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Bombadil and the Piper at The Gates of Dawn


Jul 4 2013, 12:44pm

Post #1 of 6 (211 views)
Bombadil and the Piper at The Gates of Dawn Can't Post

To shorten the story somewhat: I was looking back at Grahame's (orig. "Greyhame"?) 'Piper At The Gates Of Dawn' chapter from 'Wind In The Willows' and I was wondering if the Piper was a "kindred spirit" (pun intended) to Bombadil.

Not wanting to re-open the Bombadil debate but, if we take Tolkien at his word, Bombadil is "the vanishing Spirit of the English countryside". Like Grahame's Piper he comes to the aid of creatures in the Wood and leaves them asleep, forgetting their troubles.

Lots of differences, of course. The Piper considers his parting gift to be forgetfullness so that the beneficiary will not be troubled afterward by memory (however pleasant) of something from the Other Side but even that reminds us of Tolkien. One of Frodo's burdens at the end is the fact that he can never completely forget his experience of what The Professor might have called "the numinous".

I'm not suggesting a conscious borrowing; just noting some similarities. Apparently Grahame's book was among the few contemporary works that Tolkien liked but I'm inclined to think it was more a similar sensibility than any particular literary qualities.


Jul 4 2013, 6:56pm

Post #2 of 6 (110 views)
I see what you mean to some extent [In reply to] Can't Post

Both are "nature spirits", but from Grahame's description and the original illustrations by E H Shepherd, the Piper is essentially the Greek God Pan- protecting the animals. In Willows, it is assumed that the Piper rescues Portly the otter cub and keeps him safe until Mole and Rat come, so I guess this is similar to Tom rescuing the Hobbits.
However, as you say, the main overlaps are that they are both spirits protecting the natural world.
Apparently, like Tolkien, Grahame did not like his work to be seen as an analogy and declined to place any deeper meaning on it

Coming soon!- The first TORn Amateur Symposium, starts Sunday 21st July in the Reading Room. Closing date for essay submission Sunday 14th July, but even if you don't submit, join us for some interesting discussion on some different and personal ways of looking at Tolkien's work

Na Vedui

Jul 4 2013, 7:33pm

Post #3 of 6 (101 views)
Spirits of the countryside [In reply to] Can't Post

It might just be that the wind was blowing from that direction generally, so to speak. Grahame's Pan was not an isolated instance (see part of Ronald Hutton's "The Triumph of the Moon" for an interesting discussion of Pan-fans in late 19th - early 20th century England); and then there was Kipling with his Puck of Pook's Hill acting as a guide to the lore and history of England. But Tom Bombadil as a character seems to be something of an original.


Jul 5 2013, 10:45am

Post #4 of 6 (79 views)
agreed [In reply to] Can't Post

I was thinking more in a general sense and noting a few similarities rather than suggesting that the two characters were the same. Grahame did use the god Pan as his Piper while Bombadil is a more complex invention of Tolkien's.

It's interesting to note that Grahame uses the phrase "panic terror". This seems redundant but the story reminds us of the origin of the word "panic".

I thought it was interesting that Grahame's Pan "knows" that too much knowledge of what we might call the "spirit world" would be troubling for mortals. Even the little bit of the Piper's song that Rat and Mole hear is somehow both beautiful and troubling until the two characters are given the gift of sleep.

Fredeghar Wayfarer

Jul 8 2013, 12:52am

Post #5 of 6 (56 views)
Never thought of that [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm surprised that never occurred to me as "Piper at the Gates of Dawn" is my favorite part of Wind in the Willows. I agree that the identity of Grahame's Piper is more concrete than Tolkien's Bombadil. The Piper is clearly meant to be Pan. But they both serve a similar role in the story as protectors of nature.

Both also seem to be limited in the scope of their power. This is speculation but I would assume that the Piper's power is dwindling. Mankind had ceased to believe in him by the era of Grahame's story and the forests were being depleted by human industry. As the forests recede, the influence of the God of the Forest would not extend as far, much like Tom Bombadil's chosen territory in the Old Forest. They both were remnants of an earlier time when nature and woodlands spread across the world.


Jul 11 2013, 10:56am

Post #6 of 6 (69 views)
good point [In reply to] Can't Post

That's another connection. When Tolkien called Bombadil "the spirit of the vanishing English countryside" he was most likely implying that the power resided as much in the land as in the being. Elrond (or is it Gandalf?) says as much. When someone says that Bombadil has the power to resist the Ring, the answer is something like, "Not unless that power be found in the earth itself".

One big difference is that Grahame, like Lewis, used figures from Classical mythology while Tolkien preferred to use Northern European models and his own imagination.

(This post was edited by dijomaja on Jul 11 2013, 10:57am)


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