Episode 32 Summary

Tony Meade


Comment on Tom’s interpretation of “chance”:
  • There is a connection between Tom’s “chance, if you chance you call it” line and Gandalf’s use of the word “chance-meeting” in the Appendices.
  • The hyphenation implies that this is a Middle-earth language term used for which there is no direct English equivalent (Sparrow Alden’s thesis).
  • Gandalf seems to be implying that chance is only a perception from the point-of-view of those in Middle-earth but is more than simply chance.
Comment on Frodo’s question to Goldberry:
  • Goldberry seems to assume that it’s natural for the hobbits to have questions about Tom.
  • Frodo gives Goldberry an excuse not to answer the question if he’s being foolish.
  • Frodo is seemingly confusing the terms “who” and “what”, as per Tolkien, as many readers might, but the “who” question is not inappropriate.
  • A parallel later in the book is Aragorn. Frodo travels with Aragorn and gets to know him as Strider but is surprised to find out his true identity and significance.
  • Frodo is asking a similar question about Tom Bombadil. He’s seen Tom with his own eyes, but he understands there is much more to Tom than meets the eye.
  • Goldberry seems to understand what Frodo is really asking but chooses not to give a clear answer to the implied question, outside of naming him “Master”.
  • Frodo’s sheepishness is significant, as the question he asks is not foolish given what he’s seen.
  • Frodo seems to instinctively anticipate that there will not be a clear answer, in contrast to questions about Aragorn, for whom there is a clear lineage and identity.
  • Is the emphasis of “He is” on “he” or “is”? Tolkien makes it clear that the third person matters.
  • The comparison with the name of God is undone by the fact that “I am” is in the first person, and there is no word that can fall after it that is correct.
  • Goldberry does follow up that phrase “He is” with a describer, though it is self-reflexive.
  • Note: Tolkien used this episode to explain the relationship between identity and names.
  • Goldberry also wants to express that there is no great secret; Tom is who he seems to be.
Frodo’s dream in the house of Bombadil:
  • The first draft of the dream in Crickhollow was of Gandalf trapped in a tower by the Black Riders.
  • Therefore, the original first dream had elements of both dreams; the metaphorical imagery of the dream and the prophetic vision of far-off events.
  • In The Hobbit, there is a category of significant dreams about witnessing events that are actually happening at that time. This second dream is like those “current events” dreams.
  • We know in retrospect that what he is possibly witnessing is Gandalf imprisonment and rescue on top of Orthanc, and details about the state of Isengard.
  • The strong wind is a recurring feature from the first dream in Crickhollow.
  • This dream seems as though it is a “current events” dream, but it isn’t. The events have already occurred, so it is a “recent events” dream.
  • We know this because we later know the timelines to be out of alignment for this to be current.
  • Tolkien did not make a mistake, as he labored over the timelines to ensure they were logical.
  • Therefore, Tolkien kept this dream in the text for a reason different from Bilbo’s dreams.
  • Gandalf is not explicitly identified in the dream; only that it is a man with white hair and a staff.
  • Gandalf’s current location and the reason for his absence from the party is still a mystery.
  • The ambiguity between if this is Gandalf or Saruman is intentional.
  • Saruman has not yet appeared in the text, only mentioned earlier in Bag End. We, as of now, know nothing about Saruman or Isengard.
  • The description may intend to make us think of Gandalf, especially because of the mystery surrounding his disappearance. We have no reason to think of Saruman yet.
  • The reader is left in the same state as Frodo, unclear as to the meaning of the dream.
  • Is there any consistent factor in the circumstances around these prophetic dreams?
  • We also don’t know the context of the eagle’s arrival. In retrospect, we know this is Gandalf’s rescue, and we have a precedent in The Hobbit, but we don’t know that for sure now.
A change in the dream, again:
  • Frodo is made quite afraid by the dream, meaning that he doesn’t know the context.
  • Frodo identifies the sound of the Black Riders, but he doesn’t identify Gandalf when he awakes.
  • Note: Why the use of “hoofs” over “hooves”? Unknown, but Tolkien would have had an answer.
  • Frodo will later act in surprise when he makes the connection of this dream to Gandalf’s story in the Council of Elrond, which means that he didn’t at the time.
  • What is the effect if Frodo knowingly has a dream of Gandalf’s imprisonment and rescue, if he knew that is what it was? Probably relief, because it explains his absence amid Frodo’s danger.
  • This would seem to mean that the first part of the dream was given as a comfort to Frodo.
  • The sound of the hoofs could be misinterpreted by Frodo as the Black Riders; it may, in fact be the sound of the hoofs of Shadowfax, as Gandalf is pursuing the Black Riders from the East.
  • We later find out that Gwaihir took Gandalf east to Rohan, and from there he rides to the Shire.
  • This may be seen as news of Gandalf’s coming after all, following his escape from Isengard.
  • The Black Riders that the hobbits know about are at this point west of them in the Shire.
  • The triple use of “galloping” is to imply speed, which is associated with Shadowfax. The
  • We don’t yet have the tools to interpret this dream, such as Saruman, Isengard, Shadowfax, Gwaihir, and Rohan. We can only recognize these images in retrospect.
  • The only element that we can identify is possibly Gandalf, with the staff and flashing light.
  • We are meant to be reminded of Gandalf’s rescue by the Eagles in The Hobbit, with the wolves and (unnamed) orcs.
Frodo misses the point of the dream:
  • Instead of being comforted, because of his ignorance of the images, his response is fear.
  • The first dream operates the opposite way from this dream, as he starts having an anxiety dream about both the Old Forest and the Black Riders, but it is interrupted by hopeful images.
  • In this dream, he is being given a more direct message of hope about Gandalf, but it shifts back to an anxiety dream as Frodo reasserts his fear of the Black Riders.
  • Frodo seems to completely forget about the first part of the dream and focuses exclusively on the Black Riders when he awakes.
  • It’s not unusual for a dreamer to not understand their own dreams and need a third party.
  • Is the Ring involved in his turn to fear at the end of the dream? It’s possible, but there is no clear evidence to suggest this interpretation, and it doesn’t bear the hallmarks of the Ring.
  • When the Ring draws our attention in an obvious way, it is when we are alerted to the chain of thought and justifications for keeping or taking or using the Ring.
  • Though this is not unlike the Ring to inspire this kind of fear, such as when the Black Rider is near him in the Shire, but in that case, he is also considering putting the Ring on.
  • In this case, the Ring itself never comes up in his thoughts, only his fear of the Riders. The Ring’s influence is always focused on itself.
  • This once again raises the question of the sentience of the Ring, and its ability to plan.
  • Is this dream a failure by the powers to send Frodo hope, thwarted by Frodo’s own free will?
  • Frodo is making a fearful interpretive choice, and this derails the intent of the dream.
  • Is Ulmo sending Frodo a dream through the River Withywindle? It fits with the mythology.
Pippin, the tree dreamer:
  • Pippin’s dream seems to be more like a trauma dream, which is understandable.
  • This harkens back to the original “witch house” idea from fairy tales, feeling like he may be caught in a trap, up until he hears the voice echoing the blessing from earlier.
  • Is this Goldberry’s or Tom’s voice? It could be either, but the effect is the same.
  • The blessing works; upon hearing the words he is immediately relieved.
  • It’s important that Frodo does not hear these words when he awakes, and though he remembers the words, they do not reassure him.
  • Frodo is not protected from his dream by their words because it is not a dream of fear; it is Frodo’s misinterpretation that makes it fearful. Pippin is protected because the dream is fearful in and of itself.
Merry, the water dreamer:
  • Merry also has an anxiety dream of Old Man Willow, but of a different type.
  • This is not the last time that Merry will feel as though he plunged in deep water, as he will use that description after his encounter with the Black Rider in Bree.
  • Merry and Pippin’s dreams are of the Forest and the River, and the spell-song of the trees was about water and sleep. This is still related to Old Man Willow.
  • Merry’s dream seems to be about an inevitable flood of doom coming in upon them.
  • Merry had spent the whole day trying to lead and cheer the party, but he fails and spends the day being led and bullied by the trees.
  • He was optimistic that they would win over the forest and find their way out, but they lost.
  • Pippin’s dream is directly related to his experience with Old Man Willow, but Merry’s dream seems more metaphorical in the use of the water imagery.
  • The dream’s water is coming from a marsh or bog. This implies being bogged down or stuck.
  • Is the River-woman not necessarily benevolent? They have parts of the river in the house with them, and it nearly drowned them. Goldberry is not innocent of pulling people into water.
  • As before, the malediction of the tree is defeated by the benediction of Tom and Goldberry.