Preach loud truth
420 blaze it Tollers
Jam session
Ceiling Lolkien
Shoot the Tolkpedo
Poke the Heretic
Chaika? Yes Chaika

Who is Tom Bombadil?

One of the most frequently asked questions in Tolkien lore is: who and what exactly is Tom Bombadil? Here, I present a unique new theory that fits his observed qualities far better than any other theory out there.

 

Introduction: Existing theories

For a long time, Tom Bombadil has been a puzzling element in "Lord of the Rings". Just who is he? He does not seem to fit into the "hierarchy" of powers in Middle-earth. It is shown that the One Ring has no power over Bombadil - it does not make him invisible when he puts it on (LotR, In the House of Tom Bombadil), and he does not show any sign of being tempted by it. How is this possible? Many people have tried to solve the riddle by making Bombadil more and more powerful. If Sauron's power, stored in the One Ring, has no effect on him, they argue, then Bombadil must simply be a being of a higher class. He cannot be, say, an elf or even a fellow Maia, as these (Gandalf, for example) were shown to be affected by and afraid of the One Ring. Thus Bombadil must at least be a Vala. Maybe, they say, he is Aule, or even an incarnation of Eru - God - himself.

Yet this theory leads to a dead end. Not only is there absolutely no indication in Tolkien's mythology that Valar, or even Eru, were present in Middle-earth at this time. Also, at the Council of Elrond, Glorfindel argues against giving the One Ring to Bombadil, saying that he could not withstand Sauron's attack: "I think that in the end, if all else is conquered, Bombadil will fall, Last as he was First" (LotR, The Council of Elrond). As I see it, that categorically rules out Aule or Eru. Tolkien's hierarchy was strict; Sauron did not have the power to defeat one of these.

Others have resorted to more exotic theories, calling Tom Bombadil a "nature spirit", a "representation of the countryside" or something like this. While these theories are thought out well, they all have one weakness: they insert an additional element into Tolkien's mythology that just is not present in any of his writings. Essentially, they are making up a new class of beings which do not appear anywhere else. I do not think this is the way to go.

 

A new approach

Instead, I want to approach the problem exactly from the opposite side. We know that mentally simple creatures, like hobbits, were more resistant to the One Ring than those of great wisdom. Sméagol/Gollum was not even fully conquered by evil after possessing the Ring (or being possessed by it) for 500 years. Bilbo was the first one who actually managed to give it up without force. The somewhat slow and rustic gardener Sam, after shortly carrying the Ring at Cirith Ungol, also could give it back to Frodo. Furthermore, we know that brainless, non-sentient objects were not made invisible when stuck through the Ring. Frodo wore it on a chain around his neck; the chain remained perfectly visible, even though it was technically "wearing" the Ring.

So, instead of being too powerful for the Ring, is it not possible that it was just the opposite - that Tom Bombadil was simply too stupid to be affected? If he was even dumber than Sam - say, as dumb as a metal chain - then it is only logical that the Ring could not even make him invisible. In this case, the whole contradiction of being more powerful than Sauron and yet no match for him dissolves into thin air.

 

Observations on Tom Bombadil

This theory is supported by Tom's actual behaviour. Seriously, we are talking about a being here who pranced through the woods in yellow boots, singing "Hey dol! Merry dol! Ring a dong dillo! Ring a dong! Hop along! Fal lal the willow!" (LotR, The Old Forest). This is not the behaviour of a wise, divine being at all. Even Sam could make better poetry, and that's a fact.

After establishing that he was an idiot, let us now take a look at Bombadil's physical properties. In fact, his description is almost precisely that of a dwarf: "(...) too large and heavy for a hobbit, if not quite tall enough for one of the Big People (...) with great yellow boots on his thick legs (...) and a long brown beard" (LotR, The Old Forest).

Yet dwarves are long-lived, but mortal. Tom, on the other hand, claims to be the oldest of all sentient beings in Middle-earth: "Eldest, that's what I am. Mark my words, my friends: Tom (...) made paths before the Big People, and saw the little People arriving. He was here before the Kings and the graves and the Barrow-wights. When the Elves passed westward, Tom was here already (...)" (LotR, In the House of Tom Bombadil). Assuming he does not lie, or had too much psychedelic water lily tea, then he must be immortal.

To summarize, we are looking for a being that
- is stupid
- is immortal
- looks exactly like a dwarf.

 

Tom Bombadil as a dwarf prototype

We know that Aule created the Fathers of the Dwarves before there were Elves or Men, and then had to put them to sleep for a few eons because Eru did not want his impatience to be rewarded. If Tom Bombadil came to life at this time, it would be consistent with his claim to be "eldest". My theory is that he was a prototype dwarf. Aule created him first, even before the other Fathers of the Dwarves, to test his creative skills.

But as a prototype, Bombadil had some issues that Aule corrected in the later models. To be precise, he turned out less than smart, just pranced around in Aule's workshop, and sung nonsense songs all the time. Aule finally got fed up and threw him out into the woods before he started to work on Durin and the others. As Bombadil was not present when Eru chastised Aule, he was completely forgotten by both of them. Eru even forgot to bestow the gift of mortality upon him, which he evidently gave to the other dwarves. And so Bombadil just pranced on, undisturbed, until the present day.

As to who Goldberry is, well, I have absolutely no clue.

Tom Bombadil
Seriously, when you see this kind of person, what is your first thought? "God"? "Powerful nature spirit"? Or maybe more like "deranged dwarf prototype"?

Latest Additions

Random Truth

Tolkien Horoscope

Is it a good, difficult or bad day to read Tolkien?

Choose your zodiac sign:


Your horoscope:

Featured Content

Tolkien A-Z

A comprehensive collection of short truths from J.R.R. Tolkien's life, and the many wonders and miracles he bestowed upon the world. Put together and published here for the first time!

Contact

Visit me on Facebook:
facebook.com/tolkientruth

Mail: noel@tolkientruth.info

Or meet me in person. I hold daily sermons in front of my prophet cave in the desert, whenever the voices tell me to. A small donation is welcome.

Copyright © 2010-2015 J.R.R. Tolkien.

All my work is based on visions and inspirations by Tolkien, and all my rights and worldly possessions are in his hands. Stealing my content might result in his ghost haunting you.