- "Old Tom Bombadil is a merry fellow! Bright Blue his jacket is, and his boots are yellow!"
- —Tom Bombadil
Tom Bombadil was an enigmatic figure that lived throughout the history of Arda who dwelt in the valley of the river Withywindle, east of the Shire. A mysterious being, Tom lived in the depths of the Old Forest, close to the Barrow-downs. His lands were not particularly extensive, but within his domain his power over virtually everything in it was extraordinary. Tom was a paradoxical individual, one moment defeating ancient forces with hardly an effort, the next capering and singing nonsensical songs. He lived with his wife Goldberry, "Daughter of the River," far from any other settlement. Although seemingly benevolent, he took no open stance against the Dark Lords.
- "Eldest, that's what I am... Tom remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn... He knew the dark under the stars when it was fearless - before the Dark Lord came from Outside."
- —Tom Bombadil (The Lord of the Rings)
The origin and nature of Tom Bombadil are unknown; however, he claimed already existed before the Dark Lord came to Arda, signifying he may have been alive even before the coming of the Valar (it is unclear whether he refers to Melkor's first or second entry into the world.). In any case, Tom is insinuated to have been the first living creature to inhabit Arda.
First & Second Ages
Tom would eventually "leave" where he came from and arrived in Middle-earth, where he began his journey through the region to explore it while wandering, having witnessed the emergence of the forests and the rain. While his role and nature in the first and second ages is unknown, but he must have witnessed most of the major events and battles. He also witnessed the reducing of the great forests that covered all Middle-earth, and perhaps of his powers. The level of his interactions with the outside world is also unclear; however, he perhaps became a folkloric figure in the traditions and legends of Elves, Dwarves and Men. As a result, he came to be known by many names during his pilgrimage: the Elves called as Iarwain Ben-adar ("Oldest and Fatherless" in Sindarin), while he was known as Orald to men and Forn to the Dwarves.
At the end of his wanderings, Tom focused his exploration only on Eriador, making him the first to reside in the west even before the Elves moved there and the tides were folded. In this period, his journey down the Withywindle to the Brandywine river, 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 and the Badger-folk, attempted to capture Bombadil for their own ends, but quail at the power of Tom's voice, which defeated their enchantments and commands them to return to their natural existence. Ultimately, Bombadil was captured and marries Goldberry when she pulled Tom by his beard under the water-lilies out of mischief, but he ordered her to let him free. The next day he came to the River-woman and asked Goldberry to be his wife, and the creatures of the Old Forest (the badger-folk and other animals) attended their wedding.
- "But I had forgotten Bombadil, if indeed this is still the same that walked the woods and hills long ago, and even then was older than the old. That was not then his name. Iarwain Ben-adar we called him, oldest and fatherless. But many another name he has since been given by other folk: Forn by the Dwarves, Orald by Northern Men, and other names beside. He is a strange creature..."
- —Elrond, The Fellowship of the Ring
It is not known when Tom settled into his domain outside the Old Forest, but of course he was already living there when the Third Age began, seeing the rise (and fall) of the realm of Angmar and its wars that led to the Barrow-downs being inhabited by evil spirits called Barrow-wights. He also saw the arrival of hobbits in the region that would become the Shire, which led him occasionally to interact with the little folk, mostly in Buckland. He eventually was named Tom Bombadil by the Bucklanders, which would become the name he adopted. Perhaps it was because of his contact with them that he had his cheerful and whimsical attitude.
A tale says that Tom is challenged by various river-residents on his journey down the Withywindle to the Brandywine river where hobbits live at Haysend, 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, the charmed birds and otters work together to bring Bombadil's boat home.
War of the Ring
In 3018, Frodo and his company had a chance meeting with Bombadil in the Old Forest after a nearly disastrous encounter with Old Man Willow. Frodo, who had fled from the tree looking for help, enlisted Bombadil, who had been out gathering water lilies. Bombadil went immediately with Frodo to the tree and commanded it to release its prisoners, Merry and Pippin, which it immediately did. He then invited Frodo and his companions to his home, where the Hobbits had an almost dreamlike stay, feasting and making merry with Tom. In this state, Frodo rather inadvertently told Tom all about the Ring and his quest, and when Tom asked to inspect the Ring, Frodo, without question and without any of the reluctance that tended to accompany giving the Ring to another, allowed him to. Tom then put the Ring on his finger, yet not only did he not disappear, but the Ring appeared to have no effect on him at all. After making the Ring itself vanish with a sleight-of-hand trick, he returned it to Frodo, who, slightly suspicious that it had not made Tom vanish, put it on to make sure it was the genuine Ring. Tom surprised him yet again by revealing that he could see Frodo even with the Ring on, and told Frodo to remove it, stating that his hand was fairer without it.
After two days resting and feasting at Tom's home, the Hobbits set out again, only to be captured the next day by Wights on the Barrow-downs. Fortunately, Tom once again came to their rescue, dispersing the Wights and breaking open their tomb. After this, he escorted the Hobbits to the borders of his land and left them there.
The peril of the hobbits was not over; an attack on their lives was carried out, and their ponies were set loose. The ponies apparently remembered the care they were given in the house of Tom Bombadil, and returned to stay beside Tom's own pony, Fatty Lumpkin. He returned them to Barliman Butterbur, the proprietor of The Prancing Pony. Since he had paid eighteen pence as compensation for the loss, he was now the owner of five fine ponies.
Over a month later, Tom became a topic of discussion at the Council of Elrond. There, Elrond, who had apparently met Tom in times long past, reminisced about him briefly before the question was put before the Council of whether or not to give the Ring to Tom, as it appeared as though Tom may have had power over even the Ring within his lands. However, Gandalf quickly dismissed the idea, saying that rather than Tom having power over the Ring, the Ring simply had no power over Tom. He was immune to its influence, but he could not alter it. There is however evidence of Tom's ability to affect the rings power over others, as Frodo freely gave the ring to Tom without his usual hesitation or protective behaviors.
Additionally, it was believed by Gandalf that while Tom might be willing to take the Ring if asked by all the Free People of the world, he might do so, but would not understand the reason. Due to this, Tom would have likely either forgot about it or thrown it away, as such things had little relevance to him. It was also mentioned that taking the Ring back to him would be impossible to accomplish without it becoming known to Sauron, and that sooner or later, Sauron would bend all his power towards Tom's realm to take the Ring back. Despite his mastery within his realm, it was assumed that Tom would not have cared or been able to keep the Ring contained to his realm.
Four years after the One Ring was destroyed, Gandalf spent some time with Bombadil. It is unknown how the meeting involved or what was discussed. Gandalf says, in response to Frodo's query of how well Bombadil is getting along, that he is "as well as ever", "quite untroubled" and "not much interested in anything that we have done and seen", except perhaps their encounters with the Ents. When 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.
- "He is a strange creature."
- —Elrond on Bombadil in "The Council of Elrond"
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!" 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. 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. As such, according to Gandalf, Tom Bombadil was perhaps not fully aware of the struggle of Light and Darkness and could not prove useful to their causes.
Tom Bombadil appeared as an old man, at least to Hobbit eyes, with a wrinkled and ruddy face, bright blue eyes, and a bristling brown beard. He was said to be taller than a typical Hobbit, but too short to be a Man, which would put him somewhere between four and a half and five feet in height.
His clothing consisted of a blue jacket and yellow boots, and he wore an old and battered hat, surmounted by a feather. He seems to have preferred to wear a swan-feather in his hat, but before he met Frodo and company on the banks of the Withywindle, he had acquired the feather of a kingfisher instead. In his own house, rather than a hat, he wore a crown of autumn leaves.
- Main article: Theories about Tom Bombadil
Tom Bombadil's true nature has been debated over the years, being uncertain what he really is. Even Tolkien said little about the mystery behind the character, stating that some things must remain mysterious in any narrative, "especially if an explanation really exists." In general, it is considered as accepted the theory that Tom is one of the Ainur, angelic beings who shaped the earth. In fact, Robert Foster's The Complete Guide to Middle-earth describes him as "a Maia 'gone native'". However, other theories indicate that he may be the living embodiment of Arda, of Ea, of the concentrated goodwill of the once neutral elder Forests or Time itself. It is also argued that Tom may be the reincarnated spirit of Music of the Ainur or a "by-product" of it, a representation of the reader, one or more of Tolkien's friends, and even himself. Other Tolkien scholars, in turn, simply believe that Tom is one of the Nameless Things that inhabited the depths of world since Ainulindalë.
Although it was thought by some that Bombadil would be Eru Ilúvatar himself due to Goldberry's statement saying "He is.", Tolkien himself rejected this notion, saying that in Middle-earth "there is no embodiment of the One, of God, who indeed remains remote, outside the World ", and he carefully differentiated Goldberry's response from the Biblical "I Am That I Am ". Likewise, speculation had also been raised that Bombadil was one of the Blue Wizards, the Witch-king of Angmar in disguise or an evil entity hiding his true indole, however, all these ideas are generally considered misguided due to their contradictions within the Tolkien's works.
Proclaimed to be "the oldest in existence," Tom Bombadil was apparently immortal and possesses a range of enigmatic powers able to give full control over his domains, seen by Goldberry that described Tom as being "Master of wood, water and hill". He was also referenced as being impossible to capture or imprison. Tom's greatest revealed power was in his singing. With song he exercised authority over Old Man Willow and the supernatural Barrow-wights. Also despite seeming to be a rather whimsical and nonsensical being, he was well known to many powerful beings in Middle-earth, including Elrond and Gandalf, and he could be serious if the need arose.
Another extraordinary capacity Bombadil possessed was his immunity to the power of the One Ring; he could see Frodo when Frodo wore it, and could wear it himself with no effect. He even tossed the Ring in the air, making it vanish, then produced it from his other hand. He noticed the evil nature of the Ring (like Gandalf), warning Frodo not to use it, because his hand "looked more beautiful without him". 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 the Council of Elrond as Gandalf says, rather, that "the Ring has no power over [Tom Bombadil]...", and believed that Tom would not find the Ring to be very important, and so might simply misplace it.
At the Council, 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.
Tom Bombadil went by many names:
- To Elves and Dúnedain he was known as Iarwain Ben-adar, which translates to "oldest and fatherless". Iarwain literally means "Old-young".
- To Men of the Vales of Anduin and Rohan, he was known as Orald. This is an Old English word meaning "very ancient.
- The Dwarves knew him as Forn. This too is a reference to his age: it is Old Norse for "(belonging to) ancient (days)".
- Tom Bombadil is said to be a Bucklandish name, added by Hobbit chroniclers to his many older ones. Like most Bucklandish names, its translation is unknown. The resemblance of the -dil ending to the common Elvish (n)dil, "friend," may or may not be coincidental.
Tom Bombadil was inspired primarily from a doll Tolkien's son, Michael, toyed with.
Paula Marmor notes that bobadil is an archaic word meaning "braggart", as seen in the character "Captain Bobadill" in the English play Every Man in His Humour. Because of its Bucklandish form, An Introduction to Elvish lists the name Bombadil under the "Celtic-sounding names". However, it is said that the word derives from Boabdil, the Spaniard name of Abu Abdillah Muhammad XII, the last Moorish ruler of Granada.
John D. Rateliff has noted a theory launched by scholar Justin Noetzel. In the latter's paper "Beorn and Tom Bombadil: Mythology, Narrative, and The Most (Non) Essential Characters in Middle-earth", Noetzel suggests an association of Tom Bombadil with the Celtic Otherworld and tales of the Tuatha Dé Danann.
In The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, Tolkien describes Goldberry as the seasonal changes in nature, and Tom Bombadil as the spirit of the (vanishing) Oxford and Berkshire countryside, meaning that Tom is the countryside existing in Time, alive and embodied; However, this letter was in reference to works which pre-dated the writing of The Lord of The Rings, and thus may not be true of Tom in canon.
- "Eldest, that's what I am...Tom remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn...he knew the dark under the stars when it was fearless — before the Dark Lord came from Outside.."
- —Tom Bombadil (The Fellowship of the Ring)
- "Old Tom Bombadil is a merry fellow, Bright blue his jacket is, and his boots are yellow. None have ever caught him yet, for Tom, he is the master: His songs are stronger songs, and his feet are faster."
- —The Fellowship of the Ring
- "He is."
- —Goldberry, upon being asked who Tom Bombadil is.
The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, a book of verse published in 1962, is purported to contain a selection of Hobbit poems, two of which are about Tom Bombadil and tell of his adventure with Badger folk. Tom also appears in the poem The Stone Troll, supposedly composed by Sam Gamgee and recorded in the Red Book of Westmarch, in which Tom mentions his "nuncle" Tim, on whose bones the troll is feeding, and he also mentions his father.
Portrayal in adaptations
The Lord of the Rings film trilogy
In many film and radio adaptations of The Lord of the Rings, Bombadil is notable by his absence, possibly because nobody knows quite what to do with him. Peter Jackson justified his omission of Bombadil from the film The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring by pointing out that the character had little to do with the grand story-line, and did not advance the Hobbits' progress towards Rivendell. However, much of Bombadil's dialogue, and the scene in which the hobbits meet Old Man Willow, are transplanted into scenes that Merry and Pippin share with Treebeard in the film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.
- Tom Bombadil is a major character in the early quest progression and story-line of The Lord of the Rings Online role-playing game.
- Tom Bombadil is a hero, summoned through his respective power, in The Battle for Middle-earth II and in the game's expansion pack, The Rise of the Witch-king.
- Although Tom Bombadil does not appear in Peter Jackson's film series, Decipher produced a card for the character in The Lord of the Rings Trading Card Game. He was portrayed by Harry Weller-Chew.
- In the Games Workshops' Lord of the Rings strategy game, Tom Bombadil is a hero along with his wife, Goldberry. If they enter a fight, they automatically win, although they can not strike blows; nor can he or Goldberry be killed by shooting or magical powers.
- Tom Bombadil is an unlockable character in LEGO The Lord of the Rings: The Video Game and in LEGO The Hobbit.
- In April 2008, 3D entertainment model producer Gentle Giant Studios, Inc., headquartered in Burbank, California, released an exclusive sculpted Tom Bombadil bust, limited to 1000 pieces, for the 2007 San Diego Comic-Con. It was licensed under New Line Cinema's The Lord of the Rings franchise.
- Bombadil appeared in the 1979 Mind's Eye radio adaptation of the books.
- He was voiced by Norman Shelley in the 1955–1956 BBC radio adaptation of The Lord of the Rings.
- He was later portrayed by Esko Hukkanen in the 1993 Finnish miniseries Hobitit.
- In Khraniteli, he was portrayed by Sergei Parshin.
- The Spanish band "Saurom Lamberth" once dedicated a song to the character.
- "Bombadil" is the name of a folk-pop band from Durham, North Carolina. (Paste Magazine)
- Because of the imprecision of his true identity or nature, Tom Bombadil is considered to be the most mysterious character created by Tolkien.
- Both Tom and Treebeard were referred to as the oldest living creatures of Arda, though it is not clear which of the two is the oldest. However, according to Tolkien's letters, it is implied that Bombadil was the oldest living being in Middle-earth.
- The Fellowship of the Ring
- The Two Towers (Mentioned only)
- The Return of the King (Mentioned only)
- The Adventures of Tom Bombadil
- The Lord of the Rings Online
- The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II
- LEGO The Lord of the Rings: The Video Game
|Foreign Language||Translated name|
|Belarusian Cyrillic||Том Бомбаділ|
|Bulgarian Cyrillic||Том Бомбадил|
|Chinese (Hong Kong)||湯姆·龐巴迪|
|Kazakh||Том Бомбаділ (Cyrillic) Tom Bombadil (Latin)|
|Kyrgyz Cyrillic||Том Бомбадил|
|Macedonian Cyrillic||Том Бомбадил|
|Mongolian Cyrillic||Том Бомбадил|
|Serbian||Том Бомбадил (Cyrillic) Tom Bombadil (Latin)|
|Tajik Cyrillic||Том Бомбадил|
|Ukrainian Cyrillic||Том Бомбадил|
|Uzbek||Том Бомбадил (Cyrillic) Tom Bombadil (Latin)|
- The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter VII: "In the House of Tom Bombadil"
- The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, ch. II: "The Council of Elrond"
- The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, "Preface"
- The Adventures of Tom Bombadil
- The poem "Once Upon A Time" is apparently set during this period. Tom and Goldberry are in a field, and Tom is resting his feet in the dew. He stays there as the days go by, when the Lintips come to visit.
- Tales from the Perilous Realm
- The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter XI: "A Knife in the Dark"
- The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letters 144 and 153
- The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion, pg. 128; quoting an unpublished letter by Tolkien
- "Nomenclature of The Lord of the Rings" in Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull (eds), The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion
- Jim Allan, An Introduction to Elvish, "Giving of Names"
- "Valparaiso, Day Three" dated 12 March 2013, Sacnoth's Scriptorium (accessed 14 March 2013)
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Bombadil (accessed 15 December, 2018)
- Entry in the Encyclopedia of Arda (a concise overview of the discussion)
- Who is Tom Bombadil? (an analysis of the various theories of who/what Tom is)