
– A Collection of the Folk-tales and Legends of North Wales, Elias Owen, 1887

In one Welsh tale the Tylwyth Teg cows are led into the water, not by a lake-maiden – but by our ubiquitous little man:

“… the shepherd saw a little fat old man playing on a pipe, and then he heard him call the cows by their names13 … He then beheld the whole herd running to the little man and going into the lake.”
– Welsh and Manx Vol. 1, The Fairies’ Revenge, Sir John Rhys

Now The Stray Cow tale, as told in The Welsh Fairy Book, greatly resembles Owens’ version.

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The Stray Cow, The Welsh Fairy Book, W. J. Thomas, 1908

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The words of the fairy woman recalling the beasts match-up almost identically. For us the intriguing links are fourfold. Firstly Einion, who took a fairy for a wife and lived in fairyland, is once again mentioned (see The Road to Fairyland Part III). Secondly these lake-fairies are depicted like Goldberry as:

“… clad all in green, …”.
– The Welsh Fairy Book, The Stray Cow, W. Jenkyn Thomas, 1908

Thirdly, in resonating with ‘Milky-white’ from the Jack and the Beanstalk fairy tale, they possess:

“… milk-white kine …”.
– The Welsh Fairy Book, The Stray Cow, W. Jenkyn Thomas, 1908

Fourthly, and perhaps most poignantly, as she departs forever into the lake with the beasts – left behind to mark the spot where they had disappeared is a:

“… yellow water-lily …”.
– The Welsh Fairy Book, The Stray Cow, W. Jenkyn Thomas, 1908

And so after all of this we can see how woven around Goldberry and Tom is much Welsh fairy-lore.

A yellow water-lily and green clothed water-fairy along with a little old man and prodigiously productive cattle link indirectly back to The Lord of the Rings and further connect to other famous fairy tales. All part of a well thought out plan – I continue to reiterate. One with a sound infrastructure, for Tolkien was not going to add to the multitude of:

“… garbled and ill-invented tales.”
– Tolkien On Fairy-stories, Flieger and Anderson, Manuscript B – pg. 272

In echoing the Professor – much had got mixed-up in the ever-bubbling ‘Cauldron of Story’. With Tolkien’s ‘soup’ ladled out and set before us, and with all that I have exposed in this essay and others, perhaps for the first time within the serving – we can glimpse the ‘bones of the ox’!

Much of Tolkien’s strategy is now laid bare. For we have almost come full circle with some of my earlier essays. The inventive thought and scholastic effort put into characterizing Tom and Goldberry is nothing short of brilliant. One can fully understand how the ‘imaginary’ world with a:

“… coherent structure which it took … years to work out.”,
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #190

is far from an understatement. Some of that remark may well have been directed at these enigmatic two.

Despite some rather eye-opening advances, I’m not quite finished with discussing Welsh mythology in relation to our odd couple. Right now there are two small but significant items needed to be touched and expanded upon. In repetition – the first is that according to Welsh fairy tales, the Tylwyth Teg, and perhaps fairies in general,  are adverse to iron14. If they touch it – they disappear.

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The Tylwyth Teg, British Goblins, Wirt Sikes, 1880

 

It is noticeable, that nothing is stated to be of iron in Tom’s house. Additionally a small yet revealing oddity is – of the treasures Tom carried out from the Barrow – none were of iron or had any iron content:

“When he came out he was bearing in his arms, a great load of treasure: things of gold, silver, copper, and bronze15; …”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Fog on the Barrow-downs

And of the blades Tom armed the hobbits with – again none of iron or steel were selected:

“For each of the hobbits he chose a dagger … wrought of some strange metal, light and strong, …”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Fog on the Barrow-downs

Lastly, the Tylwyth Teg are renowned for their extraordinary auditory powers. Flamboyantly put by Sir John Rhys:

“They were sharp of hearing, and no word that reached the wind would escape them.”
– The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries, Fairy Faith in Wales, W.Y. Evans Wentz, 1911

Perhaps based on Welsh lore Tolkien endowed our very Welsh sounding and rooted Iarwain Ben-adar (aka Tom Bombadil) with such sensitivity too. From the barrow, Frodo’s voice was heard when Tom’s name was invoked. Whether it was by magical means, divine powers or by an acute natural ability common to fairies, one cannot say for sure:

“Come Tom Bombadil, for our need is near us! …
… far away, as if it was coming through the ground or through thick walls, an answering voice …”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Fog on the Barrow-downs

Hmm … all in all an infusion of yet more subtle linkage – one might conclude!

So in summary one can only marvel at Tolkien’s genius. So much was packed into Bombadil/Goldberry episode that plainly we were all unaware of. And now at last the links of our world’s fairy tales and mythology to his are becoming more logical and lucid. Though I cannot prove Tolkien knew each and every tale I have cited, nevertheless we know when it came to the British Isles, he was one who:

“… always felt the attraction of the ancient history and pre-history of these islands, …”.
– English and Welsh, Essay and O’Donnell Trust lecture by J.R.R. Tolkien

Indeed we should not be fooled. The few chapters starring our remarkable couple have an intense academic structure underpinning some of the happenings. Imbued with Celtic touches of Welsh, Irish and Gallic mythologies alongside a good dose of English fairy tales, these chapters are rich in the lore of the British Isles and nearby lands. Yet though I’m nearly done with discussing fairy tales, legends and folklore – when it comes to Tom and Goldberry much still remains hidden pertaining to religion. It’s time to expose more about the ‘holiness’ in the chapters to which they connect!

Footnotes:

1  Published in The Old Straight Track: Its Mounds, Beacons, Moats, Sites and Mark Stones, 1925.

2  See Angel and Demon, Gospel and Fairy-story Part I.

3  See The Road to Fairyland Part II.

4  Blodeuwedd has another meaning in Welsh, namely: ‘Owl’. Traditionally the owl is shunned by all other birds – destined to spend day and night alone, or with a mate. Juxtaposed is Goldberry’s explicit lack of companions in the mythology after marriage to Tom – particularly those of humanoid form. She – in a way – appears to be alone.

5  Interestingly in Irish legend, Cuchulainn (Lugh’s avatar) loved Blathnat, which means ‘little flower’. Connectivity to a flower theme thus appears in both Welsh and Irish Celtic legends.

6  Tolkien was certainly familiar with Lady Guest’s translation of The Mabinogion (see Bibliography of Sir Gawain & the Green Knight, Tolkien & Gordon, 1925). The account of Lleu occurs in the fourth branch. Also, Tolkien taught medieval Welsh at Leeds University (see The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #7). The Mabinogion was likely to have been part of the curriculum.

7  Gawain has also been noted as a sun-hero. Sir John Rhys has observed how the Beheading Game, involving Cuchulainn, also appears in ‘The Champions Bargain’ (which Tolkien knew of per his Sir Gawain & the Green Knight publication in 1925). This cross-fertilization of Celtic legends with Arthurian tales is a matter Tolkien was undoubtedly aware of.

8  Tolkien certainly knew of the Tylwyth Teg – See Tolkien On Fairy-stories, Flieger and Anderson, pg. 29.

9  Contrast Welsh folklore to: “It was often said (in other families) that long ago one of the Took ancestors must have taken a fairy wife.”, from The Hobbit, An Unexpected Party. Note that in both cases it is the female that is the fairy and taken from her natural environment. 

10  See for example: British Goblins, Lake Fairies, Wirt Sikes, 1881; The Welsh Fairy Book, The Lady of the Lake, W. Jenkyn Thomas, 1908; The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries, In Wales, W. Y. Evans-Wentz, 1911.

11  A bestowing of ‘magical’ cattle by Welsh lake-maidens is aligned with the giving of great gifts by English lake-women from Arthurian romance. Even William Shakespeare seems to have recognized that such treasures came from deep waters. In the words of the fairy queen Titania to Bottom:

“I’ll give thee fairies to attend on thee,
And they shall fetch thee jewels from the deep, …”.
– A Midsummer’s Night Dream, William Shakespeare, ~1595

12  Possibly one of the Bendith y Mamau – Welsh fairies of short stature and ugly appearance, seen on occasion to ride horses. Here again we see more resonances to Bombadil.

13  The names of the cows are capitalized by Sir John Rhys as: ‘Einion’s Yellow One, ‘Stray-horns’, ‘Particoloured Lake Cow’ and ‘Hornless Dodin’ (Welsh & Manx Vol. I, The Fairies’ Revenge, 1901). Their summoning by the ‘little old man’ is reminiscent of the names used by Bombadil for the hobbit ponies under a similar calling.

14  In trying to discern the truth about what really lay behind the marriage contract – one might find the ‘three blows’ condition as incredulous. Especially if mere contact can cause an inadvertent ‘blow’. Tolkien – as I do – might have thought the touching of ‘iron’ causing disappearance possessed more credence. Particularly as this aspect of Welsh mythology is repeated in a publication Tolkien researched for his On Fairy-stories paper (see Bibliography of Tolkien On Fairy-Stories, Flieger & Anderson):

“The Fairy bride, in Wales, vanishes on being touched with iron.”
– The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns & Fairies, Fairyland and Hades, Robert Kirk, Comment by Andrew Lang, 1893

Also, the ‘iron/vanishing’ phenomenon seems to have genuine connections to folklore. Perhaps that’s why in Scottish folklore bannocks for Michaelmas were not supposed to be baked with metal (in case they were of iron). Perhaps Michaelmas bannocks were the original forerunner of the modern ‘fairy cake’:

“Fairy, Fairy bake me a bannock, and roast me a collop, …”.
– The Popular Rhymes of Scotland, Robert Chambers, 1826

15  Bronze is made from Copper and Tin.

Angel and Demon, Gospel and Fairy-story

This essay is best viewed in single page format. If it appears in two column style – an adjustment can be made by selecting zoom at 125% to 175% under the ‘Settings’ tab.
Introduction:

Many months ago I started out by audaciously proclaiming Tom Bombadil was uniquely associated to an abstract concept. That being a role which allegorized the ‘audience’ of Eru Ilúvatar’s great ‘play’. Despite the logic and the evidence – the hypothesis is, for some, a hard one to embrace. Since then, I have taken a much gentler path and slowly introduced new ideas. Yet the intent is to eventually loop back and fuse the somewhat detached theatrical postulation with my later more conventional analysis.

In methodically inching forward it has been advocated that The Lord of the Rings storyline developed with an underlying theme unexplored by scholars. Tom and Goldberry have been exposed to possess links to ‘elementals’, ‘faërie beings’ and even a demi-god – through classic European fairy tales and mythologies. Bit by bit the evidence has accumulated. And slowly but surely Tolkien’s purpose is becoming clearer. So by now it should have dawned upon the reader that these two are among the most complex and secret of all Tolkien’s invented characters. However despite all the ‘new’ stuff, believe it or not there is still plenty more to uncover, and with that – understanding to be had.

The following set of four essays go a long way towards binding the threads already developed into one logical and coherent story. Indeed that is my aim. Yet there is still one major surprise before I begin to do so. There is still one piece of the jigsaw needed to be taken out of the box and brought into the light.

All this time the largest and most central chunk of the puzzle has been hidden right under noses. For the Professor left it well within our grasp. Finally after more than six decades the time is ripe to expose a remarkable secret and consequently the true nature of the light surrounding Tom. The intensity of the halo is bright – yet a cloud has fogged our vision. For we have all been staring blindly, unable to penetrate the billows of mist, when before us the irrefutable answer to the Bombadil enigma requires only blowing away a wispy layer!

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Image result for angel cloud halo wings

 

.As the reader shall see, new and relevant information has surfaced which cannot be ignored. Its exposure yields and confirms an unrealized deeper substructure to the story affirming my earlier prognosis. To unearth this material requires almost Sherlockian discipline. Likewise its insertion uses a skill set one can quite easily imagine to have been acquired by a master philologist. We must not forget that the art of telling a spellbinding tale, woven with matter that provides the reader with a truly multi-dimensional experience, is difficult enough in itself. But Tolkien possessed both mastery of the English language and specific knowledge to add in an entirely academic side, raising the worth of the work enormously. On a personal basis – it became meaningful to him beyond a pure story. 

Yes, the academic points of tangence are becoming too numerous to overlook. Those who might dismiss the many unique revelations so far as entirely coincidental – will have to reconsider their positions. First and foremost we must not forget that Tolkien was a Professor of a rare sort. If we patronizingly doubt his intellectual ability to include, in the most subtle way, fragments and traces of our world’s fairy-stories/myth – in a latent manner – we are indeed belittling an extraordinary talent. His artful methods should be appreciated and complimented – not doubted. Especially when the evidence becomes overwhelming beyond reason.

 

Part I: Archangel Tom

Despite The Lord of the Rings being:

“… a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; …”,
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #142

by the very end of the edit process – all ‘overt’ mentions of doctrine were removed. Tolkien willfully:

“… cut out, practically all references to anything like ‘religion’, to cults or practices, in the imaginary world.”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #142

A change of policy took place; instead a secondary and subtle method of inclusion became entirely preferential:

“… the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #142

It is quite possible the Professor desired to go further than he had, and alter even more material; yet the constraint imposed by an already enmeshed timeline would prove too formidable a hurdle. Such untangling would have cascaded into a horrendous revision affecting a great deal of the text. And the change I am talking about relates to a specific date involving Master Tom.

If I asked the question:

‘Which single day in The Fellowship of the Ring spans across more chapters than any other?’, I bet many ‘experts’ would be unable to fire back an answer without mulling it over and perhaps even consulting the book. It’s a little nugget of information that, in all probability, has never been much thought about.

What was so special about September 29th of the year 3018 that it straddled Fog on the Barrow-downs, At the Sign of the Prancing Pony, Strider and A knife in the Dark? Yes, it is by no accident that I have chosen this very same day and month to issue this essay. And indeed its choice was no accident on Tolkien’s part either.

Within the appendices the date is casually remarked upon in a most nonchalant and unassuming manner:

“29 Frodo reaches Bree at night. Gandalf visits the Gaffer.”
– The Return of the King, Appendix B, 3018, September

But though Tolkien told the truth – there was more he declined to highlight; because purposely omitted was any mention of the Barrow rescue. The sun rose and there was Tom on the morning of September 29th – a day known in England as: ‘Michaelmas Day’. That famed day in English tradition and the Christian faith that celebrates God’s glorious and mighty angel. A day which is holy and one of festivity, coinciding with one of the four historic ‘quarter days’ purposely embedded within the book1.

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Archangel Michael tramples Satan, Guido Reni, 1636

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For dedicated followers of Tolkien the answer is earth-shattering. So startling that the enormity of it might take time to sink in. Because Tom was modeled, in part, on the greatest of all named Christian angels: the ‘Archangel Michael’2. Never discussed before among scholars or readers is this most significant and indisputable of assertions.

Hopelessly in the grips of a superior foe, our hapless hobbits needed aid from an omnipotent entity to overcome the fearsome Wight. Of all the threats on their journey to Rivendell, the terrifying encounter was:

“… perhaps the most dangerous moment of all.”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Many Meetings

With words of rhyming power Tom cast out the demon from his barrow home:

“Get out you old Wight!”,
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Fog on the Barrow-downs

just as Lucifer had been cast out from his home in heaven by Michael.

Such a similar chord is too striking to have been accidental. The journey of the hobbits and the timing of the rescue was meticulously planned. Tom’s dramatic appearance at dawn was no coincidence. Nor was the submerged Christian symbolism. Indeed, as Tolkien more or less confessed, certain core elements of faith were deliberately infused into the narrative. In embedding at least three faith-based ‘quarter days’, Tolkien may have been hinting, that in his mind, distinct dates important to Christianity had been preordained by God (Eru Ilúvatar for the novel) as holy. A kind of foreshadowing of the salvation history to come.

Our knowledge of Saint Michael (as the archangel is also known) is scant. Mentions within the Bible proclaim him as the leader of God’s angelic host and the main protagonist in the heavenly battle against the fallen angel we now call the Devil. Though we know only a little about his character and deeds, many quirky traditions have embedded themselves as part of his celebratory day. Most importantly, for us, much is present within The Lord of the Rings which shares commonality. No other singular date in the novel exhibits such a quantity and degree of folklore and religious parallelism for this particular theme.

Biblical accounts tell us St. Michael fought on Earth against Satan for the body of Moses3 – which when comparing against the Barrow episode, is similar to Tom ‘fighting’ for the bodies of the hobbits. Michael won the contest just like Tom.

He is the guardian over the land of God’s chosen people – Israel. But one can understand Tolkien felt England was just as special. A country that those of Dutch heritage (of which our Dutch doll Tom was one) literally translate to be: ‘Angel Land’4. Just maybe the archangel was also the guardian of England too. For the Bible records that each nation was assigned an angel to protect its inhabitants.

Though there is no biblical warrant, Roman Catholics believe St. Michael is the summoner of the souls of the dead for weighing and judgement. Mirrored indeed through Tom recalling the seemingly ‘lifeless’ trio of Sam, Pippin and Merry back to consciousness.

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 St. Michael weighing souls, Doomsday painting, Wenhaston, England 

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In English folklore St. Michael is the patron saint of horses – echoed by Tom’s close affinity with ponies:

“Sharp-ears, Wise-nose, Swish-tail and Bumpkin,
White-socks my little lad, and old Fatty Lumpkin! …
… they answered to the new names that Tom had given them for the rest of their lives.”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Fog on the Barrow-downs

And he is the patron saint of the police – the ‘boys in blue’. Tom’s ‘uniform’ is similarly colored:

“Bright blue his jacket is, …”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, In the House of Tom Bombadil

In medieval times the quarter days were also lawful occasions to settle debts. Again we see inserted symbolism as Frodo and the innkeeper square accounts for services rendered for the period of the stay. All obligations were intended to be tallied and made good by the ‘start of the new quarter’:

“He’s welcome … so long as he pays in the morning.”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, At the Sign of the Prancing Pony

English historical documents record how bills were often settled with bushels of barley – likely joked upon by Tolkien nicknaming Butterbur: ‘Barley’.

Now this was also the time to hire new servants, exemplified by:

“Strider shall be your guide.”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Strider

Traditionally the celebration involved a feast at which bread was freshly baked5, and for those who could afford it – a goose was served. At the inn for supper:

“There was hot soup, cold meats, … new loaves, …”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, At the Sign of the Prancing Pony    (my emphasis)

And although the types of “cold meats” aren’t stated, nevertheless the importance of ‘geese’ to the overall picture, to my mind, too conveniently appears on this same day:

“… the dogs were yammering and the geese6screaming.”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Strider

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The Michaelmas Goose (courtesy of website: catholicallyear.com)

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In line with folklore, we must note the hearty meal at the inn was consumed after the demon’s defeat. The origin of a celebratory tradition perhaps? So with that thought, a most telling detail for us is the legend that after the Devil was cast from heaven on the 29th – the landing site was a thorny blackberry bush. Satan cursed it, scorched the fruit with his fiery breath and stamped and spat upon it (or even worse – urinated on it). Thus the tradition goes – blackberries should not be picked after Michaelmas Day – being unfit for human consumption.

Masterfully inserted into the text – the only mention ever of ‘blackberries’ within the entire novel occurs on September 29th when the hobbits eat at the Prancing Pony. Provided as part of the evening meal:

“There was … a blackberry tart, …”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, At the Sign of the Prancing Pony

Of course one can logically assume those blackberries must have been gathered before the 29th of September!

‘Okay there is an awful lot that matches up. But why Archangel Michael?’, the reader should rightfully ask.
‘What was Tolkien’s purpose?’

The reasons are multifaceted. While the main explanation is the one promoted all along – namely Tolkien’s desire to link back to the folklore and legends of our world, others exist which are bluntly obvious. I have little doubt that St. Michael, was near and dear to Tolkien’s heart. His second son was given this same saintly name and as a devout Roman Catholic, Tolkien strongly believed in the existence of guardian angels7. Given as much, we can fully understand why a St. Michael type figure was included as an intercessor on behalf of the good folk of Middle-earth, in situations of dire emergency. We must note, that when Tom Bombadil’s name was invoked in the barrow – to use Tolkien’s words:

“… as a Catholic might on a Saint, …”,
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #153

indeed this angelic being responded with aid.

What else is quite plain? Well Michaelmas term was of course the beginning of the academic year at Oxford since founding days. And talking about ancient things – Tom, the ancient spirit of the region, was appropriately and likely deliberately connected to Oxford’s oldest surviving building: the Saxon Tower of Saint Michael’s Church at the North Gate8. Here there exists an intriguing link of ‘lilies’ to ‘Archangel Tom’ as we see in the novel. The church itself contains a renowned medieval stained glass window. In a shape representing the body of Christ are white lilies – the famed: ‘Lily Window’.

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The Lily Window, St. Michael’s Church at the North Gate, Oxford

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So tracking back to the book and Tolkien’s own mythology – effectively, even after the Valar had withdrawn with their entourage to Aman, Eru had not wholly abandoned the Elves and Men of Middle-earth. No indeed – an angelic being was there among them as one of the Ainur ready to intercede if called upon. Looks can be deceiving, and to use Tolkien’s thoughts on simplicity and ordinariness within the divine plan – perhaps a slightly shabby wrinkly little fellow was:

“… a symbol of the real nature of holy things in a fallen world.”
– Tolkien & The Silmarillion, Tolkien as Christian Writer, Clyde Kilby

Angels are of course guardians – at least the ‘good’ ones. As Tolkien reminded his youngest son:

“Remember your guardian angel. … God is (so to speak) also behind us, supporting, nourishing us … The bright point of power where that life-line, that spiritual umbilical cord touches: there is our Angel, facing two ways to God behind us in the direction we cannot see, and to us.”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #54

Setting stereotypical looks aside, happy-go-lucky Tom unquestionably behaved as a guardian to the hobbits within his lands. Though he came without a set of wings, warrior or cherubic looks, or the majesty of Gandalf the White:

“Gandalf was … an angelic emissary …”,
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #268

“G. is not, of course, a human being … I wd. venture to say that he was an incarnate ‘angel’ …”,
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #156    (Tolkien’s italicized emphasis on ‘incarnate’)

nevertheless I strongly suspect Tolkien considered Tom as an equivalent. Really then it’s not surprising if Bombadil (just like Gandalf):

“… can act in emergency as an ‘angel’ …”.
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #156

However my real reason for including the wizard as a comparison point, is that the 29th of September is also known as ‘The Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels’. If both are ‘angels’ within the mythology – then one can quite understand why this very particular date is doubly applicable. Again it would be beyond ridiculous to advocate the departure of Gandalf from Middle-earth, exactly three9 years later on September 29th 3021, was merely another extraordinary fluke:

“29. They come to the Grey Havens. Frodo and Bilbo depart over Sea with the Three Keepers.”
– The Return of the King, Appendix B, 3021, September

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Image result for michaelmas goose historic

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Could Gandalf, who played so important a role in the demise of Sauron, be entirely forgotten in our history? Was the feast of ‘All Angels’ the last dim memory of the great hero from the now distant Third Age? Hard to say how the Professor felt about this aspect of connectivity. But without doubt both Gandalf and Tom were considered by Tolkien as angelic beings.

Yes the game is up. The implanted symbolism is too strong. Tom is no longer a huge mystery. And though many will not like it (because let’s face it – we all have our personal ideas), it’s time to shelve non-aligning theories and update those old articles.

Angelic Tom most certainly is. But such a divine order is not mutually exclusive. Tolkien’s casting of him as one of the Ainur does not preclude Tom from also being an incarnate creature of Faërie and a source for much of the myth of our world. In which case we can no longer avoid touching upon the dreaded subject of ‘allegory’ – a topic I have shied away from actively discussing in this essay. Because at this point I have decided that it is unfair to jump to conclusions hastily.

The reader is entitled to understand the whole story, and yes there is quite a bit more. Nevertheless the ‘Michael analogue’ is weighty. It’s hard not to leap to an immediate verdict. Whether Tolkien stepped over the line, and with his own definition condemned himself:

“… ‘allegory’ … resides in … the purposed domination of the author.”,
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Foreword to the Second Edition

is a matter we ought to deeply ponder. Was the selection of September 29th “purposed domination of the author” ? Is the reader (now knowing the significance of this date10) forced to forever associate Tom with Michael the Archangel?

Until Tolkien’s full purpose is known, a stay of judgement is fair. Yet a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. For once we comprehend more of the Professor’s plan, it will almost certainly throw up substantial controversy!

 

Footnotes:

1  Along with Michaelmas Day (September 29th), the three other traditional English calendar quarter days when significant events occur in The Lord of the Rings, in the year 3018 are:

Christmas Day, Dec. 25th:  The Fellowship leave Rivendell. The ‘birth’ of the quest to destroy the Ring. Christians celebrate this day as the birth of Jesus Christ.

Lady Day, March 25th: The fall of Sauron. Catholics celebrate this as Annunciation Day – the angel Gabriel’s visitation to the Virgin Mary announcing she would conceive the Son of God. In medieval England this day was also taken to be the date of the Crucifixion. So in both cases of mankind’s feigned and real history, these are true beginnings of new eras.

Midsummer Day, July 1st: The marriage of Arwen & Aragorn and the unification of the long sundered Half-elven bloodline. Traditionally Midsummer Day was celebrated on the 24th June as an English quarter day. So although called the same name – the dates do not exactly align. Catholics celebrate June 24th as St. John the Baptist Day.

It is probably by no accident that on June 24th 3018 it is Gandalf who takes Aragorn to find a sign reaffirming that a new Age had begun and its future was bright. It is on this day that the journey begins up Mount Mindolluin, culminating in discovery of the precious sapling on the 25th.

In a way, Gandalf acts as a herald and messenger. He is an angelos (see Letter #181) in conveying that the sign of hope and ‘salvation’ is hidden. Arguably there is Christian symbolism subtly inserted that portrays salvation itself will ultimately arise from a simple seed ‘in the wilderness’ at a time unknown to mankind. In the mythology, the seed is a product of a series of events (arguably beginning outside of Time) and with which the fate of the world is bound (meaning the Two Trees, the Silmarils and ensuing events). 

Gandalf thus mirrors some aspects of the story surrounding John the Baptist, whose cries ‘in the wilderness’ heralded that the path of salvation was near at hand. As a messenger, John the Baptist proclaimed that path was through Jesus Christ. 

2  Michael is an angel in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. His name appears in Christian Scripture five times, thrice in the Book of Daniel, and once each in the Epistle of St. Jude and the Book of Revelation.

3  “But Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing judgment, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.”, The Bible, American Standard Version, Jude 1-9.

4  No doubt the ‘Angel’ has been historically distorted – originally being ‘Angles’ of Danish and North-German extraction.

5  St. Michael’s bread (Michaelmas Bannock in Scotland), is supposed to be made without metal implements, but no one knows why. I suspect Tolkien thought of an apt mythological reason which will be revealed in Part II.

6  There are only two mentions of ‘goose’ or ‘geese’ within the novel. Gandalf at Rivendell raises the same observation as Butterbur does at the reaction of these animals to demonic beings. One might rightly wonder if Tolkien decided the saying: ‘your goose is cooked’ arose in a mythological sense from the Bree episode, with the screaming geese effectively betokening their own sacrificial doom was nigh – in honor of a future Michaelmas Day.

7  See The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letters #64, #89 & #213.

8  Perhaps symbolically intended by Tolkien, the hobbits felt that safety and sanctuary awaited once they had passed by the ‘north-gate’ of the Barrow-downs:

“… the gap in the hills, the north-gate of the Barrow-downs. If they could pass that, they would be free.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Fog on the Barrow-downs

A tenuous link thus exists with St. Michael’s at the North Gate, Oxford.

9  Again in a ‘fairy tale’, here we have another example of the ubiquitous number ‘3’.

10  The various calendars associated to The Lord of the Rings are provided in Appendix D. The situation is complex in trying to relate the Tale of Years calendar with the Shire and Númenórean ones, all back to our current day Gregorian calendar. To cut to the chase – the four dates listed under the Tale of Years which I have specified under Note 1 as matching/approximating to the old English ‘quarter days’ were considered by Tolkien to be of great significance. Indeed holy significance – because as Tolkien said in Letter #142 – The Lord of the Rings is “a fundamentally religious and Catholic work”. As sourced from a mythological era, these particular four dates were meant to be carried forward from prehistory through to fulfillment in biblical times and then to current times, and to be venerated essentially unchanged. And this is regardless of whether the The Lord of the Rings fictional dates exactly match up with our current Gregorian calendar or not. We need look no further than the noteworthy fictional dates, themselves, being prime examples of employed symbolism where:

“… the religious element is absorbed into the story …”.
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #142

Also of interest, Tolkien associates the Númenórean calendar of Middle-earth most closely with our Gregorian calendar (see Letter #176) for which September 29th is designated as Michaelmas Day. ‘Old’ Michaelmas Day under the Julian calendar fell on October 11th (or 10th).

The Road to Fairyland

This essay is best viewed in single page format. If it appears in two column style – an adjustment can be made by selecting zoom at 125% to 175% under the ‘Settings’ tab
Part III: The Opening Command – Simply Childe’s Play

This essay is split into three parts. The themes discussed in parts ‘a’ and ‘b’, aid a deeper understanding of the revelation in part ‘c’. If I am right, for the first time we will grasp much of the true story behind the Barrow-downs adventure. We will finally fully comprehend what happened between the green mounded hill and Frodo’s capture by the Barrow-wight.

 

Part IIIa: Adults and Detail

A matter unrecognized among general readers, and perhaps some scholars, is that at outset Tolkien envisaged The Lord of the Rings to be of roughly similar length1 to The Hobbit. At a point some fourteen months after first putting pen to paper, he felt he was over halfway through as:

“… The Lord of the Rings – had reached2 Chapter 12 (and had been re-written several times), running to over 300 MS. Pages …”,
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #35

requiring an additional:

“… 200 at least to finish the story that has developed.”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #35

Aiming for around 20 chapters (assuming ~60 percent had already been written), the book would have run to about where Farewell to Lórien ends up being in the finished item. Anticipated was a relatively short production, and knowing so we must realize that the entire Bombadil episode would have constituted a substantial part of the tale. Given as much, we ought not to be surprised if Tolkien input intense effort into the early chapters. And indeed he did – of a scholastic nature. For far more academic material was inserted than will ever come across no matter how many re-readings are undertaken. That is unless the reader is well-acquainted with fairy tales, Celtic mythology, medieval works – and can connect the ingenious infusion of all three within the text.

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.The Easton Press Editions of Tolkien’s Works
(Side-by-side thickness comparisons are deceptive)

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For these initial twelve chapters Tolkien complained:

“The writing of The Lord of the Rings is laborious, because I have been doing it as well as I know how, and considering every word.”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #35

Not that the rest was less diligently crafted:

“It is written in my life-blood, …”.
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #109

The Professor had poured his heart and soul into the exercise. Using immense skill he left an underlying structure which few have fully comprehended; and that is especially true when it comes to Tom and Goldberry. Such attention to detail was particularly necessary because the targeted audience was an older age group – a faction more critical and certainly less forgiving than young folk:

“I really meant it was running its course, and forgetting ‘children’, and was becoming more terrifying than the Hobbit. It may prove quite unsuitable. It is more ‘adult’ …”.
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #34

“I think The Lord of the Rings is in itself a good deal better than The Hobbit, but it may not prove a very fit sequel. It is more grown up – but the audience for which The Hobbit was written has done that also.”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #35

Already a flavor of the professional criticism to come had been received from both peer writers and the media in the aftermath of The Hobbit. For example the acclaimed author Arthur Ransome had quibbled about an irksome inconsistency of:

“… Gandalf’s use of the term ‘excitable little man’ as a description of Bilbo. He cited other, similar uses of ‘man’ or ‘men’ to describe dwarves and goblins.”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #20 (see notes)

Even more worryingly The Observer had published a letter questioning the originality of the name: ‘Hobbit’. Tolkien vigorously defended the story’s core invention but readily admitted some minor errors had crept in and improvements were desirable. Still he had been primed as to the type and depth of critiquing to come.

Though Tolkien had expected research, only under specific circumstances would it be sanctioned:

“When they have read it, some readers will (I suppose) wish … to analyze it, … they are, of course, at liberty to do these things – so long as they have first read it with attention throughout.”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #329    (Tolkien’s italicized emphasis on ‘first’)

It had to be diligently performed, be objective in nature and undertaken with careful thought. Those are obvious baseline criteria for a pedantic philologist – because in no uncertain terms Tolkien demanded we pay attention to the text. However while still alive, he felt independently conducted research was unnecessary as he was always there to be directly asked:

“I do not know why they should research … after all I hold the key.”
– Niekas interview, 1967

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Cover of Niekas Fanzine #18 – containing transcript of Tolkien interview, 1967

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The trouble with all this is that the Professor, though willing to expand on many topics, was reluctant to give us the keys to Bombadil. Whenever asked, the questions were deflected or cryptically responded to. So to ferret out answers we are left with limited options. Nevertheless our quest requires us to take a path.

The path I have chosen – is indeed one that really is not so strange. Indeed it is one we can discern from many of his comments as a valid one. A roadway paved of blended mythology and fairy tale was simply a continuation of the themes underlying The Hobbit. The road headed in the right direction, because undoubtedly noted was the glowing praise published in a highly reputable English newspaper:

“… one of the book’s charms appears to be its Spenserian harmonising of the brilliant threads of so many branches of epic, mythology, and Victorian fairy literature.”.
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #25

Tolkien confirmed the approach had mostly been correctly interpreted:

“As for the rest of the tale it is, … derived from (previously digested) epic, mythology, and fairy-story …”.
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #25

And so encouraged by success, it is fairly obvious that following a tried and tested route was a no-brainer when it came to The Lord of the Rings. His own tastes echoed the desires of many others. Nor was he afraid to admit the internal seed came deeply implanted:

“But an equally basic passion of mine ab initio was for myth (not allegory!) and for fairy-story, and above all for heroic legend on the brink of fairy-tale and history, …”.
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #131

A later admission relates how relieved he felt knowing his long-standing belief was vilified:

“… it remains an unfailing delight to me to find my own belief justified: that the ‘fairy-story’ is really an adult genre …”.
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #159

‘So where are we heading?’ one might ask.
‘There’s nothing radical here – it’s common knowledge Tolkien tailored The Lord of the Rings towards adults, and his extraordinary efforts in formulating the text are equally well-known among scholars:

“Hardly a word in its 600,000 or more has been unconsidered. And the placing, size, style, and contribution to the whole of all the features, incidents, and chapters has been laboriously pondered.”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #131

Well all I am requesting at this stage is that readers bear the adult nature of the book, as well as Tolkien’s penchant for mythology and fairy-stories, uppermost in their minds when it comes to later revelations in this essay.

 

Part IIIb: Cross-fertilization of English and Celtic Fairy Tales

Moving chronologically back to the story’s beginning, of the many problems Tolkien faced early on in constructing an elaborate tale – there were two that particularly concern us. The first was what was he going to do with Tom Bombadil. The second was a major preoccupation in preparing an ‘Andrew Lang’ Fairy-stories lecture paper. Refreshing his memory on Andrew Lang’s twelve fairy-story books (and no doubt many other fairy tales) must have had an impact in itself. Dealing academically with ‘faërie’ and ‘fairies’, over the course of five months3, might simultaneously have led to contemplating roles and firming-up genera for our merry couple. Particularly as this time period overlapped with his formulation/revision of the chapters involving Bombadil.

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Andrew Lang’s Twelve Colored Fairy Books

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In putting out a thesis about fairyland and fairies – was his new ‘fairy tale’ going to be devoid of such a place and creatures? Were the many historical accounts telling of fairy encounters just mumbo-jumbo? Were the tales of how men and women have disappeared with the fairies, oblivious of a different pace of time in the mortal world, totally fictitious? Hmm … these were issues not easily ruled upon. Though eventually a decision had to be made.

When it came down to it – the choice was quite straight-forward. For The Lord of the Rings key lacunae would need filling. Unfortunately his ‘race’ of Elves just wouldn’t do:

“Elves is an English word, but the nature and history of the peoples so-called in my books has little or nothing to do with the European traditions about Elves or Fairies.”
– Tolkien Letter to L.M. Cutts, October 1958

Such a point cannot be stressed enough; we must divorce ourselves from thinking European fairies and Tolkien’s Elves were synonymous or equivalents. Such a position even appears to exclude the Tuatha Dé Danann, which many scholars would find a touch incredulous.

Now if we look carefully there is not a single explicit mention of ‘faërie’, ‘fay’, ‘fairy’ or similar namesakes in the entire novel. However omission of specific terminology wouldn’t pose too much of a problem as long as the book contained them and buried within were reasonable pointers inferring so. It’s my belief that dwelling on the sub-topics of ‘faërie’ and ‘fairies’ for his lecture essay presented a neat solution about what to do with Tom and Goldberry. The:

“… ‘adventure’ on the way.”,
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #153

rendered an ideal plot device.

But there was another problem. Till then he had only ever described one faërie to the public at large, namely the: ‘Faërie in the West’. But that’s not the way it was going to be. He needed to connect our folklore/legends/myths with his mythical age. Thus ultimately he was faced with the dilemma posed by all the accounts of faërie in European historical literature, particularly those tied to the soil of the British Isles. Moreover there existed a plethora of records pertaining to supernatural and very ‘peculiar’ fairy-like beings, ranging from tiny to ~human-size, inhabiting England and nearby lands. These were in no way reconcilable with the demi-gods and High Elves dwelling in a paradise-like otherworld sited across an expanse of water from his pre-existing Silmarillion mythology. Nor were any of the ‘peculiar’ sort anything like the noble Elves of Middle-earth. A thousand years of our world’s history could not be simply brushed under the carpet. There had to be something more to it all.

My personal thoughts are that Tolkien wrestled with such dilemmas actively. Giving due consideration to these matters – a tandem solution was at hand. I believe he thought it best to include faërie-beings into a new ‘Middle-earth Faërie’ specifically created for the novel. With one swipe of logic – a tenable path opened up offering a solution with Tom and Goldberry at the heart of it.

Now the concept of two faëries is by no means an unfamiliar one. For the Celts of Ireland – the land of Tír na nÓg– an idyllic island situated far out west in the ocean is deeply embedded in their lore. It is equally relevant as the one below hills in which the sidhe folk dwelt. Likewise in Welsh Celtic legends there are also two faëries purported to exist. In Arthurian lore (naturalized later to England) – the land of Avalon is also storied to be across a watery expanse, while Annwn is situated under the earth. But it is possibly a direct account of an otherworld below the very soil of England that spurred Tolkien to design in Middle-earth Faërie. The extraordinary account of the famed Woolpit children emerging from underground in Suffolk in the twelfth century is an intriguing tale evoking debate even to this day. It was Ralph of Coggeshall and William of Newburgh who both recorded how two strange green-skinned children were found by locals, lost and unable to communicate in English.

Practically starving, all the boy and girl would eat were ‘green beans’ which they devoured readily. Later after learning the language – the girl claimed they had come from another land and had got lost after stumbling out of a cavern. They had then become disoriented by the bright sun; a sun which didn’t exist in their world. Astoundingly she recounted all the folk in their land were green tinged too.

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Woolpit Village sign honoring The Green Children

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Tolkien might well have been fascinated5. Hmm … ‘beans’ – a legendary item in English fairy tales! Were green beans solely responsible for their pallor? Then were the children from faërie? Were beans regular fairy-food, and is that why the Green Knight (in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight) portrayed a similarly hue? Perhaps the account was inaccurately documented. Perhaps there really was a green sun in an otherworld below England and it was the cause of such skin shading. Perhaps it was so low on the horizon – that only at high altitudes could it be directly glimpsed – leaving the general aura of light described by the children as true!

It is these sorts of ideas and thoughts that may well have whirred about in the Professor’s mind. Particularly because he once confessed an attraction towards stories of strange lands below the earth:

“I am extremely fond of the genre, even having read Land under England with some pleasure …”.
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #26

Inevitably and inexorably – one can understand why a Middle-earth Faërie was included in The Lord of the Rings, and as I have suggested – how it came to possess a green sun.

Now Fairyland as a land-based otherworld in historical literature has always had a strong connection to ‘green hills’ in our world. The fairy tale accounts are numerous – and as examples I have listed an assortment below from both Britain and Ireland.

Celtic Tales:

“ ‘… I come from the Plains of the Ever Living,’ she said, ‘there where there is neither death nor sin. … And in all our pleasure we have no strife. And because we have our homes in the round green hills, men call us the Hill Folk.’ ”
– Celtic Fairy Tales, Connla and the Fairy Maiden, Joseph Jacobs, 1892    (my underlined emphasis)

“The Queen o’ Fairies she caught me
In yon green hill to dwell.”
– English and Scottish Ballads, Tam Lin, 1904    (my emphasis)

“On a certain night the old man told him the green round hill, where the fairies kept the boy, would be open.”
– Popular Tales of the West Highlands Vol. II, The Smith and the Fairies, J. F. Campbell, 1890    (my emphasis)

English Tales:

“Away rode the prince and Kate through the greenwood, … They rode on and on till they came to a green hill. The prince here drew bridle and spoke, ‘Open, open, green hill, and let the young prince in …’ ”.
– English Fairy Tales, Kate Crackernuts, Joseph Jacobs, 1890    (my emphasis)

“ ‘Go on a, little further,’ said the henwife, ’till you come to a round green hill, surrounded with terrace-rings, from the bottom to the top; go round it three times, widershins, and each time say:’Open, door! Open, door! And let me come in.’ ”
– English Fairy Tales, Childe Rowland, Joseph Jacobs, 1890    (my emphasis)

“Once upon a time … there was wont to walk many harmless spirits called fairies, dancing brave order in fairy rings on green hills with sweet music.”
– Fairy Gold: A Book of Old English Fairy Tales, Ernest Rhys, 1906    (my emphasis)

Not only ‘hills’, but a connection of ‘mist’ with fairies also existed. The Tuatha Dé Danann concealed themselves at times with the féth fíada or fairy mist (also known as the: ceo Sídhe). The Welsh fairies, the Tylwyth Teg, according to Sir John Rhys’ investigations6 frequented mountainsides covered with mist. And so it might have been a Welsh tale which caught the Professor’s eye:

“One day when it was cloudy and misty, a shepherd boy going to the mountains … came to a hollow place … where he saw a number of round rings. He recognized the place as one he had often heard of as dangerous … He tried to get away from there, but he could not. Then an old, merry, blue-eyed man7 appeared. The boy, … followed the old man, and the old man said to him, ‘Do not speak a word till I tell you.’ In a little while they came to a menhir (long stone). The old man tapped it three times, and then lifted it up. A narrow path with steps descending was revealed, … ‘Follow me,’ said the old man, ‘no harm will come to you.’ …”.
– The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries, Einion and Olwen, Walter Y. Evans-Wentz, 1911    (my emphasis)

The blue-eyed old man descended into an otherworld – a merry old man endowed with the characteristics of a creature of faërie – and one Tolkien could reconcile as Bombadil perhaps? Equally interesting is the hollow setting and the menhir, and it being key to entry. Once again we have the usual number of ‘three’ so abundantly common in fairy tales. Perhaps then, there was a way into faërie; perhaps it involved green hills, a hollow place, mist, a solitary menhir and the number three?

What this Welsh Celtic tale resembled in part was The Adventures of Covan the Brown-haired8 – an Irish Celtic fairy tale. And that equally may have resonated with the Professor. Because therein was another old man – the ‘Spirit of old Age’ who was linked to a youthful golden-haired damsel depicted as combing her hair. The story itself centered on three sons who sought for their sister after a mysterious disappearance. It was the youngest who in the end succeeded and saved not only his sister but restored his brothers who had been turned to stone.

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Covan the Brown-haired, The Orange Fairy Book, Andrew Lang, 1906

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Tolkien probably felt much had got mixed up in the ‘pot of soup’. Yet his sympathies appear to have belonged to the English and their fairy tales (as opposed to Celtic ones), believing they reflected a truer account of fairies:

“… the English) have the true tradition of the fairies, of whom the Íras and the Wéalas (the Irish and Welsh) tell garbled things.”
– The Book of Lost Tales, Volume II, The History of Eriol or Ælfwine

His former tutor Sir John Rhys (Professor of Celtic Studies at Oxford) had deduced that much cross-fertilization had taken place between English and Celtic tales. Tolkien might have found it hard to disagree with one particular case. Because The Adventures of Covan the Brown-haired and Einion and Olwen9 certainly resonate with that great English fairy tale: Childe Rowland.

 

Part IIIc: The Lord of the Rings and the Way into Middle-earth Faërie

Now Wilfred Rowland Childe, a poet and critic, was a family friend of the Tolkien’s – and indeed Christopher’s godfather. However, as far as I can tell he had nothing to do with our story of interest: Childe Rowland. Regarded by the great folklorist Joseph Jacobs as his favorite tale, its salubrious historical significance was not lost but instead emphasized:

“ ‘Childe Rowland,’ is mentioned by Shakespeare in King Lear, and is probably, as I have shown, the source of Milton’s Comus. … Certainly no other folk-tale in the world can claim so distinguished an offspring.”
– English Fairy Tales, Childe Rowland, Notes and References, Joseph Jacobs, 1890

The story centers around a quest by the youngest son of a widow to bring back his missing sister, Burd Ellen10, to the mortal world. Two of his brothers had failed trying and in the process been captured by an Elf king in Elfland (also called the ‘Land of Faery’11). Merlin, the famous wizard in Arthurian lore, features prominently in relating the cause behind the mysterious disappearance of the young girl; furthermore advice is provided to all three brothers on how to win her back. In the end it is Childe Rowland who rescues his sister and saves his other siblings too.

There are a number of points in the tale which directly interest us when it comes to The Lord of the Rings. These include a mention of ‘Middle-earth’, a ‘Dark Tower’, the hero being a ‘widows’ son’, a variant of the famous giant refrain: ‘fe-fi-fo-fum’, as well as a ‘restoration of souls’. However I will not dwell on these further – except to state that here we have yet more examples of links to Tolkien’s novel involving classic fairy tale. Instead what I want to focus on is the way Burd Ellen inadvertently entered Elfland and then relate that back to The Lord of the Rings.

Although there are possibly several ways for mortals to stumble into the fabled realm of the fairies, I have a feeling Tolkien was intrigued by Burd Ellen’s accidental entry method in chasing a ball around a sacred site. Childe Rowland seeking an explanation is informed by the ‘Warlock Merlin’ that she:

“… must have been carried off by the fairies, because she went round the church ‘wider shins’ – the opposite way to the sun.”
– English Fairy Tales, Childe Rowland, Joseph Jacobs, 1890

Jacobs explains:

“ ‘Widershins’ is probably … analogous to the German ‘wider Schein,’ against the appearance of the sun, ‘counterclockwise’ as the mathematicians say—i.e., W., S., E., N., instead of with the sun and the hands of a clock; …”.
– English Fairy Tales, Childe Rowland Notes and References, Joseph Jacobs, 1890

Apparently as ancient pagan tradition has it, to travel contrary to the sun’s course is considered unlucky as ones’ shadow is always left behind. To go widershins – meaning to travel around an object counter-clockwise – was an act contrary to God’s design. Burd Ellen ran against the light, so that her shadow was not visible to her – and this left her vulnerable.

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Burd Ellen, English Fairy Tales by J. Jacobs, Illustration by J. Batten, 1890

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Childe Rowland is not the only example of a British fairy tale where the term ‘widershins’ is employed. The prose version of the Tam Lin ballad also uses it:

“ ‘But how did you get there, Tamlane?’ said Burd Janet.
‘I was hunting one day, and as I rode widershins round yon hill, a deep drowsiness fell upon me, and when I awoke, behold! I was in Elfland. …’ ”.
– More English Fairy Tales, Tamlane, Joseph Jacobs, 1894

Yet it seems too easy for mortals to attain a passport to enter faërie simply by completing one widershins circuit around a hill or a place of worship. If my intuition is correct Tolkien thought along the same lines. In pagan worship standing stones were objects central to druid rites, and of course in pre-history there were no churches. Getting into faërie in ancient times was more believable if menhirs were involved, and just like the Childe Rowland depiction, the number of circuits made was that ubiquitous number ‘three’:

“Go on a little further, … till you come to a round green hill, surrounded with terrace-rings, from the bottom to the top; go round it three times, widershins, and each time say: Open, door! open, door! And let me come in. and the third time the door will open, and you may go in.”
– English Fairy Tales, Childe Rowland, Joseph Jacobs, 1890    (my emphasis)

Another case of ‘third time pays for all’! Then perhaps in fairy tale lies the ancient proverb’s source!

In any case it’s time to turn to The Lord of the Rings and understand how cleverly Tolkien manipulated the text when it came to the green rimmed hill and standing stone sitting atop. By including some most mysterious events, he left us a puzzle to solve. Oh no – he wasn’t about to explain each and every point as fairy tales so often do for children. This was a riddle – a riddle meant for adults – in an adult fairy tale. It was up to us to arrive at a solution. And if we look carefully and think like adults – indeed we can!

The Fog on the Barrow-downs text tells us that in coming from the south, the hobbits reached a dished hill with a mounded rim and rode up and across its top. Peering towards the north, presumably when close to or at the northern rim, they decided not to descend but to take a break. At this point it is clear the four friends had bypassed the center of the hollow and the standing stone. The only question we need to concern ourselves with right now is:

‘On which side of the enchanted stone had they passed?’

In looking northwards atop his pony, we are told Frodo glanced towards the east however the sight made him uneasy:

“… on that side the hills were higher and looked down upon them; and all those hills were crowned with green mounds, and on some were standing stones, pointing upwards like jagged teeth out of green gums.”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Fog on the Barrow-downs

Given that the text tells us:

“… they turned from the sight …”,
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Fog on the Barrow-downs

in deciding to ride towards the center of the hollow, the logical deduction is that indeed the hobbits had passed by the stone on the eastern side as opposed to the western one. Otherwise they would have turned towards those disconcerting range of high hills. The turn had to be an anti-clockwise one conducted north-east of the stone. Thus they had come from the south, must have ridden past the stone’s eastern side and left it behind them as they had made their way to the hill top’s northern perimeter. So indeed we can safely conclude about a half a circuit had been completed ‘widershins’ by the point the decision was taken to head backwards towards the standing stone from their northern vantage point.

After reaching the stone and unloading their ponies, they set their backs on its east face. Presumably the hollow was deep enough to mask the view of the menacing eastern hills. Anyhow at their awakening, as the fog rolled in, the text tells us they then made a bee-line for:

“… the western rim.”,
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Fog on the Barrow-downs

only to see the sun set before their eyes. The next question we have to ask ourselves is:

‘Which way around the menhir did they go and then which way did they come back?’

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.Plucked from the Fairy Circle, T. H. Thomas Illustration from Wirt Sikes’s British Goblins (1880) – Note direction of travel is counter-clockwise

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The text is not explicit. And Tolkien possibly left it that way intentionally. In this case we must, as adults, make a logical deduction. Did they complete one anti-clockwise circuit and go around the stone widershins or not? Did four hobbits make a total of at least three complete laps? Well he left it for us to deduce knowing full well that those who were prepared to scrutinize the text and who were well-versed in English fairy tales would have been able to astutely guess the correct answer!

Using the lore embedded in fairy tales in combination with faith in our judgement might have been fine with the Professor. There is after all mathematically a 25% chance that an anti-clockwise route was taken – which are odds not to be sneered at. But I believe Tolkien would have both expected and wanted us to use logical reasoning to obtain the most likely answer. As an example it is worth repeating his line of thinking when it came to the question of Shadowfax accompanying Gandalf aboard ship:

“I think Shadowfax certainly went with Gandalf [across the Sea], though this is not stated. I feel it is better not to state everything (and indeed it is more realistic, since in chronicles and accounts of ‘real’ history, many facts that some enquirer would like to know are omitted, and the truth has to be discovered or guessed from such evidence as there is).”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #268

In other words, there is nothing wrong in mentally challenging oneself to solve the ‘riddle’ using intellect, logic and “such evidence as there is”.

‘Which path around the stone would the hobbits have gone after awakening in fright? Which way around would they have gone in heading towards the western rim of the hollow?’

To solve the dilemma one must ask oneself: ‘Would their secondary focus have been northwards towards leaving the Downs or southwards back towards Bombadil?’

Logic tells us that despite heading west their path lay northwards, and one can easily imagine them glancing that way in hope of a glimpse through the fog of that all important:

“… gate-like opening at the far northward end of the long valley …”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Fog on the Barrow-downs

Thus one might reason they rounded the menhir on the north side, and in reaching the hollow’s western rim, a three-quarters circuit widershins resulted.

‘But what about on their way back to the stone. For surely they must have returned to gather belongings?’

Again we can employ a dose of logic. The ponies and their positioning are key here. As the text states, after initially reaching the standing stone, the hobbits had removed all packs so that:

“Their ponies unburdened strayed upon the grass.”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Fog on the Barrow-downs

Once at the western rim, as the sun set and the fog closed in, clearly conveyed is a hurry to leave that forbidding place. It seems logical the hobbits would have directly headed towards the ponies, then led them back towards the standing stone to re-lade their gear which must have been earlier off-loaded nearby it.

‘But in which quadrant were the ponies?’

Tolkien left us a telling clue in that Bombadil later related the ponies:

“… sniff danger ahead which you walk right into; and if they run to save themselves, then they run the right way.”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Fog on the Barrow-downs

After all, a ‘sixth-sense’ gloom seems to have hung over the beasts in being portrayed in the hollow:

“… standing crowded together with their heads down.”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Fog on the Barrow-downs

If I were to hazard a guess – I would say they were located in one of the two southern quadrants closest to Bombadil and furthest from the impending danger beyond the hill’s northern slope. Thus in gathering the ponies and then heading back towards the standing stone to collect the pony packs – one complete circuit ought to have been made ‘widershins’ by each hobbit! At least three in total!

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Counter-clockwise – Widershins (Widdershins)

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Finally Tolkien’s masterful ploy, so adeptly inserted that it’s hardly noticeable, is revealed for all to marvel at. This is why Tom didn’t want the hobbits:

“… a-meddling with old stone …”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, In the House of Tom Bombadil

This was the way for a mortal to open up the way into fairyland. Not three taps on a menhir but three times around one widershins! For indeed the sudden magical appearance of the standing stones, functioning:

“… like the pillars of a headless door, …”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Fog on the Barrow-downs

where there had been none before, provided the entrance into what I term: Middle-earth Faërie!

So for the first time ever and after more than sixty years, we can connect all the pieces of the puzzle and truly comprehend the essence of this portion of the story. But more so we can appreciate Tolkien’s genius in the way English fairy tale was once again woven into the story along with a riddle for adults to solve.

And if you think that the revelations so far are eye-opening, prepare for something even more dramatic in my next essay. It is time to switch full attention back to Bombadil and expose one of his greatest secrets. A secret that enthusiasts should find absolutely astounding. A secret so carefully concealed that once again it’s been missed by every reader of The Fellowship of the Ring since the day it was published!

 

Footnotes:

1  In terms of chapter quantity, but not total number of equivalent pages.

2  The statement is not specific enough to determine whether Tolkien had just started on Chapter 12 or finished it.

3  The Andrew Lang lecture award offer was officially sent to Tolkien on 8 October 1938. Lecture delivery date was 8 March 1939.

4  Tír na nÓg is translated as the ‘country of the young’. It is regarded by some scholars to be equivalent to Hy-Brasil.

5  The tale of The Green Children was published in E. S. Hartland’s English Fairy and Other Folk Tales, 1890. Per ‘Bibliographies’ in Tolkien On Fairy-stories by Flieger and Anderson, Tolkien cited or consulted this work for his On Fairy-stories paper.

6  See Celtic Folklore: Welsh and Manx, Vol. I, Fairy Ways and Words, 1901 by Sir John Rhys.

7  In one version he is a ‘little fat old man with merry blue eyes’ (Welsh Folk-lore A Collection of the Folk-tales and Legends of North Wales, Men Captured by Fairies, 1887 by Elias Owen). Curiously the ‘little old man leading a mortal to an otherworld’ also arises in Owen Goes A-Wooing in The Welsh Fairy Book, 1908 by W.J. Thomas.

8  The tale was published in Andrew Lang’s: The Orange Fairy Book, 1906.

9  The tale was repeated by Sir John Rhys in Celtic Folklore: Welsh and Manx and appears in The Welsh Fairy Book, 1908 by W.J. Thomas under Einion and the Fair Family.

10  In Flora Annie Steel’s, English Fairytales, 1918, the sister is called ‘Burd Helen’.

11  See Flora Annie Steel’s, English Fairytales, 1918.

 

Revisions:

10/16/2017 – Added: ‘This is why Tom didn’t want the hobbits’. Added quote: “… a-meddling with old stone …”.

The Road to Fairyland

This essay is best viewed in single page format. If it appears in two column style – an adjustment can be made by selecting zoom at 125% to 175% under the ‘Settings’ tab.
Part II: Sir Tom and the Green Hill at Night

‘Belt-up Tom! Belt-up as a knight should when going into battle against the forces of evil. And wear that precious belt every day – for you know not when the wicked will strike!’

Is that the advice Tolkien would have given his beloved creation? Hmm … what exactly lay underneath that bright blue jacket? What held up his green stockings that The Lord of the Rings reader should have known – and that Tolkien full well knew?

The Professor belatedly revealed the source of Tom’s near-invincibility in 1962 many years after The Lord of the Rings was published. Still the updated Adventures poem cannot be ignored. It is unquestionably part of the mythology and most definitely inseparable from it. Tom’s possession of a very particular belt meant a hidden power was with him when worn:

“… green were his girdle …”.
– The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, 1962

Because the girdle was undoubtedly, in Tolkien’s mind, the same as the one owned by the wife of Lord Bertilak of Hautdesert – a fay creature from the medieval Sir Gawain & The Green Knight tale. The legendary girdle itself was a potent source of defense, shielding its wearer (under specific terms) from being slain in combat or else how:

“ ‘… For whoever goes girdled with this green riband, while he keeps it well clasped closely about him, there is none so hardy under heaven that to hew him were able; for he could not be killed by any cunning of hand.’ ”
– Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, Sir Orfeo – Tolkien’s translation

Taught by Tolkien at Oxford over many years and the subject of his own published academic views, the Arthurian romance was one which he could justly claim to be an expert of. It seems that once again Tolkien’s desire to link ancient fairy tale to his own myth is exhibited through selection of this fabled article. Who was the original owner, he must surely have pondered while studying Sir Gawain & The Green Knight? Where did it come from and how was it passed on? Though I have speculatively provided answers, perhaps it doesn’t really matter. What we now know with almost absolute certainty is that Tom once possessed it.

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Sir Gawain & The Green Knight, Tolkien & Gordon

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Tom in the tale was so cock-sure of himself. Maybe some of the swagger came from a concealed item of clothing. Endowed with a miraculous quality, its magic could only be overcome by someone mightier than the one who had placed the enchantment or by deceitful guile. Despite Lady Bertilak’s claim, those were the usual provisos.

Yet the chances are it wasn’t just the green girdle which was pulled from Sir Gawain & The Green Knight and surreptitiously absorbed into The Lord of the Rings. A strong suspicion exists that Tolkien also represented Sir Gawain’s quest destination: the ‘Green Chapel’. Subtly placed in the Barrow-downs adventure are indications of a similar holy feature in the landscape.

In Sir Gawain & The Green Knight – the Green Chapel in Tolkien’s own words was:

“… nothing else than a fairy mound; …”.
– Sir Gawain & The Green Knight, Tolkien & Gordon, Note to Line 151

It was barely more than a hillock of grass at which the hero would meet his doom. Nevertheless the eerie location resonates with the shallow hill which the hobbits encountered soon after leaving Tom and Goldberry.

“About mid-day they came to a hill at noon whose top was wide and flattened, …”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Fog on the Barrow-downs

The slope being mild enough to ride their ponies up meant that it was just a gentle tumulus. Be that is at may, this too was a sacred place with its single stone standing ominously atop. Yet not sacred to pagans (or obviously Christians) – but instead to fairy-folk. For I believe this was pictured as another ‘fairy mound’. And it was to Celtic legends that Tolkien turned for the halt in the journey.

Exactly why? Well I can do no better than articulate using established scholars’ words. At a higher level:

“Tolkien’s works are deliberately complex and multi-layered, drawing on many traditions, … The principal conceit of Tolkien’s legendarium is that it stands as a lost prehistoric tradition, of which the many myths and legends we know in our primary world are meant (fictively, by Tolkien) to be echoes fragments and transformations.”
– Tolkien and the Study of His Sources, What Does It All Mean, Jason Fisher

At a lower level seeding was accomplished through:

“ … the author’s habitual practice of working through early English texts to trace their “deep roots” back to some hypothetical prehistory.”
– Tolkien Studies Vol 8, Tolkien’s Goldberry and The Maid of the Moor, John Bowers

Thus it should come as no surprise (as we have already seen) how both sophisticated and unsophisticated fairy tale textual fragments were subsumed into The Lord of the Rings. Effectively this meant we were left with an enveloping work containing the germs of others whose shoots would eventually grow and intertwine into the Tree of Tales. For fundamentally Tolkien’s opus:

“… is a ‘fairy-story’, but one written … for adults.”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #181    (Tolkien’s emphasis)

With the premise that the focus would be :

“… ‘English’ … that is because I am English … no one of us can really invent or ‘create’ in a void, we can only reconstruct and perhaps impress a personal pattern on ‘ancestral’ material …”.
– Letter to L.M. Cutts, 1956

And that ancestral material would have to include Celtic facets. Simply because the most ancient surviving prehistory of England (particularly Oxfordshire and Berkshire) visibly are neolithic mounds, barrows and stone monoliths left behind by the primeval forefathers of those peoples. Including Celtic tales fundamentally made sense since such records form some of the oldest written links to these monuments and features.

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Lambourn Seven Barrows, Berkshire

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Some scholars will no doubt point to Tolkien’s aversion to Celtic myth for which he felt:

“… a certain distaste: largely for their fundamental unreason. They have bright colour, but are like a broken stained glass window reassembled without design. They are in fact ‘mad’ … but I don’t believe I am.”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #19

However given an extensive collection of books in his personal library – we know the Professor was well-versed in the individual tales of the ancient inhabitants of the British Isles:

“I do know Celtic things (many in their original languages Irish and Welsh), …”.
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #19

Obviously his proficiency was sufficient to warrant award of the inaugural lecture under the O’Donnell Trust in 1955. Titled: English and Welsh, the published piece covered much specific to Welsh Celtic legends.

The Professor was absolutely right. Celtic tales were in many cases disjointed, repetitive and of overlapping themes without ordered structure (unlike those of the Greeks). A lack of coherency bothered Tolkien – because these were legends fringing his own beloved land of England. Yet he had no choice but to deal with them as much had seeped across porous borders; especially when it came to fairies:

“The English fairy … has borrowed more and more … from Ireland and Scotland, … from the daoine sithe … ”.
– Tolkien On Fairy-stories, Manuscript B, Flieger & Anderson  (Tolkien’s emphasis)

Without getting into detailed reasoning, let it just be said that Tolkien tried to make sense of many of the stories. In the end he failed, as all scholars have, to give them ordered consistency. Nonetheless some sense could be grasped and cleverly he blended select pieces together to make a cogent narrative for his own book:

“… this is an ‘imaginary’ world …”,
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #190   (Tolkien’s emphasis)

created to possess:

“… coherent structure which it took me years to work out.”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #190

As well as the standing stones and associated rings, part of the plan was to transfer the rolling hills and gentle tumuli of his local countryside to a similar zone in the book. Indeed there are several on the Lambourn Downs, just a few miles from his home town of Oxford, which he could have based the scenery of the Barrow-downs chapter upon. One famous mound in Oxfordshire – the bowl barrow Dragon Hill, is highly reminiscent of Tolkien’s design. In any event, it was particularly important that a hill was included – for from a fairy tale standpoint, time and again, this would be the place where magical happenings first sprung.

Bearing all this in mind I cannot help but believe that Tolkien largely based the shallow hill of the Downs on one slightly further afield; indeed one sited in Ireland: the famed ‘Hill of Tara’. As legend has it within hollow hills dwelt the race of the Fairies. Here in Irish folklore lay the entrance to the underground land of the Celtic daoine sithe (Tuatha-Dé-Dannan). A spiritual place which in folklore is acknowledged as simply a fairy mound under the guardianship of the Celtic god Lugh (also spelled Lug).

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The Historic Hill of Tara, County Meath, Ireland

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The hill of the novel was not meant to be an identical copy – but one whose resemblance was unmistakably akin to the knowledgeable. The Irish hill in County Meath was ‘slightly’ modified in terms of architectural features for the tale. Instead of two distinct mounds at the top, Tolkien merged them together to make one:

“… shallow saucer with a green mounded rim.”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Fog on the Barrow-downs

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Two rimmed mounds at the top of the Hill of Tara
(Mound on right with round saucer-like inner bowl,
Mound on left with the ‘Stone of Destiny’)

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The ditches and outer humps were discarded while the hollow turfed circle at the hill’s summit was kept. Perhaps the circle was the source of the legendary ‘fairy ring’ – the place where the fairies would come out to dance. This then, was no innocuous tumulus. Close by were barrows and underneath all this region lay fabled ‘Middle-earth Faërie’. So significantly the dished hill was marked by a special stone. In the middle of the hollow Tolkien placed the equivalent of Tara’s ‘Stone of Destiny’.

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Lia Fáil: The ‘Stone of Destiny’ – atop Hill of Tara

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This was Frodo’s destiny – to lie above the realm of the fairies oblivious of the matter. Yet to slumber against a sacred stone was no accidental act. The reader was made aware that for the hobbits it was:

“… a sleep they had never meant to take.”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Fog on the Barrow-downs

Described as a “warning finger” and imbued with magical powers the enchanted standing stone was characterized to resemble the one at Tara. Furthermore it shared commonality with the one the Irish hero Cuchulainn1 fell asleep against:

“Cuchulainn went away to a menhir where he sat down and fell asleep.”
– The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries, The Sick-Bed of Cuchulainn, Walter Evans-Wentz

Unfortunately the hobbits knew not what peril they were in. Foolishly they had not heeded the first of Tom’s warnings:

“ ‘… Don’t you go a-meddling with old stone …’ ”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, In the House of Tom Bombadil

Even more unfortunately they had slept on the wrong side:

“… they set their backs against the east side of the stone.”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Fog on the Barrow-downs

Positioning themselves on the ‘trigger’ side had unleashed a magical fog – starting the process of opening up a way for mortals to enter the Perilous Realm. As the Sun’s power waned thick fog rolled in much like that encountered by the Irish hero Conn at Tara. Irish legend has it that when touched (by Conn the rightful king of Ireland), the stone:

“… screamed all over the land. This was followed by a thick fog, out of which rode a fairy prince, …”.
– Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion, The Insular Celts, John Rhys, 1888

Swiftly this was followed by teleportation to Lugh’s house, suggesting a magical link between Tara and the demi-god’s residence.

In any case, when it came to the Lia Fáil – for all others who touched it, there would be nothing but complete silence. And so quite appropriately (presuming similar modeling) the hobbits sensed no immediately obvious effect slumped up against the standing stone of the dished hill. Nevertheless that Middle-earth ‘otherworld’ for the novel (which the Celts termed as the Annwn or the Sidhe), and whose entrance was to be heralded by the sudden appearance of two magical standing stones, would soon be accessible. For Frodo:

“… suddenly he saw, towering ominous before him and leaning slightly towards one another like the pillars of a headless door, two huge standing stones.”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Fog on the Barrow-downs

This mysterious hill with its ominously erect stone was the key to opening a portal linking two different planes of reality. A dangerous place it was for common folk, amid equally dangerous barrows close by. But no matter what the peril – aid would be there for those who asked. For the hobbits had a fairy on their side. An angelic knight would emerge from between two magical menhirs – perhaps modeled on those real ones adjacent to Tara.

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Image result for hill of tara standing stones church

On the fringes of the Hill of Tara beside a Church are two standing stones

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With his legendary seven-league boots2 he would be there in a flash:

“Bright blue his jacket his and his boots are yellow. …                                           His songs are stronger songs, and his feet are faster.”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Fog on the Barrow-downs

Belted for battle with an enchanted green girdle – Tom would save them from disaster. In the nick of time he would arrive, but less like a mortal knight and more like a divine fairy. For the legend of Conn at Tara tells us that the “fairy prince” from the fog:

“… disclosed the future history of his country …” and “… is stated to have been called Lug, …”.
– Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion, The Insular Celts, John Rhys, 1888

Because the disclosure was about future Irish monarchs we have a situation paralleled in The Lord of the Rings. Another fairy-being similarly transmitted to the hobbits a faërian projection of lordly men and a Gondorian king perhaps to come. When Bombadil:

“… spoke they had a vision as it were of a great expanse of years behind them, like a vast shadowy plain over which there strode shapes of Men, tall and grim with bright swords, and last came one with a star on his brow.”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Fog on the Barrow-downs

As myth handed down from time immemorial perhaps the Barrow-downs scene became distorted. Perhaps the fairy prince that rode out from the fog was really Tom on Fatty Lumpkin! And just maybe the legend morphed even more from a fairy-rescue to one made by a demi-god:

“… Lug … as a sun-god occupies a distinguished place in Irish legend.”
– Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion, The Insular Celts, John Rhys, 1888

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Lugh, shown triple-faced, Reims region, France

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Indeed it is not hard to see shades of the hypothetical origin of the Celtic solar god Lugh in The Lord of the Rings. For, very powerfully depicted, there was a ‘red-faced’ Tom at the barrow:

“… framed against the light of the sun rising red behind him.”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Fog on the Barrow-downs

By invoking the Sun’s energy – the Wight was evicted from the Barrow:

“Vanish in the sunlight!”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Fog on the Barrow-downs

Adding to a solar-deity semblance was Lugh’s other role as a Storm-god:

“I’ll sing a wind up and blow leaf and branch away.”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, The Old Forest

From what we can tell from surviving statues, Lugh was crowned with leaves just like Tom’s:

“… thick brown hair was crowned with autumn leaves.”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, In the House of Tom Bombadil

Last but not least is that the Celtic god was titled Lugh Lámfada meaning ‘Lugh of the Long Arm’. Once again this was cleverly characterized in The Lord of the Rings. This time through Master3 Bombadil immobilizing the hobbits beyond arm’s length:

“… holding up one hand, and they stopped short, as if they had been struck stiff.”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, The Old Forest   (my underlined emphasis)

Hmm … yes I know there is a lot to ponder upon; yet a mixture of fairy tales and Celtic legends allows us to solve and finally fully comprehend another mysterious happening in the fog-laden chapter. We should acknowledge that there is still much to uncover, and remind ourselves only Tolkien knew it all. Even the most renowned of scholars has noted there are things in the novel that appear inexplicable:

“… the incident in the barrow is most mysterious …”.                                             – J.R.R. Tolkien Author of the Century, pg. 67, Tom Shippey

What exactly was the green light in the Wight’s barrow that seemed to emanate from the ground about Frodo and then slowly intensify?

... a pale greenish light was growing round him. … the light seemed to be coming out from himself, and from the floor beside him, …”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Fog on the Barrow-downs

The scholar John Garth has put forward a theory4 that the scene may have been linked to Tolkien’s World War I trench warfare experiences and the combative deployment of poisonous gases. But this appears tenuous, especially because Tolkien refers to the aura as ‘light’. A far better and more believable explanation is that here we have simply a continuation of a fairy theme. In tandem with my fairy tale approach advocated all along, very succinctly – the green light was part of Tolkien’s vision of Middle-earth faërie. Here by the tumuli of the barrows, where two different worlds came closest to touching, the veil was thinnest. It was here why we can truly understand why:

“… green was a fairy colour …”.
– Sir Gawain & The Green Knight, J. R. R. Tolkien and E. V. Gordon., 1925. pg. 86 line 151

And that was because Tolkien added to its folklore importance by giving his Middle-earth faërie a ‘green sun’! A sun which was beginning its ascent5 in fairyland below!

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Image result for aurora green light

A Rising Green Sun (or thereabouts!)

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Have you fallen over? If not read on, because quite astoundingly it is all codified in On Fairy-stories.

In perhaps his most interesting paper, advice from a personal perspective on secondary world-building remarkably flowed down into his own novel. For an inexperienced novelist trying to invent a fantasy world, Tolkien lectured: 

“Anyone … can say the green sun. Many can then imagine or picture it. But that is not enough …”.
– On Fairy-stories, Essay by Tolkien available in Tree and Leaf

Surely Tolkien took the words of St. Augustine who mused upon the creativity of man. Emphasizing that though he had never seen a ‘green sun’ nevertheless it was within his:

“… power to conceive of it as square, …” or “… what color I please, …”,        
– The Doctrinal Treatise of St Augustine of Hippo, Chapter 8

Picking up from where St. Augustine left off, Tolkien warned intense effort would be necessary:

“To make a Secondary World inside which the green sun6 will be credible, commanding Secondary Belief, will probably require labour and thought, …”.
– On Fairy-stories, Essay by Tolkien available in Tree and Leaf

Otherwise it would not possess “an inner consistency of reality”. The reader would disengage and be thrust back into the primary world. However if sufficient ‘realism’ was input, at the end of the exercise would be success:

“Few attempt such difficult tasks. But when they are attempted and in any degree accomplished then we have a rare achievement of Art: indeed narrative art, story-making in its primary and most potent mode.”
– On Fairy-stories, Essay by Tolkien available in Tree and Leaf

A virtual confession was thus voiced in his paper On Fairy-stories. Tolkien in no roundabout way told us his intentions for The Lord of the Rings. How could he not practice what he preached? Especially as to all intents and purposes confirmation was openly aired: The Lord of the Rings:

“… was a practical demonstration of the views … expressed.”,
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #234

in that ever so revealing ‘Fairy Stories’ lecture of 1939. A ‘green sun’ for Middle-earth Faërie was Tolkien’s creative artistry at its very best!

Lastly (for this essay) when it comes to Tara, Bombadil and Celtic fairy tales, it is really not that surprising that Tolkien strengthened the trio’s relationship by deliberately including an archaeological artifact of relevance. The famed ‘Brooch of Tara’, although descriptively dissimilar to the one described in Fog on the Barrow-downs, is nonetheless a brooch.

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The Celtic Brooch of Tara

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Being arguably the most treasured of all Ireland’s ancient jewelry it is the only significant piece associated to the Hill of Tara. Again in a remarkable parallel, the most precious item of jewelry from the barrow hoard was a brooch7:

“He chose for himself from the pile a brooch …”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Fog on the Barrow-downs

Hmm … a case of history repeats itself!

“These tales … must inevitably contain … ancient wide-spread …. elements. … long ago certain truths and modes … were discovered and must always reappear.”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #131   (my underlined emphasis)

So in finishing off Part II – out of all of this we should note a couple of things in readiness for Part III. One matter is how Tolkien much preferred not to discuss all that he had hidden within The Lord of the Rings. The second is that without doubt Tolkien did indeed conceal matters in the novel. Clyde Kilby’s report on Tolkien passing on:

“… if I would hold it confidential, he would “put more under my hat” than he had ever told anyone.”
– Tolkien and The Silmarillion, Clyde Kilby, Summer with Tolkien (Kilby’s emphasis)

has the ring of truth. Thankfully Tolkien left us a discernible path; and that truth is at last emerging. Because without doubt Tom and Goldberry are gelling together thematically with fairies, fairy-stories and Faërie. The links are becoming strong. However for the fog-bound hill episode there is one vital piece of the puzzle missing. One link is still needed to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

When it comes to fairyland – Tolkien’s masterstroke has yet to be revealed. It is so subtly concealed that the embedding is a piece of literary genius to be marveled at. In the next essay we shall finally understand the mechanism behind ‘the way in’. We will finally understand the ‘Open Sesame’ command and how masterfully Tolkien linked it to English fairy tale!

Footnotes:

1  Recorded as a reincarnation of Lugh. Tolkien was certainly aware of Cuchulainn – see Sir Gawain & The Green Knight, Tolkien & Gordon, Note to Line 2452.

2  Tolkien’s awareness of such a magical item cannot be doubted. See – Tolkien On Fairy-stories, Manuscript B pg. 250, Flieger & Anderson.

3  Lugh was also described to be a ‘master of all trades’ which is perhaps reflected by Tolkien’s assignation of a ‘master’ title to Bombadil.

4  Frodo and the Great War, in The Lord of the Rings, 1954–2004: Scholarship in Honor of Richard E. Blackwelder, ed. Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 2006).  

5  As opposed to it having ‘set’ when Frodo entered Middle-earth Faërie in passing between the standing stones. The Wight’s spell in retaliation of Frodo’s sword-stroke instantaneously sealed off the barrow from Middle-earth Faërie (and thus the green sun’s light) in a presumed attempt to cutoff external aid.

6  The idea seems to have intrigued Tolkien at least since 1931: “You may say green sun or dead life and set the imagination leaping.” –  The Monsters and the Critics: And Other Essays pg. 219. Also see comments by Flieger & Anderson – Tolkien On Fairy-stories, pg. 111.

7  Another famous Celtic brooch from Scotland is perhaps closer to what Tolkien had in mind:

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Rogart Brooch ~ Celtic 8th Century – set with blackish-blue stones in butterfly wing pattern (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

 

Revisions:

10/16/2017 – Added:  ‘By invoking the Sun’s energy – the Wight was evicted from the Barrow.’ Added quote: “Vanish in the sunlight!”.

Is: ‘Adding to a solar-deity semblance was Lugh’s other role as a Storm-god.’ Was: ‘Adding to such semblance was Lugh’s other role as a Storm-god.’