Note from the Editor: I must apologize, but I will be unable to edit this for awhile. Please, continue to contribute, and I will add annotation in when I return. I do not want anyone to feel that their contributions are being ignored.
Frodo woke suddenly.
The date is September 26, 3018 TA.
Merry went in front leading a laden pony, and took his way through a spinney behind the house
A "spinney" is a small grove or copse of trees, from a French word meaning "a thorny place."
Tell Gandalf to hurry along the East Road: we shall soon be back on it and going as fast as we can
The East Road was built by the Numenoreans (Dunedain) between Rivendell and the Grey Havens during the Second Age (see "The Disaster of the Gladden Fields" in Unfinished Tales). After the kingdom of Arnor was divided, the East Road formed the boundary between Cardolan and Rhudaur.
This road is also referred to as the East-West Road by Gandalf in "Shadows of the Past," and is labeled in this way on the larger map.
It passes through the Shire, and is labeled the East Road on the Map of the Shire. It was the road that Merry and Fatty used to take the cart to Buckland; it was not the road that Frodo, Sam and Pippin had to leave to escape Black Riders.
Frodo expects to return to the East Road well before reaching the town of Bree; he is entering the Old Forest only as a diversion, and a slight short cut.
For more information about Bree, see 'At the Sign of the Prancing Pony'
For more information about Cardolan and Rhudaur, see 'Fog on the Barrow Downs' (?) and Appendix A.
Extreme editorial revision - comments, please.
But the hobbits came, and cut down hundreds of trees, and made a great bonfire in the Forest
The etymology of the word "bonfire:"
References do not agree whether this word is sourced to "bon fire" (i.e., "good" fire) or "bane fire" (i.e., fire to remove evil) or "bone fire" (i.e., burning animal bones).
The OED, however, favors the "bone fire" etymology, and lists a citation from 1493 associating a "bone fire" with Saint John. Traditionally, this would be Saint John's Eve, or June 23rd. This is consistent with earlier references to a Celtic midsummer festival where animal bones were burnt to ward off evil spirits. Scotland and Ireland have similar traditions.
In modern English, "bonfire" means any large, but controlled, open-air fire.
The bonfire built by the hobbits was, of course, a modern 'bonfire', not an ancient 'bone-fire'. There is no indication that the bonfire was related to any festival, but rather, was meant as a retaliation against the forest.
No tree grew there, only rough grass and many tall plants: stalky and faded hemlocks
This is presumably a reference to the Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum, famous for its role in the execution of Socrates.
"Wood-parsley" is apparently not a name in common use; an Internet search turns up mostly quotations of this passage. One site identifies the name with Anthiscus sylvestris, the usual English name of which is "Cow Parsley":
http://www.fishing-in-wales.com/wildlif ... wparsl.htm
Cow Parsley, however, is a spring bloomer, and it seems unlikely that even faded blooms would be present in September (unlike Poison Hemlock, which blooms in late summer).
So this identification is at best tentative?
fire-weed seeding into fluffy ashes
A number of different plants are called "fireweed," but the most likely candidate is Epilobium angustifolium:
http://www.wiseacre-gardens.com/plants/ ... eweed.html
The common name refers to the plant's habit of rapidly colonizing burned areas such as the Bonfire Glade. It was one of the first plants to return to the areas devastated by the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens in the U.S. state of Washington (it is native to northern areas of both hemispheres). Its blooming season is given as July through August or September, which fits the description of it as "seeding."
and rampant nettles
The common nettle of England is the Stinging Nettle, Urtica dioica, though the Small Nettle, Urtica urens, is also found.
The name "thistle" is applied to a wide variety of spiny plants belonging to a number of different genera. The "classic" thistle is the Scotch Thistle, Onopordon acanthium:
He lifted his heavy eyes and saw leaning over him a huge willow-tree, old and hoary.
Tolkien left behind a drawing of Old Man Willow, labeled as such. It is published in the collection J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator, edited by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull.
According to correspondence between the late Fr. John Tolkien and the editors of Artist and Illustrator, John Tolkien thought that his father's drawing was inspired by a particular fully grown willow on the banks of the Cherwell near Oxford, distinct from others because it was not pollarded [cultivated by having its top branches cut back to the trunk to encourage a dense growth of new withies].
Many species of willow (genus Salix) are found in England, but only a few grow into large trees. The two most likely to have served as Tolkien's model are the White Willow, Salix alba, and the Crack Willow, Salix fragilis. The two are closely related, and are known to hybridize with one another, so a conclusive identification seems unattainable. Here is a picture of a suitably villainous-looking Crack Willow:
(The name "Crack Willow" does not refer to the cracks in the tree, but to the fact that its twigs break off with a crack, unlike other species that have tough and flexible twigs, once used as cords to tie objects together.)
Light goes the weather-wind and the feathered starling.
The Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) is apparently well-thought of in Britain, where it is native. This is mystifying to bird lovers in North America, who regard this introduced species as ugly, noisy, harmful to native birds, and generally Orclike.
http://www.tiscali.co.uk/reference/ency ... rling.html
Goldberry, Goldberry, merry yellow berry-o!
A very tenuous source for the name 'Goldberry' is Princess Goldborough in the semi-legendary tale of Havelock the Dane.
there appeared above the reeds an old battered hat with a tall crown and a long blue feather stuck in the band.
The feather once belonged to a Common or European Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis); in the poem "Bombadil goes Boating," written after the publication of LotR for inclusion in the collection The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, Tolkien gave an account of how the bird gave Tom the feather. In the first Bombadil poem, as it appeared in 1934, Tom wore a peacock feather in his hat; Tolkien changed this to a "swan-wing feather" for the book. The explanation is found in Letter 240, written to Pauline Baynes, the illustrator:
The peacock feather belongs to an old draft. Being unsuitable to the L. R. this becomes in the L.R. (I p. 130) "a long blue feather." In the poem as now to be published Tom appears (in line 4 of the first poem) with a "swan-wing feather": to increase the riverishness, and to allow for the incident in the second poem, the gift of a blue feather by the king's fisher. That incident also explains the blue feather of the L. R. Poem one is evidently, as said in the introduction, a hobbit-version of things long before the days of the L. R. But the second poem refers to the days of growing shadow, before Frodo set out (as the consultation with Maggot shows: cf. L. R. I p. 143). When therefore Tom appears in the L. R. he is wearing a blue feather.
Letters at pp. 318-19. The peacock is "unsuitable" because it is native to Asia. The "long blue feather" cannot have been terribly long, as Alcedo atthis averages only 13 cm overall. (Letter 240 suggests that Tolkien believed that more than one species of kingfisher occurred in England, but if so, he was mistaken.)
http://www.birdguides.com/html/vidlib/s ... atthis.htm
In an early version, when Tolkien was writing the sequel to The Hobbit, the hobbits were only to hear Tom Bombadil’s song during the willow-adventure.
Odo and Bingo cannot go on without a rest. they sit down with their backs to a great willow, while Frodo and Marmaduke attend to the ponies. Willowman traps Bingo and Odo. Suddenly, a singing is heard in the distance. (Tom Bombadil not named.) The Willow relaxes its hold.
HoME 6, "The Old Forest and the Withywindle"
At any rate he was too large and heavy for a hobbit, if not quite tall enough for one of the Big People, though he made noise enough for one, stumping along with great yellow boots on his thick legs, and charging through grass and rushes like a cow going down to drink.
An echo of Chapter 1 of The Hobbit:
I suppose hobbits need some description nowadays, since they have become rare and shy of the Big People, as they call us. . . . There is little or no magic about them, except the ordinary everyday sort which helps them to disappear quietly and quickly when large stupid folk like you and me come blundering along, making a noise like elephants which they can hear a mile off.
In his hands he carried on a large leaf as on a tray a small pile of white water-lilies.
The White Water-lily is Nymphaea alba:
http://www.floracyberia.net/spermatophy ... _alba.html
"Whoa! Whoa! steady there!" cried the old man, holding up one hand, and they stopped short, as if they had been struck stiff. "Now, my little fellows, where be you a-going to, puffing like a bellows?"
Tom's words have the power to freeze the hobbits. As seen later, the trees and wights also obey his simple commands, and in 'The Adventures of Tom Bombadil' he also has "the power of command" over the badger and the River-daughter.
Though these utterances of Bombadil's are printed as prose, note that he is still speaking verse (and indeed this is a rhyming couplet). All his speeches are in the same characteristic meter - the basic pattern is that each line is divided into two parts. The first part consists of two feet of three syllables with the accent on the first (dactyls), while the second has three two-syllable feet, again with the accent on the first (trochees). (Here is an introduction to metrical terminology for those who may not be familiar with it:
This basic pattern is subject to a good deal of variation, as illustrated by these two lines. In the first, one of the dactyls is replaced by a "spondee," a foot with two equally stressed syllables, while in the second, one of the dactyls contains an extra unstressed syllable.
WHOA! WHOA!/STEADy there!||NOW, my/LITtle/FELlows
WHERE be you a/-GOing to,||PUFfing/LIKE a/BELlows?
Both these variants are fairly common.
"Don't you know who I am? I'm Tom Bombadil."
Tom Bombadil pre-existed the writing of LotR, having first appeared publicly in a poem called "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil," published in 1934 in The Oxford Magazine. See HoME v. VI, "The Return of the Shadow," at p. 115. After the publication of LotR, Tolkien made this the title-piece in a collection of his poems, which appeared in 1962. For this volume, he also wrote a new piece called "Bombadil Goes Boating." For the compilation process, see among others Letters 231, 233-35, 237, and 240.
The story-external identity of Tom Bombadil is well known:
Tom Bombadil was a well-known figure in the Tolkien family, for the character was based on a Dutch doll that belonged to Michael. The doll looked very splendid with the feather in its hat, but John did not like it and one day stuffed it down the lavatory. Tom was rescued, and survived to become the hero of a poem by the children's father, 'The Adventures of Tom Bombadil', which was published in the Oxford Magazine in 1934.
'The Storyteller,' J. R. R. Tolkien: a biography.
Tom featured in some of the unrecorded stories told by Tolkien to his children and was to have been the hero of an unfinished tale set in 'the days of King Bonhedig'.
While Tom Bombadil has many names (see 'The Council of Elrond'), the name by which he introduces himself to the hobbits is Bucklandish in form and said by Tolkien (in the notes to The Adventures of Tom Bombadil) to have probably been given to him by the Bucklanders.
For a discussion of who (or what) Tom Bombadil is within the context of Lord of the Rings, please see the annotations on p. 122, 129 of 'In the House of Tom Bombadil'
"What!" shouted Tom Bombadil, leaping up in the air. "Old Man Willow? Naught worse than that, eh? That can soon be mended."
Old Man Willow, like Tom himself, had already appeared in the poem "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil":
Up woke Willow-man, began upon his singing,
sang Tom fast asleep under branches swinging;
in a crack caught him tight: snick! it closed together
trapped Tom Bombadil, coat and hat and feather.
'Ha, Tom Bombadil! What be you a-thinking,
peeping inside my tree, watching me a drinking
deep in my wooden house, tickling me with feather,
dripping wet down my face like a rainy weather?'
'You let me out again, Old Man Willow! I am stiff lying here; they're no sort of pillow,
your hard crooked roots. Drink your river-water!
go back to sleep again like the River-daughter!'
Willow-man let him loose when he heard him speaking;
locked fast his wooden house, muttering and creaking,
whispering inside the tree...
Tom Bombadil knows how to free the Hobbits from Old Man Willow, but never attempts a more permanent solution. As J.R.R. Tolkien noted in Letters
He hardly even judges, and as far as can be seen makes no effort to reform or remove even the Willow. Letter 153
There was Tom Bombadil's house before them
Here is an illustration of Tom Bombadil's house by Alan Lee:
http://img-fan.theonering.net/rolozo/im ... /lee05.jpg
Wind on the open hill, bells on the heather
"Bells on the heather" is a reference to the shape of the heather flower: