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Tony Grist

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Tom Bombadil And Goldberry [Dec. 19th, 2016|06:47 pm]
Tony Grist
I re-read the Bombadil chapters last night. At first sight they seem like hangovers from the children's book Tolkien thought he was writing before he pulled his socks up and went epic.  The film cuts them and I understand why: they don't advance the story, they represent a detour on the hobbits' journey and their world stands apart from the rest of Tolkien's creation- almost as though it belongs to an alien universe that has poked its nose into Middle Earth- the universe of Enid Blyton perhaps- or Narnia.

Tolkien himself could have cut them- and no-one would have missed what is essentially a self-contained unit- but chose not to- so he must have valued them- along with the suggestion they bring into the book that there's a whole world elsewhere- and one that plays by other rules. Tom and Goldberry may not be able to cross the boundaries of their limited demesne but within in it they're gods. They live and stand apart from Middle Earth- and the Ring has no power over them- the only characters in the whole trilogy of whom this is true.  Tom holds it up to look at it and Frodo is startled by the vision of his blue eye sparkling within the circle of gold. He then makes it disappear and appear again- like a street magician. For everyone else it's an object of fear, awe and warped desire; for Tom it's just a trinket.

Who are Tom and Goldberry? We never find out. They could be Nature spirits- genii loci- (and Tolkien I believe- in a letter- once spoke of Tom as the spirit of the Berkshire and Oxfordshire countryside) but no mere genius in any mythology possesses the power they do. Tom says he's old- older than history- and why should we disbelieve him? Their relationship appears symbiotic- with Tom ranging across his woods and downland while Goldberry stays at home, tethering him to his centre. He can't linger too long, he tells the Hobbits as he escorts them off his territory, because "Goldberry is waiting". Is she the source of his power- the sun round which he revolves? Could be.

Actually I don't think Tolkien himself knew quite what they were. They came to him from somewhere ouside the mythos he was so carefully creating- odd, anomalous, irresistible- as independent of their creator as they are of the ring he'd dreamed up.

I know some readers find Tom and Goldberry irritating. I don't. These chapters give us many of the trilogy's indelible images- the wicked old willow man, Tom dancing about in his ridiculous proto-hippy clothes, Goldberry among her water lilies, the hobbits laid out asleep in the barrow with the sword across their throats and the skeletal hand creeping round the corner. Everything that Tolkien has to offer- comedy, terror, mysticism, landscape- are here in the highest concentration. For me they're the heart of the book.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: sorenr
2016-12-19 10:56 pm (UTC)
I've always loved Tom Bombadil; his world has such a charm and power... Simple, primordial and incorruptible because he plays by no rules.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2016-12-20 10:10 am (UTC)
Exactly so. While we're in his world it's as if the whole business of warring races and magic rings is just a bad dream.
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[User Picture]From: athenais
2016-12-20 12:01 am (UTC)
They are so mysterious and have nothing to do with the rest of the story, as you say, but Bombadil and Goldberry are my favorite part.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2016-12-20 10:12 am (UTC)
I think they may have been Tolkien's too.
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[User Picture]From: heleninwales
2016-12-20 10:44 am (UTC)
I've never like Tom Bombadil and always found his relationship with Goldberry rather creepy. Very creepy in fact! Also that section doesn't impact on the main story, which is getting rid of the ring. It also leads the reader to ask why, if he's not affected by the ring, can't he deal with it instead of Frodo? It's simply a diversion and one that never worked for me.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2016-12-20 11:13 am (UTC)
I don't think it's creepy- just unexplained. Someone I was reading suggested that Tom and Goldberry take the shapes they do so that the hobbits can relate to them- as angels- who are immaterial spirits- do when appearing to men. I like to think of them as belonging to a higher, deeper, more ancient reality.

Tom can't take charge of the ring because it's not his problem. He belongs to another world. The ring is the responsibility of the people of Middle Earth and it's they who must deal with it. Handing it over to Tom would be a dereliction of duty- a failure to deal with the issues the ring represents.
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[User Picture]From: internet_sampo
2016-12-20 03:30 pm (UTC)
I felt the same about Tom Bombadil, that the chapter could have been removed without changing the story. But then I read a scholarly paper on Bombadil. Besides providing a useful piece of information about background (I forget what that is now, something about Pippen and Merry's daggers) the article said that the Bombadil chapter foreshadows in a way common in medieval literature. The article was very convincing. I need to reread it.

And of course, in Bored of the Rings, the chapter on Tim Benzedrine and Hashberry is hilarious!
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2016-12-20 03:37 pm (UTC)
That's an interesting sidelight, that Tolkien was using a medieval story-telling technique. I can well believe he did so knowingly.
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[User Picture]From: internet_sampo
2016-12-20 07:47 pm (UTC)
I would agree, but in looking up the reference I saw a section titled, Direct Medieval Influence is Doubtful. The author suggests that Tolkien did not intentional do it.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2016-12-20 08:08 pm (UTC)
One could perhaps argue he was so steeped in medieval literature that he did it unconsciously.
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[User Picture]From: arielstarshadow
2016-12-20 05:16 pm (UTC)
I'd love to read that article :)
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[User Picture]From: internet_sampo
2016-12-20 07:43 pm (UTC)
The chapter is The Interlace Structure of The Lord of the Rings by R.C. West. The book is A Tolkien Compass, Jared Lobell (ed.)
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