HASA Resources

Things of Middle-earth

Old Man Willow

Type: Plants

Other Names:
old grey Willow-man
the Great Willow

Description:

An ancient, sentient willow tree living in the Old Forest beside the Withywindle, with great powers over the trees of the Forest and malicious intent towards beings that can move freely:
[The] Old Forest... was indeed ancient...; and in it there lived yet, ageing no quicker than the hills, the fathers of the fathers of trees, remembering times when they were lords. The countless years had filled them with pride and rooted wisdom, and with malice. But none were more dangerous than the Great Willow: his heart was rotten, but his strength was green; and he was cunning, and a master of winds, and his song and thought ran through the woods on both sides of the river. His grey thirsty spirit drew power out of the earth and spread like fine root-threads in the ground, and invisible twig-fingers in the air, till it had under its dominion nearly all the trees of the Forest from the Hedge to the Downs.

The Fellowship of the Ring, LoTR Book 1, Ch 7, In the House of Tom Bombadil

Tom's words laid bare the hearts of trees and their thoughts, which were often dark and strange, and filled with a hatred of things that go free upon the earth, gnawing, biting, breaking, hacking, burning: destroyers and usurpers.

The Fellowship of the Ring, LoTR Book 1, Ch 7, In the House of Tom Bombadil

'[All] paths lead that way, down to Withywindle. Old grey Willow-man, he's a mighty singer; and it's hard for little folk to escape his cunning mazes.'

The Fellowship of the Ring, LoTR Book 1, Ch 7, In the House of Tom Bombadil

Suddenly Frodo himself felt sleep overwhelming him.... There now seemed hardly a sound in the air.... Only a gentle noise on the edge of hearing, a soft fluttering as of a song half whispered, seemed to stir in the boughs above. He lifted his heavy eyes and saw leaning over him a huge willow-tree, old and hoary. Enormous it looked, its sprawling branches going up like reaching arms with many long-fingered hands, its knotted and twisted trunk gaping in wide fissures that creaked faintly as the boughs moved. The leaves fluttering against the bright sky dazzled him, and he toppled over, lying where he fell upon the grass.

Merry and Pippin dragged themselves forward and lay down with their backs to the willow-trunk. Behind them the great cracks gaped wide to receive them as the tree swayed and creaked. They looked up at the grey and yellow leaves, moving softly against the light, and singing. They shut their eyes, and then it seemed that they could almost hear words, cool words, saying something about water and sleep. They gave themselves up to the spell and fell fast asleep at the foot of the great grey willow.

Frodo lay for a while fighting with the sleep that was overpowering him.... He felt a compelling desire for cool water....

Half in a dream he wandered forward to the riverward side of the tree, where great winding roots grew out into the stream, like gnarled dragonets straining down to drink. He straddled one of these, and paddled his hot feet in the cool brown water; and there he too suddenly fell asleep with his back against the tree....

[Sam] muttered to himself. 'I don't like this great big tree. I don't trust it. Hark at it singing about sleep now...!'

He pulled himself to his feet, and staggered off to see what had become of the ponies. He... had just caught them and brought them back..., when he heard two noises; one loud, and the other soft but very clear. One was the splash of something heavy falling into the water; the other was a noise like the snick of a lock when a door quietly closes fast.

He rushed back to the bank. Frodo was in the water close to the edge, and a great tree-root seemed to be over him and holding him down, but he was not struggling. Sam... dragged him from under the root.... Almost at once he woke, and coughed and spluttered.

'Do you know, Sam,' he said at length, 'the beastly tree threw me in! I felt it. The big root just twisted round and tipped me in!'....

They went round to the other side of the tree, and then Sam understood the click that he had heard. Pippin had vanished. The crack by which he had laid himself had closed together, so that not a chink could be seen. Merry was trapped: another crack had closed about his waist; his legs lay outside, but the rest of him was inside a dark opening, the edges of which gripped like a pair of pincers.

Frodo and Sam beat first upon the tree-trunk where Pippin had lain. They then struggled frantically to pull open the jaws of the crack that held poor Merry. It was quite useless....

[Frodo] kicked the tree with all his strength.... A hardly perceptible shiver ran through the stem and up into the branches; the leaves rustled and whispered, but with a sound now of faint and far-off laughter.

The Fellowship of the Ring, LoTR Book 1, Ch 6, The Old Forest

Quickly they... made a pile of broken twigs and chopped sticks... on the far side of the tree from the prisoners. As soon as Sam had struck a spark... a flurry of flame and smoke went up. The twigs crackled. Little fingers of fire licked against the dry scored rind of the ancient tree and scorched it. A tremor ran through the whole willow. The leaves seemed to hiss above their heads with a sound of pain and anger. A loud scream came from Merry, and from far inside the tree they heard Pippin give a muffled yell.

'Put it out! Put it out!' cried Merry. 'He'll squeeze me in two, if you don't. He says so!'....

The branches of the willow began to sway violently. There was a sound as of a wind rising and spreading outwards to the branches of all the other trees round about, as though they had... set up ripples of anger that ran out over the whole Forest. Sam kicked at the little fire and stamped out the sparks. But Frodo... ran along the path crying help! help! help!.... [He] could hardly hear the sound of his own shrill voice: it was blown away from him by the willow-wind and drowned in a clamour of leaves....

The Fellowship of the Ring, LoTR Book 1, Ch 6, The Old Forest

'Now, my little fellows, where be you a-going to, puffing like a bellows? What's the matter here then? Do you know who I am? I'm Tom Bombadil. Tell me what's your trouble...!'

'My friends are caught in the willow-tree,' cried Frodo breathlessly....

'What?' shouted Tom Bombadil.... 'Old Man Willow? Naught worse than that, eh? That can soon be mended. I know the tune for him. Old grey Willow-man! I'll freeze his marrow cold, if he don't behave himself. I'll sing his roots off. I'll sing a wind up and blow leaf and branch away. Old Man Willow!'.... [He] ran to the tree. There he saw Merry's feet still sticking out — the rest had already been drawn further inside. Tom put his mouth to the crack and began singing into it in a low voice. They could not catch the words, but evidently Merry was aroused. His legs began to kick. Tom sprang away, and breaking off a hanging branch smote the side of the willow with it. 'You let them out again, Old Man Willow!' he said. 'What be you a-thinking of? You should not be waking. Eat earth! Dig deep! Drink water! Go to sleep! Bombadil is talking!' He then seized Merry's feet and drew him out of the suddenly widening crack.

There was a tearing creak and the other crack split open, and out of it Pippin sprang, as if he had been kicked. Then with a loud snap both cracks closed fast again. A shudder ran through the tree from root to tip, and complete silence fell.

The Fellowship of the Ring, LoTR Book 1, Ch 6, The Old Forest

Contributors: Elena Tiriel 5May08

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