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Tom Bombadil


Bombadil, Tom

Description "'Even in a mythical age there must be some enigmas, as there always are. Tom Bombadil is one (intentionally).' (JRR Tolkien, Letter #144)

When the hobbits Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin were caught by the spell of Old Man Willow on their journey through the old forest, there came along a strange man not much taller than the hobbits themselves, clad in colourful clothes, singing non-sense nursery-rhymes.

This was Tom Bombadil, who had his dwelling in that wood. With one of his songs of power he commanded the willow to free the hobbits, and bade them follow him to the shelter of his home.

After the dread of the journey so far, the house of Tom Bombadil was a welcome place of respite for the hobbits. His wife Goldberry, daughter of the River-Woman, took care of their guests together with her husband, but their curiosity she could not still - the ways of Tom Bombadil seemed so natural to her that she could not explain it to the satisfaction of the hobbits.

Many songs sung Tom Bombadil, and many stories he told the hobbits, most from times long gone, for Tom said he has been since the beginning of time, and about the ways of nature. Such a merry place was it, and such the effect of Bombadil's care, that to to the guests it seemed more natural to sing than to speak. To the great surprise of all, Bombadil was able to put on the Ring without any effect whatsoever, so little was his desire for rule or possession.

Two nights the hobbits spent there, in which they had dreams of premonition, of Gandalf, the Sea, and others. Having left the Old Forest, they could not avoid crossing the Barrow-Downs on their way north. There the spell of the Barrow-Wight caught them in his grave, and only Frodo was able to regain consciousness and remember the rhyme Bombadil had told them to speak in their need. With a quick stride of his yellow boots, Tom came and sung a song of command over the Wight, driving him off and saving the hobbits. After he had given the hobbits their ponies back was the last time he is seen in Lord of the Rings.

On the nature of Tom Bombadil even the wise were able to say only little. Among the elves he was known as Iarwain Ben-Adar, oldest and fatherless, and his other names also play on his age. How he came into the world is an enigma; Goldberry remained sybillynic, naming him Master over the lands he dwelt in. Bombadil was soon left out of the specualtions of the Council of {137}Elrond^ about him, as he would not care about events outside his realm, and would pay the Ring any attention, not even to destroy it.

Tolkien himself explains Tom Bombadil as the spirit of the vanishing Oxford and Berkshire countryside (c.f Letter #19), and calls him an intentional enigma (see above).

JRR Tolkien had created the character of Tom Bombadil before he wrote LOTR, and it seemed apt to him to use Bombadil in the new context of the novel. Some of the adventures Bombadil has in the likewise named collection of poems entitled 'The Adventures of Tom Bombadil' are similar to those in LOTR, i.e. his encounters with Old Man Willow and the Barrow-Wight; and it is told how he met Goldberry.

Taking all this into account may explain why Tom Bombadil has received so much attention and has caused so much speculation among Tolkien readers. Theories range from him being an incarnation of Eru the One, to sophisticated comparisons with other older myths which have been assimilated into newer mythologies in much the same way as with Bombadil. As a character from a different context, a different myth, he cannot be defined with terms of Middle-Earth. That does of course not hinder him from being there - he is.

(References: LOTR, I, 6-8; 'The Adventures of Tom Bombadil')"
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