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Sally Plessl

ENG 375R 01

Prof. Card

19 Jan 2006

If I only had a Bombadil… by Michael Martinez


    The Difference Between Books and Movies

            By now, anyone who is a fan of Tolkien’s trilogy The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) knows that Peter Jackson did not include the part of the story that includes Tom Bombadil and the Hobbits’ journey through the Old Forest.  So, why did Jackson decide to leave Bombadil out of the story?  Would he have made any difference in the outcome of the story?  The movies succeed without Bombadil.  The close reader notices some discrepancies, but accepts the story as it is presented.  However, Tolkien included him in LOTR. 

            In the literary story, Gandalf notes that the episode at the Barrow-downs was the most dangerous escapade Frodo experienced on his journey to Rivendell. 

            The Barrow-downs are haunted by terrible and tortured spirits who fled across Middle Earth seeking to hide from the light of the Sun. The barrow-wights of the Barrow-down, by the way, were inspired by the historic burial mounds found on the Berkshire Downs, not far from Oxford where the Tolkien family lived. One of these demons takes the hobbits captive and carries them to a chamber deep within a barrow.

            It seems that the Barrow-wight is preparing to murder the poor hobbits, or possibly to sacrifice them. Although bewitched along with his companions, Frodo struggles to escape. He remembers a rhyme Tom had taught him, and calls it out. In a moment, Tom is there, pulling down the door to the barrow so that sunlight streams in. He sings a song to the Wight, commanding it to vanish, and of course, it does exactly that. Then he and Frodo carry the other three out. Tom raises his right hand over them and revives them with another song.

            Martinez asks “[w]hy is the Barrow-wight a worse evil than the Nazgul at Weathertop?” (169).  He argues that it is because “the Wight actually had Frodo and the Ring in its power” (169).  The Nazgul had found the Hobbits in the Shire and had a plan to stab Frodo and turn him into a Wraith.  If the Nazgul had found Frodo in Hobbiton, he probably would have taken him back to Mordor. 

            Martinez also points out that “Peter Jackson’s story required the Nazgul to come across like terrifying and dangerous creatures.  The audience had to feel somehow that if Jackson’s Nazgul were to get Jackson’s Frodo, they’d haul him back to Mordor.  So, one must ask the question, would have including the Barrow-wight diminished the effect of the Nazgul?” (170).


What We Learn from Tom

            The reader (and the Hobbits for that matter) learns many things from Tom Bombadil.  The Barrow-wights were sent by the Lord of the Nazgul to infest the mounds of Tyrn Gorthad.  Bombadil also gives the Hobbits a history lesson that reinforces the Gandalf’s earlier lesson.  Bombadil tells his part of the tale of the Ring.  It is also at this meeting that he first mentions Aragorn.  Martinez says that although he “doesn’t reveal Aragorn’s identity to either the Hobbits or the reader.  He only prepares the Hobbits to meet the leader of the Ranger’s.”  He “implants a certain sense of trustworthiness in the Hobbits” (172). 

            Tom Bombadil also gives the Hobbits ponies and swords.  Readers may remember in Jackson’s movie, Aragorn whips out swords at Weathertop and gives them to the Hobbits as they try to defend themselves from the Wraiths.  In the movie, they do not appear special, but in the book, Aragorn points out that they are “wound about with spells for the bane of Mordor.” 

            Bombadil tells the Hobbits they will need the swords if they travel east or south and they don’t seem to understand that he is foretelling their future.  They are deaf and dumb to his wisdom, but seem enraptured by his words.  They feel safe while they are with him, but he does not necessarily feel they will be safe if they stay.  He is no master of the Nazgul nor of the One Ring, which cannot master him.  Bombadil cannot stand between Frodo and the destiny of the Ring.


Getting to Know Tom

            Tom Bombadil is not only the ‘Eldest’ as he says to Frodo in LOTR, but he is also one of Tolkien’s earliest literary creations.  A Dutch doll that belonged to one of Tolkien’s sons inspired the character of Tom Bombadil.  The doll was stuffed down the toilet by another son, was saved, and eventually became the subject of many nighttime stories told to Tolkien’s children. 

            Long before LOTR was published, Tolkien published a poem in 1934 entitled “The Adventures of Tom Bombadil.”  Bombadil is described as a merry fellow with a bright blue jacket, yellow boots, blue eyes, red face, and a brown beard.  In the poems, Bombadil meets his wife Goldberry, is captured by Old Man Willow and is haunted by a Barrow-wight.    

             Tolkien had created a character and he wanted to use him.  In regards to a possible sequel to The Hobbit, he wrote:

I did not think any of the stuff I dropped on you filled the bill…I think it is plain that quite apart from it, a sequel or successor to The Hobbit is called for.  I promise to give this thought and attention…Mr Baggins began as a comic tale among conventional and inconsistent Grimm’s fairy-tale dwarves, and got drawn to the edge of it…And what more can hobbits do?  They can be comic, but their comedy is suburban unless it is set against things more elemental.  But the real fun about orcs and dragons (to my mind) was before their time.  Perhaps a new (if similar) line?  Do you think Tom Bombadil, the spirit of the (vanishing) Oxford and Berkshire countryside, could be made into the hero of a story?  Or is he, as I suspect, fully enshrined in the enclosed verses?  Still I could enlarge the portrait (Letters 26). 

            This idea was never pursued, but Bombadil and his wife, Goldberry, found their way into LOTR, which started as a deliberate sequel to The Hobbit.  Tolkien needed to change little about him or the original poem except for the feather in his hat which originally was a peacock feather.  It was changed to a swan-wing because peacocks do not live in Middle-earth (Ibid 318-319).


So, What’s All The Fuss About?      

            Many readers feel that Bombadil is an unnecessary intrusion to LOTR and can be omitted without loss.  Tolkien responded in a letter, “. . . many have found him an odd and indeed discordant ingredient. In historical fact I put him in because I had already invented him. . . and wanted an 'adventure' on the way. But I kept him in, and as he was, because he represents certain things otherwise left out” (Letters 192).  He also reveals a little about what Bombadil’s literary role or function might be.  “As a story, I think it is good that there should be a lot of things unexplained (especially if an explanation actually exists);... And even in a mythical Age there must be some enigmas, as there always are. Tom Bombadil is one (intentionally)” (Ibid 174.)

It’s important to distinguish between an enigma and an anomaly, for Tolkien's is interested in Tom as an enigma while readers usually treat him as an anomaly.

An anomaly is something peculiar, irregular, abnormal, or difficult to classify. It is in this sense that someone might claim that Tom could be left out. An enigma, on the other hand, is puzzling, ambiguous, or inexplicable, something which seems to be discordant, unrelated, out of place, but isn't.

In his essay, “Who Is Tom Bombadil?”, Gene Hargrove states:

This distinction becomes pivotal in the discussion of Tom Bombadil when one considers that on three occasions in the story the question of Tom's identity or nature is pointedly brought up, twice by Frodo in Tom's house and later at the Council of Elrond. If there is no answer to the question, then Tom is anomalous. If there is, then he is, as Tolkien claimed, enigmatic.


            Hargrove continues:

I personally find it inconceivable that there is no answer within the framework of the story to Frodo's question: "Who is Tom Bombadil?" Although Tolkien didn't want to tell his readers directly, it seems to me certain that he himself knew very well. Tolkien was very protective of what he wrote, including his errors. When he found something miswritten in his manuscript, he was more likely to ponder, in terms of Middle-earth, how his characters came to make such an error, or what special significance this might have, than simply to correct it. Thus, a mispelt foreign word was more likely to remain as an example of regional dialect than to be changed.

To Frodo’s question of ‘who is Tom Bombadil?’ Goldberry answered with the simple statement, “He is” (Rings, 1:122).  Many readers accused Goldberry’s answer implied that Bombadil was God.  Tolkien denied this implication in a letter in 1954,


As for Tom Bombadil, I really do think you are being too serious, besides missing the point... He is master in a peculiar way: he has no fear, and no desire of possession or domination at all. He merely knows and understands about such things as concern him in his natural little realm. He hardly even judges, and as far as can be seen makes no effort to reform or remove even the Willow (Letters 191-192). 


            Tolkien also explained, “Tom is not an important person - to the narrative. I suppose he has some importance as a 'comment'” (Letters 178).   He then goes on to explain that each side in the War of the Ring is struggling for power and control. Tom in contrast, though very powerful, has renounced power in a kind of "vow of poverty," "a natural pacifist view." In this sense, Tolkien says, Tom's presence reveals that there are people and things in the world for whom the war is largely irrelevant or at least unimportant, and who cannot be easily disturbed or interfered with in terms of it (Ibid 178-79).

So, What Happens When Tom Touches the Ring?

            One night, when Frodo and his buddies were at Bombadil’s house, Tom asks Frodo to see the Ring.  Frodo hands Bombadil the Ring almost before he thought about it:


It seemed to grow larger as it lay for a moment on his big brown-skinned hand. Then suddenly he put it to his eye and laughed. For a second the hobbits had a vision, both comical and alarming, of his bright blue eye gleaming through a circle of gold. Then Tom put the Ring round the end of his little finger and held it up to the candlelight. For a moment the hobbits noticed nothing strange about this. Then they gasped. There was no sign of Tom disappearing!

Tom laughed again, and then he spun the Ring in the air -- and it vanished with a flash. Frodo gave a cry -- and Tom leaned forward and handed it back to him with a smile. (Rings 1:130)


            Offended, Frodo decids to play his own trick and puts the ring on his own finger.  Although invisible to all the others, Bombadil says to Frodo, “Hey! Come Frodo, there! Where be you a-going? Old Tom Bombadil's not as blind as that yet. Take off your golden ring! Your hand's more fair without it” (Ibid 1:131). 

            Bombadil is not possessive.  He does not desire to dominate or control and will not interfere with other beings except when they directly interfere with him.  This distain for ownership is the main reason why Tom can handle the Ring.  All other powerful beings, Gandalf and Galadriel included, are afraid to touch the Ring with fears of turning evil. 

            Tom approaches the Ring critically; all others refer to the Ring in a reverent sense.  Tom says, “Show me the precious Ring!” (Ibid 1:133), suggesting irony or perhaps doubt about its value. 



In his essay, Hargrove noted two curious facts about Tom:


He is…able to overcome its normal effects.  When he puts it on his finger, he does not become invisible. When Frodo puts it on his finger, Tom is still able to see Frodo…. Tom is able with ease to use the ring in ways that were not intended by its maker, for he is able to make the ring itself disappear…. Such power over the ring, displayed almost as a parlor trick, …cannot be accounted for by classifying Tom Bombadil as an anomalous nature spirit.


            Bombadil interacts with the Ring in surprising ways: it does not make him invisible, he is able to make it invisible, he sees Frodo wearing it, and Frodo is able to hand it to him.  Martinez states, “It is Bombadil who shows the Ring cannot master everyone, and if it cannot master everyone then there is reason to hope that Frodo can withstand its influence for at least a little while” (177). 


If I Only Had a Bombadil…   

            There are many reasons why Jackson did not include tom in his movie.  One viable reason is there just isn’t enough time to include everything.  Martinez argues, “…if Bombadil is dropped in order to save time, that means that the plot has to be altered, or else a gap left in the storyline.  Removing Bombadil surgically is simply impossible” (178). 

Martinez, along with many viewers, wishes that Bombadil could be saved and included in the extended versions of the film.  He writes that one of his favorite scenes in “The Wizard of Oz” is a deleted, and thought to be lost, Jitterbug sequence.  We can only hope that in the 50th anniversary DVD “Lord of the Rings” will include a lost scene of Tom Bombadil.  “Because, you know, Bombadil is important to the story no matter how much it gets changed.  He is” (179-180).

Works Cited

Hargrove, Gene. Who Is Tom Bombadil?.  16 Jan. 2002.  18 Jan. 2006.    <http://www.cas.unt.edu/~hargrove/tombomb.html>.

Martinez, Michael.  “If I Only Had a Bombadil…”.  Understanding Middle-Earth: Essays on Tolkien’s Middle-Earth. New York: ViviSphere, 2003.  169-180.

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien.  Ed. Humphrey Carpenter. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981.

---.  The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1954. 






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