As a concluding thought on “Fog on the Barrow Downs,” I think that the end of this chapter introduces two themes that will become important through the rest of the book.  Both themes, interestingly, are integral to the world of Men, on whose brink the Hobbits are now teetering.  The first theme has to do with greed; the second with self-sacrifice.

 

The chief evil represented by the barrow-wight is, oddly enough, not an abstract one but the very concrete evil of goldlust.  This may not be apparent at first, but consider the way in which Tom Bombadil breaks the spell on the barrow after exorcising the wight from it.  He brings out the mound’s treasures and bids them lie there, “free to all finders, birds, beasts, Elves or Men, and all kindly creatures.”  This particular cure suggests that the curse on the barrow originally had to do with the hoarding of gold.

 

This theme is unfortunately very common in Middle Earth.  One remembers the end of The Hobbit, where five armies fight over the possession of a dragon’s treasure.  One also thinks of The Silmarillion, where Feanor’s proud refusal to give up his jewels in order to rekindle the light of the Two Trees initiates a series of disasters, the implications of which continue even down into the days of Frodo and Aragorn.  And, repeatedly, Tolkien casts the appeal of the Ring in terms of its beautiful golden hue.  Greed and goldlust are among the cardinal sins in Middle Earth.

 

Along with the theme of Men’s greediness, however, Tolkien introduces the theme of their nobility.  That is, he introduces the first hint of a line of Men who will become increasingly important to the tale:  the Numenoreans, who have dwindled to become the Rangers.

 

The barrow that trapped the Hobbits is a Numenorean barrow; the knives that Bombadil retrieves from the treasure to give to the Hobbits are the very blades that were forged by the sons of Isildur to wreck ruin on the Nazgul.  When Bombadil gives the knives to the Hobbits, he tells them that their makers “go wandering, sons of forgotten kings walking in loneliness, guarding from evil things folk that are heedless.”  Though the Hobbits do not understand him, they will meet one of these unseen guardians that very night, under the unlikely guise of Strider the Ranger.  The point is that the world of men is full not only of greed but of generous self-sacrifice.  The old kings no longer rule; but they still guard those who cannot defend themselves.

 

And with this introduction to the world of Men—its greed and its sacrifice—the Hobbits set off for Bree.

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