Tuesday, April 25, 2006

A substantial, crucial question for all

Of course, then, it must have to do with The Lord of the Rings.

So I'm reading the books for the first time ever, and I must say that I'm quite enjoying them. I'm halfway through Book Two of The Fellowship of the Ring and I've been trying hard to compare as little as I can to the movie, although in all fairness Peter Jackson did seem to try hard to stick to the text. I like the adaptation: it's interesting to think about why and how Jackson condensed the way he did, and there are only a few things that I wish he hadn't taken out. One of these things, however, is not Tom Bombadil.

So here's the question: What's the deal with Tom Bombadil? I mean, sure, you can't help but like the guy, and I'm sure all of us are a little jealous that he got to marry the river's daughter, but I don't see what he adds to the story. I talked it over with one friend of mine and we came up with a few possibilities:

1) Because Tolkien was basing much of his tale in actual Anglo-Saxon lore and tradition, he decided to add some natural-powers-in-the-form-of-men characters, because they're part of the setting. He shows us human-(or hobbit-)kind's interaction with and dependency on nature and how they can live symbiotically (???).

2) The Lord of the Rings is as much about the journey as it is about the destination. The journey and what Frodo and his companions learn in the course of it lead up to the culminating triumphs and lessons learned. Thus Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin needed to learn about following instructions correctly, calling on friends for help, respecting the woods and the trees, etc. Their experience with Tom Bombadil taught them these things and enriched them before they carried on to Bree and Rivendell. Tolkien also adds to the ups and downs of the journey through the Tom Bombadil segment. He shows the great fortune the hobbits had in meeting him as opposed to the misfortunes of being caught by Old Man Willow and the Barrow Wight (???).

3) Tom Bombadil is the Jar-Jar Binks of The Lord of the Rings. He skips around singing and making rhymes and laughing a lot, he wears bright clothes, and he refers to himself in the third person. He was put in to appeal to kids and everybody's child inside.

So? What about it? Am I close here? Does anybody else have any ideas? I would love a little enlightenment. And if you have no idea what I'm talking about, pick up the first book and start reading.



Nick said...

I just read an interesting article about it. My own thoughts about it before having read the article are that he represents a completely opposite character to Sauron- both very powerful, yet Tom has absolutely no interest in dominion or excersizing his power "unrighteously". That unrighteous use of power is evident in each of their relationships with the land- Sauron dominates and rapes the land whereas Tom lives in harmony with it, and even symbolically married it (marrying the daughter of the river). They are also at opposite ends of the book- Tom at the beginning ang Sauron primarily at the end, framing the rest of the story like bookends.

Having read that article it makes me think about him as a god figure- he marries the earth, he is called "he is" by his wife, definitely a reference to the name of Jehovah, and he has all power over evil. When given the ring, it is not a temptation for him- just as if Satan were to tempt God himself. And Tolkien uses him to teach us about how the real God works- he is not going to go and conquer satan for us, that's our job in our daily lives. He will only help us along our journey, not do it for us. Though sometimes along the way we need him to get us out of messes that we can't get out of ourselves- like the barrow wights and the willow tree.

Tolkien also called him an "enigma", which fits with the traditional christian view of God as mysterious and unknowable.

JonnyF said...

When I read the books, I also thought Tom was a bit strange. Having said that, I think one of the main themes I got out of the story can be summarized as:

“The world is bigger we and more complicated than we can ever be comfortable with. However, you must take action and do the right thing even when you don’t completely understand the world. In fact, those actions will help you to understand the world and make it seem less complicated.”

You can see this in all four hobbits as they progress from their relative uselessness at the beginning of the story to taking part in world-changing events, to finally becoming leaders and masters of their own fates. This last part will make more sense to those of who have finished the book and made it through the very end. (I make fun of Katie because she read the 1000 or so pages but stopped and didn’t read the last 50 or so. She claims it’s a habit she picked up from literature class.) Specifically I am thinking of the part I like to call “Ending #3” (which I think is my favorite “ending”). Ending #3 unfortunately didn’t make it into the movies except for a brief foreshadowing in the first one. (Jared, you have something new and exciting to look forward to.)
In fact, this theme is also present in The Hobbit now that I think about it.
Anyway, my point is that Tom Bombadil definitely has a part in communicating the first part of the above theme. He shows that the big and complicated world can be helpful, (if still mysterious) not just hurtful. In The Hobbit, you might say that a similar role is filled by the giant eagles or Beorn. Elrond and Rivendell would be another example in both stories.
I suppose I can make a lot of parts of the story fit into such a broad theme, but that’s how I’ve always thought of Tom Bombadil.

Morgan said...

I'm not really sure why Tom is in the book. To me he's a fun character that adds a lighter side to the book. But what I really want to say is that I don't think anyone should ever compare the writting of Tolkein with that of George Lucas. That seems just plain wrong.

Jared said...

A few things:

1) Jon, tell Katie that that's dirty habit.

2) Morgan, I apologize for likening Tolkien to Lucas. I was grasping at straws.

3) I really liked that article Nick linked to. After reading that I looked up a bunch of other theories about who Bombadil is, and that one seemed to me to be the best thought-out and argued. One article I read concluded that Tom is actually the reader (kind of a la Neverending Story ("Moonchild!!!")). That article made some interesting points, but I'm not buying it.

It makes sense for Tom to be the Vala Aule. And I think that this links up with Nick's general feeling. Of all the Vala, Aule is the closest that I can see to being a Christ-figure. Add that to the comment that "He is" and you've got a pretty solid connection there, I think.