How are the hobbits progressing? Not so good.
After lunch, they head out down the hill. After a while, they can tell that the path is starting to turn east, as opposed to north. They leave the path behind, opting to cut north through the remaining forest until they reach the East Road. Simple, right? Just a little bit of exploring to get where you’re going!
After it seems like the forest is thinning out, it closes in again, and the hobbits are forced time and time again into deep ruts. As they scramble down and climb out of each one, thick undergrowth pushes them constantly to the left and back, turning southeast. They lose their way after an hour or two, but it’s painfully clear that they are no longer going even remotely northwards.
Keep in mind, they’re doing all this climbing down and out of hollows with ponies. I’m not sure if they’re riding or leading their mounts, but nevertheless ponies are involved. That’s not easy.
It’s now sometime in the late afternoon, and it sure doesn’t look like they’re going to get out of the Old Forest come nightfall, does it? See, this is what I forgot. This is what keeps our intrepid travelers away from the East Road. Now they’re veering off towards the Withywindle and the Barrow-downs, which are acknowledged on this page to be no better than the Old Forest. This is everything in the opposite direction of where they want to go.
The question could be asked as to whether or not the forest is consciously pushing the hobbits to the southeast. The undergrowth “somehow would not yield to the left, but only gave way when they turned to the right”. More malevolent trees? That’s up to the imagination. Whatever it is that’s pushing the hobbits away from going northwards, they essentially hit a big chute funneling them the other way.
Things are a little rough right now. Are they heading towards the Withywindle, what Merry termed “the queerest part of the whole wood”? Uh-oh.
“The afternoon was wearing away when they scrambled and stumbled into a fold that was wider and deeper than any they had…”