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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.

Consider: By his own account (and by Elrond’s surprisingly sketchy knowledge) Bombadil has lived in the Old Forest since before the hobbits came to the Shire. Since before Elrond was born. Since the earliest days of the First Age.

And yet no hobbit has ever heard of him.

The guise in which Bombadil appears to Frodo and his companions is much like a hobbit writ large. He loves food and songs and nonsense rhymes and drink and company. Any hobbit who saw such a person would tell tales of him. Any hobbit who was rescued by Tom would sing songs about him and tell everyone else. Yet Merry – who knows all the history of Buckland and has ventured into the Old Forest many times – has never heard of Tom Bombadil. Frodo and Sam – avid readers of old Bilbo’s lore – have no idea that any such being exists, until he appears to them. All the hobbits of the Shire think of the Old Forest as a place of horror – not as the abode of a jolly fat man who is surprisingly generous with his food.

If Bombadil has indeed lived in the Old Forest all this time – in a house less than twenty miles from Buckland – then it stands to reason that he has never appeared to a single hobbit traveller before, and has certainly never rescued one from death. In the 1400 years since the Shire was settled.

What do we know about Tom Bombadil? He is not what he seems.

Elrond, the greatest lore-master of the Third Age, has never heard of Tom Bombadil. Elrond is only vaguely aware that there was once someone called Iarwain Ben-Adar (“Oldest and Fatherless”) who might be the same as Bombadil. And yet, the main road between Rivendell and the Grey Havens passes not 20 miles from Bombadil’s house, which stands beside the most ancient forest in Middle Earth. Has no elf ever wandered in the Old Forest or encountered Bombadil in all these thousands of years? Apparently not.

Gandalf seems to know more, but he keeps his knowledge to himself. At the Council of Elrond, when people suggest sending the Ring to Bombadil, Gandalf comes up with a surprisingly varied list of reasons why that should not be done. It is not clear that any of the reasons that he gives are the true one.

Now, in his conversation with Frodo, Bombadil implies (but avoids directly stating) that he had heard of their coming from Farmer Maggot and from Gildor’s elves (both of whom Frodo had recently described). But that also makes no sense. Maggot lives west of the Brandywine, remained there when Frodo left, and never even knew that Frodo would be leaving the Shire. And if Elrond knows nothing of Bombadil, how can he be a friend of Gildor’s?

What do we know about Tom Bombadil? He lies.

A question: what is the most dangerous place in Middle Earth? First place goes to the Mines of Moria, home of the Balrog, but what is the second most dangerous place? Tom Bombadil’s country.
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. Yet the Old Forest and the Barrow Downs, all part of Tom’s country, are filled with perils that would tax anyone in the Fellowship except perhaps Gandalf.

Now, it is canonical in Tolkein that powerful magical beings imprint their nature on their homes. Lorien under Galadriel is a place of peace and light. Moria, after the Balrog awoke, was a place of terror to which lesser evil creatures were drawn. Likewise, when Sauron lived in Mirkwood, it became blighted with evil and a home to monsters.

And then, there’s Tom Bombadil’s Country.

The hobbits can sense the hatred within all the trees in the Old Forest. Every tree in that place is a malevolent huorn, hating humankind. Every single tree. And the barrows of the ancient kings that lie nearby are defiled and inhabited by Barrow-Wights. Bombadil has the power to control or banish all these creatures, but he does not do so. Instead, he provides a refuge for them against men and other powers. Evil things – and only evil things – flourish in his domain. “Tom Bombadil is the master” Goldberry says. And his subjects are black huorns and barrow wights.

What do we know about Tom Bombadil? He is not the benevolent figure that he pretends to be.

Tom appears to the Ringbearer in a friendly, happy guise, to question and test him and to give him and his companions swords that can kill the servants of another evil power. But his motives are his own.

Consider: it is said more than once that the willows are the most powerful and evil trees in the Forest. Yet, the rhyme that Bombadil teaches the hobbits to use in conjuring up Bombadil himself includes the line, “By the reed and willow.” The willows are a part of Bombadil’s power and a means of calling on him. They draw their strength from the cursed river Withywindle, the centre of all the evil in the Forest.

And the springs of the Withywindle are right next to Tom Bombadil’s house.

And then there is Goldberry, “the river-daughter”. She is presented as Bombadil’s wife, an improbably beautiful and regal being who charms and beguiles the hobbits. It is implied that she is a water spirit, and she sits combing her long, blonde hair after the manner of a mermaid. (And it is worth remembering that mermaids were originally seen as monsters, beautiful above the water, slimy and hideous below, luring sailors to drown and be eaten.) But I suggest the name means that in her true state, Goldberry is nourished by the River – that is, by the proverbially evil Withywindle.

In folklore and legend (as Tolkien would know well) there are many tales of creatures that can take on human form but whose human shape always contains a clue to their true nature. So what might Goldberry be? She is tall and slender - specifically she is “slender as a willow wand”. She wears a green dress, sits amidst bowls of river water and is surrounded by the curtain of her golden hair. I suggest that she is a Willow tree conjured into human form, a malevolent huorn like the Old Man Willow from whom the hobbits have just escaped. If she is not indeed the same tree.

So, if this is true, then why does Bombadil save and help the ringbearer and his companions? Because they can bring about the downfall of Sauron, the current Dark Lord of Middle Earth. When Sauron falls, the other rings will fail and the wizards and elves will leave Middle Earth and the only great power that is left will be Bombadil.

There is a boundary around Bombadil’s country that he cannot or will not pass, something that confines him to a narrow space. And in return, no wizard or elf comes into his country to see who rules it, or to disturb the evil creatures that gather under his protection.

When the hobbits return to the Shire after their journey to Mordor, Gandalf leaves them close to Bree and goes towards Bombadil’s country to have words with him. We do not know what they say. But Gandalf was sent to Middle Earth to contend against Sauron and now he must depart. He has been given no mission to confront Bombadil and he must soon leave Middle Earth to powerless men and hobbits, while Bombadil remains, waiting to fulfill his purpose.

Do I think that Tolkien planned things in this way? Not at all, but I find it an interesting speculation.

To speculate further and more wildly:

The spell that binds Bombadil to his narrow and cursed country was put in place centuries ago by the Valar to protect men and elves. It may last a few decades more, perhaps a few generations of hobbit lives. But when the last elf has gone from the havens and the last spells of rings and wizards unravel, then it will be gone. And Iarwain Ben-Adar, Oldest and Fatherless, who was ruler of the darkness in Middle Earth before Sauron was, before Morgoth set foot there, before the first rising of the sun, will come into his inheritance again. And one dark night the old trees will march westward into the Shire to feed their ancient hatred. And Bombadil will dance down amongst them, clad in his true shape at last, singing his incomprehensible rhymes as the trees mutter their curses and the black and terrible Barrow-Wights dance and gibber around him. And he will be smiling.

Comments

(Anonymous)
Dec. 7th, 2011 04:09 pm (UTC)
Some basic errors
This is a really cute theory, but I think you made some very basic mistakes.

The reason the hobbits have never met Bombadil is because they only venture into the very fringes of the Old Forest. Likewise, the fact that his home is less than twenty miles from the road to the Grey Havens is irrelevant; if you've ever walked a long distance on foot, you know that twenty miles is nothing to sneeze at in a straight line. Draw a circle with a twenty mile radius from the road and you have over 1200 square miles of territory; it's not surprising that the elves wouldn't have run across him, especially since he doesn't like to be found. This is all splitting hairs though, because it's clear that some elves know of him. They don't know much about him, but they do have a name for him.

The idea that he's lying about how he knew the hobbits were coming is not supported by the story. Tom is at one with the forest; he certainly could have heard the rumor of their passing from the trees. Likewise, it's not hard to imagine that Tom does talk to Farmer Maggott from time to time. Maggott is taciturn and grim; not the type to go tell stories around the Shire about his weird mystical friend in the Old Forest. Also, hobbits are plain, practical folk, likely to dismiss such outlandish tales (see their reactions in the early part of Fellowship to stories of giants).

I really don't see why you think the Old Forest is the second-most dangerous place in Middle-Earth. It's probably not even the tenth most dangerous of the small subset of places that Tolkien actually described. It's an uncanny, unwelcoming place, sure. Is it more dangerous than the Paths of the Dead, which only one living man may walk and survive? Is it more dangerous than Barad-Dur, home of Sauron, or Cirith Ungol, home of the deadliest of Ungoliant's spawn? More dangerous than Mirkwood, where stepping off the paths without the protection of Thranduil's wood-elves is nearly a death sentence? More dangerous than Dagorlad, where will-o-wisps lead travellers astray to drown in the ghost-haunted swamps? Furthermore, the Barrow-Downs may be in some sense part of Tom's "country", but as he and Goldberry make clear, Tom does not control his country. Rather, he is an integrated part of it. It would not be his style to purge the countryside of all evil simply because he could. He seems to be some sort of nature spirit, content to let be what already is, unless urgent need and his responsibilities as a host take precedence.

I think you really got confused when you said that all of the trees in the Old Forest are huorns. I don't think that's true at all; are you confusing the Old Forest with Fangorn? Even in Fangorn we don't have a clear indication that ALL of the trees are huorns. Old Man Willow seems to be a kind of huorn, or something related to them, but nowhere are we given an indication that the trees of the foreboding Old Forest are anything more than trees that resent the presence of intruders. Don't forget that Tolkien had a deep reverence for trees, and considered them living creatures that could feel pain, and that he could commune with.

You theorize that Bombadil was in Middle-Earth "before Morgoth set foot there." This is impossible because Morgoth (then known as Melkor) went to Arda as soon as it was created. You theorize that Bombadil was "ruler of the darkness" before Morgoth -- since Morgoth created the darkness by throwing down the Two Lamps, I don't see how that's possible.

I think a lot of the problem people have with Tom Bombadil is that he is deliberately presented as a mystery. He doesn't fit neatly into our categories of good and evil. It's fun to speculate about who or what he might be, but I don't think even Tolkien knew. And honestly, I think you've strayed very far from what he intended or what is supportable in the text with this guess.
(Anonymous)
May. 30th, 2012 05:52 am (UTC)
Re: Some basic errors
I came to the comments to say this, thanks.
(Anonymous)
May. 30th, 2012 07:17 pm (UTC)
Re: Some basic errors
Hear hear!
(Anonymous)
May. 30th, 2012 09:53 pm (UTC)
Re: Some basic errors
I argee with you
John Herrington
May. 30th, 2012 10:27 pm (UTC)
Re: Some basic errors
Very good points! Something I want theorized about, though, are the Entwives! Samwise gives clear indications that his cousin Halfast in The Shire. (I think he said by the north moors?) And then there is Treebeard saying to Merry and Pipin, upon their description of The Shire, that he believes that the Entwives would like the shire. But Tolkien left all of us in the dark on all of this! It's worse than Mass Effect 3's terrible ending! And Tolkien does not even tell us if the Ents go searching for the Entwives! Anyhoo, back to the question at hand, I think that *IF* Bombadil tried rising up and dominating Middle Earth, not only would the Valar intervene, but also the Ents would stop them. The Ents have power over the trees, seemingly, and they have their own forest that is strong enough to contest Bombadil's theoretical conquest of Middle Earth. Not only that, but also the supposed barrow wight minions of Bombadil's would never stand a chance against Gondor, Rohan, the Dwarves, the Hobbits, the remainder of the Dunlendings, the Eagles, the Ents (and Entwives, if they could be found) and whatever haradrim, (or any of the peoples from the far south and east) and and any Elves that were stupid enough to remain behind. Pow, Bombadil defeated, destroyed, vaccum-sealed inside a touristy Gollum themed lunch-box, and sent down to the bottom of Lake Evendim inside of a two ton block of steel.
(Anonymous)
May. 30th, 2012 10:59 pm (UTC)
Thank you
Obviously km-15 did not read the Silmirillion. Or if he did he did not grasp it. Thanks for making some very clear points. I will risk being unkind by stating his theory is the worst kind of tripe and poppycock!
(Anonymous)
May. 31st, 2012 04:25 pm (UTC)
Re: Some basic errors
Thank you for saving Tom Bombadil for me! Sucks if he was gonna be a dark lord

However I do believe he was there before Melkor, I think there's a line somewhere in LOTR says something along the line of "before the first dark lord"

~hey do merry do dillo..~~
(Anonymous)
Jul. 9th, 2012 04:05 pm (UTC)
Re: Some basic errors
Thank you for bringing this up!!!

All of your points occured to me, except the part about Morgoth, and you are totally right.

I have one more thing to add. Tom Bombadil isn't fat! He is described as "merry" and "cheerful", and sings nonsense, but isn't overweight. I know this is a minor point, but I addressed it all the same.

Speculation is fun, but one should always make sure every minute fact is straight and correct before posting it anywhere accesable to Tolkien fanatics!

~CJN
geekosaur
Oct. 1st, 2012 05:09 pm (UTC)
Re: Some basic errors
IIRC it's stated explicitly that all the trees are not evil; rather it is stated that the trees are all aware to various extents, and the evil grows the closer one gets to the Withywindle.

OTOH Bombadil could have been there before Melkor, if you follow closely how Gandalf described him. Melkor entered Arda as soon as he could; but Bombadil in some sense is, or is part of, Arda itself, not a separate entity.

(And evil would gather naturally under the Bombadil described by Gandalf for exactly the same reason one would not want to entrust the Ring to him: he doesn't care one way or the other, in a world where most folks would prefer to drive the evil as far away as possible. Cf. many homilies about all it takes for evil to win is inaction.)
Re: Some basic errors - (Anonymous) - Oct. 6th, 2013 07:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Some basic errors - Mitchell Willie - Nov. 10th, 2014 02:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Anonymous)
Oct. 11th, 2012 01:43 pm (UTC)
Re: Some basic errors
I also wish to thank you for this comment. I think that it really is just a "cute theory", and nothing more (though well thought out and written)
(Anonymous)
Feb. 12th, 2013 01:53 am (UTC)
Re: Some basic errors
Excellent points! I especially concur with your remark that it just isn't Tom's style to purge his realm of evil. He lets things be unless there's urgent need to intervene.
Landon Starcurse
Mar. 26th, 2013 12:54 am (UTC)
Re: Some basic errors
THANK YOU for posting this. "Cute theory" gives it a bit too much credit, I think, but is very polite. My mind has been heavily into Middle Earth lore, which is a major part of the Senior Seminar class I am in at my university is about. There were many holes in this person's post, and you adequately revealed them.
Fausto Saporito
Jan. 14th, 2014 10:51 pm (UTC)
Re: Some basic errors
I think, Tom Bombadil is strictly realated to Logos.
In this beautiful book:

http://www.amazon.com/Splintered-Light-Logos-Language-Tolkiens/dp/0873387449

there're a lot of reference to Logos and Tolkien ideas.

Bombadil is not evil and is not good... he has no moral categories, like the Nature. But he is, I suppose, older than Arda because, no powers from Maiar can harm him, so he is something different, and as commented before "he is deliberately presented as a mystery".

He knows Sauron (and the Evil beings) but for him are not dangerous, cause he cannot see "evil or good". Gandalf says it's not a good idea giving the ring to Tom because for Tom the ring is a toy... it's not a dangerous artifact.

(Anonymous)
Dec. 13th, 2014 11:39 am (UTC)
Re: Some basic errors
WOWWWW!!! I really love that. Because after I finished reading it, I feel like there's many holes too but I don't exactly know what that holes might be. I still bet on this comment.loud music
(Anonymous)
Feb. 3rd, 2015 11:29 pm (UTC)
Re: Some basic errors
Glad that someone brought these points up. I would also like to add that he is widely believed to be one of the Maiar, which could explain his age and how he could have come to Arda before Melkor. I've personally always seen him as a sort of Maia of nature. Also, doesn't Gandalf mention that he fears that Bombadil wouldn't understand the importance of the ring, and eventually lose it? I feel like that was mentioned, but correct me if I'm wrong. But yeah, thanks again for bringing up these points, someone had to stick up for Tom after all :D

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