” Old Tom Bombadil is a merry fellow; Bright blue his jacket is, and his boots are yellow.”
- The Fellowship of the Ring I 7, In the House of Tom Bombadil
Tom Bombadil (also Iarwain Ben-adar in Sindarin – Oldest and Fatherless) is a mysterious character of Middle-earth. In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo and his company meet Bombadil in the Old Forest. He lives far from any settlement with his wife, Goldberry, “Daughter of the River”. She describes him as being “Master of wood, water and hill.” Bombadil also rescues the hobbits from the barrow-wights and gives them the barrow-blades. 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.
He first appears in the Old Forest, when he sings to Old Man Willow in order to save Merry from death in his trunk. He later tells the hobbits that they were lucky they were caught at this time, for he wouldn’t be passing through the forest again until six months later.
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 Pets 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 The Lord of the Rings. Tom Bombadil was, however, part of The Lord of the Rings from the earliest drafts. In The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring film and radio adaptations of the story, Bombadil is notable by his absence, possibly because nobody knows quite what to do with him. Peter Jackson justified his omission of Bombadil by pointing out that he did little to advance the story, having nothing to do with the Ring storyline, and serving little purpose when it came to getting the hobbits to Rivendell, and putting together the Fellowship. Given his comments about Faramir, one could also argue that Bombadil’s reaction to the Ring, much like Faramir’s, would have been inconsistent. However, much of Bombadil’s dialogue, and the scene in which the hobbits meet Old Man Willow, are transplanted into the scenes that Merry and Pippin share with Treebeard. Also, it is Gandalf who tells them to go to the Prancing Pony in the film, in place of Bombadil.
The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, a book of verse published in 1962, purported to contain a selection of Hobbit poems, two of which were about Tom Bombadil and include his adventure with Badger folk.
Tom Bombadil’s Nature
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.
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, Bombadil refers to is probably Morgoth 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. However that could refer to the coming of Morgoth the second time after he was driven beyond the Walls of Night by the Valar and when he began to build his fortress Utumno. Bombadil could have been part of the Music of the Ainur, which 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 concept; possibly the embodiment of Arda itself, a veritable “Father Nature”, or some kind of ‘spirit’ which, unlike the Maiar, was of a non-divine nature. Not only does the Ring have no effect on him, but Tom himself seems unable to affect the Ring in return. This shows that Tom was outside the divine plan and struggle and had no position in it. During the Council of Elrond it is suggested that the Free-Peoples entrust the Ring to Tom, but this is rejected due to the probability that he would lose it, because according to Gandalf, such things had no hold on his mind. It is also stated that if Sauron were to regain the Ring, Tom Bombadil would be the last to fall. It is also stated by Galdor that ‘Power to defy our enemy is not in him, unless such power is in the earth itself. And yet we see that Sauron can torture and destroy the very hills.’ implying that Bombadil is in some way connected with the very earth itself.
The theory of his being Eru is mostly supported by Goldberry, Tom’s wife. When she is asked by Frodo who he is, she simply replies, “He is.” However, it is harmed by the implications that he does not really care for anything beyond his country, and the implication he would, eventually, fall if Sauron regained the One Ring. However, it is unknown if he really would fall if Sauron regained the ring, as it was merely said that he would be Last as he was First.
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”. Also, Fangorn (Treebeard) calls himself the eldest living being of Middle-earth and says that he was there before anyone else. Bombadil is just known as the ‘eldest’, in almost all cultures. If Tom Bombadil is indeed not a normal being, but rather a supernatural being or a “concept”, it’s not necessarily a contradiction. Concerning Fangorn, J.R.R. Tolkien remarked,”Fangorn is a character in my story and even he does not know everything”.
It is important to know that Tom was not only “Eldest” (as he says to Frodo) in terms of the characters in The Lord of the Rings, but he was also most certainly one of J.R.R. Tolkien’s earliest literary creations. Tolkien’s biographer, Humphrey Carpenter, relates that Tom was inspired by a Dutch doll that belonged to the professor’s eldest son Michael. This doll was said to have looked very splendid (it had a real feather in its hat), but Michael’s brother John did not like it, and one day he decided to stuff it down the lavatory. The doll was rescued, and survived to become one of the heroes of the spontaneous stories that were told to the children at bedtime.
Tom Bombadil is an enormous mystery, and many gave theories about his nature. Some think he is The Witch King, due to the fact that he saw Frodo when he was invisible. However, this is very unlikely due to the fact the Witch King would have taken the Ring when he had it and/or killed Frodo, and wouldn’t have given Merry the dagger that led to his downfall; also the One Ring has no effect on him. Others think he is the reader, when Frodo put on the Ring the reader knows he’s there, and Elrond doesn’t trust the reader with the Ring. Another theory states that he is the embodied spirit of Middle-Earth’s Nature. It is also believed he could be the Valar Aule. Some people think he is actually Eru Ilúvatar, God, in the form of a man. Still others think that he could represent Tolkien himself. Regardless, Tolkien has made it clear that Tom Bombadil was meant to be an enigma.
He could also be one of the two blue Istari, described in the book Unfinished Tales (p. 393). There are five wizards of the order of the Istari: one white, one brown and one grey, Saruman, Radagast and Gandalf respectively, and two lesser known wizards, Alatar and Pallando, cloaked in blue. As Bombadil wears a blue jacket, it could possibly signify that he is one of these two Blue Wizards. The theory is aided by the fact that he is able to use magic. This, however, is very unlikely, since Tolkien himself stated that these two Blue Wizards went into the Far East and did not return to the west. Furthermore, we know that both Gandalf and Saruman could be influenced by the Ring; it would seem very strange that their companion and equal would not be.
It is also theorized that Tom is a Maia, but this is unlikely due to the fact that that “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.” This would mean that he’s been around since before the creation of the Maiar, debunking this theory. ‘ Actually, not’. A close examination of the work of the Powers in their creation of the world, reveals that Morgoth was not present at the start, but only came in after much work had been done.
Another possibility is that Tom Bombadil represents a friend, or many friends of Tolkien; the absolute infallibility of the character presents the idea that Tolkien himself did not believe that his own creations could affect Bombadil, a trait that would be true of Tolkien’s friends and family, though he would not entrust the “ring” to Tom, suggesting that although he respects the ideas and opinions of his friends, he would not allow them to significantly change the path of the story. This again puts him at an abstract level.
The final idea is that Bombadil could represent the Aslan of Middle Earth, as Tolkien was good friends with Narnia’s writer C.S Lewis. This is most likely mythical, but it does back up the statement above as he could be the creator of Tolkien’s universe.