Join 3,556 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


His feet are faster
July 27, 2011 1:45 PM   Subscribe

Who is Tom Bombadil? [Via a more wide-ranging discussion on reddit.]
posted by Jpfed (214 comments total) 57 users marked this as a favorite

 
Tom Bombadil is apparently the dude hiding in that background wallpaper.
posted by solistrato at 1:48 PM on July 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


This is fantastically-timed. We've just been re-reading The Lord of the Rings, and Tom's part was about a week ago. I've been meaning to do some internet searches for lengthy discussions about him since, for whatever reason, I didn't catch a lot of the strangeness the first time I read it years ago.
posted by odinsdream at 1:49 PM on July 27, 2011


It's webpages like this that make me praise the gods for Readability.
posted by BungaDunga at 1:50 PM on July 27, 2011 [9 favorites]


(you can just adblock the pink background with ABP image helper thingy)
posted by elizardbits at 1:51 PM on July 27, 2011


Actually, there is a link up top for a white-background page. God, now my snark is permanently recorded in the Archives.
posted by solistrato at 1:52 PM on July 27, 2011


It's been a while but IIRC, Tom Bombadil is a merry fellow, bright blue his jacket is and his boots are yellow.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:54 PM on July 27, 2011 [17 favorites]


Sheldon comic that is most apropos.
posted by tommasz at 1:55 PM on July 27, 2011


I thought Tom Bombadil was what that hack Peter Jackson outrageously cut from his travesty of a film adaptation, just because he provides no forward plot momentum and acts like somebody out of a fever dream?
posted by kmz at 1:57 PM on July 27, 2011 [13 favorites]


He's the 21st most bangable dude in British Literature
posted by Ideal Impulse at 1:59 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


My favorite theory that I've heard is that Bombadil is Tolkien's author insertion. Hobbitlike, all-powerful, slightly removed from Middle-Earth, and controls things with words? I was convinced, or at least amused enough to decide I was convinced.
posted by COBRA! at 1:59 PM on July 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


It's been said before, but if Peter Jackson had made his trilogy in the way that Tolkien imagined it, each episode would have been eight hours long, and a musical.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:59 PM on July 27, 2011 [50 favorites]


I'm kind of glad peter jackson left him out..
posted by kuatto at 1:59 PM on July 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


His omission was one of the biggest mistakes when they made the movie.
posted by dunkadunc at 2:01 PM on July 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


His omission was one of the biggest mistakes when they made the movie.

As it happens, his inclusion was one of the biggest mistakes when they made the book.
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:03 PM on July 27, 2011 [41 favorites]


Yeah, I had a literature professor argue that Bombadil's omission was a grievous error. He argued that Bombadil was the most important key to the conflict of the novel: the ring only had power over you if you let it. Bombadil didn't, so it didn't. It was the only time I ever heard him curse.

That was a great article, btw.
posted by resurrexit at 2:03 PM on July 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


This question was resolved definitively back in 1996.
posted by baf at 2:03 PM on July 27, 2011 [15 favorites]


It's been said before, but if Peter Jackson had made his trilogy in the way that Tolkien imagined it, each episode would have been eight hours long, and a musical.

By the 37th ending in ROTK, I would have been overjoyed by a musical interlude. Just something, anything, other than the umpteenth slow-motion teary farewell.
posted by kmz at 2:04 PM on July 27, 2011 [8 favorites]


This thread will only be complete when we have a 200 post aside of silly songs and pointless meandering in the wilderness.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 2:04 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is just to say

I have cut
Tom Bombadil
from the movie
that was released

and which
you were probably
expecting
more from

Forgive me
he was strange
so bizarre
and needed rebooting
posted by blue_beetle at 2:05 PM on July 27, 2011 [25 favorites]


Tom Bombadil is proof that Tolkien should have had a good book editor. I love the books but they so read like a first draft.
posted by octothorpe at 2:05 PM on July 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


...Bombadil is Tolkien's author insertion.

Actually, I'm pretty sure Tolkien's author insertion character is Beren. I mean, Beren is actually inscribed on his gravestone.
posted by cog_nate at 2:06 PM on July 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


Sherlock Holmes more bangable than James Bond?

Beorn more bangable than Legolas?

I mean, really.
posted by darkstar at 2:08 PM on July 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Just something, anything, other than the umpteenth slow-motion teary farewell.

Yeah, at about minute 20 of the Grey Havens boat dock goodbyes, I was longing for Sauron to rise up and smash them all to a fine pink paste.
posted by elizardbits at 2:08 PM on July 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


He's the 21st most bangable dude in British Literature

While I really did not enjoy reading Jane Eyre, I love the fact that Mr. Rochester (whose physical appearance works its way up to a resounding "meh" when SPOILER ALERT Jane finally decides on him) tops that list.
posted by griphus at 2:09 PM on July 27, 2011


This is of little interest to me, but MY GOD this answer about what "The One Ring" actually does is amazing. Just....amazing.
posted by lattiboy at 2:10 PM on July 27, 2011 [7 favorites]


I've always loved the randomness of his character, and the mystery. The constant singing got on my nerves something awful, though. Not sure I buy the author's theory, but it was an interesting read and something I'll think about whenever I end up reading the Silmarilion again.
posted by smirkette at 2:11 PM on July 27, 2011


In terms of medieval philosophy this would mean that existence is a predicate of Tom Bombadil and that he is therefore God.

That makes no sense. If existence were a predicate, it would be predicated of everything that exists, not just God.
posted by painquale at 2:15 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


This question was resolved definitively back in 1996.

Tom Bombadil is not the Witch King of Angmar.

Seriously, he would have just taken the ring and brought it to Sauron forthwith.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:16 PM on July 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


If you included Bombadil in the movie, you would have destroyed the sense of menace from the ring which the film works so hard to build up (it is, after all, an inanimate object) and raised a whole heap of questions for the audience: "why can't they just leave it with Bombadil?" "why can't Bombadil carry it to Mordor?" etc. etc.
posted by Paragon at 2:16 PM on July 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


I was very very dissapointed when Tom was cut from the the movie. Like any good nerd I was all set to boycott the films, but I eventually saw them anyway.
It has been over a year since I last read LOTR and I am ashamed to admit I never read The Silmarillion, but I do have a copy of "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil".

Tom was the most interesting charachter in the books, when it was proposed that the One Ring be given to Tom for safekeeping, Elrond stated that Tom would mean well, and try to help, but would eventually just lose it or give it away as a gift. Elrond and even Gandalf viewed Tom as an enigma. Bombadil had absolutely no ambitions to be anything other than what he already was, and thus he alone among the powerfull of middle earth would not be affected by the ring.

The books are about tests, each character is tested in their own way, some fail and some pass. Sam is tested by The Mirror Of Galadriel, Galadriel is tested by the ring, Aragorn is tested whether to let the line of Numenor fade and become as other men. I would argue that Frodo fails his test, and attempts to wield the power of the ring when he reaches the cracks of mount doom. Tom is one of the few, or maybe the only, for whom there is no test, there is no thought of keeping the ring. Just a desire to live his life by the river.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:16 PM on July 27, 2011 [17 favorites]


Yeah Tolkien wrote episodically with series of adventures interspersed by rest and drink and merriment. The movies can't capture this because the pacing wouldn't work in a 2hr film. It would work as a long TV series perhaps, but I'm not sure I'd want to sit through it. Tolkien evokes the imagination of an infinite world beyond, but on film that is limited and bounded by the visuals created by the directors mind, and not the viewers.
posted by stbalbach at 2:17 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've always thought of him as the final "transitory element" that takes the story from a tale told for children (The Hobbit) to a more sophisticated story. The first chapters of FotR, in the Shire, are written very much like The Hobbit, full of anachronism & whimsy. The chapters with Bombadil slowly convert that to serious business, especially at the barrow.
posted by sciurus at 2:17 PM on July 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


Bombadil isn't vulnerable to the One Ring. That's huge! Says a lot about how much Melkor has diminished, and how fearsome Morgoth must have been.
posted by lumensimus at 2:17 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


My favorite theory that I've heard is that Bombadil is Tolkien's author insertion.

Actually, I'm pretty sure Tolkien's author insertion character is Beren.


Funny, I always heard that Faramir was Tolkien's author-analogue.

As for Tom Bombadil, I side with those who think he's crucial. Plot-wise he doesn't add much, but thematically, if you read LOTR as a sort of spectrum of different character reactions to the one ring, he's obviously one of the most important characters. I think Tolkien was partly just having silly fun writing him but was also aware of the meaningfulness of the character. I was so disappointed that Peter Jackson left him out of the movies.
posted by Nixy at 2:18 PM on July 27, 2011


He owes me money, Tom. Tried to palm Goldberry off on me, but the bitch ugly.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 2:19 PM on July 27, 2011


Direct link to readable version.
posted by knave at 2:20 PM on July 27, 2011


Q: What is Tom Bombadil?
A: Chaotic neutral.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:21 PM on July 27, 2011 [14 favorites]


Tom Bombadil is Tolkien trolling us.
posted by schmod at 2:23 PM on July 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


Heh. All I can think of is Tim Benzedrine and Hashberry.
posted by Splunge at 2:23 PM on July 27, 2011 [11 favorites]


Like any good nerd...I never read The Silmarillion

These two statements don't go together.
posted by Ghidorah at 2:24 PM on July 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


These two statements don't go together.

Everyone has a secret shame.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:25 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


If you included Bombadil in the movie, you would have destroyed the sense of menace from the ring which the film works so hard to build up (it is, after all, an inanimate object) and raised a whole heap of questions for the audience: "why can't they just leave it with Bombadil?" "why can't Bombadil carry it to Mordor?" etc. etc.

Why couldn't you just fly to the volcano on the fucking giant eagles to begin with?
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:26 PM on July 27, 2011 [13 favorites]


Is it really so important that he has to fit neatly into Tolkien's mythology? Why does he have to be one of a class Tolkien's already established? Personally I don't think it's so bad if he can be explained as just "something different" from the rest of the story, a hint that there's more going on and other forces in the LOTR universe. The amount of work that went into explaining things and where they came from in Middle Earth is impressive, but in the real Earth there's a lot unexplained or unexplainable or beyond comprehension. Tolkien could be leaving Tom to be one of those things, couldn't he?
posted by Hoopo at 2:27 PM on July 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


I like Tom Bombadil because he represents an outside - the same outside that is represented by the Ents, sort of - an outside to the moral logic of the story, an outside to human/elvish history, something that does not, that cannot, respond to the moral logic of the story. I think that's crucial to the way the story depicts human history and social change. A world that's wonderful has to have something that is in excess of people/people-ish creatures.
posted by Frowner at 2:27 PM on July 27, 2011 [14 favorites]


Paragon: If you included Bombadil in the movie, you would have destroyed the sense of menace from the ring which the film works so hard to build up (it is, after all, an inanimate object) and raised a whole heap of questions for the audience: "why can't they just leave it with Bombadil?" "why can't Bombadil carry it to Mordor?" etc. etc.

Not so. In the books this idea is brought up at the council and dismissed because Bombadil by his nature would simply forget about the ring and probably lose it because it doesn't affect and concern him. The suggestion to have him take it to Mordor never comes up because it is made utterly clear from the beginning that his existence and power is tied to his realm.

I never had any problems with Bombadil's presence and role in LOTR and I instinctively viewed him as another Maia clad in humanoid form (sort of like the istari, the Maia who became the wizards). Or maybe even one of the Valar. Either way, some form of divine nature/spirit entity, an embodiment of aspects of nature in the world that contains Middle Earth.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 2:28 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why couldn't you just fly to the volcano on the fucking giant eagles to begin with?

Air battles with the Nazgul! That would be a totally different movie!
posted by Frowner at 2:28 PM on July 27, 2011 [7 favorites]


I've always felt that Bombadil is - not a "mistake," exactly, but more a relic of an early draft from before Tolkien was fully aware where the story was going. When he started writing, it was still just another fairy tale adventure story in his mind, like The Hobbit. The whole business of the magic ring as The One Ring came later - in fact he had to go back and tweak a bit of The Hobbit in later editions to bring it in line with the new story.

So I think Bombadil was just a fun kid story character he'd come up with independently, and decided to insert into this new little adventure. But then the nature of the new book changed drastically and it was too late to take him out or figure out how exactly he related to the rest of it.

Similarly, I think the Ring making the wearer invisible is a relic. When he wrote The Hobbit, the ring was just an only an invisibility ring - when it became something else in LOTR, the invisibility property was something he was stuck with, which never quite makes perfect sense.
posted by dnash at 2:29 PM on July 27, 2011 [14 favorites]


I really like this essay as an explanation of Tom. I think it fits perfectly, but I've only read The Hobbit, LOTR, and The Silmarillion once each, and a while ago at that.
posted by utsutsu at 2:30 PM on July 27, 2011


Why couldn't you just fly to the volcano on the fucking giant eagles to begin with?
Crebain and the like. The whole point of the Fellowship is that it moves stealthily along the ground. Sauron has significant aerial reconnaissance resources.
posted by lumensimus at 2:31 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I had a literature professor argue that Bombadil's omission was a grievous error. He argued that Bombadil was the most important key to the conflict of the novel: the ring only had power over you if you let it. Bombadil didn't, so it didn't. It was the only time I ever heard him curse.

Doesn't Galadriel demonstrate the same point later, and isn't it demonstrated abundantly in ROTK? Having read read LotR at least annually up to about age 30 (after which it started to pall for some reason), I've never felt it relied on TB in any literary sense. Informal surveys suggest that that whole episode is the biggest obstacle to the book gaining a wider readership; I've met so many people that start it, love the opening chapters, and then just abandon it during this interminable episode.

The first time I read the book, it really put me off the hobbits as characters, because before they've even made it to the next village they've been attacked by a malevolent tree and some barrow-wights, and this clownish character that sings all his lines has to show up and rescue them both times. To be honest I found myself wishing that they would just dump Frodo at Rivendell and give the ring to Sam already.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:32 PM on July 27, 2011


Why couldn't you just fly to the volcano on the fucking giant eagles to begin with?

That's a bit like saying "why bother with the Normandy landings, couldn't you just land your plane in Berlin in 1941? After all, you can do it in 1946"
posted by atrazine at 2:33 PM on July 27, 2011 [19 favorites]


Not so. In the books this idea is brought up at the council and dismissed because Bombadil by his nature would simply forget about the ring and probably lose it because it doesn't affect and concern him.
But that's something really difficult to convey effectively in a film and maintain dramatic force - geez, we have this whimsical figure who could solve all of our problems, if only we could get him to pay attention! Sounds like a cop-out when put on screen.

I've heard it said that the ring is a character in the films - actually, the antagonist moreso than Sauron himself. To have the antagonist 'overpowered' by a random side character so early in the films? Dramatic suicide.
posted by Paragon at 2:34 PM on July 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


I would argue that Frodo fails his test, and attempts to wield the power of the ring when he reaches the cracks of mount doom.

Which is not a fair test; it's well established that anyone (except Tom) will fail that test. Frodo is simply among those likely to resist longest.

Frodo's tests are whether he's able to carry it to where it needs to go and whether he's able to kindly treat the other former ring-holder who has suffered from its effects along the way. By so doing both, he conspires with fate to get the job done even in the face of his eventual failure to resist the power of the ring.
posted by weston at 2:34 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Funnily enough, I've never been at all interested in the Silmarillion or the other secondary books. I know that technically they "explain" a lot of theology and so on in LOTR but those "explanations" seem very dry and formal and fussy - interesting to Tolkien and to people who enjoy systems for their own sake, sure, but they don't really seem to carry any of the ethical or social punch of the books. Sort of an authorial intent question - we can establish who Tolkien thought Tom Bombadil was, we can do various "theological" readings to argue that he is a specific angelic personage mentioned elsewhere, but I can't see him as anything but an excess to the moral norms of the story and a sort of figure for England-the-land.
posted by Frowner at 2:35 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


the invisibility property was something he was stuck with, which never quite makes perfect sense

Well after the battle at weathertop, when Frodo slips the ring on when confronted with the Wraiths, Gandalf states that the ring brings you out of the physical plane and into the realm the wraiths inhabit, that explains the invisibility. Doesn't explain how Frodo's clothes vanish yet the wraits, who are not on the physical plane, can wear cloaks.

Sauron has significant aerial reconnaissance resources.

Yes, in addition to the flying wraiths ( remember they don't fly until their horses are drown crossing the river into Rivendell), Gandalf states that Sauron controls crows and other evil birds.

Doesn't Galadriel demonstrate the same point later,

Galadriel never touches the ring, even after Frodo offers it to her. Gandalf actually does touch the ring, but I seem to remember he was tempted to keep it. I suppose it would gnaw away at him till he used it.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:37 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why couldn't you just fly to the volcano on the fucking giant eagles to begin with?

How It Should Have Ended: LOTR.
posted by weston at 2:38 PM on July 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


Ha, this guy Gene Hargrove was the head of the philosophy department at University of North Texas when I was there 10 years ago as an undergrad. He pretty much just walked around thinking about Tom Bombadil. As a philosophy teacher? He kind of phoned it in.

And for the record, I am not at all surprised to see him use that wallpaper.
posted by nosila at 2:38 PM on July 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


Doesn't Galadriel demonstrate the same point later, and isn't it demonstrated abundantly in ROTK?

Not really. Galadriel is intensely tempted by the ring but has enough self-control to resist. Tom Bombadil just isn't tempted at all-he's uninterested and neutral.
posted by Nixy at 2:39 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Just my two cents:

Tom Bombadil serves as one of the key thematic breaks that separate Lord of the Rings from The Hobbit. While The Hobbit starts off with small and humorous challenges that Bilbo can mostly trick his way around, LOTR pushes Frodo and Sam directly into peril that they can only face with the help of faith in ancient and benevolent powers. Bombadil and the Barrow Wrights are one of the first hints that our protagonists are facing more than stupid trolls and greedy goblins, or are aided by more than their own wit.

This is a theme that comes back repeatedly in the novel. At the ford, we find that the Noldor just look like elves and are divine creatures capable of temporarily thwarting the Ringwraiths. Divine intervention comes in again when Gandalf faces the Balrog, when Sam uses the light of Earendil, and finally the eagles.

But, Bombadil is certainly the weakest variation on the theme of Hobbits being threatened by demonic powers and saved by divine miracles, and I don't begrudge Jackson choosing to cut it.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:47 PM on July 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


As for Tom Bombadil, I side with those who think he's crucial. Plot-wise he doesn't add much, but thematically, if you read LOTR as a sort of spectrum of different character reactions to the one ring, he's obviously one of the most important characters.

I don't know. He works OK as a nature god figure, but Treebeard is so much more developed as a character that I think Jackson made the right decision to drop Bombadil from the films. I tried skipping the Old Forest chapter on a couple of readings and the book doesn't seem to suffer at all from doing so; in fact I thought it made for better character development without him if you imagine the Frodo defeats the Barrow-Wight by himself with the aid of his sword, and that sows the seed of an unhealthy instinct to seize power which bears its bitter fruit on Orodruin. Of course, you could argue that as is, it foreshadows Frodo's tendency to fold under pressure and the resultant need for somebody else to bail him out every time there's a crisis.

As you can probably tell, I'm not a big fan of Frodo Baggins.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:47 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Tom Bombadil just isn't tempted at all-he's uninterested and neutral.

When Frodo hands him the ring he makes it float, spin around like a top, and dissapear when it re-appears he just says it is pretty and just hands it back.

Galadriel looks at the ring and says she is tempted to take it and "become a queen as terrible as the dawn" or something like that.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:49 PM on July 27, 2011


I thought Tom Bombadil was what that hack Peter Jackson outrageously cut from his travesty of a film adaptation, just because he provides no forward plot momentum and acts like somebody out of a fever dream?
posted by kmz at 1:57 PM on July 27 [4 favorites +] [!]


My impression was always that even Tolkien purist zealots were generally ok with Bombadil/the Scouring being cut, but I see from this thread that NOT SO.

Personally I kinda like the TomBom episode, but damn if it wouldn't have been embarassing in movie form. As part of a fifty hour miniseries, sure, but not in a movie.

And the issue of 'who can refuse the ring' is a charged one in the context of the movies - they take it away from Faramir (contentious! but justified! IMO! Particularly in the context of the extended editions' backstory!) yet give it to Aragorn in that fantastic scene on Amon Hen - 'I would have gone with you to the end', followed by a Chow Yun Fat style motherfucking strut into the teeth of a hojillion Uruk Hai.

Hee. One of Jackson's best additions.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:52 PM on July 27, 2011


Frowner: I think that once you get past the opening chapters and the encyclopedic clunkiness, The Silmarillion has some epic Wagnerian fantasy about lust for power and those who rise above it. However, he does repeat himself in parts, and it's a flawed work to say the least.

I suspect that Tolkien would be critical of using it just as an extended reference work for Lord of the Rings, largely based on the fact that he was also critical of his own appendices as distractions from the story.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:54 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


I love the books but they so read like a first draft.

--

But Arod, the horse of Rohan, refused the way, and he stood sweating and trembling in a fear that was grievous to see. Then Legolas laid his hands on his eyes and sang some words that went soft in the gloom, until he suffered himself to be led, and Legolas passed in. And there stood Gimli the Dwarf left all alone.

His knees shook, and he was wroth with himself. "Here is a thing unheard of!" he said. "An Elf will go underground and a Dwarf dare not!" With that he plunged in. But it seemed to him that he dragged his feet like lead over the threshold; and at once a blindness came upon him, even upon Gimli Gloin's son who had walked unafraid in many deep places of the world.


I submit to you that if your first drafts read like that, you should quit your day job.
posted by The Bellman at 2:56 PM on July 27, 2011 [33 favorites]


Not really. Galadriel is intensely tempted by the ring but has enough self-control to resist. Tom Bombadil just isn't tempted at all-he's uninterested and neutral.

See, I find Galadriel's knowledge of the Ring's power and refusal to grasp it much more interesting in dramatic terms than Bombadil's lack of interest in it. Obviously he's made of different stuff than most mortal creatures, but his indifference to anything outside of his immediate domain comes off as a lack of imagination more than anything else.

I've often wodnered if the Tom Bombadil episode was written partly as a homage to the Piper at the Gates of Dawn chapter in the Wind in the Willows. It has something of the same dream-like quality in places, although I much prefer Kenneth Grahame's literary style.
posted by anigbrowl at 3:00 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Bombadil was the most important key to the conflict of the novel: the ring only had power over you if you let it.

I always thought Faramir was the best example of that in the novels (unfortunately, his character is changed for the movie):

"But fear no more! I would not take this thing, if it lay by the highway. Not were Minas Tirith falling in ruin and I alone could save her, so, using the weapon of the Dark Lord for her good and my glory. No, I do not wish for such triumphs, Frodo son of Drogo."

He is mortal and able to avoid the power of the ring by not allowing it power over him. Bombadil, because we don't know what he/it is, might be able to reject the ring for a multitude of reasons stemming from his own natural abilities and powers.
posted by never used baby shoes at 3:01 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


He was very clearly a Mary Sue. He's Tolkein himself - the Author's self image. Of course he's immune to the ring, it's a bauble, a plot point, a macguffin - it's not even all that important, compared to the Hobbits he rescued from the barrow. He'll lose interest in it as he turns to other corners of his imagination.
posted by Slap*Happy at 3:03 PM on July 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Like any good nerd...I never read The Silmarillion

These two statements don't go together.


I have tried. Thrice.

The best description of it I ever heard was the one my stepfather told me was from an old review: "A telephone book in Elvish."
posted by adamdschneider at 3:07 PM on July 27, 2011 [13 favorites]


See, I find Galadriel's knowledge of the Ring's power and refusal to grasp it much more interesting in dramatic terms than Bombadil's lack of interest in it.

True, her refusal to take the ring is more dramatic, heroic and gripping in terms of narrative. But Bombadil represents a different sort of philosopy, a zen if you will- he wants nothing because he lives completely in the moment.

I've often wodnered if the Tom Bombadil episode was written partly as a homage to the Piper at the Gates of Dawn chapter in the Wind in the Willows. It has something of the same dream-like quality in places, although I much prefer Kenneth Grahame's literary style.

One of my absolute favorites scenes from children's literature. I pored over it as a child. Thanks for reminding me of it!

Faramir was the best example of that in the novels (unfortunately, his character is changed for the movie):

I also love Faramir, and kinda resent that they gave his awesome speech to Aragorn.

From his Wikipedia article:

"Long after completing The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien would write, "As far as any character is 'like me', it is Faramir". Faramir's relationship to war in Tolkien's story reflected that of the author himself, who was a soldier in World War I and fought in the Battle of the Somme."
posted by Nixy at 3:09 PM on July 27, 2011


Beorn more bangable than Legolas?

Depends on if the list is for women or men maybe?
posted by dibblda at 3:13 PM on July 27, 2011


Bombadil sucks. The only thing good about Bombadil was his smokin wife and their cuisine of milk, berries and honey.
posted by nathancaswell at 3:14 PM on July 27, 2011


As I recall, Faramir is tempted by the ring but recognizes the destructive potential. TomBom is the antithesis of the Barrow Wrights and Ringwraiths, a creature that the ring has absolutely no power over.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:14 PM on July 27, 2011


Ok - so if you didn't read the link, it posits that Tom Bombadil is Tolkien's moral ideal. I think this is a really interesting idea. But I have this question: If he is the moral ideal, then why wouldn't he simply destroy it or help fight the evil in it? Can we really say someone is a moral ideal when they stand around and let evil propagate because they just don't care? I've seriously never understood this.

Also, anyone who thinks that Bombadil should have been in the movie has lost touch with the reality inhabited by everyone else. It is an interesting section of the book but really is a complete detour from the storyline and should have been packaged as a separate stand alone story.
posted by spaceviking at 3:15 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think if Tom Bombadil had been included in Peter Jackson's movie, the only person who could have played him in way consistent with my vision of the character would have been Rik Mayall.
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:16 PM on July 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


He was very clearly a Mary Sue. He's Tolkein himself - the Author's self image. Of course he's immune to the ring, it's a bauble, a plot point, a macguffin - it's not even all that important, compared to the Hobbits he rescued from the barrow. He'll lose interest in it as he turns to other corners of his imagination.

I concur with Slap*happy.
posted by Renoroc at 3:18 PM on July 27, 2011


I think Andy Dick would have made an excellent Tom Bombadil.
posted by nathancaswell at 3:18 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'd like a movie of the stuff from the Lost Tales. Giant mecha snakes full of Balrogs toppling castle walls vs. an army of elves wielding hammers and impaling demons on their helmet spikes.

Who know Tolkien was as metal as all get out?
posted by yeloson at 3:18 PM on July 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


One of my friends had the interpretation that the reason Bombadil feels out of place is that he's a bit of English mythology in a very Nordic tale. It's about as good a thematic fit as if he'd written it so the Cat Bus saves the hobbits from the Barrow Downs.

I've noticed that whenever people can't get into the Lord of the Rings as a book, it's usually right about at that chapter--it just causes people to throw up their hands.

However, he was always a fantastic random factor in the Middle-Earth play-by-mail game, almost as good as the Eagles showing up. That is if you're playing on the light side.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 3:20 PM on July 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


I submit to you that if your first drafts read like that, you should quit your day job.

I love the epic worldbuilding but not the writing so much. Growing up Catholic (as did Tolkien from the age of 10 or so), I spent a lot of time hearing the Bible at church or reading it just for fun (there's lots of epic adventure in the Old Testament). The elaborate wordy style that Tolkien likes so much is quite close to the language of the King James Bible, while being more accessible than the epic poetry in Latin, Greek, and later Norse languages that Tolkien studied and taught professionally, as well as the rich heritage of Chaucer, Spencer, Shakespeare, Browning, and so on (all of whom dabbled in the fantastic). Those find more expression in songs and in the Silmarillion; if you read Tom bombadil's dialog carefully, you'll see that he speaks almost all his dialog metrically. I think it's iambic hexameter or heptameter (six or seven metrical feet per line), but I don't have a copy around to check so I'm just going on fragmentary bits that I remember. It might be a different rhythm.

Anyhow, Tolkien's prose has always seemed a bit self-consciously baroque to me, and sometimes it gets in the way of his characters. You might find it interesting to contrast it with the style of his friend and contemporary, CS Lewis, who had a more modern tone although he was writing around the same period. If your literary tastes do run towards the Baroque, then run, don't walk, to wherever you can get hold of Jack Vance's Dying Earth or Lyonesse books and who I think is an absolute master wordsmith.
posted by anigbrowl at 3:21 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


the Cat Bus saves the hobbits from the Barrow Downs

I would watch the shit out of that movie and clamor for more.
posted by elizardbits at 3:22 PM on July 27, 2011 [15 favorites]


Like any good nerd...I never read The Silmarillion

I've done it, once. Probably not again though.

Who know Tolkien was as metal as all get out?

Led Zeppelin?
posted by JHarris at 3:24 PM on July 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


Heh. All I can think of is Tim Benzedrine and Hashberry.

Tim Tim Benzedrine
Hash hoo Valvoline
Clean clean clean for Gene
First second neutral park
Hie thee hence, you leafy Narc!
posted by eriko at 3:24 PM on July 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


Beorn more bangable than Legolas?

Depends on if the list is for women or men maybe?

Not to drag this conversation about fictional entities into the gutter, but IMO, of the people who are attracted to men, there are two types, the ones who are attracted to Legolas and the ones who are attracted to Aragorn. The girlfriend who dragged me to see the movies was most decidedly an Aragorn type, in fact, a badass scruffy guy chopping people up occasionaly stopping to recite poety and seduce elven women was probably the only reason she wanted to see it. I teased her constantly telling her Aragorn and Legolas were a couple, and she had no shot with him. If she only knew the truth, that Legolas and Gimli are a couple.
posted by Ad hominem at 3:25 PM on July 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's about as good a thematic fit as if he'd written it so the Cat Bus saves the hobbits from the Barrow Downs.

I AM SO THERE
posted by anigbrowl at 3:25 PM on July 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


Not to drag this conversation about fictional entities into the gutter, but IMO, of the people who are attracted to men, there are two types, the ones who are attracted to Legolas and the ones who are attracted to Aragorn.

...and then there are the freakish statistical anomalies like me who kinda thought Elijah Wood was way hotter than either of them...
posted by Nixy at 3:28 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm a Gimli man.
posted by nathancaswell at 3:31 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


The elaborate wordy style that Tolkien likes so much is quite close to the language of the King James Bible, while being more accessible than the epic poetry in Latin, Greek, and later Norse languages that Tolkien studied and taught professionally, as well as the rich heritage of Chaucer, Spencer, Shakespeare, Browning, and so on (all of whom dabbled in the fantastic).

I'm confused. Are you saying that the fact that his language reads like the KJV is a bug? Because for me it is every inch a feature. If you are going to re-render an iconography drawn in part from Early West Saxon or Icelandic in something, wouldn't you choose the language of the KJV?
posted by The Bellman at 3:33 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


the ones who are attracted to Legolas and the ones who are attracted to Aragorn.

There are also those who are torn between wanting to make out with them both simultaneously, and wanting to see them make out with each other.
posted by elizardbits at 3:34 PM on July 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


...and then there are the freakish statistical anomalies like me who kinda thought Elijah Wood was way hotter than either of them...

I met one of you once, she didn't even mind how disgusting his nails were.

I'm partial to Eowyn myself, she disguised herself as Dernhelm, snuck Merry to the battle at Minas Tirith and struck down the king of Angmar, the head ring-wraith. Pretty badass.
posted by Ad hominem at 3:39 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm a Gimli man.

I prefer martinis, myself.
posted by eriko at 3:40 PM on July 27, 2011 [7 favorites]


I'm a Gimli man.

That's only because you think there are no Dwarvish women!

I am really glad that Peter Jackson left Tom Bombadil out of the movie. I'm glad because I love Tom as a character, and I think he would have been exceptionally easy to get "wrong" (and yeah, that's an absurdly subjective statement of course). As much as I really like the movies, I can barely forgive them for what they did to the writing of Faramir and his arc within the story, I think attempting Bombadil would have completely killed it for me.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 3:40 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Tom Bombadil is the one who gave that long ass speech and then took Dagny to live in that gulch, right?
posted by mullacc at 3:41 PM on July 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


My haircut pretty much seals me in Boromir's camp.
posted by The Whelk at 3:41 PM on July 27, 2011


ole Tom was really a portrait of Basil Bunting and the ironic forshadowing that
The Song Remains The Same.
posted by clavdivs at 3:43 PM on July 27, 2011


Besides Bombadil, I was miffed that Jackson left the Púkel-men out. Ghân-buri-Ghân maybe wasn't hunky, but he was badass in an non-western, aborigine sort of way.
posted by helion at 3:50 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


My impression was always that even Tolkien purist zealots were generally ok with Bombadil/the Scouring being cut, but I see from this thread that NOT SO.

Bombadil was easily left out. The Scouring being left out is a shame, although I can see where keeping it in could have pushed the 3rd movie out to an unacceptable length. The trilogy's ending ends up being less complex and more "well that's all that" without it. Plus, it would have been nice to have had an actual Christopher Lee presence in ROTK.

Some of the omissions were balanced out by additions from outside the main texts like showing the original fall of Sauron, and how the ring came to Smeagol/Gollum. As well as material added just for the movie, like much of the Arwen material, which I thought worked well. So you lost a couple of things, but you also gained a couple of things.
posted by gimonca at 3:51 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


The best description of it I ever heard was the one my stepfather told me was from an old review: "A telephone book in Elvish."

An apt description indeed...I struggled through it one summer and was amazed at how much depth it adds to the world though.
posted by never used baby shoes at 3:51 PM on July 27, 2011


If you are going to re-render an iconography drawn in part from Early West Saxon or Icelandic in something, wouldn't you choose the language of the KJV?

The King James Bible's language is further from Saxon and Icelandic than it is from Hemingway (for one thing, it's in, you know, English). As far as I can tell, the language of the sagas is fairly matter of fact and unflowery. I don't know enough about Saxon literature to say the same there, but I bet it's not the self-consciously elevated prose of Tolkien.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:53 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


By the 37th ending in ROTK, I would have been overjoyed by a musical interlude. Just something, anything, other than the umpteenth slow-motion teary farewell.


Yeah, at about minute 20 of the Grey Havens boat dock goodbyes, I was longing for Sauron to rise up and smash them all to a fine pink paste.



Are you kidding me? First Gandalf would sing about leaving the lands he had protected for so long, and his love for the peoples of Middle Earth. Then Elrond would have a lament for his daughter, and how she chose the Race of Men as he had chosen Elven kind. Meanwhile, Bilbo would sing counterpoint- something about his joy in finally seeing the undying lands. Then Frodo would sing at his sadness in leaving his companions but his relief at being freed from the pain of having borne the ring. Saddest of all, Sam would take up the refrain and sing of the loss of his greatest friend. Then Tom Bombadil would turn up for some reason, and he'd sing something. All this just on the docks alone- by the end you'd wish you'd be torn apart by wargs...
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 3:54 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also: TEAM EOWYN!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 3:56 PM on July 27, 2011 [7 favorites]


Mm mm, Eomer.
posted by ChuraChura at 3:58 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


spaceviking: I think saying that Tom is Tolkien's moral ideal is oversimplifying things. Ultimately I see LotRs as a very Christian narrative. God can't solve the problem of evil directly without destroying the Earth, but God can provide miracles and guides for people of true faith to face evil. Also Elves, Dwarves, and Men are partly to blame for making the rings of power and Sauron's continued existence.

The Valar and Maiar are explicitly forbidden from direct intervention (although Gandalf plays fast and loose with this rule). And beyond that, Tom can't intervene because he knows nothing that's not worship of his own particular slice of God's creation. He's the embodiment of an abstract moral and mystical ideal, but not necessarily something humans can become.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:59 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


team Samwise
posted by The Whelk at 4:01 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Scouring being left out is a shame

That broke my heart, Sam planting the Mallorn tree to replace the party tree and spreading the dirt from Lothlórien around the shire was my favorite part of the book. I am glad though that they left out how seriously damaged Frodo had become before he left for the Grey Havens.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:05 PM on July 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


Why couldn't you just fly to the volcano on the fucking giant eagles to begin with?

It's also strongly implied that if Sauron's Eye could get a good look at someone carrying the ring (as would certainly happen if an eagle flew into Mordor) Sauron could directly exert his will upon the ringbearer. If someone tried to fly the ring into Mordor, he'd likely find himself flying straight to Barad-dûr and laying the ring at Sauron's feet.
posted by straight at 4:08 PM on July 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Besides Bombadil, I was miffed that Jackson left the Púkel-men out. Ghân-buri-Ghân maybe wasn't hunky, but he was badass in an non-western, aborigine sort of way?

The Rifftrax for LOTR comes with an extra MP3 of the guys singing about him. It turns out his name is fun to say-ay.
posted by JHarris at 4:08 PM on July 27, 2011


I once speculated on Usenet that perhaps Tom Bombadil might be Eru Ilúvatar (Middle Earth's Creator) incarnate (given Tolkien's Catholic beliefs).

I was refuted by someone quoting a letter Tolkien had written to a fellow named Michael Straight (my real name) the year before I was born.
posted by straight at 4:12 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's only because you think there are no Dwarvish women!

I was all ready to prove you wrong, but apparently I can't find any.
posted by P.o.B. at 4:17 PM on July 27, 2011


Essay seems to try to simultaneously explain the in-world what of Bombadil and the out-world explanation, and concludes that because the out-world explanation of Bombadil is that he is Tolkien's morality, in-world he has to be Aule.

Unfortunately, the notion that Bombadil is an vala (the leaders of the immortal spirits responsible for creation) doesn't fit the evidence. The two biggest arguments against it are:

1. When asked if Bombadil could be tasked with protecting the ring, Gandalf says Bombadil wouldn't understand the need for this (""He might do so, if all the free folk of the world begged him, but he would not understand the need"). Aule knows what the ring is. Gandalf is also likely to know if Aule is secretly Bombadil.

2. Bombadil's existence is said to be dependent on the success of the Fellowship(Letters 144: ""Ultimately only the victory of the West will allow Bombadil to continue, or even to survive. Nothing would be left for him in the world of Sauron"). It's not conceivable that Sauron deprive Aule of survival even if he become ruler of all of Middle-Earth. Sauron has already become ruler of Middle-Earth once, and has already tried and disastrously failed to invade the home of the Vala.

There are various other phrases and the like, combined which make it very unlikely that Bombadil is any vala, let alone Aule. Aule is further discounted by that their personalities and habits are nothing alike. Aule loves to create, to craft, and build. Bombadil doesn't display any affection for any of those things.

To make the argument that Bombadil is a Vala introduces many more complications and twists (Gandalf is lying, Tolkien is lying, Gandalf is deceived) than the argument that Bombadil is some kind of nature spirit tied to the land.
posted by kithrater at 4:19 PM on July 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


Yay! I have a good answer to the "WTF Tom Bombadil?" question, and, AND, he's the guy from my favorite part of the Silmarillion: The creation of the Dwarves! I love that story, because God (Iluvatar, whatever) totally catches dude with his hand in the cookie jar, making his own fucking people after God told him not to, and when he (Aule) says he's sorry and picks up his hammer to smash them (they were still just statues of clay or stone or whatever) the dwarves fucking come to life and get scared, and God changes his mind and lets Aule keep them, but he's gotta put them back to sleep until the world is finished.
I love that stuff.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 4:22 PM on July 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm a Gimli man.

I prefer Vodka Gimlis. Can't stand gin.
posted by codswallop at 4:24 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


My impression was always that even Tolkien purist zealots were generally ok with Bombadil/the Scouring being cut

As a recovering Tolkien purist zealost, I'm OK with no Bombadil (because he's a deliberate literary mystery that requires tracking down letters, appendix and obscure passages to fully understand just what he is meant to be in-story, let alone out-of-story), but I feel Jackson could've cut some of the endless hours of CGI'd battles to make room for the Scouring. I feel the Scouring has a far more important and relevant message than Bombadil, that evil doesn't just happen far away - it happens at home too.
posted by kithrater at 4:27 PM on July 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


I don't know what it says about me that at this point I've probably read the Silmarillion more than the LotR trilogy. But then, I've always been an absolute fiend for Middle Earth (well, Eä) lore.

From this vantage point, I think what I like about Tom Bombadil is that he is obscure, unexplained. I like to think that Tolkien's world is big enough to encompass all sorts of unusual, unknown characters. Indeed, he sort of explains this idea in the Silmarillion, saying that many of the Maiar chose to leave the Void and populate Arda, in the time before the Children of Iluvatar were born.

I like the implication that there could always be more of these kinds of quasi-divine characters to unearth, in other stories for other times. To me, it's the promise of many more enjoyable stories to be told.
posted by Brak at 4:28 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


The Silmarillion.

Ugh. UGH.

I found that fucking book on the bookshelf in the den, and I was so excited, because I was in high school and I just finished Lord of the Rings for the first time, and I was like, "OH, THERE'S MORE? SIGN ME UP, PLEASE."

And after my 18th try getting through the first chapter, I think I set it on fire.*

*I didn't actually set it on fire.

I just... I... I couldn't. Maybe now that I'm older and more mature and patient I could go back and re-read it and enjoy the hell out of it. Probably not.

Back to Westeros I go!
posted by kbanas at 4:33 PM on July 27, 2011


The Silmarillion.is the worst wiki ever
posted by The Whelk at 4:35 PM on July 27, 2011 [10 favorites]


From this vantage point, I think what I like about Tom Bombadil is that he is obscure, unexplained. I like to think that Tolkien's world is big enough to encompass all sorts of unusual, unknown characters.

Yes! In fact, here's what Letter 153 has to say about the whole matter (not sure about the copyright, so no direct link, but you can find it via google):

"Also T.B. exhibits another point in his attitude to the Ring, and its failure to affect him. You must concentrate on some part, probably relatively small, of the World (Universe), whether to tell a tale, however long, or to learn anything however fundamental - and therefore much will from that 'point of view' be left out, distorted on the circumference, or seem a discordant oddity. The power of the Ring over all concerned, even the Wizards or Emissaries, is not a delusion - but it is not the whole picture, even of the then state and content of that part of the Universe."
posted by kithrater at 4:43 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the Silmarillion is probably best skimmed myself. Some parts are really really good. (Morgoth and the spider comes to mind.) Other parts read like Deuteronomy and Numbers. Some parts would be better presented as opera.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:45 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


This essay is interesting but I would really prefer to read it in the form of a 200-stanza lay, preferably with a catchy refrain. Maybe something like "Hey ho! Dilly-o!/ What the bloody helly-o/ Is old Tom Bombadillo?"
posted by No-sword at 4:46 PM on July 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


I had almost exactly the same experience, kbanas, except I found it in the school library, not the den.

yay westeros
posted by flaterik at 4:47 PM on July 27, 2011


Tom Bombadil is a beautiful but abstruse harmony in Illuvatar's song; he doesn't quite form a counterpoint to anything else, but the song is missing something without him. I like that even in Tolkien's meticulously-constructed world there are still mysteries.
posted by clockzero at 4:54 PM on July 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Honestly, I blame Christopher Tolkien because his attempt to preserve and publish everything and the kitchen sink means that you have highly polished episodes sandwiched among verbal genealogies and lists of battles.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:58 PM on July 27, 2011


A 100+ comment Tolkien thread. 30-odd years and internet has changed a bit after all.
posted by jonmc at 5:00 PM on July 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


I feel the Scouring has a far more important and relevant message than Bombadil, that evil doesn't just happen far away - it happens at home too.

I can imagine people taking away some nastier messages: Kill your enemies (or execute criminals) when you have the chance and show no mercy lest they get free/come back and hurt someone again.
posted by straight at 5:01 PM on July 27, 2011


This question was resolved definitively back in 1996.

Tom Bombadil is not the Witch King of Angmar.


Yeah, that was a mighty speciously-argued page.

2. You never see the two of them together.

Faramir is Butterbur! Farmer Maggot is Glorfindel! Arwen is Eowyn!


It's worth noting that, after the Witch-king was dead, Gandalf said he was "going to have a long talk with Bombadil" (Return of the King, p. 275). Curiously, he never tells anyone about the meeting later... and he's right there at the Grey Havens at the end of the book, undelayed it seems by long conversation.


The Grey Havens departure is two years after the War of the Ring ends. Tom is prolix, but after eighteen months or so, even he might run out of stuff to talk about.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:02 PM on July 27, 2011


I'm a Gimli man.
posted by nathancaswell at 3:31 PM on July 27 [1 favorite +] [!]


Torn between Grima Wormtongue and the Watcher at the Gate, myself.
posted by Sebmojo at 5:03 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Dude. When a theory is posted on a "Crackpot Theories" site, you don't really add anything by fisking it.
posted by baf at 5:10 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Too bad Andy Kaufman wasn't available to play Tom Bombadil. Or was he???
posted by Daddy-O at 5:11 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Torn between Grima Wormtongue and the Watcher at the Gate, myself.

I was always intrigued by The Mouth of Sauron, how the hell do you get that job? It is really too bad we didn't get 50 pages on that guy.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:11 PM on July 27, 2011


I think Andy Dick would have made an excellent Tom Bombadil.

Brian Blessed gets my vote.
posted by homunculus at 5:18 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


THE HOBBIT, Production Video #3
posted by homunculus at 5:19 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Tom Bombadil would be a great band name.
posted by bwg at 5:19 PM on July 27, 2011


Brian Blessed gets my vote.

My memory is faulty, but I don't recall Bombadil's dialogue as being written in ALL CAPS.
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:20 PM on July 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


homunculus: "I think Andy Dick would have made an excellent Tom Bombadil.

Brian Blessed gets my vote.
"

Johnny Depp.
posted by Splunge at 5:22 PM on July 27, 2011


homunculus: "I think Andy Dick would have made an excellent Tom Bombadil.

Brian Blessed gets my vote."

Johnny Depp.

Steve Buscemi.
posted by No-sword at 5:31 PM on July 27, 2011


No-sword: "homunculus: "I think Andy Dick would have made an excellent Tom Bombadil.

Brian Blessed gets my vote."

Johnny Depp.

Steve Buscemi.
"

Hunter S Thompson, CGI of course.
posted by Splunge at 5:34 PM on July 27, 2011


Hunter Thompson as Bombadil is a fun thought; he'd really deliver the songs.

If we're wandering out of direct TFA discussion and into wider LotR-ery, I should mention that I've done a couple of strips about LotR in my webcomic about books....
posted by COBRA! at 5:37 PM on July 27, 2011


He's the 21st most bangable dude in British Literature

I was tentatively down with that list until I realized it was promoting bestiality and then I had to flee in terror.
posted by elizardbits at 5:41 PM on July 27, 2011


At the ford, we find that the Noldor just look like elves

Pedant

There were no Noldor in Rivendell; Galadrial and co in Loth Lorien were the only ones left.

/pedant.

Also, Aragorn and Arwen were first cousins. Just sayin'
posted by digitalprimate at 5:42 PM on July 27, 2011


I'm confused. Are you saying that the fact that his language reads like the KJV is a bug? Because for me it is every inch a feature.

It seems to me that the more the characters develop, the more spontaneous and natural their mutual speech becomes. Where that language works best is in formal situations like at the court of Theoden or in Minas Tirith, where there are a lot of power plays and asymmetries going on. In the earlier books I feel it artificially distances us from the characters a bit...but now we're getting into matters of taste. It's not that I don't like the baroque style - I love it - but it just doesn't flow as smoothly from Tolkien's pen for me the way it seems to do for you.
posted by anigbrowl at 5:44 PM on July 27, 2011


Pee-Wee Herman.
posted by anigbrowl at 5:45 PM on July 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


My memory is faulty, but I don't recall Bombadil's dialogue as being written in ALL CAPS.

You may be right. It has to be someone with a pleasant singing voice. How about Eduard Khil? His voice would be a better fit for Bombadil than it was for Saruman.
posted by homunculus at 5:58 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


adamdschneider said: The best description of it I ever heard was the one my stepfather told me was from an old review: "A telephone book in Elvish."

The Whelk said: The Silmarillion.is the worst wiki ever

Oh shit! Not another elf! I love these zingers.

Yeah, it's Wagnerian in scope and depth and drama but it's basically a genealogical document with history embedded here and there.

In another sense it's like Pokemon, and fairly neatly predicts our future present. A culture of fiction of countless genres and subgenres with a not insignificant fascination for fantastically complicated cast lists. And the sorts of raging and totally serious debates about collectively imaginary things like we're having right now like:

darkstar said: Sherlock Holmes more bangable than James Bond?

Beorn more bangable than Legolas?


You've got it backwards, but that's ok. A lot of people fall for the pretty folk without thinking about what's really beneath the surface.

James Bond is a bit of a stuffed suit. His hubris gets him in trouble, which is more or less the primary MacGuffin since his clownishly evil adversaries are always so bumbling and hubristic and neurotic themselves that they could be defeated by a boy scout troop armed with sling shots. He's a terrible spy or agent, constantly having to shoot his way out of his arrogance. He's a conceited womanizer who doesn't really ever show any signs of being anything more than pretty in bed. He constantly overdresses for the occasion. He doesn't read manuals. He's really a Mary or Marty Sue when you rip the character apart.

Sherlock Holmes? Educated, wealthy, brilliant, bohemian and a dope fiend with a messy desk and a penchant for adventure. Though there's little in his chronicles that suggests he even deigns to engage in sexual congress with either sex - but still waters run deep. I'd choose Holmes over Bond. Bond is probably a 60 second wonder, and we already know he's not into cuddling.

Legolas? Again, pretty. But much more skilled and creative, not a stuffed suit or cardboard cutout like Bond. Attentive, loyal. But... so much ice and seriousness and history... wait are you an Elf? It's probably a moot point unless you're full-blooded elf of good lineage, no? Anyway, having sex with Legolas would probably be a three week ordeal involving an epic song cycles lasting days on end and arcane rituals and ceremonies.

When he finally takes you to bed in an absolutely charming treehouse bed on an open platform it takes all night to undress and communicate meaningfully about how much joy you're experiencing. Meanwhile elves gather around in the nearby branches to sing Kumbaya or whatever as fireflys gather to bask in Elven song and joy and by that time you're asleep and totally not into it anymore.

Beorn? He's a damn shapeshifter. He dances with bears. You just know he's a freak in the sack. If he likes you he could be anything you want and even be way into it, 'cause that's kind of his thing. Except maybe Legolas. Or Frodo. And he's not a goddamn elf.
posted by loquacious at 6:03 PM on July 27, 2011 [14 favorites]


Once came upon a serious book (someone's thesis no doubt) in a rental cabin that used The Hobbit as the basis for a world-philosophy and metaphorical example of how life should be lived. Man I could smell the sweet sweet smoke coming right out of the pages. I wish I could remember what it was called, it was truly awesome. And then really boring.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 6:13 PM on July 27, 2011


Huh. I always thought Bombadil was God.
posted by deborah at 6:15 PM on July 27, 2011


I thought he was Father Time.
posted by diogenes at 6:31 PM on July 27, 2011


I thought he was Bob Newhart. Can't you picture him?
posted by JHarris at 6:35 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Beorn is OK, if you're into bears.
posted by grouse at 6:44 PM on July 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


Tiny Tim would have made a good Tom Bombadil.

Or Nigel from SpinalTap.

Although I must say that James Earl Jones has a certain appeal to him as well.
posted by DrumsIntheDeep at 6:46 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Bombadil is JRRT's nod to the precursor folklore he was gussying up. His program was to develop a Northern European Pre-Christian mythos, right, in the vein of Classical Greek mythology. Tom's the Green Man, the embodiment of those actual folk traditions the actual way they came down to us, past Caesar and Christ, straight to your local Morris dancer.

Pretty glad to not see him in the flick.
posted by mwhybark at 6:46 PM on July 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


Tom Bombadil is Andy Dwyer.
posted by Guy Smiley at 6:49 PM on July 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


He sounds more like one of those old Taoists than a god.
posted by sneebler at 6:57 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


And, yes, I guess that means that Goldberry is April Ludgate. Logic!
posted by Guy Smiley at 6:58 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I always saw Tom Bombadil as a flashing perspective indicator--a reminder that Middle Earth was full of varyingly powerful entities, many of whom were tangential to what, in the grander timeline, was a pretty minor episode. It's been too many years for me to make specific references, but the history is full of battles far more epic and heroes far more powerful than the struggle in LOTR specifically.

Tom stands as a reminder that Tolkien wasn't just creating a narrative, he was creating a universe. A universe populated by seas of entities coexisting and doing their part, not necessarily fighting the war du jour or even remaining in Middle Earth, but doing as they saw fit. The reader is looking for weapons to use against Sauron--when your only tool's a hammer, everything looks like a nail--but Tolkien was reminding us that every character in the books didn't exist solely to go kill Sauron, or even be particularly helpful in that regard.

There's a certain quality that some narratives have, and it is not entirely a pleasant one. I call it "gun on the mantle" syndrome. If you get to the end, and realize that every single thing that happened and every single character was an irreplaceable Jenga piece, the entire work suddenly seems trite...contrived, hypervised by a micromanaging god. It becomes A Series Of Events Wholly Orchestrated By A Single Entity(tm). Tom exists as a counter to that, something not useful in the hobbits' quest. Something that isn't fulfilling some Ultimate Purpose(tm) in relation to the narrative.

I think leaving him out was an act of hubris on multiple levels, in that it willfully narrowed the scope closer to Things And People Useful To The Narrative(tm).
posted by Phyltre at 7:09 PM on July 27, 2011 [16 favorites]


I think leaving him out was an act of hubris on multiple levels, in that it willfully narrowed the scope closer to Things And People Useful To The Narrative(tm).

Act of hubris it may be, but I think film is necessarily a leaner medium, and isn't forgiving of what would have been a likely 5+ minute long digression into a plotline that has no real bearing on the climax or resolution of the plot. A Tom Bombadil interlude complete with song and dance would have irretrievably dragged the movie down and thrown off the pacing.

I suppose this is a matter of taste, but I think film needs to narrow the scope to Things And People Useful to the Narrative, at least in such a plot-driven work like LotR. That's not to say filmmakers should toss out character work, brief flights of whimsy, comedic moments, or other less narratively "useful" things. But I don't think a film is especially well-served by including multiple scenes and digressions that ultimately have little to no effect on the plot or the characters.
posted by yasaman at 7:22 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


her refusal to take the ring is more dramatic, heroic and gripping in terms of narrative.

Especially when viewed in the context of the Doom of Mandos. This prohibition against returning to Valinor was a direct result of the kinslaying instigated by Feanor and his son's with the tacit approval of Galadriel. She passes the test and the ban is lifted.

Huh. I always thought Bombadil was God.

Yeah ditto. I always interpreted Bombadil as Illuvatar in embodied form.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 7:32 PM on July 27, 2011


OK. The Silmarillion needs preparation.

First!

The Hobbit. The best standalone fantasy novel, YA novel, pastoralist novel, adventure novel, WWI deconstruction novel, ever... EVER! Comes complete with songs and poems and illustrated editions and Rankin and Bass managing one, pure, perfect work among a sea of drek.

Second!

The trilogy itself... challenging for a precocious 8 year old coming off the Hobbit! Ultimately engaging, as Peter Jackson proved:

Lifelong Nerd Buddy, Weeping at the beginning: It's... it's the Shire! Look! The Shire! Baawwwwl!

Random sorority sisters two rows ahead of us, who were snarking mercilessly at the beginning, but then at then end they were all: Gandalf... he's.... he's dead! Baawwwwl!

Third!

Sir Richard Francis Burton's translation of One Thousand and One Nights.

The language is difficult, but you stuck through the Lord of the Rings, so this is do-able! Funny, exciting, frightening, uplifting, you understand a foreign culture for the first time! You see things through eyes not your own, you feel things with a different heart! Amazing!

Fourth!

The Silmarillion. Tolkien embraces and discredits Scandinavian heathen literature, Catholicism, Protestantism, Nationalism, Colonialism, Mercantilism, and any damn ism available to a shell-shocked physician-scholar who's only retreat from reality were thousand-year-old poems, who loved a man and a woman as deeply as a human being can love, and chose her over him in the end, simply because he loved her more...

Cellar door.

It will be the most challenging read of your life, if you discount deliberately difficult bastards like Joyce.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:56 PM on July 27, 2011 [9 favorites]


Phyltre's onto something with the idea of Bombadil as indication of a larger universe that the story of the LOTR is merely part of, and But I think there's more to Tom Bombadil than that. Bombadil exists in the LOTR & Middle-Earth as deliberate attempt at WTF?ness to remind the reader that the author reserves the right to obey and disobey the internal logic of the story at his/her leisure. I seem to recall that Tolkien admitted as much in one of his notes or letters (I can't recall whether this was in one of the HOME volumes or Letters of JRRT, and I'm at work right now or I would check.)

Another thing to keep in mind about the Tom Bombadil chapters in LOTR is how closely they feel in tone to the The Cottage of Lost Play drafts found in The Book of Lost Tales, Part I. The Cottage of Lost Play was meant to be the framing structure for the tales of Tolkien's English Mythology (Hero finds this weird little magical cottage on the border of Faerie that is bigger on the inside than the outside where the pixie-ish desendents of elves tell epic tales of long ago). I often wonder if Tom Bombadil was an attempt to get that story (or at least version of it) into print.

Remember that that Tolkien had already created the framework of his universe long before The Hobbit & LOTR ever existed in his mind. The Hobbit, in fact, had NOTHING to do with the original version of his Legendarium until Tolkien just happened to slip a reference to Gondolin in there about the origins of the swords (Orcrist & Glamdring) Thorin & Gandalf took from the Troll Horde. It was never his intention to connect The Hobbit or its sequel w/ his Legendarium, but when Allen & Unwin rejected the early version of The Silmarillion and asked for a sequel to The Hobbit, Tolkien took advantage of that to "backfill" his life's work into what became The Lord of The Rings. Unfortuately, with the success if the LOTR, Tolkien had to go back rework the rest of his Legendarium into the framework of the LOTR, a project that he worked on until his death, and was "finished" for good and for bad by his son Christopher in The Silmarillion. (Everything published after that is essentially notes).

I could go on for hours about this stuff, but if anyone is interested in the evolution of Tolkien's work, and how The Hobbit & The LOTR were intially incidental to his "plan" but eventually grew to overtake it, I recommend diving into the first two volumes of The HOME as well as the History of The LOTR volumes in the series (if you haven't done so already). Wait until you get a load of the original version of Strider. JRRT could be a demented man at times.
posted by KingEdRa at 7:59 PM on July 27, 2011 [7 favorites]


I always thought Bombadil was a God, at least when my mother was first reading the books to us when we were ... seven?eight?.. young.

We weren't raised in a religious household, so though I was of course aware of Christianity, it didn't entirely shape my view of the world and my grasp of the divine was heavily influenced by my concurrent obsession with Greek mythology. So it seemed entirely reasonable to me that he was an old nature God, or at least very much more powerful than his demeanor would suggest at first blush.

I do distinctly recall that shit got wicked super nightmare scary right after that. One last bit of song and dance before business got serious.

This:
Tom is not beyond and unconcerned anomalously, but rather is located at the core of morality as it existed in Middle-earth, as the ultimate exemplification of the proper moral stance toward power, pride, and possession.

I am not so sure of. I didn't get anything from the context to suggest that he was that closely connected to the story. He was above, beyond, and unconcerned with the temptations of the ring - there was no tension there for him. If I had to choose someone to be the moral center (and in many ways the real hero) of the story, it would be Sam Gamgee, whose defense against the power and temptation of the ring was his own strength of character, goodness of heart, and powerful love for Frodo.

It's about as good a thematic fit as if he'd written it so the Cat Bus saves the hobbits from the Barrow Downs.

That is the best idea I have heard probably ever.
posted by louche mustachio at 8:00 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


But I don't think a film is especially well-served by including multiple scenes and digressions that ultimately have little to no effect on the plot or the characters.

Obviously on the face of it I agree. But the more I consume plots, the more contrived they seem. Not because I've seen a particular plot played out before, but because none seem self-aware. Suspension of disbelief loses meaning, to me, if everything is played straight. I will never truly and fully be taken in by an epic work of fiction, like most people. Plot devices with a clear and perfectly defined role rankle as they stand away from the arbitrary nature of all reality. I suppose what I am saying is that a narrative that refuses to acknowledge the man behind the curtain on some level will always seem contrived. It becomes a clockwork that insists upon itself, a good narrative written perfectly to be a good narrative. After enough good narratives, the hallmarks of such a thing themselves are marks instead of banality. A "tight" film becomes a hollow one.
posted by Phyltre at 8:03 PM on July 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'd like to second every damn thing Phyltre has said. I've been thinking along these lines for a long time.
posted by JHarris at 8:09 PM on July 27, 2011


That's a good point, Phyltre. I agree that there are "tight" films that are hollow. Inception for example was lauded by many as a "tight" film (though it did have its plotholes), and while I enjoyed it, I ultimately found it rather hollow. It could have done with a bit more narrative faffing about, so to speak. It definitely could have done with more of a sense of wonder and chaos, considering it was about manipulating dreams.
posted by yasaman at 8:28 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]



Although I must say that James Earl Jones has a certain appeal to him as well.


All joking aside, when I was a kid I just assumed that Tom Bombadil was the token black guy in the series. I mean, I'm pretty sure "Hey dol! merry dol! ring a dong dillo!" was one of the verses in Rapper's Delight, wasn't it?
posted by xigxag at 8:35 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


"An Elf will go underground and a Dwarf dare not!"...

I submit to you that if your first drafts read like that, you should quit your day job.


In the second draft, Gimli added "I'd never hear the end of it!"
posted by ShutterBun at 9:25 PM on July 27, 2011


I have always loved Tom
Bombadil - and he is an important part of the story. He is powerful - but more limited than the weaker mortals - his power is only in his land.
posted by jb at 9:36 PM on July 27, 2011


I've always thought that one good theory for Tom is that he's an outsider - a spirit from beyond the bounds of Illuvatar's universe, who entered from outside. It's hinted that Ungoliant was such as thing as well. That would explain how he was so old, how the ring might not have power over him even if he isn't powerful enough to destroy it, and so on. Perhaps he exerts an influence over the area, turning the local area into a region where his power is dominant, but which he is powerless outside of.

I suppose it's also a good way to work something deliberately designed to be an enigma into the narrative without breaking continuity.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:50 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


straight: I can imagine people taking away some nastier messages [from The Scouring of the Shire]: Kill your enemies (or execute criminals) when you have the chance and show no mercy lest they get free/come back and hurt someone again.

That would be a true message, and a thought provoking addition to the movies. That to be good, as the Fellowship strives to be, requires mercy... lest you become like your enemy. To be evil is easier, sometimes smarter, but it will corrupt you. This is the symbolized by the Ring.

The choice to show Saruman mercy led to the Scouring. However, a very similar earlier choice to show Gollum mercy led Frodo and Sam to Mt Doom, farther than they could have gone on their own. And so we see that mercy can be a wonderful boon or a terrible sacrifice. It adds some depth.
posted by gilrain at 9:57 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


I really think everyone is overthinking it?

The jolly, earth-tied godling is a kind of staple of mythology, isn't it - Tom is a sort of mysterious spirit of nature, never entirely explained, but clearly existing at the verge of the laws governing the world and only vaguely concerned with the transient events therein. Why make it into a whole big meta-author thing or a universe-expanding archetype, when he's just that kind of thing? The essay says Tolkien liked to let things write themselves in a way and then justify them later. He probably felt Tom justified himself enough as an enigmatic entity of great power that simply serves as a reminder of the variety of this world.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 10:21 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I really think everyone is overthinking it?

Well, yes, and then again, no.

You can say, and everyone would probably agree, that Bombadil is a deliberate introduction in order to remind people that there's a broader universe out there full of mysteries of which the story is only a small part.

But the reason you want to remind people that there is a broader world out there full of mysteries is so that they then spend some time reflecting upon said mysteries. If they don't, then you've failed to achieve your goal.
posted by kithrater at 10:38 PM on July 27, 2011


The scouring really adds a lot of depth to the end of the story.

1. It grounds the end of the story and adds some verisimilitude. The four hobbits know that if they attack the thug army head on, with nothing but their own strength, they'll just end up dead like anyone else. This keeps the 'epic hero of legend' to a sane level and adds to the generally higher realism Tolkien's writing has (over most fantasy).

2. On the other hand, it helps demonstrate that the hobbits really have become heros - not sword-waving action heros, but genuinely strong, wise, and mature individuals. They solve the problem in a rational, methodical, but still heroic manner. This gives them a much greater feel of character growth than a simple end, or if they had fought a last battle on their own.

3. It really shows just how far Saruman has fallen. It's hard to remember by the end, but Saruman is basically a lesser deity, someone who was once not only once more powerful than Gandalf but kind of his leader. By the end of the third book, his hubris, spite, and spectacular arrogance have reduced him to the tinpot dictator of a small army of particularly disreputable thugs, who has worked to ruin a harmless and peaceful country out of nothing but a misguided sense of revenge. Who is then murdered by a subordinate he has systematically mistreated.

It's one thing to fall from an angel to a devil, at least that's poetic. Saruman falls from an angel to a particularly petty brigand. It really drives home the sense of how profound his fall was, and how pathetic a waste it really represents.

4. It reinforces the idea of change, and that you can't ever really go home - this concept is woven throughout the novels. Between the elves leaving, the race of the Numenor fading, and ancient things being destroyed during the war, this is a very consistent - but it's really driven home when the hobbits get back and their home is in ruins. They rebuild, of course, and it's better - but it's never the same. It really adds to the general war themes present in the books.

All of that being said, I don't necessarily think it would have worked well in the movie. It would have been anticlimactic. Books and movies don't necessarily work well with the same narratives, and while I do think it was a good addition to the books, I'm just not sure it would have worked properly in the films.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:42 PM on July 27, 2011 [11 favorites]


The Scouring was part of Tolkien's larger overarching tale that all the noble and magical things of the Third Age were fading away, inevitably. Saruman hurried things along a bit, but it would've happened eventually even if they had killed him outright. So they had no chance to prevent evil, but they did have a chance to show mercy for mercy's sake, and thus to add but one last bit of beauty to their fading world.
posted by xigxag at 10:46 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


On my first trip through LOTR (around age 11, in a galaxy far far away), I was transfixed and awed at Tolkien's depiction of Tom as the manifestation of an ancient & waned elemental being, reduced to an existence that acknowledged only the forest he lived in, and nothing else.

My young take-away was that he was supposed to be a kind of warning against great powers and isolationism.

I also recognized that he was a tantalizing glimpse at the vast scope of Tolkien's creation, carefully placed by the author to reset (or upset?) the reader's expectations about this apparently pastoral fantasy world they had begun to travel through.

Every time I re-read that chapter in the series, he seems to take on entirely new levels of meaning. No other LOTR character has anything like his depth.

Tom Bombadil is one of the great creations of literature.

I am also in total nerd awe of some of the posters here. Please don't stop. I could read this thread forever.
posted by Aquaman at 10:47 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I always just assumed (without a lot of thought) that Tom Bombadil had something to do with Hobbits in a way roughly the same (but not exactly) Iluvatar was to Elves and Men, Aule to Dwarves, and Morgoth to Orcs

Just as the origins of Hobbits are obscure and Hobbits themselves are in many ways both plain and unknowable, creatures of the moment and generally happy types, so too is Tom Bombadil.
posted by jjderooy at 11:13 PM on July 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Prof. Hargrove is all ready for the musical--Old Forest Sounds.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:12 AM on July 28, 2011


There were no Noldor in Rivendell; Galadrial and co in Loth Lorien were the only ones left.

No, there was Glorfindel, helping Frodo to make it to the Ford of Bruinen.
posted by rewil at 12:45 AM on July 28, 2011


I really think that Peter Jackson should have included the Scouring. It was such an important part of the tale - that evil doesn't just exist Out There but will come home if we let it. I love the movies anyway and the extended end scenes in ROTK.

As for Tom Bombadil, I'm glad that he wasn't in the movie. Read the book if you want all the added extras.
posted by h00py at 4:03 AM on July 28, 2011


Old Tom was also a hardcore rapper [NSFW].
posted by ob1quixote at 5:41 AM on July 28, 2011


When Eru Iluvatar made the world, he made it from song. Tom Bombadil is that song.
posted by Eideteker at 6:01 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


You're welcome.
posted by Eideteker at 6:02 AM on July 28, 2011


(and his flow was wack)
posted by Eideteker at 6:40 AM on July 28, 2011


As to the temptation of the Ringbearer to put on the Ring ... there would have been a very low-tech way to deal with that. Thread the ring on an iron bar around the diameter of a finger: bend the metal into a loop and weld the ends together. Any blacksmith could do that, by modifying a horseshoe.
posted by raygirvan at 7:07 AM on July 28, 2011


Yeah, but then you got an invisible evil horseshoe swooping around. That shit could get dangerous real quick.
posted by No-sword at 7:54 AM on July 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


As to the temptation of the Ringbearer to put on the Ring ... there would have been a very low-tech way to deal with that. Thread the ring on an iron bar around the diameter of a finger: bend the metal into a loop and weld the ends together. Any blacksmith could do that, by modifying a horseshoe.

The blacksmith would find himself thinking "Why am I doing this for these stupid people? I should just take this ring myself. I've just as much sense — more! — than most of these high-and-mighty types." Next thing you know, you've got Joe the Dark Overlord on a fast horse heading to meet his new pal, Sauron.
posted by papercake at 8:16 AM on July 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


I always interpreted Bombadil as Illuvatar in embodied form.

From a letter from Tolkien to Michael Straight (alas, not me):

There is no 'embodiment' of the Creator anywhere in this story or mythology...The Incarnation of God is an infinitely greater thing, than anything I would dare to write.

He was writing about Gandalf, but it seems to rule out the "Illuvatar embodied" theory for Bombadil as well. Of course it's possible Tolkien was mistaken.
posted by straight at 8:30 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


The One Ring acts like the Golden Poo from American Dad
posted by The Whelk at 8:31 AM on July 28, 2011


I've always felt that Bombadil is - not a "mistake," exactly, but more a relic of an early draft from before Tolkien was fully aware where the story was going. When he started writing, it was still just another fairy tale adventure story in his mind, like The Hobbit. The whole business of the magic ring as The One Ring came later - in fact he had to go back and tweak a bit of The Hobbit in later editions to bring it in line with the new story.

I think that this, and Tolkien's unwillingness to go back and completely re-write Fellowship of the Ring to somehow "match" the later books, is part of what makes TLOTR work so well. The fact that Tolkien himself was surprised at where his tale was going, that, for instance, Sam became the hero in direct contradiction of Tolkien's initial ideas about the character, creates a wonderful effect of the story growing and expanding in scope as it goes that would be lost if you tried to smooth out all the rough edges where The Hobbit meets The Silmarillion.

Taking The Hobbit and plonking it down in the midst of this huge, existing world and history gives readers the same experience as the hobbits of finding themselves in a much larger world than they realized.
posted by straight at 9:08 AM on July 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


@papercake: The blacksmith would find himself thinking ...

Point taken. OK, Elrond then. We know he's good with blacksmithery (he mended Aragorn's sword) and has the willpower not to go for the Ring. Or don't involve anyone: just buy a stout padlock, lock it through the Ring, and throw away the key. I don't recall the Ring, apart from being able to change size a little, having telekinetic powers.
posted by raygirvan at 10:11 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


At the ford, we find that the Noldor just look like elves and are divine creatures capable of temporarily thwarting the Ringwraiths.

KirkJobSluder, the Noldor are elves, kinsmen of Finwe, the Second Clan who migrated to Valinor. They are no more divine than any other elves, albeit some of them have lived since the First Age.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:33 AM on July 28, 2011


One of the points of the history of the Ring is that in spite of the best intentions of those around it, it will find a way back to Sauron, even if it takes centuries to do so. Give it to a king, and he's ambushed and killed. Drop the ring in a river, it finds a fisherman. Hide it in a cave, and it finds a lucky adventurer.

Lock the ring in iron, and it will find a blacksmith. Put it in a padlock, and it will find a locksmith or a key. Surround it with guards, and they'll be ambushed (possibly by Ringwraiths.)
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:36 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, no. The guards would fall into fighting amongst themselves over the ring.
posted by Eideteker at 10:41 AM on July 28, 2011


IAmBroom: Just going by memory, but at the ford, Frodo under the influence of the ring and the wound by the ringwraiths, sees Glorfindel as a shining figure. Gandalf later affirms that Frodo's vision of the elf-lords was true and they don't normally go about uncloaked. It's also echoed when Galadriel changes while contemplating what she could do with the One Ring. So there is a sense that the elf-lords are powerful beyond imagining, but cautious about how they reveal that power.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:56 AM on July 28, 2011


This conversation is giving me such a geek hard on, I see a re-reading of LOTR and The Silmarillion in my near future.
posted by papercake at 11:17 AM on July 28, 2011


I think that this, and Tolkien's unwillingness to go back and completely re-write Fellowship of the Ring to somehow "match" the later books, is part of what makes TLOTR work so well. The fact that Tolkien himself was surprised at where his tale was going, that, for instance, Sam became the hero in direct contradiction of Tolkien's initial ideas about the character, creates a wonderful effect of the story growing and expanding in scope as it goes that would be lost if you tried to smooth out all the rough edges where The Hobbit meets The Silmarillion.

I think this is the essence of good writing. It reminds me of something Neil Gaiman once said:

"If you’re a novelist, the challenge is not writing what you think ought to happen, but trying in some way to write what did happen in a world that doesn’t necessarily exist. Everything should feel right; nothing should ever feel strained or forced. In Anansi Boys, I was chugging along writing my book. Then I got to this point in the middle where suddenly I’m looking at one character who’s in a lift, and I’m thinking, 'If you go up, if you keep doing what I think you’re going to do, then in two pages’ time, you will get killed. And I’m not sure what that does to the book that I plotted.' The thing that I thought I was writing certainly didn’t have a murder in the middle. I wrote the next two pages, the murder happened."
posted by gd779 at 11:25 AM on July 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


KirkJobSluder: The Noldor are special Elves, in that they lived in Valinor in the Light of the Two Trees prior to the War of The Simarils and Noldorian migration back to Middle Earth. The Elves who had not migrated to Valinor, The Sindar constitute the majority (if not all, sparing Galadriel & Glorfindel) the elves in Middle Earth at the time of TLOTR and only lived under the stars and (later) the Sun and the Moon. The Light of the Trees was greater than the Sun and the Moon (which were essentially watered down versions of the Trees' light after Ungoliant had drank all the light from Trees and killed them).

The "power" that Glorfindel reveals at the Ford of Bruinen is him throwing off the magic that conceals his Noldorian identity. Why conceal his identity? Glorfindel had come back to Middle Earth (along with the Istari) for the express purpose of motivating the peoples of Middle Earth to combat Sauron. The last thing he would have wanted to do was reveal himself too early. In fact, the ONLY reason he revealed himself at the Ford of Bruinen was because the Nazgul were about to lure the Morgul-Knife stricken Frodo back across the ford and gain possession of the Ring. The only thing the Nazgul feared enough to make them run like little school girls was a pissed off Noldorian Elf Lord who had killed a mother-fucking Balrog. While he couldn't kill them, since they were undead already, he certainly had enough power to disembody them. Faced with certain failure against a fast approaching Glorfindel, the Nazgul would have taken their chances ith wading the Ford in order to get the Ring. Too bad Elrond's Ring was the Ring of Water . . .
posted by KingEdRa at 1:34 PM on July 28, 2011 [12 favorites]


I just checked The Silmarillion out from the library and you are all responsible.
posted by Songdog at 1:53 PM on July 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


One thing about the Aulë speculation is that back in the first age, the Maiar used to be associated with particular Valar. Guess who Sauron served? Aulë - "In his beginning he was of the Maiar of Aulë, and he remained mighty in the lore of that people". Which would make Tom Bombadill Sauron's old boss.
posted by Sparx at 3:47 PM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ha, only two or so posts discuss the link's theory that Tom is Aulë? Personally, I don't think the theory holds much water because if Aulë was living by the river all sorts of people like Gandalf, the other Istari, Sauron, and celebrities like Elrond/Galadriel/Cirdan/Tina Turner would probably know. Not to mention that Aulë, as the passage that Sparx quotes infers, could simply undo the ring.

I thought Jackson did veer towards blockbuster at times and I hold that the Scouring/Tom illuminate important aspects of the books, but he got funding for the films I won't complain (not that I'd watch them again, mind).
posted by ersatz at 4:08 PM on July 28, 2011


Reading through the Tolkien Gateway, I'm reminded of another power who's pretty much independent of the factions in the War of the Ring: the Balrog. Durin's Bane wasn't summoned by Sauron or anything; it was basically just hanging out in Moria until the Fellowship blundered onto it.

Makes me wonder if Tolkien was drawing a parallel there. If so, that could mean Bombadil is a Maia. (That would just confirm what I've always thought anyway.)
posted by jiawen at 10:04 PM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm a pretty bad nerd. I loved The Hobbit, but reading LOTR once was enough for me. I could never start the Silmarillion.

I don't think I minded Tom Bombadil, though. He was lightness to balance out the heaviness of the rest of the narrative. He wasn't needed in the movies.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 10:24 PM on July 28, 2011


If so, that could mean Bombadil is a Maia.

Well, according to Wikipedia,
Gandalf calls Tom Bombadil the eldest being in existence; this is evidenced by his Sindarin name Iarwain Ben-adar (Eldest and Fatherless). Dwarves called him Forn (Scandinavian, meaning "Ancient" or "Belonging to the distant past"), Men Orald (compare to German: uralt, original old, eldest). All these names apparently mean "Eldest."
This implies one of three things:
  1. Gandalf is incorrect; Bombadil could be anything
  2. Bombadil was the very first thing created when time started
  3. Bombadil existed outside of time, and so was "there" when time started. We know this to be the case for Eru Iluvatar, the Valar, and the Maiar.
Since Gandalf is (one of?) the wisest Maiar around, I'm inclined to trust him. So I reject possibility 1.

I don't think there's any evidence for accepting or rejecting possibility 2.

Regarding possibility 3: Bombadil does not give a shit about the One Ring, or really anything outside of his lands (Eru Iluvatar seems more involved, doing things like reincarnating Gandalf after the Balrog fight). Nor does Bombadil appear to be beholden to a Vala in the way that the Maiar are. So I think he's either a Vala or a completely different undocumented kind of thing that existed outside of time.
posted by Jpfed at 11:54 PM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Bombadil existed outside of time, and so was "there" when time started. We know this to be the case for Eru Iluvatar, the Valar, and the Maiar.

In the beginning there was Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Iluvatar; and he made first the Ainur, the Holy Ones, who were the offspring of his thought, and they were with him before all else was made. [emphasis mine]

Note that Eru isn't called "the only One," though it is implied, and while the "beginning" is certainly the beginning of the world, it's not necessarily the beginning of the universe. If Bombadil is truly fatherless, perhaps he has no creator at all. Just because he could (I suppose) be older than Eru doesn't mean he's somehow superior. They're certainly not of a kind.
posted by lumensimus at 12:45 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Since I'd never read it, Piper at the Gates of Dawn.
posted by Eideteker at 6:24 AM on July 29, 2011


This thread is so great and the linked article is a lot of fun too. And I love seeing things from 1996.

Ha, this guy Gene Hargrove was the head of the philosophy department at University of North Texas when I was there 10 years ago as an undergrad.

That makes me laugh, because as I read his article I was thinking it reads like it was written by a philosopher. (Just the language and style of evidence-mustering, possibility-checklisting, etc)
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:54 PM on July 29, 2011


Tom Bombadil: Is he Jar Jar Binks or is he Boba Fett? Annoyance or enigma?
posted by cephalopodcast at 8:39 AM on July 30, 2011


For some reason, after reading this thread I started to wonder whether the Gondorians recognized Aragorn as their previous war hero Thorongil when he reappeared during the War of the Ring. Can anyone speculate on this?
posted by grouse at 3:32 PM on July 30, 2011


Well, there's 39 years' difference between the disappearance of Thorongil and the Battle of Pelennor, so most of the people who might have interacted with him might be either dead by 3019 or were just children in 2980. You'd think maybe Denethor would recognize him, though.
posted by adamdschneider at 5:34 PM on July 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Never having read the Silmarillion (after three abortive attempts), I'm still hazy on the relationship between all these groups (Aule, Maiar, Vanyar, Istari, Balrogs, etc.). Is there a simple family tree or other schematic that shows how they relate to each other? I mean, other than just reading the wikipedia entries for all of them and trying to piece it together?
posted by darkstar at 7:13 PM on July 31, 2011


I never made it through The Silmarillion. Specialist Tolkien encyclopedias like The Encyclopedia of Arda, the Tolkien Gateway, and One Wiki to Rule Them All often have more complete information than Wikipedia.

Of what you raise: the Ainur are broken into the Valar and the Maiar. The Istari and the Balrogs are both kinds of Maiar. Aulë is one of the Valar.

The hierarchy of elves is rather more complex, but there are trees that explain it. The elves article in the Encyclopedia of Arda has one, which shows how the Vanyar relate to the other elves.
posted by grouse at 7:27 PM on July 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Okay, so from what I'm reading:

A. Iluvatar, the Creator. Created the Ainur spirits. Together, they all created the world.

B. The Ainur included 15 particularly powerful beings, 14 of which took physical form and descended into the world to help order it, becoming bound to the world. They became the Valar. The other one of those 15 who descended to the world was Melkor, who rebelled and was renamed Morgoth, the Dark Lord. The most powerful of the Valar were called the Nine High Ones, but when Melkor rebelled, there were eight remaining High Ones of Arda. They were also named the Aratar. One of these Aratar was Aule.

C. The remaining (lesser) Ainur were the Maiar. The Maiar, or lesser spirits, also descended into the world. Five of these Maiar were sent by the Valar across the Great Sea to Middle Earth to take on the guise of Wizards (Istari), including Olorin (Gandalf the Grey/White), Curomo (Saruman) and Aiwendil (Radagast the Brown).

D. The Children of Iluvatar, or the Elves and Men. Elves (the Eldar) get to go to Valinor, the land of the Valar and Maiar spirits dwell, across the Great Sea from Middle Earth. Some special others get to go there, as well (e.g. Bilbo, Frodo). Orcs are believed to be corruptions of Elves. Hobbits are believed to be descended from Men.

E. Aule (the Smith of the Valar) created the race of the Dwarves. They gained Aule's interest in and knowledge of the earth and stone and metal. Iluvatar gave them true life once the Elves were awakened.

F. Sauron was one of the Maiar, who became Morgoth's lieutenant. When Morgoth was defeated, Sauron was to be sent back to Valinor for judgment, but hid out in Middle-Earth. There, he took the mantle of the Second Dark Lord.

Whew!
posted by darkstar at 8:44 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, right, and the Balrog were also Maiar, like Sauron and Gandalf. They were originally fire spirits but were corrupted by Melkor (Morgoth).
posted by darkstar at 8:45 PM on July 31, 2011


There's another creature that existed from "before the world" without much explanation. Ungoliant, the spirit in the form of a great spider, never has a back story defined. Ungoliant had a number of offspring, including Shelob. Shelob's offspring included those huge spiders that traveled from her lair beneath Cirith Ungol to infest Mirkwood and harass Bilbo and company.

But we are never told where Ungoliant comes from. So perhaps, indeed, there are more spirit-beings created before the world other than the Valar and the Maiar that descended into the world. Ungoliant and Bombadil may be of the same kind of creative event: something that Iluvatar created other than the Ainur and the Children.
posted by darkstar at 9:09 PM on July 31, 2011


So wait, did the Balrog and Gandalf already know each other, from the old Maiar days?
posted by homunculus at 10:03 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh dear.
posted by homunculus at 10:08 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Best homunculus update EVER.
posted by grouse at 10:14 PM on July 31, 2011


Keysprings of the The Lord of the Rings.
posted by weston at 4:10 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


« Older Homosexuality explained......  |  "We now have a smallish house ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments