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.
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.”