Lindariel's Tom Bombadil Theory

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Lindariel
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Post by Lindariel » Mon Dec 27, 2010 6:57 pm

Ah! I spoke too soon. There is a plant called the goldenberry, but it is a native of the Andes Mountains in South America, not a likely candidate for The Professor's very English countryside depicted in the Shire and its environs, including the Old Forest. Still doesn't fit!
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“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
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Post by 54markl » Mon Dec 27, 2010 11:53 pm

Hi Lindariel! Apparently Tolkien's conceptions of who Tom and Goldberry actually were were rather sketchy, so I guess it's a matter of how different people fill in the blanks. I wish he had had the lifespan of Elros at least so he could have explained some of these ideas more fully (not that he necessarily would have). In the Wikipedia article on the Flame Imperishable, Tolkien is quoted as saying that the Sacred Fire is the Middle Earth equivalent to the Holy Spirit. This would make Tom an aspect of (though not identical to) Iluvatar. Do you think Tom is actually a Holy Spirit-like manifestation of Iluvatar? In that same article, the Flame Imperishable is also explained as Reality itself, as it is This which makes the Vision of Ea into an actuality. I see no problem with Tom being the Flame Imperishable itself. If the Flame Imperishable was an intelligent aspect of Eru residing in the heart of the earth, I think it could have projected a visible manifestation of itself to the surface when it wished to interact with the earth's denizens. This is no different really than what you say, just phrased differently. I strongly suspect Tolkien of subconscious Trinitarian impulses in his writings, since he was a devout Catholic. That is why I don't think that the Word ("Ea") and the Flame Imperishable were the same thing. If Tolkien had the Father (Iluvatar) and the Holy Spirit (the Sacred Fire), why wouldn't he have a messianic figure as well who would be the Word? In the Bible, the Word was the Son, not the Holy Spirit. I have speculated that the Word is Olorin, though this has raised some eyebrows. I know this is a stretch, since Tolkien never mentioned specifically that the people of Arda worshipped a triune God. But I think, for symmetry's sake, that he was probaby thinking of including another aspect of Iluvatar besides the Sacred Fire. I think he left a lot of this unmentioned because he was afraid of offending the atheists in his readership (who to this day are uncomfortable with the concept that the Ainur are "angels"). But when you say that Tom was a "manifestation" of the Sacred Fire, I think it is no different from me saying that Tom is a "projection" of it. I think you are borne out by the little that Tolkien says about Goldberry, but it's a bit confusing that he gives her a "mother," though it indeed may just be a metaphor. But where did the soul or spirit of Goldberry come from? Was Tolkien saying there is a living spirit inherent in all Water, or was a distinct spirit sent by Iluvatar to give Goldberry life? Please let me know what you think of the actual nature of Goldberry, and your thoughts on Tom being Reality and a Holy Spirit-like being. I hope you had a wonderful holiday; please let me know what you think of these ideas. Happy New Year!
Last edited by 54markl on Wed Dec 29, 2010 1:36 am, edited 2 times in total.

54markl
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Post by 54markl » Tue Dec 28, 2010 3:51 am

Lindariel is right when she says that Goldberry couldn't possibly be Yavanna. Goldberry bears a stronger resemblance to a Valie named Vana, who Tolkien tells us "made the flowers bloom and the birds sing." I think that was the Professor's way of saying that she was the Spirit in charge of Love, a sort of angelic Aphrodite (Vana even sounds like Venus, and Orome sounds like Hermes). Goldberry resembles her a bit; but she was married to Orome, who couldn't possibly be Tom. Many fans swear that Tom is Tulkas; but he was married to Nessa, and Goldberry certainly wasn't a kind of goddess of the hunt. And Tulkas was the last of the spirits to come to Middle Earth, not the first. Tom was certainly no Vala or Maia; and Lindariel has persuaded me that Goldberry was also not a Maia, though I'm still not sure what her true nature is. The premise that Tom is a Holy Spirit-like entity is unusual; but if Tom truly is to be equated in some way with the Flame Imperishable, one cannot fail to come to the conclusion that he is something of the sort. Tolkien expressly described the Sacred Fire as something like the Holy Spirit in Christianity.
Last edited by 54markl on Tue Dec 28, 2010 11:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Iolanthe
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Post by Iolanthe » Tue Dec 28, 2010 9:14 pm

When talking about the River-woman, I was refering more to the numerous references to Goldberry and her mother in the poem 'The Adventures of Tom Bombadil' (where Goldberry, Tom and the Barrow-wight all originated). There she is clearly a water spirit (though her mother could be either a spirit or the River herself, the references are ambiguous) and I think that when she was transplanted into LotR she 'grew' into something much more mysterious. The fact that she was created in a children's poem and then gets resurrected in something as big as LotR creates all sorts of problems - the references to the River-woman and the unusual name stay, but all sorts of other things (like controlling the rain) get added on. If she had been invented for LotR I imagine the Professor would have been much clearer and she would have fitted better into his sub-creation, but Tolkien could never have junked what he had already written about her, even if it didn't fit. He would have simply let it be and allowed it to add to the mystery as something yet to be explained.
Now let the song begin! Let us sing together
Of sun, stars, moon and mist, rain and cloudy weather...

54markl
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Post by 54markl » Tue Dec 28, 2010 11:20 pm

Iolanthe, I read the Tom Bombadil poems a long time ago (the Seventies), but I can no longer remember their exact content. Did the River Woman appear as a distinct character in them (i.e., did Tom interact with her in any way)? Oh well, more re-reading on the horizon. You're right, Tolkien was an inveterate tinkerer, and in this case he grafted two originally distinct mythologies together. But Goldberry could very well have been an "elemental," although her vague status and changing powers suggest that the Professor really didn't know himself.

54markl
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Post by 54markl » Tue Dec 28, 2010 11:34 pm

When I say that Tom may have been a Holy Spirit-like figure, of course I am not suggesting that he was an exact analog to the Christian deity. I don't believe he was Pentecostal, or anything like that. I am merely trying to establish that he was an aspect or avatar of Iluvatar, much in the same way that the Holy Spirit is an aspect of the Father in Christianity. This would necessarily have to be so, since Tom emphatically says that he has no father. Either he would have to be Iluvatar Himself or an aspect of Iluvatar for this to be so. Since all evidence points to the fact that he is not actually Iluvatar Himself, he would have to be an aspect. Since divine aspects generally come in threes, I postulate a Third Person that never got mentioned, though no empyrical evidence exists to support this. Maybe Tolkien was making an amalgamation of the Son and Holy Spirit in Tom, someone who could be both the Word and the Sacred Fire. He caught a lot of heck for Tom in any case. An Anglican cleric once wrote to Tolkien, excoriating him for making Tom "God." Tolkien replied: "I think you're taking all of this a bit too seriously." The cleric also didn't like that the Elves were reincarnated, saying it wasn't in the Bible. Tolkien had to remind him that Middle Earth was not a Christian world. Even the little bit that Tolkien did say got him into hot water. Perhaps this was why he was reluctant to expand on Tom, let alone Goldberry. Next they would have been accusing him of giving God a wife! Shades of Satanic Verses.

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Post by Iolanthe » Wed Dec 29, 2010 5:53 pm

54markl wrote:Iolanthe, I read the Tom Bombadil poems a long time ago (the Seventies), but I can no longer remember their exact content. Did the River Woman appear as a distinct character in them (i.e., did Tom interact with her in any way)?
No, he didn't - what we do get is:
up came Goldberry, the River-woman's daughter;
Here he calls Goldberry not the River-woman's daughter, but the River-daughter:
Go back to sleep again like the River-daughter!
But one day Tom, he went and caught the River-daughter,
in green gown, flowing hair, sitting in the rushes,
This makes me think that her mother was either the River personified, or the Spirit of the River. The verses below seems to confirm the latter, making her mother a distinct being from the River itself:
Back to her mother's house in the deepest hollow
swam young Goldberry. But Tom he would not follow;
You shall come under Hill! Never mind your mother
in her deep weedy pool: there you'll find no lover!
To be 'in her deep, weedy pool', her mother has to be more than just the river, so I'm going with the idea that she was the Spirit that looked after the river.

I have to admit that I love this poem!
Now let the song begin! Let us sing together
Of sun, stars, moon and mist, rain and cloudy weather...

54markl
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Post by 54markl » Wed Dec 29, 2010 11:07 pm

Aha! The mother lives in a "deep, weedy pool." Unless Tom is using poetic license here, this would indeed seem to suggest that Goldberry's mother is an entity (spirit) distinct from the river itself. Deeper and deeper we go into the tangled thicket! I know that Lindariel doesn't like the concept that Goldberry is a Maia, but it seems my conception of her and her mother as Maiar of Ulmo isn't as out there as I thought. This would eliminate the need for "elementals," which are unattested throughout the rest of Tolkien's work (though the Caradhras reference MAY be a mention of them, though more likely a dramatic flourish). Well, Mr. Tolkien certainly convoluted this part of his story beyond the easy ability of his fans to comprehend. My guess is he wanted to establish Tom as a being so powerful and primordial that Sauron would never come to the Shire in person to retrieve his Ring (which logic would seem to dictate that he would do). Instead he sent his Nazgul there to retrieve it stealthily. Tom probably would have issued forth from the Old Forest to do battle in person if Sauron had had the temerity to show his face in the Shire.

Lindariel
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Post by Lindariel » Thu Dec 30, 2010 12:57 am

Hi Mark! My resistance to the idea of Goldberry and the River-Woman -- and Tom as well -- being Maiar or Valar comes from the manner in which they are described and the way in which the hobbits interact with them. The Valar and Maiar are all presented in The Silmarillion as awe-inspiring beings when they reveal themselves to the Elves. By contrast, Frodo and the hobbits are drawn to Tom and Goldberry in an entirely different manner. There is a sense of wonder, but also familiarity and ease -- not awe.

The Professor stated in a number of his letters that Middle-earth is populated with many spirits and forces and creatures aside from the Valar and the Maiar and other beings described in his works. I'm quite convinced he left this intentionally vague as part of his desire to create a truly unique English mythology that builds upon and includes all of the great myths and fairytales associated with the cultures of Europe -- from the Nordic and Greek Gods to Cinderella and Rapunzel. The existence of elementals -- primal spirits associated with the four elements Water, Air, Fire, and Earth -- is standard to virtually every major mythology. I cannot believe The Professor would have purposely excluded them from his concept of Middle-earth. In my opinion, the River-Woman dwelling in "a deep, weedy pool" is entirely in keeping with the concept of an elemental or a river-spirit, but not a Maia or a Vala. She is too basic, too rustic to be a Goddess/Angel incarnation.

I also agree completely that The Professor's inclusion of Tom and Goldberry in LOTR was more instinctive and not intellectualized. He "felt" the need of the quality that Tom and Goldberry would bring to the story, and also "felt" no need to explain them. They are. His statements in the Letters about them are more than a bit perfunctory and dismissive; they smack of "don't try to pin me down on this subject; I won't be drawn into an explanation of something I fully intend to remain an enigma."

The Professor is also very careful to depict and describe Tom as a largely uninvolved entity -- good, but neutral. Hence, Mark, I do not believe Tom would ever be drawn into a confrontation with Sauron or come out to "do battle" with him. Gandalf says as much, " . . . if he were given the Ring, he would soon forget it, or most likely throw it away. Such things have no hold on his mind. He would be a most unsafe guardian." Galdor agrees, "Power to defy our Enemy is not in him."

If you follow through with your concept of Tom as a manifestation of the "Holy Spirit," then the idea of the Holy Spirit doing battle with Sauron also doesn't scan. Even though there are many Christian/Catholic themes/symbols to be found within LOTR, I try very hard to stay away from Christianizing the story. The Professor did say that this was a pre-Christian tale and that there was "no religion" in Middle-earth.

As Glorfindel says during the Council of Elrond, "I think that in the end, if all else is conquered, Bombadil will fall, Last as he was First; and then Night will come." Following through on this statement, to my mind, if Sauron had regained his Ring and laid waste to Arda, when he came at last to Bombadil's place of manifestation -- The Old Forest -- Bombadil's manifestation would simply vanish, the planet would return to its inert state, and the Flame Imperishable, the Spark of Creation, would return to Iluvatar.

Again, all of this is simply my opinion, my humble attempt to make sense of that which The Professor did not feel needed to be explained or did not want to explain. I do think that Tom and Goldberry probably meant quite different things in his original poems, and then took on a new, more profound, more intangible meaning in LOTR -- perhaps something The Professor did not create by intention, but that developed subconsciously nonetheless.
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“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
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Post by 54markl » Thu Dec 30, 2010 1:59 am

Well, what you say makes sense. Tolkien's brusque dismissal of inquisitors on that subject seems to indicate that he felt explanation would ruin the whole thing. But when you say Tom is a "manifestation" of the Sacred Fire, but not the Sacred Fire itself, what does that mean exactly? I agree with you that Tom is largely a passive spirit who would not fight (but then, the Barrow-Wight and Old Man Willow?); maybe Sauron would not have been able to bear mere physical proximity to Tom. Or maybe he was afraid of Gandalf, who certainly would have fought. Yes, elementals indeed do seem to be a conscious decision of the author, but that still doesn't tell me who Goldberry's mother was or why she is imputed an actual dwelling-place. Is all of that mere poetic embellishment, in your opinion? I never, ever said Tom may be an Ainu, only Goldberry. Just because Goldberry made the Hobbits feel "comfortable" in a down-to-earth way doesn't necessarily clinch that she wasn't a Maia. Gandalf was a Maia and came across as very homey and down-to-earth. Oh, I just reread your post, and you say the mother may be an individual elemental; that leads us right back to where we started. Although the Professor eschewed interpreting his own work in a Christian theological light, he was so indiscreet as to say that the Sacred Fire was "something like the Holy Spirit in Christianity." I base my whole interpretation on this, in the Wikipedia. I would certainly never talk about this otherwise, as it raises hackles amongst both Christians and atheists. Please read the Sacred Fire article in Wikipedia and let me know what you think of it, and how it fits (or not) into your theory. This is a great discussion, isn't it? Bye for now.

54markl
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Post by 54markl » Thu Dec 30, 2010 4:11 am

I just had a thought. Elementals and Ainur would seem to have differing functions, but at the end of the day, aren't they really all Spirits? If Ainur can be considered a word for "spirits," what would prevent even the elementals from being a sort of Ainu (with a different function than Valar or Maiar). I guess my question is how can you make a distinction between Ainur and elementals if they're all Spirits? They are all sentient disembodied forces that can assume a fana or physical shape when needed. Even though elementals are associated with nature, and Valar and Maiar are more like people, aren't they all ultimately Spirits who lived in the Timeless Halls? Therefore, why should not even elementals be called a particular kind of Ainur (maybe a third kind, apart from Valar and Maiar)? Do you think that elementals are not Spirits? Goldberry, as an elemental, does not act differently enough to be a breed apart from the Ainur. She talks, thinks, and has a shape like the Children of Eru. Many Valar are associated with Elements, including Manwe, Aule, and Ulmo; why are they not elementals? How do you draw a distinction between an elemental and an Ainur if they're all spirits?

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Post by Lindariel » Thu Dec 30, 2010 4:54 am

Ah, but Tom does not "fight" Old Man Willow or the Barrow-wight. He influences Old Man Willow's state of being by sending him back to sleep. Tolkien points out in his Letters that Tom "makes no effort to reform or remove the Willow." The Barrow-wight he simply exposes to sunlight by opening the tomb. That's hardly a battle.

For me, the distinction between Tom and Goldberry and the Valar and Maiar is drawn by the way The Professor himself presents them, rather than any distinction I am making. When the Valar and Maiar reveal themselves to Elves and Men, the reaction is always one of awe. The Istar/Wizards are a case apart, because they have been "changed" somewhat from their true Maiar nature, stripped of some of their powers and knowledge so that they can pass unrecognized except by the very Wise.

Again, the hobbits do not react to Tom and Goldberry as they would to a Vala or a Maia. They "know" them, they are familiar and comfortable, not awe-inspiring. From my point of view, they "know" Tom because on some level they recognize the manifestation of the Secret Fire within themselves. They "know" Goldberry because they have been around water all their lives.

Also, The Professor himself intimates that they -- or at the very least, Tom -- are something entirely apart from the Valar and the Maiar. "I don't think Tom needs philosophizing about, and is not improved by it . . . . he represents certain things otherwise left out . . . . 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 . . . ."

The Valar and Maiar are entirely concerned with "doing," plus, they were already incorporated into The Professor's tale. Since Tom represents "certain things otherwise left out," he therefore cannot be a Vala or a Maia, and I believe, by extension, then neither can Goldberry and the River-Woman.

BTW, here we are, "philosophizing" about Tom. Wonder what The Professor would have to say about that?
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“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.”

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Post by Merry » Thu Dec 30, 2010 5:52 pm

In my mind, the difference between elementals and Vala/Maia is their relationship with matter. Elementals seem to be intimately and irrevocably tied to matter, where the existence of the Vala/Maia is primarily not material--I think Tolkien says in The Sil that they take on material form like we put on clothing. Ton and Goldberry seem very much like the former, and I think the Professor is trying to tell us this with his remark about natural science.

I wonder if that is why Tom is unaffected by the Ring: his ambition is to be no more than he is, which is to say, I guess, that he has no ambition!
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
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Post by 54markl » Thu Dec 30, 2010 9:55 pm

Hi Lindariel! Yes, the Professor would probably not approve of us philosophizing about Tom. But he broke his own rules quite frequently, so how could he, looking down at us from the Timeless Halls, expect us to adhere to these rules? He detested allegory, yet he described Tom in terms of allegory. He compared the Sacred Fire to the Holy Spirit, which he shouldn't have done if he didn't want people to draw inferences. Oh, did you read that article in Wikipedia? Do you think Tolkien thought of Tom as an aspect of Iluvatar, which would make him very important indeed. Yes, Tom merely unroofed the Barrow-Wight; not to quibble, but he also stomped on the Barrow-Wight's detached hand, which is a little less than passive. But I am basically in sympathy with most of what you're saying. Despite anything anyone else says, Tolkien clearly thought Tom and Goldberry were special entities of some sort and didn't feel they would benefit by dissection. I get that. Are Manwe, Aule and Ulmo elementals? After all, they rule the elements. Please tell me how you interpret Tolkien's statement that the Sacred Fire is analogous to the Holy Spirit. Happy New Year!

54markl
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Post by 54markl » Thu Dec 30, 2010 10:17 pm

But Merry, Manwe, Aule and Ulmo are all intimately tied to Matter, in a more profound way than even the elementals, who were probably under their charge. If Valar can be elementals, or in charge of the elements, how are the so-called elemental spirits different?

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