Monday, January 7, 2013

Post Post-Script: Tom as the Audience?

A Response to the Audience Theory

(Post-dated to maintain reading order this post was published on April 14, 2016)
From time to time people reach out to me to get my opinion on something Tom Bombadil related. I do enjoy hearing from them as I enjoy discussing anything Tolkien. Recently, the author of a new theory reached out to me to hear my thoughts on her work. Her work is a considerable work. It is longer than my own (and my own is too long). I have deep respect for anyone who would take the time and effort to work out such a comprehensive theory and the courage to share it online. I consider any such person a friend of Tolkien and his fans everywhere.

When I first received the theory, I had no time to give to critically reading it as work and a new baby were consuming my time (and that is a good thing!). Life has quieted a bit so now I have some time to address the theory.

The author’s theory is vast and imaginative, but in the end I find it a thoroughly weak and inconsistent theory which has a bad habit of taking quotes shockingly out of context. I believe this theory to be weak beyond reconciliation.

The author writes, “Key or not—ultimately any solution claimed as ‘the answer’ [to Bombadil] must be able to withstand rigorous examinations, leaving no room for inconsistencies.”[1] I agree wholeheartedly with this statement. The purpose of having a theory is to see if it can stand up to rigorous examinations and be found to be without inconsistencies or contradictions as well as if it can explain what we know of Tom and Tolkien’s mythical world.

In the spirit of what the author demands, I will “rigorously” examine the arguments of this theory and in the process display it cannot withstand such a critique and will be found with: many wrong interpretations of key texts, reliance on poor scholarship, and even the occasional inconsistency.

I mean no offense to the author; again, I have a great deal of personal respect to anyone who would venture into such a monumental work in the world of Tolkien. And I know from firsthand experience that there are many jackals and hyenas on the internet who are merciless for no good or coherent reason—they just like to troll. That is not my goal, my goal is to examine the said theory on its merits so that all may better understand one of Tolkien’s great mysteries.

This is for me a matter of academic discipline and recreational joy as I spend time in my favorite fantasy world. With that being said, I will not pull any punches, I will speak my mind on the content and if I find it lacking I will say so and why.

I will address the work according to the four sections the author has formatted it in. In the end I will offer some concluding thoughts. Of the four sections, I will spend most of the time critiquing the first and last sections as they are more foundational and without them the middle sections matter little as their foundation would be removed.

Please note the quotes I use and the arguments I put forward are accurate quotes from the author when I first read this theory. I have been in contact with the author and she has told me she is continually updating it, which is her prerogative (I have done so with my theory as well). So if you are reading this and a quote cannot be found on the original website I would guess it is because the author has changed it. I have labored hard to ensure to quote her accurately at the time of this writing, but I will not continually update this critique. Moreover, I do expect that after she reads this, she will make many changes to her theory.

We should probably start with a brief summary of the heart of this theory so that you can understand what I am critiquing. If you desire to read her whole theory, you can do so here. Please note, I will not cover everything in this work with which I disagree, that would take too long. I will cover that which I feel is important to note.

Brief Synopsis of the Audience Theory

  • This theory operates under the belief that Tom Bombadil is best understood as an allegory for the audience of a theatrical play. The play in question here is the history of Arda and at some point in its history Tom goes on stage and thus enters creation.
  • The author thus establishes something I have done as well, that Tom’s origins must be other to explain him adequately. It is this otherness of Tom’s origin and role as the audience which the author contends explains the many oddities of his character and actions.
  • As the theory is worked out the author adds two important additions to her theory about Tom. First, he is not only the audience but also the orchestra of the play. Second, within the cosmos of Arda Tom is a Maia as far as his genus goes.
  • Now there are some consistency problems with this, which I shall point out later, but those are the major describers of Tom in this theory: an allegory for the audience/orchestra and in the end he is a Maia.
  • The author arrives at these conclusions chiefly due to her reliance on a report on an unpublished letter (for the audience idea), quoting Tolkien’s published letters, hunting for hidden messages in the text (for her Maia assertion) and finally her own knowledge of the theatre and Tolkien.
  • This should serve as enough of a basis to begin to dissect her work, if you desire more information on it, please click the link above to read her theory in its entirety.

Part I
The Author says: “the first section will expose and explore the unique role Tolkien placed Bombadil in.”

Problem 1: Reliance on a third-hand account is central to this theory

  • In the first section we are introduced to the idea that Tom Bombadil is the personification of the audience of a play. The play is the history of Middle-Earth, and Tom is the audience who gets invited on stage to participate in the play.
  • Central to this theory is a reliance on an unpublished letter Tolkien wrote in 1964 to Przemyslaw Mroczkowski who was a fellow professor and a friend of Tolkien.
  • This letter has since been sold at auction and there is no full publication of it that I am aware of. In fact, there is no publication of the entirety of the section in which Tolkien speaks to his friend about LotR and Tom specifically.
  • So what does the author cite when she makes this unpublished letter, which none but a select few have ever read, central to her theory? She cites a discussion about the letter from an online Tolkien chatroom. As much as I love a good Tolkien chatroom, this is problematic. Below follows the full post the author cites in her footnote:
    • Charles Noad has now reported on the letter to Przemyslaw Mroczkowski that was recently sold at auction for £6,000. Without getting into direct quotation, which could be problematic, here's a rough summary of what is said about Bombadil.

      Indeed it is largely ashalfir says above, a confirmation of what Tolkien says to Naomi Mitchison in Letter #144. Here Tolkien uses the analogy of a theatrical performance, where as well as the play that is being performed, there are chinks in the scenery which give glimpses of another different world outside - that of the producer and stagehands (and the author!). TB does not belong to the main pattern of the Legendarium, as can be deduced from the fact that the Ring has no effect on him whatsoever - he is outside the problems of power that involve the other characters. Tolkien says that he was tempted to 'tinker' with him to bring him into line, but (most unusually for Tolkien) he resisted that temptation.
  • The problems here are of course numerous. The poster who is cited, himself has not even read the letter, he is reporting on a report of someone who allegedly read the letter. So now the author of this current theory is formulating what she calls the “crux” of her argument on a third-hand account of a letter. It is important to note that none of us can analyze the actual context of what was written by Tolkien. In fact, the post itself says it cannot directly quote the letter as direct quotation is not allowed for copyright reasons! Is this a foundation to build a legitimate theory on? Surely not.
  • This is of great importance because without the original text, we cannot see what part of any of this is based in the text or is just interpretation or guess work from the various stops in this game of internet telephone. What foundation do we have from this forum? None.
  • This is not a solid foundation to build a “rigorous” theory upon. As I shall display later, even if this is an accurate representation of the letter, the theory is still not established as the author’s own neglecting of the contexts of published Tolkien letters establishes the need for the actual text to be cited for us to examine it.
  • This issue is exasperated as the author despite having actually never read the letter, acts as if she is directly quoting the letter three times to establish her idea that LotR has a 1 for 1 correspondence with a play (more on that later).
  • There is one quote where she acknowledges she is quoting a report on the letter (though to be accurate it is a report on a report of the letter). She even says at one point when “quoting” the letter that part of it was “Tolkien’s emphasis”. How can she possibly know this without having the letter? The answer is she cannot. We simply do not know if we have Tolkien’s direct words or emphasis at this point.
  • Why is this so important? Well the author in her summary of the first section, writes, “The cornerstone and crux of this theory is that Tolkien contemplated…[LotR] acted out as one continuous play.” If this is indeed the crux of the theory, it is very problematic as the author has not established that reality.
  • The author also writes in section II, ““It was Letter #153 that provided an initial clue—but the rarely discussed 1964 correspondence to Przemyslaw Mroczkowski forms the cornerstone of the theory” (emphasis mine). Her crux and cornerstone is self-admitted to be based on a text that is unpublished of which she cites a third-hand discussion of from an online chatroom.
  • At this point we have no solid proof of that from this letter. All we have is a game of online telephone and leaps of faith to arrive at the author’s conclusion. With the crux of the theory found to be wanting, the theory is really left in shambles.  
  • The author also states unequivocally, “In 1964 Tolkien surreptitiously hinted that Tom had been given the allegorical role of an off-stage member of ‘a play’ in a letter to his close friend Przemyslaw Mroczkowski” (emphasis mine).
    • Except the report we have didn’t use the word allegory, this is just conjecture by the author based on a third-hand report. None of the reports I have seen on the letter say “allegory” that is a creation of the author of this theory. The report clearly says “analogy” which is entirely different than an allegory. Allegories are much more of a one for one exchange, while analogies are much broader and recognize differences between the two.
    • The crux and cornerstone of this theory has no foundation and is based of a misinterpretation of what facts we actually have!
    • Nonetheless, the author asserts that Tom is the audience of the play, but that is very different than what the reports say. The report on the letter never says Tom is “offstage” or rather that he is a part of a “chink” in the scenery which is not how one would describe the audience. In fact, this analogy assumes that we are the audience as it is us who sees theses "chinks" in the scenery and it is us who see the “stagehands” which are an analogy to Tom. The proper interpretation of this analogy actually disproves the audience theory instead of supporting it!
    • It is also important to notice that in using the analogy of a play, many parts are listed in the report but the audience is NOT one of them. That is wholly a creation of the author of this theory.
  • Let me be clear, I am not saying this letter has no authority, it does have authority. The problem is we do not have this letter. All we have is a report of a report on the letter. Third-hand reports are not authoritative and are at best unwise to make important to a solid theory; let alone to make it the “crux” and “cornerstone” of a theory which hopes to withstand “rigorous” examination.
  • But let’s pretend, for the sake of argument, that we should trust this third-hand account, what then?

Problem 2: Taking analogies in a too literally

  • I work in a field where interpreting texts is essential and where there is no shortage of abuse of texts. One of the common problems is people who insist on taking a figure of speech, a simile, a metaphor, an analogy, or any form of symbolism in a literal sense. The author of this theory does that with the third-hand account.
  • Another account[2] of this letter says, Tolkien was answering his friends question about different planes of existence (something he had established with the Ring and Frodo wearing it). In Tolkien’s response he says it is “like a play”.
  • The author of the audience theory insists because the analogy exists that somehow this means we must have an audience for the analogy to be true. Context would help us here, but we do not have that context so such an assertion holds little sway.
  • My point here is this, to be like something is not a 1 for 1 equation. To be like (the word used in the reports) something is to be like it in some ways, and unlike it in other ways.
    • For example, I could say “My life is like a play” and you could incorrectly deduce then that I have an audience watching and even cheering for me, but the rest of my statement could say, “My life has three acts, birth, writing about Tolkien, and death.” The analogy is limited to the context, not a requirement for a one to one correspondence in totality.
    • Unfortunately, it appears the author insists there must be an audience, because all plays have an audience. True all plays have an audience, but it’s an “analogy” (this is the report's term)! Not an allegory! Hence the word “like”.
  • Moreover, in the reports cited by the author, Tolkien does NOT reference an audience, but stagehands and chinks in the scenery. There is no solid textual warrant for jumping to this conclusion that Tom is the audience.
  • It appears from what little context we may have, that Tolkien is talking about Tom's appearance as showing that there is to be a suspension of disbelief as some things do not appear to belong in a play, but that the reader (who would correspond better with the analogy being used here for an audience) should ignore the “chinks” and just embrace them and enjoy the show. This is like the stagehands who go onstage to move the scenery around as the play moves from scene to scene. The audience is to ignore the stagehands and the chinks by not making a big deal about them because that is part of the play. In this sense, we are to understand Tom, he is like a stagehand and a chink the scenery that we are to accept through suspension of disbelief.
    • This is a far better understanding of what little information we have on the letter to Przemyslaw Mroczkowski than forcing a 1 for 1 allegorical correspondence to an analogy. This is especially true with there being no reference to the audience in the texts we have.

Problem 3: Using Quotes Grossly Out of Context to Prop-Up the Theory

  • As one who works closely with texts, a problem I am constantly running into is people taking texts out of context by twisting them to mean what they want (exactly why not having the full text of the Mroczkowski letter is so troubling). This is a real and present problem in this theory. I am not sure if this was unintentional or not by the author, but it greatly undermines the supposed support system of this theory.
  • Before we address this we must recognize an equally troubling problem today is people invariably throw out the accusation of something being “taken out of context” when it has in fact not been. I have had people claim I have taken some quotes out of context in my theory, but when I asked for them to support that claim, I get nothing but crickets. It is one thing to claim someone has taken something out of context, it is another thing to prove it. I intend to prove this author has done just that.
  • The author pulls partial quotes out of context from several of Tolkien’s published letter. Moreover, she arranges these quotes to make it appear as if they support her theory, but as we shall see, these quotes actually disprove her theory.
  • Most of these misquotes come from Letters #144 and #153 (and they occur throughout the sections). I will not go through each misquote, but only a few as examples. Let’s look at one particularly bad example. The author wrote about Tom:

“… he represents something that I feel important, …”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #144
“… he represents certain things otherwise left out.”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #153
 And that “something … important” which would otherwise have been “left out” was: ‘the audience’.

  • The formatting of this series of quotes at least implies the author is quoting Tolkien when she writes ‘the audience’ but notice that she does not cite where this quote comes from, which I think, means she is quoting herself. This would be fine, but she should make that clear, because the current format implies more than there actually is.
  • That is not all from this section as the quotes from both Letter 144 and 153 are terribly ripped out of context.
  • In Letter 144 Tolkien does indeed write that Tom “represents something that I feel important” and that he does have some kind of “function”. But in that letter Tolkien tells us exactly what he means by these quotes and it has nothing to do with a play or an audience and yet the author does not include these portions found in the immediate context. Tolkien wrote:

“I might put it this way. The story is cast in terms of a good side, and a bad side, beauty against ruthless ugliness…both sides want a measure of control. But if you have, as it were taken ‘a vow of poverty’, renounced control, yourself, watching, observing, and to some extent knowing, then the question of the rights and wrongs of power and control might become utterly meaningless to you, and the means of power quite valueless. It is a natural pacificist view, which always arises in the mind when there is a war.”- Letter #144

  • So what is so important that Tom “represents” according to Tolkien? A “natural pacificist view”. That is what that quote the author uses to support her view is about—Tom’s function is to represent natural pacifism, not the audience. This quote in no way supports a reading of Tom as the audience.   
  • The author also makes much out of Tolkien conceding that Tom has an “allegorical” role in LotR. She quotes from Letter 153 alongside the discussion above to argue for her point. The problem again is that this taken out of context. Tolkien tells us what Tom is an allegory for and what would be “left out” if he was not in the story. See below:
“He [Tom] is then an ‘allegory’, or an exemplar, a particular embodying of pure (real) natural science: the spirit that desires knowledge of other things, their history and nature, because they are ‘other’ and wholly independent of the enquiring mind, a spirit coeval with the rational mind, and entirely unconcerned with ‘doing’ anything with the knowledge: Zoology and Botany not Cattle-breeding or Agriculture.”- Letter 153

  • So what would be “left out” without Tom? Is it the audience? No, not even close. He is an allegory for is “pure (real) natural science.”
  • As you can see, the selective way in which the author quoted these two letters rips certain phrases out of context in an attempt to prop up her theory. But it does not work because we have the context of these letters.
  • Now you can also see why not having the full context of the Mroczkowski letter is such a problem—people often see what they want to see in a text. But Letters 144 and 153 in context tell us what Tolkien meant by those phrases and we can see they have nothing to do with the audience theory and in reality they undermine her arguments
  • So not only does the Mroczkowski letter provide no foundation to build this theory upon, neither do the published Letters of Tolkien which the author has cited while ignoring the immediate context.  

Problem 4: The Planes of Existence and Tom’s Location at the Beginning of All Things 

  • The author puts forward a view of five planes of existence in Tolkien’s creation: the Universe, the Void, Physical Arda, the Wraith-world, and the Viewing Gallery (or the audience). While I do not want to dive into this all at, suffice it to say there is absolutely no evidence to support the existence of a “Viewing Gallery” plane of existence (as I have established above).
  • But the author tries to solve the problem of Tom being able to see Frodo with the Ring on because Tom exists in multiple planes of reality at once, especially the Viewing Gallery where he can see all. I agree that Tom existing on multiple planes is probably why he can see Frodo when he is wearing the Ring, but the logical solution to this query would not be to invent another unsupported plane of existence. Rather we should see Tom as the Music as I sated in my blog and thus he exists in both the spiritual realm (which we know exists) and the physical realm. There is no evidence to support adding more planes of existence to Tolkien’s world.
  • Along these lines the author puts forward that Tom is “eldest” and saw the first rain and acorn in Middle Earth from the Viewing Gallery before he joined the Physical Plane of Arda. In other words, Tom can say he was “here” before all these events because he was sitting in the Viewing Gallery outside of Physical Arda.
  • This is an interesting solution to a vexing problem, but again there is no support for the Viewing Gallery existing. Why could not the “Viewing Gallery” not just be the Universe, or the Void?
  • Moreover, Tom’s own words when taken in context about seeing these events do not leave us with the option of him not being physically present in Arda at the beginning:

“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, emphasis mine).

  • So Tom says to the Hobbits while he is physically located in the Middle Earth, Tom has been “HERE” since “BEFORE” the river and trees, he “MADE PATHS BEFORE the Big People…He was here when… the elves passed westward, Tom was here already, before the seas were bent…before the Dark Lord came from the outside.”
  • Tom recounts historical events over a vast number of years from creation, to the elves leaving, and in all of this he says plainly “I was here” as he stands in Middle Earth.
  • There is no separation or hint that he at some point transitioned fully into the physical plane in the middle of those statements. No. He “MADE PATHS” in Middle Earth because he was physically there (you can’t do that in the audience)! He did this before the Big People did. Why? Because he was physically present in Arda from the beginning. He did not jump into the Arda halfway through the story, this quote will not allow that as a possibility. He in essence says, “I was here, I made paths, I saw the elves, I saw the Hobbits, and I was here as I am here now.” 

Summary of Part I: 

  • There are many more problems I could cover but I think I have given more than enough to this “rigorous test” to display that it is thoroughly weak and has no foundation.
  • The author continually takes quotes out of context and places the crux of her theory on a letter which she has never read! This is doubly concerning because of how she takes the letters we do have  copies of out of context to support her theory.
  • The author also takes a rigidly literal interpretation of an analogy. She does this because she inserts the word “allegory” in replacement of “analogy” in the reports of the unpublished letter.
  • In short the author says the “cornerstone and crux” of her theory is that the Lord of the Rings is a 1 for 1 allegory of a theatrical play which necessitates an audience. All the evidence supplied to support that theory has been proved to either be taken out of context, poorly interpreted, or based on a game internet telephone of second and third-hand accounts of a private, unpublished letter.
  • Also, Tolkien plainly tells us in Letters #144 and #153 what Tom was an “allegory” for and what would have been “left out” without him—natural science and natural pacifism. Neither of these two letters support the idea that Tom’s secret role was that of the audience.
  • Also, any suggestion that the audience would be neutral to the story being told (which the author makes), or that audience would not “understand the need” (which is true of Tom)  of destroying the Ring is total nonsense. Clearly the audience is sympathetic to the side of good and does understand why the Ring must be removed from the equation. If the audience misses that, they have missed the whole story and Tolkien himself would not be a very good storyteller.
  • There are better solutions to the problems and paradoxes of Tom that do not carry the alarming baggage of this theory inventing a new plane of reality and ignoring Tolkien’s explicit words. For those, read my theory in full here.
  • I think I have left this theory in shambles after only one section because the foundation for the theory is no more.

Part II 
·         We need not spend as much time dissecting this section as all of the arguments in it hinge upon section one’s argument of the play/audience allegory which we have already dispelled. To prove said point the author acknowledges as much at the beginning of this section, “It was Letter #153 that provided an initial clue—but the rarely discussed 1964 correspondence to Przemyslaw Mroczkowski forms the cornerstone of the theory.”

o   As we have seen, the allegorical “hint” she claims to have found is clearly explained in #153 as natural science not an audience. And the Mroczkowski letter has not been read by the author as she relies on second-hand reports about it which clearly say they are NOT directly quoting the letter itself.

o   Therefore, there is no support for the cornerstone of the theory or what follows in section 2.

·         There are several assertions in this section which besides being totally arbitrary, they are inconsistent with each other. A summary of these follows below:

o   Tom supposedly exists in different planes of existence simultaneously including both the Stage and the Viewing Gallery

§  Yet at one point he is “incarnated” into the stage world

o   Tom, as the audience, when he entered the Viewing Gallery received a “playbill” in which he got the general gist of the story and a list of characters, including himself

§  And yet despite having this inside information as the audience, we are told that as the audience he would not care about the Ring!  Having read the playbill would not the audience care about one of the main antagonists of the supposed “play” (the Ring).

§  This is problematic because we know Tom simply did not care about the Ring, as Gandalf puts it, “Such things have no hold on his mind”. Really? The audience of this great play cares not at all about the antagonist and such things have no hold on his mind? Pure nonsense.

o   Tom is also supposedly the ongoing audience even while on the stage, and he can therefore still see the wraith world. The Ring has no effect on him because he is the audience and this is merely a “stage prop” and Tom comes from the audience.

§  The real sticking here point comes from the following statement by the author as she points forward  one of her future sections, “But if Tolkien in finality decided upon full integration…”

§  In Section IV the author argues that Tom is actually an incarnated Maia, that is how Tom is fully integrated into the world. But if this is the case then Tom must play by the rules of a Maia.

§  If Tom is a Maia of Arda, then the Ring is no longer only a “stage-prop” as he is fully integrated to the world. All of sudden she has lost some of her supposed explanatory power from her theory.

§  Also the Maiar and Valar had a vested interest in the outcome of Middle Earth and the Ring clearly would have a hold on their mind, but we are told plainly that this is not true of Tom.

§  All the special rules the author tries to apply to Tom are cast by the wayside when you make him a fully incarnated Maia.

·         Overall, this section is rather fanciful and arbitrary. Because Tom is the audience he can lean over the stage and not get wet, except his boots. Why? Because the author says so.

o   This becomes really contradictory as the author applies it to a different problem. According to the author Tom doesn’t get wet in the rain because he leans off stage, yet note that Tom remains visible while he is supposedly hanging over the edge of the Viewing Gallery. Yet when the author explains why the Ring disappeared when Tom flips it in the air it is because Ring is supposedly tossed into the realm of the Viewing Gallery and then it returns. So Tom in the Viewing Gallery equals visible but not wet, and the Ring in the Viewing Gallery equals invisible. This is vastly inconsistent.

·         The author does try to bring some reason to the equation by stating that Tom’s land must have been on the edge of the stage and the Viewing Gallery, and this is why he could step off the one and come back quickly. Tom allegedly could go into one part of the stage and then hop into the Viewing Gallery, and then appear in a flash in the Barrow-Downs.

o   This is ingenious but it is problematic. For example, anyone who has ever seen a map of Middle-Earth knows that the Old Forest is in the middle of Middle Earth. If Middle Earth is truly the stage, the Old Forest is nowhere near the edge. In fact, according to the author, Tom watched all of creation from the Viewing Gallery, hence the edge of stage and gallery should probably be on the edge of the physical stage of Arda, not in the middle of it.

·         Toward the end of the section the author inexplicably introduces that Tom actually played another secret allegorical role besides the audience. He is also the Orchestra of the play along with Goldberry.

o   The reasons given for this is that Tolkien uses the plural in Letter #153 to refer to Tom’s “certain functions” and “certain things”. Again, Tolkien lists those “certain things” out in that letter and the audience and orchestra are noticeably absent.

·         I am glad that the author acknowledges that one of the major things Tom does is to sing and Tom is all about making music, hence why my theory zeroes in on how Tolkien chose to reveal Tom to us— through music. In other words, there is a better answer to the question that does not bring in this unnecessary baggage of a Tom being both the audience and the Orchestra because of some hidden allegorical role which has no textual support. 

Summary of Part II 

·       In the end, the author says Tom is: the audience, the orchestra, and a Maia. It appears from afar she is throwing things against the wall to see what will stick. Instead of the theory being unified, she has to add to it other elements to explain the vastness of Tom at his core. This is the telltale sign of a theory which lacks explanatory power. It can’t explain this part of Tom? Well he is also (fill-in-theblank).

·       This is demonstrates that her starting location is flawed. If Tom was the audience, then there would no need to add these other secrets to fully explain him, but she must do so because the audience theory does not have the necessary explanatory power and lacks a textual cornerstone.  

Part III 

  • This section I view as the best of the three and for that reason I have little to discuss from it. As with Section II, this section relies heavily on the “crux” of the theory which we have already thoroughly deconstructed.
  • The author writes, “Nevertheless, as far as this investigation goes, even the most skeptical of critics should be able to admit that many of Tolkien’s remarks in his letters, plus those in the novel, do fit an ‘allegory of the audience/orchestra’ hypothesis. And not just fit – but, as seen in Part II, fit it rather well. But beyond this fit, one must realize that the theory is much enhanced because of the way it further enmeshes in enabling us to understand Tom’s seemingly miraculous deeds.” (emphasis mine)
    • As pointed out above, the author has not supplied a credible foundation for her theory. So no, this skeptical critic says, when reasonably considering this theory, that none of what we know about Tom, Middle-Earth, and this theory fit together at all. The foundation has not even been established.  
    • I mean no offense when I say this, but in my estimation this theory has no actual foundation in the world Tolkien, and the author has not (or cannot) supply that foundation.
  • Some of the issues in the story that the author views as problems which need to be explained are explained far more easily than through her theory. Since the author cites Ockham’s Razor several times, I feel it prudent to demonstrate an example of these simpler explanations
    • In one such example she writes, “Why did Tom’s voice appear to coming ‘through the ground’?” The answer is rather simple and it has nothing to do a convoluted audience/orchestra allegory.
    • His voice appears to be coming through the ground because the hobbits are underground in a Barrow. Ockham’s Razor as it were dictates we take this simpler answer.
  • The author cites this from the Return of the King that Tom would, “not [be]… interested in anything [that occurred in Frodo’s journey or that of the company]… unless perhaps in our visit to the Ents…”
    • Now I want you think on that for a moment. Is that an accurate way to describe someone who is the allegory of the audience and/or the orchestra? Certainly not.
    • What kind of audience member displays no interest in the happenings of the main story he is watching?
    • What member of an orchestra of a play would display no interest in the story they are helping to tell?  This is such a great inconsistency that I find the entire idea absurd and quite frankly repulsive.
    • You and I are here today because as the audience of Tolkien’s work we care about even the most minute and obscure detail of the story. Imagine for a second that we were given the opportunity to talk with the stars of the story, would it be an accurate description of us as an audience to say we would not be interested in pretty much all of it? Of course not.
    • Remember the author wrote at the beginning of this theory: “Key or not—ultimately any solution claimed as ‘the answer’ [to Bombadil] must be able to withstand rigorous examinations, leaving no room for inconsistencies (emphasis mine).
    • Well here we have a major inconsistency, at one point we are told Tom is the audience who is so enthralled with the world that he desires to become a part of it, and later we are told he cares not for most of the main story! This inconsistency is simply breathtaking and it establishes yet again the weakness of this theory.  

Summary of Section III

  • I will not address anymore from this section, I found a lot of good in it for me to chew on. But the same weaknesses are evident from the earlier sections. I did not address all the problems in this section (or the any of the sections), but I did address some of what I view to be key problems. This leaves us with just one more section. 
Part IV- The Encoding of the Lord of the Rings 


  • In this section the author introduces the idea that Tom is one of the Maiar. Her support for this assertion is lacking and based on what appears to at least be akin to a conspiracy theory that there is a hidden code in the text. This code turns out to be nothing more than a supposed anagram, which leads to the author promoting her own book on the subject.
  • This section rather reminds of me the commercials I have seen in the past that insist there is a secret code in the Christian Bible that can now be unlocked! I do not believe those commercials, nor do I believe this section.
  • I will be addressing five problems I found in this section (note that is not all of the problems I have with this section, but it is enough to establish the weaknesses of this theory). Please note them below: 

Problem 1: Applicability or Allegory

  • In the Humor and Secrecy subsection the author acknowledges that it is difficult to know whether Tom was meant as an allegory or a case of applicability.
  • Here again she settles on allegory. She writes, “Unfortunately this is extremely difficult to unerringly resolve as it involves understanding a thought process that only Tolkien would have been able to explain and convey… And so it appears that in finality (at least to the point publication began), the Professor was unable to justify a case for ‘applicability’ even to himself: “… he is then an ‘allegory’ …”.”
    • The problem here is well worth stating again and it is not that difficult to figure out. Tolkien plainly stated that Tom was an allegory for “pure (real) natural science.” (Letter 153)
    • There is no need for us to “put ourselves fully” in Tolkien’s shoes. He told us plainly what Tom was an allegory for and that should be enough to settle the question. This quote, which she uses for the justification that Tom is an allegory for the audience/orchestra, tells us he is an allegory for pure and natural science.
    • This matter should be considered fully resolved as Tolkien has been clear on the allegory subject.
  • She continues this line of thought on Tom’s ‘mysterious’ allegorical roots in the subsection The Lying the Itch and the Word Road. I know not why she belabors this so much when the context around the statement of allegory is explained explicitly. Perhaps it is because without it the theory has lost a major part of its supposed foundation.
  • This leads to an almost Freudian slip where the author writes, “Rather than focus too heavily on The Letters, perhaps, in this instance it is best to just rely on his carefully selected work per trusted canon.” Wow. So the parts of the Letters where the author himself interprets his work, we should just ignore! Why? Perhaps it is because as I have pointed out repeatedly, the Letters cited by author actually thoroughly disprove her theory.
  • I do applaud the author for the clever title of this subsection; sadly that is the best part. 

Problem 2: Gandalf is a Maia so Tom Must be Too!

  • In her subsection A Trail of Subtle Hints the author asserts that Tolkien has left us some clues as to what Tom really is—a Maia. The evidence put forward in this section is weak and circumstantial at best.
  • First she quotes Gandalf in The Return of the King, “He [Tom] is a moss-gather, and I have been a stone doomed to rolling.” Her argument is that this analogy clearly teaches that both Tom and Gandalf are stones and thus they both must be of the same genus/origin. Since we know Gandalf is a Maia, Tom is clearly one as well.
  • How has Tolkien fandom missed something so clear? How could so many scholars miss this, how could the thousands of words online about Tom missed something so crucial and plain about what Tom is? The answer is simple: we didn’t miss anything. The analogy here is one of their activity and role, not their race/genus.
  • The stress in the analogy is in the action of Gandalf versus the inaction of Tom. It has nothing to do with their respective races. Gandalf could say the same statement about Him and Manwe, or him and Butterbur, and it would be equally true. Manwe and Butterbur “gathered moss” during this age as they did not move around. But Gandalf was doomed to role as an agent of Manwe. This analogy in no way supports that Tom and Gandalf must be the same race/genus as the analogy is equally true across the lines of race/genus.
    • In fact, their roles seem to point in the opposite direction of the author’s conclusion. Tom is a moss-gatherer, and it appears he one by choice. He is after all his own “master” but Gandalf as a Maia of Manwe is not his own master. Gandalf was commanded to go to Middle Earth to combat Sauron (against his initial desires) and thus his role as a Maia in Middle Earth is that he is “doomed to role.” Granted, Saruman does not roll, but he settled in Orthanc in disobedience of his mission.
    • When considering the idea of Tom being his own master it is hard to conceive of any Maia making that claim. The Maiar are the people of the Valar and each one we know of is assigned under the rule of said Valar as their boss. Gandalf to Manwe. Saruman and Sauron (initially) to Aule, the Balrogs to Melkor. No Maia is his own master as is partially displayed by Gandalf being doomed to role in his service to Manwe. Tom though has no master and is thus able to gather moss.  
  • There is another quote Gandalf gives us in The Treason of Isengard about his relationship to Tom which further distances them. Granted this text is not canon, but it does give us a glimpse into how Tolkien thought about Gandalf’s relationship to Tom. Gandalf says about Tom, "He belongs to a much older generation, and my ways are not his".
  • Notice that Tom comes from a “much older generation” than Gandalf. This would be an odd description of two Maia, but this could be a reference to their physical appearance in Middle Earth. Nonetheless, Gandalf distances himself even further from Tom, “my ways are not his”. It is clear this text is intentionally putting distance between Gandalf and Tom so much so that is it hard to conceive of them both being Maia.
  • This is further demonstrated by the fact that Tom does not play by the rules of a Maia. How can a Maia be fatherless and eldest? How can a Maia be his own master?
  • If Tom is a Maia then why do none of the rules of being an incarnated Maia in Middle Earth apply to him? Why are Gandalf and Saruman tempted by the Ring and under its power and yet Tom, a fellow Maia is not (Tolkien writes in Letter 153 that the power over everyone involved including the Wizards is and emissaries is real). If Tom and Gandalf share a common lineage and genus then we should expect the same results for them and the Ring! But any reading of The Fellowship of the Ring (especially the Shire chapters, Tom’s chapters, and the Council of Elrond) displays Tom relationship with the Ring differs vastly from that of the Maiar we encounter.
  • The only answer the author can give for Tom’s non-Maiar like behavior is that he is the audience therefore the Ring has no power over him because it is a ‘stage prop.’ So is he a Maia or no? If Tom is a Maia and thus fully integrated into the world (that is the play and the stage if you will) then he must play by the Maia rules. To all of this we must say, if Tom really is a Maia, then a Maia he must be fully or he is no Maia at all. One cannot simply have her cake and eat it too.  

Problem 3: “I am a…” Equals Tom is a Maia

  • This argument is one of the strangest yet. In the same section of subtle hints, the author says that when Tom asks Frodo “Tell me, who are you, alone, yourself and nameless?” That Frodo would theoretically think in his head, “I am a…” which is an anagram for “Maia”. Note this is not in the book, it is inferred by the author alone.
  • Well besides the “I am a…” not being in the text at all, this is nothing more than wild speculation. The hobbits are asked several times what they are, including by Treebeard, in fact the question could be asked by any of us! This is no way suggests that the person asking such a question would necessarily be a Maia.
  • Tolkien tells us in his letters that the point of this conversation between Tom and Frodo is that it is a comment on the mystery of names, not races/genus. We would be wise to stick with that instead of inferring from some hypothetical answer not found in the text that there is some hint that Tom is a Maia.
  • Also notice the correct sentence structure of answering this question, “I am a…” as that will become important in the fourth problem.

Problem 4: The Mystery of Names
  • In her The Mystery of Names subsection the author rightly points out that Tom gives us the answer to who he is, “Don’t you know my name yet? That’s the only answer…”
  • To this the author will later incorporate all the names given to Tom and turn them into anagram to solve this “riddle”. The problems here are many but I will not address the anagram question until the next problem.
  • The problem I do want to address is the only name Tom is referencing when he said that was Tom Bombadil. That is the name he calls himself, that is the name Goldberry calls him. In fact Tom says, “name” not “names”. The reader, and Frodo, have no idea there are other “names” at this point and Tom uses the singular and not the plural. It would take a massive taking out of context of this statement to make this fit a four name anagram.
  • In fact, there is a better answer to this question provided by my own theory. That with Tolkien the origin and root meaning of names often tell us something about the subject they represent. And in the case of Tom Bombadil, his name, the only answer to the riddle, points us to music.

Problem 5: The Anagram Hunt Continues with All of Tom’s Names

  • The author proposes that there is a hidden message in all four names given to us for Tom (Tom Bombadil, Orald, Forn, & Iarwain Ben-adar). According to her these can be rearranged to give us the answer to the riddle: “Warn Bilbo and Frodo I be a Maia- Ronald T”. The author suggests something so clear could not possibly be a coincidence. I am not persuaded that this is some secret message to us by Tolkien. Why? Let me give you four reasons:

1.       Why include Bilbo? The author suggests this is because Bilbo is one of the authors of the Red Book. That is true enough, but Bilbo is only the author of The Hobbit (There and Back Again) portion of the book.  Bilbo did not write the section which concerns Tom. So his inclusion here makes little sense. In fact, Sam also wrote in the Red Book, he kept the Red Book, and he encountered Tom personally. It would make far more sense for Sam to be included than Bilbo in this ‘secret’ message.

2.      Poor Grammar- I do not know if you have any friends who are linguists and/or grammar snobs but if you do you will understand this objection. Perhaps you are one yourself (in such a case I apologize for my writing). I have several friends who fall into the category of linguists and one thing which they obsess over is correct grammar. They are quick to point out to me any grammatical error. Tolkien being a very accomplished linguist was sure to have a high regard for proper grammar especially if he were to sign something. This is important as the sentence says, “I be a Maia” not “I am a Maia”. This is furthered by the authors insistence that answering the “Who am I” question should be answered by saying “I am a” (see problem 3 for more information). Here is yet another inconsistency for the author. If Tolkien were going to go through all the work of making up names to give us the identity of Tom, I am sure he would have done so with correct grammar as it would not have been very difficult to do if you are making up names. So it appears the author of this theory has forced a supposed-fit into these names resulting in poor grammar. This does not accurately represent an accomplished linguist such as Tolkien. Perhaps this then is not an anagram.

3.       Tolkien Never Signs His Name Like This- The signature “–Ronald T” is troubling. In looking over Tolkien’s Letters, he never signs his name in such a manner. He only ever abbreviates his last name if he is abbreviating his entire name (i.e. JRRT).  Again, here is a signal that this hidden anagram is being forced where it does not belong. If Tolkien wanted to sign it would be more likely he would have put in JRRT or he would have worked his last name into the anagram instead of having all the unnecessary words found in the current theory. Moreover, Tolkien has said himself “Ronald” is reserved for his close family. He wrote, “But for myself I remained John. Ronald was for my near kin” (Letter #309). For public work, professional work, or someone he is not close to, Tolkien uses John or JRR Tolkien. This is not written to “near kin”, therefore this is highly suspicious he would refer to himself as ‘Ronald’. Again, it appears this anagram is being forced where it does not belong.

4.       The Phrasing Suggests More than Just Tom- The way this sentence reads, “Warn Bilbo and Frodo I be a Maia- Ronald T” implies that Tolkien is intimately involved with this statement. This should mean either Tolkien is a Maia or Tom is Tolkien who is a Maia. Remember it says “I be a Maia” and then it is signed by Tolkien. Who is the “I”? Well, going back to proper grammar this is in the first person and then is supposedly signed by Tolkien. In other words, Tolkien is allegedly writing a secret message and uses “I” which means the “I” must be understood as Tolkien himself. This demonstrates that either this is no secret message or that it is in reference to a Tolkien and Tom being the same person who happens to be a Maia. If it is the second option, then Tom cannot be the audience (because he is the author) and this theory is debunked. To put the nail in the proverbial coffin Tolkien states clearly there is no representation of him in Middle-Earth hence why the popular Author theory is doomed to failure. Here again the supposedly secret message is displayed to be forced upon a text where it simply does not belong.

 Summarizing Thoughts 
  1. The “cornerstone” and “crux” is at best incomplete and at worst an unreliable game of internet telephone based upon an unpublished letter none of us have read. The author builds her argument from this letter based on secondhand reports in internet chatrooms. This is unquestionably a terrible foundation to build a theory upon.
  2. Even if these secondhand reports which constitute the “cornerstone” and “crux” of the theory are accurate, they make no reference to the audience at all! In fact, the wording we have in these reports imply we are the audience and Tom is a part of the play we are to ignore as a “chink” in the scenery.
  3. The author continually ignores that Tolkien in his Letters, which she partially quotes, tells us what Tom is an allegory for—and it is not the audience. These Letters she quotes to help prop up her theory actually do not advance her theory but rather they undermine it completely.
  4. The author arbitrarily applies the audience concept in contradictory ways. If Tom can lean off stage to not get wet, but he is still visible to the hobbits, then why is Tom flipping the Ring off-stage cause it to become invisible? If Tom is the audience which fell in love with Middle Earth, then why do we learn in the RotK that Tom would care about almost nothing of the main quest?
  5. If Tom is indeed a Maia, then he must be one fully. If he is a Maia who is the representation of the audience, he still remains a Maia who should function in a similar way with the Ring as other Maiar do (Saruman, Gandalf, and Sauron). Yet it is clear Tom’s relationship with the Ring is very different.
  6. The supposed “secret” messages to us in the text do not stand up to scrutiny. The more we examine the supposed anagrams the more problems we find.
  7. In the end, the author never credibly established the cornerstone of her theory. Without it being established the rest of the theory falls by the wayside as it displays contradictions and guesswork rooted in incomplete quotes or supposed secret messages that do not pass close examination.
  8. While this theory is vast, it is not rooted enough in the text to be considered legitimate. There is no foundation that was established from either the text or Tolkien's writings all-the-while this theory lacks consistency and explanatory power. For these reasons, I find it to be an illegitimate theory. I still hold that my theory offers a better explanation which has far less baggage. The strength of my theory is that it explains the core of characteristics of Tom as he is revealed to us by Tolkien—he is the Music.

P.S. If you somehow made it through all of my theory, all of her theory, and this ridiculously longer than intended response, bravo! You are truly a dedicated Tolkien fan!


1 comment:

  1. Let me just say that I *have* made it through both the essay on your theory and the Tom-as-the-audience theory, and others besides, and feel vastly improved by it! My own name is Tom, and am a composer/musician as well as an actor and stage hand (and of course a massive massive Tolkien fan), and have thoroughly enjoyed all of it. Bombadil remains my favorite character in the entire series and, while I believe your theory points closest to the truth, I really love the interpretation of him as a stand-in for the audience. As an amateur writer myself, I think in a lot of our analyses we can forget that many (often unknown) influences come into play, and - despite our efforts to be as consistent and clear as possible in our own minds, even with an intent to be unclear to the reader - it is virtually impossible to remove all the 'quirks' and unknowable themes that drive a character into being, especially one such as Tom Bombadil. I agree that without his character there would be a certain vital wildness, an almost out of place abandon and frivolity, rooted in something seemingly so deep as to be impossible to uncover, that would be sorely missing from Tolkien's world. There is a point where, even as an author, or a composer, you can know so much about an idea that you lose the wonderful mystery that brought you to it in the first place. I believe Tom fills that crucial role. And reading works such as yours and others' shows that without him, much of the deeper, impactful meaning and effect of Tolkien's writing would be lost. So thank you, and thanks to all the other theorists out there who love the world of Arda and it's greater mythology.