Old Forest

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Not to be confused with Old growth forest.
Old Forest
Place from J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium
Description A remnant of the primordial forests of Eriador
Location East of the Shire
Lord Tom Bombadil,
Old Man Willow

In J. R. R. Tolkien’s fictional universe of Middle-earth, the Old Forest was a daunting and ancient woodland which covered about 1,000 square miles[1] just beyond the eastern borders of the Shire. Its first and main appearance in print was in The Fellowship of the Ring, especially in chapter VI, which is itself titled "The Old Forest".[2]

Forests play an enormous role throughout the invented history of Tolkien's Middle-earth and are inevitably an important episode on the heroic quests of his characters.[3] The forest device is used as a mysterious transition from one part of the story to another.[4]

Middle-earth narrative[edit]

Overview[edit]

The Old Forest lay near the centre of the Middle-earth region of Eriador. It was one of the few survivors of the primordial forests which had covered much of Eriador before the Second Age. Indeed it had once been but the northern edge of one immense forest which reached all the way to Fangorn forest, hundreds of miles to the south-east.

The vicinity of the Old Forest was the domain of two nature-spirits: Tom Bombadil and Old Man Willow. The powers of these beings doubtless contributed to its survival when other forests were destroyed.[5] The house of Tom Bombadil was located beside the eastern eaves of the forest, near where the Withywindle stream flowed over a waterfall into the woods. Old Man Willow stood in the centre of the forest, on the Withywindle's meandering banks.

Geography, Flora and Fauna[edit]

The Old Forest was bordered on the east by the Barrow-downs, in the north it reached towards the Great East Road, and in the west and south it approached the Brandywine river. The Withywindle, a tributary of the Brandywine, ran through the heart of the forest, which covered most of the Withywindle's drainage basin.

This was also a 'catchment area' in another sense. The landscape, trees and bushes were aligned so that if any strangers attempted to traverse the forest, then they were funnelled towards the Withywindle,[6] and into the clutches of Old Man Willow in particular. The valley of the Withywindle within the Old Forest was known as the Dingle.[7]

The Old Forest was a type of woodland nowadays described as temperate broadleaf and mixed forest. The west and south of the forest was dominated by "oaks and ashes and other strange trees", which were generally replaced by pines and firs in the north.[8] Beeches[9] and alders[10] were found here and there in the forest, and willows were dominant along the Withywindle.

Many of the trees were covered "with moss and slimy, shaggy growths."[11] The understorey was generally congested with bushes and other undergrowth, including brambles. A variety of plants grew in the forest's occasional glades: grass, hemlocks, wood-parsley, fire-weed, nettles (Urtica dioica etc.) and thistles.[12][13]

A variety of birds, mammals and insects were recorded in the vicinity of the Withywindle, but not elsewhere in the forest. Bombadil told tales of the "strange creatures of the Forest",[14] but we are not provided with any elaboration.

Timeline[edit]

The Old Forest was little concerned with the history of Middle-earth, but sometimes that history approached close to the forest, and occasionally it entered in.

  • First Age: Tom Bombadil "was here before the river and the trees".[15]
  • First Age (Spring of Arda): Plants emerge,[16] possibly including Old Man Willow.[17]
  • First Age (Years of the Trees): Elves skirted the forest on their primeval migration to Beleriand and the West; they were observed by Bombadil.[18]
  • First Age: Dwarves constructed the Great East Road around the north of the forest.
  • S.A. 883-1075: The reign of Tar-Aldarion of Númenor; he initiated forestry operations in Eriador, thus precipitating Númenor's colonization of Middle-earth. These operations developed into widespread deforestation over the subsequent centuries and threatened the Old Forest.
  • S.A. 1695-1699: Sauron's invading forces maximized the devastation of Eriador.
  • S.A. 1700: "When Sauron was at last defeated and driven out of Eriador, most of the old forests had been destroyed",[19] leaving remnants such as the Old Forest. The Old Forest was now "hostile to two legged creatures because of the memory of many injuries."[20]
  • S.A. 3320: The kingdom of Arnor was founded, and the forest became a nominal part of its realm.
  • T.A. 861: The Old Forest became a northern march of the new kingdom of Cardolan when Arnor was partitioned. (The other new kingdoms were Arthedain and Rhudaur.)
  • c. T.A.1350: King Argeleb I of Arthedain claimed overlordship of Cardolan.[21]
  • T.A. 1409: Cardolan was invaded and overrun by Angmar. The last prince of Cardolan and many of its folk perished, but remnants took refuge in the Old Forest (and also in the adjacent Barrow-downs).[22] Although the forces of Angmar were soon driven back out of Cardolan, it ceased to have any autonomy from this time.
  • T.A. 1601: King Argeleb II of Arthedain permitted many Hobbits to migrate past the forest, into lands west across the Brandywine river. There they founded the Shire.
  • T.A. 1974: The kingdom of Arthedain fell, and with it any pretence of a claim to the Old Forest fell into abeyance until the Fourth Age.
  • T.A. 2340: A group of Hobbits, led by Gorhendad Oldbuck, migrated back across the Brandywine (then the eastern border of the Shire) to occupy Buckland, a strip of land over 20 miles long and a few miles wide between the river and the western eaves of the Old Forest.
  • T.A. 3018: The One Ring was taken into the Old Forest for a brief but critical period, thus eluding Sauron's pursuing agents.

Hobbits vs the Old Forest[edit]

In one of his letters, Tolkien explained that "the Old Forest was hostile to two-legged creatures because of the memory of many injuries."[23]

When Gorhendad Oldbuck and his clan of Hobbits settled Buckland, they began to encroach upon the Old Forest, thus re-awakening its hostility to two-legged creatures that had first been aroused back in the Second Age. The settlers soon found themselves under threat from the forest. They felt that the trees of the Old Forest were in some manner 'awake', and were hostile. The trees swayed when there was no wind and whispered at night, and they daunted intruding hobbits by tripping them, dropping branches, and driving them deeper into the forest. Deep within the Old Forest was the Withywindle Valley, which was the root of all the terrors of the forest; it could be a dark, evil and malevolent place.

The Bucklanders therefore planted and maintained a great Hedge (also known as the High Hay) all the way along Buckland's eastern border, which ran right along the edge of the forest. This had occurred "many generations" before the War of the Ring.[24]

However at length (but still "long ago" before the War of the Ring), the Bucklanders found that the Hedge was under "attack" by the forest. Trees began to plant themselves against the Hedge and lean over it. To counter this attack, the hobbits cleared a narrow strip of land on the outside of the Hedge, felling and burning many trees.[25] They also cleared a space some way inside the forest; this later became known as the Bonfire Glade.

The ruling family of Buckland, the rather numerous Brandybucks (heirs of Gorhendad Oldbuck), owned a private gate in the Hedge, through which they occasionally dared the threshold of the Old Forest. Some of these visits seem to have been casual jaunts ("when the fit takes them"[26]), to satisfy the Brandybucks' inclinations as Fallohides, who were "lovers of trees and of woodlands."[27] But other Brandybuck expeditions must have been more practical, just plain hobbit-sense, to maintain the cleared strip. It was still in existence during the War of the Ring. At least one non-Brandybuck hobbit was reputed to visit the Old Forest: namely Farmer Maggot.[28]

The heir of the Brandybucks during the War of the Ring was Meriadoc Brandybuck: Merry of the famous Fellowship of the Ring. He had been into the Old Forest "several times",[29] and he had a key to the gate. On Merry's advice, Frodo Baggins (the bearer of the One Ring) decided to attempt a traversal of the dreadful forest in order to evade the pursuit of Black Riders: the forest was considered the lesser of two evils.

The Old Forest experiences of Frodo, Merry and their companions Samwise Gamgee and Peregrin Took (and their ponies) are detailed in the The Fellowship of the Ring. In brief, the four hobbits were eventually lured into the clutches of Old Man Willow. Pippin and Merry were trapped inside but were rescued in time by Tom Bombadil. Thus these hobbits were ultimately successful in the only known crossing of the Old Forest by outsiders.

Reception[edit]

Verlyn Flieger has observed that the Old Forest contradicts Tolkien's protective stance for wild nature and his positive views of trees in particular. Indeed, although the Hobbits in The Lord of the Rings had close shaves with the Black Riders, the first real antagonist which they encountered directly is Old Man Willow. She writes also that the Bucklanders cutting and burning of hundreds of trees along the Hedge is not different from the destruction caused by Saruman's orcs in the woods around Orthanc.[30] To be fair however, the Bucklanders cleared a margin of the forest for self-defence, whereas the orcs wreaked wanton and wholesale deforestation.

The description of "Old England" in John Buchan's The Blanket of the Dark (1931) has been compared to Tolkien's Old Forest. Buchan's protagonist Peter Bohun disappears in a part of England that has been allocated to the real-world English Midlands around Evesham. The West Midlands were beloved by Tolkien because the maternal part of his family, the Suffields, were from this area.[31]

Tom Shippey has proposed that the Old Forest contains a more fundamental symbolism. Frodo, the central protagonist of The Lord of the Rings, describes the forest as "the shadowed land"; Shippey draws on the context to suggest the forest could be an allusion to Death.[32]

Adaptations[edit]

The Old Forest does not appear in the film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings, neither the animated nor the live action version, but it is mentioned by Merry in a conversation with Pippin while they were held hostage by the Uruk-hai in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. In the BBC's 1981 radio series The Lord of the Rings, when the hobbits are leaving Crickhollow, Merry announces, "we must go through the Old Forest" to evade the Black Riders, but there is no portrayal of their experiences in the forest, and there is no further reference to the Old Forest.

It appears in the video game The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, but the game is rather reminiscent of Mirkwood by adding on large spiders that lurk in the labyrinth and on the banks of the Withywindle.[citation needed] Nowhere in The Lord of the Rings did Tolkien describe spiders in the Old Forest. Morgoth's creatures did not really enter and darken the Old Forest, but they did so in Mirkwood.

The Old Forest also appears in Turbine Inc's The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar MMORPG. In this game, there was originally no map in the Old Forest, and it was like a hedge maze. A map was added later on, though it is still a very dark and mysterious place to visit.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Based on the fold-out map of "The West of Middle-earth" in the 1st edition of Unfinished Tales (hardback). This map has a larger scale than the equivalent map in The Lord of the Rings. The metric equivalent of the Old Forest's area is 2590 square kilometres.
  2. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1954), The Fellowship of the Ring, The Lord of the Rings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), "The Old Forest", ISBN 0-395-08254-4 
  3. ^ New York Times Book Review, The Hobbit, by Anne T. Eaton, March 13, 1938, "After the dwarves and Bilbo have passed ...over the Misty Mountains and through forests that suggest those of William Morris's prose romances." (emphasis added)
  4. ^ Lobdell, Jared [1975]. A Tolkien Compass. La Salle, IL: Open Court. ISBN 0-87548-316-X. p. 84, "only look at The Lord of the Rings for the briefest of times to catch a vision of ancient forests, of trees like men walking, of leaves and sunlight, and of deep shadows."
  5. ^ Dickerson, Matthew & Jonathan Evans (2006), Ents, Elves and Eriador, University Press of Kentucky, ch.V p. 133, ISBN 0-8131-2418-2.
  6. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1954), The Fellowship of the Ring, 2nd edition (1966), George Allen & Unwin, book 1 ch. VI p.125; ISBN 0 04 823045 6.
  7. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1961), The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, Unwin Paperbacks, preface, p.80; ISBN 0 04 823125 8
  8. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1954), The Fellowship of the Ring, 2nd edition (1966), George Allen & Unwin, book 1 ch. VI p.125; ISBN 0 04 823045 6.
  9. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1961), The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, Unwin Paperbacks, poem 2 verse 1; ISBN 0 04 823125 8.
  10. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1954), The Fellowship of the Ring, 2nd edition (1966), George Allen & Unwin, book 1 ch. VI p.132; ISBN 0 04 823045 6; and Tolkien, J. R. R. (1961), The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, Unwin Paperbacks, poem 2 verse 5; ISBN 0 04 823125 8.
  11. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1954), The Fellowship of the Ring, 2nd edition (1966), George Allen & Unwin, book 1 ch. VI p.122; ISBN 0 04 823045 6.
  12. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1954), The Fellowship of the Ring, 2nd edition (1966), George Allen & Unwin, book 1 ch. VI p.123; ISBN 0 04 823045 6.
  13. ^ Hammond, Wayne G. & Christina Scull (2005), The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion, HarperCollins, p.121/122, ISBN 0 00 720308 X.
  14. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1954), The Fellowship of the Ring, 2nd edition (1966), George Allen & Unwin, book 1 ch. VI p.123; ISBN 0 04 823045 6.
  15. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1954), The Fellowship of the Ring, 2nd edition (1966), George Allen & Unwin, book 1 ch. VII p.142; ISBN 0 04 823045 6.
  16. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1977), The Silmarillion, George Allen & Unwin, ch. I 'Of the Beginning of Days' p.35, ISBN 0 04 823139 8
  17. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1954), The Fellowship of the Ring, 2nd edition (1966), George Allen & Unwin, book 1 ch. VII p.141; ISBN 0 04 823045 6.
  18. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1954), The Fellowship of the Ring, 2nd edition (1966), George Allen & Unwin, book 1 ch. VII p.142; ISBN 0 04 823045 6.
  19. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1980), Unfinished Tales, George Allen & Unwin, part 2 ch IV. appendix D p. 262; edited by Christopher Tolkien; ISBN 0-04-823179-7
  20. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1981). The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, no.339 (1972) p. 419; edited by Humphrey Carpenter; ISBN 0-04-826005-3.
  21. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1955), The Return of the King, 2nd edition (1966), George Allen & Unwin, Appendix A:I(iii) p.320; ISBN 0 04 823047 2
  22. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1955), The Return of the King, 2nd edition (1966), George Allen & Unwin, Appendix A:I(iii) p.321; ISBN 0 04 823047 2
  23. ^ Carpenter, Humphrey, ed. (1981), The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, Letter No. 339, ISBN 0-395-31555-7 
  24. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1954), The Fellowship of the Ring, 2nd edition (1966), George Allen & Unwin, book 1 ch. V p.109
  25. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1954), The Fellowship of the Ring, 2nd edition (1966), George Allen & Unwin, book 1 ch. VI p.121
  26. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1954), The Fellowship of the Ring, 2nd edition (1966), George Allen & Unwin, book 1 ch. V p.118
  27. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1954), The Fellowship of the Ring, 2nd edition (1966), George Allen & Unwin, Prologue §1 p.12, ISBN 0 04 823045 6.
  28. ^ J. R. R. Tolkien (1954), The Fellowship of the Ring, George Allen & Unwin, 2nd edition (1966), book 1 ch. 5 p. 113.
  29. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1954), The Fellowship of the Ring, 2nd edition (1966), George Allen & Unwin, book 1 ch. V p.118, ch. VI p.121.
  30. ^ Flieger, Verlyn (2000). "Taking the Part of Trees: Eco-conflict in Middle-earth". In Clark, George; Timmons, Daniel. J.R.R. Tolkien and His Literary Resonances: Views of Middle-earth. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 147–158. ISBN 9780313308451. 
  31. ^ Hooker, Mark T. (2011). "Reading John Buchan in Search of Tolkien". In Fisher, Jason. Tolkien and the Study of His Sources: Critical Essays. McFarland. p. 173. ISBN 9780786464821. 
  32. ^ Shippey, Tom (2003), The Road to Middle-earth, Houghton Mifflin, ch.VI, p.190, ISBN 0-618-25760-8.