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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
Ho, Tom Bombadil! Time to begin discussing the JRRT shorter works!

Grey Havens

Feb 1, 9:09am

Post #1 of 6 (4327 views)
Ho, Tom Bombadil! Time to begin discussing the JRRT shorter works! Can't Post

We'll begin with a section from the Red Book called The Adventures of Tom Bombadil (hereafter ATB) which you should find in the book The Tolkien Reader. In my paperback Ballantine copy this section begins on page 189 and ends on 251; it contains an introduction and 16 poems.

The first poem is also called ATB and begins on page 197 with the familiar "Old Tom Bombadil was a merry fellow ..." , ending on page 202 with "while fair Goldberry combed her tresses yellow." If you are using a different edition, please PM me.
Please read it as convenient; Try reading some of it aloud to get a feel for the rhythm. I'll be posting observations and questions and invite everyone in the RR to do likewise.

Before we get into the first ATB poem, I suggest revisiting last week's thread

What do Tom and Goldberry add to LOTR?

Thanks for your encouragement,

"I shall not wholly fail if anything can still grow fair in days to come."


Feb 1, 12:59pm

Post #2 of 6 (4285 views)
Thanks for the homework, Elanor, and glad to see you're back! // [In reply to] Can't Post


Grey Havens

Feb 15, 9:22am

Post #3 of 6 (4103 views)
*limps in, looks around* [In reply to] Can't Post

Unfortunately I acquired a minor stress fracture of the hip which has set me back, I plan to resume posting regularly soon.

"I shall not wholly fail if anything can still grow fair in days to come."


Feb 15, 10:09am

Post #4 of 6 (4095 views)
Ow! - hope you feel better soon! // [In reply to] Can't Post


"Go down to the shovel store and take your pick." Traditional prank played on dwarves when they start down the mine.

Grey Havens

Mar 19, 9:50am

Post #5 of 6 (2716 views)
*ready to try again* [In reply to] Can't Post

The walker and crutches are back in the garage where they belong, the income tax papers are turned in to the CPA, and now my only distractions are a head cold and the process of buying a house. So ...
Can anyone identify the rhyme pattern of Adventures of Tom Bombadil?

Who are Tom's opponents? How serious a challenge do they prove?
Is the any hint of the power and respect for Tom manifested at the Council of Elrond?
Please jump in with questions of your own.

"I shall not wholly fail if anything can still grow fair in days to come."


Mar 24, 5:30am

Post #6 of 6 (2104 views)
Water and Resilience [In reply to] Can't Post

Who are Tom's opponents?

Aspects of water. Goldberry is the River-woman's daughter. She pulls Tom into the river. This attempted drowning is exactly what a typical Germanic water sprite (nixe) is supposed to do. At one point her attire is definitely mermaid-like:

'Supper is ready,' said Goldberry; and now the hobbits saw that she was clothed all in silver with a white girdle, and her shoes were like fishes' mail.

Indeed, Goldberry shows a bit of the nixe’s siren ability when entertaining the hobbits:

“After they had eaten, Goldberry sang many songs for them, songs that began merrily in the hills and fell softly down into silence; and in the silences they saw in their minds pools and waters wider than any they had known, and looking into them they saw the sky below them and the stars like jewels in the depths.”

Note when Frodo first meets Tom he says “I had an errand there: gathering water-lilies…” In Scandinavia water-lilies are called “nix roses”, so no wonder Goldberry loves them:

“Her long yellow hair rippled down her shoulders; her gown was green, green as young reeds, shot with silver like beads of dew; and her belt was of gold, shaped like a chain of flag-lilies set with the pale-blue eyes of forget-me-nots. About her feel in wide vessels of green and brown earthenware, white water-lilies were floating, so that she seemed to be enthroned in the midst of a pool.

Finally note that the word “nixe” is derived from the Proto-Indo-European word meaning “to wash” so Goldberry’s activities gives Tolkien a chance to make one of his innumerable philological puns:

'This is Goldberry's washing day,' he said, 'and her autumn-cleaning. Too wet for hobbit-folk – let them rest while they are able!’

BTW, note that rivers are usually resilient to natural pollution, normally being able to clean itself of organic wastes with a waterfall and a set of rapids.

(In a less lighter note, one hopes that the drowning of Drogo and Primula wasn’t due to one of Goldberry’s sisters.)

Our next water creature is Old Man Willow. Now we might assume Old Man Willow is the willow tree itself, but the verses directly contradict that:

'Ha, Tom Bombadil! What be you a-thinking,
peeping inside my tree, watching me a-drinking
deep in my wooden house, tickling me with feather,
dripping wet down my face like a rainy weather?'

Willow-man let him loose when he heard him speaking;
locked fast his wooden house, muttering and creaking,
whispering inside the tree.

Old Man Willow is separate from the tree. The tree is his property, it is his house, and when “Willow-man” lets Tom loose he is heard whispering *inside* the tree!

BTW, willow trees are resilient, notable for bending rather than breaking in a strong wind.

Next we have Badger-brock, aka Badger-badger, aka Brock-brock. (More of Tolkien’s philological humor.) This seems related to a story concerning Saint Maccreahy of Clare and his defeat of a “broc sidh” or “demon badger” living in a cave near Inchiquin which killed men and cattle. Speaking of Ireland, note the Munster king Tadgh Mac Cein outlawed the hunting and eating of badgers. Folklore says he was somehow related to a badger, little wonder since the word “tadgh” seems to mean “badger”.

On the other hand “tadgh” may also mean “poet”, which suggests a motive of why the badgers want to silence Tom.

BTW, the word “badger” seems derived from the Old English word “bagga”, which means “bag”. (Baggins?) As for the water aspect of badgers, they are of the Mustelidae family and are a close relative of otters. Indeed, badgers love to cool off by bathing in water, and even seem to enjoy swimming and diving.

Note that in heraldry badgers symbolize resilience.

Our last water aspect is the barrow-wight. And the most famous wight in Anglo-Saxon literature is the monster Grendel:

Grendel this monster grim was called,
march-riever mighty, in moorland living,
in fen and fastness; fief of the giants
the hapless wight a while had kept
since the Creator his exile doomed.


In the saga weapons are useless against the wight, but Tom doesn’t use weapons, he uses words. He is a scop, a bard who “shapes” reality by his words.

BTW, both Grendel and Grendel's Mother are notable for their resilience in a fight.

How serious a challenge do they prove?

None. Consider the power of The Shaper:

'He reshapes the world,' I whispered, belligerent. 'So his name implies. He stares strange-eyed at the mindless world and turns dry sticks to gold.'
-Grendel, by John Gardner (1971)


"What was he? The man had changed the world, had torn up the past by its thick, gnarled roots and had transmuted it, and they, who knew the truth, remembered it his way--and so did I."

Is the any hint of the power and respect for Tom manifested at the Council of Elrond?

Glorfindel notes that Bombadil would be the last man… er, maia… that is, nature spirit… well, whatever, left standing:

I think that in the end, if all else is conquered, Bombadil will fall, Last as he was First; and then Night will come.

Please jump in with questions of your own.

Is anyone else uncomfortable with the whole “Zeus carrying off an unwilling water nymph” nature of the Bombadil/Goldberry courtship?

Extra points:

Note Old Man Willow's shivaree-ing of the connubial couple. How are Tom and Goldberry like Curly and Laurey from the musical "Oklahoma!"?

Character is what we do on the internet when we think no one knows who we are.


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