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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
Tom Bombadil As the Spirit of the Music of the Ainur

rangerfromthenorth
Rivendell

Jan 17 2013, 4:27pm

Post #1 of 21 (1872 views)
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Tom Bombadil As the Spirit of the Music of the Ainur Can't Post

As recommended by Weaver, I am reposting this in the reading room. Sorry if you have seen it already. But I wrote an in-depth paper on Tom Bombadil arguing against the major theories and for my own new theory, feel free to read it and offer any feedback you so desire.

www.whoistombombadil.blogspot.com/


Radagast-Aiwendil
Gondor


Jan 17 2013, 8:57pm

Post #2 of 21 (926 views)
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Thanks for this! [In reply to] Can't Post

Very insightful and a good read, which certainly does well in terms of persuading me to agree with your point. However, I personally love the whole fact that nobody truly knows who Tom Bombadil is...if a straight answer had been revealed by Tolkien it may have (for me) detracted from his seemingly limitless power (over his own turf anyway).

But then that depends how you define power I suppose...e.g. With the Wizards it's quite a surprise to learn just how powerful they actually are, provided you read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings before The Silmarillion or Unfinished Tales.

"These are Gundabad Wargs! They will outrun you!"

"THESE are Rhosgobel Rabbits! I'd like to see them try...."



(This post was edited by Radagast-Aiwendil on Jan 17 2013, 8:59pm)


Lost_istari
Registered User


Jan 18 2013, 7:56pm

Post #3 of 21 (863 views)
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Great Theory [In reply to] Can't Post

This is really a well rounded theory. The moment that I got on board was in the comparison to Ungoliant. I personally have tried to fit Tom into a category for a long time. I was definitely in the Maiar/Valar camp before reading this essay. It's like letting the light in though to accept that Tom is simply a unique being.
Also, the Music of the Ainur was such a beautiful creation of Tolkien's that it seems fitting that he would create a character that represents an extension of it.
Although my "in person" discussions of Tolkien are all too rare in my circle of friends, when discussing Lotr, Bombadil always seems to come up (amongst those who have read the books). I'm excited to hash out this theory with them, and I'm glad that you have been able to fill the possible holes in the theory with perfectly reasonable explantions (the limits on Tom's power always seemed the most perplexing, but the attachment to Goldberry makes so much sense!).
Great read, thanks for posting.


rangerfromthenorth
Rivendell

Jan 22 2013, 2:07pm

Post #4 of 21 (856 views)
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Thank you much [In reply to] Can't Post

Lost istari:

Thank you for your kind words. I am glad you enjoyed the theory and desire to flesh it out more. That was my hope, that others would take this theory where I cannot. I have built a foundation but I am sure others can add more and better things to it than I could. If you have any other thoughts or questions let me know!


CuriousG
Valinor


Jan 23 2013, 5:53pm

Post #5 of 21 (811 views)
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Agreed [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks for posting this, Ranger. I was nodding in agreement with Lost Istari's points about Ungoliant and Goldberry--extending your reasoning to include them makes the case all the more convincing. Plus it's esthetically appealing to think that there is an embodiment of the Great Music that walks in Middle-earth.

The only hiccup I have with any theory is that I believe Tolkien entertained his children with Tom Bombadil stories based on a doll with that colored clothing, and he seems to have liked the character enough to insert him in his epic. I think it would be similar if I liked some character, maybe Darth Vader, and I invented a non-Star Wars world, let's say the Smurfs, and just because I like Vader so much, I put him in that world despite him not belonging. He would forever be unaccounted for, but if I'm the author, I can do what I want.

I think Goldberry might not quite fit into the world either. How can she be River Woman's daughter if the Valar/Maiar don't have children? (Aside from Melian and Thingol.) My memory is bad, but isn't there a song in The Road Goes Ever On where Bombadil woos Goldberry away from her mother with the deal that Goldberry can go back to visit? Who is River Woman? I could explain Old Man Willow as a Huorn, but River Woman doesn't seem to fit any scheme herself. If she's the spirit of the Brandywine, do other rivers have a spirit too? Maybe they do, and we never hear about them. And maybe they are in some way under the umbrella of the Valar's rule.

But if we go back to my Darth Vader idea of a clumsy, inconsistent insertion for the sake of author amusement, then Goldberry and River Woman could be like adding Yoda and Obi Wan to the Smurf world too.

Just thoughts. Since Tolkien never said anything definitive himself, I'm not sure that we can decide ourselves. But I really like the idea of Bombadil as the incarnation of the Great Music, and Ungoliant as the Discord, and Goldberry as the spirit of the Music that's retained in water, and hence Tom's attraction/infatuation with her.


FlyingSerkis
Rivendell


Jan 23 2013, 9:13pm

Post #6 of 21 (813 views)
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Excellent theory! [In reply to] Can't Post

I think that's a wonderful idea. And I loved the Goldberry as water spirit element.

So if we think of Tom Bombadil as an incarnation of the Music of the Ainur, and Ungoliant as the Discord of Melkor - which, incidentally, is brilliant: Ungoliant turns against Melkor because the very nature of the Discord is that it has no sense of loyalty, even to that which created it, and anything that does show loyalty is not the truest evil, which I'm sure Tolkien mentions regarding Sauron and the other followers of Melkor - sorry, what was I saying? Oh yes: could there be an incarnation of the Third Theme? Are all Children of Iluvatar incarnations of that theme, or are they merely begot of it? IS IT FRODO? Tongue

Smile

Then Manw and Yavanna parted for that time, and Yavanna returned to Aul; and he was in his smithy, pouring molten metal into a mould. 'Eru is bountiful,' she said. 'Now let thy children beware! For there shall walk a power in the forests whose wrath they will arouse at their peril.'

'Nonetheless they will have need of wood,' said Aul, and he went on with his smith-work.


(This post was edited by FlyingSerkis on Jan 23 2013, 9:14pm)


rangerfromthenorth
Rivendell

Jan 23 2013, 9:33pm

Post #7 of 21 (789 views)
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Thank You [In reply to] Can't Post

Your words are entirely too kind. As far as the Third theme goes i guess one could think of a spirit that gets incarnated from it but I do not see the need being that the Children of Illuvatar are what comes from the third theme. Tom is the spirit of the Music (which is incarnated (in-the-flesh) as we find him) but the third theme is put into flesh via the Eldar and Edain. Would Frodo be that? Well yes and no. Yes, Frodo is part of the theme and one could argue that he is the fulfillment of that theme being his major role of bringing the end of evil of Melkor/Sauron. No, in that this is entirely different than what Tom is, Tom is primarily a spirit being who takes on flesh, and his spiritual origins come from his nature as the representation of the Music, much like Ungoliant does the same with the Discord.

Frodo, and all of the Children, are kind of like Middle Earth is, they are manifestations of which find their origins in the themes but they are not primarily spiritual beings representing these themes. In other words, The earth and the children find their existence within the Music and themes, whereas Tom (as my suggestion goes) is the Music in spirit form incarnated on Earth.


Lost_istari
Registered User


Jan 24 2013, 6:46am

Post #8 of 21 (879 views)
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A quick thought on children of Ainur [In reply to] Can't Post

A bit off of of the Bombadil topic, but this got me thinking... We know that Tolkien originally wanted to make the Valar capable of having children within their respective partnerships (the children would have been the Maiar) but decided against it. Essentially only Iluvatar ond the Children of Iluvatar had access to "The Secret Fire" (or the power of the creation of life). This is why Melkor was never able to create life but only to corrupt life forms created by Iluvatar. This also prevented any other of the Ainur from creating life without the involvement of Iluvatar or the Children of Iluvatar (Iluvatar gave life to Aule's dwarves, and Melian had a child because her partner was a child of Iluvatar).

Bringing this back to topic, it is possible that "The River Woman" was really just a human woman, and her father was one of the Maiar(maybe one with an association with water, in keeping with the theory), thus giving her the long life that I assume she had (I can't remember if the book mentions her age) and the spirit-like qualities that she had. Or perhaps the othe way around with the mother being a water associated Maiar and the father being either a man or elf (or maybe even a hobbit given the proximity and depending on the timelineTongue).

Anyway, just food for thought since CuriousG's obvservations got me thinking. I like to think Tolkien knew exactly whay he was doing, and even if he started out adding Bombadil and Goldberry in simply because he liked their characters, he would have some backstory to fit them in at some point. I would certainly put Vader in my Smurf world too, but I would probably invent some sort of black hole that plucked him from wherever he was and deposited him in the Smurf world. Maybe I'm too much of a stickler for continuity and clear origins though.


Plurmo
Rohan

Jan 28 2013, 5:59am

Post #9 of 21 (804 views)
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Regarding Bombadil's boundedness [In reply to] Can't Post

I associate it directly with Morgoth's unbounded prison in the Void. I suppose everyday Bombadil's domain shrinks a little, just like Nature itself, losing ground, as a sign that Morgoth is, paradoxically as it seems, growing out of his unbounded prison. If Bombadil is defeated, last as he was first (by an incredibly naive Sauron, if that was the case) it means Nature is dead and Morgoth the nihilist won and is free again.

"Out East Toms knowledge fails precisely because out East the Music of Melkor is at its strongest."
What I mean is that you can apply the kind of association you made above to the problem of Bombadil's boundedness. What defines an unbounded one that is is a bounded other that is not.


Tolkien Forever
Gondor

Jan 30 2013, 8:38pm

Post #10 of 21 (734 views)
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I Know [In reply to] Can't Post

Just read TLOR again.

I now know who Bombadil is for sure.

The answer's right there in the text as plain as the noses on our faces. Cool

The Ultimate Tolkien Trivia Quiz: http://www.proprofs.com/quiz-school/story.php?title=so-you-want-to-be-tolkien-geek


squire
Valinor


Jan 31 2013, 1:27am

Post #11 of 21 (788 views)
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"None has yet defined him, for Tom is an enigma" [In reply to] Can't Post

I did enjoy your essay, but the conclusion feels forced and "heightened". I feel it tends to contradict Tolkien's own explanation, however inconsistent that is with the very idea of Middle-earth. To the author's definitive statement that Tom is "the spirit of the (vanishing) Oxford and Berkshire countryside." (Letters, #19), the obvious rejoinder is: what the heck does Oxfordshire have to do with Middle-earth? And the obvious if somewhat Zenlike answer is: exactly!

I put my thoughts into verse, in homage to Tom, back in 2005:

Old Tom Bombadil is a merry fellow;
Bright blue his jacket is, and his boots are yellow.
None has yet defined him, for Tom is an enigma
All those who try to do it fail and soon they feel the stigma.

By water, wood and hill, by the reed and willow
He seems to be the countryside, does old Tom Bombadillo
Is he a Nature Spirit, dancing through the seasons?
Tolkien seemed to say so, though he did not give his reasons.

He cannot be a Hobbit though for sure he is so jolly.
No kind of Elf is Tom, you will not hear him sing fa-lally!
Nor mortal Man of Middle-earth, by Ring-lust made the bolder,
Nor Ent of ancient forest realms, for Tom is even older.

Of the dwarvish folk the father was the Vala known as Aul
And some propose that Tom is he, a guess of utter faul.
Like any of the Valar, he would fear no wraiths of Sauron!
To use my favorite rhyme, that is the theory of a mauron.

And do not even mention the All-father, Ilvatar
Though Goldberry declares He Is, the phrase holds little water.
Tolkien said that merely is a comment about naming,
For Eru will not walk the Earth until the End a-flaming.

Whos left? the evil Witch-King, of Angmar lord of old,
Has been slyly suggested but the humor soon grows cold.
For many the all-purpose term of Maia fits the bill
But such a being would surely rate a mention in the Sil.

By fire, sun and moon, harken now and hear us!
Come, Tom Bombadil, our need to know is near us!
Who are you Master? Dont you know my name yet?
Tell me, who are you, alone, yourself and nameless?

Old Tom Bombadil is a merry fellow;
Bright blue his jacket is, and his boots are yellow.
None has yet defined him, for Tom is an enigma
All those who try to do it fail and soon they feel the stigma.




squire online:
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CuriousG
Valinor


Jan 31 2013, 1:34am

Post #12 of 21 (741 views)
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Great poem/ [In reply to] Can't Post

 


rangerfromthenorth
Rivendell

Jan 31 2013, 2:29am

Post #13 of 21 (797 views)
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Great Poem Indeed [In reply to] Can't Post

Yet your quote holds little weight being that Tolkien wrote this of Tom before LOTR was written and before Tom was inserted into the world. In his poems The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, which most do not consider canon, Tom is indeed the spirit of the vanishing Oxford countryside, but as stated before, this letter referencing Tom in his poems was written by Tolkien in 1937, Lord of the Rings was not completed until 1949. So clearly in context it is not meant to explain Tom's origins in the world of Middle Earth being that it is reference to a place that does not exist in Middle Earth, Tolkien's answering of his friends questions was not in context of LOTR.

Take for instance, Tom originally had a peacock feather in his hat, but in adapting Tom, Tolkien decided that because peacocks do not exist in Middle Earth he had to change his feather to a swan's feather (Tolkien letters pg 318-319), in other words, Tom's insertion into the story was meant to be consistent with the given world, so much so that Tolkien saw it fit to even make a minor detail, such as to which type of feather was in his hat fit into Middle Earth. Tolkien was very deliberate with his creation.

On top of that, Tolkien has his characters directly allude to who/what Tom is on no fewer than four occasions, so Tolkien himself clearly thought about it and knowing that he adapted Tom already to consistently fit into the world, and that he asked about his origins within Middle Earth, it is not too far of a stretch to suggest that Tolkien had an answer, though he openly wrote that he left him as an enigma. This label though does not mean an answer does not exist but rather that Tolkien chose not to give it so that there would be a mystery in his world. And half the fun of a mystery is trying to solve it;-)



squire
Valinor


Feb 1 2013, 3:14am

Post #14 of 21 (758 views)
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It is certainly a great topic to debate [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks for your compliment about my verse.

I am curious about your assertion that "most do not consider" The Adventures of Tom Bombadil to be "canon". One, who are these people and how do we know they are "most", so to speak? And two, why is a concept like "canon" useful when discussing Tolkien's imaginarium, in comparison to the concept of stating one's sources, acknowledging the publishing history of the works in question, and using sound logic and fair methods of argument? I have always thought the idea is more applicable to publishing ventures with multiple authors than it is to the works of a solitary genius like Tolkien, whose mind was always torn between the constraints of a neat consistency and his driving need to be able to re-imagine his world as he saw fit over many decades of world-creation.

For instance, if the question is "Who is Tom Bombadil?", yet the book of poems named after the character is excluded from "evidence" in seeking an answer (while the Silmarillion is oddly admitted to the party), then surely the question needs to be narrowed to "Who is Tom Bombadil in The Lord of the Rings?". A second discussion would then be called for, entitled "Who is Tom Bombadil in 'Bombadil Goes A-Boating' and 'The Adventures of Tom Bombadil'?" Some corollary discussions that devolve from there could be "Who is Farmer Maggot in 'Bombadil Goes A-Boating'?" and "Who is Old Man Willow in 'The Adventures of Tom Bombadil'?" Obviously I'm not being very serious here, but my point is that using the "canon" idea to delimit discussions of Tolkien seems excessively complicated and unhelpful!



squire online:
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N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Feb 1 2013, 5:46am

Post #15 of 21 (754 views)
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This may interest you. [In reply to] Can't Post

The most thorough attempt I know to pursue all possibilities for Tom Bombadil's identity is "Tom B: Peeling the Onion" by the late halfir at the LOTR Fanatics Plaza (squire even comes in for a citation, somewhere in there). Closer to home, have a look at the "Bombadillion" posts by NZ Strider on TORN by following links here and here.

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rangerfromthenorth
Rivendell

Feb 1 2013, 3:32pm

Post #16 of 21 (790 views)
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a "most" dangerous discussion [In reply to] Can't Post

Tongue

Squire, you are right and I am sorry for throwing out "most" so carelessly without defining, I was referring to most Tolkien scholars and other Bombadil theorists I have read recognize that not all of Tolkien's works bear the same authority in a final assesment of his world. Perhaps canon is poor term.

But what I mean is this is, Tolkien wrote many things when trying to formulate his world and many things never made the final cut. For instance, there many different versions of the Fall of Gondolin that have been publlished before the final version came out in the Silmarrillion. Within these versions are many contradictions, as with any writing project, for instance early on there hundreds of Balrogs later Tolkien decided that there should only be few.
The Hobbit also went through different versions of how bilbo got the ring, the authoritative version is the final one.

Tolkien wrote in many of his letters that he was seeking to create a consistent world that is why so many versions came about and were constantly being refined. So by canon what I meant is that the authority rests with his final completed work of the world including the Hobbit, LOTR, and the Silmarrillion. On top of that any official intrepration Tolkien gives in his letters is clearly authoritative.

The adventures of Tom Bombadil were not written purely to be in Middle Earth so the the context needs to be remembered but even within them there is no contradiction to Tom being any of the theories. So essentially what I am saying is that we need to understand the context of each of Tolkien's writings all of them shed light but some of them are of higher authority and some of lesser when it comes to Middle Earth.


N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Feb 1 2013, 5:55pm

Post #17 of 21 (721 views)
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ATB was published after LOTR. [In reply to] Can't Post

I mean the 1962 collection, which like The Lord of the Rings itself, places poems largely written before LOTR into that world.

The Silmarillion is a less "completed" work than The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Other Verses from the Red Book, in that Tolkien never brought it to publication, and the work as we have it only approximates his intent, including some aspects that the editor, Christopher Tolkien, later came to regret.

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rangerfromthenorth
Rivendell

Feb 1 2013, 6:14pm

Post #18 of 21 (720 views)
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yes yes it was [In reply to] Can't Post

sorry, I am mixing my memory up here, I meant to refer Tolkien's first writings of Tom which were written and published before LOTR, my apologies. This is what Tolkien was referencing in his 1937 letter where he refers to Tom as the "Spirit of vanishing Oxfordshire countryside," a work that was not written nor intended to be explanatory of Middle Earth. Sometimes people use this in the Tom debate when though it is explanatory later in the letter Tolkien writes that he may not include Tom in further writings, but if he does he will have to "enlarge him" and that he was consumed with creating a "consistent world." So essentially I saying we need to understand the context of each of his writings. For there is much more in some his other writings that would have supported my arguments (especially the existence of oterh spirits) but i did not want to place to much emphasis on early manuscripts that Tolkien did not carry to their fulfillment because there may or may not be reason for them being changed or left out.

As far as the Silmarrillion goes, it is not completed though it is the most completed of those works that we possess. So for "canon" I mean that the authority of different manuscripts need to be considered, Tolkien was constantly editing and narrowing and reshaping his stories to make them more consistent. So, for example, The balrogs should we heed the early manuscripts that there we many or the later ones when Tolkien decided they were limited in number? I think clearly the later texts are more representative than the first words he wrote about the Fall of Gondolin when the world was not yet fully developed. Part of the problem, and the joy, is that Tolkien is so popular that even his drafts and notes have been published. They are insightful but should not be viewed as authoritative when they prove contradictory to later writings. much like when you write a draft of a paper it would be unfair to say the first draft is as authoritative to your intent as the last.


rangerfromthenorth
Rivendell

Feb 1 2013, 6:22pm

Post #19 of 21 (724 views)
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thats where the confusion came from [In reply to] Can't Post

Tolkien published two works of "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil" one published in 1934 and one in 1961, I am now curious if the 1961 edition is simply a re-hash with some additions or if it is new.... any thoughts would be appreciated...

i am reading through some of Halfir's stuff one note he contributes to this:

"So in the 1930’s the actual character of Tom – outside LOTR had started to develop, and by 1937 Tolkien was suggesting that the somewhat comical character could be taking on a far more serious form.


To be continued
"

essentially what I was trying to get at


(This post was edited by rangerfromthenorth on Feb 1 2013, 6:25pm)


N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Feb 1 2013, 7:51pm

Post #20 of 21 (719 views)
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Tolkien did alter the poem for its 1962 re-publication. [In reply to] Can't Post

And he wrote a new poem about Bombadil, that squire has already referenced: "Bombadil Goes Boating", specifically for that collection (although Tom Shippey has suggested that this poem derives from the earliest surviving Bombadil writings, which appear in one of the "History of The Lord of the Rings" volumes).

A third Bombadil poem, "Once Upon a Time", was also published it the 1960s.

Both halfir and NZ Strider discuss the differences between the 1934 and 1962 versions of "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil" at the links I provided, as do Christina Scull and Wayne Hammond--although I can't remember if their comments appear in The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide or The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion. I think it was the latter, and if memory serves they accidentally overlooked a couple verses in the 2005 edition of their book, so you're better off looking at the 2008 printing.

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squire
Valinor


Feb 1 2013, 8:38pm

Post #21 of 21 (1445 views)
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Very nicely stated [In reply to] Can't Post

I would only suggest that even Christopher Tolkien warns us that his father did not necessarily abandon concepts from earlier stories even if he left them out of later versions. The presence of a contradictory new "fact" or idea in a later version is more suggestive that the earlier idea is to be abandoned, of course; but as we know from the letters, notes, and general tone of The History of Middle-Earth and Unfinished Tales, even publication did not keep Tolkien from considering further changes which he only occasionally got the chance to execute in later editions of his published works.

It is certainly sensible, as you advocate, to pay attention to the evolution in time of his thought using whatever evidence we can find. But I am leery of any general principle that his more recent writings vs. earlier ones, or his published vs. unpublished work, inevitably has more clear "authority" when we attempt to interpret Tolkien's world and ideas.



squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Footeramas: The 3rd (and NOW the 4th too!) TORn Reading Room LotR Discussion; and "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
squiretalk introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary


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