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Tom Bombadil

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Tolkien's legendarium character
Aliases Iarwain Ben-adar, Forn, Orald
Book(s) The Fellowship of the Ring (1954),
The Adventures of Tom Bombadil

Tom Bombadil is a supporting character in J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium. He appears in Tolkien's high fantasy epic The Lord of the Rings, published in 1954 and 1955. In the first volume, The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo Baggins and company meet Bombadil in the Old Forest. He also appears in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, a book of verse first published in 1962, purporting to be a selection of Hobbit poems, two of which concern Bombadil.


The Adventures of Tom Bombadil

Tolkien invented Tom Bombadil in memory of his children's Dutch doll, and wrote light-hearted children's poems about him, imagining him as a nature-spirit evocative of the English countryside.

Tolkien's 1934 poem "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil" depicts Bombadil as a "merry fellow" living in a small valley close to the Withywindle river, where he wanders and explores nature at his leisure. Several of the valley's mysterious residents, including the River-spirit Goldberry (also known as the "River-woman's daughter"), the malevolent tree-spirit Old Man Willow, the Badger-folk and a Barrow-wight, attempt to capture Bombadil for their own ends, but quail at the power of Tom's voice, which defeats their enchantments and commands them to return to their natural existence. At the end of the poem, Bombadil captures and marries Goldberry. Throughout the poem, Bombadil is unconcerned by the attempts to capture him and brushes them off with the power in his words.

The later poem "Bombadil Goes Boating" anchors Bombadil in Middle-earth, featuring a journey down the Withywindle to the Brandywine river, where hobbits ("Little Folk I know there") live at Hays-End. Bombadil is challenged by various river-residents on his journey, including birds, otters and hobbits, but charms them all with his voice, ending his journey at the farm of Farmer Maggot, where he drinks ale and dances with the family. At the end of the poem, the charmed birds and otters work together to bring Bombadil's boat home. The poem includes a reference to the Norse lay of Ótr, when Bombadil threatens to give the hide of a disrespectful otter to the Barrow-wights, who he says will cover it with gold apart from a single whisker. The poem mentions a number of Middle-earth locations, including Hays-End, Bree and the Tower Hills, and hints at the events of the end of the Third Age, speaking of "Tall Watchers by the Ford, Shadows on the Marches".

The poems were published in the collections The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and later in Tales from the Perilous Realm.

The Lord of the Rings

In The Lord of the Rings, Tom Bombadil is a mysterious character who aids Frodo and his companions on their journey. He and his wife Goldberry, the "Daughter of the River", still live in their house on the Withywindle, and some of the characters and situations from the original poem appear in The Lord of the Rings. In the book, he is described as "Master of wood, water and hill", and nearly always speaks or sings in stress-timed metre: 7-beat lines broken into groups of 4 and 3 (old English metre as first noted in Caedmons Hymn in the story of Bede, discovered in the 19th century). He appears in three chapters, "The Old Forest", "In the House of Tom Bombadil" and "Fog on the Barrow-downs". He is mentioned in the chapter "The Council of Elrond" as a possible keeper and protector of the One Ring, as well as at the end of the story in "Homeward Bound" and "The Grey Havens". Behind Bombadil's simple façade are hints of great knowledge and power, though limited to his own domain.

Tom first appears when Merry and Pippin are trapped by Old Man Willow, and Frodo and Sam cry for help. Tom commands Old Man Willow to release them, singing him to sleep, and shelters the hobbits in his house for two nights. Here it is seen that the One Ring has no power over Bombadil; he can see Frodo when the Ring makes him invisible to others, and can wear it himself with no effect. He even tosses the Ring in the air and makes it disappear, but then produces it from his other hand and returns it to Frodo. While this seems to demonstrate that he has unique and mysterious power over the Ring, the idea of giving him the Ring for safekeeping is rejected in Book Two's second chapter, "The Council of Elrond". Gandalf says, rather, that "the Ring has no power over him..." and believes that Tom would not find the Ring to be very important and so might simply misplace it.

Frodo spends two nights in Tom Bombadil's house, each night dreaming a different dream, which appear to be either clairvoyant or prophetic. The first night he dreams of fearful things, including Gandalf's imprisonment atop Orthanc in Isengard. The second night he dreams of 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."

Before sending the hobbits on their way, Tom teaches them a rhyme to summon him if they fall into danger again within his borders. This proves fortunate, as the four encounter Barrow-wights in the following chapter, "Fog on the Barrow-downs". After saving them from the Barrow-wights, Tom gives each hobbit a long dagger taken from the treasure in the barrow. As the hobbits leave the Old Forest, he refuses to pass the borders of his own land, but before he goes he directs them to The Prancing Pony Inn at Bree.

Towards the end of The Return of the King, when Gandalf leaves the hobbits, he mentions that he wants to have a long talk with Bombadil, calling him a "moss-gatherer". Gandalf says, in response to Frodo's query of how well Bombadil is getting along, that Bombadil is "as well as ever", "quite untroubled" and "not much interested in anything that we have done and seen", save their visits to the Ents. At the very end of The Lord of the Rings, as Frodo sails into the West and leaves Middle-earth, he has what seems to him the very experience that appeared to him in the house of Bombadil in his dream of the second night.


Tom Bombadil is spry, with a quick, playful wit. He speaks in a rhyming whimsical way: "Hey dol! merry dol! ring a dong dillo! Ring a dong! hop along! fal lal the willow! Tom Bom, jolly Tom, Tom Bombadillo!"[1] He has a jolly, carefree attitude, and little seems to concern him. He sometimes refers to himself in the third person, as if simultaneously weaving his own epic narrative, even as he lives it.

In The Lord of the Rings he twice describes himself in his songs as: "Bright blue his jacket is, and his boots are yellow."

Bombadil does not seem concerned about the One Ring, though he seems to know at least as much as the hobbits about its provenance and power. Although the deliberations at the Council of Elrond at Rivendell suggest that Bombadil would be vulnerable to Sauron if the latter recovered the Ring, Bombadil seems unaffected by the Ring's power and more concerned with keeping his own "country" around the Withywindle in order.

Tolkien says little about Tom Bombadil's origins in the cosmology of Middle-earth. Bombadil calls himself the "Eldest" and the "Master". He claims to remember "the first raindrop and the first acorn", and that he "knew the dark under the stars when it was fearless — before the Dark Lord came from Outside". He does not fit neatly into the categories of beings Tolkien created. Readers have speculated about his true nature, suggesting that he is one of the Ainur, angelic beings who shaped the earth, or even God[who said this?] (Eru Ilúvatar in Tolkien's legendarium), pointing to the passage where Frodo asks Goldberry just who Tom Bombadil is; she responds simply by saying "He is." But Tolkien rejected the notion that Bombadil is God,[2] and carefully differentiated Goldberry's response from the Biblical "I Am that I Am".[3] Robert Foster in The Complete Guide to Middle Earth describes Tom Bombadil as "a Maia 'gone native'".

At the Council of Elrond, Galdor suggests that Bombadil would be unable to withstand a siege by Sauron "unless such power is in the earth itself", implying that the character may be a manifestation of Middle-earth's inherent properties. This connection would explain Bombadil's seeming obliviousness to the transient concerns of mortals, as evidenced in Gandalf's concern that Tom would not understand the importance of the Ring and would lose it if entrusted with it.

In reference to Bombadil, Tolkien himself said that some things should remain mysterious in any narrative, "especially if an explanation actually exists".[4] Tom Bombadil is not the only being whose nature is unexplained. While passing Caradhras in Book Two of The Fellowship of the Ring, Aragorn mentions beings more ancient even than Sauron.[5] In Book Three of The Two Towers, when describing his fall in the pits of Moria, Gandalf mentions dark creatures who gnaw the world.

Names and titles

Gandalf calls Tom Bombadil the eldest being in existence; this is evidenced by his Sindarin name Iarwain Ben-adar (Eldest and Fatherless). Dwarves called him Forn (Scandinavian, meaning "Ancient" or "Belonging to the distant past"; in Icelandic it can also mean that he has magical abilities), Men Orald (compare to German: uralt, original old, eldest). All these names apparently mean "Eldest". Treebeard calls himself the eldest living being of Middle-earth and says that he was there before anyone else. However, Tolkien remarked in another context: "Treebeard is a character in my story, not me; and though he has a great memory and some earthy wisdom, he is not one of the Wise, and there is quite a lot he does not know or understand."[3]

Concept and creation

As with Roverandom, Tolkien's initial inspiration came from an incident with his children playing with toys. Tolkien invented Tom Bombadil in memory of a Dutch doll which had been flushed down a lavatory.[6] These original poems far pre-date the writing of The Lord of the Rings, into which Tolkien introduced Tom Bombadil from the earliest drafts.

In response to a letter from one of his readers, Tolkien described Tom's role in The Lord of the Rings:

Tom Bombadil is not an important person — to the narrative. I suppose he has some importance as a 'comment.' I mean, I do not really write like that: he is just an invention (who first appeared in The Oxford Magazine about 1933), and he represents something that I feel important, though I would not be prepared to analyse the feeling precisely. I would not, however, have left him in, if he did not have some kind of function.

Tolkien did go on to analyse the character's role further:

I might put it this way. The story is cast in terms of a good side, and a bad side, beauty against ruthless ugliness, tyranny against kingship, moderated freedom with consent against compulsion that has long lost any object save mere power, and so on; but both sides in some degree, conservative or destructive, want a measure of control. But if you have, as it were, taken 'a vow of poverty', renounced control, and take your delight in things for themselves without reference to yourself, watching, observing, and to some extent knowing, then the questions 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 pacifist view, which always arises in the mind when there is a war ... the view of Rivendell seems to be that it is an excellent thing to have represented, but that there are in fact things with which it cannot cope; and upon which its existence nonetheless depends. Ultimately only the victory of the West will allow Bombadil to continue, or even to survive. Nothing would be left for him in the world of Sauron.[7]

Tolkien even seems to justify Tom Bombadil's presence:

And even in a mythical Age there must be some enigmas, as there always are. Tom Bombadil is one (intentionally).[4]

In a letter to Stanley Unwin, Tolkien called Tom Bombadil the spirit of the vanishing landscapes of Oxfordshire and Berkshire.[8]


In most film and radio adaptations of the story, Bombadil is notable by his absence (an exception is the Mind's Eye recordings). Both Ralph Bakshi and Peter Jackson stated that the reason the character was omitted from their films was because, in their view, he does little to advance the story, and would make their films unnecessarily long. Christopher Lee concurred, stating the scenes were left out to make time for showing Saruman's capture of Gandalf.[9] Some of Bombadil's dialogue, as well as the scene in which the hobbits meet Old Man Willow, are transferred into scenes which Merry and Pippin share with Treebeard in Jackson's adaptation, included in the extended edition DVD.

Although Tom Bombadil was not portrayed in Peter Jackson's film trilogy of The Lord of the Rings, a Tom Bombadil card exists in The Lord of the Rings Trading Card Game by Decipher, Inc. (part of the trilogy's merchandise). The model portraying Bombadil on this card is Harry Wellerchew.[10]

Bombadil has appeared in a number of other adaptations, including the Mind's Eye radio adaptation. He was played by Norman Shelley in the 1955–1956 BBC radio adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. He was portrayed by Esko Hukkanen in the 1993 Finnish miniseries Hobitit.

Although the character does not actually appear in the musical adaptation, towards the end of the show Gandalf explains to Frodo that on his journey back to the Shire he will spend some time in Bombadil's company.

Tom Bombadil is an NPC in the MMORPG game The Lord of the Rings Online, serving as a main character in Book 1 of the epic quests. He also makes an appearance in EA Games' The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II as a summonable hero for the forces of light (except the dwarves) where his only real use is skipping through the battlefield, kicking enemy troops out of the way as he goes. Tom is a usable model in The Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game produced by Games Workshop. In this, he is invincible, in that he can never be harmed in any way, but neither can he cause harm to any of his opponents. He can only be played in the Old Forest, as in keeping with his story. He also appears in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring video game, and has an appearance as a purchasable character in Lego The Lord of the Rings and Lego The Hobbit.

The Harvard Lampoon novel Bored of the Rings parodies Bombadil as "Tim Benzedrine," a stereotypical hippie married to "Hashbury."[11]

In the Portlandia episode "Motorcycle," several hippies are shown singing Bombadil's name.[12]


  1. ^ Tolkien, John Ronald Reuel (1987). The Fellowship of the Ring. Del Rey, New York. p. 154. 
  2. ^ Carpenter, Humphrey, ed. (1981). The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien. Houghton Mifflin. 181. ISBN 0-395-31555-7. There is no embodiment of the One, of God, who indeed remains remote, outside the World, and only directly accessible to the Valar or Rulers. 
  3. ^ a b Carpenter, Humphrey, ed. (1981). The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien. Houghton Mifflin. 153. ISBN 0-395-31555-7. 
  4. ^ a b Carpenter, Humphrey, ed. (1981). The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien. Houghton Mifflin. 144. ISBN 0-395-31555-7. 
  5. ^ Tolkien, John Ronald Reuel (2009). The Lord of the Rings. HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-06-195287-6. 
  6. ^ Poveda, Jaume Alberdo (2003–2004). "Narrative Models in Tolkien's Stories of Middle Earth" (PDF). Journal of English Studies 4: 7–22. Retrieved 2008-07-09. 
  7. ^ Boyd, Ian, ed. (February–May 2002). "J.R.R. Tolkien - Mythos and Modernity in Middle-Earth" (PDF). The Chesterton Review (Seton Hall University) (XXVIII). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2006-02-14. Retrieved 2006-07-03. 
  8. ^ Carpenter, Humphrey, ed. (1981). The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien. Houghton Mifflin. 19. ISBN 0-395-31555-7. 
  9. ^ Peter Jackson (2004). The Lord Of The Rings - The Fellowship of the Ring - Extended Edition Appendices (DVD). 
  10. ^ McCracken, Kathy (22 July 2004). "The Making of the Weta "Book Cards": Casting and Costuming". Decipher Inc. Archived from the original on 2007-03-19. Retrieved 2006-07-03. 
  11. ^ Barnett, David (8 February 2011). "After Tolkien, get Bored of the Rings". The Guardian Books Blog. Retrieved 14 September 2014. 
  12. ^ Williams, Christian (17 February 2012). "Portlandia: 'Motorcycle'". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 14 September 2014. 
Works cited

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