Tom Bombadil is a character in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy who gets very little attention. He's given no debut in any of the films and he is widely considered a digression in the first book. So what importance does he have other than a chance for Tolkien to write some nonsense songs and a cheery, enigmatic woodsman to sing them?
I've always considered Bombadil to be the ultimate of the "Neutral Good" characters, much like the elves who, when they give advice, are described as saying both yes and no at the same time to whoever asks them for their counsel. He doesn't really help but he doesn't hinder, either. In fact, he proves to be of great service to the hobbits in their initial departure from the Shire and from Hobbiton as they pass through the forest to escape the Black Riders, the Nazgul. The forest turns into a deeper danger than they initially thought, and they nearly get swallowed by Old Man Willow until Bombadil comes along to rescue them. He gives them shelter, food, and some of his non-advice before sending them on their way, and he even saves them again from Barrow-Wights before they depart his lands.
But is Bombadil as he seems? There are some who would argue-- no.
A friend and fellow Tolkien fan sent me the link to this article a few days ago, and I was baffled and chilled by it. Now, I don't quite buy into it myself, but it raises some very interesting theories that I found worthy of note and contemplation. The thesis? Tom Bombadil is not the ultimate Neutral Good. He's the ultimate evil, forerunner to even Sauron and Melkor.
So what proofs does this author have? Titled "Oldest and Fatherless: The Terrible Secret of Tom Bombadil", the article seeks to paint a portrait of Bombadil that is far from his perceived self. There are some really good and chilling points; and then there are some points that are incorrect. First, the author claims that no one has ever heard of Bombadil, and that this enhances his creepy enigma. The author states that
"By his own account (and by Elrond’s surprisingly sketchy knowledge) Bombadil has lived in the Old Forest since before the hobbits came to the Shire. Since before Elrond was born. Since the earliest days of the First Age.Well, while there may not be a huge amount of knowledge on him, the assertion that no one knows about him or has ever heard about him isn't quite the case. Tolkien's notes even go so far as to list the different names Bombadil has among the races-- his Sindarin name is Iarwain Ben-adar (Eldest and Fatherless). Dwarves call him Forn, Men Orald. You can find these listings in the Middle-Earth dictionary or in notes from Tolkien's appendices. And while Frodo and Merry surely do have much lore, it is doubtful that they have even as much lore as this kind of research would require, having limited resources from which to study. So this point does not really stand on a leg.
And yet no hobbit has ever heard of him.
If Bombadil has indeed lived in the Old Forest all this time – in a house less than twenty miles from Buckland – then it stands to reason that he has never appeared to a single hobbit traveler before, and has certainly never rescued one from death. In the 1400 years since the Shire was settled."
However, there are some other points that the author raises that are a little more thought-provoking. For example,
"Bombadil implies (but avoids directly stating) that he had heard of their coming from Farmer Maggot and from Gildor’s elves (both of whom Frodo had recently described). But that also makes no sense. Maggot lives west of the Brandywine, remained there when Frodo left, and never even knew that Frodo would be leaving the Shire."
"There is a boundary around Bombadil’s country that he cannot or will not pass, something that confines him to a narrow space. And in return, no wizard or elf comes into his country to see who rules it, or to disturb the evil creatures that gather under his protection."Is it a boundary? Or is it a cage?
There are many other points the author raises, including the state of Bombadil's realm being filled with horrible, angry trees and wights, the imprint of the dweller's nature on their surroundings, as well as Bombadil's clear power as of yet unused in the banishment of these evil things. The way the One Ring of Power does not affect him is held suspicious. The fact that Gandalf raises so many reasons against giving the Ring to Bombadil for protection, all of which seem slightly odd. Goldberry is actually the human embodiment of a huorn, a malcontented tree, depicted as she is like a willow, the same kind of tree that had just tried to eat the hobbits before Bombadil came to their rescue. Etc. etc., so on and so forth.
Do I believe that this is the case as either meant by Tolkien or not meant but accidentally stumbled upon? Not really. It is indeed possible that Bombadil is the ultimate evil, allowing others to do his work in defeating his only rival, Sauron, for mastery of Middle-Earth, and that he is merely biding his time until the elves and wizards leave for the Grey Havens to pounce upon the unsuspecting denizens remaining. But at the same time, I think it more likely that he is simply the forgetful, wood-minded being that he is. He is so far above the normal 'realm' of living that it barely touches him, and as such, if he were entrusted with the Ring, he'd forget about it, as Gandalf said. What cares he for the struggles and machinations of men and elves and dwarves and wizards? Goldberry is waiting and there are songs to sing in the wood.
Still, it's an interesting perspective. What do you think about our jolly-hearted friend?