Tom Bombadil, Master of Mystery
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
"'Fair lady!' said Frodo again after a while. "Tell me, if my asking does
not seem foolish, who is Tom Bombadil?'
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.)
'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.'"
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?'
Tolkien himself points out the extreme importance of Tom's immunity:
'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
"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
Aside from the following common races listed above, what others could there
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.)
References: Fellowship of the Ring; Silmarillion, "Valaquenta"; Book of Lost Tales I, "The Coming of the Valar"; "Cirdan, The Valinorean Connection?
page maintained by Varda