Tom Bombadil

From Tolkien Gateway
The name Tom refers to more than one character, item or concept. For a list of other meanings, see Tom (disambiguation).
Tom Bombadil
John Howe - Tom Bombadil.jpg
"Tom Bombadil" by John Howe
Other namesIarwain Ben-adar (S)
Orald (R)
Forn (K)
TitlesThe Eldest, Master
LocationUnderhill, Old Forest
Notable forsaving Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin from Old Man Willow and the Barrow-wights
Physical Description
ClothingBlue jacket and hat, boots
SteedFatty Lumpkin
GalleryImages of Tom Bombadil
"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."
― Tom Bombadil in The Fellowship of the Ring, "In the House of Tom Bombadil"

Tom Bombadil was an enigmatic figure that lived throughout the history of Arda. Living a short distance east of the Old Forest, he seemed to possess unequaled power in the land around his dwelling. Although seemingly benevolent, he took no stance against the Dark Lords.

Appearance and traits[edit | edit source]

"Old Tom Bombadil is a merry fellow;
Bright blue his jacket is, and his boots are yellow.
― Tom Bombadil

Tom looked like an old man who was taller and heavier than a Hobbit, but not quite tall enough for a man.[1]

His face was creased and red as a ripe apple with blue and bright eyes.[1] His hands were brown-skinned.[2] He had thick brown hair[2] and a long brown beard[1].

Tom wore a blue coat and an old tall hat with a long blue feather and yellow boots.[1] Earlier he wore a swan feather, which he later replaced with a blue one from a kingfisher.[3]

He lived in a house just outside the eastern edge of the Old Forest by the river Withywindle,[1] together with his lovely wife Goldberry[2]. According to him[4] and to Gandalf as well,[5] he would not leave his country. The only known location on the border of his country is where he makes that statement, on the south side of the East Road, north of the Barrow-downs and about four miles northwest of Bree. His country must have included the Barrow-downs and the Old Forest, and according to the poem "Bombadil Goes Boating," he visited villages in Buckland and Farmer Maggot's farm in the Marish, which would mean that his country included them as well.

The Bucklanders had little understanding of his powers and nature. They saw him as mysterious and unpredictable, but benevolent and comic, more or less as the Shire-folk thought of Gandalf.[6]

History[edit | edit source]

Origins[edit | edit source]

Tom Bombadil by Olanda Fong-Surdenas
"He is a strange creature."
Elrond, The Council of Elrond

The origins and nature of Tom Bombadil are unknown. He claims to have existed when the Dark Lord came "from the Outside",[2]:131 perhaps meaning he was alive at least as far back as the Spring of Arda.[7] Bombadil calls himself the "Eldest", Glorfindel calls him the "First", and his Sindarin name Iarwain Ben-adar means "Oldest and fatherless."

He was in Arda "before the river and the trees" and before the first rain. He "made paths" before the Great March of the Eldar, and saw the Middle Men and their tombs. He witnessed the Changing of the World, the arrival of the Exiles of Númenor and of the Barrow-wights.[2] His role and nature in the Elder Days and later is unknown. He witnessed the reducing of the great forests that covered all Middle-earth.[5]

The nature of his interactions with the outside world is unclear. He was familiar with Frodo, his companions and their families when they visit him. He attributed most of this knowledge to Farmer Maggot. He also had contact with other Bucklanders throughout the Third Age,[6] and he had names among the Elves, Dwarves and Northern Men. However, most of the Council of Elrond were unfamiliar with him, and Elrond admitted to having forgotten about him from long ago.

He had many names among the Elves, Dwarves and Men. Elrond knew of him when he ventured in his lands.[5][6]

War of the Ring[edit | edit source]

The Willow Man is Tamed by Ted Nasmith

On 26 September, T.A. 3018, he encountered four hobbits while he was searching for water-lilies for his wife. Two of those Hobbits, Merry and Pippin, had been captured by Old Man Willow. Tom, who was the master of the Old Forest, rescued them, and took all four of them to his house.[1]

The four hobbits stayed two nights, and he told them many tales and songs. With cunning questions, he made Frodo tell him of the Ring. When Tom tried it on, nothing happened, but he then took it off and flipped it in the air and made the ring itself disappear, showing that indeed within his realm Tom was master. However, when Frodo put the ring on, Tom could still see him. He bade the Hobbit to come back and sit down; his hand was fairer without the ring.

Before his guests went to sleep, Tom warned them of the Barrow-downs, and advised them to pass any barrow on the western side. He also taught them a song, should they come to peril.[2]:134

And they did come to peril. Tom chased off a wight with song, and broke the spells on the barrow in which the four hobbits were captured. While he sent the Hobbits to calm down, he went for provisions. He also brought the ponies that had belonged to Merry. After that, he broke the spells of the barrow. From the barrow's mighty hoard, he took a blue-jewelled brooch for Goldberry (probably belonging to the spouse of the last prince of Cardolan he seemingly met long ago),[8][9] and gave a dagger to each of the hobbits. He then advised them to make for The Prancing Pony in Bree.[10]

The peril of the hobbits was not over; an attack on their lives was carried out, and their ponies were set loose. The ponies apparently remembered the care they were given in the house of Tom Bombadil, and returned to stay beside Tom's own pony, Fatty Lumpkin. He returned them to Barliman Butterbur, the proprietor of The Prancing Pony. Since he had paid eighteen pence as compensation for the loss, he was now the owner of five fine ponies.[11]

As he was merry and benevolent, some of the Free Peoples considered him a potential ally against Sauron during the War of the Ring. Elrond and Erestor considered that he should be present at the Council of Elrond. However, according to Gandalf, Tom Bombadil was perhaps not fully aware of the struggle of Light and Darkness and could not prove useful to their causes.[5]

Eventually the defeat of Sauron in the end of the War, and the victory of the West allowed Tom to continue and "survive" in the following Ages.[12]

Legacy[edit | edit source]

Tom Bombadil’s existence passed into Hobbit lore and was referenced in poems such as The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Bombadil Goes Boating. The Hobbit, Samwise Gamgee, based and modeled his protagonist in The Stone Troll, Tom, after Bombadil, considering that Sam composed the poem soon after their meeting.[13] In the poem, Tom encounters an old troll, gnawing for years on the shinbone of Tim, his nuncle, and Tom demands for the troll to let it down.[14][15] It is likely that Tim was only an invention by Sam rather than actually being Tom Bombadil's nuncle.[13]

Other names[edit | edit source]

He also went by other names:

Etymology[edit | edit source]

Tom Bombadil is said to be a Bucklandish name, added by Hobbit chroniclers to his many older ones. It is, like many names of the Bucklanders, untranslatable.[6]

Paula Marmor notes that bobadil is an archaic word meaning "braggart", as seen in the character "Captain Bobadill" in the English play Every Man in His Humour. Because of its Bucklandish form, An Introduction to Elvish lists the name Bombadil under the "Celtic-sounding names". However, it is said that the word derives from Boabdil, the Spaniard name of Abu Abdillah Muhammad XII, the last Moorish ruler of Granada.[18]

Inspiration[edit | edit source]

Tom Bombadil was inspired primarily from a dutch doll Tolkien's child(ren) toyed with.[19] The doll had a feathered hat. One time they found it in the lavatory, being stuffed there by little John Tolkien, who perhaps didn't like it much.[20]

Probably in the 1920s he began writing a story entitled Tom Bombadil set during the reign of "King Bonhedig" in the British prehistory, far before any recorded events or invasions. The protagonist Tombombadil is mentioned as one of the oldest inhabitants of Bonhedig's kingdom, which spanned many miles on either side of the Thames. Only the 3 opening paragraphs survive of the shortly-abandoned, story, and the fragment ends at the description of Tombombadil who "wore a tall hat with a blue feather; his jacket was blue, and his boots were yellow".[21]

Around the 1930s or earlier Tolkien wrote a poem about some Tom Bombadil rowing down a River, a poem which Tolkien later identified as his "germ of Tom Bombadil".[22] Later in 1934 he put him into a poem, again described according to the appearance of the aforementioned doll (something that he did with other toys of his children, like Rover).[19] At one time he described him as a "spirit of the (vanishing) Oxford and Berkshire countryside"[23]

When asked to make a sequel for The Hobbit, Tolkien briefly considered making that figure of his poem the central character.[23] Although it didn't happen, he eventually appeared in the narrative as a supporting character. Tolkien wrote Bombadil as a direct contrast to the artistry and (sub)creative force of the Elves; whereas they seek to create, devise, alter and control, Bombadil only observes and contemplates the world outside him and takes joy in it. He is the fearless theoretical study of the world, and history.[24]}}

Justin Noetzel in his paper "Beorn and Tom Bombadil: Mythology, Narrative, and The Most (Non) Essential Characters in Middle-earth", suggests an association of Tom Bombadil with the Celtic Otherworld and tales of the Tuatha Dé Danann.[25]

David Elton Gay compares Tom to the demigod Väinämöinen from the Kalevala: both are extremely old and powerful immortal figures who express their power in rhymes, and both have control over their small forested country.[26]

Outside the legendarium[edit | edit source]

In addition to the aforementioned earlier works written independently to the Legendarium, a figure that hints at Bombadil appears in the much later poem Once upon a Time. Tolkien wrote it around 1964 and reused the names of "Tom" and "Goldberry" (although the epithet "Bombadil" is not mentioned, the association can be made as he appears with Goldberry). Hammond & Scull note that in this poem Tom appears less omnipotent; while he is known to talk to all creatures, who always obey him, the mysterious lintips are the only ones who refuse to talk to him and hide away.[27] No specific events are mentioned that can connect it to Tom Bombadil or the legendarium of Arda.

Portrayal in adaptations[edit | edit source]

Because he is left out of the three major adaptations (Ralph Bakshi, BBC's 1981 series and Peter Jackson's), Tom Bombadil's main role (providing the Barrow-blades) is omitted. He does have several appearances in other adaptations, though.

Tom Bombadil in adaptations
Esko Hukkanen in Hobitit  

1955: BBC Radio's The Lord of the Rings:

Norman Shelley voiced Bombadil, and Tolkien thought his portrayal "dreadful". Goldberry was portrayed as his daughter, rather than his wife[28].

1979: The Lord of the Rings (1979 radio series):

In this series, Tom was voiced by Bernard Mayes. Like Norman Shelley before him, he also voiced Gandalf.

1988: J.R.R. Tolkien's War in Middle Earth:

Tom Bombadil can be found outside his house in the Old Forest.

1990: J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, Vol. I:

Tom Bombadil rescues the party from the Willow Man, and provides information, supplies, shelter, and side-quests for the party. He later rescues the party from the Barrow Wights, and very briefly joins as a temporary playable character while inside the barrow. His role runs almost directly parallel to the original, with some related passages of The Fellowship of the Ring quoted directly. However, Goldberry's role is significantly changed to provide a quest for the party.

1992: Der Herr der Ringe (1992 German radio series):

Tom Bombadil is played by Peter Ehrlich.

1992: Tales from the Perilous Realm (1992 radio series):

When he adapted the 1981 radio series, Brian Sibley deeply regretted cutting Bombadil from the radio series.[29] When he made Tales from the Perilous Realm into a radio series, he decided to change the section "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil". Rather than several (unadaptable) Hobbitish poems, Sibley adapted the chapters from The Fellowship of the Ring. Bombadil is voiced by Ian Hogg.

1993: Hobitit:

Tom Bombadil is portrayed by Esko Hukkanen. It is the only screen adaptation that features him so far.

2001-2007: The Lord of the Rings Trading Card Game:

Although Tom Bombadil does not appear in The Lord of the Rings film series, Decipher produced a card for the character. He was portrayed by Harry Weller-Chew.

2001-present: The Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game:

Despite not appearing in the films the game is based on, Tom Bombadil and Goldberry were given several models by Games Workshop, which has held rights for tabletop games since 1980.

2001: Pán prsteňov (2001-2003 Slovak radio series):

The voice of Tom Bombadil is provided by Milan Lasica. He appears in the final third of the first episode, helping the four hobbits with Old Man Willow, guiding them to his house and taking them in as his guests for the night, along with his wife Goldberry. After they depart and get lost on the Barrow Downs, he once again aids in their rescue, and provides them with barrow-blades from the barrow of the defeated barrow-wight.

2002: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (video game):

Daran Norris portrayed Bombadil with a Scottish accent. His role is much like that in the book, and as one of the few characters in this video game, he keeps most of his songs.

2002: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers:

In the extended edition, some of Bombadil's poems are transferred to Treebeard, and so is his encounter with Old Man Willow.

2006: The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II:

Bombadil is a summonable power. Once summoned, he can plow through enemy lines. His most powerful weapon is a "Sonic Song". As soon as EA secured the rights to the books, it was decided that Tom Bombadil should be in it; his appearance is kept close to his description in the book.[30]

2007: The Lord of the Rings Online:

Tom can be found either inside or outside his house in the Old Forest. He helps the player track down crebain scouts possessing important information, and later arrives to rescue the player from the Barrow-Downs when (s)he gets himself in more than (s)he is prepared for, much like the Hobbits in the Book. He later aids the player against agents of the Barrow-downs when the latter attempts to corrupt Old Man Willow with a Morgul-blade.

2012: Lego The Lord of the Rings: The Video Game:

Bombadil is a playable character. He uses a trowel as a weapon and for digging in certain spots. Tom can be found in his house on the road to the north of Bucklebury Ferry in the forested area between Bree and the Shire. It is unclear if this forest is meant to be the Old Forest or not; it is in the right location, but the game never specifically names it and its physical appearance does not fit the book's description.

2014: Lego The Hobbit: The Video Game:

Bombadil also appears as a playable character, and again wields a trowel. This time, Tom is found in a forest southwest of Bree, near a house atop a hill (likely his house in the Old Forest).

Collectibles[edit | edit source]

In April 2008, Gentle Giant released the Tom Bombadil Mini Bust.

See also[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]


  1. In some imprints of The History of Middle-earth Index, this name was accidentally spelled with a "P" as the first letter: J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The History of Middle-earth Index, "Tom Bombadil (VII)", p. 435


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Old Forest"
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "In the House of Tom Bombadil"
  3. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, "Bombadil Goes Boating"
  4. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "Fog on the Barrow-downs"
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Council of Elrond"
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, "Preface"
  7. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Return of the Shadow, "The First Phase: VI. Tom Bombadil", p. 122
  8. Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull (eds), The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion, "Fog on the Barrow-downs", pp. 146-7
  9. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Return of the Shadow, "The First Phase: VII. The Barrow-wight", p. 127-8
  10. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "Fog on the Barrow-downs"
  11. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "A Knife in the Dark"
  12. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 144, (dated 25 April 1954)
  13. 13.0 13.1 Robert Foster, The Complete Guide to Middle-earth, p. 385
  14. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "Flight to the Ford"
  15. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, "The Stone Troll"
  16. The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion p. 128; quoting an unpublished letter by Tolkien
  17. 17.0 17.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, "Nomenclature of The Lord of the Rings" in Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull (eds), The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion, p. 761
  18. Jim Allan (1978), An Introduction to Elvish, Giving of Names
  19. 19.0 19.1 J.R.R. Tolkien; Christina Scull & Wayne G. Hammond (eds), The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, "Introduction"
  20. Humphrey Carpenter, J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, p. 165
  21. J.R.R. Tolkien; Christina Scull & Wayne G. Hammond (eds), The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, "Tom Bombadil: A Prose Fragment"
  22. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Return of the Shadow, "The First Phase: V. The Old Forest and the Withywindle, Note on Tom Bombadil"
  23. 23.0 23.1 J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 19, (dated 16 December 1937)
  24. Letter to Nevill Coghill (Excerpt reproduced here
  25. John D. Rateliff, "Valparaiso, Day Three" dated 12 March 2013, Sacnoth's Scriptorium (accessed 14 March 2013)
  26. Gay, David Elton (2004). Chance, Jane (ed.). J.R.R. Tolkien and the Kalevala. Tolkien and the invention of myth : a reader. University Press of Kentucky. pp. 295–304.
  27. J.R.R. Tolkien; Christina Scull & Wayne G. Hammond (eds), The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, "Once upon a Time and An Evening in Tavrobel", p. 283
  28. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 175, (dated 30 November 1955)
  29. Brian Sibley, The Ring Goes Ever On
  30. The Lord of the Rings, The Battle for Middle-earth II Q&A - Enter Tom Bombadil,
Ring-bearers of the One Ring
Sauron (S.A. 1600 - 3441) · Isildur (S.A. 3441 - 25 September, T.A. 2) · Déagol (c. 2463) · Sméagol (c. 2463 - 2941) · Bilbo Baggins (2941 - 22 September, 3001) · Frodo Baggins (22 September, 3001 - 13 March, 3019) · Samwise Gamgee (13 March, 3019 - 14 March, 3019) · Frodo Baggins (14 March, 3019 - 25 March, 3019) · Gollum (25 March, T.A. 3019)
Also briefly held the Ring: Gandalf (13 April, T.A. 3018) · Tom Bombadil (27 September, T.A. 3018)