The Bombadil Enigma, Part Two

My recent post about Tom Bombadil got a huge response. Thank you, Splettnetters! A number of you (including Gary J. from Colorado Springs and Howard from no location given) didn’t buy any of the theories I suggested for Tom Bombadil’s origin. So here, thanks to the LOTR Wikipedia, are a few other opinions:

A newer theory is Tom is the Physical Embodiment of Spirit of the Music of the Ainur. This theory is a spin off of the nature spirit theory. But it asserts that in his essence Tom is the Spirit of the Music of the Ainur and this explains his unique power and its limitations, his timelessness, his disposition, his affinity to song, his power via song over trees and barrow-wights and many of the other oddities found in his character.

The Music Theory operates with the understanding that any spirit must be understood to be what they are personally most related to. The argument is Tom, though close to nature, ultimately separates himself from the Forest by battling against Old Man Willow and by having a different disposition than that of the Old Forest which is described as dark and full of hate for everything that goes about freely. Tom on the other hand, relates himself to song constantly, even when he was fighting the barrow-wight: “None has ever caught him yet, for Tom, he is the Master: His songs are stronger songs,and his feet are faster.” Tolkien chose to portray Tom with a unique relation to music and that must not be overlooked. This theory has the advantage of answering many of questions around Tom more fully than the others. Indeed, the Tom, in Tolkien’s world, carries within its meaning a reference to music.

Some suggest there are linguistic clues suggesting that Tom Bombadil is an avatar of the physical universe. When Frodo asks Goldberry who Bombadil is, she first replies, ” He is.” When Goldberry tells Frodo “He is,” she is using the common tongue. Had, however, she been speaking Elvish, she would have said “Ea” Note how similar this is to the puzzle (say “friend” and enter) that Gandalf must solve to enter Moria. The answer is literally spelled out but turns on a proper translation.

Another theory in regards to the word “Ea” is that Tom Bombadil is related to the “Secret Fire” referenced in the Silmarillion. In the Silmarillion, it states, “Therefore Ilúvatar gave to their vision Being, and set it amid the Void, and the Secret Fire was sent to burn at the heart of the World; and it was called Ea.” If Tom Bombadil is indeed “Ea”, then that might just put him in a different light seeing him as the heart of the World where the Secret Fire exists, which is the very essence of what created Arda. Tom Bombadil therefore is not affected by the Ring because he does not care for such things. He is, or contains within himself, the substance of creation. Also, it states that Melkor sought out the Secret Fire, but could not find it because it was with Eru only. This also suggests that Tom Bombadil is directly tied to Eru if he is indeed “Ea”.

There is a theory that Tom Bombadil is an Ainur governing the “time” of Middle Earth. He and Gandalf both state that he is the “eldest” and assuming this is true, no one person could possibly be older than time itself, save for perhaps Eru Ilúvatar. The ring has no effect on him because the ring has nothing to offer him; time is already immortal, and neither good nor evil. He has no real concern because his existence will still be around whether or not Sauron gets the ring back. Another hint to this idea of him being or governing time is his wife is said to govern the nature in Middle Earth. This could be a reference to Mother Nature and Father Time, with Goldberry and Bombadil occupying their roles, respectively. His wife describes him as being “Master of wood, water and hill.” Time does effect all these, and even in the riddle battle between Gollum and Bilbo one of Gollum’s riddles involves something that has dominion over many things with “trees” and “mountain” included, the correct answer that Bilbo gives is time.

Another possibility is that Tom Bombadil represents a friend, or many friends of Tolkien; the absolute infallibility of the character presents the idea that Tolkien himself did not believe that his own creations could affect Bombadil, a trait that would be true of Tolkien’s friends and family, though he would not entrust the “ring” to Tom, suggesting that although he respects the ideas and opinions of his friends, he would not allow them to significantly change the path of the story. This again puts him at an abstract level.

Another theory is that Tom is the first living, sentient being produced by the music of Eru, prior to Melkor’s dis-harmonies being added in. This would make him a sub-creation “echo” of biblical Adam, prior to the consumption of the forbidden fruit and expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Such a theory neatly explains nearly all the enigmas of Tom’s nature: as a being that does not (and perhaps cannot) know death, he is rightly unconcerned with events like the War of the Ring. As a being that does not know hunger for power or any other form of personal corruption, the One Ring can hold no power over him and would be no more than a meaningless bauble. Tom is confined to his woods as Adam was “confined” to the Garden of Eden. Tolkien himself repeatedly referred to his own work as “sub-creation” reflecting the greater Creation embodied in his Roman Catholic faith, and combined with Tolkien’s love for the unspoiled Oxford and Berkshire countryside which he stated that Tom embodied the spirit of, the allegory to the Garden of Eden and Adam, the “eldest and fatherless” human, seems a rather solid conception of the character.

Another theory is that Tom Bombadil is in fact a representation of Tolkien. He is eldest, because he existed before the books, he saw the first raindrops, because he wrote it, thus seeing it, he is immune to the powers of the Ring yet seems to have enough power to save the world all by himself, yet he does not, because he wrote it all down, knows what’s going to happen and chooses not to interfere, for the sake of the readers.

There is still yet another theory that Tom Bombadil (and his wife, Goldberry, depending on the reader’s gender) is representative of the reader themselves. Supporting evidence for this includes his ability to make the ring “appear and disappear at will” (the readers’ opening and closing of the book) and his ability to see Frodo even when wearing the ring (Frodo is still described in the book while wearing the ring, and therefore to the readers, he is still ‘visible’). Just like Tom, the ring has no power over the reader despite its evil nature. It has been suggested that Tom Bombadil’s house provides a place of safety for the reader, especially as the Lord of the Rings is a sequel to The Hobbit, a children’s book, where readers are constantly reassured (e.g. in the Battle of the Five Armies, not only is Bilbo placed next to Thranduil and Gandalf, but the reader is told that he will get through it). Therefore, the House of Tom Bombadil provides a safe place for the reader, close enough to the familiar safe ‘haven’ of the Shire as seen in The Hobbit, yet a gateway from this safety to the danger and adventure to come. This theory of easing the reader into the danger to come is supported by similar techniques employed by Tolkien in The Hobbit, where the dwarves arrive gradually to Bag End, thus easing Bilbo into the whole idea. The passage about Tom Bombadil speaking of things such as the dark one coming a long time ago may seem to contradict this theory at first, but it may also support it. If we take this section of the book to help ease the reader into the dark and dangerous world ahead from the children’s book before it, we are able take this passage to simply show that there is a lot more to Middle Earth than just the dragons, treasure and giant spiders The Hobbit presents us with.

Still another theory is that Tom Bombadil is simply a thought, a living, breathing, tangible thought that changes form and remembers all, for his Mind was there before any other being-he is the first that was created, awakening even before elves and definitely before evil. Because Tom Bombadil was before the Dark Lord in Middle-Earth, he would not have any knowledge or feeling of evil-he would view it as child’s mischief or a plaything, or a game, perhaps. Due to this whole lack of evil, he would not be corrupted by anything-and thus the stresses and weights on other living things would not affect him. Only the things that live for many years, the things that are almost not temporary, are of any concern to him, and the way he sees it, no small thing as a few lives of men or a few years is to be sorrowful over. When something that was Old dies, however, it does change his mood, likely due to the fact that he misses it and desires permanence in the world. Because of this will to have permanence, his form can likely change to whatever form is needed for that age-and this theory states that he was first simply a spirit, and then weathered the first age as either a spirit or a tree or some other form of still life-and it is not until the second age that he made his home, found Goldberry (though it is likely that he found her in the first age), and settled down as a living humanoid being.

Yet another theory states that Tom is not really the jolly old being we see, but in fact, something eviler, and much more powerful than Sauron and many other characters. More information about this theory can be found below. It mainly states that Tom draws his power from the willows itself, and with Sauron gone, he can set his plans into motion, whatever they may be.

One more theory features that Tom is the concentrated goodwill of the once neutral elder forest. This goodwill was split from the forest and manifested in Tom, making him unable to leave this area and converting the forest to the dark place, it is now. His resistance for the ring leads from the already split in half pure minded being, the ring can’t affect him, because all the evil what is left, is in the forest itself. Invisibility works only on the ring, this may lead to the conclusion that the ring tries to affect Tom but the spell which separates the good from the bad and holds them in one place is more powerful or Tom isn’t a living being.”


These are all interesting thoughts but — at the risk of stepping on some toes — perhaps they lack some insight into the workings of Arda? Again, not trying to stir up controversy; this is just one man’s opinion.

What is clear is that Tom:

  1. Is immensely powerful, but not more powerful than Sauron
  2. Has been in Arda before anyone else (according to him)
  3. Is connected to the Earth in mysterious ways

I bet I’ll be hearing from a lot of you out there with your own theories. Personally, I’d be pretty disappointed if Tom turned out to be Physical Embodiment of Spirit of the Music of the Ainur. It just seems kind of lame somehow.

Again, my thanks to the LOTR Wiki. I truly, truly, TRULY could not have done this post without you! Keep up the good work!