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An LOTR Mystery

The Lord Of The Rings movies were very well made and quite faithful to the original books by JRR Tolkien.  However, as I watched the epic quest extend upon the screen, certain characters and elements stood out to me as missing — such as the mysterious, singing Tom Bombadil.  Though the films were superbly crafted without him, I would have enjoyed seeing how Peter Jackson portrayed old Tom.  From the first time we were introduced to the hopping and dancing man in the book, Tom was a mystifying and fascinating character.  But what does the book tell us of him?

Who was Tom Bombadil?

When asked this by Frodo one night, Tom replies:

“‘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.’”

In The Fellowship Of The Ring, Tom Bombadil is first introduced to the reader and the Hobbits in the chapter The Old Forest when he comes dancing along singing:

“‘Hey dol! merry dol! ring a dong dillo!

Ring a dong! hop along! fal lal the willow!

Tom Bom, jolly Tom, Tom Bombadillo!’”

He continues to appear in the next two chapters and is not seen afterwards.  It might seem the only purpose he serves in the story is to save Merry and Pippin from Old Man Willow and all four of the Hobbits from the old dead Barrow Wights, then send them in the right direction to Bree, but he is much more than that.  In Middle Earth, everyone has a history.

It is believed by some that Tom Bombadil may have been one of the Maiar who left Valinor to live in the wilds of Middle Earth.  Other references suggest even Bombadil to be Iluvatar (the God of the Lord Of The Rings world).  The fact that The One Ring has no power over the old man adds truth to these speculations.  When Tom asks to see it from Frodo, the Hobbit gives it easily — almost as if he had no say in the matter.  Usually the one who carries The Ring has great difficulty handing it to another.

Tom also puts The Ring on his finger and, to the Hobbits’ surprise, he does not vanish.  He just laughs, examines it then tosses it up and causes it to disappear with a flash.  He hands it back to Frodo with a smile afterwards.  No one mentioned in the story can handle The Ring like Tom Bombadil did.  He neither was corrupted by it nor affected by its powers.  Perhaps most astonishing, like The Dark Lord Sauron and his Ringwraiths, Tom could see Frodo when he wore The One Ring himself.

What does all this mean?  The power of Tom Bombadil is perhaps greater than even Sauron (who was one of the Maiar as well).  Gandalf and the other Wizards were likely about equal in strength with Sauron, yet could be corrupted by The Ring to become Dark Lords themselves.  But old Tom just laughed at the evil trinket and treated it like an ordinary ring.  Could he perhaps, then, have been more than Maia?

I investigated this theory by examining how Tolkien describes him.  Tom is too large for a Hobbit, yet not tall enough for a man, wearing “great yellow boots on his thick legs”, a blue coat, and had a long brown beard and bright blue eyes.  He is always merry and singing and even laughed at The One Ring.  Who could this sound like?  And who, if not Maia, was he?

I thought of the next most powerful beings, the Valar.  If Tom Bombadil were one of them, who would be most likely?  I could think of only one:  Tulkas Astaldo.  He is described in The Silmarillion, and from there and other sources I made my comparison.  His flesh was “ruddy” which fit with the big brown hands described of Tom Bombadil when he handled The Ring.  Tulkas also loved to laugh.  He delighted in wrestling (which is not mentioned to be a liking of Tom) and even laughed in the face of Melkor as the two fought in many battles.  This made me think, was Tom Bombadil laughing at Sauron as he wore his Ring?

The two share some similarities, though not many.  Their beards are even different colors, the one of Tulkas being gold.  This was not a deciding factor, however, since the Valar and the Maiar could easily change their appearance.  What is the most different aspect is that Tulkas enjoys fighting and came to Arda to aid in battling Melkor, whereas Tom is said to be master of the forest (though nothing outside of it).  Tulkas also has a spouse named Nessa who does not appear to be Goldberry, the wife of Tom Bombadil.

It seems perhaps that Bombadil is a Maia, but from reading the words of The Lord Of The Rings, no one will ever know who exactly Tom Bombadil was.  In the story he is a mystery but present, I believe, to show the reader that Sauron’s power and malice could not hold dominion over everyone in Arda.  Bombadil proves there would always be spirits evil could never corrupt.


‘Ho! Tom Bombadil, Tom Bomdadillo!

By water, wood and hill, by reed and willow,

By fire, sun and moon, harken now and hear us!

Come, Tom Bombadil, for our need is near us!’

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Lori R. Lopez

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