Bombadil in the Shire

by Lalaith <andreas.moehn@wiesbaden.netsurf.de>

 

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Introduction

It is often overlooked that the poem "Bombadil Goes Boating" in ATB gives us noteworthy geographical details about the Old Forest and the Shire. Let us examine the stations of Tom's rowing voyage:

 

Elvet-isle in the Withywindle

After having floated down the Withywindle for some distance, Tom meets the "Old Swan of Elvet-isle".
Though sometimes mistaken as a typo for "Elven-isle", elvet is in fact an old word for "swan", derived from Old English elfetu or ielfetu, Anglo-Saxon ylfet = "swan"; surviving in a number of English placenames. Tolkien's alqua, alph for "swan" may have been suggested by this word.
Thus Elvet-isle: "Island of the Swan".

 

The Withy-weir and the Hythe

After having passed the current behind the Withy-weir (a feature which is absent from any map, including TAMe), Tom approaches the hythe of the Grindwall. In the Foreword to ATB, Tolkien comments: "Grindwall was a small hythe on the north bank of the Withywindle; it was outside the Hay, and so was well watched and protected by a grind or fence extended into the water." However, to non-Anglo-Saxon readers this hythe is hard to understand, since few mono- or bilingual English dictionaries contain this entry. Hythe or hithe is a "low place on a river bank for landing a boat." From OE hy:th, "port, harbor, haven.". The word reoccurs in "Farewell to Lórien": "On the bank of the Silverlode, at some distance up from the meeting of the streams, there was a hythe of white stones and white wood. By it were moored many boats and barges." (FR)

 

Haysend and Breredon

Close to the Grindwall are found two villages: Hays-end and Breredon. Hays-end is given as "Haysend" on the Shire map in LR; the name is obvious enough. Breredon occurs nowhere else. Though it looks to non-Anglo-Saxons like an invented word (and the German edition of TAMe left it untranslated), Breredon is English. Its compounds are Brere-don. The first element brere = "briar" (cf. "frere" "brother"=friar!) from Old English bre:r, of the same meaning. -don = OE du:n "down, hill" (cf. the North and South Downs), with the change as unstressed suffix being the same as in tu:n:>town, -ton. Pronounce it Breer-dun (or -d'n, with vocalic n). According to ATB, "Breredon (Briar Hill) was a little village on rising ground behind the hythe, in the narrow tongue between the end of the High Hay and the Brandywine."

 

The Mithe of Shirebourn

Tom now rows the Brandywine upstream and reaches the outflow of the Shirebourn (see the Shire map). There is the Mithe, at which another small hythe is located: the Mithe Steps. The Mithe is no less obscure than the hythe, and its meaning is particularly hard to determine. Mithe = "Place where two streams meet", from OE my:th or gemy:th "river-mouth, meeting of streams." The name is evidently related to "mouth" and probably a derivative surviving in English place-names. ATB: "At the Mithe, the outflow of the Shirebourn, was a landing-stage, from which a lane ran to Deephallow and so on to the Causeway road that went through Rushey and Stock."

 

In Bamfurlong

Passing through Rushey, Tom turns down Maggot's Lane and arrives in Bamfurlong to visit Farmer Maggot.

Note: Bamfurlong is called in GN "an English place-name". Bill Eatock pointed out to me that it is actually a little village close to Wigan, Lancashire.

He tells there of "queer tales from Bree, and talk at smithy, mill, and cheaping; rumours in whispering trees, south-wind in the larches, tall Watchers by the Ford, Shadows on the marches." The unusual cheaping is a market, from Common Germanic kaup- from Latin caupo = "merchant" (from which German kaufen, to buy). But who are the Watchers by the Ford? Watchers by which Ford? Sarn Ford? Apparently, this reference goes to the Rangers who keep watch on the Shire. Their guarding of the Ford is mentioned in UT, p. 341. Considering that the Shire hobbits were unaware of their presence till the restoration of the Numenorean realms, this supports the thesis that the poem was a product of the well-educated early Fourth Age. Even the Shadows on the marches may indicate a haunting glimps of the Nazgul with whom fortunately few hobbits ever got direct contact.

 

List of Abbreviations

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