- This section has been moved here from the main Tom Bombadil page because contributors' theories do not belong in the main page about the character, which should contain only factual information taken from Tolkien canon. Selected information that is canon can be moved back to the main page as needed.
Tom Bombadil's natureEdit
As to the nature of Bombadil, Tolkien himself said that some things should remain mysterious in any mythology, hidden even to its inventor. He placed the fate of the Entwives in this category, as well as the Pets of Queen Berúthiel, although hints of the latter story have emerged in posthumously released materials.
Tom Bombadil's mythological origins in the cosmology of Middle-earth have puzzled even erudite fans. Speculative ideas about his true nature range from simply a wise Elven hermit to an angelic being (a Maia or Vala), to the creator, that is, god, who is called Eru Ilúvatar in J. R. R. Tolkien's mythology, to he is a nature spirit, or even him as the Spirit of the Music of the Ainur.
It is important to know that Tom was not only "Eldest" (as he says to Frodo) in terms of the characters in The Lord of the Rings, but he was also most certainly one of J.R.R. Tolkien's earliest literary creations. Tolkien's biographer, Humphrey Carpenter, relates that Tom was inspired by a Dutch doll that belonged to the professor's eldest son Michael. This doll was said to have looked very splendid (it had a real feather in its hat), but Michael's brother John did not like it, and one day he decided to stuff it down the lavatory. The doll was rescued, and survived to become one of the heroes of the spontaneous stories that were told to the children at bedtime. These predate the writing of The Lord of the Rings. Tom Bombadil was, however, part of The Lord of the Rings from the earliest drafts.
Tom seems to have unlimited power inside the boundaries that he set for himself. The most common theory is that Bombadil is a Maia, and perhaps the reason of why he has such powers might be the fact that he set himself limits in which he is master.
Other possibilities (compatible with the above theory) are that he is an abstract concept; possibly the embodiment of Arda itself, a veritable "Father Nature", or some kind of 'spirit' which, unlike the Maiar, was of a non-divine nature. Not only does the Ring have no effect on him, but Tom himself seems unable to affect the Ring in return. This shows that Tom was outside the divine plan and struggle and had no position in it. During the Council of Elrond it is suggested that the Free-Peoples entrust the Ring to Tom, but this is rejected due to the probability that he would lose it, because according to Gandalf, such things had no hold on his mind. It is also stated that if Sauron were to regain the Ring, Tom Bombadil would be the last to fall. It is also stated by Galdor that 'Power to defy our enemy is not in him, unless such power is in the earth itself. And yet we see that Sauron can torture and destroy the very hills.' implying that Bombadil is in some way connected with the very earth itself.
A newer theory is Tom is the incarnated Spirit of the Music of the Ainur. This theory is a spin off of the nature spirit theory. But it asserts that in his essence Tom is the Spirit of the Music of the Ainur and this explains his unique power and its limitations, his timelessness, his disposition, his affinity to song, his power via song over trees and barrow-wights and many of the other oddities found in his character(see external link below).
The Music Theory operates with the understanding that any spirit must be understood to be what they are personally most related to. The argument is Tom, though close to nature, ultimately separates himself from the Forest by battling against Old Man Willow and by having a different disposition than that of the Old Forest which is described as dark and full of hate for everything that goes about freely. Tom on the other hand, relates himself to song constantly, even when he was fighting the barrow-wight: "None has ever caught him yet, for Tom, he is the Master: His songs are stronger songs,and his feet are faster." Tolkien chose to portray Tom with a unique relation to music and that must not be overlooked. This theory has the advantage of answering many of questions around Tom more fully than the others. Indeed, the Tom, in Tolkien's world, carries within its meaning a reference to music.
Some suggest there are linguistic clues suggesting that Tom Bombadil is an avatar of the physical universe. When Frodo asks Goldberry who Bombadil is, she first replies, " He is." When Goldberry tells Frodo "He is," she is using the common tongue. Had, however, she been speaking Elvish, she would have said "Ea" Note how similar this is to the puzzle (say "friend" and enter) that Gandalf must solve to enter Moria. The answer is literally spelled out but turns on a proper translation.
Tom Bombadil is an enormous mystery, and many gave theories about his nature. Some think he is The Witch King, due to the fact that he saw Frodo when he was invisible. However, this is very unlikely due to the fact the Witch King would have taken the Ring when he had it and/or killed Frodo, and wouldn't have given Merry the dagger that led to his downfall; also the One Ring has no effect on him. Others think he is the reader: when Frodo put on the Ring the reader knows he's there, and Elrond doesn't trust the reader with the Ring. Another theory states that he is the embodied spirit of Middle-Earth's Nature. It is also believed he could be the Valar Aulë. Some people think he is actually Eru Ilúvatar, God, in the form of a man. Still others think that he could represent Tolkien himself. Regardless, Tolkien has made it clear that Tom Bombadil was meant to be an enigma.
There is a theory that Tom Bombadil is an Ainur governing the "time" of Middle Earth. He and Gandalf both state that he is the "eldest" and assuming this is true, no one person could possibly be older than time itself, save for perhaps Eru Ilúvatar. The ring has no effect on him because the ring has nothing to offer him; time is already immortal, and neither good nor evil. He has no real concern because his existence will still be around whether or not Sauron gets the ring back. Another hint to this idea of him being or governing time is his wife is said to govern the nature in Middle Earth. This could be a reference to Mother Nature and Father Time, with Goldberry and Bombadil occupying their roles, respectively. His wife describes him as being "Master of wood, water and hill." Time does effect all these, and even in the riddle battle between Gollum and Bilbo one of Gollum's riddles involves something that has dominion over many things with "trees" and "mountain" included, the correct answer that Bilbo gives is time.
Another possibility is that Tom Bombadil represents a friend, or many friends of Tolkien; the absolute infallibility of the character presents the idea that Tolkien himself did not believe that his own creations could affect Bombadil, a trait that would be true of Tolkien's friends and family, though he would not entrust the "ring" to Tom, suggesting that although he respects the ideas and opinions of his friends, he would not allow them to significantly change the path of the story. This again puts him at an abstract level.
The final idea is that Bombadil could represent the Aslan of Middle Earth (i.e. the Christ figure), as Tolkien was good friends with Narnia's writer C.S Lewis. This may be apocryphal, but it does back up the statement above as he could be the creator of Tolkien's universe. This could also mean that Narnia in Tolkien's mind may exist somewhere in Arda like Valinor existing outside the world Narnia could as well.
He could also be one of the two blue Istari, described in the book Unfinished Tales (pg. 393). There are five wizards of the order of the Istari: one white, one brown and one grey, Saruman, Radagast and Gandalf respectively, and two lesser known wizards, Alatar and Pallando, cloaked in blue. As Bombadil wears a blue jacket, it could possibly signify that he is one of these two Blue Wizards. The theory is aided by the fact that he is able to use magic. This, however, is very unlikely, since Tolkien himself stated that these two Blue Wizards went into the Far East and did not return to the west. Furthermore, we know that both Gandalf and Saruman could be influenced by the Ring; it would seem very strange that their companion and equal would not be.
It is also theorized that Tom is a Maia, supported by his claim that, "Tom remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn [...] he knew the dark under the stars when it was fearless — before the Dark Lord came from Outside". Morgoth, the Dark Lord, was the very last of Ainur to enter Arda (excepting Tulkas); all the other Valar and Maiar, as per Tom's description, had existed there for some time before his arrival.
The theory of his being Eru is mostly supported by Goldberry, Tom's wife. When she is asked by Frodo who he is, she simply replies, "He is." However, it is harmed by the implications that he does not really care for anything beyond his country, and the implication he would, eventually, fall if Sauron regained the One Ring. However, it is unknown if he really would fall if Sauron regained the ring, as it was merely said that he would be Last as he was First.
Gandalf calls Tom Bombadil the eldest being in existence; this is also evident by his Sindarin name Iarwain Ben-adar (Old-young and Fatherless). Dwarves called him Forn, Men Orald. These names apparently mean "Eldest". Also, Fangorn (Treebeard) calls himself the eldest living being of Middle-earth and says that he was there before anyone else. Bombadil is just known as the "eldest", in almost all cultures. If Tom Bombadil is indeed not a normal being, but rather a supernatural being or a "concept", it's not necessarily a contradiction. Concerning Fangorn, J.R.R. Tolkien remarked, "Fangorn is a character in my story and even he does not know everything".
The last mention of Tom in the books is during the journey back to the Shire when Gandalf and the hobbits part ways after Bree. Gandalf tells them he must speak with Tom, possibly to bring him news of the dark lord's fall, share knowledge one last time or just to say goodbye before Gandalf leaves middle earth. This would be the first time Gandalf as Gandalf the White would speak to Tom and since he was recently "sent back" from the undying lands this may suggest that Gandalf may have been given a message from the Maia or Vala to deliver to Tom should he prevail against the dark lord.
Another theory is that Tom is the first living, sentient being produced by the music of Eru, prior to Melkor's dis-harmonies being added in. This would make him a sub-creation "echo" of biblical Adam, prior to the consumption of the forbidden fruit and expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Such a theory neatly explains nearly all the enigmas of Tom's nature: as a being that does not (and perhaps cannot) know death, he is rightly unconcerned with events like the the War of the Ring. As a being that does not know hunger for power or any other form of personal corruption, the One Ring can hold no power over him and would be no more than a meaningless bauble. Tom is confined to his woods as Adam was "confined" to the Garden of Eden. Tolkien himself repeatedly referred to his own work as "sub-creation" reflecting the greater Creation embodied in his Roman Catholic faith, and combined with Tolkien's love for the unspoiled Oxford and Berkshire countryside which he stated that Tom embodied the spirit of, the allegory to the Garden of Eden and Adam, the "eldest and fatherless" human, seems a rather solid conception of the character.
Another theory is that Tom Bombadil is in fact a representation of Tolkien himself. He is eldest, because he existed before the books, he saw the first raindrops, because he wrote it, thus seeing it, he is immune to the powers of the Ring yet seems to have enough power to save the world all by himself, yet he does not, because he wrote it all down, knows whats going to happen and chooses not to interfere, for the sake of the readers.
There is still yet another theory that Tom Bombadil (and his wife, Goldberry, depending on the readers gender) is representative of the reader themselves. Supporting evidence for this includes his ability to make the ring "appear and disappear at will" (the readers' opening and closing of the book) and his ability to see Frodo even when wearing the ring (Frodo is still described in the book while wearing the ring, and therefore to the readers, he is still 'visible'). Just like Tom, the ring has no power over the reader despite its evil nature. It has been suggested that Tom Bombadil's house provides a place of safety for the reader, especially as the Lord of the Rings is a sequel to The Hobbit, a children's book, where readers are constantly reassured (e.g. in the Battle of the Five Armies, not only is Bilbo placed next to Thranduil and Gandalf, but the reader is told that he will get through it). Therefore, the House of Tom Bombadil provides a safe place for the reader, close enough to the familiar safe 'haven' of the Shire as seen in The Hobbit, yet a gateway from this safety to the danger and adventure to come. This theory of easing the reader into the danger to come is supported by similar techniques employed by Tolkien in The Hobbit, where the dwarves arrive gradually to Bag End, thus easing Bilbo into the whole idea. The passage about Tom Bombadil speaking of things such as the dark one coming a long time ago may seem to contradict this theory at first, but it may also support it. If we take this section of the book to help ease the reader into the dark and dangerous world ahead from the children's book before it, we are able take this passage to simply show that there is a lot more to Middle Earth than just the dragons, treasure and giant spiders The Hobbit presents us with.
Still another theory is that Tom Bombadil is simply a thought, a living, breathing, tangible thought that changes form and remembers all, for his Mind was there before any other being-he is the first that was created, awakening even before elves and definitely before evil. Because Tom Bombadil was before the Dark Lord in Middle-Earth, he would not have any knowledge or feeling of evil-he would view it as child's mischief or a plaything, or a game, perhaps. Due to this whole lack of evil, he would not be corrupted by anything-and thus the stresses and weights on other living things would not affect him. Only the things that live for many years, the things that are almost not temporary, are of any concern to him, and the way he sees it, no small thing as a few lives of men or a few years is to be sorrowful over. When something that was Old dies, however, it does change his mood, likely due to the fact that he misses it and desires permanence in the world. Because of this will to have permanence, his form can likely change to whatever form is needed for that age-and this theory states that he was first simply a spirit, and then weathered the first age as either a spirit or a tree or some other form of still life-and it is not until the second age that he made his home, found Goldberry (though it is likely that he found her in the first age), and settled down as a living humanoid being.
One more theory features that Tom is the concentraded good will of the once neutral elder forest. This goodwill was split from the forest and manifested in Tom, making him unable to leave this area and converting the forest to the dark place, it is now. His resistance for the ring leads from the already split in half pure minded being, the ring can't affect him, because all the evil what is left, is in the forest itself. Invisibility works only on the ring, this may lead to the conclusion that the ring trys to affect Tom but the spell which seperates the good from the bad and holds them in one place is more powerfull or Tom is not a really living being.
- The Riddle of Tom Bombadil, The Encyclopedia of Arda
- Tom as the Spirit of the Music of the Ainuris a theory which explores Tom's origin in relation to the Music while examining the weaknesses of the other theories. It relies heavily on Tom's actions in LotR, what we know of other Spirits, and the creation account.
- What is Tom Bombadil? by Steuard Jensen (a detailed explanation)
- Who is Tom Bombadil? by Gene Hargrove (a somewhat unorthodox but well-presented essay)
- images of Tom Bombadil
- The Truth About Tom Bombadil is a controversial theory about Tom's true identity.