Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?

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Re: Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?

Post by Vanwa Raumo on Sun Jan 20, 2013 5:58 am

For a very long time this question puzzled me as well. However, recently while browsing the internet, I found one of the most wonderfully reasoned articles about the subject ever. It , quite wonderfully, reasoned that Tom Bombadil was in fact Aule, one of the Valar, and Aule's wife, Yavanna, was Goldberry. Aule was the greatest craftsmen of all, which explains his behaviour with the Ring, (it had no power over him and he treated it like a mere trinket.) Yavanna was Queen of the Earth and because of her plea, the ents were created. There were trees that were quite alive in the Old Forest, and possibly even Ent-wives as slightly hinted at by the book.

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Re: Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?

Post by halfwise on Sun Jan 20, 2013 2:41 pm

Welcome to Forumshire, Vanwa!

Do you have a link to that article? I can't quite see the reasoning working out.

If Tom was Aule you'd expect some connection to dwarves, which he created. He seems to be rather insulated from them. Also Tom is stated as master over the old forest, not Goldberry.

To me Tom's power seems more constrained, sort of second tier like a Maia rather than Vala. Sauron is a Maia (as are the wizards), and it's stated that Tom doesn't have the power to withstand him. Just can't see a couple Vala as constraining themselves to a small territory either: this is Maia behavior, like Melian.

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Re: Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?

Post by RA on Sun Jan 20, 2013 6:20 pm

There are quite a few theories about Tom's origins. Interesting nonetheless.

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Re: Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?

Post by Vanwa Raumo on Sun Jan 20, 2013 6:51 pm

halfwise wrote:Welcome to Forumshire, Vanwa!

Do you have a link to that article? I can't quite see the reasoning working out.

If Tom was Aule you'd expect some connection to dwarves, which he created. He seems to be rather insulated from them. Also Tom is stated as master over the old forest, not Goldberry.

To me Tom's power seems more constrained, sort of second tier like a Maia rather than Vala. Sauron is a Maia (as are the wizards), and it's stated that Tom doesn't have the power to withstand him. Just can't see a couple Vala as constraining themselves to a small territory either: this is Maia behavior, like Melian.
I found the link to the article! http://www.cas.unt.edu/~hargrove/bombadil.html
The way that Tom handles the Ring leads me to believe he is not a mere Maia. None of the Istari had the same amount of power over the Ring that Tom did and neither did the greatest of the Elves. (Elrond is also descended from a Maia, though thats slightly off topic.) As for not having the power to withstand Sauron, often times the Vala would not withstand Melkor openly or directly. Even when Morgoth was overthrown at the end of the first age the forces of Valinor were led by a Maia, Eonwe.

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Re: Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?

Post by CC12 35 on Sun Jan 20, 2013 7:05 pm

peter jackson should have cut tom bomadril from the films

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Re: Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?

Post by RA on Sun Jan 20, 2013 7:11 pm

Tom didn't have any power over the Ring; the Ring merely held no power power over him.
I think it's worth noting the Istari were not allowed to meet power with power. It's not that they were wholly incapable of it. Eonwë is the greatest of the Maia, at least in strength of arms.
I think the difference between the Valar and Maiar is primarily authority.

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"From him they learnt many things it were not good for any but the great Valar to know, for being half-comprehended such deep hidden things slay happiness; and besides many of the sayings of Melko were cunning lies or were but partly true, and the Noldoli ceased to sing, and their viols fell silent upon the hill of Kôr, for their hearts grew somewhat older as their lore grew deeper and their desires more swollen, and the books of their wisdom were multiplied as the leaves of the forest."

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Re: Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?

Post by halfwise on Sun Jan 20, 2013 7:31 pm

A very interesting and well researched essay. I won't say Hargrove is wrong, but his argument is not as watertight as he would make it seem.

One of his key arguments that Bombadil is not Maia is that none of the descriptions in the Silmarillion fit him. But unlike the Valar, the list of the Maiar in the Silmarillion is not exhaustive; it is explicitly stated that the Elves do not know their number.

He also says that since Tom existed on earth before the stars and all other living things, that he can only be Valar. But the time of creation of the Maiar was never pinpointed in the Silmarillion. They seem at nearly all times to be contemporaneous with the Valar, though I would suggest they may have been created during the Music of the Valar, which predated the creation of the stars but not the Earth.

He also rather flippantly dismisses Goldberry's attribution as the River's daughter (including Tom's song about meeting her!) with the statement that all things stated in the books are not necessarily meant to be true. I find this an exceptionally weak line of argument.

The argument that the ring would only not have power over a Valar is tempting, but not ironclad to me. RA's point about the Istari not being granted their full power is a good one.

It's still a good essay; a nice journey with much to think about. But the final line of reasoning just doesn't seem to hold up for me.

For me the major (less formally logical) complaint about assigning Tom to Aule is that the personalities just don't seem to match [edit:] Aule is taciturn; Tom just bubbles along. Aule likes rocks and metals and gems; Tom likes rivers and trees.

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Re: Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?

Post by halfwise on Sun Jan 20, 2013 8:10 pm

On rereading the Music of the Ainur I noticed that 'Ainur' refers to both Valar and Maiar. So Hargrove was dead wrong in saying that if Tom existed before the earth and stars he must be a Vala.

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Re: Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?

Post by Mrs Figg on Sun Jan 20, 2013 8:24 pm

I think Tom is just Tom, he is unique and not really any 'thing'. He just 'is'.

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Re: Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?

Post by azriel on Sun Jan 20, 2013 8:45 pm

Thats how he came across to me,Mrs figg, a unique "one off", a stand alone charater, didnt want anyone, didnt need anyone. But was always just, "there"

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Re: Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?

Post by halfwise on Sun Jan 20, 2013 8:50 pm

read the essay (listed near bottom of previous page); I think Hargrove does a good job based on Tolkien's intellectual style that such an anomaly would not happen. He may originally have been based on one his kids puppets, but Tolkien would have tried to make him fit in, even if he didn't let his readers in on the connections.

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Re: Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?

Post by Pettytyrant101 on Sun Jan 20, 2013 9:57 pm

In Letters Tolkien calls Tom the vanishing spirit of the english countryside of his youth. I think thats as close as you get to anything from Tolkien himself on the matter- he other wise states Tom is an anomaly, but a delibrate one.

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Re: Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?

Post by halfwise on Sun Jan 20, 2013 10:35 pm

Hargrove distinguishes between an enigma and an anomaly: an anomaly would not fit into the larger world scheme, and enigma would but the readers are not told how.

His argument is that since the question of Bombadil's identity was brought up 3 times in LoTR, Tolkien being Tolkien, he would have spent some time thinking about it and trying to make it fit - as everything else does. So even if Tom started out as an anomaly, Tolkien would have eventually fit him in, while deliberately leaving him as an enigma for the readers. The difference in terminology is important for in Letters Tolkien used it, and he was nothing if not careful about terminology: "Even in a mythological Age there must be some enigmas, as there always are. Tom Bombadil is one (intentionally)" {emphasis added}

So if Hargrove is correct (and in this case I think he is), Tom must fit into Tolkien's constructed universe, if only the readers can figure out how.

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Re: Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?

Post by Eldorion on Sun Jan 20, 2013 10:56 pm

Even if Hargrove is correct about that -- and I'm not certain that he is given some of Tolkien's comments in the Letters -- it seems like any attempt to figure out how Tom fits would be in vain. Tolkien was very clear that he wouldn't get more specific and he never mentioned anything about clues that had been dropped. I can understand why some people find it unsatisfying, but I find "enigma" to be sufficient to describe Tom.
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Re: Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?

Post by halfwise on Sun Jan 20, 2013 11:05 pm

Ah, but if he really is an enigma, how can one resist trying to figure him out? I think Hargrove is wrong in the final way that he reads the riddle, but right in that the riddle has an answer. Perhaps we don't have enough clues to definitively answer it, but there's no reason to stop trying.

I personally think Tom is a Maia unnamed in the Silmarillion. It's the only possibility that fits for me. Remember that the Balrog was also a Maia, so one-time occurrence is no obstacle for fitting into the cosmology (though balrogs were mentioned in passing in the Silmarillion).

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Re: Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?

Post by Pettytyrant101 on Sun Jan 20, 2013 11:10 pm

Only Eru can create. So Tom must be Eru or be a Creation of Eru. After that it gets a bit hazy.

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Re: Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?

Post by halfwise on Sun Jan 20, 2013 11:15 pm

Well he ain't Eru or his poetry wouldn't be so blasted silly. The Maia are creations of Eru. The Vala are named and described, and I don't think he fits any of them. He was on Earth before any living thing, which leaves out the living things. That leaves the Maia. QED.

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Re: Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?

Post by Pettytyrant101 on Sun Jan 20, 2013 11:19 pm

He was there before the first rain drop and before the first things came in from the outside- so he must precede the entrance of the Valar into the Creation.

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Re: Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?

Post by Eldorion on Sun Jan 20, 2013 11:23 pm

I lean towards the theory that Tom is a Maia too, but its hard to say since the details of the very early mythology are pretty vague.

Pettytyrant101 wrote:He was there before the first rain drop and before the first things came in from the outside- so he must precede the entrance of the Valar into the Creation.

I have to disagree on this. When the Valar and Maiar entereted into creation there weren't any raindrops or anything else because while Ea existed, the world (planet Earth) did not yet. Tom did say that he had been around since the first evil things came in from outside, but this most likes refers to Morgoth's re-entry into the world after he had been kicked out by the Valar the first time.

If Tom is a Maia though, he most likely "went native" at a very early stage. While the Valar were still living on the Isle of Almaren, before Morgoth destroyed the Lamps and the Valar moved to Valinor.
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Re: Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?

Post by Pettytyrant101 on Sun Jan 20, 2013 11:33 pm

I think its the wrong way to look at Tom entirely- if he's Maiar he is not an engima to Tolkiens subcreation, he would fit it.

I tend to go more with Tolkiens description of him as a spirit of vanshing countryside- thats why he sets himself within bounds.

Tolkien is remebering himself as a child in those sort of woods and by those sort of rivers- I had the good fortune to have a similar childhood in that respect and for me Tom captures that very real sense you have as a kid of all the stuff just living all around you. Tat sense of life of watchful things, of wary things, of growing things- Tom is the manifestation of that.
He doesnt interfere because he is the culmination of all around him.

And he has to have been about since the beginning, since the first rain drop because he came into being with the Song. He is the spirit of the Song of Creation itself, so he appropriately sings nonsense, yet his words have actual power over things.

Thats my take on him anyway and I realise its based as much on my personal reaction to him as anything else.

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Re: Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?

Post by Eldorion on Sun Jan 20, 2013 11:39 pm

That's not a bad way of looking at it, I have to admit. Smile
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Re: Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?

Post by halfwise on Sun Jan 20, 2013 11:44 pm

I'd argue that Tolkien wanted to keep Tom an enigma to the readers, not necessarily to himself. That's just no the way his mind worked. Maia fits Tom.

Reread Music of the Ainur like a Kabbalist: "..Some of the Ainur took leave of Illuvatar and entered into [the World]...and so are named the Valar...But when the Valar entered into Ea....it was as if naught was yet made....so began their great labors..."

Now we add to that the Valaquenta: "Now those that desired it among the Ainur arose and entered into the World....the Great among these spirits the Elves name the Valar...with the Valar came other spirits...of the same order of the Valar but of lesser degree. These are the Maiar, the people of the Valar, and their helpers and servants."

So the Maiar in all likelyhood were there at the creation of all the things that Tom lists: "Tom remembers the first raindrop, and the first acorn..."

I'd say Tom was a stowaway who didn't want to retreat into Amman with the rest of the Ainur. He liked middle earth too much to leave it.

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Re: Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?

Post by halfwise on Mon Jan 21, 2013 12:07 am

Note that my whole argument that Tom is a Maia hinges on Tolkien's penchant to make everything fit together. Tom may well represent the spirit of the countryside, and would have been an important enough concept to Tolkien to make him stand out by wrapping him in an enigma, but it's still in his character to try to fit him in.

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Re: Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?

Post by Vanwa Raumo on Mon Jan 21, 2013 12:59 am

Recoveryanonymous wrote:Tom didn't have any power over the Ring; the Ring merely held no power power over him.
I think it's worth noting the Istari were not allowed to meet power with power. It's not that they were wholly incapable of it. Eonwë is the greatest of the Maia, at least in strength of arms.
I think the difference between the Valar and Maiar is primarily authority.
I do think he did have some degree of power over the Ring though, as he made it go invisible. No one else had any control over the Ring; it could not be damaged by anything and it shrank at grew at its own will as well as changing its weight. He was able to overcome the Ring's will to turn it invisible. This is particularly interesting as normally the Ring caused its wearer to turn invisible. It is also quite worth noting that the ring did not make Tom invisible either. I don't think a mere Maia would have such power to treat the Ring as a trinket.

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Re: Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?

Post by Eldorion on Mon Jan 21, 2013 1:14 am

It's hard to put a number of "power" in Tolkien's stories since there's not really a scale to measure it by, but I think it's worth noting that some of the Maia were very powerful. Osse and Uinen were very important to the oceans and rivers, and Sauron himself was a Maia, after all.
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