Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?

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Re: Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?

Post by halfwise on Tue Jan 19, 2016 2:03 am

or perhaps more accurately I should say there are things that are ONLY accessible to myth, not religion or science. Nod

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Re: Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?

Post by Eldorion on Tue Jan 19, 2016 4:29 am

Music of the Ainur wrote:I hadn't read your post before I added my last Eldo.

I find your points good ones as always.

Thank you very much. Smile

Certainly he mentions beings or spirits that he left unexplained. Perhaps these were left nebulous for the same reason, to add depth and fog.
But these were quick passing comments I believe unless my memory fails me.

Well, Caradhras plays a fairly significant role in FOTR by forcing the Company into Moria, and there's a fair bit of discussion between members of the Company about who or what is the cause of the storm. The theory advanced by the most knowledgeable characters is that Caradhras itself is responsible for the obstructions. This implies a level of motivations and perhaps even thought that goes beyond the simple emotions that Elves (most frequently Legolas) ascribe to objects like plants and stones. The "nameless things" do receive only a passing mention, though, you are correct.

There are a few hints about these other classes of beings in the published Silmarillion as well though. Ungoliant's nature is left vague. All we are told is what some of the Eldar have speculated, with it specifically noted that no one knew for sure. One theory is that she might have been one of the Maiar whom Morgoth corrupted, but it's also suggested that she may have "descended from the darkness that lies around Arda" separately from the entering of the Ainur. This is reminiscent of some suggestions in the Book of Lost Tales that there were non-Valar, non-Maiar spirits who had entered the world separately, although the BoLT cannot be taken as a reliable guide for Tolkien's later, developed ideas of Middle-earth. However, the published Valaquenta also suggests that there were other classes of spirits. When discussing the most powerful of the Valar (the Aratar), it states that they surpass "beyond compare all others, whether of the Valar and the Maiar, or of any other order that Iluvatar has sent into Ea." However, I am not aware of any post-BoLT elaboration on this idea of non-affiliated Ainu.

Tom is not, he is in several chapters and holds unique traits. Perhaps the most unique is that he was the one character who appeared Beyond the power of the ring.
Perhaps this outside the norm quality is why he is one of the most interesting characters to me.

Bombadil has never been my favorite Tolkien topic to ponder, but I can definitely understand the appeal and his interaction with the Ring is definitely one of the strangest parts of his whole appearance. I have read some interesting hypotheses about it, including suggestions that if he was a nature spirit, the Ring didn't recognize him as a sentient being, or that his "vow of poverty" alluded to in the Letters made him utterly immune from the Ring and that somehow translated into being able to turn it invisible. Nothing that totally convinces me though.

I suppose the spirit of nature view  of him being built into the world from the start makes the most sense. But, if it was in fact his view why didn't JRR just say that definitively.

Perhaps what he was Tolkien himself didn't ever decide upon and he just simply liked him.

Well, Tolkien wanted Tom to remain an enigma because he thought that was an important element to have. The most frustrating thing for me to imagine is that Tolkien himself had no specific conception of Tom's nature, but I don't think there's anyway to prove or disprove that. Razz
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Re: Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?

Post by Mrs Figg on Tue Jan 19, 2016 1:27 pm

I think Tom is a Genius Loci.

Consult the genius of the place in all;
That tells the waters or to rise, or fall;
Or helps th' ambitious hill the heav'ns to scale,
Or scoops in circling theatres the vale;
Calls in the country, catches opening glades,
Joins willing woods, and varies shades from shades,
Now breaks, or now directs, th' intending lines;
Paints as you plant, and, as you work, designs.


A. Pope

''In modern works of fantasy, such as Dungeons and Dragons or The Dresden Files, a genius loci is an intelligent spirit or magical power that resides in a place. Very few genius loci of this form are able to move from their native area, either because they are "part of the land" or because they are bound to it. Genius loci are usually portrayed as being extremely powerful and usually also very intelligent, though there is a great deal of variability on these points. Some versions are nearly omnipotent and omniscient inside the area they inhabit, while others are simply vast, semi-sentient wellsprings of magical energy. This power almost never extends beyond the border of the genius loci.'' wiki

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Re: Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?

Post by halfwise on Tue Jan 19, 2016 2:25 pm

That seems to describe him.

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Re: Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?

Post by Forest Shepherd on Tue Jan 19, 2016 5:27 pm

Interesting Figgs! These genius loci are a Roman tradition, and it seems possible to my mind that Tolkien could have been drawing inspiration from such. 
However, a connected idea is the Norse Landvaettir, or "land wights". These beings have a measure of power over an area, and are closely linked to a local spot of unusual beauty. In Iceland in particular there are the four Landvaettir that appear on the Icelandic Coat of Arms.

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Re: Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?

Post by Mrs Figg on Tue Jan 19, 2016 5:40 pm

It would explain why Tom refused to leave his home for long and why he was so eager to get back once they had reached The Road. Maybe his power dwindled the further away he got from his home. But once in his territory he would be incredibly powerful, but not in the usual meaning of the word 'powerful' . He probably didn't think in those terms.

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Re: Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?

Post by Lancebloke on Tue Jan 19, 2016 5:52 pm

This discussion makes me wonder what effect the ring would have on the most powerful of the Valar. Would they have simply looked at it and understood its power and therefore negate it with their own? It was, in essence, created by a lesser being and Tom could have also viewed it in the same way if he was superior in some way.

A topic I don't think will ever be settled but interesting to speculate anyway.
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Re: Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?

Post by Pettytyrant101 on Tue Jan 19, 2016 5:58 pm

The problem with Tom being a being tied to the on place is that the text contradicts it- the boundaires of Tom's land we are told by Gandalf are self imposed. He has chosen to live there, and he has set himself boundaries on 'his' land no one else can see- but the impliction is that this was not always the case in the past and the fact he is known by different names to the different races implies contact with them all, at least on the level of a myth or tale.

An interesting question is when did he settle there?- he mentions the women from the barrow as if he remembers her personally- so presumably he was living there during the days of Angmar at least. But if he live din the same house then he was living pretty close to the people, easily within a days visiting distance.

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Re: Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?

Post by Mrs Figg on Tue Jan 19, 2016 6:01 pm

I think it was just an interesting trinket to him. I wonder if the Ring could have affected Treebeard as well? I am confused to who was the older of the two.

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Re: Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?

Post by halfwise on Tue Jan 19, 2016 6:05 pm

I don't see why a genius locii could not have a wandering phase before settling down.

Bombadil was older than Treebeard: he remembers the first raindrop, etc.

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Re: Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?

Post by Pettytyrant101 on Tue Jan 19, 2016 6:11 pm

I don't see why a genius locii could not have a wandering phase before settling down- Halfy

Because thats not what they are or do, a genius locii is the spirit of a place or the guardian deity of a place, but just that place - they are tied to it, that's the whole point of them.
Tom however has chosen to tie himself to one place for reasons of his own, which is quite different.

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Re: Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?

Post by Mrs Figg on Tue Jan 19, 2016 6:33 pm

no its not. who is to say whether a genius loci decides when and where to settle? Tom decided he wanted to stay in that area and that area consequently became 'his' he could have just as well chosen somewhere else in which case he would have become the genius loci of that place. theres nothing to say the genius loci don't have a choice and theres nothing to say they cant move about if they wish to. but if they wish to the power goes with them. theres nothing to say there is an invisible force stopping them from moving if they wish. some places lose their genius loci because genius loci are connected to Nature, therefore if the place became destroyed by industry the 'spirit of place' would be lost forever and that is what Tolkien was most afraid of for his land, he was afraid that industry and concrete would destroy the 'Shire', therefore Tom was the epicentre, the living breathing spirit of the land, he was incorruptible (by the Ring/industry) he represented condensed spirit of place, but even he would fall eventually if the powers concentrated all their efforts against him for long enough. Tom represents Nature before it is corrupted and mechanised, a being who is free and wild untameable and unknowable, but it can be destroyed by the march of industry and modernity. in which case Tom would leave his land forever and the power would leave the land and the place would become mundane and sterile and not even the stones would remember him.

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Re: Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?

Post by Music of the Ainur on Tue Jan 19, 2016 6:45 pm

Mrs Figg wrote:I think it was just an interesting trinket to him. I wonder if the Ring could have affected Treebeard as well? I  am confused to who was the older of the two.

Good points made by all.

figg

I'm not sure where I read it perhaps in the letters  about both of them calling themselves eldest and  Tom saying that Treebeard  was  a character in His tale  not Him being a character in Treebeards. Something to that effect but i took it to say that He ( Tom   ) was the eldest.
Of course this isn't a definitive answer to your wondering...


Last edited by Music of the Ainur on Tue Jan 19, 2016 9:45 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Re: Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?

Post by Pettytyrant101 on Tue Jan 19, 2016 7:02 pm

no its not. who is to say whether a genius loci decides when and where to settle?- Figg

The Oxford English Dictionary for one -

Definition of genius loci in English:

noun

The prevailing character or atmosphere of a place.

The presiding god or spirit of a place.

Origin
Latin, literally 'spirit of the place'.

The definition is tied to a place in all cases. Tom is not tied to any place save by his own choosing. So he cant be one. Its like saying he is a griffon, he cant be because the definition of a griffon does not fit Tom, nor does genius locii for the same reason.

I agree with most of the rest however- about the spirit of the 'vanished English countryside' as Tolkien says of Tom in Letters. But that was Tolkien giving his reasons for why having Tom in the story was important to him- not a definition of Tom himself. So we should be careful there.

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Re: Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?

Post by halfwise on Tue Jan 19, 2016 7:07 pm

If you look at the second definition of 'a presiding god' that seems to indicate a temporary office. And the god who sets up shop may lend or enhance the sense of presence of a place.

I get the feeling that in greek myths a god like Pan may be the genius locii of a place, but had a whole backstory before settling down.

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Re: Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?

Post by Eldorion on Tue Jan 19, 2016 9:47 pm

I'm not sure I see Tom as a genius loci either. He's too far-ranging for that. The Old Forest and the Barrow-downs are too pretty different environments, and he allegedly visits Hobbits in Buckland and the Marish in addition to possible earlier wanderings (prior to voluntarily setting his own borders). Goldberry, on the other hand, with her consistently referenced connection to water in general and the River Withywindle in particular, seems to fit the model of a genius loci pretty well.
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Re: Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?

Post by Mrs Figg on Tue Jan 19, 2016 10:09 pm

Pettytyrant101 wrote:no its not. who is to say whether a genius loci decides when and where to settle?- Figg

The Oxford English Dictionary for one -

Definition of genius loci in English:

noun

The prevailing character or atmosphere of a place.

The presiding god or spirit of a place.

Origin
Latin, literally 'spirit of the place'.

The definition is tied to a place in all cases. Tom is not tied to any place save by his own choosing.


But he is tied to one place, it just happens he chose where to settle. there is no contradiction in that.


So he cant be one. Its like saying he is a griffon, he cant be because the definition of a griffon does not fit Tom, nor does genius locii for the same reason

Yes he can be one, and it fits better than any other theory I have come across.


I agree with most of the rest however- about the spirit of the 'vanished English countryside' as Tolkien says of Tom in Letters. But that was Tolkien giving his reasons for why having Tom in the story was important to him- not a definition of Tom himself. So we should be careful there.

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Re: Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?

Post by malickfan on Fri Dec 09, 2016 5:08 pm

I was looking at the Addenda and Corrigenda pages on Wayne G Hammond and Christina Scull's website earlier today, and noticed they quote from a previously unpublished letter by Tolkien to Nevill Coghill, the extract is quite interesting and reveals some of his thoughts about Tom Bombadil (I'm not going to post the quote here as it has only been published on their website(s) and doing so would infringe copyright), it is near the top of the page if anyone wants to read it:

http://www.hammondandscull.com/addenda/bombadil.html

(They quote extensively from various other unpublished Letters in their excellent (and very long!) books The J.R.R Tolkien Companion And Guide and The Lord Of The Rings: A Readers Companion, and noted that as of 2006 they had recorded or traced some 1,500 letters by Tolkien, with more (such as this) continuing to come to light every year, and others remaining sealed or still in the possession of the Tolkien Estate or private collections, many of these previously unpublished extracts are fascinating, it certainly makes you wish for a expanded second edition of the Letters...


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Re: Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?

Post by halfwise on Fri Dec 09, 2016 5:28 pm

This aligns with Tolkien's statement that Tom is a deliberate enigma.

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Re: Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?

Post by chris63 on Wed Feb 22, 2017 4:14 am


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