THE PARABLE OF THE BOG
Real life has an uncanny knack of imitating fiction. In The Lord of the Rings, the company of hobbits, having left their homely Shire and entered the Old Forest, find themselves led against their will into the deeper parts of the forest by a landscape that seems possessed of sentience and purpose. They end in a dim-lit gully overarched by trees, then abruptly stumble through a cleft in a high bank upon a valley bathed in golden afternoon sunshine-a hidden land, warm and drowsy. ‘In the midst of it there wound lazily a dark river of brown water, bordered with ancient willows, arched over with willows, blocked with fallen willows, and flecked with thousands of faded willows.’ It is the valley of the River Withywindle, the centre and source of the wood’s ‘queerness’, of the old-grey willowmen who envelop and imprison the hobbits, but at least a temporary refuge, a place of reassurance in a threatening world.