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(This is another of my speculative pieces and nothing to do with Star Wars. This one is for an older trilogy.)

Old Tom Bombadil. Possibly the least liked character in The Lord of the Rings. A childish figure so disliked by fans of the book that few object to his absence from all adaptations of the story. And yet, there is another way of looking at Bombadil, based only on what appears in the book itself, that paints a very different picture of this figure of fun.

What do we know about Tom Bombadil? He is fat and jolly and smiles all the time. He is friendly and gregarious and always ready to help travellers in distress.

Except that none of that can possibly be true.

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( 245 comments — Leave a comment )
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Dec. 12th, 2011 05:58 pm (UTC)
Yes. This made my day. I adore it when someone can change my mind regarding a character I've always been lukewarm about. This makes the series that much more interesting.

Thank you for sharing.
Dan Harms
Dec. 12th, 2011 08:13 pm (UTC)
One important fact would need to be explained, if this is the case: why did Bombadil not speed his return by keeping the Ring when it was within his powers?
Dec. 16th, 2011 06:53 pm (UTC)
Sauron's power was bound up in the ring
While the ring survived, Sauron could never be completely vanquished, and Bombadil was unable himself to travel to Mount Doom.
Dec. 13th, 2011 05:59 pm (UTC)
Please write this book! I Will buy it definitely!
Dec. 13th, 2011 10:59 pm (UTC)
And another day closer to my next vacation week
User fyrdrakken referenced to your post from And another day closer to my next vacation week saying: [...] Oldest and Fatherless: The Terrible Secret of Tom Bombadil [...]
Dec. 13th, 2011 11:28 pm (UTC)
love this! I am a long time Bombadil fan-this presents some intriguing possibilities-thank you
Dec. 14th, 2011 01:55 am (UTC)
holiday gift: mix for tabularassa
User philomel referenced to your post from holiday gift: mix for tabularassa saying: [...] • Interesting LOTR meta (with further interesting comments): The Terrible Secret Of Tom Bombadil [...]
Ray McCullough
Dec. 16th, 2011 03:45 pm (UTC)
I seem to remember reading an explanation of Tom Bombadil probably in Christopher Tolkien's footnotes or similar. Tom was the "first" before Sauron or the Ring came to Middle Earth so it had no power over him. But equally it couldn't be entrusted to his care as he'd lose interest and focus in it even though that would destroy him.

He's a nature spirit of great power but pre-dating the Third Age civilizations.
Dec. 16th, 2011 05:32 pm (UTC)
Bombadil is the most interesting character in the LotR universe, he's so ambiguous.
I liked your argument, linking in quotes and relating it to (Norse) mythology, which Tolkien had a passion for. The most important element of your Bombadil analyses is,
"Do I think that Tolkein planned things in this way? Not at all, but I find it an interesting speculation."
The open-endedness of the character is what is so compelling. Your alternative conclusion to Bombadil's life is perfectly conceivable, but so is the exact opposite.
The idea that characters inhabit places that reflect their personalities I found to be one of your strongest points. But, that is the warped point Tolkien was trying to make. Bombadil is the gem at the bottom of a mine. He's the speck of light in the dark. He's the one hope for anyone foolish enough to step foot in the treacherous 'Old Forest'. What better place for him to carry out heroic deeds?
He's in the shape of a large hobbit, which is either a very subtle, benign shaped guise to trick people of his harmlessness or evidence that Bombadil embodies what it means to be a hobbit. The only truly humble and good race.
The two main reasons that point in the opposite direction to your theory are;
1) Gandolf is clearly affectionate and friendly with Bombadil (so unless even Gandolf is deceived, he must be a force for good in Middle Earth)
2) Tom Bombadil could of easily taken the Ring and conquered the world, but wasn't even tempted (unlike Galdriel). This is consistent with his Hobbit image and the wisdom it represents.

My conclusion is that Tom Bombadil is the only reliably independent character in the book and with evidence of his actions is a good spirit.
Dec. 16th, 2011 08:11 pm (UTC)
The Adventures of Tom Bombadil
A good theory if you only consider Lord of the Rings Bombadil. If you read the Adventures of Tom Bombadil, you will see the interaction between him and the creatures you mentioned and how they attempted to capture him and use him for their own ends. Then in Bombadil goes boating (?) the issues of him, hobbits and farmer maggot are explained
Dec. 17th, 2011 08:02 pm (UTC)
Bombadil is Marcel Duchamp, presiding over his country in benign indifference with his Bride and endless fountain of non-sense
Henrik Lundberg
Dec. 18th, 2011 04:41 pm (UTC)
Holy CRAP!!!!
My bro sent me this in a email and I thought I read it, I read the lord of the rings when I was less wiser and more younger and I totally hated the tom bombadil part of it but CRAP I didnt even think about it. This was well interesting to read! OMG
Dec. 20th, 2011 09:22 pm (UTC)
In Defense of Tom Bombadil
An Entertaining read, but I must disagree with the canonical assumption that powerful beings imprint their nature on their homes as evidence to support this theory. This isnt canon as much as it is just a factor of some of the key characters. What really is canon in Tolkien is the centrality of the Fall from Grace. Morgoth fell, Sauron fell, Saruman fell - all the Elves that pursued Morgoth and Sauron into earth (not yet middle) fell.
It is Tolkien canon that the Fall is precipitated by the corruption of coveting. This is what gives the Silmarils their place in the lore. Morgoth coveted them - so did the Elves and Dwarves - and that led to their respective falls. Men covet the agelessness of the Elves, which leads to their fall in the second age. The Elves of Middle Earth covet the spirit of Men and the special relationship with the creator that such a spirit implies. The Ring of Power itself was designed to covet all of Middle to the doom all its inhabitants.
What really defines Bombadil is that he does not covet anything and is not corrupted by the various Falls from Grace that define the existence in Middle Earth. Bombadil is a purposeful anachronism to a time before the Falls of Middle Earth to demonstrate that, despite the relatively great suffering and burdens of its inhabitants, Middle Earth isnt central in the grand scheme of existence. It is the nature of suffering to be self-centered, and that is part of the vicious cycle of the Fall. The Fall begets suffering, and suffering begets falling deeper, which begets additional suffering - this is the epic nature of Middle Earth. Life in Middle Earth is a constant struggle of Fallen in quest for redemption in the form of glory restored, wrongs avenged, etc, enlightenment achieved, etc. It's the Higgs Boson of Tolkien's creative genius - it is the basis on which the numerous cultures of Middle Earth are given their mass.
In this light, to assume that the nature of Bombabil can be inferred from his surroundings is to ignore the quantum mechanics of Middle Earth. What we can infer is that Bombadil is not one of the Fallen or descendant of the Fallen. Therefore he is impervious to, and unconcerned with their affairs. This is also why there is little understanding of Bombadil among the lore masters such as Elrond. The lore masters of Middle Earth understand the trials and tribulations of the Fallen and their ancestors. They are incapable of comprehending the significance of existence beyond that dimension, even though they often know that such a higher dimension exists.
Gandalf's concerns with sending the Ring of Power to Bombadil cannot be read to imply a threat of Bombadil's hidden agenda. The threat that concerns Gandalf is the knowledge that the fate of Middle Earth despite its great burden to those around him, is insignificant to those like Bombadil that have not Fallen or inherited the legacy of a Fall. Bombadil's place in the story is to contrast the self centered nature of existing in Middle Earth, where the inhabitants are doomed to be tied to its fate, because the fate of Middle Earth is essentially tied to their ability to achieve redemption. We don’t know who Bombadil is, or his origins, but we know that he hasn’t Fallen from Grace, and is therefore not part of the core existence of Middle Earth.
Despite the fact that the assumptions made in the "Oldest and Fatherless: The Terrible Secret of Tom Bombadil" are inconsistent with this core canon, I enjoyed it and I think that J.R.R Tolkien would also have appreciated it. I imagine he would likely say that it is in the nature of beings suffering under the self centered burdens of Middle Earth to be suspicious of things that they cannot comprehend. The irony that the glimpse of life beyond the bounds of Middle Earth he provides in Bombadil could be reduced to a simple "plot twist" by misguided suspicion would not be lost on Tolkien. He would read "Oldest and Fatherless: The Terrible Secret of Tom Bombadil" and appreciate that it is exactly what someone from Middle Earth, bound to the fate of the Fallen still struggling to procure redemption, would wonder about Bombadil.
Dec. 21st, 2011 11:40 pm (UTC)
I suspect he's behind the disappearance of the Ent-Wives too.
Dec. 22nd, 2011 03:48 am (UTC)
You don't know me, but I got linked here by a friend, and I just wanted to let you know that I'm really kind of in love with you right now. *loves*
Dec. 22nd, 2011 04:01 pm (UTC)
Dear oh dear
"By comparison, Mordor is a safe and well-run land, where two lightly-armed hobbits can wander for days without meeting anything more dangerous than themselves."

I gave up on your interesting analysis of the mystery that is Tom B when I got to this pile of inaccurate garbage.

The two hobbits had magic cloaks, possession of the One Ring, the projected protection of at least two other Rings of Power (Gandalf's and Galadriel's) and met things more dangerous than themselves at least four times whilst in Mordor.

Have you actually read the books?

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( 245 comments — Leave a comment )