From the Electronic Mailbag: Tom Bombadil Edition

My posts about Tom Bombadil continue to generate the “Lion’s Share” of my electronic mail. Please send your questions and comments to

Matt writes:


Long time reader, first time emailer. I noticed in your excellent series of posts on Tom Bombadil, that you quoted Galdor the elf at the Council of Elrond. But I think you made a teensy bit of a mistake in crediting your sources. 

You linked to this page which is about the man from the first age. 

You probably intended to link to this page: which is about the elf in question. 

It’s actually a pretty common mistake, especially as there is a third character named Galdor, who was an elf in Gondolin. I know, crazy, right?

 Send my best wishes to President Meyer!

Thanks, Matt, and good catch! I’m usually pretty careful not to get my Galdors mixed up but I had a bad reaction to some cold medicine the night I wrote that and wrote a few ill-advised blog posts as well as a text to my upstairs neighbor about the noise that her high heels make that I wish I could take back. I had to leave flowers and a note for her the next day. She works at a museum or art gallery, I think, and is basically a good person.

 CAHastings writes:

What do you think of Benedict Cumberbatch to play Tom? My spouse says Tom Hiddleston would be better, but I think they’re wrong. Cumberbatch has a face that seems human but not quite so, and I feel that would be better suited for the master of wood, water and hill. 


I think you’re both right and they’d both be great! Though maybe a little tall. I think of Tom as a little fellow like the other Tom, Tom Cruise (who also would be a great Tom Bombadil and is “proven box office.”) 

Eric says:


The Tom Bombadil enigma is one that I have dedicated significant thought to. On the topic of speculative fiction, I take the approach of boring-and-therefore-wrong for fan theories. I also don’t like theories that have no precedent. I find the following theories to be boring/wrong:

• Physical embodiment of the music of the Ainur

• Avatar of the physical universe (I think that Goldberry’s comment “He is,” was Tolkien’s attempt at glibness and not a hidden clue about the answer to the Tom Bombadil mystery)

• “Time” Ainur

• Proto-man from an earlier draft of the music of the Ainur

• Some sort of meta-concept, as in: the reader, friends who exist in the real world, Tolkien himself

I don’t mind the theory of the “Secret Fire”, which at least has precedent in the text even if it is a stretch. I think that if there were a walking avatar of Eru’s Secret Fire, it would be more powerful than Sauron (a mere Maiar, although surely first among his kind) and his minions. I find the Ungoliant theory to be perhaps the most convincing, or at least having the most precedent – it is clear that there is a class of spirit which has not yet been categorized. Perhaps this class of spirit is notable for being uncategorizable. Both Ungoliant and Tom Bombadil are enigmas to the powers-that-be, have unknown origins (even to the gods), display significant power on the order of Ainur or Maiar, but not vastly more powerful, make mockeries of the cherished artifacts of gods and men, and possess very narrow goals/behavior patterns/spiritual domains. For whatever my 2 cents are worth.

I have been to Barrel for brunch, it’s great! Might I suggest the Queen Vic on H street. Get the Sunday Roast, you won’t be disappointed.


Wow! I stand in awe of the careful thought you have given the “Bombadil Mystery,” Eric, as well as the insights you have gained thereby. I can’t say I’m super comfortable with the idea of a class of spirit that “has not yet been categorized” because it is somehow “uncategorizable.” Middle Earth is full of beings of different types but also has a past and a history that is known to few if any. I prefer to think of Tom as belonging to a category of creature that used to be familiar but has become obscure like a rare type of marsupial tree shrew might here on “Earth-Earth.”