Tom Bombadil

Tom Bombadil is a character in J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium. He first appeared in print in a 1934 poem called The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, which also included the Lord of the Rings characters Goldberry (Tom's wife), Old Man Willow (an evil tree in Tom's forest) and the Barrow-wight, from whom Tom rescues the hobbits.[1] They were not then explicitly part of the older legends that became The Silmarillion, and are not mentioned in The Hobbit.

Tom Bombadil
Tolkien character
In-universe information
AliasesIarwain Ben-adar, Forn, Orald
Book(s)The Fellowship of the Ring (1954),
The Adventures of Tom Bombadil (1962)
Tales from the Perilous Realm (1997)

Bombadil is best known from his appearance as a supporting character in Tolkien's high fantasy epic The Lord of the Rings, published in 1954 and 1955. In the first volume, The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo Baggins and company meet Bombadil in the Old Forest. This idea and an appearance by both Old Man Willow and the Barrow-wight were included in some of Tolkien's earliest notes for a sequel to The Hobbit.[T 1] Bombadil is mentioned but not seen near the end of The Return of the King, with Gandalf planning to pay him a long visit.

Bombadil was omitted from Peter Jackson's film trilogy and The Lord of the Rings (1978 film) and radio adaptations of The Lord of the Rings, as non-essential to the story. Commentators have debated the role and origins of Tom Bombadil. A likely source is the demigod Väinämöinen in the 1849 Finnish epic poem Kalevala, with many points of resemblance. Scholars have noted that he is the spirit of a place, a genius loci.


The Adventures of Tom Bombadil

Old Tom Bombadil was a merry fellow;
bright blue his jacket was and his boots were yellow,
green were his girdle and his breeches all of leather;
he wore in his tall hat a swan-wing feather.
He lived up under Hill, where the Withywindle
ran from a grassy well down into the dingle.

The Adventures of Tom Bombadil

The original version of Tolkien's poem "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil" was published in 1934 in The Oxford Magazine.[2] The poem depicts Bombadil as a "merry fellow" living in a small valley close to the Withywindle river, where he wanders and explores nature at his leisure. Several of the valley's mysterious residents, including the "River-woman's daughter" Goldberry, the malevolent tree-spirit Old Man Willow, the Badger-folk and a Barrow-wight, attempt to capture Bombadil for their own ends, but quail at the power of Tom's voice, which defeats their enchantments and commands them to return to their natural existence. At the end of the poem, Bombadil captures and marries Goldberry. Throughout the poem, Bombadil is unconcerned by the attempts to capture him and brushes them off with the power in his words.[3][4]

Bombadil makes it clear that he found Goldberry in the Withywindle river, calling her "River-woman's daughter".[4] The Tolkien critic John D. Rateliff suggests that, at least in terms of Tolkien's early mythology, she should be seen as one of the fays, spirits, and elementals (including the Maia): "Thus Melian is a 'fay', (as, in all probability, are Goldberry and Bombadil; the one a nymph, the other a genius loci)".[5]

The later poem "Bombadil Goes Boating" anchors Bombadil in Middle-earth, featuring a journey down the Withywindle to the Brandywine river, where hobbits ("Little Folk I know there") live at Hays-end. Bombadil is challenged by various river-residents on his journey, including birds, otters and hobbits, but charms them all with his voice, ending his journey at the farm of Farmer Maggot, where he drinks ale and dances with the family. At the end of the poem, the charmed birds and otters work together to bring Bombadil's boat home. The poem includes a reference to the Norse lay of Ótr, when Bombadil threatens to give the hide of a disrespectful otter to the Barrow-wights, who he says will cover it with gold apart from a single whisker. The poem mentions Middle-earth locations including Hays-end, Bree and the Tower Hills, and speaks of "Tall Watchers by the Ford, Shadows on the Marches".[T 2][6]

The Lord of the Rings

There was another burst of song, and then suddenly, hopping and dancing along the path, there appeared above the reeds an old battered hat with a tall crown and a long blue feather stuck in the band. With another hop and a bound there came into view a man, or so it seemed. At any rate he was too large and heavy for a hobbit, if not quite tall enough for one of the Big People, though he made noise enough for one, stumping along with great yellow boots on his thick legs, and charging through grass and rushes like a cow going down to drink. He had a blue coat and a long brown beard; his eyes were blue and bright, and his face was red as a ripe apple, but creased into a hundred wrinkles of laughter. In his hand he carried on a large leaf as on a tray a small pile of white water-lilies.

The Fellowship of the Ring, book 1, ch. 6, "The Old Forest"

In The Fellowship of the Ring, Tom Bombadil helps Frodo Baggins and his companions on their journey.[T 3][T 4][T 5] Tom and his wife Goldberry, the "Daughter of the River", still live in their house by the source of the Withywindle, and some of the characters and situations from the original poem reappear.[6]

Tom first appears when Merry and Pippin are trapped in the Old Forest by Old Man Willow, and Frodo and Sam cry for help. Tom commands Old Man Willow to release them, singing him to sleep.[T 3]

The hobbits spend two nights in Tom Bombadil's house. Here it is seen that the One Ring has no power over Bombadil; he can see Frodo when the Ring makes him invisible to others, and can wear it himself with no effect. He even tosses the Ring in the air and makes it disappear, but then produces it from his other hand and returns it to Frodo. The idea of giving him the Ring for safekeeping is rejected in Book Two's second chapter, "The Council of Elrond". Gandalf says, rather, that "the Ring has no power over him..." and believes that Tom would not find the Ring to be very important and so might simply misplace it.[T 4]

Before sending the hobbits on their way, Tom teaches them a rhyme to summon him if they fall into danger again within his borders. This proves fortunate, as the four are trapped by a barrow-wight. After rescuing them, Tom gives each hobbit a long dagger taken from the treasure in the barrow. He refuses to pass the borders of his own land, but he directs them to The Prancing Pony Inn at Bree.[T 5]

Towards the end of The Return of the King, when Gandalf leaves the hobbits, he mentions that he wants to have a long talk with Bombadil, calling him a "moss-gatherer". Gandalf says, in response to Frodo's query of how well Bombadil is getting along, that Bombadil is "as well as ever", "quite untroubled" and "not much interested in anything that we have done and seen", save their visits to the Ents. At the very end of The Lord of the Rings, as Frodo sails into the West and leaves Middle-earth forever, he has what seems to him the very experience that appeared to him in the house of Bombadil in his dream of the second night.[T 6]

Concept and creation

An invention

Tolkien invented Tom Bombadil in memory of his children's Dutch doll.[7][lower-alpha 1][9] These poems far pre-date the writing of The Lord of the Rings, into which Tolkien introduced Tom Bombadil from the earliest drafts.[T 7] In response to a letter, Tolkien described Tom in The Lord of the Rings as "just an invention" and "not an important person – to the narrative", even if "he represents something that I feel important, though I would not be prepared to analyse the feeling precisely. I would not, however, have left him in, if he did not have some kind of function."[T 8] In another letter, Tolkien writes that he does not think Tom is improved by philosophizing; he included the character "because I had already 'invented' him independently" (in The Oxford Magazine) "and wanted an 'adventure' on the way".[T 9]

An enigma

Tolkien commented further that "even in a mythical Age there must be some enigmas, as there always are. Tom Bombadil is one (intentionally)".[T 8] In a letter to Stanley Unwin, Tolkien called Tom Bombadil the spirit of the vanishing landscapes of Oxfordshire and Berkshire. However, this 1937 letter was in reference to works which pre-dated the writing of The Lord of The Rings.[T 10]

Tolkien said little of Tom Bombadil's origins, and the character does not fit neatly into the categories of beings Tolkien created. Bombadil calls himself the "Eldest" and the "Master". He claims to remember "the first raindrop and the first acorn", and that he "knew the dark under the stars when it was fearless—before the Dark Lord came from Outside". When Frodo asks Goldberry just who Tom Bombadil is, she responds simply by saying "He is", which some have taken as a reference to God's statement "I Am that I Am" in the Book of Exodus, but Tolkien explicitly rejected this.[T 9] Others, such as Robert Foster, have suggested that Bombadil is one of the Maiar, angelic beings sent from Valinor.[10]


The Tolkien scholar Verlyn Flieger writes that if there was an opposite to Sauron in The Lord of the Rings, it would not be Aragorn, his political opponent, nor Gandalf, his spiritual enemy, but Tom Bombadil, the earthly Master who is entirely free of the desire to dominate, and hence cannot be dominated.[11]

Sauron's opposite, as analysed by Verlyn Flieger[11]
SauronTom Bombadil
RoleAntagonistEarthly counterpart
TitleDark Lord"Master"
PurposeDomination of whole
of Middle-earth
Care for The Old Forest
"No hidden agenda, no covert desire
or plan of operation"
Effect of the
One Ring
"Power over other wills"No effect on him "as he is not human",
nor does it make others invisible to him
How he sees
the Ring
The Eye of Sauron desires
to dominate through the Ring
Looks right through it, his "blue eye
peering through the circle of the Ring"


Tom Bombadil may have been modelled on the demigod Väinämöinen from the Finnish epic poem Kalevala.[12] Painting The Defense of the Sampo by Akseli Gallen-Kallela, 1896

The Tolkien scholar David Elton Gay notes that Tolkien was inspired by the Finnish writer Elias Lönnrot's 1849 epic poem Kalevala, a work of modern mythology. Gay suggests with a detailed comparison that Tom Bombadil was directly modelled on the poem's central character, the demigod Väinämöinen.[12]

David Elton Gay's comparison of Tom Bombadil with the demigod Väinämöinen in the 1849 Kalevala[12]
VäinämöinenTom Bombadil
Oldest, immortal
Lives in a small forested country that he controls but does not own
Extremely close to his world, exemplifying "naturalness"[12]
Fearless, because powerful
Power through song and knowledge
Sings for the pleasure of singing
"Day by day he sang unwearied" Mostly speaks through song
As oldest living being, he saw creation,
heard names of all beings,
knows songs of their origins,
helped shape the land
"I am old, Eldest, that's what I am ...
Tom was here before the river and the trees"
"Tom remembers the first raindrop
and the first acorn"[T 4]

Multiple meanings

Jane Beal, writing in the Journal of Tolkien Research, comments that:[7]

By thinking in terms of the four levels of meaning found in medieval scriptural exegesis and literary interpretation, it is possible to consider Tom Bombadil literally, as a wooden doll that belonged to Michael Tolkien in the created world and as “Eldest” in the sub-created world; allegorically, as the spirit of the vanishing English countryside in the created world and a figure of the study of Zoology, Botany, and Poetry in the sub-created world, parallel to the first, prelapsarian Adam. Morally, Tom Bombadil is a storyteller, representative of J.R.R. Tolkien, the author himself. ... Anagogically, Tom Bombadil is also a figure of the second Adam, Jesus.[7]


Tom Bombadil and Goldberry with the four hobbits in the 1991 Russian television play Khraniteli[13]

Bombadil is absent from Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings film trilogy; Jackson explained that this was because he and his co-writers felt that the character does little to advance the story, and including him would make the film unnecessarily long. Christopher Lee concurred, stating the scenes were left out to make time for showing Saruman's capture of Gandalf.[14][lower-alpha 2]

Bombadil has appeared in other radio and film adaptations. He was played by Norman Shelley in the 1955–1956 BBC radio adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, a performance that Tolkien thought "dreadful"; in his view even worse was that Goldberry was announced as his daughter and Willowman "an ally of Mordor (!!)" (his emphasis).[T 11] He was portrayed by Esko Hukkanen in the 1993 Finnish miniseries Hobitit.[15] He appeared, too, in the 1979 Mind's Eye recordings, where he was played by Bernard Mayes, who also voiced Gandalf.[16] He was included, along with Goldberry and the Barrow-wight, in the 1991 Russian adaptation of The Fellowship of the Ring, Khraniteli.[13]

Although Tom Bombadil was not portrayed in Ralph Bakshi's[17] or Jackson's films,[18] a Tom Bombadil card exists in The Lord of the Rings Trading Card Game by Decipher, Inc. (part of the trilogy's merchandise). The model portraying Bombadil on this card is Harry Wellerchew.[19] Tom Bombadil is an NPC in the MMORPG game The Lord of the Rings Online, serving as a main character in Book 1 of the epic quests.[20]

The 1969 Harvard Lampoon novel Bored of the Rings parodies Bombadil as "Tim Benzedrine", a stereotypical hippie married to "Hashberry".[21]


  1. Tolkien wrote: "The doll looked very splendid with the feather in its hat, but John did not like it and one day stuffed it down the lavatory. Tom was rescued, and survived to become the hero of a poem..."[8]
  2. Some of Bombadil's dialogue, as well as the scene in which the hobbits meet Old Man Willow, are transferred into scenes which Merry and Pippin share with Treebeard in Jackson's adaptation, included in the extended edition DVD.



  1. The Return of the Shadow, page 43
  2. The Adventures of Tom Bombadil (1962) 1. "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil"
  3. The Fellowship of the Ring book 1, ch. 6, "The Old Forest"
  4. The Fellowship of the Ring book 1, ch. 7, "In the House of Tom Bombadil"
  5. The Fellowship of the Ring book 1, ch. 8, "Fog on the Barrow-Downs"
  6. The Return of the King book 6, ch. 7 "Homeward Bound" and ch. 9 "The Grey Havens"
  7. The Return of the Shadow, pp. 42, 115 ff.
  8. Carpenter 2000, #144, letter to Naomi Mitchison, 25 April 1954
  9. Carpenter 2000, #153, draft of letter to Peter Hastings, September 1954
  10. Carpenter 2000, #19, letter to Stanley Unwin, 16 December 1937
  11. Letters, #175 to Mrs Molly Waldron, 30 November 1955, p. 228


  1. The Oxford Magazine, 1934, cited in The History of Middle-earth, volume 6, page 116
  2. Scull, Christina; Hammond, Wayne G., eds. (2014). The Adventures of Tom Bombadil. HarperCollins. p. 123. ISBN 978-0-00-755727-1.. They were later included in Tales from the Perilous Realm.
  3. Carpenter, Humphrey (2002). J. R. R. Tolkien: A Biography. HarperCollins. pp. 216–217. ISBN 978-0007132843.
  4. Shippey, Tom (2001). J. R. R. Tolkien: Author of the Century. HarperCollins. pp. 60–62. ISBN 978-0261-10401-3.
  5. Rateliff, John D. (2007). Mr Baggins. HarperCollins. pp. 50, 59. ISBN 978-0007235551.
  6. Hargrove, Gene (2013) [2007]. Michael D. C. Drout (ed.). Adventures of Tom Bombadil. The J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia. Taylor & Francis. pp. 2–3. ISBN 978-0-415-86511-1.
  7. Beal, Jane (2018). "Who is Tom Bombadil?: Interpreting the Light in Frodo Baggins and Tom Bombadil's Role in the Healing of Traumatic Memory in J.R.R. Tolkien's _Lord of the Rings_". Journal of Tolkien Research. 6 (1). article 1. Tolkien's inspiration for this character was a brightly-dressed, peg-wood, Dutch doll (with a feather in his hat!) that belonged to his second son, Michael.
  8. Carpenter, Humphrey (1987). J. R. R. Tolkien: A Biography. Allen & Unwin. p. 165. ISBN 978-0-04-928037-3.
  9. Poveda, Jaume Alberdo (2003–2004). "Narrative Models in Tolkien's Stories of Middle Earth". Journal of English Studies. 4: 7–22. doi:10.18172/jes.84.
  10. Foster, Robert (1978). The Complete Guide to Middle Earth. Ballentine. p. 492. ISBN 978-0739432976.
  11. Flieger, Verlyn (2011). Bogstad, Janice M.; Kaveny, Philip E. (eds.). Sometimes One Word is Worth a Thousand Pictures. Picturing Tolkien: Essays on Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings Film Trilogy. McFarland. pp. 50–51. ISBN 978-0-7864-8473-7.
  12. Gay, David Elton (2004). Chance, Jane (ed.). J.R.R. Tolkien and the Kalevala. Tolkien and the invention of myth : a reader. University Press of Kentucky. pp. 295–304. ISBN 978-0-8131-2301-1.
  13. Roth, Andrew (5 April 2021). "Soviet TV version of Lord of the Rings rediscovered after 30 years". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 April 2021.
  14. Jackson, Peter (2004). The Lord Of The Rings - The Fellowship of the Ring - Extended Edition Appendices (DVD).
  15. Mansikka, Ossi (22 January 2020). "Tiesitkö, että ysärillä tehtiin suomalainen tv-sarja Sormusten herrasta, ja tätä kulttuurin merkkipaalua on nyt mahdotonta enää nähdä" (in Finnish). Retrieved 24 March 2020. Kirjafaneja riemastuttanee tieto, että Torikan versiossa nähdään myös Jacksonin hylkäämä Tom Bombadil Esko Hukkanen esittämänä.
  16. "Mind's Eye The Lord of the Rings (1979)". SF Worlds. 31 August 2014. Retrieved 6 April 2020.
  17. Korkis, Jim (24 June 2004). "If at first you don't succeed ... call Peter Jackson". Jim Hill Media. Archived from the original on 13 October 2007. Retrieved 15 April 2021.
  18. Bogstad, Janice M.; Kaveny, Philip E., eds. (2011). Introduction. Picturing Tolkien: Essays on Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings Film Trilogy. McFarland. p. 7. ISBN 978-0-7864-8473-7.
  19. McCracken, Kathy (22 July 2004). "The Making of the Weta "Book Cards": Casting and Costuming". Decipher Inc. Archived from the original on 19 March 2007. Retrieved 3 July 2006.
  20. "Tom Bombadil". Lotro. Retrieved 24 March 2020.
  21. Barnett, David (8 February 2011). "After Tolkien, get Bored of the Rings". The Guardian Books Blog. Retrieved 14 September 2014.


  • Carpenter, Humphrey, ed. (2000) [1981]. The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien. Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 978-0-618-05699-6.

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