ENG 375R 01
19 Jan 2006
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).
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.
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:
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).
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:
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.
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,
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
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
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:
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!
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
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.
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
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).
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
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”
Gene. Who Is Tom Bombadil?. 16 Jan. 2002. 18 Jan. 2006. <http://www.cas.unt.edu/~hargrove/tombomb.html>.
Michael. “If I Only Had a Bombadil…”. Understanding Middle-Earth: Essays
on Tolkien’s Middle-Earth. New York: ViviSphere, 2003. 169-180.
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