There are two types of Lord of the rings Book fans. Those who despise Tom Bombadil undoubtedly give in the strangest character Lord of the Rings, and those who have memorized every word of his silly rhyming songs.
2021 marks The Lord of the Rings 20th Anniversary, and we can’t imagine exploring the trilogy in just one story. So we’re going to go back and forth every Wednesday throughout the year and examine how and why the films endure as modern classics. This is Polygon’s Year of the Ring.
Then there are Lord of the Rings film fans who may not know about the character, as Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh couldn’t find a place for him in their three-frame adaptation – even in the Extended Editions. Anyone who hasn’t read the books has likely come across the Bombadil discourse, but may never fully understand how a character can evoke such strong emotions.
I have an answer for movie fans. An answer that could even turn some Bombadil skeptics into Bombadil boosters.
Tom Bombadil is the Stan Lee cameo of Lord of the Rings.
Who is Tom Bombadil, anyway?
Multimedia LOTR fans know Tom Bombadil as one of the most famous omissions the film trilogy makes out of JRR Tolkien’s books. He’s also a particular favorite of the famous Tolkien nerd Stephen Colbert.
But to explain it in more detail for the viewer’s sake, Tom Bombadil marks a strange excursus in three chapters at the beginning of the pages of The community of the ring. Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin take a shortcut through the Old Forest on the Shire border to be mesmerized and nearly drowned by a smart and vicious tree called the Old Man Willow. You will be saved by a cheerful, bearded man who is “too big and heavy for a hobbit, if not big enough for any of the tall people.” He is wearing a blue coat, yellow boots and a hat with a feather in it. He constantly spits out almost nonsensical pairs of rhymes.
There was a sudden deep silence in which Frodo heard his heart beating. After a long, slow moment, he heard clearly, but far away, as if coming down through the ground or through thick walls, and an answering voice sang:
Old Tom Bombadil is a happy fellow
His jacket is light blue and his boots are yellow
Nobody has caught him yet, for Tom he is the master:
His songs are stronger songs and his feet are faster.
This is Tom Bombadil. “Tom Bom, funny Tom, Tom Bombadillo! ”, Who takes her to his healthy home to meet his beautiful wife Goldberry, the“ daughter of the river woman ”. And Tom isn’t just not a man, not a hobbit, not a dwarf or a wizard strange Powers. A chapter later, he saves the hobbits from a terrifying undead creature, the Barrow-Wight, by simply commanding them. He can talk to plants and animals (his pony is called Fatty Lumpkin). The strangest thing is that he can put on the Ring of Power without becoming invisible or tempted by it.
Readers have spent decades trying to find a place for Tom Bombadil in the larger myth of Middle-earth, suggesting that he is secretly one of the gods or demigods of Middle-earth. A (humorous) essay theorized that he is the Angmar Witch King on vacation. Even readers who like Tom Bombadil have to admit that he begs the question: Where the hell did this guy come from??
This is where Tom Bombadil came from
For most of his life, Tolkien singled out what he saw as his ultimate creative work. The Silmarillion. When he finished, he wanted the book to be an intricate collection of serious heroic myths intended to evoke wonder and emotion in adults. In the meantime, he used to make up stories for his children, the most famous of whom became The Hobbit even.
But there was more than that The Hobbit. Around 1925 Tolkien wrote a full-length story, Coincidentallyto comfort one of his sons who lost his toy dog on family vacation. Tom Bombadil started his life as another story inspired by a household toy. After one of his sons’ dolls – equipped with a plumed hat – was rescued from a heavy toilet by his owner’s brother, Tolkien wrote a poem: “The adventures of Tom BombadilIt detailed how Tom met Goldberry, the river’s daughter, escaped the old man Willow, and encountered a Barrow-Wight.
After the success of The HobbitTolkien’s publisher was very interested in another book on hobbits for children, and the author thought about it for about a week before writing his first attempt in the first chapter of the sequel that Bilbo Baggins had a big birthday party right before leaving a new adventure .
The Hobbit is a very episodic story, likely due to its origins as a bedtime story made up by a hard working father. Bilbo encounters trolls, goblins, wargs, elf kings, and even Beorn the skin-changer, and walks past them within a chapter or two. There is no real attempt to weave them into a detailed system of world structure. And you can see the remains of Tolkien trying to replicate this format in the first few chapters of Lord of the Ringswhile spicing up the story with weird and relatively disconnected adventures.
A black rider seemed to threaten Bilbo’s nephew Bingo Baggins – who Tolkien had quickly decided would be the new hero of the story – and his cousins Odo and Frodo, but they were saved by a friendly farmer. Then they met some elves, and it was only at that point that Tolkien realized the idea that the ring had been made by the “necromancer,” a villain whom the pages of vaguely alluded to The Hobbit
Frodo’s name was still bingo when Tolkien added Old Man Willow, Tom Bombadil, and the Barrow-Wight to the narrative. He hadn’t even come up with characters like Aragorn and Faramir, or even why the necromancer wanted the ring so badly. It wasn’t until he brought bingo and his cousins to Rivendell that Tolkien discovered the origins of the ring quest, improved the necromancer on Sauron, and realized that this book was a vehicle for his dreams of writing a great and heroic romantic epic. The Hobbit, the popular children’s story he wrote, could be set after the main events of The Silmarillion.
To understand Tom Bombadil is to understand that Tolkien wrote the first seven or eight chapters of what would become The community of the ring As if it were The Hobbit 2, a happy, easy continuation of adventure, excitement, and gentle side effects for the intended audience: children.
Which brings me to Stan Lee
Stan Lee is a true comic book creator and fictional character who has appeared in nearly two dozen Marvel Cinematic Universe films. In the films he appears seemingly without regard to the continuity of time, space or the average human lifetime. In playful attempts to reconcile his appearances with the rest of Marvel mythology, fans have suggested that he is an immortal, possesses supernatural powers, or might even be one of the fabled watchers.
The biggest complaint Bombadil critics have about him is that he doesn’t feel coherent with the rest of Tolkien’s mythology. Tolkien combines almost all elements of the early Community Chapter on his larger mythology with later additions – the encounter between Barrow and Wight is even decisive for Eowyn’s assassination of the Witch King.
But there is nothing in the Lord of the Rings other than Tom Bombadil. He has strange powers with no explanation, and he is utterly, like him and Gandalf on average, unconcerned and unconnected with the fate of the Ring. But it all makes sense when you think of Tom Bombadil as a cameo.
Modern audiences understand that Stan Lee is a real person whose accomplishments are worth including in any movie or television show based on a Marvel property (and some who are not). It is a reference that everyone is familiar with. And for Tolkien’s children, the target audience for The Hobbit, Tom Bombadil is a reference that everyone is familiar with.
In a different way, Tom actually does Bombadil Lord of the Rings more like a real world mythological system than not. Our understanding of ancient mythology is full of strange additions, like Athena, which emerged entirely from the head of Zeus and is viewed by many scholars as a consequence of these stories from other mythologies – a deific cameo. Tolkien’s most popular mythological system of all, the Norse sagas, are also full of references whose origins we may never know due to the incomplete and in some cases biased textual record of living oral traditions.
And so it is perfectly reasonable that Boyens, Jackson and Walsh would refuse to include Tom Bombadil in their films. The cameo no longer made sense because the reference had become the kind of thing you have to read to tease an entire biography of JRR Tolkien.
So who is right? The Bombadil haters or the Bombadil lovers? It could all depend on how you feel about Stan Lee Cameos.