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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. 31st, 2012 02:25 am (UTC)
I just wanted to say I think this is brilliant. I was always intrigued by Bombadil— there was such a rich unexplained mystery there, and so many elements that didn't make sense. The dreadful forest, Goldberry, the entire adventure that felt removed from the larger story. I had hoped the novel would return to Bombadil, and with this I feel you have completed the story for me. Now the change from that world to our world (in Tolkein's history) makes sense. Thank you and congratulations.
May. 31st, 2012 02:27 am (UTC)
Nope, you missed it
Didja miss the part where Bombadil put on Sauron's ring, did NOT disappear, but laughed? Bombadil's power is far greater than Sauron's. Like a mighty warrior beside an infant.

Gandalf, Sauron, Saruman, all wizards, and all balrogs, are beings of the same order, maiar. Trough the arts Sauron learned from the first Dark Lord, Morgoth, Sauron became the most powerful magical force in Middle Earth, and evil. Yet through Bombadil, we are shown that there are orders of power above the maiar.

The maiar are a lower-order of ainur. The 9 highest ainur were the "gods" who created the world, according to the song of Iluvatar. By teh way, the name is Iluvatar in Middle Earth, Eru is its more ancient name. It is incorrectly quoted as "Eru Iluvatar" in many places, but a quick reading of Tolkien's Silmarillion, and other works, will set you straight on this.

In any event, I have heard it argued that Bombadil is somehow imprisoned on his land, else why do the hobbits have no history of him. Yet Gandalf knows who Bombadil is, and will not tell. And Gandalf gives us no clue that Bombadil is evil, only that he is so powerful, and so beyond the concerns of Middle Earth, that he is dangerous to be around. If a being so powerful as Bombadil did not want to be sung about, he would not be sung about. If he did not want to be seen, he would not be seen. If he wanted to appear in some other form, and not be remembered, that is how it would be. Even Sauron was known to pass among the elves in a comely form. He befriended them, and taught them to make rings of power. Yet to Bombadil, Sauron's greatest power was laughable.

At the least, Bombadil is a being of the order of the high ainur, perhaps even an avatar of Eru. Or perhaps there are orders of being higher than the ainur, yet not Eru, which we were not told about, and which the ainur were not told about. Eru specifically did NOT tell the plan to everyone.

To say that Bombadil is good or evil might be like asking whether a human is good or evil when it unknowingly crushes an ant. The human takes a walk in their garden, enjoys the day, thinks about things that ants could never comprehend, and with one step crushes the life out of an ant, without ever knowing the ant was there. How can the ant, or the greatest ant philosopher, ever begin to frame the question in such a way that a human could discuss it with them? No matter how tragic the death of the ant, and no matter how readily the human would have stepped over the ant if they had seen the ant, it's just not part of the analysis. When humans are walking in their gardens, ants should stay off the paths, because the humans are just too powerful to avoid killing ANY ants.

Pray YOU never meet Bombadil, my fellow ants.
May. 31st, 2012 02:44 am (UTC)
I really like this essay. Tom Bombadil gave me the creeps as soon as I started reading that section of the book. I couldn't put my finger on why, but I just knew he didn't seem "right". Very interesting and nicely written.
May. 31st, 2012 03:47 am (UTC)
A long winded reply taken from Tolkien's own letters on the subject of Bombadil
An Interesting and certainly well thought out alternate conclusion. Serveral replies have pointed out flaws and incorrect assumptions so I won't repeat them. But what did Tolkien himself say about Bombadil?

In several of his letters he makes the following points. In a letter to his publisher Stanley Unwin (#19)he discusses the possibilities of a sequel to the Hobbit and gives thought to making Bombadil the hero of the story and he refers to him explicitly as "the spirit of the (vanishing)Oxford and Berkshire countryside"

Later in a reply to Naomi Mitchison (#144) which I'm paraphrasing he says that Bombadil is intentionally an enigma, and while not important to the narrative, he does have importance as a comment on being a side separate from both the good and the bad both of which want a measure of control for their respective goals, whereas Bombadil has renounced control and takes delight in things for themselves. He also points out that Rivendell supports this view and recognizes that only their victory would enable Bombadil to continue. Something I think they would be unlikely to do if Bombadil's motives were otherwise.

It's also pertinent to comment on something several of the replies have raised. The theory that Bombadil is Illuvatar ie God. Again in his letters (#153) Tolkien makes plain that he intended no such thing and that Frodo asked not What is he?,but Who is he? and that Goldberry gives the correct answer ie his name but adds he is master in the sense that he is master of himself and his realm the limits of which he himself set, as the text makes clear. He does not desire possession or domination and accepts all things as they are.

He also relates how Tom was invented independently and published many years before as poems in Oxford Magazine. But was put in to enable the Hobbits to "have an adventure on the way" and to "represent certain things otherwise left out" ie an embodiment of pure natural science that desires knowledge of other things simply because they are other and unconcerned with doing anyting with that knowledge.

Later in letter #210 to Forrest J Ackerman commenting on a proposed film script for Lord of the Rings (ca. 1958) He remarks in reponse to a misrepresentation of Tom Bombadil which almost seems a tailor made rebuttal to the terrible secret of Tom Bombadil "He is not the owner of the woods; and he would never make any such threat"

Lastly In #229 he responds to comments by a Sweedish translator of Lord of the Rings who calls Bombadil 'a Pan-Type' Tolkien says of this its a 'nonsensical conclusion'
Terra Whitmeyer
Jul. 21st, 2012 05:40 am (UTC)
Re: A long winded reply taken from Tolkien's own letters on the subject of Bombadil
Exactly - a 'master' of himself. And, unlike most authors, Tolkien really does place every word of his writing specifically - so while fun to speculate (and it certainly was/is) forming opinions of his meaning of things by readers without reading what Tolkien's explanations were, is a dangerous thing!
May. 31st, 2012 05:30 am (UTC)
It's an interesting way to look at it is it not? Tom, along with Glorfindel actually, is my favorite character. The lack of information actually makes him (Them) interesting to look at though it also means reading quite a bit more XD Not that, that is an issue...
May. 31st, 2012 12:31 pm (UTC)
[links] Link salad feels that most of you soldiers are flimsy
User jaylake referenced to your post from [links] Link salad feels that most of you soldiers are flimsy saying: [...] — Hahaha. Oldest and Fatherless: The Terrible Secret of Tom Bombadil [...]
May. 31st, 2012 04:04 pm (UTC)
I loved Tom Bombadil. LOVED!! Then I read this and holyyyy faaaahhhhhhrrrrrrkkkkkkk whaaaattt?

Omg this makes so much sense! I'm terrified of Tom Bombadil now! Someone should send this to Christopher Tolkien and see what he thinks.

No more elves, no more wizards, no more elven magic. Humans, Hobbits and Dwarves... this is insane :'(
May. 31st, 2012 04:35 pm (UTC)
Sheer genius
User mme_n_b referenced to your post from Sheer genius saying: [...] http://km-515.livejournal.com/1042.html [...]
Jan. 30th, 2014 03:39 pm (UTC)
Re: Sheer genius
Tom Bombadil is my most liked character in middle earth, what are you on about?
May. 31st, 2012 05:51 pm (UTC)
No title
User braindancer referenced to your post from No title saying: [...] Oldest and Fatherless: The Terrible Secret of Tom Bombadil [...]
May. 31st, 2012 06:52 pm (UTC)
May. 31st, 2012 08:41 pm (UTC)
Uh, hate to point this out, but ...
Indications are that Farmer Maggot knew Bombadil very well:

"There's earth under his old feet, and clay on his fingers; wisdom in his bones, and both eyes are open."
May. 31st, 2012 09:01 pm (UTC)
I think we must also consider that what we (and men and hobbits) may see as “evil” spirits (willows, Barrow-Wights, etc.) coming back into power may not really be “evil”, just malevolent toward hobbits, men, and elves- The younger invaders.
Jun. 1st, 2012 02:07 am (UTC)
that was a lot of fun. great post!
Jun. 1st, 2012 10:00 am (UTC)
Links I found interesting for 01-06-2012
User nwhyte referenced to your post from Links I found interesting for 01-06-2012 saying: [...] Oldest and Fatherless: The Terrible Secret of Tom Bombadil [...]
Jun. 2nd, 2012 11:36 am (UTC)
You forgot the Ring. Why hadn't it work on him? As I understand, the Ring has power over those who are power hungry. So it doesn't work on Tom and Sam.

Apologize for my bad English.
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( 245 comments — Leave a comment )