J.R.R. Tolkien’s character of Tom Bombadil was based on one of the author’s beloved childhood toys—a doll that accidentally got flushed down a toilet. Many Tolkien aficionados wish that the enigmatic inhabitant of the Old Forest had stayed in that loo, never to resurface in Tolkien’s subconscious.
I’m not one of those Bombadillo bashers, however. I don’t understood Tolkien fans who have a “Knights who say ni” reaction whenever you utter the word “Bombadil.” Or the type who quote Tim Benzadrine (Tom’s inane caricature from Bored of the Rings) with idiotic delight. I’ve always loved Tolkien’s jolly fellow with his bright blue hat and his boots of yellow.
Because old Tom is one fascinating dude.
Tolkien wrote the poem “The Adventures of Tom Bombadil” in 1934—three years before The Hobbit was published. The book of poetry titled The Adventures of Tom Bombadil didn’t come out in print until 1962. There are two poems about Bombadil in that collection, and they are wonderful and strange, full of magic and adventure.
And yet Bombadil’s scenes with the Hobbits from The Fellowship of the Ring were never scripted for Peter Jackson’s film version of The Lord of the Rings, and they were also eliminated from the 26-part BBC radio play from the 1980’s! 26 hours of the trilogy and no Tom Bombadil? What the ring a dong dillo? Tommy B doesn’t get any respect. But I think he should.
Ten Reasons Why Tom Bombadil Is Cooler Than You Think He Is
# 1: He has his own rap song
If you listen to Tolkien recite his poem “The Adventures of Tom Bombadil” you hear something strange: it sounds like a rap song. The reason is because the poem is based on Old English metre, and the rhythmic patterns of this Medieval poetry style (exhibited so beautifully by Tolkien in his recording of the poem) are very similar to modern rap. Say the following lines out loud in your best 50 Cent or Macklemore voice and you’ll know what I’m talking about:
Go down! Sleep again where the pools are shady
far below willow-roots, little water-lady!
You shall come under Hill! Never mind your mother
in her deep weedy pool: there you’ll find no lover!
#2: He married a goddess
You gotta give a guy credit who manages to seduce a beautiful water-lady like Goldberry—a woman with a mystical secret. For Tom’s radiant wife isn’t just some hot blonde who likes to do her washing down by the Withywindle. She is, in fact, a river spirit, and may even be a Maia: a creature of divine origin. If that is the case, then Bombadil could be one of the Maiar as well. Which would explain his peculiar reaction to the One Ring (see #10 below).
#3: He’s a Barrow-wight fighter
In the poem “The Adventures of Tom Bombadil” a Barrow-wight from the old mound up on the hilltop sneaks into Tom’s house and tries to steal his soul. But Tom isn’t even slightly afraid of this horrid evil spirit. He yells at the thing, ordering it out of the house like a dog that just took a derry-dol dingle on his carpet. And the poor panic-stricken wight flees back to its lonely mound just like a cur with its tail between its legs. In The Fellowship of the Ring, when the Hobbits are caught in the Barrow, Tom comes and saves them, driving away the wight again—this time banishing the shrieking spirit from Middle-earth forever.
#4: He gives awesome prezzies
After Tom pulls the Hobbits from the Barrow-wight’s mound he draws forth four beautiful daggers, finely wrought with serpent designs. These swords—forged thousands of years before by Men of Westernesse—are enchanted with spells to destroy Sauron and his servants. Frodo wields his fending off the Witch-king of Angmar on Weathertop. Merry uses his to help slay the leader of the Nazgûl at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. Good presents. (Tom also picks out a beautiful brooch for Goldberry from the wight’s hoard. He’s a sweet billy-bearded Woodman!)
#5: He can do the hornpipe
Old Tom loves to dance and cavort. He does it in his house. He does it on the trails. And after quaffing a few tankards at Farmer Maggot’s house (where some Hobbit girls do the Springle-ring) Tom does the crazy hornpipe jig!
#6: He’s an extreme runner
When the Hobbits first meet Tom by the river and he leads them back to his house, they can barely keep up with him. That’s because Tom is in awesome shape. Every morning he gets up and traipses through the woods and hills, coming back to his house before the sleepy Hobbits even begin to stir in their beds. His yellow boots, we must assume, are the Middle-earth equivalent of cross-trainers.
#7: He speaks badger-tongue
Harry Potter can talk to snakes. But Tom Bombadil can converse with weasels! In “The Adventures of Tom Bombadil,” he gets pulled into a hole by a family of the mischievous omnivorous nocturnal mammal-folk. He talks his way out of their confusing burrow using badger-tongue. Tom, by the way, could also talk to Little Birds, Fisher Blues, otter-lads and fat ponies.
#8: He’s a master arborist
Tom and Old Man Willow have a love/hate relationship. Tom knows that the semi-sentient tree (a huorn) has a black heart, but he doesn’t try to cut it down, even after it swallows him up. For Tom has a strange mastery over the tree, and can merely use his voice (and a few whacks from a willow branch) to make the creature do his bidding—such as coughing up ingested Hobbits.
#9: He’s the hoariest thing in Middle-earth
Hoary? That’s right. Tom is the oldest living being in Middle-earth. He’s older than Gandalf or Elrond or Treebeard . . . he’s even older than Sauron. The Elves called him Iarwain Ben-adar (Eldest and Fatherless). Tom is most likely a personification of Middle-earth itself. (Tolkien once said that Bombadil was a symbol of the vanishing Oxfordshire countryside.) After the War of the Ring has ended, Gandalf leaves the Hobbits on the borders of the Shire and heads to the Old Forest to have a conversation with Bombadil: “Such a talk as I have not had in all my time.” That says a lot coming from an Istari wizard who killed a Balrog, passed through fire and death, broke the staff of Saruman, and saw the Dark Tower shatter and fall.
#10: He’s bored with the Ring
The One Ring—as anybody who has read The Fellowship of the Ring knows—has absolutely no effect on Bombadil. It doesn’t make him disappear. And he can still see Frodo when the Hobbit puts it on and becomes invisible to his friends. Tom doesn’t really care about the little circle of gold that’s causing so much trouble for everyone else in Middle-earth. It’s meaningless to him. He has more important things to do, like collecting lilies for his fair Golberry, scolding Old Man Willow, and jaunting across the countryside. What’s fascinating about Tom’s detached nature is that it actually implies a great hidden power and a stupendous incorruptibility. And that’s pretty cool.