Gandalf Visits Bombadil
Gandalf lay quiet, watching the play of firelight on the ceiling above
him. Now and again came the sound of the Trees. In some fashion it
seemed to travel through the earth rather than through the air, and it
was as much felt as heard. Gandalf was sure he would not sleep again,
yet he did.
When he woke again it was to dim daylight coming in the narrow door of
the hut, and the smell of woodsmoke. He turned his head and there was
Bombadil sitting on his haunches by the fire, holding a fork over the
flames, toasting a chunk of waybread.
The uncanny Master he had seen the night before was gone, and there was
ordinary Tom in his place, his brown face intent on his homely task,
his eyes their usual sky-blue. Gandalf did not ask Tom where he had
gone or what he had done in the night, not yet. But he was curious,
Gandalf was ever curious in such matters.
After they had eaten and made sure the small fire was safely dead, they
set out to the North again, deeper into the forest. Somewhere above the
canopy the sun was shining, for here and there shafts of light stabbed
down through the green dimness. Gandalf looked up and up the towering
trunks and saw that there were sometimes clumps of fern growing on a
tree, or some kind of moss that hung in dismal looking blankets.
Beneath his feet the ground was covered with fallen needles. The ground
was soft and would have made easy walking, but enormous tree roots
twisted everywhere, at times they had to be climbed over rather than
Twice they crossed a stream, black clear water flowing silent. Gandalf
did not want to put his feet into this water, but there was no other
way to cross it. His boots were watertight enough that when he stepped
quickly his feet stayed dry, but he knew the water was cold and
dangerous in some way. He knew, too, that no fish lived in that water,
no waterbug skated across its gelid surface, no cresses swayed in its
current. He supposed it was not two streams, but the same stream twice,
curling its sinister way through the woods.
Never was there sound of a bird or beast. Not a crow nor a squirrel. No
spider spun her webs across their way, no woodpeckers hammered at the
trunks. Other than the trees the only living things they saw were the
creatures that lived in the decaying mould beneath the trees. The heel
of Gandalf’s staff disturbed this material now and again, and he would
see scurrying things and creeping things, always pale, always making
his flesh crawl. He thought that his brother Radagast might feel
differently, Radagast might crouch down and peer at these things with
the same loving interest he showed for soaring eagles or bright leaping
“Has Radagast come here with thee?” he asked Bombadil.
“Yes,” Tom answered. “Long ago he and I journeyed through the Forest, more than once.”
“I daresay he exclaimed in delight at every turn,” Gandalf muttered
crossly into his beard. “I daresay he did not feel the weight of all
Bombadil led, and Gandalf followed. Now and again Tom turned, as if to see that Gandalf was near, but he did not speak.
Gandalf noticed for the first time that Tom was not wearing his yellow
boots or his bright shirt and hat. No, he was clad in some stuff that
shifted colour, one moment it was green then it was brown, and on his
feet he wore, not boots, but soft leather shoes that wrapped his lower
legs like gaiters. It was about then that he noticed, too, that they
were walking somewhat downhill, and the air had become heavier.
Almost he longed to strike some brighter light with his staff, or to
break the brooding silence with a word of command. The trees were quiet
now, no creaking or rustling, no far off thin wailings disturbed the
air. Yet the sense of menace grew, the air had grown thick, and Gandalf
knew without doubt that they were being watched.
Bombadil stopped and beckoned Gandalf forward. “Mind thy steps, Mithrandir,” he said softly.
Gandalf stood beside Tom and felt his toes inside his boots cling to
the earth, and he gripped his staff lightly. For before them was a
broad cleft in the earth, many, many fathoms deep. Above was the clear
sky and the sunlight fell on the tops of the trees below.
It was like looking down onto some kind of lake of greeness, for there
was no break in the solid canopy that could be seen, just the various
shades of green with little hillocks here and there where some forest
giant thrust its head above the others.
Tom and Gandalf stood on a rocky outcrop, and to one side the rocks
rose somewhat, undercut by a small cave. Tom slung his pack into the
opening and sat down, turning his face to the sun. Gandalf did
likewise, enjoying the warmth.
“What is this place?” Gandalf asked. “I never knew that such a cleft in the earth existed in these parts.”
“It has always been here,” Tom replied, “but it has no name in the
tongues of Elves or Men.” He gestured to the other side. “It takes me
nearly two days to walk from here to there, for there is no easy way
down to the floor. It is in the shape of a mighty bowl, you see, it is
not a canyon carved by water, nor split by some cataclysm of the earth
itself. I do not know how it was formed, there is no clue that I can
read in the rocks. See how steep the walls are, Mithrandir!”
Gandalf lay on his stomach and peered down the rock wall. Here and
there were clumps of fern, and the rocks were moss-covered. He saw that
there was a kind of path or trail winding down, snaking back and forth.
He was not, thankfully, troubled by a fear of heights, but he could see
that fear or no fear, extreme care would be needed by anyone using that
The little cave undercutting the rock was another of Tom’s shelters.
Inside were bits of tinder and a small pile of dry wood, so they made a
little fire and had hot tea and some dried fruit with their waybread.
Tom had filled his water bottle in the stream, and the water made fine
tea, though Gandalf might have doubted it, had he stopped to consider
As they sat in the sunshine Gandalf looked up and saw two Eagles
soaring overhead. The sight of these birds cheered him, they belonged
to the Middle Earth he knew, and were as welcome to his sight as a
friend’s face might have been. He wondered how the four Hobbits were
doing, wondered what troubles or pleasures might have been waiting for
them in the Shire. Frodo, especially, was in his thoughts. Gandalf had
purposely put his Halfling friends out of his life, or rather had taken
himself out of theirs, knowing that in the new Age they ought no longer
lean on someone such as himself, someone belonging to the old times. He
knew, too, that it lay in him, that the power still lay in him, to
learn what was going forth in the Shire, but he set that aside, that
part of his life was past and over. He had never failed in his duty,
never given into temptation, and would not do so now.
No positive law forbade him, he knew that, too. Tom was Master here, in
the Old Forest, but was not Gandalf master, as well? Was he not one of
the mighty? Tom’s duty, whatever that duty might be, was plain and
open, at least to Tom. But ever had Gandalf had to search and study and
ponder to find his path. Do much, but not too much. Say much, but know
when to be silent. A guide, he was. But often had he struggled to see a
path for himself, never mind for those others.
In part, here was Curunir’s failure: he never doubted until it was too
late. Pride and ambition and lust had brought him down, for Saruman had
thought he saw a plain and easy path before him. He had been blinded by
“Mithrandir! Mithrandir!” Tom urged.
Gandalf woke. He had fallen asleep in the sunshine, his cup of tea
still held in his hand. He laughed. “Most humbly do I apologize to
thee, Master Tom! Here I am like an old dog, made sleepy by the warm
Tom smiled. “Thy rest was disturbed last night, I know. Come, my
friend, it is time for us to move, if we are to go down there while it
“So we are to climb down there?” He stood and pulled on his pack, and
slipped his hand through the thong of his staff. “And once we are down
“Well, we shall see what we shall see, Mithrandir. I have not myself
been down there for some time. But know this! Thou shalt see such trees
as can be seen nowhere else in Middle Earth. Except for thy brother
Radagast, I do not know for certain that any other than I has ever seen
“Not even the Elves?” Gandalf asked. “For the Elves are mighty fond of trees.”
“I do not know, Mithrandir. There are signs………..” His voice faded, and
he looked away. “Even in the bright sunshine there are things it is
best not to speak of, here. Some tales are best told by the hearthside,
under a roof, inside stout walls. Come! I shall go first, and thou
shalt follow me……….”