Tuesday, November 10, 2015

In Defense of the Tom Bombadil Chapters

1) Suppose ONE Single work by GKC had Inspired Lord of the Rings ...?, 2) In Defense of the Tom Bombadil Chapters, 3) Tolkien's Scouring of the Shire (Disagreeing with Plank)

First of all, why a defense?

I have seen one critic saying the passage was not strictly necessary, but Tolkien wanted to get sth off his chest. That criticism might have influenced the decision of Peter Jackson.

Another critic was very much anti-Tolkien and singled out the Tom Bombadil chapters as a point in his favour, or in Tolkien's disfavour, considering Tom Bombadil came off as a village idiot.

Now, a third one has said that when Tolkien's monsters and good beings are rotted in folklore, or hobbits (he did not consider the Heinzelmännchen of Cologne as hobbits, except for furry feet?), they were good, their non-human but nearly human race being so to speak a soul carried on the outside, but Shelob, the Balrog and ... among benevolent ones : Tom Bombadil ... do not convince "us".*

I will argue hat the passage was necessary, that it was a virtue of Tolkien and that Tom Bombadil is convincing.

First, the passage is necessary, if not for the mechanics of the plot, though it has its functions as bringing them from Old Forest to outskirts of Bree, and as providing for the first time a glimpse of hope about the ring (Tom Bombadil is clearly not evil, and clearly not under it either), it is necessary for a full unfolding of thematics.

  • For the only time in the novel, it shows forth a happy marriage while it is being lived.

    • Arwen and Aragorn and Sam Gamgee and Rosie Cotton come very late in the novel, and we practically see only the beginning of each marriage. Also, Sam Gamgee, though obviously happy, is as obviously happy in a humdrum way. Tom Bombadil is happy in a poetic way, a bit like the poetry of Manalive.

    • Elrond is a widower. As is Denethor.

    • Of Celeborn and Galadriel, we practically see only Galadriel, we do not see their love story.

    • Faramir and Eowyn are happy, but as with Arwen and Aragorn, as with Sam and Rosie, we see the story leading up to their marriage. Also, their happiness is a happiness involving recovery from emotional scars, not a pure happiness, like Tom and Goldberry, unclouded of any post traumatic stress whatsoever. In Tom Bombadil's adventures we see a story which involves a rather Kalevala roughness and readiness and happy-go-lucky attitude in the woeing.

    Tolkien was a man very happy to be married and to be married to the woman he had married. Of course, as they were both orphaned, there was a sense of Faramir and Eowyn too. And as he had to live through ordeals and abstain from seeing her, there was a sense of Arwen and Aragorn - or of Beren and Luthien. But the everyday happiness is, I think, best reflected in Sam's and Rosie's marriage and even more in that of Tom Bombadil and Goldberry.

  • For the only time in the novel, we have a hospitality neither prompted by old acquaintance nor by involvement in the ring bearer's importance.

    • Bilbo's party? Longexpected and nearly everyone an acquaintance close or distant.

    • Farmer Maggot (whose wife also is mainly seen as hostess to the hobbits rather than as object of his romantic attentions) recalls when Frodo came sneaking as a young hobbit looking for mushrooms. He also has caught a sudden dislike for the Black Riders.

    • Butterbur's hospitality is not for free, they pay it, and it is clouded by the presence of both ring and Black Riders.

    • Elrond's hospitality is very much involved in the ring bearer's fate, even involving a conference about the ring.

    • Galadriel's hospitality ends up with concerning the ring.

    • Faramir's hospitality is really a decision related to the ring bearer, so are many hospitalities involving war parties. Or if not related to ring bearer, at least related to war.

    In the House of Tom Bombadil, the hobbits for once are received as guests after coming as strangers in need. It reminds more of the hospitality of Beorn, and some of the hospitality of Fangorn, though Fangorn ends up taking sides.

    Tom Bombadil is the Episode of the Phaeacians in the Odyssey transposed to Lord of the Rings.

  • Since it involves the Barrow Wight, it is the first time we glimpse some of the Sauron code, in which Morgoth is claimed as returning to judge living and dead. A blasphemous claim, of course.

  • Since the first encounter was after Old Man Willow, it is the one place where most clearly (as well as Caradhras and the craken type monster at the gate of Moria) we see that Tolkien is not a naive treehugger or nature worshipper. Since man fell, nature too is fallen, cannot be trusted and therefore cannot be worshipped.

    This aspect may have jarred with some of the Pagan and New Agey admirers of Tolkien.

Painting Tom Bombadil as a singing, half buffoonish, poet rather than as an intellectual or a businessman, very much was a virtue of Tolkien. As were any of his protagonists.

The point hardly needs detailed argument, it needs pointing out. When a man is happy, he is also prone to be silly and childish. This is nothing to be ashamed of, and I cannot get the kind of mentality which is so ashamed of it that it is willing to make the kind of complaint I mentioned. It would possibly be the bad guys of ... Manalive.

And he is convincing. He is a kind of pun on the Greek word ποτις : it means both bridegroom (of Goldberry) and master (of the wood). It is eminently fitting that a man so successful as a husband should also be successful as a ... guardian angel of the forest? King of the Trees and flowers? Whatever.

It is also eminently fitting that the figure of a husband should be the figure of a father: Iarwain Ben-adar - nearly a kind of Pagan synonym of God the Father. And a kind of allusion to the golden age of Italy under Saturn (who must not be confused with the child devouring Saturn).

On this last point, if there is anything that is less fitting in this, it is wondering whether Tom and Goldberry were childless. One might piously hope that rather their children were already "flewn out of the nest and quite capable of taking care of themselves" - otherwise one would be talking about the bad Saturn, which I think Tolkien did not intend.

With these words, I think I have managed the defense. Or even gone to a counterattack. Finally, with Tom Bombadil, Tolkien created an enigma still puzzling readers about as much as ... Sunday (in The Man Who Was Thursday).

Hans Georg Lundahl
Nanterre UL
San Andrea Avellino of

MANALIVE, by G. K. Chesterton

Paperback – October 27, 2015 (first edition 1912)
by G. K. Chesterton (Author)


Extract from an article by G.K. Chesterton concerning The Man Who was Thursday
published in the Illustrated London News, 13 June 1936 (the day before his death)

The Man Who Was Thursday
Paperback – October 14, 2011 (first edition, 1908)
by G. K. Chesterton (Author)


* This third critic, now I looked it up, is Thomas J. Gasque in Modern Critical Views J. R. R. Tolkien, edited Harold Bloom. Roger Sale seems to have certain false conceptions about how "we" read him as well - unless the "we" is one excluding me.

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