Up to this point, Frodo has told his companions that he was moving to Crickhollow to live. As they reach this destination, Frodo realizes that his companions have known all along that he has to dispose of the ring and they are committed to helping him. Merry and Pippin have already decided to accompany Frodo to Rivendell. They agree that it is better to go through the old forest then the road. Fatty Bolger is to stay behind to keep appearances, so that others might think Frodo is living at Crickhollow. They retire for the night and Frodo dreams that he is struggling to climb a tall tower near the seaside.
Loyal friends have great importance in this novel, as they did in The Hobbit. Frodo has not fully realized how well he is supported until now.
His dream is a forewarning of his future troubles, but with loyal friends at his side it will be much easier.
Sam, Merry, and Pippin prepare to depart with Frodo. Merry warns the others that the forest seems alive with noises, movements and sounds. As they move, the forest seems to close in on them. After some time they come to the River Withywindle, and Merry realizes that they have been traveling in exactly the opposite direction they had meant to go in. As they walk along the only path in sight the hobbits are overcome with drowsiness. Unable to go on any longer the hobbits give in and fall asleep.
Old Man Willow then attacks the hobbits, trapping and tormenting them. An old man named Tom comes along and sings a song about his girlfriend Goldberry. With his song, Tom commands Old Man Willow to release the captured hobbits.
Tom then takes the travelers home with him. When they reach his house, they hear the sweetest voice singing and welcoming them from inside.
This chapter shows the mystical powers of the forest, which lures the travelers in then makes them sleep. As if in collusion with the forest, Old Man Willow attacks the travelers. He does not relent until Tom comes along and sings his song.
Tom Bombadil's voice appears to have soothing powers, especially since he is able to free the captives with a song. Tom and his girlfriend Goldberry are creatures whose entire essence seems good. Tom will rescue the hobbits again, and he seems oblivious to evil. Goldberry, the daughter of the River, has control over the rain and the streams.
When the hobbits enter Tom's house, they are greeted by Gold berry, daughter of the river, whose sweet voice they had heard. Goldberry is an elf-like woman with golden hair. Her gown is green, but infused with silver like drops of dew. She enchants the hobbits and even Frodo bursts into song when he sees her.
Goldberry busies herself at the table. Frodo asks her who Tom Bombadil really is and she tells him that Tom is the master of wood, water and till. Further, he has no desire to own anything and he has no fear. After Tom comes in and the hobbits have had their supper, Goldberry retires for the night.
Frodo asks Tom if he heard their cry for help or if he just happened to come. Tom says that he was expecting them. When Frodo asks him about Old Man Willow, he says that after dark is not the time to ask such questions.
All the hobbits except Sam have nightmares that night. Frodo dreams of the Black Riders and a stranger. Pippin dreams that he is back inside the willow. Merry dreams of being drowned. Soon they realize they are in the home of Tom Bombadil and all are assured.
In the morning, the hobbits have breakfast and realize it is raining. Since they can't go anywhere Tom begins to tell them stories. He tells them about the old forest and the trees that live there. He tells them about Old Man Willow, whose heart is rotten but his strength is green. Old Man Willow is full of hate. Tom tells them about the great barrows and the barrow wights, evil spirits that roam the hills. The hobbits lose track of time and they can't decide whether it has been hours or days since Tom started talking to them. Frodo once again tries to find out who Tom Bombadil is by asking him directly. Tom Bombadil is vague.
When Goldberry comes in they have supper and Tom begins to question the hobbits. He asks Frodo to show him the Ring. When he wears it he is completely unaffected. Tom tells them that they must leave early the next morning and avoid the barrows. He teaches them a rhyme by which they may summon him for help, and then he retires for the night.
Tom Bombadil is a benevolent character, yet the mysterious aura surrounding him only deepens. Again, Tolkien uses a newly introduced character to provide background and exposition for the traveling hobbits. Like Gandalf, Tom Bombadil tells the hobbits important information they will need for their adventure.