Tom Bombadil is one of the characters who appeared to J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Ring universe. He appeared in the Fellowship of the Ring (1954) and has also appeared in his own stories, the Adventures of Tom Bombadil (1962) and in Tales from the Perilous Realm (1997), an anthology which addresses many poetry and writings that are now part of the Tolkien legendarium.
The Adventures of Tom Bombadil is a collection of poems that talk about Tom Bombadil. They are a hobbit in tradition. In the Tales from the Perilous Realm, there are characters mentioned such as the Old Man Willow who are not really mentioned in The Hobbit but are not part of the older legends called The Silmarillion either.
Bombadil first rose to prominence as a supporting character in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, in the first book, The Fellowship of the Ring, where he meets Frodo Baggins and company in the Old Forest. He is then mentioned at the end of The Return of the King. Here, Gandalf mentioned that he wanted to meet him.
Tom Bombadil was inspired by Tolkien’s children’s peg wooden doll. He imagined Bombadil to be a free, nature spirit that was meant to represent the English countryside. Tolkien began writing light-hearted poems about the character and in 1934, he published the poem, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, in The Oxford Magazine. According to the poem, Bombadil was a cheerful fellow who lived in a small valley near River Withywindle. He would explore the area in his own time and encounter the valley’s other residents which included the tree spirit Old Man Willow, the river spirit Goldberry and the Badger folk who would try to capture him.
Bombadil’s voice is described as his power and it had the ability to overcome all the spirits’ enchantments. In the poem, Bombadil is not seen to be concerned by their attempts at all and playfully shrugs them off by his voice. By the end, he ends up capturing and marrying the river spirit Goldberry.
In the proceeding poem, Bombadil Goes Boating, Tom goes to Middle earth after taking a journey down Withywindle to Brandywine river. There, he is challenged by the residents to perform various tasks and he manages to, once more, use his voice to charm them all. By the time the poem ends, Bombadil is great friends with everyone in the region and he ends his journey at Farmer Maggot’s. The birds and otters who are the residents of the area grow so fond of Bombadil that they help his boat to go home.
This poem, unlike its predecessor, includes the mention of various Middle earth locations such as Tower Hills, Hays-end and Bree.
His role in the Elder Days, however, is not mentioned by Tolkien at all. However, it is most likely that he did see the battles. Tolkien also explicitly mentions that the character was already there when the Dark Lord came to the realm. He is old in the Lord of the Rings because it is mentioned that he also saw the reduction of the great forests that used to cover Middle earth.
As the poems established, Tom Bombadil was a well-known figure, becoming part of the folklore or Men, Dwarves, and Elves. In general, he is depicted as a short, raggedy fellow with a long beard who is seen primarily wearing a blue jacket, hat, and sturdy boots. His weapon of choice, as well as his power, lies in his voice, capable of producing charming songs. While his race is never explicitly mentioned, he is regarded as a forest spirit.
He has other names as well and these appear in the legends as well. They include the name Irwain Ben-Adar, Forn and sometimes, Orald too.
As the poems and books portray him, Tom Bombadil is very playful yet witty at the same time. He carries himself very whimsically and even speaks in the same way, using rhyming words that make it seem as though he will break out into song. In his very first appearance in the book, he refers to himself in the third person when he introduces himself to Frodo, Sam, Pippin, and Merry. He is shown to be very carefree and there is nothing that seems to concern him. Out of both times when he rescues the Hobbits, he is not seen to be concerned about being able to overpower those who have caught them. Instead, he promptly sings songs to release them. The second time when he realizes that he will not be able to protect them as they’re leaving his country, he provides each of them a long dagger to protect themselves showing that even though he is carefree, he is not careless and does keep everyone’s safety in mind.
As mentioned, he likes to talk about himself in the third person and sometimes it seems as though he is creating his own tales and narratives as they are happening at the very moment. Tom is not worried too much about the One Ring. However, he does know about its powers. He is completely unaffected by its powers, but they don’t seem to work on him. In fact, when Frodo puts on the ring and becomes invisible to everyone else, Tom Bombadil is still able to see him just fine. The Council of Elrond considers making him the keeper of the One Ring before rejecting the idea. They believe that because of his carefree nature, Bombadil would not care much for the Ring, making it easier for him to lose it or for Sauron to recover it if he chose to do so. Bombadil does not seem too concerned with this and seems to care more about keeping his lands in Withywindle in check more than anything else.
Unlike other characters in the epic, Tolkien does not make Tom Bombadil’s race or background very obvious. He does not even hint at it. He is described as a forest-spirit in the poems preceding the Lord of the Rings series but there is no other mention of that. Bombadil is part of the legends of many races including Men and even calls him “master”. He says that he remembers when the first raindrop fell and when the first acorn grew and even knew the starlight before the Dark Lord invaded Middle earth from out of their world. Even Goldberry, Tom Bombadil’s wife, knows little about his origin and is unable to answer Frodo’s question.
In The Complete Guide to Middle Earth by Robert Foster, Tom Bombadil is described as an Ainur. These are angels that have shaped the earth and Foster believes that Tom Bombadil is one that went native and therefore, symbolizes nature itself.
Tom Bombadil’s name comes from the Old English word “bobadil” which means braggart. This was also used in the English play called Every Man in His Humor, which featured a character called Captain Bobadil. It is considered to be one of the Celtic names in An Introduction to Elvish and some even think that it is the Spanish variant of the name of Abu Abdillah Muhammad X)) who was the last Moorish King of Granada.
Portrayals & Adaptation
Tom Bombadil does not appear in the Lord of the Ring movies at all as Peter Jackson believed that he would add no real value to the movies except making them longer. Even though he did not appear in any of Peter Jackon’s films, a Tom Bombadil card is present in The Lord of the Rings Trading Card Game by Decipher, Inc. (part of the trilogy's main merchandise). The model used to portray Bombadil on this card is Harry Wellerchew.
However, even though Peter Jackson did not include him in the trilogy, Tom Bombadil has still continued to appear in a number of other adaptations which include Mind’s Eye Radio’s adaptation of The Lord of The Rings. He was also portrayed by Norman Shelley in the BBC adaptation of the stories in 1956 and even appears in a Finnish adaptative miniseries where is portrayed by Esko Hukkanen.
Similar to the movies, even though Bombadil does not appear in the musical version of The Lord of The Rings, at the end of the show Gandalf tells Frodo that when he will go back to the Shire, he will stop by Bombadil’s house because he wants to have a long conversation with him.
Tom Bombadil is also present in the NPC in The Lord of the Rings Online. He can be used as the main character in the first book of the epic journeys. There is also a LEGO Tom Bombadil as a part of the Lego Lord of the Rings and Lego The Hobbit.
Tom Bombadil has been part of many other Lord of the Rings adaptation and they have been listed below:
- 1955: BBC Radio's The Lord of the Rings
- 1979 Radio Series: The Lord of the Rings
- 1988: War in Middle Earth
- 1992 radio series: Tales from the Perilous Realm
- 2001: The Lord of the Rings Trading Card Game
- 2002: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (video game)
In the Lord of the Rings
The Lord of the Rings takes place after Tom Bombadil’s adventures in the Adventures of Tom Bombadil, so he still lives in his house in the small valley of the Withywindle river with his wife, Goldberry, the river spirit who is also called the Daughter of the River. The poem, Adventures of Tom Bombadil, is referenced in The Lord of the Rings since many of its original characters and even some of the situations take place in the book.
Unlike the poems which portrayed him as a cheerful, carefree fellow, the books uphold the legends surrounding him and refer to him as the master of wood, water, and hill. He speaks as though he will break out into song. One characteristic trait of his is the fact he always speaks in seven lines which are always in groups of three’s and four’s. This refers to the old English meter which was mentioned in Caedmon’s Hymn, found in the Story of Bede in the nineteenth century.
He only appears in three chapters of the book, namely The Old Forest, In the House of Tom Bombadil and also, Fog on the Barrow-downs. However, he is mentioned in the chapter, The Council of Elrond, where he is nominated to be the protector and custodian of the One Ring. Furthermore, he is also mentioned in the last chapters at the end of the book: Homeward Bound and The Grey Havens.
It is noted in the books, however, that even though Tom Bombadil appears as a simple fellow, he possesses a lot of knowledge and power, only hints of which have been seen in the poems and legends about him. Now, this knowledge largely involves songs, charms and the forest since he is a forest-spirit, but it is enough to command all those who have heard of him to respect him. It is largely due to this, that the council considered him to be the keeper of the One Ring as well.
When he meets Frodo, Merry, Sam, and Pippin, there is evidence found that he might be the oldest being in all of Middle earth. This is because he is able to recall events such as the Elves coming to the west. Elrond remarks that he was thought to be old during the Elder Days by most high Elf lords and even Tom Bombadil acknowledges this, calling himself a variation of eldest.
In the book, Bombadil is first seen when he comes across Merry and Pippin who have been captured by the Old Man Willow. Frodo and Sam are crying for help, and when Bombadil sees this, he orders the Old Man Willow to let them go and when he refuses to do so, he sings him to slumber and invites the hobbits to his house. There, they stay for two nights before continuing their journey.
This proves to be an interesting stay because when Frodo shows him the ring, the One Ring seems to have no power over him. In fact, he can even see Frodo when he becomes invisible to the others because of the power of the One Ring. Bombadil also wears the ring but it does not affect him whatsoever. He even plays with, tossing it in the air and making it disappear before making it appear in his other hand before finally, returning it to Frodo.
Of course, this reinforces what is already implied in the books that Tom Bombadil has some strong powers over the ring, enough to make the council want to make him the caretaker, but this idea is ultimately rejected in Book Two.
This is because, according to Gandalf, because the Ring has no power over him, Tom would not consider it to be very important so he would easily misplace it- something which they do not want to happen at all as this would wreak havoc once more.
In the two nights, the Hobbits spend at Tom Bombadil’s house, Frodo experiences different dreams each night. These appear to be prophetic or clairvoyant in nature. In the first night, he dreams of terrible things like Gandalf being imprisoned in the Orthanc which is located in Isengard. In the second night at Tom Bombadil’s, Frodo dreams a nicer dream, which is described as a song because it seems as though something pale was turning everything grey, like glass and maybe silver, as though engulfing everything in a mysterious light before leaving and, by doing so, also revealing a beautiful, far better-looking country once it had passed.
After two nights have passed, the Hobbits make their leave but not before Tom Bombadil teaches them a song that will allow them to call him if they get into trouble in his dominion again. This turns out to be fateful because in the very next chapter called Fog on the Barrow-downs, they meet Barrow-wights and have to call Tom to save them. After he saves them by singing a song for the Barrow-wights, he gives each one of the four Hobbits, a long, sharp dagger which had previously been part of the treasures found in the barrow. Once the Hobbits cross his territory, strangely enough, he refuses to cross the borders of his own land, opting to stand at a distance in his own territory before pointing The Prancing Pony Inn to them which is in the village of Bree.
At the end of The Return of The King, when Gandalf is departing, he tells the Hobbits that he plans to go and meet Bombadil and have a long conversation with him. When Frodo asks him if he knows how Bombadil is considering how he and Sam, Merry and Pippin stayed at his house for two nights, Gandalf responds by saying that Tom is just the way he is. He explains that he remains uninterested in whatever they have all done. When Frodo sails west at the end of the Lord of the Rings, he feels as though he has the same experience as his dream in the second night at Bombadil’s house.