Lindariel's Tom Bombadil Theory

A place where members present scholastic ideas for discussion.
54markl
Posts: 22
Joined: Sun Dec 19, 2010 11:44 pm
Location: United States

Post by 54markl » Tue Dec 21, 2010 3:12 am

Bravo Lindariel, I think you've hit upon the truth! I've heard all sorts of theories of who Tom really is, that he was Aule, Tulkas, Iluvatar Himself, and even the Witch-King of Angmar. I used to have a theory that the Flame Imperishable was the Wife of Iluvatar, and that Olorin was their Child. But I recently came to the same conclusion that you did, and checked the Internet to see if anyone agreed with me. Your post leapt out, and there are also many other fans who share this conviction, which is really the only logical answer. Iluvatar made the Vision of Ea real by placing the Flame Imperishable within it. Thus Arda had no Reality until the Sacred Fire entered into it. Since Tom was the first being in Arda, and he has no father, he is clearly the Flame Imperishable. This would make him an aspect of Iluvatar not unlike the Holy Spirit (Tolkien himself made this comparison), and it would also make him Reality itself. Do you think Goldberry was a Maia of Ulmo? That's my opinion. Also, I would say that if Tom left a world conquered by Sauron, the world would simply disappear, leaving a Void. What do you think? After all, if Tom left, Arda would no longer have any Reality. Sauron would be left alone blinking stupidly, once again in the Void.

54markl
Posts: 22
Joined: Sun Dec 19, 2010 11:44 pm
Location: United States

Post by 54markl » Tue Dec 21, 2010 4:07 am

To elaborate on my Goldberry theory. If I understand you correctly, you think Goldberry was a Special Creation of Tom's, if by "raising her out of the water'" you are implying that Tom made her from the waters of the Withywindle. But I think that Tom was only the Creative Principle itself, I think he was wielded by Iluvatar to create things; I'm not sure that creating things in his own right was within Tom's purview. A possible explanation is that Iluvatar created Goldberry out of water to provide a mate for Tom. But I think a much simpler explanation is that Goldberry was a Maia of the household of Ulmo. Ulmo is described as the Lord of all waters; he had individual Maiar taking care of the internal seas (i.e., Osse and Uinen for the Belegaer). I think each river and lake was originally attended by its own Maia as well. Most of these probably left Middle Earth when the Valar moved to Aman (after the destruction of the Two Lamps), but I think a few may have stayed behind. If the spirit of the Withywindle was Goldberry's mother, I think it entirely likely that the Baranduin spirit was her father. I have a similar theory that Nimrodel ran afoul of the Morthond spirit, who enchanted her into an endless sleep (she probably spurned his advances, ala Greek mythology). Did Tolkien himself think Goldberry was not a Maia, because otherwise I see no reason why she can't be one. I do not think Tom was an elemental Spirit of Fire, I think that the Flame Imperishable is a Fire only metaphorically, and is actually the Creative Kindling of Creation. What did Tolkien mean when he said Goldberry was "the changing of the seasons?" That would imply she was Mother Nature (distinct from Yavanna), but I see her as a Maia who married "up," just as Melian was a Maia who married "down" (sorry, Thingol, only technically!).

Merry
Varda
Posts: 3263
Joined: Wed Aug 17, 2005 7:01 am
Location: Middle-west

Post by Merry » Tue Dec 21, 2010 4:17 am

Welcome, 54markl--interesting theories! Can't wait until Lindariel logs in to discuss them with you.

Please check in to our introduction thread to tell us about yourself and give us a chance to welcome you properly!
Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
for your King shall come again,
and he shall dwell among you
all the days of your life.

54markl
Posts: 22
Joined: Sun Dec 19, 2010 11:44 pm
Location: United States

Post by 54markl » Tue Dec 21, 2010 4:38 am

I do not think that the Valar created anything at all, being creations themselves. They were not "gods," they were angelic spirits (according to Tolkien in Unfinished Tales). They could shape things, they could build things (according to Eru's building plan, the Music), but they couldn't actually create; Aule tried with the Dwarves, and failed. Melkor could only twist existing things into ugly shapes (I think by genetic engineering), but I do not think Aule created Atoms; Iluvatar did. Remember, Iluvatar showed the Ainur a cloud glowing far off in the Void with a fire at its heart; I interpret this as being the Primordial Seed of the Big Bang. Liquids, gases, and plasmas are also made of atoms, like solid matter. I think the major Valar shaped these into water, earth, air, etc., out of atoms created by Iluvatar, and per his instructions. According to the Ainulindale, Melkor was not the first of the Ainur in Ea; all the major Valar descended at the same time (Tom was already there). Melkor quarrelled with the other Valar and left for a time; then he came back in a shape of Wrath and started the First War.

54markl
Posts: 22
Joined: Sun Dec 19, 2010 11:44 pm
Location: United States

Post by 54markl » Tue Dec 21, 2010 5:03 am

Thank you so much, Merry. I am very happy to have joined Middle-earth Journeys, and I will go to the New Members page soon. I am looking forward to many fruitful discussions with all of you. Tolkien has always been my favorite author. I think that Lindariel is absolutely correct when she says Tom Bombadil and the Flame Imperishable are the same thing; it's the only sensible solution to that mystery. I hope she will like my theories too. I'm looking forward to reading your thoughts on the Story too, Merry. Talk to you soon. Bye for now.

Lindariel
Posts: 1062
Joined: Fri Sep 23, 2005 8:30 pm
Location: The Hall of Fire, Imladris (otherwise known as Northern Virginia)

Post by Lindariel » Wed Dec 22, 2010 2:57 am

Welcome to Middle-earth Journeys 54markl! I certainly appreciate the revival of this discussion. Thank you for your kind comments on my little essay. I am a bit swamped right now trying to get my desk cleared for the holidays, but I shall certainly join in tomorrow once my time is my own!
Lindariel Image

“Therefore I say: Eä! Let these things Be! And I will send forth into the Void the Flame Imperishable, and it shall be at the heart of the World, and the World shall Be.”

54markl
Posts: 22
Joined: Sun Dec 19, 2010 11:44 pm
Location: United States

Post by 54markl » Wed Dec 22, 2010 10:23 pm

Thank you for your kind welcome, Lindariel. I am full of admiration for your essay, it is so elegantly presented, and quite convincing. I am completely open to the idea that Goldberry was a special creation made out of water (or an "elemental"), but is this what the Professor himself thought? I read the Letters a long time ago, but I can no longer remember what he said about Goldberry. I'd better re-read them. I thought she was a Maia of Ulmo, but why do you think she was not a Maia? I'm just curious. Does Tolkien anywhere say what actually became of Nimrodel? I think she had a run-in with the Morthond water spirit (I don't know why, perhaps a dream?). Another member says elsewhere in this thread that Aule created atoms. I'm not pooh-poohing his theory, but don't you think Iluvatar must have created atoms, since He was the Creator, and the Valar were angelic spirits? Tolkien's fusing of Christian and pagan stories is truly unique and very confusing to many people. Since the Valar were spirits, they could be both "gods" and angels, in my humble opinion. But Tolkien says in many places that the Valar could not create per se; I think only Iluvatar could and that (oddly enough!) Tom was the Creative Principle that he wielded. Many people wonder why Sauron himself didn't rush over to the Shire as soon as he found out that the Ring was there. I think that it was out of fear of Tom. After all, the Hobbits and Tom were next-door neighbors. Merry Christmas to you; again, I love your essay. Looking forward to discussing with you. Happy holidays.

Merry
Varda
Posts: 3263
Joined: Wed Aug 17, 2005 7:01 am
Location: Middle-west

Post by Merry » Thu Dec 23, 2010 1:41 am

Since I'm on semester break and have some time for reading, I just skimmed through the Professor's letters for references to Goldberry. There are not many of them, and none of them deal with her identity. Many of them deal with her enigmatic statement about Bombadil, when Frodo asks her who Tom is: she answers, 'He is.' This has led those familiar with Judeo-Christian theology to get kind of metaphysical about Bombadil's identity, linking it up with the 'I-am-who-am' of the Old Testament. But Tolkien, in letter 153, doesn't sanction this interpretation, suggesting instead that the 'He is' statement simply means that Bombadil is a singular being--he doesn't belong to a species or set.

Here is what else he writes:

"I don't think Tom needs philosophizing about, and is not improved by it. But many have found him an odd or indeed discordant ingredient. In historical fact I put him in because I had already 'invented' him independently (he first apeared in the Oxford Magazine) and wanted an 'adventure' on the way. But I kept him in, and as he was, because he represents certain things otherwise left out. I do not mean him to be an allegory--or I should not have given him so peculiar, individual, and ridiculous name--but 'allegory' is the only mode of exhibiting certain functions: he is then an 'allegory', or an exemplar, a particular embodying of pure (real) natural science: the spirit that desires knowledge of other things, their history and nature, because they are 'other' and wholly independent of the enquiring mind, a spirit coeval with the rational mind, and entirely unconcerned with 'doing' anything with the knowledge: Zoology and Botany not Cattle-breeding or Agriculture. . . Also T.B. exhibits another point in his attitude to the Ring, and its failure to affect him. You must concentrate on some part, probably relatively small, of the World (Universe), whether to tell a tale, however long, or to learn anything however fundamental--and therefore much will from that 'point of view' be left out, distorted on the circumference, or seem a discordant oddity. The power of the Ring over all concerned, even the Wizards or Emissaries, is not a delusion--but it is not the whole picture, even of the then state and content of that part of the Universe."

Well! Not sure what all that means, but it does seem that theories about Tom need to be cautious.

Also, the Letters corroborate your identifying of the Valar with both gods and angels or powers.
Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
for your King shall come again,
and he shall dwell among you
all the days of your life.

Iolanthe
Uinen
Posts: 2339
Joined: Thu Aug 25, 2005 2:21 pm
Location: Washing my hair in the Sundering Sea

Post by Iolanthe » Thu Dec 23, 2010 5:55 pm

It's great to see this Tom Bombadil discussion revived and I'm really looking forward to Lindariel's comments.

I wonder if Tolkien ever dreamed what a great mystery Tom would present when he first created him in the Adventures of Tom Bombadil? In many ways he is so extraordinary that he is a creation that has bounded away from his creator, in that the hints we are given in LotR seem to promise much more that what Tolkien actually says about him, when prodded into discussing him.

Maybe - given that Tom is very archetypal, a powerful innocent that can rule nature - he 'wrote himself' into the story in subconscious ways that Tolkien himself never fully acknowledged. It's always a possibility with great writers- look at the way Faramir turned up from nowhere, to the author's surprise. All real creativity has a life of its own!

It's equally interesting to discuss Goldberry - she doesn't really fit into any category of Arda dwellers - again because she has sprung from this pre-LotR poem. Her connection with the weather is tantalising. It does indeed make her feel more important than some lesser spirit - the River Woman's Daughter (and who/what is the River Woman?). It's good that it isn't all neat and tidy and there is real mystery here.
Now let the song begin! Let us sing together
Of sun, stars, moon and mist, rain and cloudy weather...

Merry
Varda
Posts: 3263
Joined: Wed Aug 17, 2005 7:01 am
Location: Middle-west

Post by Merry » Thu Dec 23, 2010 6:15 pm

Yes. I'm reminded of Gandalf's remarks when the Fellowship is attacked at Caradhras, that there are older beings in Middle-earth than they knew. (The movie portrays Saruman as the source of the attack, but Gandalf doesn't seem to tink so in the book.) No other explanation! This is Tolkien's 'frameless' world where there are things on the horizon that aren't explained, just like real life.

I'm not arguing against the thesis that TB is the Flame Imperishable. I'm just pointing out that I don't think Tolkien endorsed it.
Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
for your King shall come again,
and he shall dwell among you
all the days of your life.

54markl
Posts: 22
Joined: Sun Dec 19, 2010 11:44 pm
Location: United States

Post by 54markl » Sun Dec 26, 2010 10:39 pm

That was fascinating, Merry! The old Professor, true to form, didn't spell things out, but created yet more food for thought. I think he wanted to leave some issues purposefully nebulous, so the fans would debate it. He wanted Middle Earth to be a topic of interest and debate, because that stimulated book sales! I am not imputing purely commercial motives to the Prof's ambiguity, he also wanted to create a Middle Earth "mystique," that people would care about; in this he succeeded. I was shocked that the man who "hated allegory" descended into this mode to explain Tom. Your caution that Tolkien never said one way or another is heeded, but evidence seems to point to the Sacred Fire theory. As for Goldberry, I am more confused than ever. Tolkien would indeed seem to be implying that Goldberry was more than a mere Maia; but mention of the River WOMAN seems to imply that Goldberry's mother was also a Maia, not an impersonal element. I think that's why I thought she was a Maia in the first place. Alas, the Author has left us very little to go on.

54markl
Posts: 22
Joined: Sun Dec 19, 2010 11:44 pm
Location: United States

Post by 54markl » Sun Dec 26, 2010 10:52 pm

Thank you, Iolanthe, for pointing out that Goldberry's daughter was the River WOMAN, who must have been another spirit of some kind, and not just impersonal Water. I knew there was a reason that I always thought Goldberry was a Maia, and I think that's it. Goldberry cannot be a Special Creation if she has a mother whom the Professor singled out as an apparent Person of some kind. Unfortunately, this gives us yet another mysterious, shadowy entity to explain; since Tolkien didn't go into much detail (extracting information from him was reportedly like pulling teeth), we are left with the deductive method of Sherlock Holmes to figure all this out. It will be interesting to see what Lindariel makes of these points. Merry Christmas.

Lindariel
Posts: 1062
Joined: Fri Sep 23, 2005 8:30 pm
Location: The Hall of Fire, Imladris (otherwise known as Northern Virginia)

Post by Lindariel » Sun Dec 26, 2010 11:33 pm

Hi Mark! Taking a break from writing my growing Yule contest story (I may be looking at 10,000 words or more here 'til I'm done -- YIKES!) to join in the conversation here. I probably won't come close to responding to all of your questions, but I did want to contribute the following to this wonderful discussion.

I think it is very important for us to consider the following "fact" -- within the realm of LOTR, we meet Tom and Goldberry ONLY through the eyes of the hobbits. I would suggest that it is entirely possible that these beings have a completely different appearance when they interact with the different races. It may be that their outward appearance changes to fit the personages involved and the situation. In the case of our dear hobbits, they encounter Tom at a time when they are in need, and his rustic presence and odd behavior combine to give them comfort and reassurance. He is big, but not too big, commanding but not frightening, extremely capable but not overwhelming, even silly but not unfathomable. He intrigues and wins their confidence immediately. They "know" him, and yet he is beyond anything they have ever experienced, and still they are not frightened of him at all.

The same is true of Goldberry. I go back to Frodo's immediate assessment of her -- "He stood as he had at times stood enchanted by fair elven-voices; but the spell that was now laid upon him was different: less keen and lofty was the delight, but deeper and nearer to mortal heart; marvellous and yet not strange." In my opinion, this is NOT the description of the lofty Maia or even the Istar. This is the description of something Frodo has long known and experienced, but made manifest to him in an entirely different and wholly marvelous way. He is interacting with a living manifestation of Water. I cannot begin to imagine what that experience would be like!

In terms of Tom referring to Goldberry's "mother" as the "River Woman," again, I think this is Tom speaking to the hobbits in a manner they can understand, "humanizing" the Withywindle, if you will. I don't think he's referring to a real woman at all. Goldberry herself says she is, "daughter of the River," not "The River Woman's daughter." Actually, I believe Tom only calls her "River Woman's daughter" on one occation. The rest of the time, he calls her "the river-daughter." To me, this is a significant distinction.

Finally, I would repeat the statement I made in response to Per's rather confused ramblings -- I am NOT stating that Tom Bombadil IS the Flame Imperishable. I am suggesting that he is a personification of the Secret Fire -- there is a difference! The Flame itself resides in the heart of Arda, and within each of Eru's creatures. It is the spark of creation itself. It is the imperative -- To Be. Tom is the Flame "being," if you will. The Flame existing as a physical manifestation and experiencing its own imperative To Be. Merry, as a student of theology, you would probably relate this to the concept of "The Word Incarnate" or "The Word made Flesh."

When I speak of Tom "raising" Goldberry from the Withywindle, he is not "creating" her. She already exists. She is Water. What I am suggesting is that Tom, as the manifestation of the Secret Flame, says to Water, "Come, Be with me." And in glad response, Water takes physical form as Goldberry to be Tom's consort -- to Be with him.

I am quite adamant in my opinion that Tom and Goldberry are most certainly NOT Valar, Maiar, etc. They are utterly and completely different from them -- more basic, more real, more marvelous.

Does this make any sense?
Lindariel Image

“Therefore I say: Eä! Let these things Be! And I will send forth into the Void the Flame Imperishable, and it shall be at the heart of the World, and the World shall Be.”

Merry
Varda
Posts: 3263
Joined: Wed Aug 17, 2005 7:01 am
Location: Middle-west

Post by Merry » Mon Dec 27, 2010 6:06 pm

I am enjoying these speculations very much. They are indeed theological in nature. I agree that Tom and Goldberry cannot be divine or even angelic. Tolkien tells us, in his letter, quite clearly that Tom is related to earthly or, if you will, Middle-earthly reality, the spirit of natural science as it should be (that is, NOT the servant of technology and production).

You must pardon me: I'm travelling for Christmas and not to the point yet when I bring my Tolkien library with me when I travel! But Tom is called 'Eldest' by someone, right? I think this could mean that he is the first Middle-earthly sentient creation. If this is the case, your connection with him and the Word in Christian theology is apt, Lindariel: in the term of the Neo-platonics, he could be thought of as the first emanation on Middle-earth, at least. His fate seems bound with that of Middle-earth: in their discussion at the Council of Elrond, when they note that the Ring seems to have no power over Tom, don't they wonder if Tom could be more powerful than Sauron? But someone notes that Sauron seems to have power to torture even the mountains and hills, which is relevant only if these things are roughly equivalent to or intimately bound with Tom.

I think it should be noted that our Professor was probably a bit lost in terms of the direction of the story when he wrote these characters and probably threw Tom in because he he him already sort of written up and didn't know what else to do! But he kept him in all the rewrites, so he must not have thought of him as too discordant. Same with Goldberry. Their names, so important to Tolkien, were rather ordinary, plain English, and, as Tolkien notes in the case of Tom, rather ridiculous. By the way, 'Goldberry' doesn't seem very watery, does it? If she is a sort of dryad or water spirit, the name seems rather earthy for that.
Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
for your King shall come again,
and he shall dwell among you
all the days of your life.

Lindariel
Posts: 1062
Joined: Fri Sep 23, 2005 8:30 pm
Location: The Hall of Fire, Imladris (otherwise known as Northern Virginia)

Post by Lindariel » Mon Dec 27, 2010 6:50 pm

I know, Merry! The name Goldberry is just odd all the way around. I have looked and looked, and I can't find any reference to a plant or flower or fruit called the goldberry. Also, berries do not become golden as they ripen. So it just doesn't seem to fit anywhere.

The closest thing I could find was a very arcane and somewhat dodgy reference on a horticultural blog that referred to the yellow center of the temperate water lily as the "goldberry." Given Goldberry's fondness for water lilies, it makes sense, but the blog is a thoroughly modern, and possibly not exactly reliable, source, and I doubt the Professor was thinking of this when he named her.

Everything else about my theory fits beautifully, but I truly do not know what to make of her name! It flies in the face of everything the Professor says about her!
Lindariel Image

“Therefore I say: Eä! Let these things Be! And I will send forth into the Void the Flame Imperishable, and it shall be at the heart of the World, and the World shall Be.”

Post Reply