Tom Bombadil was left out of Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Fellowship of the Ring because, well, the movie was long enough as it was, and he wasn’t that important to the story. He stuck with me, however, as he’s really kind of bizarre. He’s almost a cartoon character, this happy-go-lucky little hippie who wanders around singing songs about himself and seems pretty much impervious to harm within his own area. Even the One Ring has no effect on him. He’s married to Goldberry, Daughter of the River. They’re both very enigmatic, with Tom described as “Master of wood, water, and hill,” but Goldberry specifies that he doesn’t OWN these things. The Elves call him “Oldest and Fatherless,” and he claims to have been around before the first acorn, the first raindrop, and the coming of the Dark Lord. He also claims that, when it rains, it’s Goldberry’s washing day.
Exactly how Tom and Goldberry fit into J.R.R. Tolkien’s mythology is never entirely clear, and perhaps it isn’t meant to be. It’s been suggested that he’s a Maia, a Vala, an embodiment of the reader, and even God; but there are problems with all of these. Most likely he’s something else entirely. The mundane inspiration for Tom was a Dutch doll belonging to Michael Tolkien, which he apparently shoved into the privy, but his father rescued it and made it the hero of one or more of his stories. When he first introduced Tom into his fiction, it wasn’t in connection with Middle-Earth, and he said Bombadil represented the vanishing Oxford and Berkshire countryside, and Goldberry the changing seasons. Tolkien had to change the character somewhat to get him to fit into Lord of the Rings, something it seems like every author has done at some point or other. Middle-Earth doesn’t have an Oxford or Berkshire as such, although the Shire and its surroundings are largely analogous to England. Tom might well have something to do with the seasons as well, as he rescues the hobbits from Old Man Willow on 26 September, and says he wouldn’t be back in the area for another six months. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that these times are right around the equinoxes. And while Tom seems to have almost unlimited power in his own area, it doesn’t seem to extend beyond that. And while he’s immune to the Ring, Gandalf says that he’d probably forget about it or lose it if it were given into his keeping. Yeah, definitely sounds like a hippie.