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.


OUTLINE:

1. Pop-Culture Theories: In this newly added section I explain why certain popular theories are impossibilities--Tom is God, Tom is Tolkien, & Tom is evil. These theories are like a bad disease which will not die despite the fact that they have no real evidence for existing. I also address why we can have hope that an answer does exist.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

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

10. 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.


11. 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

Monday, January 14, 2013

Pop-Culture Theories: Theories Which Must be Thrown Out Immediately

(What follows is the first post in a series of eleven 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.)



Pop-Culture Theories: Theories Which Must be Immediately Thrown Out 


(Note this post was first published in September 2016, the listed date is edited to keep the desired reading order)

It is time to put an end to two popular theories of who Tom Bombadil is. I have labelled these theories "pop-culture" because they enjoy popularity online and in some Tolkien communities despite the fact they are impossibilities. These common assumptions must be thrown out before we move on to the more formidable theories (Valar, Maiar, & Nature Spirit) put forward by those who have studied this issue seriously. 

The two theories addressed here  are always cropping up in Tolkien discussion when the origin of Tom Bombadil is considered. I am adding this section to my blog because as I have read more and more of Tolkien is has become very clear that both theories are simply not possible and are unsubstantiated, yet they remain alive and well in much of Tolkiendom. 

Whenever the topic of who Tom is comes up I inevitably encounter people who say either, “Tom is God (Eru),” or “Tom is Tolkien.” There is little support ever given for believing these suggestions.  Early on in my Tolkien days I flirted with adopting these theories, but as I continued to study it became clear that they are deeply flawed and amount to little more than wishful thinking. If you have considered these positions, and perhaps maybe even embraced them, I mean no offense, I just ask you read this section to see why these theories cannot be.


Pop-Culture Theory #1: Tom is God (Eru/Iluvatar)


The first theory, that Tom is God, is one which no Tolkienite who has studied this issue at any length can hold. Tolkien himself has addressed this issue head-on in Letter 181 saying this, “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.” And again for emphasis, “There is no ‘embodiment’ of the Creator anywhere in this story or mythology.” There you have it, Tom is not Eru, he is not God. Tolkien rejected such an idea. 

In fact in Letter #153 Tolkien addresses this popular belief that when Goldberry says “Tom is” is somehow the same as identifying him with the Divine name of Yahweh/Jehovah (I AM). To Peter Hastings, who thinks Tolkien has committed a great error by thinking Tom is God, Tolkien says to him that he has “missed the point” entirely. This letter makes it clear by directly refuting the assertion that Tom is the Creator God of Scripture or Middle Earth. 

Tolkien continues, “We need not go into the sublimities of “I am that am”—which is quite different t from he is…I don’t think Tom needs philosophizing about, and is not improved by it.” 

To put the figurative nail in the coffin of this argument, in a footnote in this letter Tolkien clearly explains that “he is” implies that Tom was created, and thus he cannot be Eru/God who is the creator God and is thus uncreated. Tolkien has in no uncertain terms ruled out both the God of Scripture and Eru/Iluvatar as options for Tom’s identity/origin. The case for this theory must be considered closed, any further arguments in favor of Tom being God are based in ignorance of what Tolkien has plainly stated. 

These statements should be read far and wide by Tolkien fans and should bring a quick death to this theory. Sadly, this theory is like a bad disease which will not die, and I encounter everywhere. To compound the issue, generally when I do encounter this theory online no one corrects it as being debunked by Tolkien himself! 


Pop-Culture Theory #2: Tom is Tolkien


The second theory which needs to be abandoned, is the assertion Tom is Tolkien. This theory is based more on sentimentality than any argument from the text. I think people like this theory because they feel a closer connection to Tolkien (and Tom). But this theory has little to no support in the text. It is always just asserted as some belief to be accepted as cool. But again, in all my study of Tom theories there is simply no good reasoning for such a view from the world Tolkien created. In fact, the idea that Tom who know cares little about the Ring, the main plot point of Tolkien’s work, is simply unthinkable if Tom is indeed Tolkien (surely Tolkien cared about the Ring!).  

The problems for this theory do not end her, it really is worse than just not having support. Tolkien’s own words in his letters should leave this theory just as abandoned as the God theory.  

Letter 180 is instructive to this end, Tolkien addresses the idea of him being Gandalf, or being like any other character in his world when he says, “I am not Gandalf, being a transcendent Sub-creator in this little world. As far as any character is ‘like me’ it is Faramir—except that I lack what all my characters possess (let the psychoanalysts note!) Courage [bold emphasis mine].” 

You may wonder why I bring up a quote where Tolkien says he is not Gandalf in order to prove he is not Tom. The reason I bring this up is because of the reasoning Tolkien give for why he can’t be Gandalf—he is transcendent, and the sub-creator. To be “transcendent” means that the person exists apart from this universe. He is not to be found in his work, as he states he is outside of it. He cannot be Tom because Tolkien himself transcends his subcreation, this excludes him from being any of the characters in the story. But he concedes if there is a character may be like him, though not him, it’s not Tom Bombadil, it’s Faramir. Tom doesn’t even get to be the most like Tolkien!

In order to overcome such a plain statement anyone who would want to assert the Tolkien theory for Bombadil  is true, would need strong evidence to disprove the clear implications of this statement. There is no such evidence to date.  

But that is not the only statement Tolkien makes which rules out himself being Tom. He writes in Letter 183, “This story is not about JRRT at all, and is at no point an attempt to allegorize his experience of life—for that is what the objectifying of his subjective experience in a tale must mean, if anything (emphasis mine).” 

As he continues in this letter he explains Middle-Earth is not a fantasy world—it is this world. That Tolkien is historically minded and Middle-Earth is the very earth he lives in when he wrote it. It is only the historical period of LOTR which is a fantasy, not the world itself. Being that this is a historical fantasy, Tolkien himself cannot be found in the same world in an earlier time period.

The point is crystal clear—at no point is this story about him. To acknowledge this as true, which we must, and then to assert that Tom Bombadil is Tolkien in this story is to have an irreconcilable contradiction. 

Tolkien again and again was asked if the story was about him, or if a certain character was him, and he consistently says, “No”. Letter 183 in particular says plain as day that at “no point” is this story about him. It is not about him “at all”. To suggest Tom Bombadil is the author inserting himself (for several chapters) into the story is to ignore the obvious meaning of Tolkien’s own words. He is transcendent, the story is at no point at all about him, and the story takes place in this world in a pre-historic era before the life of Tolkien. This theory must be considered false as it is without a foundation and the Letters of Tolkien himself disprove the theory.  

Tolkien is not in his work, he is transcendent and the story at no point is about him. This means quite plainly, that any argument which purports Tom Bombadil is Tolkien, needs to supply some pretty convincing and clear evidence that counter’s Tolkien’s plain words. No such evidence exists. As bad as the “Tom is God” theory is, the “Tom is the author/Tolkien” is just as bad, though more widely accepted even in well-read circles. It is past time that we declare both of these theories as defunct, and that we bury them in the barrows as soon as possible to never see the light of day again.


Some Other Issues Faced in Bombadil Theorizing


There are several other poor arguments which often arise when the topic of Tom’s origin is addressed. First,  is Tolkien’s description of Tom in Letter 19 describing him as the spirit of the “vanishing oxford and Berkshire countryside”. Many want to begin and end the discussion about Tom with this statement while refusing to acknowledge that this statement was written before Tolkien embarked on writing The Lord of the Rings

If we understand the historical context of this letter we see Tolkien is merely saying what Tom was in the Adventures of Tom Bombadil. Tolkien was suggesting that perhaps in a sequel to The Hobbit perhaps Tom could be the main character! That’s right, Tolkien flirts with the idea of making Tom, from an early work, the main character of a sequel to The Hobbit—clearly  that didn’t happen. We must remember this letter was written in 1937, before Tolkien even had an idea of his sequel would be. 

The description of Tom as the spirit of the English countryside is a description of Tom before he is inserted in LotR, not of him in LotR. Quite frankly, there is no “vanishing Oxford and Berkshire countryside” in Middle Earth as Tolkien plainly points out Middle Earth is not a fantasy world, but this world, and but it is a time of history which is fantasy (Letter 183). In this historical fiction that Tolkien wrote, you cannot have Tom unchanged as the spirit of a countryside which was not yet vanishing and not yet named as such, or even existing. So this Letter is not the final word on Tom, as Tolkien’s later explanations in later letters are different than how he described Tom in 1937. 
  
Moreover, if one looks at the descriptions of other things found in Letter 19, around this discussion of Tom, you will find that there are some things which were true in 1937 when that letter was written but they are simply no longer true of Middle Earth after Tolkien’s work was completed. Tolkien wrote in that letter that Hobbits are “comic” and asks “what more can they do?” He even says, “But the real fun about orcs and dragons (to my mind) was before their [Hobbits] time. Perhaps a new (if similar) line?” Now this statement that all the fun about orcs being before the time of the Hobbits was true in 1937, but that changed with this “new line” Tolkien pursued when writing LotR. 

What was true in context of his writing in 1937 before he began LotR, is not true of the final world we have now. If I said today that all the fun with the orcs happened before the time of the hobbits, you would rightly tell me I am not understanding the historical development of the letters and the writing of LotR. You would be right, and the same is true about Tom. He does in fact change as he is incorporated into the story.  

To get to the heart of the issue, the story of The Hobbit book itself was changed to come into line with LotR and had sections re-written to fit this new story. This is because of what Tolkien also wrote in Letter 19, “the construction of elaborate and consistent mythology (and two languages) rather occupies the mind… (emphasis mine).” Tolkien was dedicated to making his world consistent. As demonstrated by his adaption of The Hobbit  to make it more in line with LOTR. We must remember this when Tom was described as the “spirit of the English countryside” that this too changed when LoTR was written.    

When one reads what Tolkien writes about Tom after the publication of LotR the idea of Tom being the spirit of Oxford and Berkshire is gone. Tom became something different, though similar,  he is now an  exemplar of zoology, botany, pure natural science, and pacifism (Letters 144 & 153). This is very different than Tolkien’s 1937 musings, because Tom did change to enter the world so that the world would remain consistent. Tom now even represents to some extent pacifism, which is not true of him in the work of the Adventures of Tom Bombadil which may not be set in Middle Earth at all.  

We must not make the 1937 letter to be the final interpretive lens for all of Tolkien later letters. I purpose we understand Letter 19 in its historical context, and then look for how Tolkien changed Bombadil as he wrote about him after the world was complete in his later letters and in LOTR.


No Need for Philosophizing About Tom Equals No Need to Explain Him?


Another argument we must address is Tolkien two statements to Peter Hastings in Letter 153. As mentioned above, Tolkien tells us Tom does not need to be philosophized about and we must not take him too seriously. Some use these quotes to shut down all discussion and theorizing about Bombadil. I believe this is a misunderstanding of the context (again). Tolkien says Hastings is being “too serious” because Hastings thinks Tolkien has erred greatly by making Tom as the personification of the Creator God of our world. This is in essence an accusation of blasphemy.  

To this Tolkien rightly say “you are being too serious” and he points out that Hastings entirely missed the point of who Tom is. This is the context of the statement, “I don’t think Tom needs philophizing about”. What Tolkien means in context is to say you need not elevate Tom to the great “I AM” for to do is not helpful. 

This statement clearly does not mean we should never try to explain Tom or to understand in the world of Middle Earth because that is exactly what Tolkien then proceeds to do in the rest of the letter! He explains who Tom is not, and who he is, in this and other letters. 

So this quote must be understood in its context, it is not a ban on seeking understanding and digging deeper into Tom, for Tolkien then proceeded to do just that in this letter and others. This is simply a prohibition on making Bombadil God and elevating him above his proper place in the world. The fact that Tolkien does indeed take time to explain Tom implies he does have a definite place in this created world.   

Why There is Hope that an Answer Exists 


We have seen Tolkien did change many things when writing LotR, we also have seen that Tolkien admits his dedication to having a “consistent” world and mythology, so much so he rewrote and changed his earlier work (the Hobbit) which was already published. He did this so that his world would be consistent. We have seen the fruits of this in Tom when we read the letters in context of when they were written. Tom becomes a pacifist, an exemplar of natural science, not the spirit of the English countryside.  

Tolkien’s pursuit for consistency and to make this world so similar to our own is what makes this piece of fiction so great. This pursuit was not a minor thing to Tolkien, it was his goal. He wrote in Letter 131, “It was begun in 1936 (the footnote corrects this to say December 1937 for LotR), and every part has been written many times. Hardly a word in its 600,000 has been unconsidered. And the placing, size, style, and contribution to the whole of all the features, incidents, and chapters has been laboriously pondered.”  

Such a profound statement leaves us with little question that Tolkien was very exacting in all of his work, and this includes Tom. He “laboriously pondered” how every part fit and worked together. So it is with some confidence we can say that Tolkien knew exactly what and who Tom was within his created world. Tolkien’s striving for consistency means that Tom would have some consistent origin from within Middle Earth. But Tolkien has intentionally left this origin an enigma, or mystery, because it is not plainly told to us. 

By the way Tolkien answers his fans on this question about Tom, it is clear Tolkien knew not only what Tom was, but also what his role was. He had laboriously pondered it and had measured every word to fit in this consistent world. So yes I do believe there is an answer in the world of Middle Earth for who/what Tom is. 

I believe Tolkien knew the answer but never revealed it because that is how he remains an enigma. Tolkien was content to strike down bad ideas about Tom and to explain the role of Tom in the story because he had Tom figured out as Tolkien was the “transcendent sub-creator” of this world.  Tom is intentionally a mystery, but this need not stop of us from considering the best options as we try to remain consistent to the world Tolkien created. That is what I am attempting to do. I do this because that is what Tolkien strove to do and I love his work.  

So it is best to search for an answer by remaining consistent to the world Tolkien created, because that is what Tolkien did. It is best to search for an answer to this enigma by “laboriously” pondering the words Tolkien himself chose to reveal Tom to us in the text and hoe Tolkien explained Tom in his letters. It is only by doing this that we can hope to rule out bad theories, to better understand Tom Bombadil, and to formulate a consistent and comprehensive theory and understanding of the mystery that Tom is. This is the goal of my theory. 


Post-Script: Could Tom be The Witch-King? A Brief Response to the Ridiculous Suggestions Tom is Evil


There is a theory out there that Tom is secretly evil, or even perhaps the Witch-King. I will not spend much time on this theory because I treat it as satire, it cannot be considered a possibility beyond that. This theory operates under the assumption that everyone is lying about Tom. Which is absurd. 

All one has to do to debunk this theory is read any of Tolkien’s letters where he explains Tom as an exemplar of pacifism, natural pure science, and how Tom wants to know things not for control but just for the sake of knowing them. 

This is not evil. Any honest reading of LoTR and Tolkien’s letters rules out such an absurd belief about Tom. It is hardly worth our time to consider such a suggestion. It is my hope this 'theory' is satire which many online have failed to  recognize as such. If it is a real attempt to explain Tom my response is to quote Tolkien, “You have missed the point entirely.” 

Continue reading as we examine the three major theories put forward which have more substance than these pop-theories by clicking here

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Who is Tom Bombadil: Three Views & Three Questions



(What follows is the second post in a series of eleven 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 3 of 11 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 4 of 11 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.