Tom is neither man nor hobbit, though in shape he resembles most a man. He is a unique creature and perhaps the oldest of any character in The Lord of the Rings, supposed by Elrond to have existed for as long as middle earth has. He is master of the woods he lives in, the Old Wood near the shire, though they once extended far beyond their present boundaries, meeting the Mirkwood (in fairer days) and Fangorn as one solid forest. Tender, forester, it's not clear; he is simply Master. He is cheerful and hospitable to good folk. He wears bright yellow boots and a blue jacket and sings from sunup to sundown. His wife is the fair river's daughter, Goldberry. He is curiously outside of the world; the One Ring's gift of invisibility does not deceive him.

Who is Tom Bombadil? Nobody knows for sure, but there are a few commonly accepted possibilities:

  • He is one of the Maiar. The reasoning being that this is the most convenient pigeonhole in which to place him (and Goldberry as well). Most of the other individuals in LotR with "mysterious" origins: Gandalf, Sauron, Wizards, and Balrogs did in fact turn out to be Maiar.
  • He is Ilúvatar (AKA Eru). Goldberry makes one comment to Frodo that gives this possibility hope: (F: "Who is Tom Bombadil?" G: "He is."). To many this sounds like what God told Moses at the burning bush: "I am that I am." It's a fun thought.
  • He is Aulë (one of the Valar). Tom's actions mesh nicely with Aulë's, and to an even greater extent, Goldberry's with Yavanna's (Yavanna is Aulë's spouse). In Goldberry's case, the two are even given a similar physical description.
  • He is just Tom, a one-of-a-kind being. Tolkien indirectly supported this idea in his letters: "As a story, I think it is good that there should be a lot of things unexplained ... Tom Bombadil is one (intentionally)."

Tom Bombadil is, of course, an enigmatic character. While his behaviour is fairly straightforward, it is his origin and the extent of his powers that have puzzled generations of Tolkien fans. This of course, only makes him more appealing.

The discussion about Tom Bombadil's origin and purpose comes up repeatedly among readers. One time, someone explained the appeal to me. He said that in the narrative structure of the work, which on the surface seems to be dominated by a battle between "good" and "evil", Bombadil represents nature, wild, neutral position that doesn't "take sides". While this point probably explains much of Bombadil's appeal, especially to the pagan types that make up a large part of Tolkien's hardcore readers, part of its premise is incorrect.

J.R.R. Tolkien was a Christian, a Roman Catholic, and although he never wrote his books as allegory or propaganda, he would never include anything that was philosophically against basic tenents of Catholic theology. Manicheanism, the belief that good and evil are equal, is against Catholic theology, and is clearly not the basis of the mythology or cosmology of Tolkien. As in Christian mythology, the chief evil agent is a fallen angel, the creation of God and not his opposite. Because of this, the existence of evil, whether in the form of Morgoth or Sauron, does not change the essential cosmological order of Ea, but is only a historical factor in it, even if it becomes (apparently) the overarching factor of history.

Bombadil's appearences in the story demonstrates Tolkien's belief that morality is separate from narrative. In other words, someone's moral choices are not defined by what "side" they take, or by taking a side at all, and what final aims they work towards, but by whether they act in a moral, compassionate manner in any individual circumstance. Since the world is not "cosmologically" separated into "good" and "evil", Bombadil is not somehow outside the world of the good people. They exist in the same world as him, they just choose to actively promote their morality in one way and him in another.

I've seen a lot of people complain about the absence of Tom Bombadil in either Ralph Bakshi's animated feature or Peter Jackson's movie. He's the most colorful character in the Lord Of The Rings, certainly one of the most memorable, why couldn't he have his bit part?

One easy answer is of course that he isn't very important, and doesn't move the plot along at all. Another is that he wouldn't make any sense to the uninitiated. But that's not really important. What is important is that I don't want to see him in the movie, and neither should anyone who has read the book. Because I don't want to see him the way the director sees him. Tom is a colorful character, and I'm sure that you as well as I have a vivid image of him in your imagination, your own idea of what Tom looks like. If someone tried to impose his vision of the character over mine, I know what I would do: I'd criticize and complain.

And, from my experience with LOTR fans, you'd all criticize.

Really, would you put in any movie a character that will attract confusion from one side and criticism - even anger - on the other, with very little in between?

In a Hollywood movie anyway

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