(Note: I pulled the text directly from http://www.cas.unt.edu/~hargrove/tombomb.html. I just wasn’t a fan of the formatting, at all, so I pasted the whole thing right here.)
Who is Tom Bombadil?
An Essay by Gene Hargrove
An earlier version of this paper was published in Mythlore, no. 47 (August 1986).
This version takes into account criticism of the essay and my response in Beyond Bree.
Within the Tolkien household Tom Bombadil was originally a Dutch doll belonging to one of Tolkien’s children (Carpenter, Tolkien, p. 162; Grotta-Rurska, Tolkien, p. 101). Tolkien later wrote a poem about him called “The Adventures of Tom Bombadil,” published in Oxford Magazine in 1934, long before the writing of the Lord of the Rings began. When Tolkien decided to introduce Tom into the trilogy, little needed to be changed about him or his poem except for the feather in his hat – changed from peacock to swan-wing, since peacocks do not live in Middle-earth (Tolkien, Letters, pp. 318-19).
Many readers of the Lord of the Rings consider Tom’s presence in the first book to be an unnecessary intrusion into the narrative, which could be omitted without loss. Tolkien was aware of their feelings, and in part their judgment was correct. As Tolkien wrote in a letter in 1954, “. . . many have found him an odd and indeed discordant ingredient. In historical fact I put him in because I had already invented him. . . and wanted an ‘adventure’ on the way. But I kept him in, and as he was, because he represents certain things otherwise left out” (Ibid., p. 192). Judging by these remarks, critical readers are correct about the arbitrariness of Tom’s introduction into the story; however, as Tolkien continues, he deliberately (nonarbitrary) kept Tom in to fulfill a particular role, to provide an additional dimension.
In a letter written to the original proofreader of the trilogy in 1954, Tolkien reveals a little about what Tom’s literary role or function might be. Early in the letter he writes that “even in a mythological Age there must be some enigmas, as there always are. Tom Bombadil is one (intentionally)” (Ibid., p. 174). Later he adds that “Tom is not an important person – to the narrative. I suppose he has some importance as a ‘comment’.” He then goes on to explain that each side in the War of the Ring is struggling for power and control. Tom in contrast, though very powerful, has renounced power in a kind of “vow of poverty,” “a natural pacifist view.” In this sense, Tolkien says, Tom’s presence reveals that there are people and things in the world for whom the war is largely irrelevant or at least unimportant, and who cannot be easily disturbed or interfered with in terms of it (Ibid., pp. 178-79). Although Tom would fall if the Dark Lord wins (“Nothing would be left for him in the world of Sauron,” Ibid.), he would probably be “the Last as he was the First” (Rings, 1:279).
In trying to grasp what Tolkien has in mind here it is very important, I believe, to distinguish between an enigma and an anomaly, for Tolkien’s interest in Tom involves the former while reader dissatisfaction treats Tom more in terms of the latter. An anomaly is something discordant, unrelated, out of place. It is in this sense that someone might claim that Tom could be left out. An enigma, on the other hand, is a mystery, a puzzle, something which seems to be discordant, unrelated, out of place, but isn’t. This distinction becomes pivotal in the discussion of Tom Bombadil when one considers that on three occasions in the story the question of Tom’s identity or nature is pointedly brought up, twice by Frodo in Tom’s house and later at the Council of Elrond. If there is no answer to the question, then Tom is anomalous. If there is, then he is, as Tolkien claimed, enigmatic.
When one takes into account the manner in which Tolkien composed the Lord of the Rings, especially the care he gave to sorting out the historical connections between people, things, and events, I personally find it inconceivable that there is no answer within the framework of the story to Frodo’s question: “Who is Tom Bombadil?” Although Tolkien didn’t want to tell his readers directly, it seems to me certain that he himself knew very well. Tolkien was very protective of what he wrote, including his errors. When he found something miswritten in his manuscript, he was more likely to ponder, in terms of Middle-earth, how his characters came to make such an error, or what special significance this might have, than simply to correct it. Thus, a mispelt foreign word was more likely to remain as an example of regional dialect than to be changed. Problems with the names and identities of characters were solved in a similar manner. There are, for example, two Glorfindels in his history of Middle earth, one who died fighting a Balrog in the First Age, and another from Rivendell who lent Frodo his horse in the race to Imladris. This situation was, if not a problem, at least a bit unusual, and required special attention from Tolkien, since in general Elf names are unique to particular individuals. Rather than simply renaming one of the Elves, Tolkien concluded that they were the same person and that he had stumbled onto a rare case of reincarnation among the Elves. He then devoted some time to an examination of the theological implications of this special case (Becker, Tolkien Scrapbook, pp. 92-93).
Given this general approach in writing the trilogy, I submit (1) that it would have been impossible for Tolkien to have brought up the issue of Tom’s identity and nature three times and not to have continued thinking about it until he had an answer, and (2) that, although he might not have wanted to tell his readers the correct answer, feeling that enigmas are important, he would nevertheless have left some clues for those who wanted to pursue the matter as he had. The balance of this essay is an examination of those clues. Although the evidence is circumstantial, it is, I believe, convincing.
Beginning as early as Issac and Zimbardo’s Tolkien and His Critics, published in 1968, Tom Bombadil has almost universally been regarded as a nature spirit. In that volume, Edmund Fuller states that he is “unclassifiable other than as some primal nature spirit” (p. 23). According to Patricia Meyer Spacks, Tom has natural power for good and he “is in the most intimate communion with natural forces; he has the power of the ‘earth itself”‘ (p. 84). R. J. Reilly claims that Tom is “a kind of archetypal ‘vegetation god”‘ (p. 131) and argues that “when Tom Bombadil speaks, it is as if Nature itself – nonrational, interested only in life and in growing things were speaking (p. 139). This view of Tom, as a nonrational nature spirit, as a personification of nature itself, has been the dominant view ever since. Ruth S. Noel in The Mythology of Middle-earth, published in 1977, in perhaps the longest and most elaborate discussion of him, begins with the remark that “Tom Bombadil is a character like Puck or Pan, a nature god in diminished form, half humorous, half divine” (p. 127) and she concludes with the remark that Bombadil and Goldberry are undisguised personifications of land untouched by humans, underlaid by a hidden but potent power, representing both the danger of wild land and its potential to serve man” (p. 130). Anne C. Petty in One Ring to Bind Them, published in 1979, summarizes all of the above with the proclamation that Tom is “the nature deity par excellence” (p. 38).
As nearly as I am able to determine, the textual basis for the idea that Tom is a nature spirit is the discussion of him at the Council of Elrond, specifically, the following remarks: “Power to defy our Enemy is not in him, unless such power is in the earth itself” and “. . . now he is withdrawn into a little land, within bounds that he has set, though none can see them, waiting for a change of days, and he will not step beyond them” Rings, 1:279). I suspect that many people have concluded from the second passage that Tom, as a nature spirit, has gradually become hemmed in with the diminishment of the Old Forest. The passage, however, says no such thing. His limits are not set for him by the boundaries of the forest; rather he set them himself. Furthermore, the passage does not state that he cannot cross the boundaries, only that he will not. The claim that he cannot is not even factually correct: Tom frequently visited Farmer Maggot in the Shire and presumably had previously made similar visits to others “down from days hardly remembered” (“Bombadil Goes Boating” and Rings, 1:143). With regard to the first passage, it does not say that Tom is or has the power of the earth. It is ambiguous. The statement, “Tim does not have the ability to drive that far, unless that ability is in his car,” does not mean that Tim is a car. Likewise, the fact that Tom does not have the power to defy Sauron need not be because such power is not in the earth. I will provide a better explanation in due course.
It is possible that the nature spirit theory has been held so long because no one could think of an alternative. Consider Jarred Lobdell’s treatment of Tom Bombadil in England and Always, published in 1981. Declaring Tom to be the “least successful creation” in the trilogy, he continues:
Standing alone, he would be a nature spirit…. But he is not standing alone. . . . He is not the genius of the earth, since he is restricted to one part of it. . . . He is apparently a man, since he is clearly not an Elf or a Dwarf or an Ent or a Hobbit or one of the fallen races, but he is not one of the Men of the West. I suppose one could save the appearances by making him an angel, of a different order from the Istari, or by making him a god, but in both cases we would be in conflict with Tolkien’s mythology. (pp. 62-63)
Lokdell eventually concludes that Tom is an anomaly: “Although I find him an anomalous creation, I can make shift to account for him theologically – but only with the uneasy feeling that making shift is all that I am doing (p. 63).
While I can agree that Tom is not a nature spirit, a Man, an Elf, a Dwarf, or a Hobbit, I see no reason why Lobdell should reject the possibility that he is an angel or a god – in terms of Tolkien’s mythology, a Maia or a Vala. We know from the Silmarillion that Orome once hunted in Middle-earth, Ulmo had dealings with the Elves there, Olorin walked among the Elves unseen before he was Gandalf, and Melian spent a great deal of time in Beleriand with Thingol. There is thus ample evidence for occasional visits of such beings, even for the most frivolous or personal reasons.
Moreover, Tolkien draws some literary connections with regard to Tom that help support his divine status. First, as Noel has noted (Mythology, p. 128), Tolkien makes reference in “Bombadil Goes Boating” to a story in the Elder Edda about Odin, one of the most powerful Norse gods, thereby associating Tom with him. Second, in “In the House of Tom Bombadil” Goldberry answers the question “Who is Tom Bombadil?” with the simple statement “He is” (Rings, 1:135). In terms of medieval philosophy this would mean that existence is a predicate of Tom Bombadil and that he is therefore God. Although Tolkien denies this implication in a letter, written in 1954 (Letters, pp. 191-92), saying that Goldberry, like Tom later, is only making a point about the nature of naming, I remain haunted by the remark. Just as the reference to Odin does not necessarily mean that we must conclude that Tom is Odin, the allusion to medieval philosophical terminology in describing him need not be interpreted as a Christian theological crisis. While Tolkien’s denial clearly rules out the possibility that Tom is Iluvatar, I do not see that it eliminates the possibility that he is an offspring of Iluvatar’s thought, a Vala or a Maia, for I see nothing theologically troublesome with existence being a predicate of part of God.
Finally, there is Tom’s singing. Tom’s inability to separate song from his other activities, speaking, walking, working, suggests that it is very fundamental to his being in a profound way that distinguishes him from all other beings encountered in the trilogy. The wizards, for example, who are Maiar, chant (in the modern sense of the word) rather than sing, and never unconsciously. This continuous singing may be an indication of Tom’s high status. The world was, after all, brought into existence by a group of singers, the Holy Ones, some of whom became Valar. Second, Tom’s basic song is structurally related to Legolas’ “Song of the Sea” (Rings, 3:234-35), suggesting the possibility that Tom’s is a corruption of an original piece of music from the Uttermost West common to both. Third, Tom’s songs, although seemingly comic and nonsensical, have power in them to control individual elements and things in the forest. When told that Old Man Willow is the cause of the Hobbits’ problems, Tom replies, “that can soon be mended. I know the tune for him” (Ibid., 1:131), which I suggest means something like, ‘don’t worry. I have the plans for that thing and can fix it right away.” This is the kind of knowledge that a Vala, who sang the Music, would likely have, and singing would be the natural way to apply it.
Although this interpretation of Tom’s singing is inconsistent with the general claim that Tom is nonrational, it is not inconsistent with Tolkien’s own characterization of Tom in two letters in 1954, in which Tom is associated with the pure scientific study of nature. Tolkien writes:
. . . [Tom] is then an ‘allegory’, or an exemplar, a particular emboding of pure (real) natural science: the spirit that desires knowledge of other things, their history and nature, because they are ‘other’ and wholly entirely unconcerned with ‘doing’ annulling with the knowledge: Zoology and Botany, not Cattle-breeding or Agriculture. (Letters, p. 192; see also, p. 174)
As the exemplification of pure science, Tom could hardly be nonrational. Tom’s purity, moreover, stems from his desire to delight in things as they are, without dominating and controlling them. The former is the aim of pure science, the latter the essential aims of applied science. Tom’s knowledge of nature allows him to control nature when necessary, but because such control is not his aim, he is more akin to science than engineering.
If we take Tom’s remark quite literally that he “was here before the river and the trees. . .the first raindrop and the first acorn” (Rings, 1:142), he is saying either that he was in Middle-earth when the Valar arrived or that he arrived as one of the Valar. His remark that “he knew the dark under ths stars when it was fearless – before the Dark Lord came from the Outside” refers to the time before Morgoth, the original Dark Lord, had officially turned renegade – the time when the “old” or original stars were made. Since the world was incomplete at that time and nothing lived on the earth except the Valar, it is hard to believe that Tom is anything but a Vala.
One interesting hint that Tom is a Vala may be tucked away in the confusing claim that Tom is “the oldest” even though Treebeard is at the same time supposed to be “the oldest living thing that still walks beneath the Sun.” In The Road to Middle-earth, published in 1982, T. A. Shippey, who considers Tom “a one-member category,” struggles with this “inconsistency” and concludes that the claim that Treebeard is the oldest living thing, if true, implies that Tom is not alive, just as the Nazgul are not dead (p. 82). Although the analogy is most likely not correct, it is suggestive. The word living probably means minimally that Fangorn is biotic, that is, an element belonging to the living system of the earth, the biosphere. There were in fact two classes of beings “living” in Middle-earth, who, as beings from outside of Ea, were not part of this system: the Valar and their servants, the Maiar. Their bodies were “veils” or “raiment,” appearances, in which they were self-incarnated (Road Goes Ever On, p. 66). As noted in the essay, “Istari,” in Unfinished Tales (p. 389), the Maiar who became the wizards of Middle-earth – and who had the same nature as the Valar – were converted to living beings temporarily by the special consent of Iluvatar: “For with the consent of Eru they … [were] clad in the bodies of Men, real and not feigned, but subject to the fears and pains and weariness of earth, able to hunger and thirst and be slain. . . .” The need for this conversion suggests that the Valar and Maiar were indeed nonliving, but in a manner very different from the Nazgul. Whereas the Ringwraiths were former living beings who were kept in existence unnaturally through the power of their rings in association with the One Ring, the Valar and Maiar were beings from another plane of existence (the Void) who, as a result, did not completely fit into the world of Middle-earth. Instead, of placing Tom in an anomalous category of one, or associating him with the undead, Shippey’s “inconsistency” may simply be a hint that Tom has extraterrestrial status as a Vala or Maia.
Someone might, of course, want to object that Tom Bombadil really doesn’t look or act like a Vala or a Maia, appearing and behaving instead more like an overgrown Hobbit. I submit, however, to the contrary, that there is no particular way that the Valar and Maiar were supposed to look. Rather they appeared in whatever way they chose, wearing their “veils” or “raiment” in a manner similar to the way we wear clothing. In “The Voice of Saruman,” for example, Gimli tells Gandalf that he wants to see Saruman so he can compare the two wizards. In mused response, Gandalf informs Gimli that there is no way for him to make such a comparison meaningfully, since Saruman can alter his appearance at will as it suits his purpose (Rings, 2:181-82). Rather than decreasing the possibility that Tom is a Vala, his hobbitish appearance actually increases it, for it suggests that Tom has the ability to “fit” his surroundings. If a Vala wanted to visit with Hobbits, he would, of course, appear to them in a manner that was somewhat humorous and familiar, thereby, putting them at ease. In this way, it can be argued that Tom’s Hobbit-like appearance counts in favor of him being a Vala or a Maia, not against it.
Robert Foster in the Complete Guide (p. 496) thus seems to be on the right track when he suggests that “it is possible that he is a Maia ‘gone native’.” The only problem is that there is no Maia in the Silmarillion who matches Tom’s general character. It is only when one turns to the Valar themselves that potential candidates emerge.
Because most of the Valar are married, determining the possible identity of Goldberry can be a help in establishing Tom’s. There are three possible Valier who might have enjoyed living for a time in the Old Forest: Nessa, Vana, and Yavanna. Nessa, who loves deer and dancing, does not fit too well, since neither of these is Goldberry’s specialties. Her husband, Tulkas, the best fighter among the Valar, moreover, is probably too warlike to be Tom. Vana, who cares for flowers and birds, also does not fit very well, since Goldberry is concerned with a larger variety of plants, and birds have no special role. Orome, Vana’s husband, furthermore, is a hunter, especially of monsters. If he were Tom, there would have been no wights on the Downs. With Yavanna, however, we have just the right emphasis, for she is responsible for all living things, with a special preference for plants. Since she is Queen of the Earth, it is easy to imagine her watering the forest with special care, as Goldberry does during the Hobbits’ visit.
In the Silmarillion (pp. 20-21) Yanvanna’s appearance is characterized as follows:
In the form of a woman she is tall, and robed in green; but at times she takes other shapes. Some there are who have seen her standing like a tree under heaven, crowned with the Sun; and from all its branches there spilled a golden dew upon the barren earth, and it grew green with corn; but the roots of the tree were in the waters of Ulmo, and the winds of Manwe spoke in its leaves.
When we first meet Goldberry, she is clad in green: “her gown was green, green as young reeds, shot with silver like beads of dew” (Rings, p. 172). When Tom officially introduces Goldberry, he says, “Here’s my Goldberry clothed all in silver-green. . . .” When she says goodbye to the Hobbits, she is once again clad in green and Frodo in calling for her refers specifically to this color when he starts to look for her: “My fair lady, clad all in green!” (p. 187). This characterization of Goldberry’s customary dress supports that hypothesis that she is Yavanna.
To be sure, when we first meet her, her feet are also surrounded by water, seemingly supporting the water nymph story. This circumstance, however, is not inconsistent with her tree image, which, as just noted, involved having her feet or roots in “the waters of Ulmo.”
As the farewell continues, moreover, a description analogous to the tree description is given:
There on the hill-brow she stood beckoning to them: her hair was flying loose, and as it caught the sun it shone and shimmered. A light like the glint of water on dewy grass flashed under her feet as she danced.”
Although still in human form, her flying hair hints at “the winds of Manwe” and the reflection of the sun from her hair suggests that she is “crowned with the Sun.” The “glint of water on dewy grass” suggests the spilling of the golden dew on the earth as well as “the waters of Ulmo.” When the Hobbits last see Goldberry, she is much more like a plant: “they saw Goldberry now small and slender like s sunlit flower against the sky: she was standing still watching them, and her hands were stretched out towards them.” In this case, she is probably more flower than tree because Hobbits in general like flowers and are afraid of trees. The “sunlit” image is strikingly similar to Yavanna’s primary nonhuman appearance.
Of course, an important problem with this hypothesis is the claim that Goldberry is the Riverwoman’s daughter. If the story is true, then Goldberry cannot be Yavanna. However, there are many things said in Rings that are not true literally and many matters are left unrevealed or unexplained. For instance, it was believed by many people that Rohan was selling horses to Mordor. Gandalf never reveals that he is a Maia. The eagles are never revealed as Maiar (though they are “Spirits in the shape of hawks and eagles” who “could see to the depths of the seas, and pierce the hidden caverns beneath the world” (Silmarillion, p. 35). As is clear from “The Hunt for the Ring,” in Unfinished Tales, many details are presented in a confused and unconnected way in Rings, because that is how they appeared to the people who wrote the book. There are, finally, two accounts given by Tolkien of the origins of the Orcs, both of which cannot be true. Thus, the fact that some people believe that Goldberry is Riverwoman’s Daughter does not absolutely, literally have to be true.
Just as Goldberry is very similar to Yavanna, Aule the Smith, shares many common characteristics with Tom and this identification helps explain some of the events that occur in Tom’s house – especially his control over the ring without any fear or temptation. Aule was the maker of all the substances of the earth: minerals, gems, and metals. During the creation of Middle-earth he was involved in nearly every aspect of its making. He prepared the sea beds to receive the waters of the ocean and prepared the land for plants and animals. As the Maker he developed and taught all arts, crafts, and skills. Of all the Valar, he had the greatest interest in the Children of Iluvatar. So impatient was he to see them that he made the Dwarves. According to the “Valaquenta” in the Silmarillion (p. 27), although Aule and Melkor were most like of all the Valar in thought and power, their attitudes toward the products of their labor and the labor of others were significantly different. While Melkor carefully guarded his works for himself and destroyed the works of others out of jealousy, Aule delighted in making, not possessing, and “he did not envy the works of others, but sought and gave counsel.” It was, in fact, Aule’s lack of possessiveness and his willingness to submit his work to the will of Iluvatar that saved the Dwarves from destruction and made it possible for them to receive the gift of free will from Iluvatar.
When one carefully considers the special moral characteristics of Aule, the similarities to Tom are most striking and revealing. Like Aule, Tom is not possessive. Although his power to dominate and control is always stressed – he is the master – he does not interfere with other beings except when they directly interfere with him. Although he has the power to possess whatever he may desire, he does not chose to possess or own the forest. As Goldberry explains, the animals, plants, and natural objects of the forest are all allowed to belong to themselves. This distain for ownership or possession is the reason why Tom is able to handle the ring without fear. Ultimately, all other powerful beings encountered in the trilogy, unless they are already fallen, are afraid to touch the ring lest the desire to possess it should turn them to evil. Since Tom does not want to own or possess anything, it has no power over him. We simply see his interest, curiosity, and delight as he studies the craftmanship involved in its making. Indeed, Tom approaches the ring critically, almost with scorn. While all others refer to the ring as precious in a reverent sense, Tom’s use of the word, “Show me the precious ring” (Rings, 1:144), suggests irony or doubt about its value. Since the lack of desire to possess or own was extremely rare among the Valar and the beings of Middle-earth, no over Vala is said to exhibit this moral trait, it seems reasonable to assume that Tom and Aule are the same person.
It is also important to note the tremendous power and control that Tom has over the ring. He is, first of all, able to overcome its normal effects. When he puts it on his finger, he does not become invisible. When Frodo puts it on his finger, Tom is still able to see Frodo: he is “not as blind as that yet” (Ibid.). Second, Tom is able with ease to use the ring in ways that were not intended by its maker, for he is able to make the ring itself disappear. (It is possible that Sauron himself might be unable to do this, for the ring embodied a great part of Sauron’s own power, drained from him during its making.) Such power over the ring, displayed almost as a parlor trick, I submit, cannot be accounted for by classifying Tom Bombadil as an anomalous nature spirit. The ability to dominate the ring suggests a Vala; the ease with which it is dominated suggests the ultimate maker of all things in Middle-earth, Aule the Smith, of whom both Sauron and Saruman were mere servants in the beginning before time.
If Tom is Aule, however, two other questions need to be answered. First of all, what are he and Yavanna doing in the Old Forest to begin with? As far as Yavanna is concerned, she is probably just visiting with growing things and vacationing with her husband. Aule, on the other hand, is probably there for the purpose of studying Hobbits. We should not forget that of all the Valar Aule was the one most eager to see the Children of Iluvatar. He is also the only one to make sentient, rational beings of his own. Given his interest in such creatures, it is not unreasonable to assume that, like Gandalf, he found Hobbits fascinating. As Hobbit songs about Tom Bombadil suggest, moreover, he had plenty of contact with Hobbits in Buckland and the Marish, no doubt allowing ample opportunity for Hobbit study.
Second, if he is Aule, and he is such a fine and wonderful god, why doesn’t he choose to be more helpful? Put another way, why isn’t there power in him to fight the enemy? The answer to this question is simpler than one might at first imagine. When Ulmo rises from the sea in “Of Tuor and His Coming to Gondolin” to give instructions to Tuor, who is supposed to deliver a message to the Elves of Gondolin, he hurries with his directions fearing that his own servant Osse will hurl a wave upon the shore and drown his emissary. As he puts it in Unfinished Tales (p. 30): “Go now. . . lest the Sea devour thee! For Osse obeys the will of Mandos, and he is wroth, being a servant of the Doom.” Although Ulmo’s actions are contrary to the will of the rest of the Valar that even his own servant will not help him (and is actually prepared to act against him), Ulmo, nevertheless, insists that he is not really opposing the other Valar, but rather is merely doing his “part”:
… though in the days of this darkness I seem to oppose the will of my brethren, the Lords of the West, that is my part among them, to which I was appointed ere the making of the World. (p. 29)
The key phrase is “to which I was appointed ere the making of the World.” First, it makes it clear that Ulmo is not acting defiantly at all, merely following orders, just as his servant would be following orders if he hurled up a wave and killed Tuor. Second, it refers to the time of the song which created the world. It is this song, I believe, that contains the conflicting instructions both Ulmo and Osse are following, different parts, elements, or themes of the whole. If I am correct, then Ulmo’s power to help the Elves is both limited by and partially determined by the Music of the Ainur, insofar as it established the existence of the earth and determined its major events. While Ulmo may have had free will as he sang his part of the song in those distant times, he is now bound by what he sang and cannot go beyond or change his part. If Tom is Aule, then he too is bound by his part in the song and although sympathetic and concerned, he can only help the Hobbits and the Free Peoples of the West in little ways.
This account of Tom as Aule is not really inconsistent with Tolkien’s claim that Tom has renounced power in a kind of “vow of poverty” and that he exemplifies “a natural pacifist view.” At the time of the singing of the Great Music, it is true that Aule, along with most of the other Holy Ones, eventually stopped singing, leaving Melkor to sing on alone. However, they did not stop because Melkor’s thunderous and discordant singing defeated them, but rather because they did not wish to compete with him and considered the song spoiled by his behavior. It was not defeat, since obviously by singing together the others could have overcome him. Rather it was a rejection of the conflict itself – hence, a pacifist position. It was indeed the Third Theme sung by Iluvatar, representing the part of the Children of Iluvatar, that was to overcome Melkor’s disruption. Concerning the “vow of poverty,” Aule has indeed taken such a vow – as exemplified by his attitude toward his work and the work of others – his lack of excessive pride, jealousy, and possessiveness.
In contrast, if Tom is a nature spirit, then no vow of poverty has been taken, and there is no natural pacifist view. According to the nature spirit thesis, as Veryln Flieger puts it in Splintered Light, published in 1983: “Tom Bombadil, on whom the Ring has no effect, is a natural force, a kind of earth spirit, and so the power over the will which the Ring exerts simply has no meaning for him” (p. 128, note). As a natural force, Tom has the same status as a falling rock or the wind or the rain – he is blind activity with no direction or purpose. As such he is not a moral agent, and cannot therefore make moral decisions. The moral dimension is thus completely absent. Tom is immune to the influence of the ring not because of his high moral character, but because he is not capable of having a moral character at all.
If Tom is Aule, however, there is a moral dimension, indeed, a heightened one, for Tom’s appearance in the story, although only a “comment,” serves as a sharp and clear contrast to the two evil Maiar, Sauron and Saruman, both of whom were once his servants before turning to evil and darkness. Unlike their former master, these two followed the ways of Melkor, envy, jealousy, excessive pride, and the desire to possess and control. As Tolkien explained to his proofreader, Tom’s role was to show that there were things beyond and unconcerned with domination and control. On the surface, this view of Tom seems to make him unrelated to all other things and events in Middle-earth – indeed, anomalous. As Aule, however, 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. In fact, in terms of the moral traits that most fascinated Tolkien both as an author and as a scholar, Tom Bombadil is Tolkien’s moral ideal.
Other Sites with Information about Tom Bombadil
Qui Sont Tom Bombadil Et Baie D’Or? (translations of this essay by J. R. Lecocq)
Wikipedia: Tom Bombadil
Roger Garland: Tom Bombadil and Old Man Willow
Alan Lee: In the House of Tom Bombadil
Brothers Hildebrandt: Tom Bombadil (Spiderwebart Gallery)
Brothers Hildebrandt: Goldberry (Spiderwebart Gallery)
Anke-Katrin Eiszmann: In the House of Tom Bombadil
Leonid Korablev: Goldberry Dancing
Tom Bombadil’s Song from The Music of Middle-Earth.
Tom Bombadil’s Songs
About Tom Bombadil’s Song
Sam’s Rhyme of the Troll
About Sam’s Rhyme of the Troll
The Adventures of Tom Bombadil
Hypertextualized Tolkien FAQ: Who or What was Tom Bombabdil?
William D. B. Loos: Who or What was Tom Bombadil?
Erik Tracy: Why didn’t the One Ring have Any Control over Tom Bombadil?
Steuard Jensen: What is Tom Bombadil?
Encylopedia of Arda: Tom Bombadil
Bombadil in the Shire
Crackpot Theory: The Truth about Tom Bombadil
Michael Martinez: If I Only had a Bombadil…”
Bromwell School: The True Story of Tom Bombadil
Figurine of Tom Bombadil by Mithril
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ECH – November 11, 2006
All Hildebrandt Tolkien art copyrighted Greg and Tim Hildebrandt, All rights Reserved.