Jan 26 2009 2:18pm
LotR re-read: Fellowship I.7, “In the House of Tom Bombadil”

cover of The Fellowship of the Ring In chapter 7 of The Fellowship of the Ring, “In the House of Tom Bombadil,” not a whole lot happens; but since it’s the principal chapter with the eponymous Bombadil, there’s nevertheless much to talk about.

What Happens

Tom Bombadil and Goldberry feed the hobbits dinner and give them beds for the night. Frodo dreams of Gandalf escaping from Orthanc about a week earlier, though he doesn’t recognize it as such. Pippin and Merry have nightmares of Old Man Willow that are dispelled by the memory of Goldberry’s words.

The next day, as Goldberry calls rains for her “washing day,” the hobbits and Bombadil share stories. Suddenly, Tom asks Frodo to show him the Ring, and when Frodo hands it over, Tom puts it on without vanishing and then makes it vanish, temporarily. He also proves able to see Frodo when Frodo puts the Ring on. At the end of the chapter, the hobbits resolve to set out the next day, armed with a rhyme to call Tom in need.


I guess we’ll start with the obvious questions: who are Tom Bombadil and Goldberry, and what role do they play in the story? (I nearly posted about this chapter and the next together, so as to be able to address the latter question completely, but I think we can manage.)

As for the “who” question, there are a surprising range of proposed answers. (Two thorough summaries are by Steuard Jensen and the Encyclopedia of Arda.) I want to discuss three possibilities here: the theory that Tom and Goldberry are Valar, specifically Aule and Yavanna; a solely LotR-textual analysis; and authorial intent.

First, the theory that Tom and Goldberry are slumming Valar, i.e., the most powerful spirits bar the Creator himself, otherwise very similar to polytheistic deities. I confess I have only quickly skimmed the above essay, because I really hate the whole idea. Let me see if I get past my inclination to just say, “No!” and set out why.

  1. If true, this would be the only thing in the text that a reader could not at least get a sense of solely by reading the text + Appendices. (Okay, I have a vague memory of some introduction somewhere saying that none of Tolkien’s references in the book are orphaned except the cats of Queen Berúthiel, so maybe the only other thing.)
  2. It would completely change the feel of the story to have such powerful beings hanging out unacknowledged (and this goes double for the theory that Tom is the creator himself). And this means that the reading experience would be vastly different for people who somehow figured it out and for people who didn’t. This seems even more inconsistent with the rest of the book’s approach to exposition than the first point.
  3. I don’t think it’s consistent with their own words. Tom says, in response to Frodo’s question about his identity, “Don’t you know my name yet? That’s the only answer.” Similarly, Goldberry identifies herself as “daughter of the River.”

So, that brings us to the analysis that depends solely on the text of Lord of the Rings, without reference to The Silmarillion or other writings.

Here’s the full quote of Tom’s in response to Frodo:

“Eh, what?” said Tom sitting up, and his eyes glinting in the gloom. “Don’t you know my name yet? That’s the only answer. Tell me, who are you, alone, yourself and nameless? But you are young and I am old. Eldest, that’s what I am. Mark my words, my friends: Tom was here before the river and the trees; Tom remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn. He made paths before the Big People, and saw the little People arriving. He was here before the Kings and the graves and the Barrow-wights. When the Elves passed westward, Tom was here already, before the seas were bent. He knew the dark under the stars when it was fearless—before the Dark Lord came from Outside.”

Here’s what Goldberry says when Frodo asks,

“ . . . who is Tom Bombadil?”

“He is,” said Goldberry, staying her swift movements and smiling.

Frodo looked at her questioningly. “He is, as you have seen him,” she said in answer to his look. “He is the Master of wood, water, and hill.”

“Then all this strange land belongs to him?”

“No indeed!” she answered, and her smile faded. “That would indeed be a burden,” she added in a low voice, as if to herself. “The trees and the grasses and all things growing or living in the land belong each to themselves. Tom Bombadil is the Master. No one has ever caught old Tom walking in the forest, wading in the water, leaping on the hill-tops under light and shadow. He has no fear. Tom Bombadil is master.”

Goldberry, as noted above, identifies herself as the River’s daughter; she is presented with strong water-nymph associations and can call rain.

From these, I draw the conclusion that they are both deeply linked in some sense to nature and the land. Tom seems to be an embodiment, or outgrowth, or some such, of the (local) land itself; while I see no reason to doubt Goldberry’s account of herself. And I find myself, now, untroubled by being unable to be more precise: since Tom is so willfully against more precision, what else can a reader do?

Finally, for those who accept authorial intent as a valid source of information (which I also seem okay with, at least when it comes to “factual” things that aren’t contradicted by the text or my sense of the story), here’s what Tolkien said about Tom:

I do not mean him to be an allegory—or I should not have given him so particular, individual, and ridiculous a name—but ‘allegory’ is the only mode of exhibiting certain functions: he is then an ‘allegory’, or an exemplar, a particular embodying of pure (real) natural science: the spirit that desires knowledge of other things, their history and nature, because they are ‘other’ and wholly independent of the enquiring mind, a spirit coeval with the rational mind, and entirely unconcerned with ‘doing’ anything with the knowledge: Zoology and Botany not Cattle-breeding or Agriculture. Even the Elves hardly show this: they are primarily artists. (Letters 192)

Putting it another way, Tolkien says Tom “represents certain things otherwise left out.” (Quoted in the article “Bombadil’s role in The Lord of the Rings,” about which, more later.)

* * *

Now, the roles of Tom and Goldberry, which I find a more interesting question. Let’s do Goldberry first, since she tends to be overlooked.

First, she obviously and heavily prefigures Galadriel. Ann McCauley Basso has an exhaustive discussion of the parallels in her article “Fair Lady Goldberry, daughter of the River.” Basso suggests that this prefiguring serves two purposes. First, it allows Goldberry to act as a bridge between the rustic women seen so far and the noble women to come, giving the hobbits a way to start appreciating those women. (Basso argues that except for Goldberry, every woman in LotR falls into these categories: Lobelia, Mrs. Maggot, Ioreth, and Rosie Cotton on the one hand, and Galadriel, Arwen, and Eowyn on the other. (Are these, in fact, the only women with speaking parts in LotR? I can’t think of more, but then I forgot Lobelia completely earlier.)) Second, as one of a number of events that are paralleled later, Goldberry is “an important element of the rising action.”

(I disagree with Basso’s emphasis on a number of other points, including her argument that there’s a lingering sense of danger about Goldberry from her first appearance outside of LotR, but these structural points seem useful to me.)

Taryne Jade Taylor, in “Investigating the role and origin of Goldberry in Tolkien’s mythology,” argues that her role is “to cleanse the hobbits and awaken them to the power of love and knowledge.” Her autumn-cleaning rain keeps them in the house and gives Tom the opportunity to tell them stories about nature that give them wider knowledge after Old Man Willow, and that set them in a historical context (more on this later). Moreover, she also sings to them, “songs that began merrily in the hills and fell softly down into silence; and in the silences they saw in their minds pools and waters wider than any they had known, and looking into them they saw the sky below them and the stars like jewels in the depths.” This demonstrates how she’s opened their minds to deeper understandings than they previously possessed.

(Taylor also links Goldberry to Proserpina/Persephone and the Celtic goddess Etain, and argues that their house is in Faerie, which I don’t find very useful, but someone else might.)

In addition, Goldberry’s words are the ones the hobbits remember in the middle of the night when they have nightmares.

Bombadil, as I said above, gives the hobbits context both natural and historical. I have to quote possibly my favorite paragraph of the re-read to date here:

Suddenly Tom’s talk left the woods and went leaping up the young stream, over bubbling waterfalls, over pebbles and worn rocks, and among small flowers in close grass and wet crannies, wandering at last up on to the Downs. They heard of the Great Barrows, and the green mounds, and the stone-rings upon the hills and in the hollows among the hills. Sheep were bleating in flocks. Green walls and white walls rose. There were fortresses on the heights. Kings of little kingdoms fought together, and the young Sun shone like fire on the red metal of their new and greedy swords. There was victory and defeat; and towers fell, fortresses were burned, and flames went up into the sky. Gold was piled on the biers of dead kings and queens; and mounds covered them, and the stone doors were shut; and the grass grew over all. Sheep walked for a while biting the grass, but soon the hills were empty again. A shadow came out of dark places far away, and the bones were stirred in the mounds. Barrow-wights walked in the hollow places with a clink of rings on cold fingers, and gold chains in the wind. Stone rings grinned out of the ground like broken teeth in the moonlight.

The shift of voice starting with “Sheep were bleating” is very effective, and ever since I noticed this paragraph on my first time through the re-read, I’ve been seriously impressed by it.

Michael Treschow and Mark Duckworth, in “Bombadil’s role in The Lord of the Rings,” point to this as one way that Tom prepares the hobbits to go on with their quest. In addition, he literally “sees right through” the Ring, providing a new perspective on its danger (see below), and gives them the plot-significant knives (in the next chapter). Further, in the next chapter Frodo will have the dream of the West, which, though he doesn’t recognize it, will be his ultimate goal/reward. Treschow and Duckworth argue that Tom himself is positioned as the goal for characters: Gandalf, Galadriel, and Frodo all eventually come to points where they can cease striving and fighting and seeking external mastery. They cite in support Gandalf’s desire to speak with Tom at the end.

I’m not wholly convinced by this last point, but it’s interesting to think about. And I am more reconciled to Tom’s presence in the narrative now than I was. Earlier, I was leaning towards a slightly negative opinion of Tom in the narrative, because he was unaffected by the Ring and I found that odd, especially at this point in the story. People had a wide range of opinions on this, though, and I’m curious to hear what you all think.

* * *

Only one little non-Tom and Goldberry comment, after all that:

On my first time through the re-read, I said that I was unhappy about Frodo seeing Gandalf escaping Orthanc. An anonymous commenter suggested what I thought was a pretty neat solution: the One Ring was responding to Frodo’s desire to know what was happening with Gandalf, which it could do because Gandalf wears one of the Three. The dream isn’t real-time, but I’ll still take it.

« Fellowship I.6 | Index | Fellowship I.8 »

Jason Henninger
1. jasonhenninger
Do you think the movie would have been better with Tom and Goldberry in it?

I'm still not sure what their purpose was, in terms of plot. Who they were is of less concern to me than why they were.
JS Bangs
2. jaspax
I was always a partisan of the theory that Bombadil is one of the Valar, although the linked article contains some very powerful arguments against it. (In particular, I had forgotten that the Council of Elrond predicts he would be defeated by Sauron.)

Theories of origin aside, I've never really liked the Bombadil chapters. They just didn't make any *sense* to me, and I couldn't see why there needed to be yet another interlude on the way to Rivendell. I mean, they haven't even met Strider yet! I always felt that the story didn't really pick up until they reach Bree, and every reread I'm sort of appalled at how long it takes to get there. The very first time I read the chapters I might have liked them (I can't remember now), but I do remember that the first time I finished the trilogy* that I looked back at the Bombadil chapters and couldn't figure out why there were there.
3. ChristopherRowe
Y'know, I hadn't read this book for over twenty years when you started this up, and I remember just despising these chapters. But now they're among my favorite so far (I'm a little ahead). In addition to all the substantive things you discussed, the description of Goldberry's reed green dress is so lovely, and just delighted me. I didn't miss these characters in the film, but I would have liked to have seen what Ngila Dickson would have done with Goldberry's gown.
Kate Nepveu
4. katenepveu
jasonhenninger, no, since I think the movie would also have to add back the Old Forest & the Barrow-wight, and that's just too much. (The first is my favorite. I have problems with it but I think the pace is much the best of the three.)

As far as the book-pace concerns of you and jaspax, well, I'm starting to think that if you think all the pre-Rivendell (or even pre-Bree) stuff is good, then an argument can be made for Bombadil and Goldberry's purpose; but otherwise they're likely to be a particular annoyance.

ChristopherRowe, ooh, costumes! That would have been fun, you're right.
Jason Ramboz
5. jramboz
The theory that I remember reading somewhere (and the one that I think I've mostly come to accept) is that Bombadil and Goldberry fall into the category of, well, "other." It seems that Tolkien's cosmology made allowances for other types of beings than the ones flowing in strict hierarchy from Ilúvatar (cf. Ungoliant), and that here we have two of these. In the end, all we can say about them is that they're just "other spirits," not properly a part of Arda, but choosing to enter it as their home.

I've spent a lot of time trying to decide if I find this answer satisfying, or just a cosmological cop-out. Really, I'm somewhat surprised Tolkien never (at least to my knowledge) revisited this question later in life, especially at the time he was questioning some of the mythological and philosophical underpinnings of his world (see especially The History of Middle-Earth Volumes 11 and 12). (Incidentally, these are some of my favorites of Tolkien's writings.)

In the end, I think I can accept this answer precisely because it isn't an easy one and doesn't fit in nicely. Even in a world so meticulously mapped out (in both the literal and figurative sense), there are still mysteries and puzzles, and things to make us wonder. In the end, I think I find it comforting and inspiring that there are more things in Valinor and Middle-earth than are dreamt of in Tolkien's philosophy.
6. FunBob

The quote you're looking for regarding the dangling ends and the cats of Queen Beruthiel is from the Unfinished Tales, the Istari, Note 7: "In a letter written in 1956, my father said that 'There is hardly any reference in the LOTR to things that do not actually exist, in its own plan (of secondary or sub-creational reality),' and added in a footnote to this: 'The cats of Queen Beruthiel and the names of the other two wizards (five minus Gandalf, Saruman, Radagast) are all that I recollect." And then Christopher tells the background sketch for Queen Beruthiel.

As for Tom Bombadil and Goldberry, I have always felt they were the introduction of the hobbit's adventures beyond, and Goldberry's showers were a baptism into the unknown, much as Bilbo was introduced into Wilderland by Beorn, who outfitted the Dwarves and Bilbo for the journey.
7. Tony Zbaraschuk
It's probably worth noting that every dramatic adaptation of LOTR that I've seen has skipped Bombadil entirely. Probably another victim of "have to leave out stuff that isn't plot-critical", but it's suggestive nonetheless.
Peter Zupanc
8. arin777
I haven't read the novel for a long time, but for some time I've been thinking this - and maybe it's overstretched. LOTR "is" a collection of different nuances of greed. You've got "light" greed which is not harmfull(Hobbits), greed out of "necessity" (Gandalf, Aragorn), the "total greed" ( Saruman), and that creature which is half eaten by total greed yet still has shreds of selfishness, the combination which makes him schizophrenic - Gollum. I mean: all of this characters for different reasons and in different ways want to have something. Tom Bombadil is "the missing link": he doesn't need to have anything, and that's also why he can look through the ring and it has no influence on him. He has "no greed".
Soon Lee
9. SoonLee
jramboz @5 wrote: In the end, I think I find it comforting and inspiring that there are more things in Valinor and Middle-earth than are dreamt of in Tolkien's philosophy.

That's a nice thought.

Personally, I don't think Bombadil & Goldberry are Aule & Yavanna. It just doesn't make sense to me to have Valar in Middle Earth when they don't intervene directly; they use agents. The nature spirit idea isn't a bad one but my favoured theory is that Bombadil is a Maia gone native.

Bombadil is unaffected by the Ring, which suggests to me that he is a being on the same level of power as Sauron, i.e. a Maia. There are already other Maia on Middle Earth (the Wizards, Balrog, Sauron), so another one wouldn't be out of place.

Aside: Something I find it interesting in the Middel Earth cosmology is that while elves, dwarves & men have their own origin stories, hobbits don't. Bombadil is described in a way that evokes a large hobbit. Is it a stretch to suggest that Bombadil is the creator of Hobbits?
Dominic Wellington
10. riotnrrd
Aside: Something I find it interesting in the Middel Earth cosmology is that while elves, dwarves & men have their own origin stories, hobbits don't. Bombadil is described in a way that evokes a large hobbit. Is it a stretch to suggest that Bombadil is the creator of Hobbits?

That is a theory I had never heard of before, but I find it quite plausible. I had always subscribed to the Bombadil-Maia theory myself. I am not sure whether that would allow him to create a race of his own or not, though. Aulë created the Dwarves, but he was a first-rank Vala, and even so it took Ilúvatar to give them true life.

By the way, the essay "What is Tom Bombadil" seems to assume that Bombadil has power over the Ring:

Bombadil also interacts with the Ring in surprising ways. It does not make him invisible, he is able to make it invisible, he sees Frodo wearing it, and Frodo is able to hand it to him without a second thought.

I had assumed that the disappearance was just a conjuring trick, which seems much more in line with the character than the exertion of some power. Any thoughts?
11. clovis
I'm very much with the Bombadil/Goldberry are 'other', a mystery within the otherwise well charted creation of Tolkien's. I was interested to discover that he predated LOTR and does not appear in early drafts (a hobbit called Trotter shares some of his characteristics). Whereas most of the other peoples of middle-earth derive from the norse tales (elves, dwarfs, warrior-kings) I've always felt that like the hobbits Bombadil reflects something very English, or at least Tolkien's dream of England. His general irreverance and carelessness with the ring reminds me of Shakespeare's (and Kipling's) Puck and of GK Chesterton's poem The Secret People ('And a few men talked of freedom, while England talked of ale'). One of the articles Katenepveu referenced in her last post (and thanks for providing the links) places Goldberry firmly as a water spirit.

The ring has no power over Bombadil because it offers him nothing. He is totally content within his small part of the world (and powerless outside it I'd always assumed, though capable of leaving it eg to visit Farmer Maggot). Within the story, he is most strongly linked with the hobbits and Gandalf once the wizard's labours are over. In other words, with the characters least enamoured of power and its trappings.

The fact that this whole sequence is missed out in the three adaptations I am aware of (Jackson's film, Bakshi's film and the BBC radio version) does not show that it is therefore unnecessary. Every adventure story needs moments of rest and this provides one of them. There are also foreshadowings and a sense of the long deep history of middle-earth. It adds to the depth of the tale. Bombadil himself, the cheerful, irreverant, mysterious stranger and helper with great but unspecified powers is a motif that pops up quite often in popular culture. Dare I suggest that you'll currently find him in the guise of Dr Who?
Kate Nepveu
12. katenepveu
Big comment response roundup:

jramboz: Really, I'm somewhat surprised Tolkien never (at least to my knowledge) revisited this question later in life

That so? Yeah, me too. But in a good way.

FunBob, thanks for tracking down the quote. So that's a bit less definitive than I'd remembered--just because almost everything exists, doesn't mean it's mentioned--but my memory now still says that that the textual references are complete _within the text_. Maybe I'll find things that aren't referenced as we go along.

arin777: that's interesting about greed, especially since I found _The Hobbit_ to be principally a cautionary tale against it. I'm not quite sure I'd call all of your degrees "greed," though; "desire," maybe?

SoonLee, I've occasionally wondered about the lack of origin story for hobbits myself. Does anyone out there know if one appears in any of the posthumous writings?

riotnrrd, I lean toward conjuring trick myself, though the ability to treat the Ring as something to use sleight-of-hand with is itself notable.

clovis, there's some implication that his geographic boundaries are self-imposed, so I'm not sure about his lack of power outside them. But I agree that he "feels" more like the hobbits than other characters. Well, and Treebeard, obviously.
13. Graydon
Remember what Bombadil is called/tentatively identified as in Elrond's house, even if the review is not there yet --Iarwain Ben-adar, "Eldest and Fatherless".

Remember also that the theme of loss is not meant to be unique to the close of the Third Age and the passing of the elves; things keep getting lost through history because the world is fallen and has fallen inhabitants. The first glorious designs will not be realized. "There are older and fouler things than Sauron in the deep places of the world" Gandalf says; he ought to know, and that implies things that came into the world as side effects of the music; Eru made the material world by realizing the whole of the music as it was sung, not as it was intended. (And yes, Sauron is a Maiar; but he was not in his origin fallen, so the date of his fall and thus the origin of Sauron may be understood to be more recent than the material creation.)

There is a fair bit of this happening post-creatively in the published texts; Manwe sending spirits of the air to inhabit bodies and become the great eagles, Yavanna sending similar spirits to guard the animals and plants (we see Ents and Huan the Hound of Valinor in published writings, but that does not mean that these are all there are), the evil embodied spirits such as Glorund the Golden, Father of Dragons or the (late) Boldog, orc bodies inhabited by powerful fell spirits.

So the old and fell things, like the watcher in the water and Ungoilant and various other things Earendel is said to have fought while trying to get to the West, come into the world at its creation in accord with the flawed Music of the Ainur, presumably have their positive counterparts, and Tom and Goldberry are two of them. They were some good angel's improvisation or reaching after some good realization, and there they are, and have been, and might well still be, elements of a willed creation and a glorification of nature and of knowledge.

So I think the best explanation for Tom and Goldberry's purpose in the text is that they are there as the memory of more ancient things than Lothlorien; not unfallen (because the world is fallen) but a little bit of something really ancient alive and walking the earth and holding the dominion intended for the Children of Illuvatar in the original design. (Note Old Man Willow as an antagonist who disputes this dominion.)

Kindness, good food, jollity, companionship, security, and peace are not much present in the Lord of the Rings because there's a dark god bent on the conquest of all. But they should be present; the original benevolent design of the creator intended this for His children. Restoration of justice and order leads to those things, like 1420 in the hobbit calendar after Sam uses Galadriel's gift, or the changes in Gondor after Aragorn becomes king.

Tom Bombadil has been living in his dominion since the world was made, and keeping those things while the Elves awoke and the first sunrise happened and Beleriand the beloved went under the wave and Numenor was made and fell and the shape of the world was changed. All that strife, even on the side of right, is part of the mistake; Numenor and all its glory and misery and ruin were born out of things that ought not to have happened, had the original theme of the Music been followed. Aragorn should not have cause or need to say that he is the last of the Numenorians and the latest king of the Elder Days because those things should not have been, however much glory and sorrow and wisdom has been wrung out of them. There should be no need for prowess in war, but the world is fallen, and there is.

Tom's there, Golberry is there, as the good example -- the necessarily odd and otherworldly example, in a fallen world -- of what's truly important; humility, responsibility, peace, companionship, and kindness.
Linda Frear
14. tanguera
It is probable that Tom does hold power over the ring, or at least the ring had no power over him. Is that because he predates Sauron and knows Sauron for who he really is?

I always felt Tom and Goldberry belong in the story, if for no other reason than to give the hobbits a small bit of respite after the horror of both the black riders and the Old Forest. Goldberry greets the hobbits with the words "Fear nothing for tonight you are under the roof of Tom Bombadil".

Also, the watchful eye of Sauron is likely unable to find the hobbits while in the home of Tom allowing them some respite from the black riders and also allowing the possibility of furthering their quest without notice (not that it worked out that way).

Plus, maybe for Frodo, the knowledge that the ring held no power over Tom might give him a small measure of hope at darker points in time.
15. DavidT

Well said. That has (if you'll pardon the expression) the ring of truth.
16. vcmw
I've never read any of the supplemental bits outside of the Silmarillion, but the Tom Bombadil bits and the bits with Ents are my utter favorites in LotR. (This might have something to do with the fact that Tom Bombadil gets a disproportionate share of the poetry, and I read the stuff for the poetry first when I was a little kid.)

Lacking the background knowledge that other readers have from the histories and stuff, I'd always sort of felt that you needed Tom Bombadil to have the Ents.

The elves in Lothlorien and Rivendell have plenty of lovely vegetation, but it's rather soulless vegetation - under control, carefully managed, etc. The hobbits have farmed stuff but it's particularly domestic. The sequence with Tom and with Old Man Willow gives the story a solid grounding in the idea that the natural elements of the world have will and volition. Then in the next book when Pippin and Merry stumble on the Ents, I find the Ents plausible and even compelling. Without that setup, I think that the Ents would have seemed much less believable.

Treebeard wondered if the Entwives would have liked or been drawn to Hobbit country, and I always thought that if anyone had an idea where they might have gone, it would be Tom Bombadil.
17. clovis
I agree entirely and very much like the idea of linking Bombadil and the ents (the other 'outsiders' of middle-earth), a link I hadn't made until reading these posts. Thanks.
18. alfoss1540
1) Bombadil is great - enuf said

2) On the final note, you wrote:

On my first time through the re-read, I said that I was unhappy about Frodo seeing Gandalf escaping Orthanc. An anonymous commenter suggested what I thought was a pretty neat solution: the One Ring was responding to Frodo’s desire to know what was happening with Gandalf, which it could do because Gandalf wears one of the Three. The dream isn’t real-time, but I’ll still take it.

My question:

When did Gandalf acquire the 3rd elven Ring. Somewhere it is noted that Cirdan had at one point had it - and that the Gray Havens were one of the elven enchanted places on Middle Earth. But at what point does Gandalf acquire his ring???

This will lead to a later discussion on Who are the White Council and the order of Wizards (We know Saruman, Elrand, Gandalf, Galadriel and possibly Radagast) Who else?

If this is discussed in one of the Tolkien anthologies, please state which. I would love to read it.

Reading, PA
Soon Lee
19. SoonLee
alfoss1540 @18:
In (I think) "Unfinished Tales", there is as brief account of Cirdan giving Narya to Gandalf when he arrived to Middle Earth. So, I would say that Gandalf has had the ring for hundreds of years prior to the events of "The Hobbit".

ETA: It would be more like 2000 years if the Wizards arrived around year 1000 of the Third Age: the One Ring gets destroyed in 3019.
Kate Nepveu
20. katenepveu
Graydon: thank you for your thoughts. I want to quibble with the idea that they must be _necessarily_ odd in a fallen world, but that may be because the idea of a fallen world is not one that I at-bone believe in.

tanguera: I'd think Gandalf might predate Sauron or at least knows him for what he really is, so I'm not sure that alone would be enough to account for Tom's apparent immunity.

vcmw: what an interesting idea, that you needed Tom to establish a foundation for the Ents. I think that makes sense to me.

SoonLee, thanks for answering alfoss1540 about Gandalf's Ring. And yeah, it's _Unfinished Tales_ and it doesn't seem to be in the text of _LotR_ proper.
21. dulac3
I do not either love or hate Tom, but in my youth I remember really liking the character and being fascinated by his ambiguous place in the mythology.

I have to admit to being surprised that there are still adherents to the 'Tom as Maia' or 'Tom as Illuvatar' theories. I may hew too closely to accepting authorial intent, but I thought Tolkien more or less put that possibility to rest in one of his letters where he said something to the effect that he didn't quite know himself who exactly Tom was, but if he was forced to give an answer he would say that Tom represents the spirit of the Oxford countryside of his youth. I think he is thus best viewed as a nature spirit, separate from the pantheon of the Valar and their ilk, and holds such a special (perhaps even central?) part to the tale due to his connections to the Sarehole countryside that acted as a primary inspriation for much of what later became Middle Earth (esp. the Shire). I think Clovis hit the nail on the head above when he said: "I've always felt that like the hobbits Bombadil reflects something very English, or at least Tolkien's dream of England."

Tom can certainly be viewed as childish to a certain extent, but I think that may partially be due to the fact that he represents primal elements of Tolkien's own childhood. He also doesn't quite fit, perhaps, because his genesis was so early. He represents an earlier conception of aspects of Middle Earth that Tolkien wanted to express, but felt couldn't, or shouldn't, be hammered into direct coherence with the rest of the elements of the Ring tale.

The fact that he is mysterious and doesn't seem to fit properly into the known cosmology is also not necessarily a stumbling block. While Tolkien was certainly obsessed with details and the attempt to make Middle Earth as coherent as possible his own theory on Fairy Stories necessitates that there be those "hazy mountains in the distance" about which we will never learn in this tale and whose nature and mystery will always be on the edge of the horizon. Tom's place in the cosmos may be something analagous to this: a nod to the fact that there are elements in Middle Earth that defy categorization and leave us wanting, or wondering, for more. Real life never follows what we would consider the requirements of good plotting; perhaps Tom can be seen as an injection of that kind of realism into Middle Earth: he has little or nothing to do with the great events of the Rings of power, but is no less a part of the world in which they also exist. He shows that Tolkien's world allows for elements that are outside of the narrower restrictions of narrative plot. He intersects with the paths of those on the Ring quest, but he has little or nothing to do with it himself.

I like the ideas about his possible analogous relation to the Ents as well as his lack of greed as the seed for why he remains unaffected by the Ring. Tom is a being of great power (usually a sign that the Ring will be of particular danger to him), but he is unaffected by it, can perhaps even control it to some degree, precisely because he has no desire for external control. Tom is content simply to BE, and his pursuit of knowledge is for its own sake, not to attain some other end.
Linda Frear
22. tanguera
Ah yes Kate, I also believe Gandalf predates Sauron. So much for the thought that it is age that gives the ring no power over Tom. Maybe it is Tom's mindset, the fact that he is part of the natural world, but not the political world.

I would also be one that believes that Goldberry is probably a nymph of some type.
Michael Ikeda
23. mikeda

There is also the brief account in the "Tale of Years" just before the chronology for the Third Age begins.

Unlike the account in UT, the account in the "Tale of Years" doesn't specify exactly when Cirdan gave his ring to Gandalf, but "he welcomed Mithrandir at the Grey Havens, knowing whence he came and whither he would return" might seem to suggest that it happened not long after Gandalf's arrival in Middle Earth.
Kate Nepveu
24. katenepveu
dulac3, to be fair to those who hold beliefs about Tom that are contradicted by authorial intent, (a) those statements of Tolkien's aren't necessarily that widely known--I'd never heard of them until preparing this post, and (b) I think it's reasonable to not hold authorial intent definitive, though perhaps I would say that being a reader. =>

mikeda, you're very right about that reference to Gandalf receiving the third Elven ring in Appendix B--I was searching by name of the ring, not by the people involved, and so missed it. Thanks for correcting me.
25. Graydon
Kate @20 --

I certainly do not believe in a fallen world for my own part; I believe in a contingent world constructed by an accumulation of happenstance.

J.R.R. Tolkien certainly did believe in a created world ("one God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and all things visible and invisible" says the creed) and a very specifically fallen one at that, and reams of his surviving writings and correspondence indicate that he worked very hard at making his subcreation match how he believed the actual creation was constructed. (Arguably to the detriment of the story in some places.)

In that very specific context, immunity to the ring implies existence in a state outside of the mechanisms of sin -- of actions contrary to the will of God -- so that the evil of the ring hasn't got anything to get a grip on.

Just greater power wouldn't be enough; giving the One Ring to the Vala Aulë (if you could arrange that) wouldn't be a problem not because the Valar are individually stronger than Sauron (a Maia in his beginnings) ever was, and thus more powerful than the ring, but because Aulë, despite a near miss with the dwarves, is an unfallen angelic being, and so there isn't anything for the evil to get a grip on.

For Tom Bombadil to be immune to the ring implies he's also, somehow, outside that grip-of-sin space. Which, given the various fates of the Children of Ilúvatar, more or less requires that he's some sort of directly created being.
Michael Ikeda
26. mikeda

Also, it's natural to try to make Tom fit into preexisting categories. And IF Tom is a type of being that we've seen elsewhere in the LOTR-verse, then he almost has to be some sort of Maia (unless he's a Valar with his power very well cloaked).
27. dulac3
Graydon, what do you mean when you say: "Which, given the various fates of the Children of Ilúvatar, more or less requires that he's some sort of directly created being."?

As per Catholic doctrine, all beings in Tolkien's universe are 'directly created'. Even the Dwarves, initially fashioned by Aule, do not become true living beings until the intervention of the creator Illuvatar. This was the very problem Tolkien had with the Orcs and why he was never able to decide how they came about: Melkor (and by extension Sauron) were not able to create new or truly living beings on their own. They could only pervert things which already existed.
Andrew Mason
28. AnotherAndrew
I think the authorial intention thing is particularly tricky with Tolkien. It's perfectly reasonable to say, in general, that one should rely on what is in the published corpus, and not look for secret information about the author's intentions (and I think Tolkien would have agreed, though of course this shouldn't matter). But with Tolkien, we don't have a completed corpus, so this involves drawing rather arbitrary lines. If we stuck to what was actually published in his lifetime, The Hobbit and LOTR, then we would know nothing of Maiar, or of Iluvatar (by that name; just a couple of cryptic references to the One), and we would have a rather vague conception even of the Valar. If, however, we take in The Silmarillion (and Unfinished Tales?), these themselves give signs of being part of something more, including bits we haven't yet seen. In asking how something fits within the whole system, I think we are implicitly asking about the mind of the author, because the whole system never existed except in the author's mind. (There's the added problem, of course, that the author's mind kept changing.)

What's more, not only is the corpus we have incomplete in the real world, it also has an in-story explanation according to which it represents the point of view of particular people at particular times. The Silmarillion isn't the whole truth, as told by someone omniscient; it was written by elves and reflects their viewpoint. It doesn't mention hobbits, after all; and I think there are other figures it doesn't explain (Beorn?). So that there are things which don't fit within its pattern is not all that surprising.
Andrew Mason
29. AnotherAndrew
dulac3: All kindsof being are directly created; but once created, they reproduce, and the children inherit the status of their parents. I take it Graydon's point was that Tom is not the child of anyone, and does not belong to any recognised class of beings.
30. Parzival
Tom's power over the Ring (or immunity to the Ring) stems from the fact that Tom is his own master, in the deepest internal sense. He is essentially Unfallen Man... Man as he was intended to be, neither dominating nor dominated. He is, if you will, "in tune" with himself and everything else, sinless, eternal and unconcerned about past or future because he has no need to be concerned. The Ring has no power over him because it offers him nothing. Tom's will is full and content with himself. He desires mastery over nothing else and needs mastery over nothing else to fulfill his purpose. His purpose is to simply to be, and he is. To this the Ring can neither add nor subtract; in Tom's hands it is merely a trinket.
Jason Ramboz
31. jramboz

As per Catholic doctrine, all beings in Tolkien's universe are 'directly created'.

What about Ungoliant? I don't have my copy of The Silmarillion handy (or, more accurately, any of my copies... I'm such a dork), but I seem to recall it describing her as "a spirit from the outer void" or something similar to that. That always seemed to me to imply that she was (again) "other." Not a Maia or any other then-established category.

Then again, this may have been one of the things Tolkien would have revised, had The Silmarillion been published in his lifetime. Guess we can't know for certain.
32. dulac3
@jramboz: When I say that all beings are directly created I don't mean that they necessarily fall into an existing paradigm of Tolkien's known mythology (i.e. either Vala, Maia, Elf, Man, Dwarf...etc.) I mean that they were all, somehow or other, "directly created" by the action/will of Illuvatar and don't have an existence outside of his will or via the creative powers of any other force.

I agree that some beings in Tolkien's writings don't fall into any known categories and whose origins are mysterious and unknown.

I'm simply arguing the case that even if Tom Bombadil is such a truly unique creature apart from the known classifications of beings in Middle Earth (which I agree with), I don't think this necessarily means he is different in kind from any other created being, just in power. ALL creatures in Middle Earth are the direct results of Illuvatar's creative will, even those who had natural parents (like humans), and thus while Tom may be unique I don't think it is due to the nature of his creation.
Soon Lee
33. SoonLee
AnotherAndrew @28:
"(There's the added problem, of course, that the author's mind kept changing.)"

Exactly. But isn't it fun to speculate?
34. Graydon
dulac3@27 --

"Directly created" in the sense of having been brought into being by the "Ea! let these things be!" and not by some subsequent process within that creation.

So, "eldest and fatherless" -- you can't get older than that, because that's when time starts. Fatherless, because you can't very well keep your parents before the beginning of time.

What Tom was intended to be and how he got into the Music? Presumably some or another of the "good" -- those trying to stick to the will of Iluvatar -- Ainur produced him in their elaborations on the music. Given that I agree with Parzival@30, it was presumably an Ainu who was paying particular attention when the themes were propounded.

different in kind from any other created being, just in power.

But this Tolkien; power does not have moral agency!

Somewhere in the letters is the mention that someone who was greater in "smith-craft" than Sauron could have directly destroyed the One Ring, unmade it. The examples given of those greater in smith-craft are Aulë and Fëanor son of Finwë. Would you hand the One Ring to Fëanor, that proud and furious spirit? He's got more power with respect to the ring -- he, presently or potentially, fully understands it and can unmake it -- than Tom does, who is outside its power but who does not encompass it in his.

Still not very much like the seeming of a wise idea, somehow...
35. birgit
The fact that this whole sequence is missed out in the three adaptations I am aware of (Jackson's film, Bakshi's film and the BBC radio version) does not show that it is therefore unnecessary.

The German radio version includes the Bombadil chapters.

This will lead to a later discussion on Who are the White Council and the order of Wizards (We know Saruman, Elrand, Gandalf, Galadriel and possibly Radagast) Who else?

The article about the White Council in the German "Handbuch der Weisen von Mittelerde" by Wolfgang Krege says that the members of the Council were Curunir (Saruman), Mithrandir (Gandalf), Cirdan, Elrond, Galadriel and some unnamed Noldor and Sindar.
The Handbuch lists the named wizards as Curumo/Curunir/Saruman the White, Olorin/Mithrandir/Gandalf the Gray, Aiwendil/Radagast the Brown, Aratar and Pallando.
37. birgit
The German radio version ends where Gandalf leaves the hobbits to visit Tom.

They halted and Frodo looked south wistfully. "I should dearly like to see the old fellow again," he said. "I wonder how he is getting on?"
"As well as ever, you may be sure," said Gandalf. "Quite untroubled; and I should guess, not much interested in anything that we have done or seen, unless perhaps in our visit to the Ents.
(6/VII, Homeward Bound)

This ending seems to stress that although the hobbits are celebrated as heros who saved the world in Gondor, the ring war was only a small episode in history that will be forgotten like the kings buried in the barrow downs.
38. Viviannn
arin777: Interesting idea. I reread The Hobbit a few months ago and was struck by how much of a greed theme it had running through it.

I don't know about Tom Bombadil creating hobbits, but I was very disappointed to find almost nothing about hobbits in the Silmarillion. They're the most important characters in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings; why do they get such short shrift in the overall universe? They don't even get to have their own language. They forgot it in favour of the Common Language, and only retained a few words.

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