• Will Sherwood

LOTR 6: He’s a poet and he sure does know it.

(Peter Jackson, 2002)

So it has a been a while. I have missed writing these. Let us dive back in. So the hobbits were on their way to Buckleberry Ferry from Farmer Maggot's. In this chapter they reach Crickhollow and rest for the first time since leaving Bag End.

As has been covered previously, Phase One did not work with chapters, it was more of a flowing script that Christopher cut up so that readers could better identify how it related to the the other phases and the final publication. The title was added during Phase Two and at this time 'the text now becomes very close into to FR Chapter 5' (Return, 298).

Version one lacks any sort of 'conspiracy', the onus of the discussion at the house (unnamed in Phase One) is on the next steps of the journey. In version two (from Phase Two) 'the revelation of the conspiracy is almost exactly as in FR' and the narrative of Merry watching Bilbo turn invisible is introduced to the chapter (Return, 300). Version three (Phase Three) now reaches the chapter's final form 'down to the smaller particulars of expression' albeit a couple of instances (Return, 326).

There are two key elements from the chapter's development that I wish to focus on: the intertextual poem 'Farewell we call to hearth and hall!' and what Christopher calls 'The Dream of the Tower’ that Frodo has at the end.

1. Intertextual Poetry

In the printed version, Merry and Pippin sing a song 'which they had apparently got ready for the occasion' that was 'made on the model of the dwarf-song that started Bilbo on his adventure long ago, and went to the same tune' (Lord, 106).

Here is the original opening stanza from its first performance in The Hobbit:

Far over the misty mountains cold To dungeons deep and caverns old We must away ere break of day

To seek the pale enchanted gold. (Hobbit, 14).

The poetry follows a strict and heavy system that mirrors the dwarves' sincere and grave story. There are tightly packed alliterative couplets in the opening lines and an AABA rhyme structure with an internal rhyme in line three that forms a poetic stubbornness that only a dwarf can replicate. Merry and Pippin's tribute follows all of these poetic rules to a tee but replaces some elements to make it more in tune with hobbit poetics. The heavy alliteration and hard plosives are banished and the melancholy tone is boycotted:

Farewell we call to hearth and hall!

Though wind may blow and rain may fall,

We must away ere break of day

Far over wood and mountain tall. (Lord, 106).

Before digging into the nuts and bolts of Tolkien's poetics, I should include a comment on the poems development. It was introduced in the second version and it is clear that the second stanza underwent the most change:

Version Two:

The hunt is up! Across the land

The Shadow stretches forth its hand

We must away ere break of day

To where the Towers of Darkness stand. (Return, 300).

Published Version:

To Rivendell, where Elves yet dwell

In glades beneath the misty fell,

Through moor and waste we ride in haste,

And whether then we cannot tell. (Lord, 106).

If hobbit verse up until this point was supposed to inspire courage and have a more cheery tone, the extent copy in version two of the chapter did not meet hobbit expectations. It presents a rather defeatist attitude and, in the second line, anticipates the description of Sauron’s conquest that is usually employed by elves and men. It would not do to have Sauron’s hand felt so early in the narrative. Tolkien needed to work up to it. The published version drastically switches its attention to the more pleasant idea of Rivendell and hints at elvish mystery though ‘misty fell’.

Turning our attention back to the opening stanzas, the soft 'h' in the opening line of the hobbits’ version lightens the tone and 'the winds were moaning in the night' is replaced with the less ominous or emotional 'wind may blow' (Hobbit, 15). Additionally the modal verb ‘may’ channels true hobbit optimism that it weather could turn sour, but it could also remain cheery. No matter what, they will triumphantly press on.

A unique detail that I think Tolkien would have been proud of was how close the hobbits worked with the dwarves' model. The hobbits' rhyme pays a subtle homage to the original phonetic structure by recalling and continuing its rhyme through assonance: 'cold', 'old', 'gold’ is mirrored with 'hall', 'fall', 'tall'. It is as if Merry and Pippin (or Frodo as the tale’s internal author) are consciously making reference to how they are continuing the tale that ultimately becomes The Red Book of Westmarch, the collected text that includes The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

The context for this is also very different; whereas the dwarves are lamenting the fall of Erebor to Smaug and are expressing their sorrow through their poetry, the hobbits are using the form to draw intertextual parallels between the start of Bilbo's adventure and their own. It should be clear by now that to the four hobbits, their journey is a mimic of Bilbo's own, it is as if they wish to bring Bilbo's story to life for themselves by re-enacting and manipulating pivotal plot-points. I have already commented on how Frodo develops anxiety as he approaches the same age as Bilbo when he left with the dwarves. Similarly, the hobbits draw links with Bilbo’s tale further on when they meet the trolls that got turned to stone in The Hobbit.

The intertextual web is woven in an intricately complex way for not only is Tolkien recalling the events from a past book that he wrote in the primary world, Frodo and his companions are recalling events from their own racial (and family) history. In addition, The Red Book of Westmarch was supposedly found and translated by Tolkien, its original authors being Bilbo and Frodo. With this authorial conceit in mind, Frodo is complicating matters further by writing 'A Conspiracy Unmasked' in the same manuscript that Bilbo wrote his memory of the dwarf song.

We frequently say that Tolkien was a highly skilled writer and I think here he excels himself as a master of tone, intertextuality, and form. In addition, scholars have criticised Tolkien as a weak poet but internal and external poetic discourses such as this exemplify how he used poetry within his legendarium in various, innovative ways.

2. 'The Dream of the Tower'

Frodo’s dreams are peculiar. They are not what a reader of The Hobbit would expect of hobbits. This specific dream started life simple as a ‘vague dream, in which [Frodo] seemed to be lying under a window that looked out into a sea of tangled trees: outside there was a snuffling’ (Return, 104 - 5). The characteristic ’snuffling’ also implies the presence of the Black Riders.

The dream was not investigated by Tolkien until Phase Four. ‘Extent in several texts’, the dream portrays Gandalf and the Black Riders at the Western Tower on Tower Hills, west of the Shire (Treason, 33). It saw various settings; Frodo would have it at Woody End, Crickhollow, in Tom Bombadil’s house, and at Bree. The dating of the dream is also complex. This was Tolkien’s first encounter with dates. He gave four Time-schemes labelled A, B, C, and D that placed Gandalf’s escape and Frodo’s dream separately on the 24th, 25th, 26th, and 29th of September. The final date would align with Frodo’s time in Bree and would mean that he dreamt it after the event itself.

The dream stands as the reader's first experience of Frodo dreaming in this way about live events and the sea. Two days into his journey, the sea and Valinor already appear to be on the fringes of Frodo’s imagination and have been there since before we joined Frodo in ‘A Long-Expected Party'. Tolkien sets up Frodo’s fate from the start through the foreshadowing of the sea that is explicit from the first draft (Treason 33 & 35) through to the published version: ‘a sound he had never heard in waking life, though it had often troubled his dreams . . . a great desire came over him to climb the tower and see the Sea’ (Lord, 108). What is intriguing about the first draft is how Tolkien establishes a link between his Frodo and the sea: ’the far sound of the Sea came back to him whenever great danger was at hand’ (Treason, 34). This did not make it into any of the protagonist’s dreams in the published version, perhaps because it leaned too heavily on Frodo’s metaphorical death in ’The Grey Havens’.

This is not Frodo’s only dream - nor the only dream in the book! We will encounter a fair few more before the end of The Fellowship of the Ring.


Tolkien, J.R.R. (1988). The History of Middle-earth: The Return of the Shadow. [Ed. Tolkien, C.]. London: HarperCollins.

Tolkien, J.R.R. (1989). The History of Middle-earth: The Treason of Isengard. [Ed. Tolkien, C.]. London: HarperCollins.

Tolkien. J.R.R. (1995). The Hobbit. London: HarperCollins.

Tolkien. J.R.R. (2007). The Lord of the Rings. London: HarperCollins.

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