Hatrack River
Home   |   About Orson Scott Card   |   News & Reviews   |   OSC Library   |   Forums   |   Contact   |   Links
Research Area   |   Writing Lessons   |   Writers Workshops   |   OSC at SVU   |   Calendar   |   Store
E-mail this page
Hatrack River Writers Workshop Post New Topic  Post A Reply
my profile login | register | search | faq | forum home

  next oldest topic   next newest topic
» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Discussing Published Hooks & Books » LOTR--Tom Bombadil chapters. A goof or genius?

   
Author Topic: LOTR--Tom Bombadil chapters. A goof or genius?
History
Member
Member # 9213

 - posted      Profile for History   Email History         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
As I re-saturate myself in old classic fantasies, I've now come to this ol' chestnut:

In Book 1 (of 6) of LOTR, Frodo and his hobbit companions take a detour from the main story (or so it is claimed, particularly by film directors Ralph Bakshi and Peter Jackson who never included these chapters in their respective movies). For three chapters, the hobbits get lost in the Old Forest and nearly come to their ends by magic and the old roots and limbs of Old Man Willow and the barrow wights only to be saved both times by the enigmatic "Master" Tom Bombadil. These events are seemingly a geographic as well as narrative detour from the plot of the journey of the Ring from Hobbiton to Rivendell, and this is flagrantly made clear in scenes where the magic of the Ring has no power over Tom Bombadil.

From a writer's perspective then:
1) Are these chapters relevant to the narrative?
2) If not, should they be cut?
3) If so, what are their relevance to the narrative?

From a reader's perspective:
1) Would you wish to have had these chapters cut?
2) Would your enjoyment of the LOTR be any lessened with their absence?
3) What importance, if any, do these chapters have for you?

Respectfully,
History

Posts: 1415 | Registered: Aug 2010  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Meredith
Member
Member # 8368

 - posted      Profile for Meredith   Email Meredith         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Well, the argument can be made that LotR takes a long time to get started. However, I regard the earlier chapters in the shire as being more the problem than the Tom Bombadil chapters.

I've always regarded the Old Forest chapter as the "Crossing of the Threshold" in terms of the hero's journey and thought it should be included.

While Tom Bombadil himself is something of an aside to the main story and reasonably could be cut, it is full of wonder and fun and as such is a light spot before things start getting dire at Bree.

I guess that doesn't answer the question. Yes, probably everything before Bree could have been trimmed down to make the story start faster. But that doesn't mean that some, at least of the Old Forest and Tom Bombadil shouldn't have been left. And the Barrow Downs foreshadow the Witch King of Angmar, so they have a place, too.

Posts: 3899 | Registered: Dec 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
pdblake
Member
Member # 9218

 - posted      Profile for pdblake   Email pdblake         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
They had to enter the barrows to get the swords of Westerness so that Merry could cripple the witchking. And they would have missed the barrows had they gone via the road so they had to go through the old forest and, as he was the power there, be entrapped by old man willow. This not only required the intervention of Tom Bombadil, which also showed that the power of the ring had limits, it also gave a parallel between the old forest and the likes of Mirkwood and Fangorn.

This detour was also demanded by the flight of Frodo from the Shire and where he was at the time. He fled from Buckland, not Hobbiton and so the old forest was the obvious route to keep out of sight. What kind of fool would travel the main road with wraiths on their trail?

All this is of course from the perspective of a reader who likes the whole story, and not a movie goer.

So yes, those chapters are necessary.

Posts: 724 | Registered: Aug 2010  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
LDWriter2
Member
Member # 9148

 - posted      Profile for LDWriter2   Email LDWriter2         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I think there are a few detours in the books. Which is one reason the whole story is so long. But they are interesting and as pd said there are reasons for them even if it's not always obvious from first reading,

This one I wouldn't take out. Somethings had to go for the movies or they probably would have needed a fourth film or very long movies.

You might be able to get by without some of them but the whole tale would lose something for each one you take out.

Posts: 4846 | Registered: Jun 2010  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
MAP
Member
Member # 8631

 - posted      Profile for MAP           Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Well, I'll be the dissenter here. I think Tom Bombadil should be cut. I thought it was a waste of time. Everything they got there could have been gotten somewhere else.

Sure Frodo could have traveled through the forest and ran into trouble, but Tom Bombadil was not needed, and honestly that part bored me.

I love LOTR, but Tolkien took a lot of detours that I didn't find interesting. Overall, the story was amazing, but I think it would have been better with a tighter plot. JMO, obviously there are plenty that disagree with me. [Smile]

Posts: 1076 | Registered: May 2009  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
Administrator
Member # 59

 - posted      Profile for Kathleen Dalton Woodbury   Email Kathleen Dalton Woodbury         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I understand that "Tom Bombadil" was a toy that belonged to Tolkien's children and was included for their sakes.

So his part could have been cut, even though I agree the whole episode was an interesting foreshadowing of Fangorn.

They certainly could have come upon the swords of Westerness some other way.

Also, I always wondered why the Ring didn't use the barrow wight to contact the wraiths somehow.

Posts: 7995 | Registered: A Long Time Ago!  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Robert Nowall
Member
Member # 2764

 - posted      Profile for Robert Nowall   Email Robert Nowall         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Well, if I were advising Tolkien, I would've advised him to cut out Old Man Willow and Bombadil and the barrow-wights. It seemed to have little to no bearing on what was established about the Ring and what was about to happen to its bearer and his companions. Some plot points (like the aforementioned swords, one of which was needed later at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields) would have to be rearranged, of course.

And it slows the action, and makes more immediate things, like the encounter with the Black Riders by Weathertop, seem lesser than they should be. How could escaping from an evil death in the barrows make a raid on the Prancing Pony right afterwards seem anything but lesser?

Both the Peter Jackson movie and the BBC radio adaptation (which I've been listening to in the last few days) drop the scenes...though the movie does incorporate Old Man Willow into the Treebeard scenes, at least in the special editions.

It is an interesting interlude, though, and it's not without its own merits and charm. Well worth reading through and not skipping. From what I've read in the History of Middle Earth, Tolkien basically plotted out and wrote these scenes, which changed little (mostly a change of character names), as he replotted and rewrote other sections more directly concerned with the Ring. For whatever reason, he seems never to have considered deleting them...

Posts: 8229 | Registered: Aug 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Merlion-Emrys
Member
Member # 7912

 - posted      Profile for Merlion-Emrys   Email Merlion-Emrys         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
From a writer's perspective then:
1) Are these chapters relevant to the narrative?
2) If not, should they be cut?
3) If so, what are their relevance to the narrative?

I don't personally subscribe to the idea that everything in a story-especially a quite long one-needs to bear directly on the narrative which in this context means, I think, the plot. Or maybe what I should say is, I do think they are relevant to the narrative, to the spirit, tone, atmosphere and messages of the story. Many parts may not be mechanically relevant to the primary plot-their removal would for the most part not effect the outcome of the overall events.
As KDW says, Tom was apparently based partly on a toy owned by Tolkien's children. It's also my understanding that Tolkien intended Tom Bombadil to be, and represent the idea of, an element of mystery and the unknown or unknowable in the story. He (and Goldberry) are among the tiny number of things in Tolkien's world that are never really given clear explanations or origins. I think Tom is relevant on that level, as a mystery, as a metaphor for the unknown. I think it was also a way of showing that the Ring, though powerful, is not absolute.

From a reader's perspective:
1) Would you wish to have had these chapters cut?
2) Would your enjoyment of the LOTR be any lessened with their absence?
3) What importance, if any, do these chapters have for you?


1) No
2) Yes
3) I enjoy them. Especially Tom and Goldberry. I enjoy the concept of Tom as a mystery, as something not quite known or understood, and as an ancient respected figure. Also, some aspects of his attitudes, his acceptance of things and lack of interest in control are very appealing to me.

Posts: 2626 | Registered: Apr 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
MattLeo
Member
Member # 9331

 - posted      Profile for MattLeo   Email MattLeo         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I think there's ample evidence that in the first half of *Fellowship* Tolkien was struggling between the book he'd promised to write (a sequel to the Hobbit) and the book that was percolating in his head (an episode of the Silmarillion). At one point as Frodo, Sam and Pippin are traveling by night in Woody End the scene slips into the POV of a passing fox -- something that fits with the tone of *The Hobbit*, but not with *The Children of Húrin*.

There is quite a bit of spotty craft in Fellowship, an unstable POV being an example of that. There's also some writing that is the best in the whole book, notably Frodo's departure from Bag End and the temptation of Boromir. Plotting and pacing a clearly a problem until Tolkien gets his act together at the Council of Rivendell, of all things a committee meeting that goes on for scores of pages, but does manage to hammer the characters' plans into shape.

Tom Bombadil is a character from outside of the tale; he really belongs in the Finnish epic, The Kalevala, because that's the kind of magic he wields. Gandalf, for that matter, has quite a bit of Väinämöinen in him, especially as we see him in the Silmarillion.

Would I remove Bombadil? No. I understand the logic though. The whole Bombadil incident doesn't move the story forward (as is amply apparent in Peter Jackson's adaption where he is not missed at all as far as the plot is concerned). But one of the things that makes LotR important is that it transgresses and transcends conventional canons of taste. Once you let go of the idea that everything in a story has to move the plot forward, you can read the Bombadil chapters with pleasure, just for their beauty.

Bombadil is important to Tolkien thematically. If I had to put the them of LotR into a nutshell, it would be this: the necessity of faith, and the corrosive influence of the desire for power on faith. Don't let Bombadil's power fool you, what he represents is innocence; he lives in the bliss perfect faith, true to himself and untroubled by concerns that are far away from him. As such he can't take part in the adventure, other than to deal with what happens right in front of him. To be part of the story is to know evil, to be touched by it in an intimate way, and part of what is at stake in Frodo's quest is an echo of Eden before the fall.

You can cut Tom Bombadil without harming the plot of the story, but if you do you miss something essential in Tolkien's vision of the story.

Posts: 1291 | Registered: Dec 2010  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
History
Member
Member # 9213

 - posted      Profile for History   Email History         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Wonderful discussion, thank you.

I concur with Matt. I find plenty of thematic relevance to these chapters, and believe the LOTR (as most great literary works I enjoy) are great because they are a tapestry rather than a blanket of singular weave and color.

And yet, I perceive that there is less patience (or support) for such complexity and intricacy and seeming digression except for established writers

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

Posts: 1415 | Registered: Aug 2010  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Robert Nowall
Member
Member # 2764

 - posted      Profile for Robert Nowall   Email Robert Nowall         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Well, there are any number of legimate errors in The Lord of the Rings that Tolkien left untouched, that could be corrected. Some have been corrected by posthumous editorial hand (getting a mile distance wrong in the Shire). Others (like Gimli's comment about "hewing naught but wood since Moria" after the activities at Parth Galen) require a certain amount of non-auctorial rewriting that (it was decided) wouldn't be proper.

The Bombadil chapters are there...they're a pleasant read even if they have little bearing on later developments, and unless we've read ahead we can't know that...and adaptors are free to use them or not as suits their needs. (Peter Jackson left out the whole of "The Scouring of the Shire," which was important to the plot, probably 'cause it would add at least an hour, maybe more, to the film's already-lengthy running time. I certainly missed it.)

*****

It's a tribute to Tolkien's depth, and that he gave his subcreated world, that such discussions become important.

Other multivolume works, less so...when I read Asimov's "Foundation" trilogy, in all innocence, I started with Volume Two---and felt no real loss as the stories within all are self-contained.

And I read the first Harry Potter---still haven't gotten around to any of the others---and thought that first chapter didn't have anything to do with the story in the book and could've come out. (You guys who have read the others, bear with me over this---relevance may be in later volumes, but I despise series where you have to read every volume to know what's going on...)

Posts: 8229 | Registered: Aug 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Robert Nowall
Member
Member # 2764

 - posted      Profile for Robert Nowall   Email Robert Nowall         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Should'a added to the last post: Tolkien "got away with it" with three books that you have to have read all three, because, really, they're a single novel in multiple volumes, not unprecedented, but relatively rare in these latter days...
Posts: 8229 | Registered: Aug 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
axeminister
Member
Member # 8991

 - posted      Profile for axeminister   Email axeminister         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I feel the same about the macabrey chapter in The Graveyard Book.
I can envision many an editor wanting to cut that from the book as it doesn't move the plot forward. It's just this short story plopped in there using the same characters.

But it's Neil Gaiman... So it stayed. And it's wonderful.

Axe

Posts: 1467 | Registered: Jan 2010  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
MattLeo
Member
Member # 9331

 - posted      Profile for MattLeo   Email MattLeo         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
axeminster wrote:
quote:
But it's Neil Gaiman... So it stayed. And it's wonderful.
I have a feeling if one of us handed in the manuscript for The Graveyard Book, the macabrey chapter would have stayed, unless the editor was too dense to recognize when a masterpiece has been dumped in his lap. Gaiman says that this is a story he'd wanted to write for years, but he waited until he had the skill to do it justice -- and it shows. I think his juvenile fiction is superior to his adult fiction, at least as far as structure is concerned. *American Gods* was a work of genius, but not particularly good as a novel. It's as if Gaiman's imagination when given rein can't fit within the bounds of a novel, and we get something like a dance macabrey in every chapter. Paring the word count down leaves a much more powerful story.

Dr. Bob wrote:
quote:
And yet, I perceive that there is less patience (or support) for such complexity and intricacy and seeming digression except for established writers.
Well, whether to worry about that or not depends on why you're writing the book. Madeleine L'Engle got 26 rejections for *A Wrinkle in Time*, which only got published because of a chance social meeting with a publisher. The reasons for the rejection: (1) it dealt with issues of good and evil which are too challenging for children; (2) it was a sci-fi book with a female protagonist.

Now there's an attitude that some writers have, which is "I'm an entertainer, I'll do whatever it takes to divert the reader and take a paycheck home." I actually respect this position; these are people who want to be *writers*. But they'll never produce anything like *A Wrinkle in Time*, a book that that can change the course of a reader's life.

I don't think it makes sense to set out to write a book like that, but at some point L'Engle must have known she had something extraordinary. It wasn't a story she was telling because she wanted to collect a paycheck or call herself a published writer. I'm not saying that makes her a better person or a better writer than someone who has those motivations; I'm saying that explains why the decision to plow through 26 rejections rather than make the story more commercially attractive was the right one for *her*.

Posts: 1291 | Registered: Dec 2010  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Robert Nowall
Member
Member # 2764

 - posted      Profile for Robert Nowall   Email Robert Nowall         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
On another side note on editing successful writers, since we moved on from Tolkien...since about the time Stephen King hit it big, his works got more bloated, but his success (and sales) flowed without regard. (And also arrogance---have you ever read some of his recent essays?)

Somebody in a review back in the late seventies or early eighties---I think Spider Robinson---said something along the lines of, "How do you tell somebody whose works sell so well that he needs to lose about fifty thousand words?" Even back then...it's gotten even worse as the decades progressed...

*****

On long-term rejection...I understand that John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces was published in 1980 after a long history of multiple rejections...then went on to bestselling status and critical praise, as well as winning a Pulitzer.

As this publication was eleven years after Toole's death (suicide), I can't be sure how pleased and happy he was made by the eventual belated success of his work.

I don't know how willing to change something I'd be---somebody could give me the opportunity---but, on the other hand, posthumous success has little appeal for me, either.

Posts: 8229 | Registered: Aug 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
hoptoad
Member
Member # 2145

 - posted      Profile for hoptoad   Email hoptoad         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
This thread is long so I hope I don't repeat what others may have said:

Tom Bombadil is an excellent foil for Gandalf.

Where Gandalf could not touch the ring because of its potential effects on him. Tom Bombadil was immune.

Gandalf's vulnerability was a result of his benevolent interest in and care for the peoples of middle-earth, men, halflings, dwarfs etc...

Tom Bombadil's immunity came simply because he did not care nor was he interested.

Throw Saruman in and you seem to have the trifecta: Benevolent, Malevolent and Ambivalent.

Posts: 1678 | Registered: Aug 2004  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
   

Quick Reply
Message:

HTML is not enabled.
UBB Code™ is enabled.
UBB Code™ Images not permitted.
Instant Graemlins
   


Post New Topic  Post A Reply Close Topic   Feature Topic   Move Topic   Delete Topic next oldest topic   next newest topic
 - Printer-friendly view of this topic
Hop To:


Contact Us | Hatrack River Home Page

Copyright © 2008 Hatrack River Enterprises Inc. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.


Powered by Infopop Corporation
UBB.classic™ 6.7.2