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Lord of the Rings: Tom Bombadil

An exploration into the character/creature of Tom Bombadil from "The Lord of the Rings."
by

Chris Day

on 28 April 2011

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Transcript of Lord of the Rings: Tom Bombadil

Tom Bombadil Who is Tom? "Old Tom Bombadil is a merry fellow;
Bright blue his jacket is, and his boots are yellow."
"A mysterious and powerful being, called by the Elves Iarwain Ben-adar (Oldest and Fatherless), who dwelt in the valley of the Withywindle, east of the Shire. What kind of being he was has never been certainly discovered (see The Riddle of Tom Bombadil below), but at some stage in the past, he seems to have settled at the edge of the Old Forest, setting himself boundaries, but boundaries within which his power was extraordinary. Tom was a creature of contradictions, one moment defeating ancient forces with hardly an effort, the next capering and singing nonsensical songs.

He appeared as an old man, at least in Hobbit eyes, with a wrinkled and ruddy face, bright blue eyes, and a bristling brown beard. He was said to be taller than a typical Hobbit, but too short to be a Man, so he seems to have been about five feet in height. His costume consisted of a blue jacket and yellow boots, and he wore an old and battered hat, surmounted by a feather. He seems to have preferred to wear a swan-feather in his hat, but before he met Frodo and company on the banks of the Withywindle, he had acquired the feather of a Kingfisher instead. In his own house, rather than a hat, he wore a crown of autumn leaves, perhaps revealing something of the elemental powers he possessed."
From: http://www.glyphweb.com/ARDA/t/tombombadil.html What is Tom? There are many theories as to what 'type' creature Tom Bombadil really is; an elf? a 'Maia'? a 'Vala'? 'Illuvatar'? a "Spirit"? Is Tom an Elf? Is Tom a Maia? Is Tom a Vala? Is Tom Illuvatar? All material is courtesy of: http://www.glyphweb.com/ARDA/t/tombombadil.html Tom's capering, his wisdom, his great age and his love of song undoubtedly give him a certainly 'Elvish' quality. This possibility though, is easily disproved by the following from The Lord of the Rings:

'When the Elves passed westward, Tom was here already...'
Tom's own words, from The Fellowship of the Ring I 7, In the House of Tom Bombadil
There were other mighty Maiar in Middle-earth at the time of the War of the Ring, especially Sauron, Saruman and Gandalf, and all of these were in some sense under the power of the Ring. Yet Tom is unaffected by its power of invisibility, nor does he feel any desire to keep it (he hands it back to Frodo 'with a smile'). Tolkien himself points out the importance of Tom's immunity. It isn't inconceivable, then, that Tom is one of the fourteen known Valar, dwelling incognito in Middle-earth. Though we can't be certain, it seems likely that a Vala would be capable of resisting the power of the Ring, and so that difficulty can be set aside. The 'Vala Hypothesis', though, is not without difficulties of its own, with perhaps the most significant being:

'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 Fellowship of the Ring I 7, In the House of Tom Bombadil
This point is touched on several times in Tolkien's letters, and each time he makes it clear that Tom and Eru should not be confused. Perhaps his most definite statement is this:

'There is no embodiment of the One, of God, who indeed remains remote, outside the World, and only directly accessible to the Valar or Rulers.'
The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien No 181, dated 1956
If there is no embodiment of the One (that is, Eru), then Tom cannot of course be such an embodiment.

Conclusion: There is no way to know what Tom Bombadil actually is. Though many can be disproved, there are still too many possibilities and theories that both prove and disprove the actual creature Tom Bombadil is. http://img-nex.theonering.net/images/scrapbook/orig/12632_orig.jpg
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