Tag: tolkien

My theory on what Tom Bombadil is

Tom Bombadil is one of the most enigmatic characters in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Many have speculated on the true nature of Tom Bombadil. Although their explanations have their strong and weak points, none are truly convincing. I believe, however, that most speculators have been too narrow in their thinking; a true, convincing explanation of Tom Bombadil depends on one considering the history of Middle Earth in its proper context.

Most theories about Bombadil’s nature are based on large part on the ancient Elvish folklore published in The Silmarillion. But The Silmarillion is mythology. To be sure, The Silmarillion is more factual than a typical mythology, seeing that many eyewitnesses of the events in it remained alive in Middle Earth through the War of the Ring. Nevertheless, it is a mythology: and we cannot trust its literal truth.

The literal truth of The Silmarillion is most doubtful in the stories of the Valar, for The Silmarillion is a tale written by Elves, yet many stories concerning the Valar predated their existence. Stories of the early wars between the Valar and Melkor (before the First Awakening) are dubious, as are stories of the origins of the Sun, the Moon, and the stars. Such stories, which explain the existence of things hard to explain, are always dubious in mythology. Other stories, such as the story of the two trees, Telperion and Laurelin, how Orcs came to be, and Earendil’s voyage, are likely exaggerated.

Furthermore, even if we accept that the Valar simply told the Elves what happened before they were born, we can’t expect the natural beings like the Elves to be able to comprehend the methods of supernatural beings like the Valar. Most likely, the stories of the Valar are metaphorical, rather than literal, accounts.

The point of this, as it relates to Bombadil, is that the early stories of Middle Earth are often very doubtful, and may only contain metaphorical truths. Yet, many of the beings Bombadil is theorized to be (Valar, Maiar, Iluvatar) are explained fully only in The Silmarillion.

Furthermore, many theories try to place Bombadil in the context of early Earth, as described in The Silmarillion, to justify themselves. (For example, a theory might place Bombadil on Earth while the Valar lived on the Isle of Almaren, in order to claim that Bombadil is himself a Vala. This, even though the very existence of Almaren is questionable.) Such theories are flawed, because they accept the literal reality of the tales.

The key to explaining what Bombadil is to not take The Silmarillion too literally. Instead, we consider the Earth in its context as we know it today.

The following passage is the most significant clue about Tom’s nature. This is his answer to Frodo’s question, “Master, who are you?” (LOTR 129):

Eldest, that’s what I am. Mark my words, my friends: Tom was here before the river and the trees; Tom remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn. He made paths before the Big People, and saw the little People arriving. He was here before the Kings and the graves and the Barrow-wights. When the Elves passed westward, Tom was here already, before the seas were bent. He knew the dark under the stars when it was fearless – before the Dark Lord came from Outside.

One interesting thing Tom says is that he remembers the first raindrop; this means Tom actually predates the world in its current form. Almost all life on Earth needs water; therefore, we assume Tom predates life as well, at least life on land. Tom implies this when he says he remembers the first acorn. Also, he claims he was there before the river; was he there before the ocean, too?

Bombadil also calls himself the “Eldest.” He was not the only person to do this: in the Council of Elrond, Glorfindel calls him the “First” (LOTR 259). Why do these High Elves call Bombadil the “First,” when many of whom supposedly dwelled in the Far West, along with the Valar who were supposed to be the first? It is clear that the Elves believe Bombadil was on the Earth since it’s earliest days, even before the Valar lived on the Earth, and even before the Earth was in the form it is today.

The Ainulandale, although myth, provides more evidence of this, if we accept the chronology of the world’s formation that it describes. Iluvatar, speaking to Ulmo before the Ainur entered the world, says to him, “Behold rather the height and glory of the clouds, and the everchanging mist; and listen to the fall of rain upon the Earth!” (Silm 19). As we said, Bombadil claims he saw the first raindrop; therefore, if the chronology in Ainulandale is accurate, Bombadil was on the Earth before the Valar.

But what, exactly, is the “Earth”? Previous theorists have automatically accepted the account of the Earth in The Silmarillion, i.e., that it was created flat, that Melkor messed everything up so the Valar moved to the Uttermost West, and that Eru bent the flat Earth into a round sphere when the Numenorians attacked Aman.

However, as my theory treats The Silmarillion as mythology, it cannot do that. Consider the different perspectives of the Elves and us. To the Elves, the Earth was the whole Universe. To us, the Earth is a small planet in an unimaginably vast space. Elves often use the Earth to refer to the everything that exists, because, to the Elves, the Earth was everything. We, however, have to distinguish what sense the Elves referred to the Earth in: did they mean “this big hunk of rock we walk on” or “everything that exists; the whole Universe”? Accordingly, when the Elves speak of the Early Days of Earth (“the Springtime of Arda”), do they mean the early days of the big hunk of rock we walk on, or the early days of the universe?

My theory is, when the Elves called Bombadil the “First,” and when Bombadil calls himself the “Eldest,” they mean he is the first and eldest in existence. The Elves might have no idea that existence could predate the Earth, but when they say “Bombadil is the First,” the mean Bombadil is the First, i.e., the first to exist anywhere. Bombadil, on his part, might never mention the days before Earth existed, so as not to confuse anyone.

So, if this is true, it means that Tom existed from the Universe’s early days. In this case, it becomes clear what Bombadil is. There is only one good explanation: Tom Bombadil is the Dark Matter making up 90% of the mass of the Universe.

If the Powers are the Valar (after all, “vala” means “power” in High Elvish), and the Beautiful Ones are the Maiar, then Bombadil would be called a Morerma (or better yet, The Morerma, as there is certainly only one of him).

I suppose you’re thinking, “How can Tom Bombadil himself make up 90% of the mass of the universe? Wouldn’t his gravitational pull instantly swallow the whole galaxy?” Well, obviously, he’s not all of the Dark Matter. In fact, his body might not actually consist of Dark Matter, although considering his foot speed, there’s a good chance that it does. It is clear, however, that Bombadil is associated with the Dark Matter.

Exactly what the association is can’t be answered. Perhaps Bombadil is the Dark Matter, or maybe the Dark Matter is Bombadil? Perhaps the Dark Matter is the real Being, and Bombadil is just his Earthly raiment. Or, maybe Tom Bombadil is the Master of the Dark Matter. We can’t be certain; but we do know that the same spirit that rests in Bombadil also rests in the Dark Matter; they are parts of the same being.

At the right is a picture of the cosmic background radiation; essentially this is a panoramic view of the Universe in its earliest stages. This image shows Bombadil hard at work, as he brings about the formation of the Universe’s first macroscopic structures. These formations eventually led to the condensation of the universe, which in turn allowed the formation of stars and planets.

This photograph shows Tom Bombadil obstructing an edge view of a galaxy. Many models predict the presence of Dark Matter on the rims of galaxies. Much as on Middle Earth, Bombadil is faster than the fast: the Dark Matter orbits the galactic core faster than the stars inside. (And lest you think I need to brush up on my orbital mechanics, let me say your objection is almost certainly wrong. Surely you mean to point out that objects further from the center of gravity orbit slower? Well, not in this case. Because the galaxy is densely populated with stars, gravity cancels out close to the center. Therefore, stars near the center orbit slower than the Dark Matter on the outside. Indeed, Bombadil’s feet are faster.)

Anyways, this is just a theory, but a theory I feel is more convincing than current theories because it is based in fact, not mythology. It’s not cop-out like those “nature spirit” or “non-Vala, non-Maia Ainu” theories, because it explains the very nature of Tom Bombadil and his purpose.

Works Cited

[LOTR] Tolkien, J. R. R. The Lord of the Rings. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993

[Silm] Tolkien, J. R. R. The Silmarillion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001

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