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Old 10-27-2015, 04:57 PM   #38
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Enw is a guest of Elrond in Rivendell.Enw is a guest of Elrond in Rivendell.Enw is a guest of Elrond in Rivendell.
Journeys with Tom Bombadil

It's only now that I realise how long it's been since I posted on Books. I suppose it's only fitting that a Tom Bombadil would get me back here.

I think that Tom Bombadil is one of the characters whose perception by the reader is most affected by the reader's own views and experiences. One thing I've noticed is that of the people I know IRL who have read LOTR as children tend to have more favourable views towards him than those that read it as adults. As a child (at least in my case), I think the first reaction is 'Whoa, he can do all that just by singing? And the ring doesn't even affect him? Cool!', whereas as an older, more jaded and cynical adult, it's more like 'Who's this weird man? And does he really always have to sing? Are we really not going to find out what he is? And if he's so good and powerful, why doesn't he do something to help?' (or at least a few of those). And while I can understand and appreciate the latter view, I still can't really abandon the first, which was how I first saw him.

I also think (and maybe it's connected), that the whole Tom Bombadil part is strongly connected to Faerie (in the way Tolkien describes it in On Fairy Stories). In fact, I'd say it's probably the most Faerie part of LOTR, in the sense that it is almost like a Secondary World within the Secondary World of LOTR. The laws of nature seem different and everything seems magical, as if they've set foot into a magical land. And I think to some extent, part of enjoying the Bombadil chapters is giving into this and allowing yourself to get into this further level of fantasy, which is no doubt harder as an adult.


I also remembered that some of the first stuff I posted on this forum (which was actually only a few years after first reading LOTR) was about Tom Bombadil, so I thought it'd be interesting to see how my thoughts have changed.

My thoughts, age 13:
Originally Posted by Enw View Post
I think that Tom and Goldberry are the perfect couple, just as Tolkien wished lifewould be. They work together and understand each other. I think that Tom is meant to be the the perfect man and Goldberry the perfect woman. Tom has power, but he does not use it unless he needs to. He does not abuse it. He canget anywhere and help anyone, if they just ask. He is perfect. Goldberry is Tolkien's perfect woman. She is kind, and loving, and beautiful, but powerful, not a helpless person like so many women in the past.

I think that they are meant to be perfect, how nature made us, comparable to Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. Free of care, happy, together.

I think that Tom is not a nature spirit, rather, he is nature. He is part of the Music of the Ainur, which created the world. I think that is why he sings. Because he is part of the music, he can tap into it, reach into th music beyond the normal amount and use its power. He is very powerful. He is like the trunk of a tree from which power spreads out. He knows that the barrow wights are evil (maybe he made his land there to protect people, but then, why not just make his home in Mordor), so he Uses the Music.

I don't think he is more or less powerful than Sauron or Morgoth, I think he is on a different level. He can go onto Sauron's plane but he can just go to any dimension in his realm.

Tom Bombadil is a guardian of his realm, just as Melian was, but in a different way. Tom did not need to use enchantments, he just was. He did everything himself, and didn't just leave it to enchantments like the Maiar and Valar.

That is why Tom and Goldberry are Nature. If you look at the description of Goldberry (mentioned above numerous times so I will not repeat it here), you find out she is not like an elf. She is not like one of the Valar, or Maiar, or even Eldar. She is not a celestial being of other worlds. She is more mortal, yet immortal in a natural everlasting way, the way the cycles of he world happen: Spring, summer, autumn, winter, spring , summer, autumn, winter and so on, however she is not immortal in the way of a Valar, of a something unmovable and untouching, or immortal like, Eru, floating, creating, unmoving yet all- powerful. i think this is what Tolkien is trying to get across.

Tm Bombadil is the spirit of Arda and actually of Tolkien himself.

Some interesing (unanswered questions) about this chapter:

1. Is Tom the Guardian of the flame imperishable

2. Why are the vegetarian? (only eating cream and honey and such things (maybe they asked the animals to make these for them?)

3. Is Sam special? (Why doesn't he get a dream?)
Ignoring the final question 1 (I had seen this theory somewhere online at the time) and 3 (relevant to the chapter, but so much to this topic), I still actually agree with a surprising amount of this (though perhaps maybe less intensely). While perhaps I'm not so keen on using perfect (even if it is in relation to an author's perspective) to describe a character, I do think that the Adam and Eve comparison is still relatively sound.

They are living a carefree life in a position of power, in tune with nature. Having read Paradise Lost since then, Tom Bombadil and Goldberry are quite reminiscent to Adam and Eve there. There doesn't really seem to be any sort of good/evil distinction in their land. It's more a case of peace/kindness vs violence/malice. And I may be mistaken here, but as far as a remember pre-fall Adam and Eve in Paradise Lost are never described as eating meat, which parallels Tom Bombadil and Goldberry.

And I still agree with the earthy rather than celestial view. Despite being clearly magical and the whole environment being very dreamlike and surreal, they still both characters grounded in the natural physical world, rather than the spiritual. At the time I actually made the case that Tom Bombadil is kind of an anti-Ungoliant, in that neither is an Ainu (which I still hold to), where she is kind of the essence (or personification) of darkness, greedy and terrifying, and he is the essence of light, generous and comforting. I'm not quite sure how I feel about this now, but I think I now see him more as a spirit of (Preservation and nurturing of) Nature to Ungoliant's Destruction of Nature.

Back on the topic, 2 years later (age 15):
Originally Posted by Enw View Post
Lately I have had a new thought about Tom Bombadil.

Instead of the carefree man who cares nothing about the world around him, I now see him as an example of near perfect self-discipline (at least, but the time of LOTR. He seems a little more "uncouth", shall we say, in AoTB).

First of all, look at his surroundings. He lives in a quiet place in the edge of the world, where no-one passes. Out of the way, you might say. There, he lives a quiet existence, within his own land, not impinging upon anybody else's land. His land is a land where nobody likes to go. For instance, it has the Old Forest, which has become dark and evil because of Old Man Willow's influence, and hates people, especially hobbits, particularly after they burnt some of the forest. More importantly, his land includes the Barrow Downs. This dark, damp, misty place is a traveller's nightmare, and people try to avoid it as much as they can. There is a dread about the place, and people for miles around had probably heard rumours about the Barrow Wights and their foul deeds. Most people would be intimidated to have such a place near their home, or even within many miles of their home. But Tom Bombadil doesn't mind. He walks in the forest, with wicked trees, and in the Barrow Downs, among the wights, yet no harm comes to him.

The usage of his power is also interesting. We hear that "Tom is master", yet we don't see him bending others' wills to his own. Unlike Sauron, we don't see him trying to control anyone or take over any more land. He has an immense power, yet we see that unlike most others, he is not corrupted by it. He doesn't try to dominate. He is the master, and only intervenes when he has to (for example, saving the hobbits). But generally, he lets everything get on with its own existence. Bombadil also wanders around his land, never getting tired of it,, never seeking any more. Instead of trying to have more, like everyone else in Middle-Earth, he is content with what he has. More than that, he is happy with what he has. The fact is, within his lands, he can do whatever he wants, but he never goes out of the borders he sets himself.

Next, look at Tom himself. He is in the shape of a man, yet he is far more powerful. He is grounded to the earth, to Arda, completely, even more so than elves. You can see this by the way that he can talk to trees, and banish wights. The fact is, Arda itself is has both sides, and Tom is master of both. One is the side of the living, the normal side, and the other is the darker side, the side of spirits and Ainu and dead elves, the side that Frodo sees when he puts on the ring. The wight, for instance, is present on both sides. he is made of bones in the physical world, but his main power lies on the other side, where he is a powerful spirit capable of evil spells. Tom Bombadil gets rid of both. He sends away the wight ("banishes the spirit/demon") and as this is what is holding the physical side together, the Barrow Wight's physical manifestation is also destroyed. His power on the earth side is shown in his ability to talk to trees, and cover great distance at speed. Just as powerful as he is on the spirit side, the world of darkness, he is connected to the Earth and nature. I think that this is where his real power lies, rather than in the shadow world, and that he is so firmly grounded in the natural physical world that maybe some of this power passes onto the shadow world, and I think that that is what gives him power there. He is a figment of nature, singing, and walking among the trees who interact with him. He acts with the flow of the world, rather than trying to change it like Men, or keep it the same like elves.

This is an important aspect because he goes along with the world like water in a river. He doesn't try to do anything to hinder anything or start something new, and just accepts the way things go. The reason that I think that the ring has no power over him is that he is so manifested in the world of light that he cannot be dragged into the world of shadow, even by the power of the ring. The ring's main power is in the shadow world, the realm of Ainu and of elves, whereas Tom Bombadil's main power lies in the land of light, with living, breathing creatures and growing trees. That is why the ring has no power over him and he has no power over the ring. They are on different planes, which don't cross over. This is probably also why he can see Frodo. The border between both worlds doesn't exist for him, and because he is so manifested in the normal world his influence spreads far into the other. He sees Frodo as though he hasn't put the ring on because for Tom, Frodo hasn't left the normal world, whereas for others, Frodo has crossed the border. But I digress. The point is, Tom has incredible powers, and complete control over his realm, but he doesn't seek to dominate others.

I'm sure that Tom, if he wanted to could set his sights on all of Middle-Earth, and try to make that his land. He would probably be able to do this, and have all of Middle Earth at his beck and call. But this would go against the nature of tom himself, so this could never happen with him being the same Tom Bombadil. Failing that Tom could (with his immense power) make his land the greatest fortress in the world, and from there launch an attack on the rest of Middle-Earth, but again, that is not his character. He prefers to sit, and watch, as the rest of the world go by, and let it go forwards on his own, without his intervention.0

His singing is another vital aspect of him which seems to annoy many Tolkien fans. But this is a way of showing the way Tom's power works. It is a gentle power, not a harsh spell (contrast this to Gandalf speaking the words on the ring in the Black Speech at the Council of Elrond). It is song, and in this case it stands for happiness, peace and contentment. There is so much going in the world, but he doesn't help, because he probably knows he would just complicate matters further, and it would just be another case of external intervention. There is probably much more going on in that head of his than anyone knows, or can even guess. He is in this mindset (whether naturally or by his choice) and doesn't leave it. Also, there is a very primitive about him singing to the sentient trees (In many old myths they are spirits, but they can't be here because that would conflict with the legendarium). The singing also ties him to the music of the Ainur, and maybe shows him as a personification of that.

Tom Bombadil is generous and doesn't even show any signs of temptation. He is in a state where his mind is free from doing such things, and he probably doesn't even think about trying to take over the world. Whether he was like that from the beginning, or whether he trained himself to be like that is anyone's guess, but he definitely had many ages to perfect his outlook on the world if the truth is the latter. He allows things to pass him by, and doesn't reminisce on the past in a nostalgic way, except very rarely, and only when he has a reason to remember (for example when he finds the jewellery in the mound of the wight). The ring, a powerful object that tempted even a Maia like Gandalf, has no effect on him. He doesn't even make the hobbits obey the rules of his land, but allows them to things how they want, and only intervenes when things get dangerous. And not only does he not impose his will on them, but he invites them as guests to his house.

All in all, I think that Tom Bombadil represents an image of self discipline. He actually seems to me like a bit like an ideal Buddhist as well: Not attached to anything, allowing things to come and go, yet showing compassion to everyone (Except maybe the Barrow-Wights). In fact, he may even count as enlightened. He does exactly what is right. He prepares the hobbits for their adventure, without putting them through too much danger, and without meddling n the affairs outside his lands. Let's say he did think it through. If he had stepped in and helped, Middle Earth wouldn't be the same place it was in the Fourth Age, Just as the hobbits needed the Scouring of the Shire, the whole of Middle Earth needed the War of the Ring for the whole "coming of age" thing. And think about what would have happened if he had stepped in. What a mess it would be! The Haradrim, Easterlings and Southrons would still be at large, and still enemies with Gondor. They might not have attacked, but there would always be a small chance of that- what else could be done with a huge army now made redundant. Now that they would have had many men to spare, they might have gone on the offensive. And would Minas Tirith survive an onslaught. No-one would be ready, and Rohan would be dying. Thoden would still be slipping into Saruman's evil plots, and Rohan would probably not have come to Gondor's aid. And Saruman himself would have still be trying to place himself as master of middle-earth, and there would be no-one to stop him. And without the thought of joining Sauron stopping him, Saruman might have persuaded Gandalf to join him. And what of th hobbits? They would have just gone back to the Shire, and everything would return to normal. In my opinion Tom Bombadil purposely took the unconcerned approach.

The fact is, Tom Bombadil doesn't try to meddle with the world. He takes a small corner that no-one wants, or rather people hate, for himself. He doesn't tame it, for that would be imposing too much control on the area, but he makes i t harmless for himself and for anyone passing through. Unlike Men, he doesn't try to change things to the way he wants, and unlike Elves, he doesn't try to keep things the same. His land, even though it is a sortr of cocoon (or bubble) for him, still flows in time with the rest of the world, and is just as earthly and natural, unlike the ethereal Lrien. The world goes by, but he just has a piece of it in which he allows himself to do things his way.
I think I still agree with a lot of this as well. Tom Bombadil's power comes from him being grounded: in himself, in Nature, in the physical world. But now I think it is not so much self-discipline that is the key to his being, but rather simply self-content.
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