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Old 01-02-2015, 10:29 AM   #1
Bêthberry
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New words about Bombadil

Christina Scull and Wayne Hammond have posted a comment about Tom Bombadil from a newly found Tolkien letter. I find the contrast to the Elves' desire to create art interesting--that's a point I can't recall ever seeing anyone mention. But of course Tolkien would know his own work better than most of us.

Here's the quote they give and then I'll post a link to their blog entry.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tolkien, Too Many Books and Never Enough
But Tom Bombadil is just as he is. Just an odd ‘fact’ of that world. He won’t be explained, because as long as you are (as in this tale you are meant to be) concentrated on the Ring, he is inexplicable. But he’s there – a reminder of the truth (as I see it) that the world is so large and manifold that if you take one facet and fix your mind and heart on it, there is always something that does not come in to that story/argument/approach, and seems to belong to a larger story. But of course in another way, not that of pure story-making, Bombadil is a deliberate contrast to the Elves who are artists. But B. does not want to make, alter, devise, or control anything: just to observe and take joy in the contemplating the things that are not himself. The spirit of the [deleted: world > this earth] made aware of itself. He is more like science (utterly free from technological blemish) and history than art. He represents the complete fearlessness of that spirit when we can catch a little of it. But I do suggest that it is possible to fear (as I do) that the making artistic sub-creative spirit (of Men and Elves) is actually more potent, and can ‘fall’, and that it could in the eventual triumph of its own evil destroy the whole earth, and Bombadil and all.

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Old 01-02-2015, 03:37 PM   #2
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But he’s there – a reminder of the truth (as I see it) that the world is so large and manifold that if you take one facet and fix your mind and heart on it, there is always something that does not come in to that story/argument/approach, and seems to belong to a larger story.
I especially like that quote.
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Old 01-02-2015, 08:40 PM   #3
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I like that quote as well.

It's interesting that although the reader is meant to be 'concentrated on the Ring', Tolkien deliberately placed Tom to be an enigma, which was certain to invite speculation over his origin and his place in the mythos. How could he not, when he alone of all the characters in LOTR is completely unaffected by the Ring itself, and what is more is not concerned with it in the slightest.

In early drafts, Bombadil called himself an Aborigine- defined as 'one of the original or earliest known inhabitants of a country or region.' At the same point in the writing, it was conceived that he and Farmer Maggot were in some way related. The latter idea was seemingly abandoned, though there are traces of it in the final text, such as Merry saying that Maggot was especially knowledgeable about 'outside' events for a hobbit, and Tom himself noting that Maggot was 'a person of more importance than [the hobbits] had imagined'.

For Bombadil to truly be 'outside' the story, my thought would be that he would also be unconquerable by Sauron, or any others, who are part of it as active players. Yet he is not, or at least is said by Gandalf, who I've considered to be the nearest voice of Tolkien himself in the text, not to be. Why is he not affected by the Ring, but subject to defeat by Sauron all the same?
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Old 01-02-2015, 11:22 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Inziladun View Post
I like that quote as well.

It's interesting that although the reader is meant to be 'concentrated on the Ring', Tolkien deliberately placed Tom to be an enigma, which was certain to invite speculation over his origin and his place in the mythos. How could he not, when he alone of all the characters in LOTR is completely unaffected by the Ring itself, and what is more is not concerned with it in the slightest.

In early drafts, Bombadil called himself an Aborigine- defined as 'one of the original or earliest known inhabitants of a country or region.' At the same point in the writing, it was conceived that he and Farmer Maggot were in some way related. The latter idea was seemingly abandoned, though there are traces of it in the final text, such as Merry saying that Maggot was especially knowledgeable about 'outside' events for a hobbit, and Tom himself noting that Maggot was 'a person of more importance than [the hobbits] had imagined'.

For Bombadil to truly be 'outside' the story, my thought would be that he would also be unconquerable by Sauron, or any others, who are part of it as active players. Yet he is not, or at least is said by Gandalf, who I've considered to be the nearest voice of Tolkien himself in the text, not to be. Why is he not affected by the Ring, but subject to defeat by Sauron all the same?
A good question. I suppose it is because no one is incapable of being defeated. Sauron himself is defeated, while carrying the Ring.

It seems that Bombadil is immune to the effects of the Ring, but not because of any special Power he possesses. Rather, he is just not interested in the Ring and thus not able to be influenced by it. No doubt some may point to the additional fact that the Ring does not make Bombadil invisible as evidence of some kind of "Power", but then we have to consider why the Ring makes people invisible. Frodo is more visible to the Nazgul when he puts on the Ring - and he can also see them clearly. That is because he is now in the spirit, or wraith, world.

"You were in gravest peril while you wore the Ring, for then you were half in the wraith-world yourself,” Gandalf tells Frodo. He also says,

"A mortal, Frodo, who keeps one of the Great Rings, does not die, but he does not grow or obtain more life, he merely continues, until at last every minute is a weariness. And if he often uses the Ring to make himself invisible, he fades: he becomes in the end invisible permanently, and walks in the twilight under the eye of the dark power that rules the Rings."

Gandalf is talking about mortals of course. Bombadil isn't mortal, so the effects of the Ring on him would be different even if he wasn't already a special case.

However, the real point of Bombadil in the book really seems to be to say that anyone ELSE - Maia, Elf, Dwarf, Man or Hobbit - can be seduced by the Ring. But Tolkien says of Bombadil:

"B. does not want to make, alter, devise, or control anything: just to observe and take joy in the contemplating the things that are not himself."

That's as clear a sign as any that Bombadil is not a Maia (who are just as prone to the tempatation of the Ring as anyone else). Whatever he is, he's not like anyone else. When Tolkien says Bombadil is outside the story, I think he just means the story of the Ring, not the story of Middle Earth.
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Old 01-03-2015, 08:27 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by PrinceOfTheHalflings View Post
It seems that Bombadil is immune to the effects of the Ring, but not because of any special Power he possesses. Rather, he is just not interested in the Ring and thus not able to be influenced by it. No doubt some may point to the additional fact that the Ring does not make Bombadil invisible as evidence of some kind of "Power", but then we have to consider why the Ring makes people invisible. Frodo is more visible to the Nazgul when he puts on the Ring - and he can also see them clearly. That is because he is now in the spirit, or wraith, world.
I would say the Ring affects the wearer because it is infused with a large part of Sauron's essence; his spirit, will, and preternatural 'magical' abilities. Sauron, as a divine Maia, lives in the spirit world naturally. The 'real' world of Middle-earth would therefore be alien to him, had he not taken on an earthbound form, Thus, the wearer of the One becomes Sauron in some manner. And, unless he is fundamentally greater in spiritual power than Sauron, the wearer in the end is overcome by the piece of Sauron he has allowed into his own soul.
I've always thought Bombadil's holding the Ring to his (blue) eye and looking through it at Frodo to be a striking image. Is he saying he's the anti-Sauron, not simply in opposition to him, like Gandalf, but an opposite? That is what I take from it, and that seems to be what Tolkien says in this latest quote also. Tom has no ambitions: he is an Observer, as Gandalf said, a 'moss-gatherer'.

I no longer think Bombadil to be a Maia, as they were servants of greater spirits, and he served no one. The next most likely seems to be an 'undeclared' Ainu (like Ungoliant) who came into Arda with a different purpose than the Valar. I've always been intrigued by Gandalf's desire to have a talk with him before leaving Middle-earth forever. It was a talk like Gandalf had not had with anyone else in Middle-earth, and that is significant.

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Originally Posted by PrinceOfTheHalflings View Post
Whatever he is, he's not like anyone else. When Tolkien says Bombadil is outside the story, I think he just means the story of the Ring, not the story of Middle Earth.
Again though, to be in the story I can't let go of the idea that he must in some way fit in the story's universe, even if his place is forever up for conjecture.
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Old 05-06-2015, 01:39 PM   #6
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Great find Bethberry! Thanks for sharing.

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For Bombadil to truly be 'outside' the story, my thought would be that he would also be unconquerable by Sauron, or any others, who are part of it as active players. Yet he is not, or at least is said by Gandalf, who I've considered to be the nearest voice of Tolkien himself in the text, not to be. Why is he not affected by the Ring, but subject to defeat by Sauron all the same?~Inzil
Well, Tolkien does say Gandalf is only a character in his story, prone to errors like any other. Even though I'm inclined to agree with you about Gandalf. I'm not sure anyone who is "inside" the story, could tell what would happen to Bombadil if he was truly the "last" in the world against Sauron.

In many ways Bombadil could be called an alien. He's in the world, as a curious observer, but not "of" it. Where Sauron and the Ring are "of" it and perhaps possess a greater power over it, and a greater power over an enigmatic observer....I suppose this opens up a host of other questions. How does Bombadil, the alien observer completely disinterested in "power," still possess formidable power in a world he's not part of? Even if it's within a limited and defined boundary?
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Old 05-06-2015, 02:39 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by Boromir88 View Post
Well, Tolkien does say Gandalf is only a character in his story, prone to errors like any other. Even though I'm inclined to agree with you about Gandalf. I'm not sure anyone who is "inside" the story, could tell what would happen to Bombadil if he was truly the "last" in the world against Sauron.
I'm familiar with Tolkien's words from one of the Letters in which he says Treebeard is only a character in the story, but I didn't recall similar statements about Gandalf. The reason I made that assertion was that Gandalf seems to be the one to make moral judgments, such as approving Bilbo's giving the Arkenstone to Bard, and emphasizing to Frodo that Bilbo was absolutely correct in not killing Gollum. Though he failed to see Saruman's turn to evil until it was too late, was Gandalf ever demonstrably wrong about something he'd made a judgment on?

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How does Bombadil, the alien observer completely disinterested in "power," still possess formidable power in a world he's not part of? Even if it's within a limited and defined boundary?
That's my question as well. Tom has obvious power over the denizens of the Old Forest, and the Barrow-wights cannot stand against him. In order for him to exercise such influence, he must have some place in Arda.
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Old 05-06-2015, 03:50 PM   #8
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I'm familiar with Tolkien's words from one of the Letters in which he says Treebeard is only a character in the story, but I didn't recall similar statements about Gandalf.
Good to have this place back up.

But I think you're right. For some reason I had in my head that Gandalf was prone to making errors like any other, but I remember specifically it is Treebeard that is mentioned in the letter. Methinks I need to shake off some rust.
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Old 05-06-2015, 07:57 PM   #9
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Good to have this place back up.

But I think you're right. For some reason I had in my head that Gandalf was prone to making errors like any other, but I remember specifically it is Treebeard that is mentioned in the letter. Methinks I need to shake off some rust.
I would argue that the same thing does apply to Gandalf, at least in principle, even if he is not named in the letter.
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Old 05-06-2015, 08:12 PM   #10
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I would argue that the same thing does apply to Gandalf, at least in principle, even if he is not named in the letter.
Even so, Gandalf making it known to the hobbits that he was visiting Bombadil to have a talk such as he had not had before, not only since he came to Middle-earth as one of the Istari, but 'in all his time', is significant. He described Tom as a "moss gatherer", and himself as a "stone doomed to rolling", so the two were opposites, not regarding good/evil, but active/inactive. Gandalf was a Mover, and Tom was a Watcher. Bombadil's purpose seems to have been to merely be present in Middle-earth, and rarely, to put his hand in events and aid good. He said that his meeting and saving the hobbits was 'no plan of mine', but that implies that it was somebody's plan, and Tom was not going to look the other way that time. So Tom was mainly a passive outsider with a penchant for remaining out of general knowledge, but the fact that he did take action when required to me means that he was indeed part of the world.
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Old 05-07-2015, 08:40 AM   #11
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So Tom was mainly a passive outsider with a penchant for remaining out of general knowledge, but the fact that he did take action when required to me means that he was indeed part of the world.
Hmmm...I don't know. Was Eru part of the world? He did act on occasion and the implication is that he was always working in the background.

(I'm not equating Tom with Eru, just using it as an example.)
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Old 05-07-2015, 09:01 AM   #12
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Hmmm...I don't know. Was Eru part of the world? He did act on occasion and the implication is that he was always working in the background.

(I'm not equating Tom with Eru, just using it as an example.)
All Arda, and everything it contained, was the "offspring" of the mind and spirit of Eru. Did it have an objective existence apart from him, ie if he somehow ceased to exist, would Arda die also? My answer would be yes. If that is the case, then I think Eru would indeed be a part of the physical world he had made.
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Old 05-07-2015, 09:24 AM   #13
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When Professor Tolkien says that Bombadil is "outside" the story, he means outside the narrative of the Ring, does he not? Not outside the "narrative of Arda" (ie history) in general.

At the same time perhaps he's being a little disingenuous because surely, by virtue of rescuing the hobbits from Willow-Man and the Barrow Wights, Tom can at least dip into the narrative on occasion, while at the same time apparently recognise that there is a lot more to Eä than just this particular struggle against evil at this time in Middle-earth.
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