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Tom Bombadil

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Tom Bombadil. In the first book of Tolkien's fantasy epic The Lord of the Rings, Frodo and his company meet Bombadil in the Old Forest. He is a quite mysterious figure living far from any settlement with his wife, Goldberry, "Daughter of the River". He speaks in stress-timed metre. His appearance is brief, but behind Bombadil's simple façade there are hints of great knowledge – he can see the Ring-bearer when invisible and is unaffected by wearing the Ring himself. Gandalf later says that this is because the Ring has no power over him.

As to the nature of Bombadil, Tolkien himself said that some things should remain mysterious in any mythology, hidden even to its inventor. He placed the fate of the Entwives in this category, as well as the Cats of Queen Berúthiel, although hints of the latter story have emerged in posthumously released materials.

It is clear, though, that Bombadil was not in Tolkien's conception part of Middle-earth from the start; he was invented in honour of a Dutch doll belonging to his children, to whom Tolkien told stories about Tom Bombadil. These predate the writing of film and radio adaptations of the story, in which Bombadil is conspicuous by his absence, possibly because nobody knows quite what to do with him.

The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, a book of verse published in 1966, purported to contain a selection of The Hobbit poems, two of which were about Tom Bombadil.

See also: The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, with special reference to Letters 144 and 153.


Tom Bombadil's Nature

Tom Bombadil by John Howe.

Tom Bombadil's mythological origins in the cosmology of Middle-earth have puzzled even erudite fans. Speculative ideas about his true nature range from simply a wise Elven hermit to an angelic being (a Maia or Vala), to the creator, that is, God, who is called Eru Ilúvatar in J.R.R. Tolkien's mythology. Tolkien explicitly denied this last possibility.

Tom seems to have unlimited power inside the boundaries that he set for himself. The most common theory is that Bombadil is a Maia, and perhaps the reason of why he has such powers might be the fact that he set himself limits in which he is master. "Eldest, that's what I am... Tom remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn... He knew the dark under the stars when it was fearless – before the Dark Lord came from Outside." The Dark Lord that Bombadil refers to is probably Melkor and not Sauron. But in that case, Tom was already there even before the Valar entered the world, dismissing the theory that he is a Maia. Bombadil could be part of the Music of the Ainur and that would explain why he was there in the beginning, but if he was indeed part of the music, it is not said why he exists.

Other possibilities (compatible with the above theory) are that he is an abstract, a concept; possibly the embodiment of Arda itself, a "Father Nature" if you will, or some kind of 'spirit' which (unlike the Maiar) was of non-divine nature. Not only does the Ring have no effect on him, Tom himself seems unable to affect the Ring in return which shows that Tom was outside the divine plan and struggle and had no position in it. When Goldberry was asked by Frodo Baggins who he was, she simply said "He is". This is echoed by the following excerpt from Tom's songs:

Old Tom Bombadil is a merry fellow,
Bright blue his jacket is, and his boots are yellow.
None has ever caught him yet, for Tom, he is the master:
His songs are stronger songs, and his feet are faster.

Other Names

Gandalf calls Tom Bombadil the eldest being in existence; this is also evident by his Sindarin name Iarwain Ben-adar ("Eldest and Fatherless"). Dwarves called him Forn, Men Orald. All these names apparently mean "Eldest". However, Fangorn is also called the eldest inhabitant of Middle-earth. If Tom Bombadil is indeed not a normal being but rather a supernatural being or "concept" this is, however, not necessarily a contradiction.

Portrayal in Adaptions

Tom Bombadil was eliminated from the script of Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings, as he contributed nothing to the main storyline. The producers liked to think of it not as an omission, but as something that could have happened that they didn't show.

In the Recorded Books Inc recorded book that Rob Ingles narrated, he sang Tom's songs in a rollicking Scottish style.


"Eldest, that's what I am... Tom remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn... he knew the dark under the stars when it was fearless – before the Dark Lord came from Outside." - The Fellowship of the Ring


Tom Bombadil may have been inspired by the character Väinämöinen (spelt 'Wainamoinen' in English) in the Finnish national epic Kalevala, or Father Francis Xavier Morgan at the Birmingham Oratory:

"...… Father Francis Xavier Morgan, then aged forty-three, who shortly after the Tolkiens moved into the district [Edgbaston] took over the duties of parish priest and came to call. In him Mabel soon found not only a sympathetic priest but a valuable friend. Half Welsh and half Anglo-Spanish (his mother’s family were prominent in the sherry trade), Francis Morgan was not a man of great intellect, but he had an immense fund of kindness and humour and a flamboyance that was often attributed to his Spanish connections. Indeed he was a very noisy man, loud and affectionate, embarrassing to small children at first but hugely lovable when they got to know him."
J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography

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