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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
Tom Bombadillo
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robertsedic_uvm
Registered User

Jul 10 2013, 10:09pm

Post #1 of 39 (449 views)
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Tom Bombadillo Can't Post

I was just reading through The Fellowship again for my UVM class "Tolkien's Middle-Earth" and found myself wondering again: what is Tom Bombadil? Is he maybe one of the Valar or Maiar? Is he the physical manifestation of Middle-Earth? And also, why does the Ring have no effect on him when he puts it on? Any and all answers are appreciated thank you!


Maciliel
Tol Eressea


Jul 10 2013, 10:24pm

Post #2 of 39 (273 views)
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hullo, robertillo ! : ) [In reply to] Can't Post

 
you have touched upon a perennial (and ultimately unresolveable) mystery.

i'll kick off the responses to say that tolkien himself didn't know, and felt that this was one of those things left unanswered. but it's certainly nice to speculate.

here are some popular theories...

vala
maia
eru
spirit of arda
spirit of the forest
michael buble (ok, i just made up that last one)

bombadil himself said that he was first, before anything else. it seems he preceded the subsequent work of the valar whose labors created mountains, oceans, and more.

gandalf seemed to think that he could not stand against the might of sauron, 'tho his part of middle earth might be the last to fall (should sauron triumph).

i'll also bring up the concept of "unreliable narrator." often discussion about tom bombadil refer to this statement by gandalf. but characters in tales don't necessarily have all the knowledge that we the readers would like them to possess. sometimes they say things, or believe things, but are mistaken (tolkien says something about this in "letters," in relation to treebeard and treebeard's statement about the orcs).


cheers : )

.


aka. fili orc-enshield
+++++++++++++++++++
the scene, as i understand it, is exceptionally well-written. fili (in sort of a callback to the scene with the eagles), calls out "thorRIIIIIIN!!!" just as he sees the pale orc veer in for the kill. he picks up the severed arm of an orc which is lying on the ground, swings it up in desperation, effectively blocking the pale orc's blow. and thus, forever after, fili is known as "fili orc-enshield."

this earns him deep respect from his hard-to-please uncle. as well as a hug. kili wipes his boots on the pale orc's glory box. -- maciliel telpemairo

(This post was edited by Maciliel on Jul 10 2013, 10:25pm)


CuriousG
Valinor


Jul 10 2013, 10:34pm

Post #3 of 39 (267 views)
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A recent poll on that question [In reply to] Can't Post

Hi Robert. Here's a recent poll we had along with theories: http://newboards.theonering.net/...i?post=622779#622779


Brethil
Half-elven


Jul 10 2013, 11:16pm

Post #4 of 39 (245 views)
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Greetings, Dread Pirate Roberts! [In reply to] Can't Post

As Maciliel Telpemairo has said, a perennial yet enjoyable debate!

Most amusingly we have JRRT's own words in Letter # 153 "I don't think Tom needs philosophizing about, and is not improved by it." So, quite completely ignoring this little bit of the author's insights, let's proceed!

He rejects out of hand the idea of Tom as direct, modern social allegory. The allegory he accepts him as is potentially, "an 'allegory' or exemplar, a particular embodying of pure, (real) natural science: the spirit that desires knowledge of other things, their history and their nature, because they are 'other' and wholly independent of the enquiring mind, a spirit coeval with the rational mind, and entire unconcerned with doing anything with the knowledge: Zoology and Botany not Cattle-breeding or Agriculture." (# 153)

So here Tom is different than the other oldest beings of Middle-earth, the firstborn Elves, who JRRT sees as primarily artists, and whose mandate in existence is subcreative, implying change and a certain measure of control, of changing the surrounding world and not simply observing it. His realm is purely study, not the management and implied change of that which he sees.

That is why I think his relationship with Old Man Willow is so incredibly significant, really a cornerstone, of understanding who Tom is: for he seeks not to change or to defeat the Willow, who is clearly Dark at heart; where Tom, who is powerful enough to harm the Willow, is clearly Good at heart. Its a rather unique relationship in ME, where Good and Evil are generally more clear-cut, even visibly so, and one has a moral mandate to defeat the other. Not so here, which I think is a telling dynamic left in quite intentionally and artfully by JRRT. In Letter # 153 he says about Tom and the Willow: "He hardly even judges, and as far as can be seen makes no effort to reform or even remove the Willow."

Another unexplained aspect of Tom is his inability to be affected by the Ring. We have discussed here, in the RR, the effects of the Ring. It seems to be able to transport anyone within its scope, who is of lesser power than itself (which as it contains Sauron's essence and blood is probably similar in that stature) to the plane of Spirit. Having said this, Tom is clearly of some more powerful spiritual nature, as the Ring on his finger does not make him unseen (ie: transported to the realm of Spirit.) Tom also has no desire to possess the Ring. This I believe goes back to his nature as developed by JRRT: knowledge without control. In Letter # 153 JRRT says: "Also T.B. exhibits another point in his attitude towards the Ring, and its failure to affect him. You must concentrate on some part, probably relatively small, of the World (Universe), whether to tell a tale, however long, or to learn anything however fundamental - and therefore much will from that 'point of view' be left out, distorted on the circumference, or seem a discordant oddity. The power of the Ring over all concerned, even the Wizards or Emissaries, is not a delusion - but it is not the whole picture, even in the then state and content of that part of the Universe." So here we have the idea that Tom's oddment isn't really odd at all - only because, similar to Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, we are only gazing at a tiny fragment, frozen in time, of the larger Universal picture. Tom himself then, is bigger than the Ring: spiritually and historically. JRRT's Child of the Universe, Inquiry itself, yet not the Divine hand that creates: it merely observes.

Another interesting aspect of Tom and the Ring is that by choosing the human, Hobbit, Elf and Dwarf-free Old Forest he has created for himself rather a zone of unchanging, pristine, uncorrupted life. Indeed that is why the Elves created the Three: to preserve life as it was ("embalming" is the word JRRT uses). Tom manages this without a Ring, through the lack of interference of those who control and change, and through his own progress-removed role as a steward of pure observation.

I think Tom's being 'oldest' and 'first', as well as his understanding of 'Outside' (ie: the Universal Void) all relate to the force of the Creation itself coming first, rather than a seniority element. Perhaps that is JRRT's statement about the origins of life: the reason it is all here, for the sheer joy of existence on the part of the Creator, Eru - the control-seeking Dark Lord from Outside is, by that definition, separated from that joy. Though I think in the case of Tom it transcends the books, and delves into JRRT's own deep love of the natural world in its pristine self and how that relates back to his understanding of God.

Many options have been theorized over the years, including Eru himself (which JRRT dismisses out of hand, in Letter # 181: "There is no embodiment of the Creator anywhere in this story or mythology.) a Maiar, a Vala, etc. I personally come down on the non-naming side of the Tom debate.

I have come to feel that there simply is no 'literal' or pigeon-holed place for Tom: he is something else altogether. I have to take JRRT's words very seriously when he describes Tom as an intentional enigma, whose meaning is beyond the legendarium. I think his true meaning is external to the universe of ME as we understand it (ie: having been provided by the author). His own understanding of Tom is one of reason, observation and 'science' (in the sense of studying Life) unfettered by possession, and acting simply for the joy of seeing and interacting with the natural world.

Well, again like the Road I have gone on and on! Wink



Coming soon!- The first TORn Amateur Symposium, starts Sunday 21st July in the Reading Room. Closing date for essay submission Sunday 14th July, but even if you don't submit, join us for some interesting discussion on some different and personal ways of looking at Tolkien's work.







(This post was edited by Brethil on Jul 10 2013, 11:17pm)


Maciliel
Tol Eressea


Jul 10 2013, 11:17pm

Post #5 of 39 (246 views)
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( hi richard! ) [In reply to] Can't Post

 
( great ta see ya! )


( cheers : ) )


aka. fili orc-enshield
+++++++++++++++++++
the scene, as i understand it, is exceptionally well-written. fili (in sort of a callback to the scene with the eagles), calls out "thorRIIIIIIN!!!" just as he sees the pale orc veer in for the kill. he picks up the severed arm of an orc which is lying on the ground, swings it up in desperation, effectively blocking the pale orc's blow. and thus, forever after, fili is known as "fili orc-enshield."

this earns him deep respect from his hard-to-please uncle. as well as a hug. kili wipes his boots on the pale orc's glory box. -- maciliel telpemairo


Brethil
Half-elven


Jul 10 2013, 11:21pm

Post #6 of 39 (234 views)
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(*squinting*) He looks taller to me now. // [In reply to] Can't Post

 

Coming soon!- The first TORn Amateur Symposium, starts Sunday 21st July in the Reading Room. Closing date for essay submission Sunday 14th July, but even if you don't submit, join us for some interesting discussion on some different and personal ways of looking at Tolkien's work.







robertsedic_uvm
Registered User

Jul 12 2013, 1:11am

Post #7 of 39 (202 views)
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wow [In reply to] Can't Post

I was not expecting such a well thought out and in-depth response, but it certainly answers my question! It's nice to know that not even Tolkien himself knows what Tom is, it's more fun to speculate. Thanks Brethil!


Brethil
Half-elven


Jul 12 2013, 1:32am

Post #8 of 39 (191 views)
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You are quite welcome! [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks for reading it all! (How do you like 'Dread Pirate" BTW?)

It is a fascinating method of working, to leave an enigma in place like Tom, in such a detailed legendarium. We had discussed a bit ago here in the RR feelings on JRRT's consistency and writing process, and from reading Letters etc. one can see it was a very organic process, involving growth and change potentially unseen even by its maker. Its almost a quaint and charming thought, in a way, that he had enough 'faith' and trust in his universe to just sort of put Tom out there and let him breathe and sing and go about his business without explanation or justification.

adding: and of course this is just my thoughts, not sure if anyone else wants to chime in!

Great question, glad you asked it! Cool

Coming soon!- The first TORn Amateur Symposium, starts Sunday 21st July in the Reading Room. Closing date for essay submission Sunday 14th July, but even if you don't submit, join us for some interesting discussion on some different and personal ways of looking at Tolkien's work.







(This post was edited by Brethil on Jul 12 2013, 1:33am)


geordie
Tol Eressea

Jul 12 2013, 9:42am

Post #9 of 39 (198 views)
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Oh, JRR knew who and what Tom was/is - [In reply to] Can't Post

- he just didn't say. Not in public, anyway.

.


Maciliel
Tol Eressea


Jul 12 2013, 12:26pm

Post #10 of 39 (202 views)
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what makes you say that? [In reply to] Can't Post

 
hi geordie : )

what makes you say that? did you come across a comment of his? in an interview? in a letter? someplace else?

cheers --

.


aka. fili orc-enshield
+++++++++++++++++++
the scene, as i understand it, is exceptionally well-written. fili (in sort of a callback to the scene with the eagles), calls out "thorRIIIIIIN!!!" just as he sees the pale orc veer in for the kill. he picks up the severed arm of an orc which is lying on the ground, swings it up in desperation, effectively blocking the pale orc's blow. and thus, forever after, fili is known as "fili orc-enshield."

this earns him deep respect from his hard-to-please uncle. as well as a hug. kili wipes his boots on the pale orc's glory box. -- maciliel telpemairo


geordie
Tol Eressea

Jul 12 2013, 4:18pm

Post #11 of 39 (167 views)
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Well, yes and no [In reply to] Can't Post

- sorry to sound mysterious. I do come across some interesting stuff now and again, during the course of my collecting. I can't afford most of the stuff I see - anyway; there was a letter I saw once which basically says the same as the others we've seen in the public domain.The thing about unpublished letters is that they shouldn't really be quoted at all, so I can't say any more than what we know already, which is that Bombadil doesn't belong in LotR, and that Tolkien had a lot of queries about him but he didn't feel inclined to say, because the mystery is better than the explanation.

.


CuriousG
Valinor


Jul 12 2013, 11:16pm

Post #12 of 39 (147 views)
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*Bows, not chimes* [In reply to] Can't Post

No, you did such an expert job of laying out the tableau, I can only bow and applaud (well, hard to do them simultaneously, maybe sequentially is better).

Tolkien had such an ironclad sense of order in his world that everything had to be accounted for as much as possible, but he still had some personal whimsy amid all that order, and I think Bombadil is spawned from that part of him.


elaen32
Gondor


Jul 13 2013, 8:34am

Post #13 of 39 (138 views)
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Tom & Goldberry [In reply to] Can't Post

"I think Tom's being 'oldest' and 'first', as well as his understanding of 'Outside' (ie: the Universal Void) all relate to the force of the Creation itself coming first, rather than a seniority element. Perhaps that is JRRT's statement about the origins of life: the reason it is all here, for the sheer joy of existence on the part of the Creator, Eru - the control-seeking Dark Lord from Outside is, by that definition, separated from that joy. Though I think in the case of Tom it transcends the books, and delves into JRRT's own deep love of the natural world in its pristine self and how that relates back to his understanding of God. "

Catching up with the RR here- thanks for a really interesting and thought- provoking post, Brethil. I especially like the above paragraph, which I think really sums it up for me. I haven't got anything to add really, except to say, if we accept this about Tom, then who, or what, is Goldberry? Is she some kind of extension of Tom? She is described as the "River-woman's daughter" Is this a literal River -woman/Maia/elf? Or is the description more metaphorical? Is Goldberry herself a Maia? I get the impression she has certain powers of her own and is at one with her element of water- could she be one of Ulmo's people?
So many questions!


Coming soon!- The first TORn Amateur Symposium, starts Sunday 21st July in the Reading Room. Closing date for essay submission Sunday 14th July, but even if you don't submit, join us for some interesting discussion on some different and personal ways of looking at Tolkien's work



geordie
Tol Eressea

Jul 13 2013, 9:07am

Post #14 of 39 (146 views)
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Same as elaean - [In reply to] Can't Post

- I'm trying to get back into the Reading Room, and I like this summary very much. Well said!

As for Tom; there is an answer I think - he's Tolkien. Look at two of his other names; Orald and Forn. Mix 'em up and what do we get?

'For Ronald'.

Smile


(This post was edited by geordie on Jul 13 2013, 9:08am)


Brethil
Half-elven


Jul 13 2013, 4:21pm

Post #15 of 39 (132 views)
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That's fascinating Geordie! [In reply to] Can't Post

I never mixed those letters about - that is a great point, and very endearing I think...a whimsical little glimpse of the author himself. Wonderful. There was a poll last week or two, and one of the answers to "Who was Tom?" was author himself - I did pick that as I felt it was the closest possible answer to how the indefinable spirit of Tom comes across.

And we are very glad to be seeing you around in the RR! AngelicSmile (Thank you for the kind words as well!)

Coming soon!- The first TORn Amateur Symposium, starts Sunday 21st July in the Reading Room. Closing date for essay submission Sunday 14th July, but even if you don't submit, join us for some interesting discussion on some different and personal ways of looking at Tolkien's work.







Brethil
Half-elven


Jul 13 2013, 4:38pm

Post #16 of 39 (125 views)
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Goldberry - neat question Elaen [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
"I think Tom's being 'oldest' and 'first', as well as his understanding of 'Outside' (ie: the Universal Void) all relate to the force of the Creation itself coming first, rather than a seniority element. Perhaps that is JRRT's statement about the origins of life: the reason it is all here, for the sheer joy of existence on the part of the Creator, Eru - the control-seeking Dark Lord from Outside is, by that definition, separated from that joy. Though I think in the case of Tom it transcends the books, and delves into JRRT's own deep love of the natural world in its pristine self and how that relates back to his understanding of God. "

Catching up with the RR here- thanks for a really interesting and thought- provoking post, Brethil. I especially like the above paragraph, which I think really sums it up for me. I haven't got anything to add really, except to say, if we accept this about Tom, then who, or what, is Goldberry? Is she some kind of extension of Tom? She is described as the "River-woman's daughter" Is this a literal River -woman/Maia/elf? Or is the description more metaphorical? Is Goldberry herself a Maia? I get the impression she has certain powers of her own and is at one with her element of water- could she be one of Ulmo's people?
So many questions!




As you say Elaen, she has her own powers, her own realm, and is the adored guiding star of her partner - a lovely relationship. Her finding in Tom's song, about "and her heart was beating" conveys a newness to me, maybe the newness of new incarnation. However the description of her 'as the River-woman's daughter' makes it interesting to classify her. JRRT had abandoned the idea of the Valar having any children. Maiar do not generally have children but Melian *was* able to, by giving up a lot of her native powers and being 'bound' and incarnate. So that does not rule out Goldberry as the daughter of a water-Maiar if we take 'daughter' literally - or there is the possibility that Goldberry herself is a Maiar, choosing incarnation and the mother 'River-woman' represents the river itself.

I know I read *someplace* I think in one of the Laws and Customs pieces, (? rrrgh, long time ago? Anyone know which piece I mean?) that the spirits who chose incarnation and childbearing are most firmly bound to the world, and more of their Maiar power would pass away. From that I gather they would be bound to forms (ie: like Ungolaint) and their offspring would follow those forms. So I think it makes sense that Goldberry is either Maiar or Maiar offspring - and having either chosen incarnation for herself or been offspring of Maiar.

I guess - having theorized here on and on - that it may make more sense for Goldberry to be first-generation incarnate. Just comparing idly the powers of Luthien and Maiar offspring and Goldberry - Goldberry has more 'elemental' power, control over the weather...does this make sense? Or are they more equal instature and she could be second-generation incarnate?

Coming soon!- The first TORn Amateur Symposium, starts Sunday 21st July in the Reading Room. Closing date for essay submission Sunday 14th July, but even if you don't submit, join us for some interesting discussion on some different and personal ways of looking at Tolkien's work.







noWizardme
Tol Eressea


Jul 13 2013, 4:57pm

Post #17 of 39 (141 views)
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He snuck in from some different tale altogether, but Tolkien found him amusing & let him stay [In reply to] Can't Post

…is my completely un-scholarly theory.
A while back some of us had a long discussion, (complete with references)
Start here: http://newboards.theonering.net/...i?post=596501#596501

Disclaimers: The words of noWizardme may stand on their heads! I'm often wrong about things, and its fun to be taught more....

"nowimë I am in the West, Furincurunir to the Dwarves (or at least, to their best friend) and by other names in other lands. Mostly they just say 'Oh no it's him - look busy!' "
Or "Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!"


Maciliel
Tol Eressea


Jul 13 2013, 5:06pm

Post #18 of 39 (121 views)
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re unpublished references [In reply to] Can't Post

 
with much sincere respect, this leaves me intellectually dissatisfied.

it is difficult to receive a response that seems to indicate that 1) there is a definitive answer; 2) the referencer of that "answer" cannot disclose it.

i'm not questioning your intent, but i do find this... erm... information unsubstantive and not terribly helpful.

please do not interpret this as my not wanting to hear your thoughts in general. i have issues with the nature of this ... disclosure, which has nothing to do with you as the poster.



cheers --

.


aka. fili orc-enshield
+++++++++++++++++++
the scene, as i understand it, is exceptionally well-written. fili (in sort of a callback to the scene with the eagles), calls out "thorRIIIIIIN!!!" just as he sees the pale orc veer in for the kill. he picks up the severed arm of an orc which is lying on the ground, swings it up in desperation, effectively blocking the pale orc's blow. and thus, forever after, fili is known as "fili orc-enshield."

this earns him deep respect from his hard-to-please uncle. as well as a hug. kili wipes his boots on the pale orc's glory box. -- maciliel telpemairo


Maciliel
Tol Eressea


Jul 13 2013, 5:08pm

Post #19 of 39 (123 views)
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it would be... [In reply to] Can't Post

 
... extremely funny and ironic if tom indeed turned out to represent tolkien (note: i am not advocating that).

if this were the case, then we'd have the extremely amusing state in which a huge number of ardent tolkien adorers disliking and being irritated by his lotr simulacrum.


cheers --


.


aka. fili orc-enshield
+++++++++++++++++++
the scene, as i understand it, is exceptionally well-written. fili (in sort of a callback to the scene with the eagles), calls out "thorRIIIIIIN!!!" just as he sees the pale orc veer in for the kill. he picks up the severed arm of an orc which is lying on the ground, swings it up in desperation, effectively blocking the pale orc's blow. and thus, forever after, fili is known as "fili orc-enshield."

this earns him deep respect from his hard-to-please uncle. as well as a hug. kili wipes his boots on the pale orc's glory box. -- maciliel telpemairo


Brethil
Half-elven


Jul 13 2013, 6:30pm

Post #20 of 39 (115 views)
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**many chuckles** [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To


if this were the case, then we'd have the extremely amusing state in which a huge number of ardent tolkien adorers disliking and being irritated by his lotr simulacrum.


Coming soon!- The first TORn Amateur Symposium, starts Sunday 21st July in the Reading Room. Closing date for essay submission Sunday 14th July, but even if you don't submit, join us for some interesting discussion on some different and personal ways of looking at Tolkien's work.







geordie
Tol Eressea

Jul 13 2013, 7:52pm

Post #21 of 39 (105 views)
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Sorry, that was clumsy of me. [In reply to] Can't Post

I understand what you mean; I get annoyed too when folk hint or say outright that they know something, but can't say what it is.

I ought to have expressed myself better. In the letter I'm talking about, Tolkien does not give a definitive answer to who and what Bombadil was. When I said earlier that Tolkien knew these things, I was guessing in the way we all do.

It's not my aim to lead people up the garden-path; my usual way of doing things is to stick to facts, and always be prepared to back up what I say with citations. This can't be done with unpublished stuff, so I oughtn't to have said anything, really. Sorry to have suggested otherwise.

.


elaen32
Gondor


Jul 13 2013, 10:55pm

Post #22 of 39 (95 views)
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That's an interesting thought [In reply to] Can't Post

It explains some of the mysteries around Tom- like his being first in Middle Earth and there before any other being. Well, if Tom is Tolkien- of course he would be first to enter Middle Earth! The Old Forest could be seen as Tolkien's window from our world into ME, hence the limitations of its borders and the fact that Tom stays in his own little land. It could also shed some life on Goldberry- could she be a representation of Edith? Goldberry and Tom are very content together, but seem to do their own thing to some extent- just as Ronald and Edith did. Just some musings....


Coming soon!- The first TORn Amateur Symposium, starts Sunday 21st July in the Reading Room. Closing date for essay submission Sunday 14th July, but even if you don't submit, join us for some interesting discussion on some different and personal ways of looking at Tolkien's work



noWizardme
Tol Eressea


Jul 14 2013, 4:58pm

Post #23 of 39 (81 views)
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Old Tom Bombadil is a Mary-Sue Fellow? // [In reply to] Can't Post

 

Disclaimers: The words of noWizardme may stand on their heads! I'm often wrong about things, and its fun to be taught more....

"nowimë I am in the West, Furincurunir to the Dwarves (or at least, to their best friend) and by other names in other lands. Mostly they just say 'Oh no it's him - look busy!' "
Or "Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!"


Silverlode
Forum Admin / Moderator


Jul 14 2013, 6:55pm

Post #24 of 39 (70 views)
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*snert* // [In reply to] Can't Post

 

Silverlode

"Dark is the water of Kheled-zâram, and cold are the springs of Kibil-nâla, and fair were the many-pillared halls of Khazad-dűm in Elder Days before the fall of mighty kings beneath the stone."



Na Vedui
Rohan


Jul 15 2013, 10:25pm

Post #25 of 39 (86 views)
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Tom's origins [In reply to] Can't Post

I have some recollection of reading that Tom B had his origin in a toy that Tolkien's children had, but can't remember where I saw this. If so, he may have had something of a character in the family before he appeared as part of Middle Earth. Also, does anyone know when the first of the two Tom B poems was originally written- the one where various creatures fail to overcome him and he gets together with Goldberry - was that pre-LOTR?

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