Tom Bombadil, Master of Mystery

by Daeron-(V)
Sept. 14, 2002


"Old Tom Bombadil was a merry fellow;
bright blue his jacket was and his boots were yellow,
green were his girdle and his breeches all of leather,
he wore in his tall hat a swan-wing feather,
He lived up under Hill, where the Withywindle,
ran from a grassy well down into the dingle"

Of all the characters in the giant world of Tolkien, none is more mysterious than Tom Bombadil.

Most of us know first saw him in The Fellowship of the Ring where he saved the hobbits, Merry and Pippin, from Old Man Willow.  Almost everything he said was said in a sing-songy way, but the biggest mystery spawned was from the following:
"'Fair lady!' said Frodo again after a while.  "Tell me, if my asking does not seem foolish, who is Tom Bombadil?'
'He is,' said Goldberry, staying her swift movements and smiling.
Frodo looked at her questioningly.  'He is, as you have seen him,' she said in answer to his look. 'He is the Master of wood, water, and hill.'"
Another peculiar part is when Frodo allowed Tom to see the One Ring, and he put it on.  He did not turn invisible.  Whats more, when Frodo slipped the Ring on while sitting near Tom, Tom saw him even though he was invisible (to all but Tom, evidently.)

Almost all of the races in Middle-earth are described in exact detail, except for Tom.  He is obviously not a man, for: "When the Elves passed westward, Tom was here already" (Tom's own words).  Therefore he must be thousands of years old, far beyond the life span of any of the human kind.  He is not an animal, orc, dwarf, hobbit, troll, ent or dragon.  The reasons for those are needless to say.  Tom couldn't have been an elf either, for he was very much alive before they had passed westward.

The only two known races left are Vala and Maia.  If he was indeed a Maia, he must have been quite a strong one.

Sauron, for example, lusted for the Ring from its first creation.  Saruman, who was sent to save Middle-earth from Sauron and the Ring, became a traitor who searched for the Ring for his own evil purposes.
Even Gandalf knew if he were exposed to it, would become just as evil as said in the following:
"'You are wise and powerful.  Will you not take the Ring?'
'No!' cried Gandalf, springing to his feet.  'With that power I should have power too great and terrible.  And over me the Ring would gain a power still greater and more deadly.' His eyes flashed and his face was lit as by a fire within.  'Do not tempt me!  For I do not wish to become like the Dark Lord himself.  Yet the way of the Ring to my heart is by pity, pity for weakness and the desire of strength to do good.  Do not tempt me! I dare not take it, not even to keep it safe, unused.  The wish to wield it would be too great for my strength.  I shall have such need of it.  Great perils lie before me'"
Tolkien himself points out the extreme importance of Tom's immunity:
"The power of the Ring over all concerned, even the Wizards or Emissaries, is not a delusion - but it is not the whole picture, even of the then state and content of that part of the Universe."
So could Tom be a Vala?  The Valar can come to Middle-earth in many different forms and shapes.  But could a Vala be dwelling in the Mortal Land for so long without anyone knowing it?

As proven in a very well-written paper by our own Salmar-(Valar), Cirdan was a Valinorian Connection, one with a palantir connected to the Master Stone in Avalone.  Wouldn't he know of any Valar in Middle-earth?
At the very least, one of the Istari (Saruman, Gandalf, Radagast, Alatar, and Pallando) would have known.

There is another theory...

It is said in the "Valaquenta":
"In majesty they are peers, surpassing beyond compare all others, whether of the Valar and the Maiar, OR OF ANY OTHER ORDER that Iluvatar has sent into Ea."
Aside from the following common races listed above, what others could there be?

In the chapter "The Coming of the Valar" in the book, The Book of Lost Tales Part I,  it says:
"Brownies, fays, pixies, leprawns, and what else are they not called, for their number is very great... they were born before the world and are older than its oldest, and are not of it, but laugh at it much."
Tom COULD have been one of those spirits, although it is a little unlikely.  The Book of Lost Tales says a lot of things, and perhaps it was Tolkien's first intention to make Tom a "brownie"; it was probably changed like so many other things.

In conclusion, all the characters of Middle-earth, including Middle-earth itself were created with the properties our own world and its "characters" were created with.  Why would mystery be excluded?  When asked, "What is Tom Bombadil?", I best advise you answer with, "Tom Bombadil is mystery", and leave it at that.  For Tom Bombadil is as you have seen him.  He is the Master of wood, water, and hill (and mystery.)

    Fellowship of the Ring;
    Silmarillion, "Valaquenta";
    Book of Lost Tales I, "The Coming of the Valar"; 
    "Cirdan, The Valinorean Connection? " by Irmo-(Valar)