Tolkien's Landscapes 7: 'Old Man Willow' by Tolkien, 'Suite: Meriadoc' by jan-u-wine.
Old Man Willow (pencil, coloured pencil), like most of the pictures done to illustrate The Lord of the Rings, was made while Tolkien was working on the novel. These pictures, unlike those done for The Hobbit were not done to be published, but "for his own pleasure as well as for reference, as he had done earlier for 'The Silmarillion'. Old Man Willow is a fine example." (Hammond and Scull, p. 156)
"Suite: Meriadoc" is a fine example, too, but of what Tolkien's illustrations can inspire jan-u-wine to create. This piece, written from Meriadoc's point of view, is set in the Fourth Age, Meriadoc remembering a dark time as he watches his small son settle into sleep.
For those with further interest in the background of Tolkien's picture, an extended extract about the drawing from Hammond and Scull's book appears below.
I saw him.
That was the start of it:
Old Bilbo, face fixed between fear and mischief,
fingers dipping within the narrow eye-pocket of his waistcoat.
As I write, I remember, even,
the colour of it, stitched deep-red,
like heart's blood, bursts of needle-fine star-flowers.....
I remember, too, his finding of that which he sought,
and what followed.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Seventeen years passed, the old squire long since gone off,
(disappeared, they say,
the new one, my cousin,
the quiet, not-mad Baggins Under-the-Hill.
Seventeen years of deep-peaced winters, quiet springs and heated summers,
seventeen years of gold-brass autumns......
In all of those moments evil lay hidden,
waiting in gilt silence for its waking,
ever hearkening for the welcome caress of a dark Master's call.
There was a war, a great war,
of which I was a part.
A small part, I add,
when I am of a humourous mind,
a small part for one of the small ones, one of the Periannath.
Still, I did what I might, what I ought.
Folk ask me: of all we saw,
of all that befell myself and my kin,
of what was I most afeard?
Plain is my answer, plain as my fright,
simple as dark, devouring day:
It was the beginning of my..... knowing
of evil, of the weight and reach of it,
the twisted, devouring horror of it.
It was the end, though I knew it not,
of a world of innocent light.
I did not take the autumn Road from Hobbiton,
did not see the sun-tired draggle of the grasses of Woodhall,
or the deep-starred silence of Stockbrook’s sleeping meadows. I did not see the ruff'd fox who wondered at three hobbits so far from home.
Coppers kept at ready concerned me then,
nut-brown ale, pale mushrooms.....
and the un-burdening of my cousin's heart.
How very young I was, how painfully artless.
How thoughtlessly happy.
I remember the fog,
rising and steaming
upon the ground as we set out,
wisping fingers twining even about the small, brass'd flower-petals of light from ever-distanced windows.
I remember the smell and feel of the great forest,
how it wound, tight as a noose
about me, shortening my very breath,
my thoughts fleeing before
its dark oppression,
running frighted and heedless
they tumbled into darkness and lay still.
From outside myself, somehow,
I hear the world:
I know it is there.
I hear my cousin.
Other sounds there are, too,
sounds within the swift-closing window of my mind:
dark whispers, thoughts of evil
(as if evil were daylight and song,
and all that is good and needed) press down upon me.
Pain takes me,
hatred, deep and ancient,
age-less as the dark behind the stars.
it wants to kill me.
But not only
It wants to kill all that have warm bodies,
all ..... rootless things....
It wants dark and silence and an end to feet and wings and hearts that thrum with blood.
I am rescued.
Escaped from that which held my body.
from the dull-sharp memory of a fierce
and undying malice.
Old Man Willow.
Now, when all is over,
I spin the tale of him for my son,
children's stories in the fair candlelight,
covers drawn up
snug beneath his chin,
copper hair shining upon the pillow,
his laugh sweetening the night.
Oh, my son.
May you never know him.
May what we became, what we did,
what we gained and lost, be the golden ransom
of your unworldly innocence.
May you sleep, safe, and dreme.
From J. R. R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull, 1995 (2000 paperback edition):
The Old Forest, on the far side of Buckland, is a dark, nightmarish place in book 1, chapter 6, but Tolkien chose not to draw it as such, possibly because the result would have been too like Taur-na-Fúin or Mirkwood. Instead he illustrated the (deceptively) tranquil scene the hobbits come upon suddenly out of the gloom of the trees:
As if through a gate they saw the sunlight before them. Coming to the opening they found that they had made their way down through a cleft in a high steep bank, almost a cliff. At its feet was a wide space of grass and reeds; and in the distance could be glimpsed another bank almost as steep. A golden afternoon of late sunshine lay warm and drowsy upon the hidden land between. In the midst of it there wound lazily a dark brown water, bordered with ancient willows, arched over with willows, blocked with fallen willows, and flecked with thousands of faded willow-leaves. The air was thick with them, fluttering yellow from the branches; for there was a warm and gentle breeze blowing softly in the valley, and the reeds were rustling, and the willow-boughs were creaking.
A 'huge willow-tree, old and hoary' dominates the picture. With a little imagination one can see a 'face' on the upper right part of the trunk. '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.' Enormous, maybe, to one of the hobbits looking at it, but in the picture the willow does not seem unusually large. 'Willow-man' antedated The Lord of the Rings by several years, having first appeared in Tolkien's poem The Adventures of Tom Bombadil in 1934. In that work it is Bombadil, not Merry and Pippin, who is caught in a closing crack of the great willow -- an idea, Tolkien said, that probably came to him in part from Arthur Rackham's drawing of gnarled trees. John Tolkien thinks that his father's drawing was inspired by a fully grown willow on the banks of the Cherwell near Oxford, distinct from others because it was not pollarded (p. 156).
Many thanks to ambree40, whose wish for a poem to go with Old Man Willow prompted the writing of this piece.
~ "Wood at World's End": picture by Tolkien, poem by jan-u-wine.