Gandalf Visits Bombadil
The rain had ceased, although the sky was low
and grey, and a chill wind blew steadily now from the North. Gandalf
stood on the porch of Tom’s house and looked to the West. The forest,
which on a clear day would have rolled away endlessly, was now veiled
in clouds. The barrow-downs were unseen to the East.
He followed Master Bombadil to the stable and
could not help but be heartened by a welcoming whicker from Shadowfax.
“Greetings, my friend,” he said to the horse. He opened the gate of the
stall and the great grey horse stepped quietly behind him down the
short aisle to the open door. Behind Shadowfax came Fatty Lumpkin. The
two horses trotted past the end of the stable and out into the pasture,
then they touched noses and set off at a gallop to the far end.
Bombadil’s flock of sheep scattered,
bleating, and his red and white spotted cow kicked up her heels and ran
clumsily up a hill, her tail in the air. The foolish antics of the
animals made both Tom and Gandalf laugh. They leaned, farmerlike, on
the rail fence. A flock of crows came noisily out of the South and made
for their rookeries in the Old Forest.
“More rain to come,” Bombadil said. “The crows seek shelter.”
“Not the crows only,” Gandalf said. He
pointed to the West, and there was a V-shaped flock of Geese coming
toward them. “Maybe not shelter, I suppose. They are going to the
Southlands, are they not? Is it not late in the season?”
“It is late, but not too late. They will rest
the night in the marshes down Withywindle. See, they bear to the left
now. Hear them! That is a sound one never wearies of. They will come
over us so near we shall hear their wings. Be still, Mithrandir, they
will not come close if they see thee move.”
Gandalf obeyed. In a few moments the Geese
were overhead, and indeed he could hear the beat of their mighty wings,
and, once or twice, the commands of their leaders. He closed his eyes,
trying to imagine the thoughts of these birds. They sought their Winter
grounds blindly as it were, their journey already charted in their
hearts when they broke their way out of the egg.
Was it so with the Eldar? He had never heard
of any setting sail to the Uttermost West with a chart in hand. Elves
sought the Havens, Elves sailed to the West. For a moment he allowed a
horrid fancy to form in his mind, that these Elves who sailed so
trustingly and blindly away from Cirdan’s shipyard sailed into oblivion
or worse. That the grey ships vanished, and fell over the edge of the
Earth. But he knew it was not so. The Elves needed no chart, for they
were going Home. Like the Geese, the chart was in their hearts.
He searched his own heart, and knew it was a
mystery to him. Would he ever be able to read it? There had been hours,
even days, in the last years when he longed for escape, to be free of
care and fear. Waking from his battle with the Balrog, he had, for the
space of one or two heartbeats, imagined that he was safe, that he need
struggle no more. Yet he had gone on, reborn, even strengthened by the
sojourn Away. And now? Now it was over. Duty done, task accomplished.
Why could he not be at peace?
Bombadil had been in the right of it, he
knew. “I have not been free of pride and amibition,” Gandalf said to
himself. “Did not Curunir himself point it out to me, that I must needs
always be the best, putting myself upon some pedestal of purity? He saw
what he called my pretence that I was never tempted!” Then he shook
himself in his mind. “But tempted or no, I stayed true when he did
Bombadil busied himself with forking dirty
straw from the stalls onto a pile, trundling it up a narrow ramp in a
wheelbarrow. He ran, his yellow-booted feet quick and sure on the
plank. Trotting back, he nodded at Gandalf. “Mithrandir! Do you know
one end of a pitchfork from another? Then do you get up in that loft,
if you please, and throw some hay down for our four-footed friends.”
Gandalf laughed, and climbed up into the
haymow. Here it was dark under the low roof and he stood for a moment
while his eyes became used to the dimness. Something brushed against
him and he looked down and saw a cat winding herself about his leg. She
He bent and stroked her head, and she rolled
over, purring. He saw that she was a mother, and looked about himself.
There they were, three of them, asleep behind the pitchfork that was
thrust into the pile of hay. Kneeling, he picked one kitten up and held
it to his face. The queencat sat, her eyes wide and golden, watching as
he picked up the other two kittens. The three blind things lay in his
hands, soft and warm. They were marked like their mother, sooty black
with a white bib and white paws. Tenderness for these helpless beings
washed over him and tears stung his eyes. There the mother sat, looking
at him, knowing her babies were safe in his stranger’s hands. He set
them gently down, and the mother lay beside them and they began to
suckle. He thought he could sit there for hours.
The day would come, not far off, when the
queencat would cuff her kits away, and hiss at them if they came close.
She would know the time had come, and she would withdraw herself, thus
sending her young out into their world. She would turn herself about
herself and curl into the hay and never be tormented with doubt or
worry. Nature had fitted her for this task and when it was done, she
would be content. Why was this cat wiser than he, who was accounted one
of the Wise?
“Art thou asleep up there?” Tom shouted up the ladder.
“No, no,” Gandalf answered, standing up. He
took the fork and began to toss hay down along the edge of the haymow.
It was open to the mangers below. “Tell me when there is enough,” he
“Two more forkfuls like the last, Mithrandir, and that will do,” Tom said.
Done with the fork, Gandalf stuck it in the
pile, but not near the mother cat. He climbed down, and on the ladder
began to sneeze.
“My word, Mithrandir,” Tom said, his voice
full of concern. “Methinks that the top of thy head will blow off! I
would never have sent thee up into the hay had I known it would bring
on such a fit of sneezing!”
“Well, I did not know either,” Gandalf managed. “I have never tossed hay about before, you see.”
“That was not taught at Wizard school, then?”
Tom teased. He went to the stable door and whistled. Soon the horses
returned, coming up at a thunderous gallop right to the door.
“Lumpkin,” Tom said, “art thou not ashamed, showing off to Shadowfax
like that? Thou art too old and fat to race about in that manner!”
The horses went into the clean stalls and set
to their corn right away. Gandalf went in with Shadowfax and stroked
the proud neck and forehead. “Is there aught else I can do for thee?”
he asked the horse. “Here is hay and corn and sweet water, and clean
straw to thy feet.”
But Shadowfax said naught, only lifted his head and looked at Gandalf with his great soft dark eyes, and returned to his dinner.
Tom was pouring grain from a sack into a bin.
The golden kernels fell like water almost, making a soft hushing noise.
Gandalf put his hand under the falling grains. “Where is this corn
from?” he asked. “Is it of thine own growing?”
“Nay, nay. A kitchen garden we have, but no
fields of grain. I buy what grain I need from Farmer Maggot of the
Marish.” Tom took up a few grains and popped them in his mouth.
Doing likewise, Gandalf said, “It tastes somewhat like wheaten bread.”
“It makes fine flour,” Tom responded. “And
the flour makes good bread, the bread we had toasted for our breakfast.
My lady Goldberry grinds it herself, we are too far from the mill.”
Gandalf stirred a few grains about in the
palm of his hand. “A seed is a wonderful thing, is it not? I have heard
my brother Radagast on this subject many a time, but I confess it never
really struck me till now.”
Walking back to the house, they walked into
the teeth of a savage wind. It carried the bite of cold from the
far-off mountains. Leaves blew before their feet, sailed through the
air. They were hurried through the door by the wind, and Tom slammed it
behind them and dropped the bar into the slots.
Goldberry sat near the fire and she looked up
smiling as they came in. Gandalf looked to the window. Here in the
candlelit room, the windows now looked out into blackness, yet outside
it was not yet really dark. He saw the mellow candlelight reflected in
the polished wood of the long table, and saw that the vase of autumn
leaves glowed in that light, too. In a little bowl were some Beechnuts,
a few Walnuts, and a handful of Acorns; they had been rubbed with oil
until they shone, a pretty notion of the Riverdaughter.
He took up three Walnuts and four Acorns and
began to juggle them. Tom and Goldberry looked on in astonishment as he
tossed the nuts spiralling into the candlelight, catching each in turn
and tossing it again so quickly it was but a blur. His hands had not
lost this skill, he was pleased to find. He walked toward the fire,
still juggling, and at last set the nuts on the mantle in a row. But
one Acorn he held, as he sat, and he turned it about and about in his
“How Radagast would go on,” he said. “A
Marvel, Gandalf, it is a Marvel! See, here, folded in some fashion
inside this tiny nut, is a whole Oak tree. What are all the towers and
battlements and citadels of your cities compared to that?” He looked at
Tom, who was now seated across from him and pulling off his yellow
boots. “And I would scoff at my brown brother, thinking him simple and
a bit of a fool, to care so much for an acorn. Of course it would grow
into an Oak tree! What else could it do?”
He smiled somewhat ruefully. “I feel like an
acorn that grew into a daisy, or something against its nature. Whatever
was folded into me at my creation, it has not unfolded into one of the
Wise, as I had once fancied. Just now, I am not sure what I have