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Old 09-27-2015, 02:11 PM   #1
Aaron
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Boots How do you perceive Tom Bombadil?

I know a great many topics have been made on the subject of Tom's purpose in the narrative, and his origins. But I felt, for a change of pace, that we might talk about how we - as readers - see him, and our feelings towards such an unusual character?

In truth, I must confess that from my first reading of the books, to even the present day, Bombadil has unnerved me. His caprice and neutrality, even in the face of so much bloody war. His tale of Old Man Willow, which unnerved the Hobbits upon hearing it. And, more than that, the feeling that he is something inhuman trying to look human, and something chaotic, trying to seem "good".
To me, there is something intentionally misleading about that. And something frightening about so many outward pretensions of decency. It has always suggested some malignancy to me, something not quite right lurking beneath the surface.

But how do you read him? How do you feel about the character?
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Old 09-27-2015, 03:29 PM   #2
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Now that's indeed a new and interesting take on the matter of Tom, nice thread idea!

How do I percieve Tom Bombadil? Seeing as some fellow Downers have a habit of likening me to him, that may turn out to be quite a self-searching question.

I do find him a bit unnerving in the sense of annoying at times with his "hey dol, ding-a-dong", even though the poetry of his songs doesn't ring nearly as atrociously in my ears as it apparently does in many others - it's a bit silly, but that's OK, there's also beauty therein. But all these merry nonsense-rhymes are just a surface phenomenon, we soon get hints that there's much more to Tom - not that the jolly, um, Tomfoolery is deceptive, mind you, it does express an aspect of his true being in my opinion, but don't ever think for a moment that's all. It's just like bubbles on the surface of a deep, deep stream. (Weird metaphor, seems more fitting for Goldberry, but that's how it came out of my keyboard.)

"Something inhuman trying to look human", I agree with that, but not to deceive, I think, rather to accomodate: he takes a form that won't scare the hobbits, a form they'll feel comfortable with, while still preserving some of his alienness (note that he doesn't quite look like a hobbit nor quite like one of the Big Folk to them!). It's an act of courtesy. No doubt he looked quite different to Gandalf, and Goldberry too.

"Chaotic trying to seem good"? Nah, don't think so. He's living by laws of his own choosing, but those laws he abides by, such as not leaving his circumscribed realm. If anything, he might be neutral good, but ultimately good or evil seem to have no more meaning with regard to him than a hill or a brook or grass can be called good or evil. What he doesn't seem to be is hostile to any living thing as long as it minds its own business and leaves other living things alone - he tolerates Old Man Willow in his realm - , but if it does overstep its bounds he knows how to deal with it on its own terms (q.e.d. Old Man Willow again). He actually reminds me a lot of these words of Frodo's, even though they were made referring to Gandalf:

with bird on bough and beast in den
in their own secret tongue he spoke.

Pretending, misleading, malignant? No. Tom Bombadil is who he is, always - or as much of himself as the other person is able to grasp.
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Old 09-27-2015, 04:26 PM   #3
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My first reading of LOTR was too long ago for me to recall how I felt about Bombadil then.
Now, however, he comes across as an enigma, yes, but a comforting one nonetheless.
It's obvious his concerns are different from any other character we meet; he's doing something that feels important, but it's a mystery to all but himself (and maybe Gandalf).
I see Tom in fact as the anti-Gandalf. The wizard is totally wrapped up in the fate of Middle-earth: he's focused on Sauron, and all that he does is a reflection of that.
Tom is apparently more of a "big picture" guy. He's got his own agenda to take care of, but it's so diffuse that he has a lot of leeway in how he can accomplish it.
Gandalf himself made the "opposites" observation when he called himself a rolling stone, and Tom a moss-gatherer.
Although the reader is given only the bare-bones about Tom and his nature, I never get any feeling of ill-will from him. Like Pitch said, he even treats Old Man Willow with respect, allowing him his own part in the Forest, but merely bringing him to heel when he crosses the line.
Same thing for the Barrow-wights. Tom banishes the one that had taken the Hobbits, but he doesn't turn all of them out. He recognizes that helping Frodo is something he's meant to do, and does it. He's obviously Good; his means of doing good works are just more obscure.
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Old 09-28-2015, 12:52 AM   #4
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Boots Tom is what he is, and what he is needs no excuses

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He's obviously Good; his means of doing good works are just more obscure.
I'd say he's good in the sense of being helpful, benign, tolerant, but not Good if that means being a party in the war of Good vs Evil. In my eyes he's the only true pacifist in the story. I can't imagine him ever wielding a weapon, unlike Gandalf - nor does he need one, "for his songs are stronger songs, and his feet are faster." This aversion to violence distinguishes him from Treebeard and the other Ents, who are otherwise the only characters remotely comparable to him in that they have their own agenda and feel that nobody's quite on their side.

I like that you call him "the anti-Gandalf" - I see them both as polar opposites, extrovert Gandalf and introvert Tom, and as very much akin in the respect and friendliness they show all living things; two sides of a coin, in a way.
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Old 09-28-2015, 07:37 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by Pitchwife View Post
I'd say he's good in the sense of being helpful, benign, tolerant, but not Good if that means being a party in the war of Good vs Evil. In my eyes he's the only true pacifist in the story. I can't imagine him ever wielding a weapon, unlike Gandalf - nor does he need one, "for his songs are stronger songs, and his feet are faster." This aversion to violence distinguishes him from Treebeard and the other Ents, who are otherwise the only characters remotely comparable to him in that they have their own agenda and feel that nobody's quite on their side.

I like that you call him "the anti-Gandalf" - I see them both as polar opposites, extrovert Gandalf and introvert Tom, and as very much akin in the respect and friendliness they show all living things; two sides of a coin, in a way.
I think you are both right about the concept of Tom Bombadil. His character is described in that way. But there's one thing I find curious about his role in the story. Which is that he has a role in in the story.

There's sort of a clash between the idea, or concept, of Tom Bombadil at its core and the very basic necessity for him to take part in the story after all. On the one Hand he is described as this passive, neutral and jolly fellow who refrains from the use of power over beings and things all together. I always figured that this is why the Ring has no power over him, because he himself has truly rejected the notion of power. But on the other Hand he has to (from a literary point of view) interact with the Hobbits and the ongoing storyline. And he does so in rather counterintuitive (in regards to the idea of his character) ways, in my opinion. He uses force and power to help the Hobbits in crucial situations. He may be very cautious and gentle about it, i. e. mostly just singing some funky tunes, but he does dominate the will and mind of other (more or less) conscious beings if necessary. He does take a stand and a clear side. Obviously, he does so for a good and justified reason but I feel like that this does undermine the idea behind his character in some way. And to be clear, I don't fault Tolkien for that. He handled this discrepancy rather elegantly.

I think it's more of a structural problem, if that makes sense. It's kind of a conundrum.

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Old 09-28-2015, 08:12 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by Leaf View Post
There's sort of a clash between the idea, or concept, of Tom Bombadil at its core and the very basic necessity for him to take part in the story after all.
Tolkien addressed that in Letters #144:

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Tom Bombadil is not an important person-to the narrative. I suppose he has some importance as a 'comment'...I would not...have left him in, if he did not have some kind of function. I might put it this way. The story is cast in terms of a good side, and a bad side, beauty against ruthless ugliness, tyranny against kingship, moderated freedom against compulsion that has long lost any desire save mere power, and so on; but both sides...want a measure of control. But if you have, as it were taken 'a vow of poverty', renounced control, and take your delight in things for themselves without reference to yourself, watching, observing, and to some extent knowing, then the question of the rights and wrongs of power and control might become utterly meaningless to you, and the means of power quite valueless.
So what you say about the Ring not affecting Tom because he has no desire for power is right. That aligns with Gandalf's remarks to the Council, that Bombadil "is his own master"; that is, power and domination, the Ring's powers and its tools, are unable to gain a foothold in his mind because there is no means of connecting to kindred thoughts within him.

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He does take a stand and a clear side. Obviously, he does so for a good and justified reason but I feel like that this does undermine the idea behind his character in some way. And to be clear, I don't fault Tolkien for that. I think it's more of a structural problem, if that makes sense. It's kind of a conundrum.
Being in the story, for whatever metaphysical reason, he must either aid Frodo or thwart him. Ignoring the plight of the Hobbits would have been a choice as well: a choice against the Good that Frodo served. I think Bombadil had existed in Middle-earth completely out of the histories, unknown even to most of the Elves. The few who knew of him didn't know what he was, or his purpose. Gandalf apparently did know, and his knowledge had to have come with him from the West. Tom, I think, knew that one day he would have his part to play in the greater history, but he only stepped into the story for as brief a time as was absolutely necessary.\, just long enough to get Frodo out of the Old Forest and the Downs.
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Last edited by Inziladun; 09-29-2015 at 08:47 PM. Reason: typo correction
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Old 10-04-2015, 07:34 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by Aaron
I felt, for a change of pace, that we might talk about how we - as readers - see him, and our feelings towards such an unusual character?
An exquisite question.

For me, Tom Bombadil was a natural extension of the wonder and mystery of a world where the trees themselves were aware of one's passing. Go into the forest some time and imagine that the trees you pass are aware of you, and might, at any moment, reach a branch down to grab you or your hat. Or worse, pull you into a fold in its wood and make you fall asleep or drown.

Or next time there's fog, go out somewhere in the denseness of it and imagine that there are mounds that house entities that should be at rest, but are not at all restful, and envy you your life, and would enslave you.

And then imagine that there is someone who has the power, and the right to that power, to command these entities, or these trees, to free you.

I remember the seemingly silly but audacious Tom Bombadil as I first saw him (in my mind's eye), with wonder, gratitude, and total enjoyment. He was just right. And Goldberry was just as much just right, and just as natural with her washing of the hills and glades.

There was a rightness about how they interacted with the Hobbits and each other and with the land and things within their borders. I think that it is one of Tolkien's crowning achievements that he evoked this strange, mysterious, wondrous pair of characters and their home.
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Old 10-04-2015, 07:55 PM   #8
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Quote:
:
Originally Posted by Aaron
I felt, for a change of pace, that we might talk about how we - as readers - see him, and our feelings towards such an unusual character?
An exquisite question.
My feelings: well, lately I ponder at length on Bombadil' s rhymes and songs, and find them amusing, and soothing, and comforting: reminding me about that moment at dinner in Bombadil' s house when the hobbits realize that they had been singing with as much ease as speaking. A good space to be in. Goldberry comforts me: nothing passes these doors but moonlight and Starlight. I envy the table they set. I enjoy Tom's sweeping daylong narrative, and Goldberry' s washing songs, and her waterlilies. And I wish I and my house were more like that: safe, nourishing, healing, freeing, with power to halt the dark spirits and banish them.

Get out, you old Wight. Vanish in the sunlight.

Fear nothing! For tonight you are in the house of Tom Bombadil.
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Old 10-05-2015, 02:42 PM   #9
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I think you misunderstood me, or at least I have not made my position clear on the matter.

My thought was that, although Tom was not "effectively" influenced by the Ring, he was still somehow influenced by it.

Remember, the Ring plays on the desires of the one who holds it or is near to it - even the Valar, in my opinion, would not WHOLLY escape the influence of the Ring. Although they would have probably, even likely, overcome the said influence, the Ring would nonetheless "speak" to their minds, luring them into an attempt of the realization of their deepest desires.

When I said that the Ring DID have power of over Tom, I think that I was thinking in the same manner as did Gandalf during the Council of Elrond - although the Ring did have "power" over Tom, it was not a really effective one, due to Tom's inherent nature.


You also have to remember that the Ring was a LIVING THING! It was a part of Sauron's fëa (soul) incarnated into this one object. So...whenever you deal with the Ring, you deal with the foulest aspect of Sauron himself.
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