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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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May. 30th, 2012 04:07 pm (UTC)
Yet another proposal
Thank you for a very thought-provoking post. I'd like to suggest that Tom is neither as frivolous as many think him nor as malign as you suggest. He's an ent, or perhaps the father of ents, with the ability to shape-shift. He has been set to guard the Barrows, just as other ents are later set watch Isengard. Perhaps his shape-shifting ability was even given to him by those (e.g. Gandalf) who set him to that task. In any case, he uses that ability him to appear to the hobbits in a form that will allow them to trust rather than fear , but that is not his true form.

The thing I like about this interpretation is that it resolves the otherwise troublesome conflicting claims by both Tom and the ents to have been there first. This way they're both right. It might also help to explain Tom's unusual reaction to the Ring, but I haven't thought that part through yet.
May. 30th, 2012 04:36 pm (UTC)
So what you're basically saying is...
...Tom Bombadil is Cthulhu

(Actually Tolkein being Tolkein, Bombadil is probably Ymir)
May. 30th, 2012 04:50 pm (UTC)
I must respectfully disagree with your musings on Tom Bombadil. I understand they left him out of the movies only because they were already well into 3 hours in length and they could not do Tom justice with so little time.

Then there is your idea that Tom is Master. Yes he was Master of certain things but not over the land and its creatures. pg 141 :"Then all this strange land belongs to him?" "No indeed!" she answered, "that would indeed be a burden. "The trees and grasses and all things growing or living in the land belong each to themselves"

I believe that much like the natural world today, there are certain people who have not offended the land, which belongs to itself only. But they can interact with it in a way of respect and understanding which may seem to some to be "magical". Unlike the bible which says the earth was put here for "man to use" (a horrid misunderstanding taken out of context and twisted about for selfish intention)instead I believe we all could talk to the trees and work with the natural forces if we did not first "slash, burn and hack" in a way in which the land would then become a hostile environment and turn against man. Tom Bombadil could not "make the trees" stop feeling the hurt and anger they felt. But he could negotiate when they acted out of this well deserved anger. He did indeed help the hobbits, he brought them peace for the time they where in his house. But he was of the earth, still part of it, he never separated himself from his natural state and he accepted that at times it was hostile. He let it be, "unto itself". WHich is why it would work with his will. THose trees knew Bombadil would not try to have power OVER them or against their nature so when he made a request, the trees would comply. In terms of why it "appears" many had not heard of Bombadil, others have articulated well here why perhaps the hobbits had not heard of him, and I do believe out of respect Elrond did not speak of him, as men were "weak" and he knew there are certain things that needed to be kept from open knowledge. Much like many of the powerful while seated in the council of Elrond knew no tidings of the ring, despite the fact that the wise had known it was sent into the river with Elendil.It was hidden but not destroyed. Elrond was there when it happened yet he never spoke of it outside the White Council, because somethings needed to be kept secret, like Tom Bombadil. He was wild, untamed, but not evil. Evil is a story given to things we do not understand. I understand Tom well, he was the only free thing truly left in Middle Earth, and he did not perhaps behave in ways humans could readily comprehend. He was not there to do any one's biding but his own. Given the lack of freedom man had come to live under, man could not possibly comprehend the reasons behind the actions of Bombadil, a truly free being. So instead you misunderstand him and call him unsavory.
Terra Whitmeyer
Jul. 21st, 2012 05:25 am (UTC)
Re: Bombadil
You just about wrote what I was about to: I always thought that Bombadil was 'Master' of himself, which is more than could be said of most anyone else in the stories.
May. 30th, 2012 05:04 pm (UTC)
Enjoyed it but must disagree.
First, I guess there are a lot of people who don’t like Tom, but he is one of my favorite characters in LotR. Those early chapters in “Fellowship” really elevate everything that follows in the epic to a much higher philosophical plane than would otherwise have been apparent.

Second, thanks for a great essay. I really enjoyed it. I love how much debate the character has inspired (part of why he’s a favorite). But, at least for me, I still come down on the side of “Bombadil is a neutral spirit of nature.”

“Oldest and Fatherless” surely means, among other things, beyond good and evil. I always took Bombadil to a personification of nature, or “creation” or the universe itself.

I always had the impression that he was simply above all the trivial goings-on in the world (like wars for “control” between Good and Evil. After all, there is no true control to be seized from the forces of nature. Reaching for such things is only an illusion.

“Evil,” that is to say the forces of ego grasping for control, can not "win.” Therefore it need not be “fought.” One can rise above “evil" in favor of “good,” but it is the fighting of “Evil” by the forces of “Good” that give evil its strength. Because, of course, the forces of Good and Evil are actually two sides of the same coin. Evil has no power over Bombadil because he is beyond it. Likewise, Good.

Tom enjoys beauty. Because it is preferable. But he does not create beauty. He simply enjoys it. As if he were the eyes and ears of God watching the universe spin. I this way, Bombabdil is like the ultimate Zen monk.

Tom Bombadil has no fear of, or concern for Sauron. Bombadil is the most powerful being in the world. He has the power to end the War of the Rings any time he wishes. But... as Gandalf is keenly aware, he will not. The children of creation must learn their own lessons. Tom, like Nature, may bestow a boon upon heroes who dare. Because such people, like brave little children to him, are on a path to higher ground, greater understanding and he - again, like Nature, the Universe, God, or whatever - will help those who help themselves. But in general, Good and Evil must fight until they realize they are both part of the same, solitary, unified whole.

Wars and such things are none of Tom Bombadil’s concern anymore than the goings on inside an anthill are to you or me. He has no desire, and truly no need to interfere. Because from Tom’s point of view, all is well, always, even when the hour seems darkest.
May. 30th, 2012 05:57 pm (UTC)
An old Usenet discussion
Once upon a time, in the rec.arts.sf.written Usenet group, we explored some of the other aspects of Tom Bombadil...

May. 30th, 2012 06:14 pm (UTC)
oldest and fatherless
while i am a big fan of Tom Bombadil and really missed him when he wasn't in the movie, i choose to think that he was more of a neutral or "zen" character in the story. i don't think he saw the things around hm as inherently good nor evil, except in relation to one another. thus his helping the hobbits. and the Tom Bombadil & Goldberry as the yin & yang of the same entity.

that being said, it's just my opinion of a masterful work of art that i love to read and reread.
May. 30th, 2012 06:52 pm (UTC)
I think you've been drinking too much ale! Tom Bombadil is obviously one of the Valar, a Guardian who would correspond to the Logos in Tolkien's Christian background...in esoteric philosophy, a Planetary Logos, who has Middle-earth under his guardianship but like Babaji in Yogananda's "Autobiography of a Yogi," has powers but chooses to remain secluded..
May. 30th, 2012 07:28 pm (UTC)
Very interesting. He does seem strangely absent from the war againsr Sauron. I always chalked it up to his eccentricity.
May. 30th, 2012 08:32 pm (UTC)
I dont buy it.

Main point based on LotR:
I think this is a gross misreading of the scene in the Old Forest. In particular, much of his evidence comes from the impression that the forest is evil, but that's simply incorrect. It's old and mistrustful. It's simply foreign to the hobbits; that's why they feel uncomfortable, not because its innately evil. While there are inconsistencies in the account of his actions, it would not seem incongruent with providing a general air of mystery around the character.
Furthermore, Bombadil is fundamentally symbolic of nature; it is neither good nor evil, but simply exists to endure. That is Bombadil's function, to endure, and to preserve his domain of the Old Forest.
Basically, the Old Forest is not threatening and evil, its simply aged and protective of itself. I mean think about it, nature gets squished by the world of men, and dominated by the power of the elves. Of course its going to be a little defensive against unknown intruders (hobbits).

Side notes (silmarilion stuff included):
Also, the author of the article mentions that Gandalf thinks Bombadil shouldn't have the ring. Its plain to see why: nature doesn't take sides. Sure you could give the ring to Bombadil, it wouldn't damage him as it does mortals. However, he wouldn't have any need for it, or any desire to keep it safe.

I'm uncertain what to do about the Barrow-Wights. My instinct is that they are a very old, conquered dark force and they have simply fleed into a far corner of the Old Forest, where the powers of elves and men have no jurisdiction and can't pursue them. However, that's pure speculation.

Bombadil is known to have pre-existed the Valar.
As has been noted elsewhere, evil in Eä is depicted in the silmarilian as wholly a product of Melkor's dissonance. Because Bombadil predates Melkor and the other Valar (and thus evil itself), he cannot be evil.
Indeed, Bombadil is known as the "oldest and fatherless" and Ilúvatar is known as "father of all." Presumably, then, this might even imply that Bombadil is not only neither good nor evil, but in fact is wholly outside the creation of Ilúvatar. Although, this may be stretching the point.
May. 30th, 2012 09:06 pm (UTC)
bombadil and the mushroom
didn't they eat some mushroom right before they met bombadil
May. 30th, 2012 09:55 pm (UTC)
Tom Bombadil
The view that I prefer is that "he is Master", that he is The hidden Master in the world and he prefers to be alone. He is the only one who put the ring on and laughed, he was not mastered by it nor did he wish to own it, as he could of taken it at any time. He did not distroy the evil trees ( in my reading not all were ) but mostly let them be. He responded to Frodo because he cried ( asked ) for help, he did not take it upon himself to judge the evil around him, nor was he preoccupied with it, he was unaffwcted by it and all Kinds of weird things were left to live or die on their own, each reached it potential. He did not interfere much, except when asked. Older than the Elves and different from the "sourcers" he is the primal archetype that remains unseen in the world, because it is the nature of such things. As the Tao says "remains hidden in the world and no one knows why". Bill Kingery
May. 30th, 2012 10:10 pm (UTC)
Tom Bombadil
I am one who actually loved the character of Tom Bombadil and I was quite upset that he was left out of the movies. But then, in all honesty, that part of the book could be an entire movie by itself.

As to your essay, I don't know if I agree with your points, but ... I really enjoyed reading it and then enjoyed the ideas that sprang up in my imagination. So thank you very much for that. Much appreciated.
May. 30th, 2012 10:20 pm (UTC)
Wow. Could you be any more wrong?
Bombadil, who was there before the elves, could be only one thing. A Maia. A lesser god to the Valar. I purport that he is the very reason the huorns have not attacked the hobbits or men more than they have. Do you really think a large hedge around Buckland would keep out the wild trees? And I say wild, not evil. You are making the same assumption about the huorns that man-kind has made for centuries about the wild predators of the world. Are wolves, lions, bears evil by nature because of their near to eat? Are all carnivores evil? Is a mother moose that tramples a child who gets too close to her young calf evil. Is a swan that attacks a man who swims into its territory ending in the death of the swimmer evil? All these things have happened. As humans we have a need to codify good and evil when in fact it is just nature. And if you want to qualify the huorn as evil then Bombadil's presence could be the good that balances that. I say he is the calm that soothes the beast. Note how he sings to calm old man willow. His very presence could have a calming effect on what is left of the oldest forest. And supposing Goldberry is a converted Huorn. The fact that he has enough power to convert her into an elemental of such beauty does not make him evil. If he has that kind of power why could he not have some level of prescience or the ability to gaze into the Withywindle and "see" into the minds of hobbits and elves adjacent to his territory. I think Gandalf's parting visit with Bombadil was to say farewell to a Maia he felt a kinship with that may never have left Middle Earth when all the Valar and the lesser gods left for Valinor. when Gandalf the Gray died and became Gandalf the White I think he regained some of the knowledge of his former existence. When the Istari were sent East to Middle Earth they were not allowed to retain much knowledge of their former lives as lesser gods in Valinor. I think part of the blessing of Gandalf the White was his recovered knowledge of his former existence that may have extended as far back as before the exodus of the Gods to Valinor when the Valar roamed the forests of Middle Earth. When the world was new Gandalf's former self may have spent time with he who would become Tom Bombadil.
May. 30th, 2012 10:58 pm (UTC)
According to The Adventures of Tom Bombadil he does have a rapport with Farmer Maggot so he probably wasn't lying about having heard from him. Farmer Maggot knew he was leaving the Shire as he was in on the hobbits conspiracy and gave them a ride to Buckland. Also, if Elrond's chief councilor, Erestor (who suggested Bombadil in the first place) knew of Bombadil, then why shouldn't Gildor?
May. 30th, 2012 10:59 pm (UTC)
An interesting take...
Certainly an interesting take, but not one that holds up IMO. Tolkien has many characters in his books that do not join in the quests. Ones that are dangerous without being actually evil. Bombadil is much like Beorn or Treebeard. They are part of the land in which they live. They protect it, and nurture it and those that live within, and care little for what happens outside of their borders unless it begins to affect them personally.
One only has to look to the fondness with which Tolkien writes about Bombadil to know that there is no secret evil lying underneath.
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