Tuesday, 7 October 2014

In The House of Tom Bombadil (or, at least, Next Door)

One of the stories that most inspires me, and informs the way that I look at the world, is The Lord of The Rings. I have read it many times over, and often dip back into it to re-read (re-re-re-re-read?) a favourite passage. Sometimes, I just find that I am in the mood to spend an afternoon in the Shire, or to lose myself in the trees of Fangorn Forest, or to stand on the ramparts of Helm's Deep. It's a short trip, and one which I always find rewarding.

Today, however, I find myself longing for the company of the character which I find to be the most intriguing in the tale: Tom Bombadil. And why not? Today's weather provides the perfect motivation for such an encounter: wet, chilly and rather stay-at-home. A very simliar forecast to that which the hobbits found during their stay at Tom's house:

The upper wind settled in the West and deeper and wetter clouds rolled up to spill their laden rain on the bare heads of the Downs. Nothing could be seen all round the house but falling water. Frodo stood near the open door and watched the white chalky path turn into a little river of milk and go bubbling away down into the valley.

In The House of Tom Bombadil, The Fellowship of the Ring.

It is never made clear in the story (perhaps intentionally) who Tom Bombadil actually is. There are many theories which suggest, among other things, that Tom is either an elf,  a spirit or even the creator of Middle Earth. There are one or two clues in the text, but even these make it apparent that Tom is not to be pinned down. Not long after their arrival at the house, Frodo asks Goldberry (Tom's wife? Even this is not clear!) who Tom is:

'Fair Lady!' said Frodo again after a while. 'Tell me, if my asking does not seem foolish, who is Tom Bombadil?'
'He is,' said Goldberry, staying her swift movements and smiling.
Frodo looked at her questioningly. 'He is, as you have seen him,' she said in answer to his look. 'He is the Master of wood, water and hill.'

In The House of Tom Bombadil, The Fellowship of the Ring.

There is here a suggestion that Tolkien may be connecting Tom to other myths - perhaps Tom is Middle Earth's Jack-in-the-Green, or Green Man? However, the continuing conversation between Frodo and Goldberry suggests that even this is not the whole truth about Tom:

'Then all this strange land belongs to him?'
'No indeed!' she answered, and her smile faded. 'That would indeed be a burden,' she added in a low voice, as if to herself. 'The trees and the grasses and all things growing or living in the land belong each to themselves. Tom Bombadil is the Master. No one has ever caught old Tom walking in the forest, wading in the water, leaping on the hill-tops under light and shadow. He has no fear. Tom Bombadil is the master.' 

Even a direct question from Frodo to Tom himself leaves more questions than answers:

'Who are you, Master?' he asked.
'Eh, what?' said Tom sitting up, and his eyes glinting in the gloom. 'Don't you know my name yet? That's the only answer. Tell me, who are you, alone, yourself and nameless? But you are young and I am old. 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...'

In The House of Tom Bombadil, The Fellowship of the Ring.

It is not surprising that Tom does not appear in Peter Jackson's wonderful films. In many ways, the hobbits' visit to Tom's house is something of a diversion, even in the book, though a mysterious and wonderful one. In a film, there is little room for anything which does not directly serve the plot, especially when one is adapting a book of over a thousand pages for the screen.

There is no obvious place for Tom in the films, despite their relative faithfulness to Tolkien's text. He is too ambiguous for us, too hard to get hold of, too full of wonder. That, surely, is why he is so intriguing and why, on a rainy October Tuesday, with the Holly branches full of berries and the Beech leaves tumbling to the ground, Tom's house is the place to be. 

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