Ban the Bombadil


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.

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6 Responses to Ban the Bombadil

  1. Glenn I says:

    Tom Bombadil! Tom Bombadil! I don’t remember liking him. He was always singing ridiculous songs! Maybe that’s why he stuck in my memory? I kept expecting him to show up in the Jackson movies. Where’s Tom Bombadil? Surely, they could fit him into one part of The Hobbit!

  2. Joe says:

    He’s a bit of an elemental, isn’t he? I like his character, if for no reason that like the stone giants and other bizarre denizens of Middle Earth, he widens the scope of that world.

    I don’t have too much of a problem with Tom being left out of the films, though I personally would have found a way to work him in a cameo. I guess they figured between Radagast and Beorn and the Elves, you really have a fair representation of that kind of nature-loving, one-with-the-earth kind of being. Not that you can get enough of that, particularly in comparison to the scores of selfish, self-absorbed, hateful characters that appear in film. It was cool to at least have Old Man Willow show up in Fangorn.

    That said, there were other characters and races that I’d have preferred the films did show, but didn’t: Beregond, Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth, the Dunedain, Elrond’s sons, Dernhelm, and most egregiously Ghân-buri-Ghân and the Drúedain.

    • Nathan says:

      I thought Beorn’s appearance was a little too brief as well, although I haven’t seen the extended edition, so maybe there’s more of him in that. He wasn’t in the animated film at all.

      • Joe says:

        The Extended Editions are the only versions worth watching, and yes, Beorn has a far more expansive role in TDOS.

  3. Bryan Babel says:

    In a letter to Neville Coghill, Tolkien writes: “But Tom Bombadil is just as he is. Just an odd ‘fact’ of that world. He won’t be explained, because as long as you are (as in this tale you are meant to be) concentrated on the Ring, he is inexplicable. But he’s there – a reminder of the truth (as I see it) that the world is so large and manifold that if you take one facet and fix your mind and heart on it, there is always something that does not come in to that story/argument/approach, and seems to belong to a larger story. But of course in another way, not that of pure story-making, Bombadil is a deliberate contrast to the Elves who are artists. But B. does not want to make, alter, devise, or control anything: just to observe and take joy in the contemplating the things that are not himself. The spirit of the [deleted: world > this earth] made aware of itself. He is more like science (utterly free from technological blemish) and history than art. He represents the complete fearlessness of that spirit when we can catch a little of it. But I do suggest that it is possible to fear (as I do) that the making artistic sub-creative spirit (of Men and Elves) is actually more potent, and can ‘fall’, and that it could in the eventual triumph of its own evil destroy the whole earth, and Bombadil and all.”

    And of course, the Tom Bombadil of Oxford could be the same old Tom of centuries before, because Middle Earth is our Earth, after all.

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