A plump man in a blue coat and yellow boots comes dancing down the path. He calls himself Tom Bombadil, and, seeing the hobbits’ situation, appears to be familiar with the tricks of “Old Man Willow.” Going up to the tree, Tom sings into the crack and orders the tree to release Merry and Pippin. Old Man Willow promptly obeys. In answer to the hobbits’ thanks, Tom tells them to join him and his bride, Goldberry, for dinner. The hobbits, somewhat bewildered, follow Tom along the river as he sings. They come out of the Old Forest into a pleasant clearing, and then go up to a hill where Bombadil’s house stands. A woman’s voice sings out to them.
In these chapters, Tolkien gives us the opportunity to get to know Frodo’s companions a little better. They prove to be typical Hobbits in some regards: their love of a bath, their love of food (especially mushrooms), and their stubbornness. But Frodo’s companions also seem a bit more adventurous than most Hobbits, less convinced that the Shire is the center of the universe. Merry, especially, seems clever beyond his years, having taken it upon himself to organize the conspiracy to make sure that Frodo does not leave the Shire without them. Though perhaps a bit underhanded, the other hobbits’ determination to pry into Frodo’s affairs and do what they can to help him is admirable, hinting at the loyalty they display throughout the journey toward Mordor.
Buckland is still within the Shire, but it is not as safe as the comfortable confines of Hobbiton and Bag End. In Buckland, the hobbits are at the edge of the sheltered Shire and therefore closer to the dangers of the wider world. We again see the recurring motif of the road appear in this episode in Buckland: the presence of the road passing through the area is a constant reminder of the nearness of danger and the vulnerability of the Shire. Indeed, the natural world around Buckland is not like the domesticated countryside that surrounds Bag End, but is a more sinister place, with the Old Forest on one side and the Brandywine River—in which, we learn, Frodo’s parents drowned—on the other. Buckland, unlike Hobbiton, has need of a protective hedge around it, with guards and gates. This distinction between domesticated nature in the Shire and untamed nature in the outside world is one that resurfaces again and again throughout the novel, notably in the upcoming chapters at the home of Tom Bombadil. Tolkien clearly appreciates the beauty of the natural world, but implies that he favors a more domesticated form of nature to untamed nature, which has the potential to be dangerous and unpredictable.
As the hobbits make their way into the Old Forest, we see that Middle-earth is in many ways an enchanted place. Sauron and the Elves are not the only forces at work, and there are clearly powers in Middle-earth that are not directly concerned with the battle for the Ring. These forces are usually represented by some aspect of the natural world. In Tolkien’s world, nature is not usually concerned with the affairs of Men—or Hobbits—and yet nature is almost always distinctly “good” or “evil,” only rarely neutral. Even trees seemingly have a will and an influence. Later in The Lord of the Rings, we see that trees, perhaps more than any other living thing, represent nature itself for Tolkien. The trees of Middle-earth act upon, control, and even prey upon the people and animals that move among them. As such, nature in The Lord of the Rings is not merely a backdrop for the actions of Men and Hobbits, but a powerful, active force in its own right.
Frodo’s dream has a powerful symbolic importance. It is a prophetic dream, as it foresees the Great Sea upon which a group of Frodo’s friends later sails off westward, as well as presents the white tower that is important in The Two Towers, the second volume of the novel. The climbing that Frodo does in the dream prefigures his fatiguing climb to the top of Cirith Ungol, led by the treacherous Gollum. Furthermore, the light in the sky and the thunder foreshadow the spectacle in the heavens over Minas Tirith that signals the end of Sauron’s reign of evil in The Return of the King. This foreshadowing has the effect of creating an overarching unity in the three volumes of the novel, as events at the beginning refer to and prefigure events at the end. Such foreshadowing also enhances the atmosphere of magic and wizardry that dominates the world of Middle-earth. But perhaps equally important, the mention of Frodo’s dream places us squarely inside Frodo’s consciousness, showing us the importance of his psychology and mindset throughout the story. His mission will not just be a series of steps he must take, but a personal growth and a psychological expansion as well. The inward focus of Frodo’s dreams prepares us to think about his inner state more seriously later in the novel.