Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Tom as the Music of the Ainur: Conclusion

(What follows is post 9 of 11 exploring the mystery of Tom Bombadil)



Conclusion


     At the end of this long journey it is time to reflect on what we have learned. The three major theories have been weighed, measured, and have been found wanting. The theory that Tom is the Incarnated Spirit of the Music of the Ainur succeeds where the others fail. Music, as we have seen, is crucial to everything Tom is and everything he does. This theory has the advantage of basing itself on the very essence and core of how Tolkien chose to portray Bombadil. Also, this theory has the benefit of having textual warrant for Tolkien himself alludes to other orders of spirits entering Middle Earth, some almost as powerful as the Valar. Tom fits this category perfectly so the question becomes, “how do we best talk about him?” Is he a spirit of the Forest? No, for his power goes well beyond the forest. Is he a Spirit of the entire earth? No, for that does not explain his power over demons nor his dying if Sauron should win the war. Indeed, Tom must be seen as he has been revealed to us, a rather quirky man who cannot separate anything in his life from song, even his choice of a bride! The best explanation is that he is the Spirit of the Music.

     This theory should be considered a legitimate theory alongside the other three. Yet in my estimation this theory is stronger than the other theories examined above. In no way do I claim to have settled the argument but rather to have put forward a new perspective on Tom that gives fuller and more coherent answers than its predecessors. Ultimately, Tom is an enigma, and as such we should approach this discussion with care. But we can weigh the options and find which one best fits the evidence presented in Tolkien’s works. It is clear that the Valar and Maiar theories are fatally flawed and should be abandoned. So the argument really comes to Nature Spirit theory versus the Incarnated Spirit of the Music theory. These theories are very close to one another yet the evidence in this paper clearly shows that the incarnation model is more plausible to what we know of Tom because it can answer all the questions better, it has fewer inconstancies, and it takes into account the very essence of Tom as he is portrayed. Indeed, Tolkien wrote that he included Tom in the story because if Tom was not there something would be lost. Surely, nature spirits are still found in Middle Earth without Tom, but Tom’s unique relationship to the Music and his unique power through music would be lost if he did not appear. As Tom said of himself, “Can you hear him singing?”[1]

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

[1] FOTR, The Old Forest, 168.

27 comments:

  1. This was simply amazing! Congratulations on writing such a good essay... Having read the Silmarillion 20 times, all of this made such good sense! I think that your theory is spot-on :)

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  2. Dean thank you for your kind words. It means a lot to have the support of such a well read Tolkien fan! Please feel free to share this with other fans!

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  3. Quite simply brilliant. Although I've not read the Silmarillion (yet), I did research each new name, such as Valar, Maiar, The music of Ainur etc, as they came up in your essay. I've read The Lord of the Rings a few times and each time I wonder who/what is Tom Bombadill, and I think your evidence is fairly solid! Well done, and thankyou for a few hours of entertainment which gave me a deeper understanding of Tolkeins world :)

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  4. I've also considered the possibility that Tom might be the Music of the Ainur. I don't say that to try and claim any credit for the theory - whereas I mused about the possibility once or twice, you've done the (superbly researched) work of actually working it through, presenting it coherently, and weighing it against the prevailing alternate theories. But the fact that it's possible for two people to conceive of the idea independently based on the evidence of the text suggests to me that it's not just you seeing things - you can definitely tease out this concept from the text as it stands.

    The bit which made me consider the possibility is the reference to Tom falling to Sauron last. If Sauron did want to systematically destroy everything that was good in Middle-Earth, then the final stage of that would have to be a direct attack on the Music itself - because once the Music is snuffed out the very metaphysical underpinning of goodness has been killed. Conversely, if Tom were a nature spirit, Sauron wouldn't need to defeat him - once he had corrupted the world enough Tom as an avatar of the world would be corrupted in turn. You can imagine an Arda in which the Discord has become so strong that the forces of nature are entirely under the command of Sauron, but which still has a few pockets of elves and humans and so on holding out. You can't imagine the benign forces of Arda continuing if the Song has been smothered.

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  5. Also, when it comes to Tom not taking the Ring seriously enough to be a reliable guardian: in addition to the points you raise, could this be precisely because of the Ring being so alien to his nature?

    Whilst he is clearly some sort of intelligent creature who can suss out on an intellectual level what the Ring is and where it comes from and all that, at the same time it's not part of the Music he represents, and so it isn't really part of his worldview or his consciousness. He wouldn't be deliberately negligent of it, but he couldn't make taking care of it a major factor of his duties because that's not what the Music is about. Indeed, arguably it would be very hard for Tom to deviate in a long-term way from his routine because I imagine it's set already by the Music itself; the contraction of his sphere of influence might indeed be representative of the fading of the Music in the face of the Discord before Iluvatar (or the Children of Iluvatar) step in to definitively drown out the Discord.

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  7. A fascinating and well-researched theory! I've always believed Tom was a key character and it was truly sad for him to be left out of the films. I'm still not totally convinced that he is not Aule, but your construction does answer many questions and conundrums. He is too powerful to be a Maia or a simple spirit and Tolkien told us he's not Iluvatar, so that leaves had only left the option of Aule. I'd never considered the Music itself, but it does make good sense. Thanks for taking the time to write and share. Music is a glorious gift of God and a language that everyone can understand. That could be another of the wonderful deep and profound meanings to Tolkien's work. And, interestingly, if Tom is the music, what would the LOTR movies be without Howard Shore's brilliant scores? Bravo.

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  8. Jason:

    I am glad you enjoyed the read, if you want further reading on why Tom cannot be Aule (I really do believe this is the weakest theory) please check out this essay by Steuard Jense: http://tolkien.slimy.com/essays/BombadilIsNotAule.html There willbe some overlap but all-in-all I believe he does an excellent job of demonstrating the impossibility of Tom being Aule.

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  9. Worthy knight of Arnor! The Intertubes are awash in sophomoric diatribes purporting to grok Tolkien's legacy. When I occasionally peruse TheOneRing.Net I am often appalled. But having glanced at their recent Bombadil posting I accessed your referenced link. It has been a while since I've read as enjoyable a dissertation. Ranger from the North, praise him with great praise!

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  10. Solid work. You've changed my mind. Good evidence!

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  11. Fantastic essay. You have obviously thought this out and have totally convinced me that your theory is correct. Wonderful job. The best thing is that understanding Tom Bombadil is this way reveals what an important character he is and illuminates his reason for being in the story in the first place. I have always thought that the old forest, Tom Bombadil part of the story was the most boring section of LOTR but now it makes much more sense in a way that the other theories do not. Thank you and Bravo.

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  12. Amazing essay! Spent a good portion of my evening last night reading it in its entirety. For the time being, it's my favorite point-of-departure regarding Bombadill. Your points are solidly supported by the writings (and as you say, Tom himself!) and it really is the easiest explanation (should we decide to put legs on this snake) of Tom. There are many greats points of information; my favorite was the etymology of Tom's name. Great job! I look forward to reading more of your essays.

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  13. Amazing! Such eloquence and reason and logic. Well done on this minor masterpiece!

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  14. A great essay with many strengths - great job! I do think there are two problems that need addressing:

    Eldest and Fatherless. Taken at face value does this not imply Tom existed before the Ainur... and even before the Song? (One could make a case that Tom was only speaking about Middle Earth, but...)
    Knowledge of the East: If Tom is both the Music of the Ainur AND is healing Melkor's Discord, would he not have to have SOME knowledge of what is going on in Mordor?

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    1. Scott, great questions. here is my response. First, I do not think it means that Tom had to exist before the Ainur, nor do I think he had to exist before Eru, rather Tom is the first to exist within creation because he is linked to the creation act itself. he is fatherless in that no Ainur specifically is responible for his creation, or is over him (like Yavanna is over wild things and Aule is over craft-work).

      Second, yes Tom's knowledge fails out east, I mean he does know a little bit of what is occurring (that Sauron exists and is trying for domination) but his knowledge that fails is that of his ability to do anything about it. For instance, Tom says he "knows the tune" for Old Man Willow, but his knowledge, in this sense, for correcting (deafeating evil) out east fails. Why? Because as we read in the creation account, discord of Melkor and the music of the Ainur were like "two musics at utter variance" and the good could not overcome the evil. It is only through the intervention of Eru that the Discord is defeated. I hope that answers your questions

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    2. I've been very amazed with your theory and the very solid reasearch and arguments, that you've put into it. But this to me is not adequately addressed and deserves closer scrutiny. Illuvatar is the father of all, yet Tom is fatherless. If Tolkien has put this attribute into Tom's name AND the other into Illuvatar's name, I'd suspect he is intending to deepen the riddle with a contradiction of the mythical fabric itself. If you were to inspect your own theory with the same analytical shaprness that you've inspected the others, would you find your answer above satisfactory?

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    4. Your question about Fatherless is a good question. But let us look at our options here. No matter what theory you adopt, besides Tom being Iluvatar, you have this same problem of him not being “fatherless” because he would have a creator. If Tom is a Maia, a Vala, a Nature Spirit, the Flame Imperishable, etc. he is still created for there is only one who was not created, Iluvatar. Now you may think that means we should adopt the Iluvatar theory but we simply cannot for Tolkien plainly said that is not an option! So clearly Tolkien did not mean for Fatherless to be understood as Tom being eternal/uncreated or him be Iluvatar. So what options are we left with?
      Well clearly “fatherless” does not mean eternal/uncreated as you suggest it might mean. Tom, like everyone else in Middle Earth, had a beginning. So what does the term mean? It is best understood in context with being Eldest and first in time in Arda. There was none before Tom in Middle Earth. Now all of the above theories would recognize this understanding of “fatherless” (minus the invalid Iluvatar theory) and thus we are all on equal footing in explaining the idea of him being fatherless.
      Where I think the Music theory is better is that if Tom is the incarnation of the Music, then his creation was utterly unique and he would be the first living being in Middle Earth. Tom is Fatherless and Eldest in Middle Earth as his origins are its existence, he “is” as it were. So yes I do believe that when examined with analytical sharpness and understanding of all that Tolkien wrote that this theory still stands strong with the idea of Tom being fatherless. We know that the term was not meant to communicate him as the creator God, because Tolkien has told us so. So any interpretation of “Fatherless” that goes the route of him being uncreated/eternal is a misunderstanding of what Tolkien meant by the term. Therefore we must adopt the understanding of Fatherless which understands it as his origin in Arda/Middle Earth.

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  15. I believe Tom is the embodiment of the Notes of the Music and Goldberry is the embodiment of the flowing of time. Tom, in an ancestral way, existed before (or parallel) to the creator as he could be called on at any time. He is literally a 'one note' character. His physical embodiment began as soon as creation did, (I believe he actually is the 'echo' of the Music left in the oceans) but was rather meaningless until, he spied Goldberry's physical conception, rustling reeds in a pool. (Think about it. Pools are silent. During creation though, from oceans rivers began to run. Flowing. Creating Time. Giving context to the beings on the most physical plane of Middle Earth.) Goldberry's physical description as a woman sitting in a pool, repetitively combing her hair just seems to shout this at me, even without further research.

    The Ring doesn't affect or worry Tom, because a note without time (and ordering and context), even amplified a million times, is still just silence. When Creation ended (If the Discord was allowed to win, the opposite of music) Tom would be the last thing left after 'time' ended: silence.

    I'd like to expand on Ungoliant as well. I believe Ungoliant is the embodiment of darkness, similarly to Tom and Goldberry, but is the widow (or widower, if you prefer) of light (Just as Notes and Time or Flow are intertwined, there is no light without darkness or vice versa. The difference is one group will always be self preserving and the other group will always be at odds) Ungoliant's need to suck the embodiment of light out of existence is eventually somewhat succesful and leads to a de-facto banishment of darkness, which replaces the backdrop of darkness with a backdrop of light unmarred by shadow.

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  16. PS The things mentioned in the song that summon him are all re-compositions of creation. Hills do not just appear, and neither does wood, or fire. But none of them have any meaning or are even possible without time.

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  17. PPS I think Tom Bombadil's territory being the only lands left unexplored by the races of Middle Earth is less causation and more correlation. Creation, untouched by man, is the limit of his domain. His hateful forest could reclaim creation from man, hence his seeming 'self limitation'.

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  18. also Shelob was unaffected by the Ring as Ungoliant would be. Okay I'm sorry I'll go to sleep now.

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  19. Whether this is relevant or not I don't know, but the name "Tom" comes from "Thomas", which originates from the Aramaic name for "Twin", also being the nickname of one of the 12 disciples of Jesus. "Twin" could make a little sense here, if Tom is to be portrayed as the embodiment of one of the two diametrically opposed but coexistent musics in Tolkien's world.

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    1. I think the twin path might be the way to go.

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  21. This was fantastic. I've read LOTR only twice but both times I the Tom Bombadil section felt awkward and out of place to me. Understanding Tom's role makes me enjoy the books even more which I didn't think was possible. Thanks!

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