Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Outline of Sections Regarding Tom Bombadil

Because of the growing popularity of this page and the responses I have been getting I posted an outline which describes each of the eight sections (with links) for easy navigation. If you have any questions you can first read the related section to see if it is addressed there. (FYI this theory is an attempt to explain Tom's origins from within the created work of Middle Earth as found in the Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, The Silmarillion, etc. Theories which try to explain his significance outside of this world are not addressed.)

Thank you all so much for taking time to read this theory and to interact with it. Please feel free to share this theory with other Tolkien fanatics.


1. Introduction: In this section I introduced the three major theories and I establish a method to evaluate these theories by establishing three facts or questions which any theory must attempt to answer to be considered legitimate. These three questions are: Tom's unique power and his unique limitations, Tom's relationship with the Ring, and Tom being described as eldest, fatherless, and first.

2. Valar Theory: In this section I weigh the strengths and weaknesses of the Valar theory in light of the three questions. In the end, I argue this theory, though strong on some points, is ultimately flawed for many reasons.

3. Maiar Theory: Here I put forth the case against the Maiar theory of Tom's origins. Again, the three questions are applied to this theory and I argue that there are major problems for this popular theory.

4. Nature Spirit: In this section I weigh the strengths and weaknesses of viewing Tom as either a spirit of the forest or as the Spirit of Arda. Again, the three questions will be applied to this theory and I argue that while there is strength to be found in this theory it possesses some great weaknesses and that it cannot fully answer all of the questions.

5. A Way Forward: In this section I argue for the legitimacy of this conversation and suggest that Tolkien knew exactly who/what Tom was. I introduce Tolkien's description of Tom as an enigma. Being an enigma our theories should view Tom as a one-of-a-kind creature which none of the other theories do. In the end I introduce my theory.

6. Music Theory: In this section I begin by defining my theory. Then I move on to address some initial objections. And finally, I build my theory by looking at what Tolkien has revealed to us about Tom in his writings and what we know of the Music of the Ainur, Ungoliant, and Goldberry.

7. Answering the Questions: Now that the theory has been well established, I apply the same three questions I applied to the other theories and I answer them in light of Tom being the Incarnation of the Music. Here it is demonstrated that this theory can answer all three in a fuller fashion than the other theories and does so with much less baggage.

8. Conclusion: I summarize what we have discovered about Tom and add some closing reflections.

9. Post Script: I added a section to address the growing popularity of the theory which suggests Tom is the Flame Imperishable. This theory is built off of my theory, but as I point out it in this section it introduces many weaknesses. I added this post on 12/17/14 though I edited the post date to keep the desired order of my blog.
10. Post Post-Script: I was asked to critically analyze a newish Bombadil theory by its author and I obliged. In this section I explain why Tom cannot be the audience or a Maia according to the premises laid out in this rival theory. (Warning this section is far too long).

P.S. If anyone desires to reach me with questions, comments, or for any reason you can at rangerfromthenorth53@gmail.com

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Who is Tom Bombadil: Three Views & Three Questions

(What follows is the first post in a series of eight posts exploring the greatest mystery in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings: Who or what is Tom Bombadil? The major theories will be explored and a new theory will be suggested.)

Introduction: Setting the Stage of How to Approach Bombadil

    Tom Bombadil is a merry fellow but beneath his amusing character and actions lie a deep and passionately debated issue. Who is he? What is he? Tom Bombadil is perhaps the biggest mystery in all of Tolkien's world. The question which Frodo asks in Tom's house "Who is Tom Bombadil?" is one that has elicited many responses from the Tolkien faithful. There are the outlandish theories such as Tom is really the Witch King of Angmar to the more faithful theories such as Tom is really Illuvatar, which Tolkien himself firmly rejected.[1]

     Any sound theory of who or what Tom Bombadil truly is must be able to account for at least three major questions/facts of Tom's character as found in Lord of the Rings. The first of which is his unique power and its limitations. Tom has power over the Forest and Barrow-wights and yet his power seems to also be limited to his current location. What kind of creature can exercise power over both the forest and demons?[2] The Second fact any legitimate theory must wrestle with is Tom's relationship to the Ring. The Ring has no power over him, yet we are told Tom would not see the need to protect the Ring if asked to do so. This is indeed a very strange contradiction. The third truth of Tom that must be accounted for is him being referred to as eldest and as being existent before the Dark Lord entered. His age and being referred to as "fatherless" is a crucial hint to what Tom is. There are many facts within each of these three areas which must be carefully weighed when considering the validity of any theory of who/what Tom Bombadil is.

     There are three major theories within Tolkien fandom which bear serious consideration when they answer "Who is Tom Bombadil?" The first theory is that Tom is one of the Valar. This theory has gained wide support in recent years and most people who hold to this theory would assert that Tom is Aule and Goldberry is Yavanna. The second major theory is that Tom is one of the Maiar much in the same way that Gandalf, Saruman, Sauron and Balrogs are. The third theory is that Tom is a nature spirit. This theory holds either that Tom is the Spirit of the forest or that he is the Spirit of Middle Earth (Arda). I will argue that each of the three major theories has irreconcilable flaws to at least one of the three facts above and therefore each of these theories must be firmly rejected. In addition to the three major questions listed above I will demonstrate through Tolkien's writings, his letters, and Tom Bombadil himself that a fourth option better explains all the known data. With that in mind we will begin by examining the three major theories concerning Tom Bombadil and demonstrate how they cannot adequately answer the above questions.

First a look at the Valar Theory

[1] “There is no embodiment of the One of God, who indeed remains remote, outside the World, and only directly accessible to the Valar or Rulers.”- The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien No 181, dated 1956.

[2] Tolkien describes the barrow-wights as evil spirits who embodied dead corpses ie demons: (FOTR, In the House of Tom Bombadil, 181) and (ROTK, Appendix A, The North Kingdom and the Dunedain, 1041).

The Case Against: Valar Theory

(What follows is post 2 of 8 exploring the mystery of Tom Bombadil)

Tom as One of the Valar?

     The theory that Tom Bombadil is a Vala is a popular one that's has strength but as we shall see its weaknesses make it near impossible because it is inconsistent with what we know of both Tom and the Valar. The Valar are all accounted for in The Silmarillion (15-21), and of those, only one couple can even remotely fit with Tom and Goldberry: Aule and Yavanna. This is indeed the most popular Valar theory. Aule is the chief craftsman of the Vala; he made the dwarves and many of the great works in Middle Earth. Sauron was originally a Maia underneath Aule. Sauron learned much of his craftsmanship (ring making) from Aule. Aule's wife on the other hand is the Vala over everything that grows on Earth which is not a Child of Iluvatar (nature). Yavanna is the one who requests for the Ents to be made to help protect her creation from the Children of Iluvatar. While Goldberry and Yavanna do share some similarities Tom and Aule pose more of a challenge.[1]

     One of the strengths of this theory is that it can possibly answer why the Ring has no hold over Tom. As Aule, Tom would be the master craftsmen, and thus he may have power over the Ring. This though assumes that power is the answer to not being under the influence of the Ring. This theory can also explain the age of Tom and him as “Fatherless” or “Eldest” being that Aule is a Vala. Unfortunately, this is where the strengths end.

     The weaknesses of this theory are many and in my estimation irreconcilable.[2] First, Tom is described as nonsensical on several occasions in the Lord of the Rings and this is hardly an apt description of one of the mightiest of the Valar.[3] Second, while this theory adequately answers why Tom is not affected by the Ring it does not answer the reverse side of Tom's relationship with the Ring, his carelessness and disinterest. Surely Aule, the chief craftsman, would recognize the value and importance of the Ring and would never lose the Ring as Gandalf says, “He [Tom] would soon forget it [the Ring], or most likely throw it away. Such things have no hold on his mind” (FOTR, Council of Elrond, 348). Aule is the one who Sauron learned his craftsmanship from; so surely Aule would recognize the importance of the One Ring. The Ring is exactly the type of thing that Aule, the god of craftsmanship, would hold onto in his mind.

     Tom's relationship with the Old Forest should also cause pause in accepting this theory. A brief read over the chapter Of Aule and Yavanna will show that Yavanna is indeed close with the forest but Aule is not, as evidenced by his character and the character of his children the Dwarves. Tom, in opposition to this, appears to have a close relationship with the Old Forest.

     Another weakness found in this theory is the lack of power Tom would have to resist Sauron the Maia. Surely one of the most powerful of the Valar could resist Sauron, but the Elves say Tom could not defeat Sauron. This statement is made in context of Tom having the Ring and yet somehow Aule, with the Ring, could not defeat Sauron without the Ring? This simply cannot be. Saruman and Gandalf both operate under the belief that they could at least defeat Sauron with the Ring, surely a Vala could do the same. Also, Tom has said his knowledge fails out east, but that would not be true of one of the Ruling Valar.

     Even if the argument that Tom as Aule adequately answers him as "Fatherless" it does not answer him as being "first" and as him being the last to fall in Middle Earth if Sauron wins. Of the Valar the first is most definitely Manwe, not Aule.

     For these reasons it is simply unthinkable to suggest that Tom is a Valar for he is not powerful enough to be one. Indeed, Tolkien puts the nail in coffin in letter 144 where he writes of Tom, "Ultimately only the victory of the West will allow Bombadil to continue, or even to survive. Nothing would be left for him in the world of Sauron." If the West does not prevail Tom will cease to be, this could not be the case if Tom was Aule. Tom needs the West, but the Valar have withdrawn from Middle Earth to the Undying Lands. The Valar do not need the West to survive, but Tom on the other hand does.[4] It should be noted that even after his defeat, Morgoth still survived, being a Valar, he is just imprisoned not destroyed.

     Also, any suggestion that Aule would not take the Ring seriously is pure nonsense. We read in the Book of Unfinished Tales that Aule is the one who chooses Saruman to be sent as one of the Istari to combat Sauron. Aule is thus established to be in the Undying Lands and Aule's care for the plight of Middle Earth and the damage Sauron has caused with his Ring is evident. Aule is very much concerned with the Ring, Tom is not. Moreover, Tom's relationship with the woods does not fit well with the character of Aule the craftsmen. This theory must be acknowledged as fatally flawed in reconciling what we know of Aule, the Valar, and Tom. It would be rather silly to hold to Tom as Aule knowing what we know of Tom’s relationship to the Ring and his potential matchup with the Ringless Sauron. So now that this theory has been carefully considered and found lacking we can move on to consider Tom as one of the Maiar.

P.S. I have written on how the Ring works which is essential to rightly answering the Tom question. Eventually, I will get around to working it into this paper more directly but for now you can read it here. The implications of what I have discovered about how the Ring of Power operates further proves Tom cannot be a Vala (nor a Maia).

[1] Yavanna cannot be Goldberry for Yvanna is one of the Eight mighty Valar and her reign over plants and wildlife is well known, yet Goldberry we are told is the “Riverwoman’s daughter.” This description does not fit with Yavanna the Vala for she is no daughter of anything.

[2] For instance, Tom appears in the likeness of a man, yet the Valar are said to appear in the likeness of the Elves.

[3] Aule is described as one of the Eight of the mightiest Valar whose majesty is unmatched and who rule over the other Valar and Maiar. Tom does not fit well with this description.

[4] Aule, as stated in footnote 3, is one of the eight ruling Valar and his existence should not be tied to the victory of the West over Sauron.

The Case Against: Maiar Theory

(What follows is post 3 of 8 exploring the mystery of Tom Bombadil)

Tom as One of the Maiar?

     The theory that Tom is one of the Maiar is a theory with much strength, yet in the end it possesses such great weaknesses it also must be discarded. This theory operates as the default theory that most Tolkien fans adopt. It will be demonstrated that this theory does not answer the problem of Bombadil well at all. Of the three questions about Tom listed above none are adequately answered by this theory. From what we know of the Maiar and what we know of Tom it becomes rather tenuous to hold him to be one of the Maiar. 

      The first area is Tom's unique power over the Forest and over demons (Barrow-wights). It is conceivable that a Maiar would possess power over both dynamics (Forest & Demons) so here we find a possible strength for this theory. But once one looks deeper into what we know about the Maiar already in Middle Earth it seems that Tom is too powerful to be one. Gandalf, though never faced with a Barrow-wight or Old Man Willow, faces many battles against similar creatures. In none of these battles does the power of his voice through singing ever affect a creature the way Tom's does. Gandalf and Saruman use spells to combat challenges, Tom uses song. By a mere song Tom gets a demon to no longer exist, Gandalf on the other hand often has to resort to his sword and staff to combat evil forces. This is indeed circumstantial evidence but what we know of the Maiar in Middle Earth should inform our opinion of the possibility of Tom being one. So the first point is neither an area of great strength for this theory nor it is too great of an area of weakness as to not be overcome. So in the spirit of charity we will call this question a draw with both strengths and weaknesses.

     The second area is Tom's relationship with the Ring. This area presents perhaps the biggest blow to any suggestion that Tom is one of the Maiar. Tom places the Ring on his finger and is not affected by it. The Ring has no power over him as Gandalf at the Council of Elrond states, “Say rather that the Ring has no power over him” (FOTR, 384). Tom also has no desire for the Ring and he would not see any need to keep it nor protect it. All of what we know about Tom and the Ring flies shockingly in the face of what we know of other Maiar and their relationship to the Ring. Gandalf, Saruman, and Sauron are all under the power of the Ring and all three to varying degrees are tempted by the Ring. Tolkien himself puts it this way, “The power of the Ring over all concerned, even the Wizards or Emissaries, is not a delusion - but it is not the whole picture, even of the then state and content of that part of the Universe" (Tolkien Letter 153). The power the Ring has over any embodied Maiar must be recognized. If Tom were a Maiar, he would not be free from the influence of the Ring as we are plainly told he is. Let us not forget Gandalf’s plea to Frodo to not tempt him with the Ring! Question two leaves the Maiar theory greatly weakened. 

     Also, the fact that Tom would see no need to protect the Ring and that he would lose it flies in the face of what we know of other Maiar. Most definitely a Maia would know the significance of the Ring and would not lose it due to absent-mindedness. A Maiar would recognize the threat Sauron, a fellow Maiar, would present if he had the Ring.

     The third area yet again presents severe difficulties for the idea that Tom is a Maiar, Tom’s age. The idea of presenting a Maiar as "Fatherless" is not as troublesome[1] yet the other comments of his age and role present insurmountable difficulties to this theory. Tom says of himself:
“Eldest, that’s what I am. Mark my words, my friends: Tom was here before the river and the trees; Tom remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn. He made paths before the Big People, and saw the little People arriving. He was here when…the elves passed westward, Tom was here already, before the seas were bent. He knew dark under the stars when it was fearless—before the Dark Lord came from the Outside” (In the House of Tom Bombadil, LOTR, 182).
     Tom states that he was here before Morgoth[2] which means it is clear that he cannot be a Maiar. For we know from the Silmarillion that the Valar[3] were first to Middle Earth. Indeed, the elves in the Council of Elrond say that Tom will be "last" as he was "first" if Sauron should win. This description does not fit well with that of a Maiar. Indeed, Gandalf himself puts the nail in coffin when he says of Tom, "He belongs to a much older generation, and my ways are not his" (The Treason of Isengard, 158). While this passage is not canon it is interesting that Gandalf goes out his way to draw a distinction between himself and Tom. Gandalf goes out his way to draw a distinction between himself and Tom. Gandalf clearly tells us that his generation and Tom's are different. Tom’s is much older. Also, their ways are different. Gandalf has drawn a stark distinction between Tom and himself. If Tom were a fellow Maiar there would be no need for Gandalf to draw such a distinction. Tolkien here, through the mouth of Gandalf, tells us that Gandalf is a different creature than Tom is. 

     How about a Maiar being first and last as Tom is described? Is this a good description of a Maia? No. The Valar are plainly stated to be the first creations in the thought of Iluvatar and are thus the first of the Ainur (Valar & Maiar). Would a Maiar be eldest? No. The Valar are. The theory can only partially answer this questions and the lack of depth and the difficulties of the facts this theory ignores leaves its answers very unsatisfying. 

     What Glorfindel says about Tom at the Council of Elrond should also give us pause. Glorfindel is one of the High Elves who has been in Valinor and spent time with both the Maiar and the Valar. Yet he has no idea what Tom is. Surely if Tom was a Maiar or a Valar for that matter, Glorfindel would not be so perplexed. This, coinciding with Gandalf’s distancing of himself from Tom, should give us great pause in considering Tom to be a Maiar. From what we know of the Maiar in Middle Earth in this time, what we know of Tom, it becomes clear that this theory amounts to trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. If we change what we know of the Maiar, and make all kinds of adaptations to make what we know of the Maiar to make them more like Tom, then sure Tom could be one of the Maiar, but that is not how Tolkien has revealed the Maiar nor Tom to us in the text. With a lot of effort one can try to forcefully get that square peg into the round hole but there are better options available which can better explain what we know of Tom.

Further Objections: A More Powerful Maia?

     Some proponents of the Maiar theory would reply to my objections, "Perhaps the Ring has no power over Tom because he is a more powerful Maia than Sauron or Gandalf is." While I agree that in some sense Tom is too powerful to be a Maia, yet this rebuttal makes the possibility of Tom being a Maia even more difficult. Why? Let me explain. If Tom is a Maia who is more powerful than Sauron, thus free of his craft (the Ring) ,we have no fewer than two more problems. First, this suggestion operates under the assumption that power is what can overcome the Ring, which is contrary to what the whole story of Lord of the Rings teaches us. It is the weak who are needed not the powerful. The more power one has the more tempted they seem to be to take the Ring and try to use it. Gandalf turns down the Ring because he is powerful and through him the Ring would wield a power too great to be imagined.

     A few examples from the Lord of the Rings and Tolkien's Letters will demonstrate the reality that being more powerful is not how one controls the Ring, nor is it how one is immune to its influence. Rather, the more power one has the more suspectible they are to the Ring. First a look at the big picture, the moral of the entire story, Tolkien writes:
You can make the Ring into an allegory of our own time, if you like: an allegory of the inevitable fate that waits all attempts to defeat evil power by power. (Tolkien's Letters, #109, 121). 
     Tolkien makes it plain that the metaphor of the Ring is the reality that power is suspectible to being corrupted. This is demonstrated further by a theoritical situation Tolkien throws out about someone of more natural power than Frodo possessing the Ring:
A person of greater native power [than Frodo] could probably never have resisted the Ring’s lure so long. (Tolkien's Letters, #181, 233-234)
      If someone has more power than Frodo, who admittedly is the little-guy with realitvely no power in comparison to Maiar, Valar, and Elves, they would be more suspectible to the corrupting nature of the Ring not less. This includes the angelic realm. Sauron, the Balrogs, and Saruman all fell and lost their unfallen standing, so we know it is possible for these creatures to be corrupted. And Gandalf knows that he would fall to the Ring, which is why when he is offered the Ring by Frodo he says:
‘No!’ cried Gandalf… ‘With that power I should have power too great and terrible. Over me the Ring would gain a power still greater and more deadly…Do not tempt me! I do not wish to become like the Dark Lord himself. Yet the way of the Ring to my heart is by pity, pity for weakness and the desire of strength to do good…The wish to wield it would be too great for my strength. (FoTR, The Shadow of the Past, 95).
     It is clear that Gandalf knows that he would fall to the Ring, not to Sauron. The Ring would corrupt his good desires to do good and he would fall. Notice also that he says, "the Ring would gain a power still greater and more deadly." That's right, the Ring would gain power through its use of Gandalf. The Ring feeds off of the power of its wearer. It corrupts through the inherent power of the bearer. So any suggestion that Tom is a more powerful Maia (or a Vala for that matter because the Valar are simply the rulers of the Ainur, hence they are just really powerful Ainur and Maiar are less powerful Ainur) is pure nonsense. If Tom were a very powerful Maia he would have fell when he took the Ring.

     The issue is not that Tom has great power and thus is immune from the Ring, but that he is not in the same order as those who are effected by it (this includes Elves, Men, Dwarves, Ainur, etc). We are told as much in the Council of Elrond:
'Could we not still send messages to him [Bombadil] and obtain his help?' asked Erestor. 'It seems that he has a power even over the Ring.'
'No, I should not put it so,' said Gandalf. 'Say rather that the Ring has no power over him. He is his own Master." (LoTR, The Council of Elrond, 348) 
     Notice that when Erestor says that Tom has power over the Ring Gandalf corrects him. The issue of Tom's immunity to the Ring is not because of his power but it is because he is his own Master. Tom is utterly different then anything else we encounter. Any suggestion that power is why Tom escapes the influence of the Ring must be abandoned because Tolkien through Gandalf dismisses it for us. Increasing the theoretical power of a Maia only creates more issues it does not solve anything. 

     The second problem for this suggestion is even more troublesome. If Tom is more powerful than Sauron then why could he not defeat him? This is not merely Tom versus Sauron and his armies, the context of us being told that Tom could not defeat Sauron is if the Council decided to give Tom the One Ruling Ring. That's right: Tom with the Ring could not defeat Sauron who would not have his Ring. Considering that both Gandalf and Saruman operate under the belief that if they took control of the Ring they would surely defeat Sauron this solution fails miserably. So clearly Tom is not a Maia of greater stature than Sauron otherwise he would be able to defeat the ringless Sauron. Indeed, he would have been able to control all of Sauron's armies. This fact not only greatly hurts the Maiar theory it is yet another reason Tom cannot be a Vala also. The solution of merely making Tom more powerful than Sauron is simply impossible. Tom's power must be different in essence not just amount in order to explain why the Ring has no influence over him.

      So the proponents of the Maiar theory would be right to suggest in response to this that Tom must be a less powerful Maia than Sauron and now we have the problem of why the Ring has no power over him at all? Neither solution helps this theory out, rather both suggestions magnify the problems of this flawed theory and show why the Maiar theory cannot hold-up when it worked out thoroughly.

     We are left with only one response to the suggestion that Tom is one of the Maiar, we must firmly reject it. This theory simply cannot account for the all the data we know about Tom , the Ring, and the Maiar. Sadly, this theory falls short of explaining the mystery that is Tom Bombadil. Now we will explore the possibility of Tom being a Nature Spirit.

Continues with the Nature Spirit Theory

[1] Admittedly “Fatherless and Eldest” better describes the Valar than the Maiar but for sake of argument we will overlook that for now.

[2] Because Tom lists himself as being here before the Elves and Men, plus before trees, rivers, rain, acorns, and oceans it is necessary that the Dark Lord in reference here is none other than Morgoth at the beginning of time before darkness entailed evil and fear when the Dark Lord came from the Outside. Sauron came from the outside with Morgoth and then remained in Middle Earth never leaving and returning again. So this reference must be to Morgoth not Sauron.

[3] Ainulindale, 9-11, recounts darkness entering the world and when Melkor enter Ea while the Valar worked on forming Ea. Also we are told in the Silmarillion (27) that at the beginning of time Yavanna planted seeds and brought life to the Earth, Tom had to be there before that time.

The Case Against: Nature Spirit

(What follows is post 4 of 8 exploring the mystery of Tom Bombadil)

Tom as a Nature Spirit (Forest or Earth)?

     Of the three major theories, I once thought the nature spirit theory was the strongest and most well rounded. Further study has led me to see this theory is not without severe weaknesses. Some would suggest this theory should not even be considered due to the lack of evidence that nature spirits exist in Middle Earth. This objection is of course wrong, as it will be discussed later. Tolkien does speak of other spirits existing in his world.[1] There are two types of nature spirits that are generally suggested by proponents of this theory. The first and weakest, is that Tom is simply a spirit of the forest. The second, is that Tom is a spirit who really is a representation of Middle Earth (Arda). This is sometimes expressed as Tom being the Spirit of Middle Earth or the Embodiment of Arda.

     Proponents of this theory often like to cite Tolkien Letter 19 where Tom is referred to as "the spirit of the (vanishing) Oxford and Berkshire countryside" as evidence that Tom is a nature spirit. The problem with this argument is that they take this quote completely out of context. This letter was written before Lord of the Rings was written and before Tom was written into Lord of the Rings. This letter is in reference to Tom's appearance in 1934 in a poem. In that poem, Tom is the spirit of the vanishing English countryside. There is no English countryside for Tom to be related to in LoTR . Tom had to change to enter into the world of Middle Earth. Indeed, the conversation in this letter is about the possibility of Tom being the hero in a possible sequel to The Hobbit. That of course did not happen. Tolkien wrote later that Tom went through many changes to assimilate himself into the world of Lord of the Rings. To assert that this quote is evidence of Tom being a nature spirit in Middle Earth is simply poor logic and does not hold any weight. But let us move to our three questions to weigh the merits of this theory.

      The first question is Tom’s unique power and its limitations. There is some strength here especially when it comes to Tom’s limited power. For those who suggest Tom is a forest spirit they point to his power ending and being limited to the Old Forest which explains well the seeming location boundaries of his power if he is a spirit of the forest. Yet it does not explain how Tom has power in the Barrow-Downs.[2] In the Barrow-Downs, we see his realm does not end with the forest but it extends past them. Indeed, with either nature spirit option there is a major obstacle here. Tolkien describes barrow-wights as demons sent by the Witch King of Angmar which entered into the decomposing bodies of former kings of men. The idea that either a forest spirit, and to a lesser extent the spirit of Middle Earth, would possess power over a spiritual demon is rather tenuous. If one is to adopt Tom as the spirit of Middle Earth then why is his power limited to just one location? Why does his knowledge fail out East? Is Middle Earth not in Mordor as well as in the Shire?

      The problems do not end here. If Tom is a spirit of the forest then why was he in Middle Earth before the first acorn and rain? Tom was literally there before the forests making the forest spirit option seem silly. Tom’s actions within the forest show him to be at odds with the Old Forest. The Old Forest is described as angry and hateful while Tom is the antithesis to this as he is joyful and well wishing. The trees are described as hating those who walk about freely, this includes Tom.[3] Tom even fights against one of the trees. Tom sides with those who roam free (people) instead of the trees something that would be odd for a nature spirit to do. Indeed, Tom does not limit himself just to Middle Earth for he teaches the Hobbits to summon him by words that not only include forests and hills but also more cosmic things, “By fire, sun and moon, hearken now and hear us” (In the House of Tom Bombadil, FOTR, 186). Tom is summoned not only by water, wood, and hill but also by fire, sun, and moon. This reality should not be overlooked, Tom tells us something about himself by how he is to be summoned. He does not see himself as limited to the earth only, but also to the cosmic realities of all creation.

     The Second fact any legitimate theory must wrestle with is Tom's relationship to the Ring. This is often hailed as the main strength of this theory. Proponents of this theory assert that a spirit of nature would be free from the power of the Ring. Despite these assertions there is ample evidence to suggest the contrary. If the Ring holds sway over Sauron, Saruman, and Gandalf surely it would affect a nature spirit? The three Rings of the Elves are the rings of fire, water, and air. In other words, they are rings of natural elements, and they were meant to wield and to control nature. It is Galadriel’s ring which preserved and helped to create the natural beauty of Lothlorien. It was Elrond’s ring which raises the river in protection of the Ring Bearer. It is Gandalf’s ring which battles against the fire spirit in Moria. Celebrimbor was said to have created these three rings to help to heal the natural damage caused by Morgoth. Now, the One Ring is more powerful than these three, and is said to have the all the powers of the other Rings. Therefore, the idea that the One Ring has power over the natural realm, including nature spirits, is a foregone conclusion. Indeed, when the One Ring is destroyed the mountains in Mordor crumble alongside Barad-dur because they were sustained by the power of the Ring and Sauron. The One Ring has control over aspects of nature and it is clear that it effects spiritual beings. Therefore, the Ring would have power over nature spirits.

     Some may protest, “But if Tom is the spirit of Middle Earth he may not be fallen, he may not be inclined to evil, he may be totally pure, and therefore the Ring would not have a hold of him.” This is a legitimate concern, for I believe Tom is pure and unfallen, but Tolkien does not see nature or nature spirits as so:
"To gain dominion over Arda, Morgoth had let most of his being pass into the physical constituents of the Earth—hence all things that were born on Earth and lived on and by it, beasts or plants or incarnate spirits, were liable to be ‘stained’." (Morgoth’s Ring, 394-5)
     Not only does Tolkien reference incarnated spirits born on and connected to the Earth all of these spirits are said to be ‘stained’ by Morgoth, they are stained by evil. What effect does it have on these spirits? Tolkien makes it plain:
"Melkor ‘incarnated’ himself (as Morgoth) permanently. He did this so as to control the hroa [physical material], the ‘flesh’ or physical matter, of Arda. He attempted to identify himself with it…Thus, outside the Blessed Realm, all ‘matter’ was likely to have a ‘Melkor ingredient’, and those who had bodies, nourished by the hroa of Arda, had as it were a tendency, small or great, towards Melkor: they were none of them wholly free of him in their incarnate form, and their bodies had an effect upon their spirits." (Morgoth’s Ring, 399-400)
     It is clear, all of these spirits where thus stained by Morgoth and are therefore perceptible to evil. Morgoth put himself into the earth and stained creation and everything in creation is now inclined towards evil. This corruption happened at the Music level and thus all of creation has an imprint of evil. All of creation has a tendency, great or small, towards evil because of the work Melkor did. Therefore, if Tom was a nature spirit we cannot hold that the Ring would not have any power over him because of some unfallen nature because of what we know Morgoth's corruption of creation via the Music of the Ainur. Also, we cannot hold that Ring would not have power over Tom because we know that the Rings of Power have control over nature. Indeed, Gandalf and Saruman were unfallen spiritual beings yet it is clear that they were capable of falling to the temptation and corruption of the Ring. Morgoth stained everything in Middle Earth so now everything is inclined towards him, towards evil and the Ring not only has control over nature but feeds off of this corruption, tempting its wearer to evil which nature is already inclined to, but Tom is not. The two simply do not fit.

     Tom therefore cannot be a nature spirit. Tom has no inclination to evil for if he did the Ring would have some power over him. If he is the Spirit or Embodiment of Arda then he would indeed have an inclination towards Morgoth, towards evil for all of creation does. It is near impossible to make a case that the Ring would then have no power over him. Especially when we realize the Rings of Power were made to rule the natural elements of the earth in an attempt to heal the harms Morgoth did to the earth. In the end, the Valar theory is correct in trying to answer this question by removing Tom’s origin from Middle Earth entirely because the Ring belongs to Middle Earth, but sadly the Valar theory has many of its own flaws.

     The third area to be addressed is Tom being described as eldest and as being in existence before the Dark Lord entered. This presents issues if Tom is a nature spirit of the forest variety. Besides Tom being there before the forests were created, it should be noted that he was there before Morgoth. The Forests were not. If Tom were the spirit of Middle Earth then it may be wise to say that he was there before Morgoth. Yet how does this fit with Glorfindel saying, “I think that in the end, if all else is conquered, Bombadil will fall, Last as he was First; and then Night will come.”[4] Tom would be the last to fall after all else is conquered, including the earth. Sauron’s goal is to rule/corrupt Middle Earth and if Tom’s existence is tied with Middle Earth why would he cease to be (as Tolkien states) if the west should fail? Again Tom’s age is tied to the darkness entering which started before the earth with the Discord of Melkor. Would Tom truly be fatherless, eldest, first, and last if his is the spirit of Middle Earth? I think not. There is a better explanation to all of these questions. My suggestion is admittedly in the same vein as the nature spirit theory but takes it a step further by removing Tom's origin from the created order and thus freeing him from many of the issue that the other theories have.

Next Section: A Way Forward

[1] This will be explored more later in the paper.

[2] Steuard Jensen, a nature spirit theorist, rejects the forest spirit theory for this very reason, Tom’s location used to be much larger, but he has self contained himself to his current location as described by Gandalf. So the Forest spirit theory is flawed in this area. Jensen sees Tom as a spirit of all of Arda. http://tolkien.slimy.com/essays/Bombadil5Theory.html

[3] “Tom’s words laid bare the hearts of trees and their thoughts, which were often dark and strange, and filled with hatred of things that go free upon the earth…” (FOTR, In the House of Tom Bombadil, 180).

[4] FOTR, Council of Elrond, 348.

Tom Bombadil: A Way Forward?

(What follows is post 5 of 8 exploring the mystery of Tom Bombadil)

A Way Forward?

     With the three major theories falling by the wayside and being found, to varying degrees, woe-fully short in explaining Tom Bombadil, one may wonder if this is a discussion even worth having. Maybe Tom is a mystery that even Tolkien himself did not have an answer for. There are several reasons why I believe Tolkien knew who/what Tom Bombadil was and that the astute reader may begin to find out who Tom is.

     The first reason is rather simple; Tolkien's world is a thorough world that has histories upon histories, family trees and extensive explanations of the origins of various races and species. Tom though does not. It would be strange for Tom not to have a pre-planned origin and species even though Tolkien does not explicitly mention it. Tolkien stated that he was obsessed with making a consistent world, though he acknowledged that he often over-looked things by mistake. This reality is evidenced by the changes Tom went through to be included in Middle Earth. Tom originally appeared in a poem titled, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, which was written before The Lord of the Rings, but Tolkien decided to include Tom in Middle Earth but not without some changes. Tolkien writes, "There have been a number of minor changes made at various times in the process of assimilating Tom B. to the Lord of the Rings world" (Tolkien's Letters, #240, pg. 318). This was in reference to his physical appearance. Originally Tom had a peacock feather in his hat but since Middle Earth did not have peacocks Tolkien changed this minor detail in order to assimilate Tom to Middle Earth. No one besides Tolkien of course would have ever known that peacocks don't exist in Middle Earth. But this shows us that in putting Tom into Middle Earth Tolkien strove for Tom to be consistent with it even in the minor details. So one may deduce that Tom's origins also should be consistent with Tolkien's creation.

     The second reason is this, Tolkien goes out of his way to have Frodo ask several times who or what Tom is. It is clear that Tolkien himself had given much thought to the question of Tom’s origin. The question is even alluded to in the Council of Elrond and again in the Treason of Isengard. Tolkien was very much interested in who and what Tom was. Tolkien has much to say about Tom in his actions, character, and the questions others ask of him. Tom though is no mistake and he is intentionally a mystery but let us consider Tolkien's own words, "every part (of LoTR) has been written many times. Hardly a word in its 600,000 or more has been unconsidered. And the placing, size, style, and contribution to the whole of all the features, incidents, and chapters has been laboriously pondered" (Tolkien's Letters, #130, pg. 160). In other words, Tolkien was very intentional with his writing and he laboriously pondered everything he wrote over and over again. So, when the topic of who/what Tom is, comes up in no fewer than two occasions, we can be sure that Tolkien himself has thought long and hard about the answer to the question. So the question is not, “Is this possible” but rather, “How do we proceed in talking about Tom Bombadil in light of what Tolkien has chosen revealed to us?”

     In letter number 144 Tolkien refers to Tom Bombadil as an "enigma" (Tolkien's Letters, pg. 174). It is precisely the reality that Tom is an Enigma that the explanations of him as a Valar, Maiar, and to a lesser degree a forest/middle earth spirit simply cannot do justice to Tom's status as an utterly unique creature in Middle Earth. Since Tom is an enigma, we should hesitate putting him in any category that is not one-of-a-kind. For example, the Maiar and Valar theories would not explain Tom as an enigma because they would make him far too common of a creature, one of many. The answer is too common for the great mystery which Tolkien wrote into the Lord of the Rings. Nor do these explanations explain many of the truths we know about him (eldest, reaction to the ring, Gandalf's words, and not having the power to resist Sauron). So it seems this enigma should be viewed in light of some of the other mysteries Tolkien writes about.

     So going forward any theory formulated must take for account the enigma of Tom’s character. Tom is one of kind. Also, any theory must have textual warrant and grounding. Finally, any theory must be able to account for the very fiber of who Tom is and how he acts as revealed to us by Tolkien in the Fellowship of the Ring. After that, the theory must be examined by the three questions that all theories must be able to answer. At the conclusion of this process it will become clear that my theory has both textual warrant and grounding, it reaches to the very core of how Tom is portrayed, and it can better answer the big three questions than any of the other major theories and it does so with much less baggage. With that in mind it is time for my theory to be fleshed out, and that is Tom is the incarnated spirit of the Music of the Ainur.

Continues here: Tom as the Music