There is so much Lore to be found in the Old Forest, the subject could be broken up into several smaller posts. But I like the flow of including everything in a single post, it feels as if we are immersing ourselves in the Old Forest right along with Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin as they entered through the west gate.
The entrance itself is almost perfectly true to the story. Entering from Buckland, we see the well-tended Hedge stretching from north to south, protecting the settlements from any encroachment from the Forest. "A cutting had been made, at some distance from the Hedge, and went sloping gently down into the ground. It had walls of brick at the sides, which rose steadily, until suddenly they arched over and formed a tunnel that dived deep under the Hedge and came out in the hollow on the other side."
As we pass through that tunnel and gate, the whole atmosphere becomes dark, brooding, and oppressive.
Once inside, we see that the trees do not crowd the Hedge, and find a long strip of bare land between it and the edge of the Forest, much as Merry described when telling of how the trees once attacked the Hedge long ago, when the Bucklanders then cut down and burned that strip to drive them back. A path leads deeper in to a nearby clearing - the Bonfire Glade, the "wide bare space not far inside where the bonfire was made."
Traveling east and a little north beyond the Bonfire Glade, the ground begins to rise gradually in the direction the Hobbits were heading as they tried to find a way through the forest. In The Fellowship of the Ring, the Hobbits work through the twisting and seemingly shifting paths and spot higher ground in the distance: "Before them, but some distance off, there stood a green hill-top, treeless, rising like a bald head out of the encircling wood."
From this hill, they can see the edge of the Forest and the start of the Barrow Downs farther to the east. In the game, I don't think it is unreasonable to assume this is Bald Hill, just beyond the Bonfire Glade.
As the Hobbits try to continue forward, they are driven against their will to the east and south, toward the valley of the River Withywindle, which they had hoped to avoid. Avoiding it was a great if hopeless idea, as it is here they encounter Old Man Willow. Turbine represents him well, from his mouth-like crack to the effects of Drowsiness, Lethargy, and Sap Power, which reduces your movement speed and drains you of all power when in his vicinity. Level 75's are not immune to this! But woe unto the lower level toons who must battle with Old Man Willow's roots - no power means no dps, and the slower movement means you have a very good chance of falling victim to his crafty wooden wiles.
Fortunately you can still move, if you're still alive, and the river leads you back in the north easterly direction. If you were so unfortunate to be defeated and have to release, there's a handy rez circle not far away which takes you to one of the most wonderful places in Middle Earth. Near the rez circle, toward the eastern side of the Old Forest, sits the house of Tom Bombadil. The Hobbits were fortunate to be rescued by Tom and taken back to his house - in the game, we must either travel there of our own accord, or be rezzed there. Ultimately, getting there is all that matters.
Tom Bombadil - he's merry, his jacket is bright blue, his boots yellow. Check, check, and check. Take note of your stats when you stand next to him, if you can get him to stand still long enough. +8 Hope from being in Tom's aura. And he is still very good at saving hapless noobs. If you are one of those people who don't like running the Epic Book series, please go do Othrongroth if you've never done so. Please.
The first thing that struck me upon entering the house of Tom Bombadil was the tableau opposite the door. "In a chair, at the far side of the room facing the outer door, sat a woman.... About her feet in wide vessels of green and brown earthenware, white water-lilies were floating, so that she seemed to be enthroned in the midst of a pool."
Of course what we also notice on entering is - no Goldberry. But her chair and bowls are there, awaiting her return, exactly as described.
Unfortunately we do not get to meet Goldberry in the house she shares with Tom, because in the game she is off in another part of the forest. There may be slight liberty taken here with the Lore of Goldberry. In The Fellowship of the Ring, it is stated by Tom that the Hobbits were fortunate to cross paths with him, as after that day he would not be venturing far out again until spring:
"And that proved well for you - for now I shall no longer
go down deep again along the forest-water,
not while the year is old. Nor shall I be passing
Old Man Willow's house this side of spring-time,
not till the merry spring, when the River-daughter
dances down the withy-path to bathe in the water."
His song could conceivably be interpreted to mean that Goldberry would normally
be staying in as well; during the Hobbit's stay, she is undergoing her
washing day and autumn cleaning, which seems to indicate settling in to
rest through the coming winter. At the time the Hobbits visited Tom and Goldberry, it was late September, and we pass through the Old Forest in the game shortly after that time. However, in the game we find her off in the far northwest corner of the Forest by Goldberry's Spring. A little creative license? Maybe, maybe not, and who cares - because Goldberry is out and about, she introduces us to a wonderful deed full of Lore about none other than the Entwives.
Technically the Lore extends only as far as giving a nod to the Entwives. We ultimately do not know what happened to the mates of the Ents that we meet much farther along in the game. In the trilogy, their fate is left uncertain. Even Professor Tolkien himself purported to be uncertain of their fate, speculating in Letter 144:
"I think that in fact the Entwives had disappeared for good, being
destroyed with their gardens in the War of the Last Alliance (Second Age
3429 – 3441) when Sauron pursued a scorched earth policy and burned
their land against the advance of the Allies down the Anduin...
But that bit of uncertainty gives Turbine room to imagine perhaps a slightly brighter fate for eight of the Entwives. Goldberry explains the deed titled "Flowers of the Old Forest:"
"Greetings, McFarlane. You have seen an unusual breed of flower
that grows within the depths of the Old Forest? Their origins are most
As the old tale goes, eight Entwives came into this forest
from the distant south many years ago and took shelter here beneath the
boughs of the Old Forest. But darkness was everywhere in the lands in
those times, and Tom thought it wise that the sisters should pass into the heart of the forest where no evil might reach.
The flowers I speak of mark the places where each of the
Entwives disappeared into the weave of the forest, and it is possible to
understand their nature in those places.
Only Tom knows when or if they will ever awaken from their slumber, and he will not tell even me!"
If you pursue this deed, once you locate a flower, you will be able to open your Deed Log and hover over the description for that flower. You will find that each of the flowers is named after an Entwife, each with special qualities of her own, and often a glimpse of her fate. I won't spoil these by posting the text - instead I strongly encourage you to complete the deed or, if you have already done it, to enter your Deed Log and read the description for each flower if you have never done so before. It is a touching and creative way in which Turbine could provide some hope for one of the great mysteries of Middle Earth.
Clearly the Old Forest does not lack in Lore, from the smallest details such as Goldberry's chair and bowls to the many twisting paths, moving trees and grasping roots,
and the characters that we absolutely expect to meet such as Old Man Willow and Tom Bombadil. Many people dislike questing in the Old Forest - it certainly isn't easy at-level, it's dark and gloomy, and a bit of a maze though easy enough to maneuver once you get the hang of it, and good maps exist! - but it is so worth the time and such an important part of the Lore of Middle Earth. Don't miss out!
Sources: The Fellowship of the Ring