July 20, 2018 by Gurur Yıldız
“Old Tom Bombadil is a merry fellow,
Bright blue his jacket is, and his boots are yellow.
None has ever caught him yet, for Tom, he is the Master:
His songs are stronger songs, and his feet are faster.”
Tom Bombadil was an enigmatic figure that lives throughout the history of Arda (Middle Earth). He was known by the Elves as Iarwain Ben-adar (“Oldest and Fatherless” in Sindarin), who dwelt in the valley of the river Withwindle, east of the Shire.
A mysterious being, Tom lived in the depths of the Old Forest, close to the Barrow Downs. His lands were not particularly extensive, but within his domain, his power over virtually everything in it was extraordinary, even in the War of the Ring.
Tom Bombadil in his own words;
“Eldest, that’s what I am. Mark my words, my friends:
Tom was here before the river and the trees;
Tom remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn.
He made paths before the big people and saw the little people arriving.
He was here before the kings and the graves and the barrow-wights.
When the Elves passed westward, Tom was here already, before the seas were bent.
He knew the dark under the stars when it was fearless,
Before the dark lord came from outside. “
“Ho! Tom Bombadil, Tom Bombadillo!
By water, wood, and hill, by reed and willow,
By fire, sun and moon, harken now and hear us!
Come, Tom Bombadil, for our need is near us!”
– J.R.R. Tolkien
While Tom Bombadil is not particularly interested in taking sides in the conflict against Sauron, he does help rescue Frodo and his friends from immediate danger twice, once from Old Man Willow and a second time from the Barrow-wights of the Barrow-downs.
On 26 September, T.A. 3018, he encountered four hobbits while he was searching for water-lilies for his wife. Two of those Hobbits, Merry and Pippin, had been captured by Old Man Willow. Tom, who was the master of the Old Forest, rescued them and took all four of them to his house.
The four hobbits stayed two nights, and he told them many tales and songs. With cunning questions, he made Frodo tell him of the Ring.
When Frodo shows Tom Bombadil the Ring, he amazes the Hobbits by putting the Ring on without disappearing. The reason that Tom is not subject to the power of the Ring is that he really, truly does not desire power or ownership over this thing like any others. He is perfectly happy to just keep living, without trying to change anything going on around him. Even wanting to improve things is a sign that you think you know best, whether you mean well or not. Tom Bombadil has none of that will to change things, either for evil or for good. It’s not in his nature; he is truly willing to let things happen as they come.
However, when Frodo put the ring on, Tom could still see him. He bade the Hobbit come back and sit down; his hand was fairer without the ring…
“He is a strange creature.”
― Elrond, at the Council of Elrond
Elrond later wonders if he should have invited Tom Bombadil to their Council, but Gandalf assures Elrond that he would not have come.
Over a month later; Tom again, became a topic of discussion at the Council of Elrond. There, Elrond, who had apparently met Tom in times long past, reminisced about him briefly before the question put before the Council of whether or not to give the Ring to Tom, as it appeared as though Tom may have had power over even the Ring within his lands. However, Gandalf quickly dismissed the idea, saying that rather than Tom having power over the Ring, the Ring simply had no power over Tom. He was immune to its influence. There is, however, evidence of Toms ability to affect the power of the ring over others, as we see Frodo freely give the ring to Tom without the usual hesitation or protective behaviors.
Additionally, he said that, while Tom might be willing to take the Ring if asked by all the Free People of the World, he might do so, but would not understand the reason. Due to this, Tom would have likely either forgot about it or thrown it away, as such things had little relevance to him. It was also mentioned that taking the Ring back to him would be impossible to accomplish without it becoming known to Sauron and that sooner or later, Sauron would bend all his power towards Tom’s realm to take the Ring back. Despite his mastery within his realm, it was assumed that Tom would not have cared the Ring contained to his realm. It doesn’t matter to him.
Also Tom in Tolkien’s own words:
“Tom Bombadil is there for a reason. The story is cast in terms of a good side and a bad side, beauty against ruthless ugliness, tyranny against kingship, moderated freedom with consent against compulsion that has long lost any object save mere power, and so on; but both sides in some degree, conservative or destructive, want a measure of control. But if you have, as it were taken a ‘vow of poverty,’ renounced control, and take your delight in things in themselves without reference to yourself, watching, observing, and to some extent knowing, then the questions of the rights and wrongs of power and control might become utterly meaningless to you, and the means of power quite valueless. It is a natural pacifist view, which always arises in the mind when there is a war.”
As a result, existentialism is a concept that became popular during the World War II in France and elsewhere in Europe, and just after it. French playwrights have often used the stage to express their views, and these views came to surface even during a Nazi occupation.
Most importantly, it is the arbitrary act that existentialism finds most objectionable – that is when someone or society tries to impose or demand that their beliefs, values, or rules be faithfully accepted and obeyed. Existentialists believe this destroys individualism and makes a person become whatever the people in power desire thus they are dehumanized and reduced to being an object.
Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.
By the way, do you still want that Ring?
Or it really doesn’t matter…
For Further Reading
The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, J.R.R. Tolkien, 1962
L’Etranger, Albert Camus, 1942
At The Existentialist Café, Sarah Bakewell, 2016
Author info: Gurur Yıldız, Experimental Social Psychology Program (Baskent Un., Ankara) | email: yildiz.gurur [AT] gmail[.]com