Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Tom Bombadil as the Music of the Ainur

(What follows is post 7 of 11 exploring the mystery of Tom Bombadil)

Tom as the Incarnated Spirit of the Music of the Ainur

     Since we can safely conclude that Tom is not a Vala, a Maia, nor a nature spirit; the question becomes what kind of incarnated spirit is he? How we do determine what type of spirit he is? The answer is rather simple, spirits are determined by that which is most central to their character and function. For Tom, his character is powerful yet limited, oldest, first and last, and rather joyful. He functions with and is in close relation to music from the moment we meet him. So when asking, "What type of Spirit is Tom since he is none of the above?" The most logical way to answer is to look at how he acts and to look at the very essence of how he is presented to us by Tolkien.That is what this theory attempts to do. It should be noted that from the time Tom is introduced during the Old Man Willow encounter to his exit just before Bree there are over fifty references to and/or occurrences of singing, songs, music, etc. The statistical data alone is significant and shows how central music is to Tom's character and function.

     Before launching into this theory a definition of terms is in order. When saying that Tom is incarnated I simply mean he is found in the flesh, he is a spirit who has taken on flesh much like Gandalf and Saruman have. Being the Spirit of the Music of the Ainur he has a unique relationship with the Music that no one else does; indeed, that is the very essence of his being and life. It also needs to be plainly stated that I am not suggesting that Tom is the totality of the Music of the Ainur. I will say that again, Tom is not the totality of the Music for there are many things which occur via the Music including all of the history of Arda. Rather, he is the Spirit who represents the Music much like a nature spirit would represent a certain aspect of Nature: Spirits find their origin from the aspect they are connected too and are thus intimate with it. For example, if Goldberry is the spirit of the Brandywine River we can clearly see that her origin and intimacy lie with the actual River. Her identity would thus be tied up with it, but she would not be the totality of the Brandywine River. Much in the same way nature spirits function I suggest Tom is the Spirit of the Music of the Ainur. This explanation carries with it less baggage than saying Tom is the embodiment of Arda (as pointed out in the nature spirit section) and it provides many advantages which will be explored later.

     There are at least three objections which must be addressed before fleshing out this theory. The first of which is one the nature spirit theory must also answer, is there any textual grounding for inserting spirits that are not clearly laid out by Tolkien (Valar & Maiar)? Because my theory is closely related to the nature spirit theory the texts used against this objection are the same as theirs. In other words, we rely upon the same texts but our explanation of Tom’s essence and character differs. Tolkien leaves the door open for other “unknown” varieties of spirits in multiple locations. First, there is Ungoliant, who will be addressed more later, who is described by Tolkien in The Silmarillion, “The Eldar knew not whence she came; but some have said that in ages long before she descended from the darkness about Arda…” (The Darkening of Valinor, 77). Her species is clearly in question and much like Tom she is a mystery. Secondly, Tolkien when describing the Aratar (the highest 8 ruling Valar) and their commissioning to Arda he writes of the Maiar and other spirits:
"Eight remain, The Aratar, the High Ones of Arda: Manwe and Varda, Ulmo, Yavanna and Aule, Mandos, Nienna, and Orome. Though Manwe is their King and holds their allegiance under Eru, in majesty they are peers, surpassing beyond compare all others, whether of the Valar and the Maiar, or of any other order that Iluvatar has sent into Ea."[1]
It is clear that Tolkien leaves the door open for other orders of spirits besides the Valar and Maiar.

     Tolkien also writes of the Valar shaping Middle Earth and that they called to themselves other companions of various kinds, “and the Valar drew unto them many companions, some less, some well nigh as great as themselves, and they laboured together in the ordering of the Earth and the curbing of its tumults” (Silmarillion, 11). It is clear that other spirits were there in Middle Earth and were used to help in the ordering of the planet. These spirits were neither Valar nor Maiar. It is here, that we find a textual grounding for other spirits, some of which were almost as powerful as the Valar themselves. Is this not an adequate description of Tom? Almost as powerful as a Valar yet not quite. Tom must be one of these spirits because as demonstrated above he cannot be a Maiar nor a Valar. So the question becomes how do we best speak of Tom as one of these other spirits? There are also the occurrences of the Stone Giants, the Watchers, Cahadras, the Ents, and the Barrow-wights which seem to point to other spirits existing than the Maiar and the Valar.

     The second objection is: isn’t Middle Earth the incarnation of the music and therefore there is no need to speak of any other? While in a sense it is true that Arda is the incarnation of the Music, there is also a clear distinction drawn by Tolkien between the cosmos of Arda and the Music of the Ainur. In the creation account, Iluvatar teaches the Ainur the themes of music and eventually he teaches them the Great Theme.[2] But in this singing they are shown a vision of the creation that was to come, but it was not yet created, “Iluvatar said to them: ‘Behold your music!’ And he showed them a vision, giving to them sight where before was only hearing” (Silmarillion, 6). The Valar are given a vision of what the music will create, sight where there was only hearing before. This division is picked up again:
While the Ainur were yet gazing upon this vision, it was taken away from them that in that moment they perceived a new thing, Darkness, which they had not known before except in thought[3]…but Iluvatar called to them, and said: ‘I knew the desire of your minds that what ye has seen should verily be, not only in thought, but even as ye yourselves are, and yet other. Therefore I say: Ea! Let these things be!’ (Silmarillion, 9).
     Iluvatar communicates that he will give life, through the Flame Imperishable and the Music. But the Music itself is not Middle Earth, it is merely the means through which Middle Earth was created. This is picked up again when the Elves say the Music of the Ainur lives still in the echoes of the water of Middle Earth (Silmarillion, 8). Clearly here we can see that Middle Earth exists during history yet the Music is not there anymore as it once was yet there remains an echo of that Music in the water. The Music and the creation are undoubtedly intimately related but there remains a distinction. Notice it is a distinction not a separation. They are like two sides of the same coin intimately linked yet distinguishable. And in many senses the fact that Music is the means of creation should not surprise us that it then also would be represented by a Spirit in Middle Earth, in this way this theory is close to the nature spirit theory which claims Tom is the Spirit of Middle Earth.

      A third possible objection is the idea of Tom being an incarnation of the Music is too close to the Christian doctrine of the incarnation of the Word. There are several distinctions here between my theory of Tom as the Music and the Christian doctrine of Jesus as the Word. First, I am not asserting that Tom shares in the divinity or essence of Iluvatar any more than that of a Valar or Maiar would. Second, it should not surprise a reader of Tolkien to find Christian themes in his work that are close to Christian doctrines yet ultimately utterly different. This occurs time and time again in his work for example Frodo bearing the weight of the World's sin, yet Frodo himself falls prey to it. The theme of resurrection is applied several times in Tolkien's mythology (Gandalf, Beren, Glorfindel). The list could go on but it need not. So while Tom as the spirit of the Music may sound similar to the Christian doctrine of the incarnation, it need not be that way for that is not how I intend it.

Now that the initial objections have been dealt with it is about time we begin to lay out the theory. As mentioned above we have established there is textual basis for talking about other Spirits besides the Valar and the Maiar. It is clear that Tom's status as an enigma and his inability to fit in to what we know of the Valar and Maiar that he is indeed one of these other spirits. So the question becomes, “how do we best explain what we know of Tom as revealed to us in LOTR? What type of Spirit is he?” As stated earlier the idea of him being linked solely to the Forest or just Middle Earth is full of issues and inconsistencies. So below I will lay out the textual support for Tom as the Incarnated Spirit of the Music of the Ainur.

Building the Theory

Tom and his constant singing

     In order to define what type of spirit any-given spirit actually is, one must deal with the very core of who they are in what they do (how they function).[4] It is best to describe what they are as what they are most closely related to, or what they are most intimate with. For example, if Old Man Willow is a spirit, then it would be easy to point out that he is a spirit of the trees or woods for he functions primarily in his essence in this manner. Or if Goldberry is a nature spirit, she must be a spirit of the water, for she is called "the River Woman's Daughter", as it were because she functions in the manner of a river/water spirit. Finally, the Balrogs are spirits who are described in their essence as Spirits of fire, exactly how they appear and function. Tom on the other hand does not appear nor function as spirit of the earth nor of the forest, as argued earlier. He appears as a human-like figure not a tree nor a river. He battles against the forest and takes the form of a man. We are told he lays bare the hearts of trees and they were, "often dark and strange and filled with hatred of things that go about free upon the earth" (FoTR, In the House of Tom Bombadil, 180); Tom on the other hand is not evil nor full of hatred, he is described as a "merry fellow." Rather than Tom being intimate with the forest we find he is intimately related to music. At his very essence Tom must sing much like the Balrogs must be of shadow and flame. Tom is introduced by his singing, he cannot help but sing while doing the everyday tasks from running to making meals. Indeed, if you take away his incessant singing you would take away what makes Tom Bombadil uniquely Tom Bombadil. Tom cannot be rightly understood apart from his affinity to song. This is why much ink has been spilled on trying to make him a Valar or Maiar because these theorists rightly recognize Tom’s unique relationship with the Music of creation that the Valar and Maiar sang, but these theories fall short elsewhere. Also, these theories miss the simple reality that any spirit in Middle Earth is best described by what he or she is most intimate with and for Tom that is Music.

This is displayed in shocking detail when Tom runs into the Hobbits who are in trouble on two occasions. Tom approaches Old Man Willow who is engulfing Merry and Pippin and he sings! Not only does he sing, he says, “I know the tune for him. Old grey Willow-man! I’ll freeze his marrow cold, if he don’t behave himself. I’ll sing his roots off. I’ll sing a wind up and blow leaf and branch away…[5] Tom claims to "know" the tune for Old Man Willow, a strange knowledge to possess. This tune will get Old Man Willow to behave,or Tom will sing the tune to blow away his leaves and branches. Tom then approaches the tree and begins to sing softly into it. The tree then allows Merry and Pippin to go free. Tom ends with a correction of the trees bad behavior: “What be you a-thinking of? You should not be waking. Eat Earth! Dig deep! Drink water! Go to sleep Bombadil is talking!” Tom commands the tree via song, by the tune he knew, and via the power of his voice. This is not the only incident in which Tom uses song and his voice to fight.

In the incident on the Barrow Downs, it becomes clear that Tom’s power via song is not limited to the Forest or to nature for that matter. Tom is summoned by Frodo via the song incantation of water, wood, hill, reed, willow, fire, sun, and moon.[6] As he arrives, in song yet again, Tom draws attention to the special power of his songs:
Old Tom Bombadil is a merry Fellow,
Bright blue his jacket is, and his boots are yellow.
None has ever caught him yet, for Tom, he is the Master:
His songs are stronger songs, and his feet are faster. [7]Tom is the Master because his songs are stronger. Tom then proceeds, via a song, to command the Barrow-wight to “get out”, to “vanish”, to “shrivel” then Tolkien writes, “At these words there was a cry and part of the inner end of the chamber fell in with a crash. Then there was a long trailing shriek, fading away into an unguessable distance; and after that silence.”[8] Tom defeats a demon by his stronger song. Where does he derive such knowledge from?

     Tom’s intimate relationship to music and song must not be ignored. In fact, it is the only thing which adequately explains his very essence and his uniqueness. He battles against the trees and speaks of them as dark, he commands evil spirits to flee and they flee, this is not an action of a nature spirit. This sheer display of his power via song is utterly unique, for we are told Frodo tries a similar thing commanding the Ringwraiths back to Mordor but he fails, Tolkien writes, “but Fordo had not the power of Bombadil.”[9] Tom’s power via song is utterly unique, it is enigmatic. He knows the tunes and his songs are stronger (It is true that other beings fight via song but not with the sheer command that Tom displays).

     When Tom fights, he does not fight like Sauron, Saruman, Tulkas, or even Gandalf, he does so by the power of his voice through song. When he fights against the barrow-wight and Old Man Willow he does not wage battle against their physical bodies but instead against their very essence, against their corrupted behavior by song. As we know Middle Earth was created by song and Tom "knows the tune" and his songs are "stronger" it appears Tom is in a sense correcting the warped behaviors of Old Man Willow and the Barrow-Wight by song, by the very creative power of Middle Earth Tom wages battle. In a sense, Tom is restoring harmony via music where there was once only the Discord of Melkor.

     Tom reminds the hobbits, after the incident with the Barrow-wight, that he desires to return to his main function, "'I've got things to do,' he said: 'my making and my singing, my talking and my walking, and my watching of the country"(FoTR, Fog on the Barrow Downs, 200). It is interesting that Tom lists first and together "my making and my singing." Making and singing are linked together to Tom just like "walking and talking." His singing is linked to making because music was how everything was made and he finds his essence in that Music. This is what Tom desires to return to first and foremost, making and singing. Out of his own mouth we have seen now several times that Music is absolutely essential to Tom. This is his primary function, displayed in his constant singing and his own references to song!

The Lesson of Ungoliant

     As stated earlier, Ungoliant is almost as big of a mystery as Tom Bombadil is. Both creatures have enormous power and both seem to be one-of-kind creatures. Though not essential to this argument I believe that Ungoliant is closely related to Tom in function and essence. In other words, if Tom Bombadil is the Spirit of the Music of the Ainur, then it is plausible Ungoliant is the Spirit of the Discord of Melkor. In this way, Ungoliant functions as the antithesis of Tom Bombadil. Why would I suggest this? Simply because of how Ungoliant is described and what her essence is proven to be and Tolkien’s mention of two competing Musics who were, “utterly at variance.”[10] Tom and Ungoliant are both mysteries in their origin and power yet they are characters who are utterly at variance; one for good and one for evil. But is there any basis for comparing and relating these two creatures in Tolkiens' work? Yes! In Tolkien's letters both Ungoliant and Tom are described as "primeval" which means "original or ancient" something that is a rather unique description and Tolkien applies it to them both. Nonetheless, they are described by Tolkien with near exact language and they are both left intentionally as enigmas by Tolkien.

     So what does this have to do with Tom Bombadil? Well if both of these mysterious creatures are incarnations of their respective Musics we should understand them in light of one another. Both possess abnormal powers and both seem to embody the source of their creation. Hence why Tolkien feels the need drop a reference of Tom in an area which appears initially out of place in Shelob's lair. But when one sees the connection between the two it makes perfect sense. The two characters, Tom and Shelob as a reference to Ungoliant, are antithetical to one another and are meant to be seen in contrast to one another. Tom is joy and almost nonsensical music while Ungoliant is uncontrollable thirst for dominion which plays out in Shelob. If Ungoliant is the incarnation of the discord of Melkor, this theory of Tom also helps us to answer and better understand another great mystery in Middle Earth.

     A closer look at the Shelob episode will help us in our understanding of the two characters. When Frodo and Sam enter Shelob's lair we are all-of-sudden encountered with a reference to Tom as a contrast to Shelob (the direct descendant of Ungoliant). The passage reads as Shelob approaches:
"'It's a trap!' said Sam, and he laid his hand upon the hilt of his sword; and as he did so, he thought of the darkness of the barrow whence it came. 'I wish old Tom was near us now!' he thought. Then, as he stood, darkness about him and a blackness of despair and anger in his heart, it seemed he saw a light: a light in his mind, almost unbearably bright at first, as a sun ray to the eyes of one long hidden in a windowless pit. The light became colour: green, gold, silver, white. Far off, as in a little picture drawn by elven-fingers, he saw Lady Galadriel standing on the grass in Lorien, and gifts were in her hands. 'And you, Ring-bearer,' he heard her say, remote but clear, 'for you I have prepared this'... 'A light when all others lights go out! And now indeed light alone can help us.'" (The Two Tower, Shelob's Lair, 719-20).
     This passage is interesting for many reasons. First, Tom is obviously contrasted with Shelob, the heir of Ungoliant. One is a character of primeval good; one is a character of primeval evil. Here the two are clearly connected and clearly contrasted. Second, the mention of Tom leads to the contrast of light and darkness. The mention of Tom leads to hope appearing in a situation where hope seemed completely gone besides the entrance of light. Sam then remembers Galadriel and her gift the gift of light. The gift of the star of Earendil is significant because that star contains the very light of the Simaril which attained that light from the light found in the Two Trees which Ungoliant herself destroyed. Tolkien masterfully shows how this light, which was destroyed by Shelob's ancestor, is used to defeat her (and ultimately evil in the process) even though it appeared that Ungoliant had been the true victor in the destruction of the Two Trees, but the plan of Iluvatar was not yet completed. Ungoliant's actions led to the defeat of her own offspring via the light she destroyed. Tom is a part of it, he serves as the contrast and the ignition of the remembrance of the light. In light of this theory, Tom serves as the background of Tolkien's beautiful tying together of ancient stories which directly apply to the background this story. Not only does Tolkien bring Frodo's conflict back to the death of the Two Trees via Ungoliant who descended out of the darkness and is now a representation of the darkness, but he brings it back full circle to the very beginning of the battle of good and evil when the Discord of Melkor and the Music of the Ainur first appeared as darkness. This first 'battle' or 'striving' is also when the two creatures (Tom and Ungoliant) find their antithetical existences. This battle between light and darkness plays out in many other places in the story, but few places as beautifully as it does here.

     Tolkien clearly means to draw a contrast between the two, and it is my belief he does so intentionally. They are both the original, the beginning, and the first; one of the darkness and one of the Music.They are forever linked throughout the ages as contrasts of one another.

    As cited earlier, Ungoliant is said to be a mysterious creature who came out of the void but who ultimately did not serve Melkor. Indeed, after she eats the trees in Valinor she becomes so powerful that Melkor himself fears for his life and summons his Balrogs to fight her off. So, Ungoliant’s power is indeed great for she drove Melkor to fear for his life. But at her very essence Ungoliant is many things, she is darkness, greed, and her insatiable appetite to destroy. This is at its very core what Melkor introduces to the Music with his discord. Ungoliant’s name comes from the word for “darkness” and "spider." We are told she descends[11] out the very Darkness that is first seen by the Ainur at the conclusion of the first singing of the Music which derived from the theme/discord of Melkor. So it would not be far off, considering her function and her immense power, that she is an incarnation of the discord Melkor brought in. Ungoliant’s insatiable darkness eventually leads to her consuming herself.

    One further thing of importance should be noted in this discussion. Ungoliant’s name derives from the word for spider and I believe darkness as well, which is no surprise for that is what she is. Much in the same way we should consider Tom Bombadil’s name. Names in Tolkien’s world carry great significance and they often tell us something of a character. Tom’s first name at the very least seems very common to us today, but that should fool us into thinking there is no meaning here. In the book of Unfinished Tales there is a story of a great gong named Tombo. These are the first six letters of Tom’s name. Interestingly enough, the root of Tom (or tum) in Tolkien’s world carries with it a very distinct meaning. Besides Tombo being a name of a gong, Tom carries with it at its root a reference to a trumpet.[12] Tom’s very name communicates to us that he is closely related to music much like Ungoliant is closely related to darkness. Tolkien comments on Tom's name in Letter #153, "I do not mean him to be an allegory-or I should not have given him so particular, individual, and ridiculous name..."

     Tom's name is given with a purpose to Tom and it is 'particular', Tolkien chose it for a reason and when one sees what the root of his name means, it becomes clear that Tom's name is significant. Indeed, at the mention of Tom's name by Frodo in the barrow we read a reference back to the origin of that name, "Ho! Tom Bombadil! and with that name his voice seemed to grow... and the dark chamber echoed as if to drum and trumpet" (FoTR, Fog on the Barrow Downs, 196) . The mention of Tom's name not only leads to Frodo's voice growing but to an echoing that is reminiscent of the very meaning of Tom's name a trumpet! Anyone who knows Tolkien's affinity of word-play can clearly see it occurring in this passage now that we know the meaning of Tom's name. To brush this aside as mere coincidence would be pure naivete. Tolkien is telling us here that Tom's name was picked out for a reason and here we have a clear reference back to to the meaning of that particular name! Tom must be viewed as absolutely intimate with music; and as stated earlier this Music is tied to "making" and his music is "stronger" and is used in battle to correct and defeat enemies and Tom's origin is plainly said, no matter what you think he is, he is most definitely the primeval version or the first version of it. Considering all of this it is clear that Tom is linked to the primeval or first music which is the Music of Creation.

     The importance of Tom's name is something that all the other theories sadly miss. So now, not only do Tom’s actions point to the Music but also his very name shows his intimacy with the Music. The meaning of his name which was given by Tolkien "particularly" and its root meaning being related to music becomes even more significant when we look at Tom's answer to Frodo's question of who he is, Tom says, "Don't you know my name yet? That's the only answer" (FoTR, In the House of Tom Bombadil, 182). The only answer to Frodo's question is Tom's name which happens to be a direct reference to music.

Tom’s Love of Goldberry

     Goldberry, the wife and companion of Tom, is another interesting character. Any theory of who Tom is must account for her. It is my belief that it is rather obvious that Goldberry is a nature spirit. She clearly functions as one being the “Riverwoman’s Daughter” and her intimate connection with the Brandywine River. She even has a “washing day” the day it rains while the hobbits are staying in Tom’s house. Nonetheless, an argument could be made that she is a Maiar directly charged with the care of the river.[13] You can take either stance and it will not greatly affect the arguments that follow; for either way Goldberry is intimately connected as a water spirit (nature or Maiar).[14]And this tells us something very important about Tom.

     Tom, as we know, loves Goldberry to a near state of obsession. When we are first introduced to Tom he is gathering water lilies to give to her. He spends much of his time singing about Goldberry and his love for her. But what does this tell us about Tom? Why is Tom in love with a Spirit of the River and how does this relate to him being the Spirit of the Music of the Ainur? It is actually rather blatant and simple.

     We are told a startling fact about the Music of the Ainur and water in The Silmarillion, “And it is said by the Eldar that in water there lives yet the echo of the Music of the Ainur more than in any substance else that is in the Earth”[15] and that the elves are drawn to the sea by this echo of the Music. Much in the same way we find Tom absolutely enamored by a Spirit of the water a spirit of the one substance that still holds an echo of the Music. If it is true that Tom is a Spirit of the Music then it makes perfect sense that he is in love with a Spirit of the only substance that still contains an echo of the Music. There is no other place for him to be. In fact, in one of his songs Tom describes his falling in love with Goldberry and he links his love to her song by the water:
By that pool long ago I found the River-daughter,
Fair young Goldberry sitting in the rushes.
Sweet was her singing then, and her heart was beating.[16]
Tom’s initial drawing to Goldberry is by her song as a river spirit. This should not surprise us that the Spirit of the Music is in love with Goldberry a spirit of a river. Goldberry sings with an echo of the Music of the Ainur and this is why Tom is so utterly obsessed and in love with her. So with what we know of Goldberry, the Music in the water, and Tom’s first encounter with her, it becomes clear that again we have a reference to Tom’s intimate relationship with music and indeed the Music of the Ainur. Goldberry points us yet again in the direction of seeing Tom as the Spirit of the Music of the Ainur.

Tom's Effects on Others

     In Tom's encounters with the hobbits we see displayed several times rather odd effects he has on them. These incidents point again to Tom's uniqueness and indeed his connection to music. As mentioned earlier, when Frodo mentions Tom's name in the barrow his voice "grows" and then gets compared to a drum and a trumpet. Frodo's voice grows, not of his own accord, but by the mention of Tom's name. Frodo begins with Tom's name and then the song Tom taught him as a means to summon Bombadil; all of this brings unique power to the situation via a song. This is not the only such event in Tom's encounter with the halflings. The others will be explored below.

     The hobbits upon arriving at Tom's house get themselves cleaned up and ready for a meal of course. Yet at this meal something strange occurs to the hobbits, "The guests became suddenly aware that they were singing merrily, as if it was easier and more natural than talking" (FoTR, In the House of Tom Bombadil, 175). Notice that the hobbits were not aware initially they were singing, this singing came on them "naturally" in Tom's house. So natural that singing was more natural than talking! Again, here Tom's intimacy with Music is on clear display for us so much so that it impacts even the visitors. What a strange place! Where singing is more natural than talking! In the house of the Spirit of the Music of the Ainur this makes total sense. Tom's place is a place of Music. Meandering off slightly topic for just a moment, notice also that this singing is "merry" just like Tom's house is described as a place of "joy" any suggestion that Tom is evil (e.g. The Witch King) is purely absurd; Without exception Tom is presented to us as joyful and good.

The next strange event comes after the incident in the barrow where Frodo called out for Tom. On the road again, Tom is explaining the history of the men of Arnor to the hobbits and again we see a strange occurrence:
"'Few now remember them,' Tom murmured, 'yet still some go wandering, sons of forgotten kings walking in loneliness, guarding from evil things folk that are heedless.' The hobbits did not understand his words, but as he spoke they had a vision as it were of a great expanse of years behind them, like a vast shadowy plain over which there strode shapes of Men, tall and grim, and last came one with a star on his brow. Then the vision faded, and they were back in the sunlit world" (FoTR, Fog on the Barrow-Downs, 201).
     It is clear in this event that Tom's words and descriptions bring about a vision to the hobbit and this vision includes looking back over history and forward to Aragorn and the star on his brow. This is significant in many ways, not least of which is that Tom's words cause the vision and it looks forward to the future. These are powerful words and they carry with them an echo of the creation account, "Iluvatar said to them: 'Behold your Music!' and he showed to them a vision, giving to them sight where before there was only hearing" (Silmarillion, Ainulindale, 6). Both of these instances have words bringing about a vision that is temporary The parallels are clear even if they are only an echo of each other. Some may protest, but that vision was caused by Iluvatar! Yes it was, but Tom cannot be Iluvatar as stated earlier, Tolkien plainly dismissed that possibility. But it was the Music which was cast into a vision, being the creative force of the world. Tom does the same thing here and it is an echo Tolkien has written into this account back to the Music of the Ainur.

     The next incident involves more allusions to music. After this vision Tom begins to sing again, big surprise, which prompts this passage, "Tom sang most of the time, but it was chiefly nonsense, or else perhaps a strange language unknown to the hobbits, an ancient language whose words were mainly those of wonder and delight" (FoTR, Fog on The Barrow-Downs, 202). The hobbits initially think Tom is singing nonsense but on closer investigation he is singing an "ancient language" full of "wonder and delight." This language is not known nor recognized by the hobbits so what language is it? Frodo clearly could at least recognize Elvish as he spoke elvish to Gildor the elf in the Shire. Rather than being elvish, this singing of a strange language is again a reference to the Music of the Ainur which surely could be described as filled with wonder and delight and most definitely would be ancient which makes perfect sense with Tom being first and eldest. Tom is first, he is primeval, and his singing bears that image so it makes total sense that this strange language the hobbits do not recognize which is filled with wonder and delight is the language of creation.
     So now we have seen singing and Tom's voice bring about many things including visions, unknown singing by the hobbits, and ancient languages of wonder and delight. The central role of music in Tom's character is established and this singing is linked through allusions back to creation and to most probably the ancient language of creation. But there is still one more occurrence with Tom, music, and the hobbits which deserves consideration but it deserves its own section. Frodo's dream.

Tom, Singing, and Frodo's Prophetic Dream

     Tom is understandably only mentioned a few times outside of the his own chapters and the Council of Elrond. We have already reviewed just about every mention of him outside of these contexts. There is still one more which illuminates something special about Tom. At the very end of the story we find another rather odd reference to Tom. While it may appear odd to us, I am sure it was put there intentionally by Tolkien being that it ties directly back to an event which occurs in Tom's house. As Frodo approaches the Undying Lands we read this:
"And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed on into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled the sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise." (RoTK, The Grey Havens, 1030).
This section is a fulfillment of Frodo's dream while in the house of Bombadil. A look at this passage will also be helpful:
"That night they heard no noises. But either in his dreams or out of them, he could not tell which, Frodo heard a sweet singing running in his mind: a song that seemed to come like a pale light behind a grey rain-curtain, and growing stronger to turn the veil all to glass and silver, until at last it was rolled back, and a far green country opened before him under a swift sunrise." (FoTR, Fog On The Barrow-Downs, 135).
     The wording is near a perfect match in these two events as they should be. But what does this tell us about Tom? First, notice how singing plays a prominent role in the initation of the dream and its fulfillment. This should not surprise us with what we have already learned about Tom. Second, notice how the original dream is prophetic of Frodo's future. Third, notice the dream takes place in Tom's house. Fourth, notice the fulfillment takes place in the Undying Lands.

     Tom's singing which has already displayed the power to defeat, make, and to cause others to sing without knowing, now is linked with prophetic abilities and with the Undying Lands. It was, after all, the Ainur who sang the Music and as they sing in the Undying Lands we see a reference back to Tom. Some may suggest this merely opens the door for Tom being a Vala or Maia, but that is not possible for many reasons cited earlier. Rather, it is the Music which triggers the vision and its fulfillment. Prominence is given to Music in just about everything Tom does. Tom's relationship to Music is essential and it is powerful because that is the essence of who he is, the Music of the Ainur.

     Tom's house, and the singing therein, is linked to the purest form of Music found in the Undying Land. This should not surprise us for are told that Tom sings in a language which is both "ancient" and filled with "wonder and delight." So here we have a link to what that language would be, the first language of creation sung by the Ainur.

     These circumstances in Tom's house also point Frodo forward to the very end of his journey. It is prophetic. What singing has that kind of power? The Music of creation. The Music is after all the entire story of Middle Earth and it is fitting that at the end of the Third Age we find singing linked to Tom. Again, this points back to the prophecy and visions Tom brings about in regards to Aragorn as mentioned earlier. It is clear Tom, his relationship to Music, and his house are the catalysts to these strange events. The data clearly points us in the direction of Tom having an intimate relationship with the Music of the Ainur.

Who is Tom? “He Is"

      As we draw near the end of the formulation of this theory it is important to look at how Goldberry and Tom answer when asked who Tom Bombadil is. Goldberry is asked first by Frodo and she responds, “He is…He is as you have seen him… he is the Master of wood, water, and hill.”[17] The statement that “he is” is one of the major reasons some have suggested Tom is Iluvatar but Tolkien himself rejected this theory in his letters. But the fact that Tom’s identity is linked with the idea of existence yet again points us in the direction of the Music. While it is true that Iluvatar brought about existence by his power, he nonetheless used the Music of the Ainur as the means through which he created. So when Goldberry says, “He is” we can explain this perfectly by the proposed theory. He is the Spirit of the Music which is the means of existence. He is much like the Music is.

     Indeed, the phraseology "He is," may actually point to something besides a reference to God in a biblical sense. When the World was created and sang into existence via the Music, Iluvatar uses the word, "Ea," to command it to be. Ea from then on refers to the entire created universe. Why does this matter? Well apparrently the word "Ea" is the verb form for "to be." So when Goldberry says, "He is," and the creation mechanism of the Music is commanded "to be," the fact that the very same verb appears shows us that Goldberry and Tolkien are alluding back to the creation account rather than just the creator. Tolkien even says Tom and Goldberry are referring to mystery of "names" (Letter # 153) and this mystery "he is" points back to "Ea!" and of course Tom's name points towards his relationship to music as stated above.

     The Music explanation also allows us to make sense of him being “Master” yet not owning anything in his realm. The Music does not own anything yet it does run through everything and it is Master over all in the sense that it is the creative instrument of Iluvatar. While other theories have a tough time explaining the answer Goldberry gives, there is no such trouble for the theory that Tom Bombadil is an incarnated Spirit of the Music of the Ainur. This also explains Tom’s vast almost all knowing knowledge of men, beasts, and nature which he shares with the hobbits while they stay with him.

     Tom’s answer to the question points more to his old age and being “Eldest” and "first." This will be picked up more as we examine the three main questions any theory must answer in order to be considered a viable explanation of Tom. But two statements made by Tolkien in Letter #153 should show us some great truths about Tom. Tolkien writes, "and if 'in time' Tom was primeval he was the Eldest in Time." This focus on Tom being first "in time" is crucial. Tom is first, eldest and primeval in creation. That must be reserved for the Music for it is the very first thing to be created. Tolkien elaborates on why being "first" is so important in a footnote, "Only the first person (of worlds or anything) can be unique." In other words, that fact that Tom is first is what drives so much of what makes him unique. Hence, he must be different than the others who are most definitely not first in time (Vala, Maia, nature spirit). With that in mind let us move to those questions:

Continues here: Answering the 3 Questions

[1] Silmarillion, Valaquenta, 21.

[2] Silmarillion, Ainulindale, 3. 

[3] The creation of Darkness, which Tom says he was there before, exists before Arda and is uniquely tied to the Discord of Melkor.

[4] Steuard Jensen, a major proponent of the nature spirit theory, rightly states: “Nature spirits, we suggest, are each associated with some lasting feature of the physical world which is the source of their being; they cannot stray far from it.”

[5] FOTR, 169.

[6] It is interesting to note that no one else we know can be summoned by song, not Gandalf, not Sauron, and not Morgoth.

[7] FOTR, 196.

[8] Ibid., 197.

[9] Ibid., 286.

[10] Silmarillion, Ainulindale, 5.

[11] Silmarillion, Of the Darkening of Valinor, 77.

[12] The Book of Lost Tales, Appendix, 269.

[13] This is a difficult theory to hold because of her lack of power and Tolkien’s insistence that the Maiar seldom come to Middle Earth and even more seldom appear in the form of any of the Children of Illuvatar.

[14] FOTR, In the House of Tom Bombadil, 179. We are told of Goldberry singing a rain song as the rain comes down. Tom later refers to the rainy day as Goldberry’s “washing day” (180).

[15] Silmarillion, Ainulindale, 8.

[16] FOTR, In the House of Tom Bombadil, 176.

[17] Ibid., 173.


  1. I love it! Also you mentioned this but didn't elaborate, but I think Goldberry's statement, "He is," refers to the Quenya word "eä", which literally means "be". It's not just the name of the universe, it's actually a verb form.

  2. @raphenroch:

    Thanks for the insight, I have added a discussion of that point to the theory!

  3. This actually answers a lot of my questions on the nature of Tom. I never even approached reaching this conclusion before you posted it. I'm glad you have this gift of insight which allows us to see the fuller story of Arda. Thanks a lot, and keep writing!

  4. The Ents are actually the second children of illuvatar created by yavanna after hearing about aules creation of the dwarves.

  5. This is brilliant an amazing. Thank you so much for sharing these thoughts. It really made me appreciate him a lot more as a character, and (for me at least) this version of him is so much more interesting and fascinating than him as a Maia or nature spirit.

  6. I'm completely sold. It all makes sense now! This adds a whole new layer of depth to many of the seemingly random and tedious Tom Bombadil passages, which used to feel like a chore to read through. Not to mention a new depth to Tolkien's writing. I was always impressed by his indepth thought process, but I get tripped up by his intense detail and the way his writing drifts between the metaphorical and literal. Which don't get me wrong, is often beautiful, but can also at times be confusing to read. But your theory actually made me see Tolkien's style of writing in a different light. Fantastic work!

  7. That..... is some proper research. Well done.

  8. Your footnote links are broken :-(

    Thank you for this, I shall save it for later reading.

  9. This isn't a theory, this is the object truth