Tolkien Tuesday #13

13 April 2022

So here is yesterday’s Tolkien Tuesday post today…on a Wednesday…I know…Sigh… And tomorrow, I shall catch-up with previous week’s comments…Another sigh!

The Reading, and Ensuing Thoughts

I’m continuing on with this edition of The Fellowship of the Ring, illustrated by Alan Lee. This week I read the whole of Chapter 7: In The House of Tom Bombadil, because I still had one week to catch up on after my time away from blogging.

The four hobbits have been rescued from Old Man Willow by Tom Bombadil, who has directed them to his house, where they will be safe. When they arrive, they find a beautiful woman there, Goldberry, the River’s Daughter, and wife of Tom. And here they spend a few days in sanctuary, an enclave of peace and safety in the middle of the ancient, dangerous Old Forest.

Whilst there, they rest and recover from the trials of the journey so far. And although they are only a few days out from the Shire, their adventure has already been adventurous. A proper baptism of fire. Their first experience of the world outside of their home has not been an easy one. But Tom does his best to prepare them for what’s ahead.

One of the standouts (from last week’s chapter and this one) is the mental strength of Sam. He is least affected by Old Man Willow’s evil whispers, and also when the others dream, he sleeps soundly.

Next week, we begin Chapter 8: Fog on the Barrow-Downs…which just so happens to be one of my favourite chapters in the whole of The Lord of the Rings! Yippee!!

Middle Earth Musings and Meditations

Unsurprisingly, I think, my musings followed the same path as Chapter 7…

There is an element of fairy tale surrounding the part of the book set in the Old Forest. First the forest itself, as we discussed last time. Then there is the magical cottage at it’s heart: the home of Tom Bombadil and Goldberry, where the dangerous things outside (whether physical or magical in origin) cannot cross the threshold. Within, all are safe. And this is a potent image.

Photo by Malte Luk on Pexels.com

Combine this with the characters which inhabit this space: an elemental woman (the daughter of the river, who is evidently connected to the element of water) and a powerful, magical figure who alone can save the hobbits from harm (Could Tom possibly be an elemental himself? An earth elemental, perhaps, given his connection to the forest and landscape?)

Throw into the mix the spell-like magic which is present: the dreams, the plentiful food at meal times, Tom’s immunity to the ring, the inability to follow the passage of time. Then there is the aspect of storytelling, of sharing lore and myth and legend, and history. Knowledge, and power therein, of many things, including warnings of the dangers which lurk “out there”, beyond the safety of the cottage.

All these things come together to give us the enchantment of a fairy tale. And if the reader happens to be a writer, a lesson in writing one.

Elsewhere

This week has all been about Tom Bombadil, so I returned to The Tolkien Society website and re-read the FAQs pertaining to him.

You can find that here: https://www.tolkiensociety.org/author/faq/

The Lord of the Rings Question of the Week:

This week’s question is an easy one (probably…maybe…perhaps… πŸ™‚ ). Do you like Tom Bombadil? Why? Why not?

I have an interesting history with Tom Bombadil. When I first read The Lord of the Rings aged 9 or 10 (I was in year 5 at school), I didn’t mind him. I thought he was fun, with his singing and his dancing, and his blue jacket and yellow boots. However, as I got a little older, I found him a little jarring, with his “Hey dol! merry dol! ring a dong dillo!” etc. He seemed a little silly, a little childish. Something I had to endure to get to the Barrow-Downs! Naturally, I had missed the point.

It wasn’t until my late teens that I became aware of his importance as a character. Up to this point he had been a means of safety, a provider of sanctuary, to the hobbits. But he is the oldest living thing in Middle Earth!

“Eldest, that’s what I am. Mark my words, my friends: Tom was here before the river and trees; Tom remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn.”

And that is what makes him amazing. How I would love to sit before the hearth in his home and listen to the stories of what the world was like when it was young, before the Elves had crossed the sea, before Old Man Williow had become bitter…

Yet more than that, Tom Bombadil is a magical enigma. He’s clearly powerful, long-lived / immortal but who or what is he? What is his purpose in Middle Earth? When Frodo asks Goldberry, “Who is Tom Bombadil?”, she answers, “He is.” And that answer says it all, doesn’t it?

22 thoughts on “Tolkien Tuesday #13

  1. In the House of Tom Bombadil has always been one of my favourite chapters. I like Tom and he’s always been missed in every adaptation. Still, it would be very difficult to portray to him in a movie without it looking silly or ridiculous. There’s a couple of poems about him in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil. The title poem predates the Lord of the Rings. He was a separate creation that got woven into the story. So far the journey for the hobbits has been perilous, so it’s nice to have them in a place where they are safe for a while. Frodo also has a dream about Gandalf’s escape there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, he has been missed in every adaptation, but like you, I can see why. He’s so enigmatic that it’s hard to capture the essence of who he is without him looking silly, and that would do both him and Tolkien a great disservice. I had heard that he predates the Lord of the Rings, but I have yet to read the poems. Do you recommend them? And Frodo’s dream about Gandalf is a very clever way of showing the reader something which is happening far away without breaking away from the narrative – I forgot to mention that in my summary πŸ™‚

      Liked by 2 people

  2. As you may know, I read LOTR during the early years of my illness, when my head wasn’t always… there. Not surprising then, that there are whole chapters I don’t remember (for which I thank you for bringing them to me). Now I wonder how much Mr Jackson cut from the original.
    I can’t truthfully answer your question, except to say, I think Tom is exactly the kind of character I would write. Not immediately obvious, requires the reader to do the work. And I like that!

    Liked by 2 people

    • The answer is plenty, but for the majority of changes, I agree with them or at the very least, understand why they were made. Even with the extended editions, there is not the time to include everything, and Tom being so strange and enigmatic, he just wouldn’t translate well into a film. And, so I understand, even by readers of the book, he’s not universally liked or understood, probably because, as you said, the reader is required to work at understanding him.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. OK, 2nd try.
    I’m still undecided on Tom and Goldberry. I read LOTR for the first time when I was 21 and somewhat disliked him then for similar reasons you did. All the dilla-dilla-dillo was annoying, and the hopping and constant singing, and the strange clothes. I couldn’t completely dislike him because he is fascinating and one of the good forces. As a child I might have liked him because of the whimsy. But I also, not only then but always, find him strangely misplaced. I believe he and Goldberry are Maia or children of the Maia… her maybe linked to Ulmo somehow… but we never really know. We learn more about the wizards and they are ‘there’… they are a ‘faction’. Tom and Goldberry are in this forest and nowhere else. A mystery I couldn’t appreciate in the past and am still not too fond of now. I want to read more about those two…
    I always accepted Goldberry as fair and good, but like all the good wives back in Tolkien’s time, she left the room when they did ‘serious’ talk and other than being a great magical housekeeper and the River’s daughter we really don’t know much about her either… and in this read-through for the first time I noticed that we were never given a real description of her. We know that she has long, yellow hair and lovely dresses (and interesting shoes), loves water lilies and flowery-watery colours. Other than that… nothing. Just a description of her outfit. No word about her smile, her eyes, the expression on her face… and yet, Frodo is instantly smitten–which seems quite unlike him.
    We know more about how Tom looks. Strangely he is described as an old man but has brown hair…
    I’ll keep an eye out for the description of people in future chapters. I never really paid much attention to that.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You make some fascinating points, Gabi. I wish there was more about Goldberry in the story, and I wish Tom wasn’t so outlandish and cryptic. I wish I understood them both better. Sigh.

      As I read the chapter this time round, I thought of Goldberry more akin to the elves than I have before, translating her leaving the room when the ‘serious’ talk begins into her leaving simply because she wasn’t interested in such mundane, worldly things. Which makes some sense I suppose, when you think their world is limited to the forest. The problems outside of it are not their business. But still, it’s only conjecture and we don’t really know, and that doesn’t really account for Tom. It’s interesting that we have so much information about what she looks like but know precious little else…

      I wonder if the contrasting description of Tom is deliberate to add to the enigma of who and what he is, or whether it was an editorial oversight?

      Liked by 2 people

    • I feel like we can repeat this for pretty much any chapter, that either totally skimps on named female characters, much less speaking lines, or has them woefully undeveloped. Hot take: Tolkien was a pretty sexist dude and sucks at writing female characters. Sigh. The fact that he wasn’t alone in that among his peer group, or in the decades that followed, only makes me sigh harder. SIGH!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. This is only my second read and I read this and the Hobbit as an adult. I am torn whether I like Tom or not. At times I feel he is not to be trusted and then at other, is. I shall have to ponder this further.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I didn’t read this book until I was a teenager, and at the time, I thought Tom Bombadil was funny and silly but not very important or interesting. I was less bothered that many other people by all of the songs, because I sang a LOT as a child, in school and church and community choirs, and constantly at home — so it seemed totally normal to me that he would be singing ‘fa la la’ etc. while skipping down the path, just like I did. I sang along in my head.

    When I re-read the books later in adulthood, I really appreciated Tom more, because I had a better sense of how very old he was. (And how powerful — as you say, enough that he’s not affected by the One Ring, even though *Gandalf* is scared of it!) I thought more about how he had been through so terribly much in his apparently immortal life — seen the fortunes of empires and the hopes of peoples rise and fall, seen so many tragedies, so much death, so much loss. But instead of turning bitter (like Old Man Willow), Tom has *chosen* to continue to focus on the bright side of life, the hope, the joy of every gorgeous day as its own special gift.

    The problem I have with Tom isn’t one I see often in other critiques, and that is: if he is so powerful, and so kind and giving, why does he stay by himself in the corner of nowhere, not helping as the world falls apart all around him? Doesn’t he feel some sort of responsibility to make the world a better place? I can certainly imagine possible arguments that would put his withdrawal from the world in a sympathetic light, but that’s hypothetical; I don’t see that spelled out here. I would love to see a revamped version of this whole series of events from Tom’s perspective.

    Liked by 1 person

    • ***The problem I have with Tom isn’t one I see often in other critiques, and that is: if he is so powerful, and so kind and giving, why does he stay by himself in the corner of nowhere, not helping as the world falls apart all around him? Doesn’t he feel some sort of responsibility to make the world a better place? ***

      THIS!

      Liked by 2 people

    • I love that connection you have to Tom Bombadil with regards to singing.

      Also what a great point that Tom chooses to be this bright, light-hearted character even though he will have seen so many terrible things over the course of his long life.

      As for Tom not helping and taking on more responsibility for the world he is part of…that is so interesting. I had often wondered if the power that seems so peculiar to him is somehow connected to the area in which he lives. He makes a big point of keeping with his own boundaries, as he won’t venture beyond where he is master. Could it be because his power is limited or non-existence outside of his domain? Yet it still doesn’t account for why the Old Forest is seen as a dark and dangerous place, because surely he could help make it less dark and less dangerous? I don’t know, but it’s a very interesting question to ponder on…

      Liked by 1 person

      • I hadn’t thought about the possibility that Tom would be tied to a specific location. That’s a great fantasy theme. I don’t remember any other instances of it in the Tolkien mythology though — do you? And you bring up a good point: if Tom is tied to that forest, why is it so dark and dangerous? I would think that Tom would be at the center of a lush and peaceful place that he is master of, and that only all around the outer perimeter would be corrupted by evil. As you say, interesting to ponder on. As much credit as I give Tolkien for foreshadowing and thinking through his world building and mythology, he was only human: maybe this didn’t occur to him?

        Liked by 1 person

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