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Location
Running southwestwards through the Old Forest
Source
Rose in the higher ground north of the Forest, above the house of Tom Bombadil
Outflow
Into the Baranduin at the southern end of Buckland, above Deephallow
Meaning
'Willow-winding'1

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  • Updated 16 May 2015
  • This entry is complete

River Withywindle

The river that flowed through the Old Forest

Map of the river Withywindle
The course of the Withywindle through the Old Forest (somewhat conjectural)2

A minor tributary of the River Baranduin or Brandywine. It rose above the house of Tom Bombadil and flowed approximately southwest to cut a valley through the trees of the Old Forest, before it met the Brandywine at Haysend near the southern edge of the forest.

Old Man Willow grew on the banks of the river, and through his malicious power the valley of the Withywindle was the most dangerous part of the Old Forest. Through his power over the trees, the Great Willow would draw unwary travellers to his domain on the banks of the Withywindle.


Notes

1

The name includes the old word withy, meaning 'willow'. The -windle element derives from wendel, which does not actually occur historically, but is used by Tolkien in various Old English river-names (for example, the Old English name for the River Sirion was Scírwendel, 'bright-winding'). The name of the river was apparently suggested by withywind, an old name for the tangling, climbing plant more commonly known as bindweed.

2

The course of the Withywindle is difficult to establish, because what evidence we have is somewhat contradictory. The large scale map of the Shire in The Lord of the Rings shows a part of the river in detail, flowing in a distinct south-southwest direction to meet the Brandywine. Approximately the same direction appears on the larger scale map of the same region, with the Withywindle rising within the northern Old Forest and flowing southwestwards through the trees.

In The Fellowship of the Ring I 6 (The Old Forest, Merry states that the Withywindle '...comes down out of the Downs and flows south-west through the midst of the Forest'. This matches the maps in terms of direction, but disagrees on the source (and its later confirmed that the river flows into the Forest from the Barrow-downs, disagreeing with the map). This is problematic, because the Downs lay to the east of the Old Forest, so if the river did indeed flow southwestwards for its entire length, its source could not possibly be in the Barrow-downs.

Later references seem to suggest that the river flowed east-to-west (later in the chapter quoted above, the Hobbits find themselves on a path along the river towards its source, and that path is described as going eastward, not northeastward).

Later maps (for example the colourful map created by Pauline Baynes with input from Tolkien) account for these discrepancies by giving the river a much more westerly direction, flowing from the Barrow-downs through the middle of the Forest. In the map for this entry, we have followed essentially the same approach, but with a veer to the southwest on the lower river to match the course shown on the Shire map, as well as Merry's comment that the river ran southwestward. This seems to match all the available evidence, but the exact course of the river is not known with certainty.

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