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Forum:Tom Bombadil, Man or Maia?

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Tolkien Gateway > Council > Tom Bombadil, Man or Maia?

I have read numerous articles about Tom Bombadil and who exactly he is. But there are SO many different opinions, I still can't figure it out. I am a Tolkien fan under 20, and would really like a good strong opinion using facts to help me figure out who he really is. Below are some opinions i have heard:

1. Tom Bombadil is a "retired" Maia.

2. Tom Bombadil is just a crazy man.

3. Tom Bombadil was a fictional character from bedtime stories that Tolkien would make up for his children. Then he was later added to LoTR for no reason, just as an enigma.

Please help me out here. Thanks.

Well, young fan. First off, our article on ol' Tom is a wreck - I'm planning to rewrite that. As for the opinions - #3 is the right one. -- Ederchil 03:21, 19 July 2008 (EDT)
He's not a Maia or indeed a Vala because he says he was in Middle Earth before even Melkor. Obviously he's not a man, for a start he's immune to the ring's effects (which since Gandalf and Saruman aren't would be another reason he's not a Maia) and he's many thousands of years too old. Number 3 is correct, but that doesn't mean he can't be placed in Middle earth's cosmology. The way I see it, since we can't fit him in to any other categories and because of his unequivocal claim to being "Oldest" he is an integral part of the Music of the Ainur; a natural force of Middle earth, a hröa without a fëa. --Aule the Smith 13:42, 7 August 2008 (EDT)
Can't agree more. It's exactly my opinion about Tom since years. Nice going, Aule. Sage 17:27, 7 August 2008 (EDT)
Yes, I also agree with Aule. Tom Bombadil could be part of the Music of the Ainur. He could be made with Arda at the beginning of Time. However I'm not completely sure, because the assumption don't clarify why Tom, made together with Arda, is free to the Ring's evil effects, whilst the Ainur (like the Maiar) made by Ilúvatar before the Creation are not free. We can't forget that Arda is not immune from the evil effects of Morgoth's (and Sauron's) power. So the supposition that Tom Bombadil is part of the Middle-Earth and at the same time immune from the Ring's power could be a little paradox. Finrod Felagund 13:09, 6 September 2008 (UTC)
Could it possibly be that Tom B. is an avatar of Illúvatar? I have seen this tossed around by a few Tolkien scholars. In many forms of myth, some avatars of greater gods are not even aware that this is what they are. Japanese Myth for instance is replete with characters who are the avatars of great spirits who have no idea that this is their origin. Joseph Campbell talks about this in relation to primitive societies where the avatars must live among mankind in order to understand their suffering before they are allowed to enter into "Heaven" to take their place among the motive forces of the universe.
Maybe this is what Tom B. is. I am pretty sure that he would have been unaware of Campbell (due to Campbell not yet having written most of his works and just being a student of Jung at the time. Being such a creature would give him the insights into the world and a flighty short attention span.
Of course, it is just another theory, and it is far more likely that Tom is just an accident in the writing of The Lord of the Rings when he still had a vision of it as a more thorough children's story than The Hobbit. As such, he is the mystery of the far off towers in the mist which hold the promise of adventure for some and peril for others.
Matthew 17:21, 24 August 2008 (UTC)
I reckon Tom is basicaly a god. I think that he's the creator of everything natural, hence his power over trees. As he is a 'god' he is not affected by age or the ring.
--Pand. 21:50, 20 September 2008 (UTC)
Another suggestion I have heard is that he is a personification of Middle-earth: the ring doesn't affect him because the Ring affects people and not the land itself. This also might help to explain Goldberry's connection with him as she comes from Middle-earth itself (the Withywindle).
But, ultimately, as Tolkien said in Letter 144, "And even in a mythical age there must be some enigmas, as there always are. Tom Bombadil is one (intentionally)." (In fact, Letter 144 is probably the most interesting and important with regards to Tolkien's thinking on Bombadil).
With regards to the article on Tom, I think we should just state all the relevant points of view, with evidence and leave it at that. --Mith 14:20, 2 September 2008 (UTC)
I don't know what you think,but I believe that he is some form or avatar of Iluvatar himself stationed to watvh over Arda.Unsigned comment by Beres (talk • contribs).
This explanation - while attractively logical - is not consistent with Tolkien's intent. As a staunch Catholic, this couldn't be what he envisioned about Tom.ElfMaven 02:23, 22 December 2009 (UTC)

My preferred solution to the enigma of Tom is that he is the author incarnate, the creator of the legendarium who has taken bodily form to enter and live inside his own creation. In other words, he is Tolkien himself. This interpretation is consistent with most of the textual references, and flows naturally from Tolkien's strong Christian beliefs. As the creator he is of course older than anything in his created world, and because he actually has an existence outside his creation in a wholly different dimension the powerful evils of Middle Earth do not hold sway over him. Finally, the author of a story generally tries to let his characters run their own lives and make their own decisions, rather then forcing them to act according to his own wishes. This explains why Bombadil chooses to live an isolated life, away from and unconcerned with all the important persons and events of Middle-earth, and can not be relied upon as the solution to the problem of the One Ring.Unsigned comment by Faded Glory (talk • contribs).

Something I've heard is the possibility of Tom being the reader. This would explain how he can see Frodo and know that everything will turn out okay. He is the reader of the book put into the book. The ring doesn't affect the reader, nor can the reader affect the ring. Finally, the reader doesn't have any power in the world in the bok, explaining why Tom can't help them anymore.LotRfan01 05:12, 15 December 2009 (UTC)

I never really understood Bombadil, but I suppose he can represent the reader. My explanation is that he was the first Maia sent into the world, possibly to help build Alamaren or the Lamps. He may have been unassigned to any Ainur (or assigned to Melkor, then fled from him) and therefore not bound to any task. He may have found a love for the Shire, like Gandalf, and settled there early in the history of Arda. Choice No. 3 is also correct.--Galdor of the Havens 21:34, 17 December 2009 (UTC)
An interesting point is that, although he was created to be an enigma, since he was in the books there must be a logical explanation. Everything in the books must be explainable because the world has to make sense. LotRfan01 05:29, 19 December 2009 (UTC)

Exactly! Although I do not believe any of his works to be in any way allogorical (and so does he, "It is neither allegorical nor topical....I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence." Wiki article on Allegory) I believe that he has based Tom on either himself or the reader. Yet it must be explained literally as well.--Galdor of the Havens 20:14, 23 December 2009 (UTC)

I have come across this article which, not to make this any more confusing, does bring up Goldberrry and some significant evidence. It is possible for Tom to exist in a category that is entirely his own.

Steuard's essay is certainly one of the best texts available, though I do think that even this fine paper does contain some minor flaws. I have discussed this with Steuard [[1]] (please forgive the references to physics -- Steuard is a physicist as am I), but in essence I think that Steuard makes too little of the very distinct possibility that all such genii loci were still considered Maiar in the later evolution of the legendarium, just as they certainly were when Tolkien wrote The Book of Lost Tales. As it is, I think it is a mistake trying to put Tom into some nice pre-made box -- leave him the enigma he is, and wonder rather about the crucial role he plays in Tolkien's story. If, however, you insist that he should be given a name, he is definitely a nature spirit, a genius loci, but the only race described by Tolkien that can not be refuted is for Tom to be an Ainu, but not one of the Valar (i.e. a Maia or someone of another, unnamed, order of Ainur). All other possibilities (including Eru or 'the reader') can be refuted. --Troelsfo (Talk | Contribs | Edits) 10:42, 5 January 2010 (UTC)

Secondly, I'm not sure how hippie this theory is, so bear with me, isn't it possible that Tolkien created Tom just because he wanted to see that in his world some good, that could never be consumed by evil, would always last. As many authors do who get so involved with their works, few as much as the Professor, this may be Tolkien's way of secretely insuring a "happily ever after" ending - knowing that Tom will always be in Middle Earth and that some good will never be destroyed.--Breragor (TalkContribsEdits) 00:18, 24 December 2009 (UTC)