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  1. #1
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    what do you think Tom Bombadils history is?

    Recently started reading fellowship of the ring. I am interested (what with me always wanting to flesh things out beyond what is needed in a story), who you think Tom Bombadil is.

  2. #2

    A total enigma.

    Tolkien purposefully left Tom completely unexplained and to paraphrase Tolkien, every good fantasy should have a totally enigmatic character. From clues in the books as to what Tom maybe, Treebeard calls himself the oldest living being, but Tolkien was quoted as saying, "Treebeard is a character... there are things he doesn't know or understand." The Elven name for Tom is Iarwain Ben-Adar which means Eldest and Fatherless and Tom mentions existing before the first acorn and rain fell. He says in the Fellowship, "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." So he existed before Melkor came down from the Timeless Halls and become a Valar.

    My take on it all is this, though Toklien left him as a mystery, this seems certain. Tom is a spirit of Nature, as he is tied to the old forest. He is older than all living beings, and was on Adar before Melkor comes from outside Ea. He maybe the Gaia of Tolkien's world. The actual spirit of the planet, and of the natural green world at that. Not an Ainur that existed from with out, but 1 in the same as the planet. But Tolkien said if Sauron won the war Tom wouldn't survive, perhaps the green world would make Tom become an inert beings, no longer have a sapience. But that is how I always read into him. He is, as the great author himself said, an enigma.

  3. #3
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    Thumbs up


    Beren's is one of the two best "ponderings" on Tom's identity (will leave the other one to its author to chime in and post it). Both of the said readings appeal to my way of thinking too.

    One thing seems certain: It will keep Tolkien fans' minds spinning forever

  4. #4
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    That's as bad as Bilbo talking about the wereworms in the Last Desert. That was Tolkien's only line on that subject and it's made my imagination go crazy ever since.

  5. #5
    He is the First One. And when it is our time to step aside, if we do not kill ourselves, he will be waiting for us, beyond the Rim.

    Wait, no, that's Lorien from Babylon 5. Sorry.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Hal2000 View Post
    That's as bad as Bilbo talking about the wereworms in the Last Desert. That was Tolkien's only line on that subject and it's made my imagination go crazy ever since.
    Where do you think "Spice" comes from? Arakis is Middle Earth that's become a planet-wide desert. Wereworms = Spice worms.

    As for Tom, if you do some checking, the Tolkien family had a doll called "Tom Bombodil" which was a souvenier from a holiday in Holland (the doll belonged to JRRT's son Michael). Personally I think part of the reason why the character exists in the LOTR book is an inside joke between JRRT and his children about the doll.

    This wasn't the first time JRRT had done something like this. Michael had a toy dog that he lost while the family was on a holiday, and eventually JRRT wrote the book Roverandom about a toy dog that a wizard found one day and brought to life, and the adventures that dog had.

    As a character within LOTR/Middle Earth, we're not supposed to know exactly who or what Tom is. That's the way JRRT wanted it to be. I'm not going to say theory X about Tom is wrong, but there is no way to definatively say that any theory about Tom is right. All we can do is speculate.

  7. #7
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    I've read a few threads and discussions on the origins of Tom and Ungoliant, both of whom are enigmas. I have reread The Simarillion and have form a hypothesis.

    In the Ainulindalë, the Ainur begin the first Great Music until the discord of Melkor becomes to great and Eru stops the Music. Know we know the the Second Great Music created Arda and the rest but what if Tom and Ungoliant (and maybe other unknown beings) were formed during the first Great Music and remained when Eru stopped that chorus?

    It would explain their presence and why Tom in particular remembers all that came after.


    just my 2 coopers...

  8. #8
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    As to his place in Middle-earth lore, Tolkien states flatly that he is and was meant to be an enigma, with no answer. In truth, again according to Tolkien, the character was based on his son's favorite doll, and he just liked the character, so he left Bombadil in without explanation.

  9. #9
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    Well, all of what I am about to write is absolute speculation, and I agree that (1) Tom is an enigma, (2) Tom was originally an odd-looking Dutch doll, and (3) the theory that Tom is some sort of nature spirit or personification of Arda is a very very good one and probably has quite a bit of truth to it.

    We know Tom is not Eru, because Tolkien said so. He wasn't a Vala; nor was he of any mortal race. I believe he also wasn't a Maia - because the Ring had no effect on him whatsoever. All the other Maiar in the story - Gandalf, Saruman, and of course Sauron himself, were prone to the influence of the Ring. So, while this isn't hard evidence that he wasn't a Maia, it would be pretty unusual for him to have a completely different nature from all the other Maiar we encounter. Now, Tom himself says that he was here before the Dark Lord came from outside. I assume that the Dark Lord in question was Melkor, as in context Sauron wouldn't make sense, since Sauron wasn't originally evil (and therefore wasn't a Dark Lord when he came from outside) and by the time he became fully evil, many of the other things Tom preceded had already happened.

    The first being who came to Arda, according to the Silmarillion, was Melkor, followed closely by the other Valar and Maiar. The only thing that existed in Arda before the arrival of the Ainur was the Secret Fire/Flame Imperishable, which had been placed by Eru at the very beginning of the existence of Eä itself.

    Upon my last re-reading of LOTR though, some things about the Tom Bombadil elements really struck me. I haven't seen this analyzed anywhere before, but there are two elements which are repeated continuously in relation to Tom: Fire and Music.

    The symbolism of Music is obvious: Tom is constantly singing. Constantly. Excessively. About every topic under the sun from goofy pony-rhymes to a rendition of the Ainulindalë.

    Fire is also a constant element with Tom. This is the fire that soothes, strengthens, and kindles; in opposition to the fires of Sauron and Morgoth which burn and consume.

    Some of the relevant quotes which refer to Tom and Fire/Firelight include:

    Upon rescuing the hobbits from the Great Willow:
    "Hop along my little friends, up the Withywindle/Tom's going on ahead, candles for to kindle."

    In Tom's house:
    "Suddenly, a wide yellow beam flowed out brightly from a door that was opened."
    "And with that song, the hobbits stood upon the threshold, and a golden light was all about them."
    "They were in a long low room, filled with the light of lamps swinging from the beams of the roof; and on the table of dark polished wood stood many candles, tall and yellow, burning brightly."
    "When they turned again, Goldberry stood in the door behind, framed in light. She held a candle, shielding its flame from the draught with her hand; and the light flowed through it, like sunlight through a white shell."
    "The boards blazed with candles, white and yellow."

    From the song the Hobbits were to sing if they got into trouble:
    "By fire, sun, and moon, hearken now and hear us!"

    Basically, there are constant references to Tom or Goldberry holding candles or lamps, lighting candles or lamps or doing something involving firelight. Tom's eyes are also described on several occasions as "glinting," "shining," and "gleaming."

    So, given all this, and given the centrality of Music and Fire imagery in all the parts of the text which relate to Tom Bombadil - and given that Tom is very ancient, very wise, obviously quite powerful, and seemingly knows more than anyone else currently in Middle Earth about the core nature of Arda and the beings in it (with the possible exception of the Istari and maybe, doubtfully, Elrond) I think that Tom himself has something to do with the Secret Fire and the Music of the Ainur. Not that he was these things or a direct manifestation of them - but perhaps he is somehow a being who is part of Eä itself; a sentient voice sung into being by the Music and whose purpose, in part, may be to tend the Fire and bring it to the living things in Middle-Earth, each in its turn and according to its understanding, from Hobbits, Men, Elves, and Dwarves, to plants and cheerful ponies named Fatty Lumpkin.

    That would explain why the Ring has no effect on him, since the Fire and Music are beyond such things. And that would also explain why Tom himself would, as Glorfindel says, "fall, Last as he was First, and then Night will come." If Arda were entirely controlled by the forces of Sauron, there would be no place in Middle-Earth for the Secret Fire (which Melkor and Sauron never realized was created and controlled by Eru only), and no room for any part of the Music other than the theme of Melkor.

    (As for Goldberry, there's not much information about her, but I think that, as the "River Woman's Daughter," she's probably one of the Maiar of Ulmo. Since we're told that there are more echoes of the Music within the waters of the world than anywhere else, it would make sense for Tom and Goldberry to be together.)

    Anyway - this is my two cents, and apologies for the massive post.
    Last edited by Galadhloth; Feb 27 2013 at 07:10 AM.
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  10. #10
    That was a really good post Galadhloth. I just wanted to say one thing you said he didn't seem to be the usual Maiar because they could be affected by the ring but what about Radagast? It says Saruman didn't even bother with him because (I think?) he thought he was too stupid. But from the little about him Radagast does sound like Tom in some ways I thought? And I think how Gandalf said Tom would forget he even had the ring if he were to keep it, my impression would be that Radagast would too do you think?

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by bethanna View Post
    That was a really good post Galadhloth. I just wanted to say one thing you said he didn't seem to be the usual Maiar because they could be affected by the ring but what about Radagast? It says Saruman didn't even bother with him because (I think?) he thought he was too stupid. But from the little about him Radagast does sound like Tom in some ways I thought? And I think how Gandalf said Tom would forget he even had the ring if he were to keep it, my impression would be that Radagast would too do you think?
    Thanks! Regarding Radagast, it's hard to say. Certainly he and Tom have a love of the natural world in common. If Radagast had the ring, it could really go one of two ways. Either, as you say, he'd be so interested in the natural world that he'd basically ignore it; or, the corrupting power of the Ring might tempt Radagast to desire its power - initially with the aim of protecting his beloved birds and beasts, but then turning those noble intentions into something dark and evil. (This is similar to what Galadriel described would happen to her as well if she took it, but I would imagine it would be worse with Radagast, since as a Maia he's more powerful than Galadriel). It's very hard to say though, since Radagast never got anywhere near the thing.
    Last edited by Galadhloth; Feb 26 2013 at 11:14 PM.
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  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by Ironcrown View Post
    But what if Tom and Ungoliant (and maybe other unknown beings) were formed during the first Great Music and remained when Eru stopped that chorus?
    just my 2 coopers...
    It specifically says that: ungoliant was one of Melkor's original servants, that then left after the first battle......
    .......and it's spelled coppers

  13. #13
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    He could have meant coopers. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/coopers?s=t


    But back on subject; Tom could represent innocence and enlightenment. A being unfettered by the temporary trials and tribulations of corporeal existence. Seeing the greater reality of eternity and the possible remerging of the individual parts into the whole.

  14. #14
    I like the personification of Arda idea. Or maybe he's a physical manifestation of an echo of the Great Music. He exists until the music ends and doesn't interfere, just watches it play out.
    [FONT=Trebuchet MS]"You can't fight the Enemy with his own Ring without turning into an Enemy" - J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter # 81


    [/FONT]

  15. #15
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    Note: This topic has been covered many other times in this forum. This could have been discovered by going to the 'Advanced Search' tool in the upper right hand portion of the page and pressing 'Forums'. One could then enter "Bombadil" in the keyword(s) box, selecting 'Search Titles Only' in the box to the right of that, then in the 'Search in Forum(s)' box scrolling down until one finds 'J.R.R. Tolkien', and finally pressing the 'Search Now' button.

    Below is what I wrote in the thread Old Tom Bombadil is a merry fellow in May 2011:

    There are some who believe that Tolkien is playing a game with us, that all the clues to Tom's true identity are there for the person or persons with enough wisdom, intelligence, and diligence to ferret them out. I find that this line of thinking is contrary to what Tolkien stated in his letter to Peter Hastings in September of 1954 ( Letter 153, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien):

    I don’t think Tom needs philosophizing about, and is not improved by it.

    I believe that the Hobbits' approach to Tom, as depicted in The Fellowship of the Ring, is precisely the approach Tolkien meant us to take:

    Frodo and Sam as if enchanted...

    The hobbits sat still before him, enchanted...

    Whether the morning and evening of one day or many days had passed Frodo could not tell…He spoke at last out of his wonder

    Then Tom and Goldberry set the table; and the hobbits sat half in wonder and half in laughter; so fair was the grace of Goldberry and so merry and odd the caperings of Tom.

    'What do you mean?' asked Pippin, looking at him, half puzzled and half amused.

    Tom sang most of the time, but it was chiefly nonsense, or else perhaps a strange language unknown to the hobbits, an ancient language whose words were mainly those of wonder and delight.

    Sam summarizes their feelings when he says after Tom has set them off on the path to Bree:

    ‘He’s a caution and no mistake. I reckon we may go a good deal further and see naught better, nor queerer.’

    The hobbits themselves explored the mystery of Tom’s identity. Frodo asks Goldberry who Tom is. Her answer:

    ’He is, as you have seen him…He is the Master of wood, water, and hill…He has no fear. Tom Bombadil is the master.’

    Not satisfied with Goldberry's response, Frodo asks Tom himself. Tom replies:

    ‘Eh what?...Don’t you know my name yet? That’s the only answer…Eldest, that’s what I am…’

    Bombadil's precise identity is supposed to be mystery (Letter 144):

    And even in a mythical Age there must be some enigmas, as there always are. Tom Bombadil is one (intentionally).

    The character of Tom Bombadil has many detractors. Some find him silly, or even annoying. Some believe that Tolkien inserted Bombadil into the story at a point where he had no clear idea of where it was going, and left Tom in the story merely because he had no desire to remove what he’d already written despite its seeming incongruence with the remainder of the story. Those who hold this opinion apparently do not believe Tolkien when he wrote (Letter 144):

    Tom Bombadil is not an important person—to the narrative…he represents something that I feel important, though I would not be prepared to analyze the feeling precisely I would not, however, have left him in, if he did not have some kind of function…

    It would seem that regardless of the circumstances that led Tolkien to inserting Bombadil in LOTR—and leaving him in LOTR despite those who apparently attempted to persuade Tolkien to remove him—Tom was meant to be included and does serve a purpose in Tolkien's story. Whether or not that purpose is perceived by every reader, however, is another question.

    Of everything I've ever read about Bombadil, I like best what Tom Shippey wrote in J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century:


    Finally Tom Bombadil himself was from his first conception a genius loci, a ‘spirit of the place’, the place being, as Tolkien remarked to Unwin (see Letters, p.26), ‘the (vanishing) Oxfordshire and Berkshire countryside’. The elves in The Lord of the Rings call him ‘oldest and fatherless’; he is the one creature whom the Ring has no power at all, not even to make invisible; but he could not defy Sauron permanently, for his power ‘is in the earth itself’, and Sauron ‘can torture and destroy the very hills’. He is a kind of exhalation of the earth, a nature-spirit and once again a highly English one: cheerful, noisy, unpretentious to the point of shabbiness, extremely direct, apparently rather simple, not as simple as he looks. The fact that everything he says is in a sort of verse, whether printed as verse or not, and that the hobbits too find themselves ‘singing merrily, as if it was easier and more natural than talking’, make him seem, not an artist, but someone from an age before art and nature were distinguished, when magic needed no wizard’s staff but came from words alone. Tolkien may have got the idea from the singing wizards of the Finnish epic the Kalevala, which he so much admired, and which he perhaps wished might also have an English counterpart.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by BerenCamlost View Post
    Tom is a spirit of Nature, as he is tied to the old forest. He is older than all living beings, and was on Adar before Melkor comes from outside Ea.
    I believe you meant to write 'Arda' rather than "Adar". Adar is the Sindarin word for 'father'.

    Quote Originally Posted by BerenCamlost View Post
    Not an Ainur that existed from with out, but 1 in the same as the planet.
    I believe you mean 'Ainu'. Ainur is plural. So one might say "an Ainu" or "one of the Ainur", but not "an Ainu".

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by GarethB View Post
    As for Tom, if you do some checking, the Tolkien family had a doll called "Tom Bombodil" which was a souvenier from a holiday in Holland (the doll belonged to JRRT's son Michael). Personally I think part of the reason why the character exists in the LOTR book is an inside joke between JRRT and his children about the doll.
    That's a nice theory, and Tolkien certainly loved jokes, although most of his are of the linguistic variety--Bag End example--but Tom Bombadil existed as a literary character before even Bilbo Baggins.

    The poem 'The Adventures of Tom Bombadil' appeared in the Oxford Magazine in 1934. (The Hobbit was published in 1937.) The poem was published again, in more or less the same form, in the early 1960s with illustrations by Pauline Baynes. In the poem Tom meets Goldberry, Old Man Willow, and a Barrow-wight, all of whom were transplanted into the pages of The Lord of the Rings that was begun in 1937 and finally published in the mid-1950s. One character who appears in the poem but does not appear in LOTR is Badger-brock. I chose to honor this character with my forum name.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by bethanna View Post
    It says Saruman didn't even bother with him because (I think?) he thought he was too stupid.
    To be more accurate, Saruman calls Radagast a 'fool'. There is a difference. A stupid person is one lacking intelligence. A fool is one who acts unwisely.

    Saruman probably believed, and rightly so, that Radagast was not concerned with power, and therefore the Enemy's Ring would be of no interest to him. (It was this same lack of desire of power that allowed Faramir to let the Ring pass out of his control rather than attempt to seize it as his brother Boromir had.) Considering Radagast's fearful report to Gandalf about the Nazgûl, even if Radagast craved power he would likely be too fearful to attempt ownership of the Ring.

 

 

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