The Fellowship of the Ring: Novel Summary: Book I Chapter 7

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Book I, Chapter 7: "In the House of Tom Bombadil"
At Tom's warm and inviting house, the Hobbits meet Lady Goldberry, "daughter of the River." Goldberry is one of the few female characters in The Lord of the Rings; yet she, like Arwen and Galadriel later, evokes a sudden response of overwhelming emotion within Frodo, who bursts into a song of joy-much to his own surprise. Tolkien states in one of his letters that Goldberry "represents the . . . seasonal changes" (see The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, ed. Humphrey Carpenter [1981; Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000], p. 272). However, Frodo's joyous reaction to her could suggest that she also serves to represent sudden in-breakings of grace-an understanding of "joy" shared by Tolkien's friend, Oxford colleague, and fellow Christian author, C. S. Lewis (see especially Lewis's autobiography, Surprised by Joy).

The mysterious Goldberry then proceeds to expound on the even more enigmatic figure of Tom Bombadil: "He is the Master of wood, water, and hill," yet the land does not belong to him. Tolkien explains Bombadil in this way in another of his letters: he embodies "the spirit that desires knowledge of other things . . . because they are 'other' and wholly independent" (see The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, ed. Humphrey Carpenter [1981; Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000], p. 192). Bombadil, then, could also represent a kind of joy: a pure, selfless delight in Nature for Nature's sake. He stands in sharp contrast to other characters in the story, particularly Saruman, who is interested in Nature only to the extent that he can manipulate it for his own ends.

During their night in Bombadil's house, each of the Hobbits (except for Sam) is troubled by nightmares. Frodo dreams of a tower on a plain, surrounded by howling wolves, atop which is the figure of a man. An eagle rescues the man from the tower. Frodo hears the sounds of Black Riders before the dream ends. Pippin dreams of his imprisonment inside Old Man Willow, but he can rest again when he hears Tom's words: "Fear nothing!" Similarly, Merry dreams he is drowning, but he, too, finds relief at Tom's words of peace.

The next day, Tom tells them-or, more accurately, sings to them-much lore of the Old Forest, including information about the Barrow-wights: fearsome spirits inhabiting the Barrow-downs beyond the Forest. [Note: A barrow is a prehistoric, British burial mound.] Tom's song ultimately reaches as far back as "ancient starlight, when only the Elf-sires were awake." Tom tells the Hobbits that he is "eldest."

At supper, Tom-to Frodo's surprise-asks to see the Ring. Tom wears the Ring, but does not disappear. Somewhat irritated by Tom's light treatment of such a burden, Frodo waits a while and then puts the Ring on himself. Tom immediately knows where Frodo is. His imperviousness to the Ring's controlling and corrupting effects established, Tom advises the Hobbits to head north the next day, hopefully to avoid the haunted barrows. He also teaches them a song they can sing should they need to call on him for help.

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