The Mysteries of Arda 1 – Who is Tom Bombadil? Part II

Finally, who is he? What role does he play?

Here we are again! Previously, we talked about what kind of being is Tom. We found out Tom may be either a Vala or a Maia. Well, now we must search for a name: a possible candidate amongst the known members of these high races. This gets increasingly interesting.

Before we start, I want to clarify something about Tom: his appearance. One might object that Tom’s look does not match the expected look of a Vala or Maia; that he rather looks like a “big hobbit”. Against this, we should remember that Valar and Maiar have no particular way to look. They appear in whatever form they choose. So its pretty logical that if Tom was living near hobbits, he should adopt a certain “hobbitish” form. In a way, this makes a point in favour of this theory.

Vala or Maia?

Good then, so now we have to choose: we should make our minds to see if he is either a Vala or a Maia, because (obviously) he can’t be both… Lets do this by looking at the individuals we know of each race, to see if anyone matches Tom’s character.

If we begin studying the known Maiar of Middle-earth, it turns out that none matches Tom’s profile (I’ll not stop now in this point). It may be that Tom is an unknown Maia, never wrote about by Tolkien. But it is also possible that he is not one of them, but a Vala. And, when we take a close look at the Valar, potential candidates indeed start to emerge!

For the sake of courtesy, lets start with women first: identifying Goldberry will help us a lot in finding Tom.

The search for Goldberry

Finding her means to search for the appropriate Valië amongst the married ones. We can narrow the search even more, if we consider the ones who would’ve enjoyed living in the Old Forest. Then, the results are reduced to three possibilities: Nessa, Vána or Yavanna.
Nessa, whose loves are deer and dancing, does not match too well, since none of these are Goldberry’s specialties. And her husband, Tulkas, the greatest fighter amongst the Valar, is too much a warrior to be Tom.

Vána is a bit more like Tom’s wife, since she cares for flowers and birds. But, once again, birds have no special role in Goldberry’s life; and she also cares about every plant, not just flowers. Furthermore, Vána’s husband Oromë is a hunter, especially of monsters. If Tom was Oromë, do you think there would be any Wights left in the Barrow Downs?

So only Yavanna is left. And indeed, Goldberry matches Yavanna in a lot of ways! That’s lucky for us, ‘cos I guess you were getting anxious for an answer. This Valië is said to be responsible for all living creatures, specially plants. During the Hobbits’ visit we see Goldberry taking special care of the forest, something that fits good with her being Yavanna. Even her physical appearance matches that of Yavanna. (See Hargrove’s essay for more details)

Excellent! So we’ve identified Goldberry. Lets see if her husband matches Tom’s character.

Back to her husband

If you read The Silmarillion, you should already know who he is… If not, I’ll tell you anyway… Aulë the Smith is Yavanna’s husband. Here is the thing: Tom being Aulë is perfectly logical, and many questions are answered that otherwise would remain obscure. Moreover, this Vala shares many characteristics with Tom.

It is well known that Aulë was the maker of all substances in the earth, that he took active part in the shaping of Arda, and that he was a supreme craftsman. But the most striking similarities lies in Aulë’s moral part: unlike Melkor, he was interested in creating but not possessing. Aulë is the Master and Maker, but he is always willing to “submit his work to the will of Ilúvatar” (BTW that’s what saved the Dwarves…). He has the power to dominate and control, but he doesn’t wish to use it: he lets things be. But, hey… so does Tom.

In fact, this lack of desire to possess is what makes Tom able to handle the Ring the way he does. It is not for being an Ainu (Melkor was one, and he fell), not for being old and not for being the Master, but because of his attitude towards it. He never wants to own it, nor use it… nor nothing. The only interest seen in him towards it is to study its craftsmanship. I dare to say that this moral virtue of Aulë is not clearly shown in such a way in the other Valar. So it’s logical to assume that Tom is indeed Aulë.

We could say that being capable of dominating the Ring makes us think of a Vala, but the way it is dominated (with such ease), suggests “the ultimate maker of all things in Middle-earth”: Aulë. A curious fact: both Sauron and Saruman where mere servants of Aulë in the beginning.

Before getting into the next subject, lets state it one more time: all evidence points towards the fact that Tom Bombadil is Aulë the Smith. Cool, isn’t it? I bet it is! This will surely change the way you read about Tom next time.

What is his role in the story?

If all this is true, what the heck is the couple doing in the forest near the Shire?
Aulë is the Vala that has shown more interest and love for the Children of Ilúvatar (he even made the Dwarves because he couldn’t wait). We can speculate that he found Hobbits fascinating and he was there to study them. And Yavanna? Well, maybe simply enjoying and taking care of the forest while vacationing with her husband.

If he is a Vala, why doesn’t he help Middle-earth in the fight against evil?
Here we have to get to the genesis of Arda itself, told in the Ainulindalë: the Song of the Ainur. In this Song, the roles of each “singer” were woven. Each one has a task to fulfill, inside the master plan of Ilúvatar, and is bound by the part that he sang back then. If Tom is Aulë, he can’t help the people of Middle-earth much, without going against his own fate and the will of Eru. This is consistent with Tolkien saying that Tom exemplifies “a natural pacifist view”, and that he has taken some kind of “vow of poverty” against the power he could use.

Finally, what is his role in The Lord of The Rings?
Tolkien said that Tom “represents some things otherwise left out”. Although Tom’s appearance seems like a simple “comment” in the story, if he really is Aulë, he stands for something really big. He is a clear contrast against the two evil Maiar: Sauron and Saruman. He shows that there are things out of domination and control: good things beyond the reach of greed and ambition.

Final word

I end this post with this really excellent quote from Hargrove’s essay, that can be a sum of everything that was said:

“Tom […] is located at the core of morality as it existed in Middle-earth, as the ultimate exemplification of the proper moral stance toward power, pride, and possession. In fact, in terms of the moral traits that most fascinated Tolkien both as an author and as a scholar, Tom Bombadil is Tolkien’s moral ideal.”



Filed under Folklore, Inside Middle-Earth, Mystery, Silmarillion, The Hobbit, The Lord Of The Rings, Tolkien

14 responses to “The Mysteries of Arda 1 – Who is Tom Bombadil? Part II

  1. Pingback: And the Award goes to…. | quenya101

  2. Ranger

    you may find this theory interesting:
    This article analyze the nature spirit theory, the maiar theory, and the Valar theory and finds them all to fall short. Then it offers a new theory it which takes the best of many of these camps.

  3. Josiah

    Tom Bombadil was in Arda when Melkor came, that means he was before the Valar.

    • So, it seems you state that:

      1 – Melkor was the first Ainu to come into Arda.
      2 – Tom Bombadil was already there.
      3 – Therefore, Tom Bombadil is before all Valar.

      Is that it? Can you prove with references what you’re stating here?

      • Josiah

        “Eldest, that’s what I am… 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.”
        – Tom Bombadil ( LOTR )

        Treebeard also said that he was the here before anyone else. Gandalf said he’s the eldest.

        I was thinking of the wild idea that Tom Bombadil IS Arda. Kinda like how Earth is Gaia in Greek Mythology. Well, there were 3 themes right? Like the 1st theme created the world, and the third theme created the Children of Iluvatar? ( I’m not sure if I understood it correctly ) ” For the Children of Iluvatar were concieved by him [ Iluvatar ] alone ; and they came with the third theme…” – Silmarillion, and it was never clear what came through in the 2nd theme when Melkor’s theme grew more chaotic.

        • Hmmmmmmmm… you have a point here! I liked it! Specially the notion of Gaia/Bombadil! Pretty interesting thinking! That could be one possibility, I guess. What a great piece of mystery Tolkien let us to gnaw!

      • Josiah

        in short, I’m kinda saying Tom Bombadil is Arda’s personification. Maybe Tolkien wanted to be unique and portrayed the Earth as male :))

        Gaia : Earth
        Tom : Arda

  4. Nice idea, but still I disagree with it. If this is what Tolkien actually meant, then there will be something about a forge in Tom’s house. Can you imagine Aulë without a forge? Also he was never said to enjoy contacting forests and animals, and never had any power over them (while Tom definitely has, remember Old Man Willow). Aulë’s joy was in crafting, not in telling stories or walking in forests or singing.
    And think about Goldberry: she is called the River-daughter, which has nothing to do with Yavanna. In “The Adventures of Tom Bombadil” it is said that these two met when Goldberry, being in a river, pulled Tom’s beard under the water. Their wedding is described as well. Which obviously doesn’t correspond to Yavanna’s and Aulë’s story & characters.

    • And that’s the beauty of those kind of mysteries! There are no conclusive answers!!!!

      Anyone can speculate anything and find pieces to prove that, BUT there’s always room for doubt!

      • Oh yes. I have just read an article about the Nauglamír, where the author examined Christopher’s notes on redacting “Of the Ruin of Doriath” chapter and Tolkien’s own thoughts (published in HoME, I suppose) of this story, and came to the conclusion that the version provided by the Silmarillion is probably the best interpretation, but still a very free one.
        If even a ‘canonical’ thing can be doubted, so there could be a plenty of guesses on such a thing as Tom’s origin.

        • And the fact that there’s no definite answer for some issues concerning Tolkien’s work, it only adds and makes it more intriguing and luring to delve!

    • Good! I love that people disagree with me in this kind of arguable matters, ‘cos after all no one has the final word here.

      You made a point there with the forge thing! I didn’t consider it and left me thinking a lot. Unfortunately, I can’t think of an answer to that hehe…

      About the singing, for instance, I don’t find it an odd thing in a Vala. On the contrary: Arda was made by the singing of the Ainur. I don’t remember any other member of other race that sing as much as Tom. They do on certain occasions, and never do it as “unconsciously” as it seems Tom does. It looks like the singing is a very important part in Tom’s being. Maybe his power over nature lies in his singing, because it would be an Ainur singing… it could be, or not. Its just speculation.

      About Goldberry, being called River-woman’s daughter may be the most important problem of this theory. If it is treated literally, then definitely Goldberry is not Yavanna, and therefore Tom is not Aulë. But, she is called that way only once in the whole LOTR, in one song sang by Tom. As it is in a song, maybe it is a poetic reference and maybe (again, maybe) not treated literally. Originally, the idea of Riverwoman’s daughter comes from “The Adventures of Tom Bombadil”. And remember that the stories told there came to life around 1934 in Oxford Magazine, many years before The Lord of the Rings. Tom was, back then, only a character inspired by Michael Tolkien’s lost Dutch doll. Tolkien’s idea about Tom or Goldberry could have changed a lot in the meantime, but he could have left in LOTR the phrase “Riverwoman’s daughter” to make it coherent with those thing he had already published in the magazine.

      Sorry for the length of the answer. This I didn’t say in any of the two parts of this post: unless Christopher Tolkien releases more canonical material, we will probably never know who the hell is Tom.

      ‘Till now, the most complete theory I have read and thought about is the one I presented. Also, its the one I find more coherent with the whole mythos, and with Tolkien’s somehow ‘mysterious’ way of writing.

      As Erunno said here before, there are no conclusive answers. And that’s what allows this kind of doubts and discussions. And what I love of Tolkien: there is always something still unknown and left for us to sink in.

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