Part II – Tricks and Power

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Some readers, I’m sure, are probably quite taken aback with the Part I proposal of Tom having been assigned a secret allegorical role. Something so radical has never been suggested before, and so I can appreciate how time to digest and mull the evidence might be required. Nevertheless the path to arriving at such a conclusion is completely logical – for such a theory did not materialize out of thin air!

Tolkien cannot believably both claim there is “no … conscious” allegory in the story (per Letter #203) and in another (Letter #153) twice refer to Tom as allegory. One of these statements must not be entirely true. In other words – something has to give.

It was Letter #153 that provided an initial clue, but the rarely discussed 1964 correspondence to Przemyslaw Mroczkowski forms the cornerstone to this theory. From certain comments that have, until now, been virtually ungraspable – one is finally able to connect far-flung ideas. There is a common theme attributable to the “simultaneity of different planes of reality”“this is like a ‘play'”“chinks in the scenery”; of the world outside containing off-stage characters of a theatrical production; as well as Tom not belonging. All of these phrases and points collectively provide converging clues that allow one to reasonably guess at Tolkien’s intent.

Once Tom’s primary allegorical role was deduced, it didn’t take much to fathom the reason behind Tolkien deciding on such characterization. For the necessity of ‘the audience’ to a functional play, even for personalized and internalized thinking, becomes quite obvious. Given that matter – it involves only a small leap of faith to assemble the last pieces of the puzzle and guess the path taken for Tom’s assimilation and integration into the world of The Lord of the Rings.

‘Whoa – hang on a moment’, I can hear the more staid and traditional scholar complain. ‘Logic is far from infallible – especially when dealing with fantasy.’

True enough – it is totally excusable if adverse feelings arise towards Tom being theorized as a formulated puzzle. Negative sentiment is all the more understandable when the puzzle is proposed to be an allegorical one. Because unwittingly we have been oppositely conditioned. The many self-mentions of Tolkien’s aversion to allegory have been a linchpin in our comprehension of Tolkien’s thought process to creationist writing. Yet for Bombadil researchers – it has in effect – drowned out two direct and indisputable remarks linking allegory to Tom. It is categorically the main reason why these two remarks in Letter #153 get so little scholastic attention.

From an academic standpoint, we would be foolish to ignore the possibility of Tolkien having cagily ‘bared his soul’ in both Letter #153 and the 1964 one to Professor Mroczkowski. I, for one, am unable to ignore that potentiality. One reason why, is that Tom is the only character in The Lord of the Rings ever referred to as an ‘allegory’ within any of the Professor’s correspondences. For that matter such an observation extends beyond The Lord of the Rings to also include The Hobbit and Silmarillion tales. On top of this, Tom is the only fictional being whom Tolkien conveyed never properly fitted into his sub-created world. He was the one individual he actively thought about tinkering with to bring into line with all the others. 

Yet another reason why the contents of Letter #153 should be considered carefully, one perhaps more subtle in nature, is that Tom was described as an “exemplar” of “a particular embodying”. Tolkien well knew allegories within pre-existing literary works readily used bodily analogies. Indeed he himself employed one in the case of his poem: Fastitocalon. In this instance the turtle-fish, in a mild revamp from ancient cultural tales, was versified as an allegorical representation of Satan (or the myth’s equivalent) – the devious annihilator of misled souls:

“In moralized bestiaries he is, of course, an allegory of the Devil, …”.
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #255

It is curious that Tolkien felt this poem was apt enough for Middle-earth, and fitting to be published alongside poetry about Tom in the 1962: The Adventures of Tom Bombadil. Perhaps we should not be too quick to dismiss allegorical intentions:

“… though on the surface lighthearted, these things have a serious undercurrent, and are not meant to be merely comic …”.
– The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide, Chronology Hammond & Scull, 25 June 1962

Could Tom then have been conceived like Fastitocalon – as embodied allegory?

My best and most honest response to this question is that the Professor simply didn’t believe the rules had to be obeyed one-hundred percent of the time. In discussing Tom, Tolkien made it quite clear his merry fellow would be such an exception:

“… there is always some element that does not fit …”.
– Tolkien letter to Christopher Fettes – 1961: Hammond & Scull LotR Companion p.134

A manifold world in a mythical age had to allow for an indulgence or two. Imaginably, dispensation could be made – even when it came to ‘allegory’!

And so when it comes to us, we must all shake ourselves free from indoctrinated long-standing dogma and become more objective. Though the mere mention of that ‘dreadful’ word has been a major turn-off, nonetheless we must weigh the evidence more impartially. At the very least we ought to allow for a fair hearing. After all, if Tolkien showed flexibility – we must not rule too rigidly either.

For the moment final judgement is best deferred. The good news is that in weighing the aforesaid arguments, it should have become quite apparent that the touted hypothesis is far from outrageous. Still setting suspicions and logic aside, though much has been discussed that ‘fits’, what is now needed is to put more meat on to the bones of the theory. To do so – Part II will explore how Tom’s secret role allows us to rationalize how he performed those baffling ‘tricks’. Uniquely – as never proposed before – Tom’s ‘audience role’ and ‘different planes of reality’ will be able to explain even the least of strange minutia documented in the novel.

Gold Finger – No Mr. Bondadil, I expect you to disappear

The precious Ring of Power held no charm for our Tom. His unadorned house, devoid of anything but the most basic necessities, epitomized a simplistic lifestyle. There were no signs that Tom wore any jewelry himself or took any interest in fashion whatsoever. Equipped with a battered hat, long-bearded and with his hair bedecked in leaves, left readers with an impression of a shabby almost tramp-like character. For Tom – looks, style and especially worldly possessions, were wholly unimportant. The Ring was, in a way, a meaningless trinket with no fond personal memory behind it. Not even the market value of the gold held any lure. As Gandalf knew:

“ ‘… given the Ring, he would soon forget it, or most likely throw it away. … He would be a most unsafe guardian; …’ ”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, The Council of Elrond

Once the extent of this aspect of Tom’s nature is fully comprehended, Frodo’s complete lack of reluctance to hand over the Ring is easily explained. As the personification of the audience, Tom’s ‘vow of poverty’ was absolute and constrained him from taking material ownership ‘on the stage’. Such a role, by default, leads to a renouncement of control. In effect, a form of pacifism22 results. The Ring did not sense the slightest lust from Tom for possession, domination or power, because intrinsically as an “exemplar” of the ideal audience member:

“ ‘ … Such things have no hold on his mind. …’ ”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, The Council of Elrond

Thus it placed no urge in Frodo’s mind of impending loss to a new owner. Frodo might as well have been placing the Ring on the chimney-shelf.

However once in Tom’s hand, the Ring clearly sensed the presence of another sentient individual. It seemed momentarily to start adjusting for a potential new commanding finger. But Tom was wholly uncorrupt, and so the Ring did not grow to correctly fit; because absent were the crucial emotional desires for it to work on. To the Ring, Tom’s digits may as well have been wooden; and so when worn – it could not impose control and turn him invisible.

Though the above theory sounds quite plausible, another one is equally compelling. That is: Tom simultaneously existed in the wraith-world; thus the Ring could not send him there because he was already there!

The ‘Parlour Trick’– A sleight of hand or something else?

Then what about Tom’s next trick? How can we explain the Ring’s disappearance when tossed in the air, and then its sudden reappearance back in his hand as if by magic? Once again, different planes of reality and a theater analogy provide an explanation.

Imagine yourself at the very brink of a stage adjacent to an auditorium. The edge of the stage floor can be thought of as a boundary in two-dimensional geometric terms. A third dimension can be demarcated by curtains that shield the stage when fully closed. What we have then, with the curtains fully open, is a theoretical vertical plane that separates you on the stage – from the zone of the audience. This in theatrical language is termed the ‘Fourth Wall’.

While located on the stage at its edge – imagine yourself tossing a coin in a trajectory that ends up ever so slightly forward of the curtain line; one that breaks through the ‘Fourth Wall’. At some point during its travel, the coin leaves the three-dimensional zone of the stage to enter that of the audience. On its way back down, inching your hand forward – you would end up catching the coin while still on stage but the coin itself would now wholly be in the auditorium. So theoretically, if everything fully in the audience zone was invisible to observers on the stage – the coin would seem to suddenly disappear with its recapture unseen. To the unwary, a feat of magic would seem to have occurred as the coin is suddenly produced after being pulled back into the observable zone of the stage.

This analogy explains how Tom (who simultaneously exists and is able to see in different planes of reality) spun the One Ring into a secondary plane. After leaning forward and catching it in that same plane – which was one that the hobbits could not see or sense, it was drawn back into the physical plane of Middle-earth, then handed over to Frodo with a knowing smile.

The Ring disappeared with a flash which was quite intentional on Tolkien’s part too. For the phenomenon is best explained by a ‘chink in the scenery’. The momentary effect of light from a different world piercing through as the Ring penetrated the dividing boundary can be reasonably assigned as the cause. This minor subtlety did not escape Tolkien – he paid attention to every detail!


The Toss, The Flash, The Catch and Retrieval – Different Planes of Reality

Now the secondary plane the Ring disappeared into was the ‘Viewing Gallery’ and not the ‘wraith-world’, because we can see that Frodo did not vanish with a flash when entering the shadow-realm just moments later. This distinction is an important point which should not escape us. Nevertheless though that element matters, what matters more are the multiple hidden dimensions to Tolkien’s myth. Other worlds within the Universe which he knew of, but declined to explore or fully explain:

“… no construction of the human mind, whether in imagination or the highest philosophy, can contain within its own “englobement” all that there is …”.           – Letter to Przemyslaw Mroczkowski, January 1964 (private collection – Tolkien’s emphasis)

The Significance of Tom holding the Ring up to his Eye

Quite categorically Tolkien stated that:

“The power of the Ring … is not a delusion …”.
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #153

However, when discussing Tom and the Ring, he also alluded there was more to the vista than ‘met the eye’:

“Also T.B. exhibits another point in his attitude to the Ring, and its failure to affect him.”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #153

Possibly this “point” was not just again emphasizing Tom’s immunity and self-mastery, rather that Tom could ‘see through’ the Ring as he held it up to his blue eye. It had a weakness and wasn’t all powerful:

“The power of the Ring over all concerned, … is not the whole picture, even of the then state and content of that pan of the Universe.”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #153

There was more to the “picture” and more than one “pan” to the Universe. Tom was extra-special – the one being not “concerned”, for as Gandalf said:

“ ‘… the Ring has no power over him. …’ ”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, The Council of Elrond

Because as a clandestine member of the audience:

“… he is outside the problems of power that involve the other characters.”            – Report on Auction of Letter to Przemyslaw Mroczkowski, January 1964 (private collection) – Thread ‘Tom B. Peeling the Onion’, 7/6/09.

The subliminal message to Frodo was one of hope. It was not just the red eye of Sauron fixated on the Ring – a greater power of good was interested in it too. The power of a higher being whose chosen color was blue23 perhaps?

Did Tom have prior knowledge of the Ring?

There is nothing concrete in The Lord of the Rings telling us Tom already knew the Ring was in the hands of a hobbit before running into the wayward quartet. Of curiosity though, is Tom’s shrewd questioning of Frodo and his sudden unexpected demand:

“ ‘Show me the precious Ring!’ ”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, In the House of Tom Bombadil

Was this an astute guess on Tom’s part or had Frodo let the secret slip in relating his hopes and fears? Both seem unlikely, particularly the latter. Despite a tinge of textual ambiguity, the narrator would surely have in clear terms disclosed such an important point – particularly as Frodo was charged by Gandalf to keep the Ring a close secret. It seems more logical that Tom sensed the Ring’s presence before asking for it. But how?

Tolkien likely divulged the method employed later in the ordeal on Weathertop. During the attack by the Ring-wraiths Frodo placed the Ring on his finger and entered the wraith-world. At this point, the Ring-wraiths were fully revealed to him; the metal helms on their heads suddenly became visible where they had not been before, for most importantly:

“He was able to see beneath their black wrappings.”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, A Knife in the Dark

As depicted in the Venn diagrams of Part I, Tom simultaneously existed in the wraith-world. When it slipped onto Frodo’s finger, he quite obviously could see not just the hobbit but the Ring too:

“… with a most seeing look in his shining eyes.”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, In the House of Tom Bombadil

One might speculate that given the power to see in the wraith-world, then Tom would similarly have had the ability to blank out physical clothing. Using something that Tolkien envisaged as akin to X-ray vision – anything metallic would have stood out. He would have been able to spot the gold Ring, with or without it being worn by Frodo. And indeed that would seem to be the case – for at least one half of the hypothesis:

“ ‘…Old Tom Bombadil’s not as blind as that yet. Take off your golden ring!…’ ”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, In the House of Tom Bombadil

Yet how can we explain how Tom knew this particular ring was no ordinary adornment? How did he know it was something special? Tolkien might have tried to explain it away by, once more, using a theatrical play analogy.

In this case this author is the first to admit that the textual evidence is decidedly thin, and a degree of faith is necessary for acceptance of this particular proposition. Except perhaps for regular theater-goers who should be well aware that there is always information which is either viewed or handed out to members of an audience prior to the beginning of every performance.

When taking his ticket at the box office, Tom (in Tolkien’s mind) must also have seen the ‘billboard’ or picked up a ‘playbill’ – just like every typical patron ought to see or receive. Before the curtains opened, Tom would have been aware of the cast of major players. Perhaps, to his surprise, he may have even seen his own name far down a list. Armed with such information, inevitably he would have breathed a sigh of relief. Why should he be the only being in the Universe never to participate in ‘the play’? Praise be to Eru – yes the time would one day come when he would take part ‘on the stage’.


The Imaginary Brochure


“… to some extent knowing, …”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #144

what was to come, was down to the billboard and/or playbill. When viewing the poster and/or thumbing through the titles of the scenes, Tom would have gained a good idea of the major players, props and general direction of the plot. Sauron, Frodo and the One Ring would have stood out. As we know by the brooch selection at the Barrow, Tom’s powers of recollection were formidable. Our clever fellow soon realized, after talk of the Black Riders, that the servants of the Enemy were pursuing something very specific. What was a ring on a chain doing in Frodo’s pocket? If jewelry – it should have been on a finger. With a little foreknowledge of the drama, two and two were quickly put together. This ring was no ordinary trinket. It was something precious!

Covered by an Umbrella Policy

Similar to the disappearing Ring trick – Tom had earlier exhibited what seem like extraordinary powers by warding away rain and keeping everything dry but his boots. How did he do it?

“… when he sprang over the threshold he seemed quite dry, except for his boots.”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, In the House of Tom Bombadil

Although Tolkien used the word “seemed”, there are grounds for suspicion that Tom remained primarily dry. As a matter of fact he only took off wet boots and showed no signs of changing out of, what should have been, soggy clothes.

Again, Tolkien might have tried to explain the feat by involving Tom’s secretly accessible dimension. Once more, in an analogous fashion, imagine Tom placing himself hypothetically at the edge of a stage – in effect, at the threshold of the auditorium. Leaning over, his being is not completely in the audience zone; yet Tom can straddle both sectors. So with the rain only falling in the physical plane of the stage, and only Tom’s boots truly remaining in physical Middle-earth – they end up being the only objects that get wet!

What the hobbits saw was a projection of Tom’s being from another plane of reality. A so called local ‘chink in the scenery‘ of that plane had opened up allowing him to still be fully in view. However, if they had tried to touch anything but his boots – just like the rain, they would not have been able to. Perhaps the act of:

“… waving his arms as if he was warding off the rain …”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, In the House of Tom Bombadil

kept multidimensional balance while teetering on the brink. Just like us, if we were so positioned in a theater, arm movements would aid center of gravity control. For Tom, this motion is reconciled as preventing him from completely tipping over into another wholly different world!


Wet Boots – Leaning Over the Edge of the Rainy Stage

Explaining Tom’s rapid appearance at the Barrow

After taking leave of Goldberry and heading towards Bree, there is no firm textual evidence the hobbits were tailed. In point of fact, secretive pursuit seems out of step with Tom’s style. For his continual singing and general noisy demeanor just were not conducive to remaining successfully hidden. Especially from alert, sharp-eared and keen-eyed hobbits traveling across featureless undulating landscape. So how did Tom materialize so quickly much like the mythical leprechaun24 has been portrayed in the folklore of the British Isles? Did his genus allow him to do so, or was once again an impressive ability down to his secretly exploitable dimension?

An interesting idea well worth pondering is whether Tom as ‘the audience’ had access to different planes of reality via portals. After all, one might expect viewing rights should have been gifted to him because of his very specific role. He should have not only been able to observe events on the entire stage – but also when on its edge, access the auditorium at a whim. The telling clue that Tolkien thought along such lines is the mention of “open doors”:

“ ‘ … Tom can’t be always near to open doors and willow-cracks. …’ ”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Fog on the Barrow-downs (my underlined emphasis)

What had Tolkien in mind here? We can certainly reconcile the “willow-cracks” as being those that Merry and Pippin were trapped in; but the “open doors”? Surely Tolkien couldn’t have been talking about the singular entrance to the barrow? It was ‘door-like’ but technically blocked up before Tom’s arrival.

Tom’s last known location before this second rescue was back at his house. Even the front door would be an odd reference. If the taught rhyme was not a summoning spell, and if Tom’s hearing was acute enough to detect Frodo’s plea all the way from the barrow while home, surely it would not have mattered whether his front door was open or shut. Moreover Tolkien specifically pluralized “doors”. Were the “doors” meant to imply the presence of portals through which Tom could rapidly traverse ‘the stage’?

Hmm .… mythically and science-fiction-wise, ‘open doors’ has age-old connections to dimensional travel. Indeed Tolkien’s friend, C.S. Lewis, used them extensively in the Narnia series. Knowing that the friends agreed to collaborate on a space-time-travel story, it is quite possible that such concepts were openly evaluated.

More likely though, is that a portal concept was linked analogously with a physical theater and a play. As has been advocated on multiple occasions – Tolkien had Tom inextricably connected to his cunningly designated role. Given such a line of thought, it is not hard to see that Tolkien must have recognized that there is invariably more than one egress point from a stage to the audience zone in a typical theater. We can quite easily see how it is possible to step off the stage at one location – work a route through the auditorium to another end – and then step back on to a completely different sector of the stage via another entrance/exit.

In other words, a way exists for Tom to use his private plane of reality to reach different parts of the play without having to physically traverse ‘the stage’. However we must note that Tom would only be able to step on and off the piece of physical land that dimensionally bordered the auditorium. The rest of the stage would be out of bounds for this method of transport. So what this concept boils down to, is a doorway leading off the stage and another leading back on to it, linked by a corridor in the auditorium. In essence, this is a portal.


‘Open Doors’ – The Portal Concept:
A way to reach different parts of the Stage via the Auditorium

Now that we have an idea how Tolkien might have employed portals, how can we reconcile Tom’s great speed in rescuing the hobbits? The likely answer will not be fully forthcoming until Part III where we will see how and why the Professor employed a form of ‘time travel’.

Also yet to be fully explained is why Tom’s ‘humble cottage’ was so special. To gain partial understanding it is best conceived as effectively his seat, complete with viewing box, dragged over from its original location to now straddle both audience and stage zones. From here he could view any aspect of the play that he wished. Given as much, we can thus glean how Tom knew the exact whereabouts of the accosted hobbits on the Downs. And given that the audience should always be able to hear actors on stage, perhaps it is not surprising that Tom could hear Frodo sing – for of course Tom was ‘the audience’!

Although a ‘viewing seat’ was one designated attribute to Tom’s house, another was that it basically served as Tolkien’s version of the Narnian ‘Wood between the Worlds’. It was here, for the rescue, that Tom opened one ‘door’ of a theorized two-door portal. Why was this done and what evidence backs such a claim will be laid bare in Part III. We shall see how entwined in all this is Celtic mythology and how Tom’s almost instantaneous appearance and why “his feet are faster” can be reconciled with a measure of canonical substance. Because with reasonable certainty, the exact placement of the other ‘door’ will be revealed.

For the hobbits then, it was lucky that Tom wasn’t further afield. Even so, awaiting a plea for help from one of the major players was a necessity before he could leap into action. Though fortunately he wouldn’t have to leap very far. One of the “open doors” was close by!

A Master of his own World

Despite Goldberry’s assertion that:

“ ‘… Tom Bombadil is the Master. …’ ”,
– The Fellowship of the Ring, In the House of Tom Bombadil

his threat to sing up a storm and blow the leaves off Old Man Willow were empty words – a bluff which was confirmed later:

“ ‘I am no weather-master,’ ”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, In the House of Tom Bombadil

There is little doubt that Tolkien portrayed Tom as a special type of Master over a very specific geographical area:

“ ‘He is the Master of wood, water, and hill.’ ”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, In the House of Tom Bombadil

“Tom’s country ends here: he will not pass the borders.”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Fog on the Barrow-downs

Now in terms of England, before even embarking on The Lord of the Rings, Tom’s habitat was imagined to be the:

“… Oxford and Berkshire countryside, …”.
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #19

For the tale, those rural counties became synonymous with the territory which Gandalf at the Council said Bombadil had withdrawn into. It appears Tolkien never changed his mind on such a detail. Our best evidence of this comes from correspondence directed at the 1962 Bombadil goes Boating poem:

“ ‘… the flora & fauna are meant to be strictly Oxford & Berks’ ”.
– The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide, Chronology Hammond & Scull, 8 May 1962 

Indisputably over a small zone resembling part of England, Tom was a carefree fearless master whom every denizen would obey – yet only if ordered, which itself was a rarity. But though the inhabitants within these boundaries recognized his authority, the free and natural ones who understood true sovereignty: 

“… looked for the return of their rightful Lord, the true King.”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #240

Delegated as the watchful bystander, Tom’s exhibition of mastery was purposely self-limited. For intruding outsiders, meaningful interference by Tom was only possible if specifically summoned. An important cast member would have to ask the audience for a helping hand before he could do so. Otherwise, as we know, Tom acts perfectly to his role and desists from any self-driven actions that would spoil ‘the play’. As Tolkien said:

“He hardly even judges, and … makes no effort to reform or remove even the Willow.”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #153

Yet again, this follows the pattern the audience should take: one of semi-impartiality with judgment reserved as the twists of a typical play unfold; and one where it refrains from trying to unduly influence the plot.

Now some of Tom’s power stemmed from his unique ability to access multiple dimensions. The exact intricacies behind the mechanism are unknown. Was the power gifted to Tom himself or was it something about his country?25 In the drafts Tolkien had Gandalf state:

“ ‘… I think … the mastery of Tom Bombadil is seen only on his own ground …’ ”.
– The Return of the Shadow, In the House of Elrond

Though this text was rejected, the Professor, at the time, clearly gave a strong reason why Tom would not venture outside a specific area. So conjecturally, with Tom’s lands (in a dimensional sense) being situated on the edge of the stage adjacent to the ‘Viewing Gallery’, meant there were specific bounds:

“ ‘… though none can see them, …’ ”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, The Council of Elrond

None but Tom that is. Understandably then, within these limits Tom had:

“… no fear, …”.
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #153

Because he could enter and fully disappear into his own plane of reality whenever he wished. No wonder:

“ ‘… nothing seems to dismay him,’ ”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, The Council of Elrond

In a way, he truly was the master of his lands, could not be caught26 and thus was completely unafraid: 

“ ‘ … No one has ever caught old Tom walking in the forest, wading in the water, leaping on the hill-tops …’ ”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, In the House of Tom Bombadil

Fearing nothing, as an audience member truly should, was precisely how Tolkien wanted to portray him:

“He represents the complete fearlessness of that spirit when we can catch a little of it.”
– Letter to Nevill Coghill, see Addenda and Corrigenda to The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Other Verses from the Red Book (2014) Edited by Scull and Hammond

And indeed we can “catch a little of it” – when seated in a theater enrapt in a play. Because for us, as the audience, our focus is elsewhere. The worry of personal danger is furthest from our minds inside of an auditorium, or even if invited to appear on stage. There is no real reason why Tom should have thought any different.

Playful Power

A peculiar master Tom certainly was. The Ring could not control him but neither could he control it – not its influence over the other actors that is:

“ ‘… He is his own master. But he cannot … break its power over others. …’ ”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, The Council of Elrond

Ultimately though, Tom’s power was of a different type than Sauron’s. Given his role, he was never designed to battle a major actor ‘on stage’. His songs were “stronger songs” but not the strongest. And so that is why:

“ ‘… Power to defy our Enemy is not in him, …’ ”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, The Council of Elrond

In the event Sauron was victorious and desired dominion over Tom’s land, a strategic retreat wholly into the ‘Viewing Gallery’ would be necessary. That or he would have to stay and defend Goldberry. Either which way, the result would be disastrous, for:

“Nothing would be left for him in the world of Sauron.”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #144

Was Tom aware of the dire personal consequences if the Ring fell back into Sauron’s hands? In an an early scribbled note, Tolkien once wrote that:

“Tom could have got rid of the Ring all along …”.
– The War of the Ring, The Taming of Sméagol

Oh yes, Tom could have taken it into his own secret dimension. But that would have been major plot interference. Given all we now know – not a possibility. Anyhow, Tolkien in finality appears to have not been so sure on Tom’s ability to defend his sanctuary. Reading between the lines, the Dark Lord too might find a way to step off stage into the auditorium:

“ ‘… soon or late the Lord of the Rings would learn of its hiding place and would bend all his power towards it. …’ ”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, The Council of Elrond

In such a clash, we know who would lose:

“ ‘… if all else is conquered, Bombadil will fall, …’ ”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, The Council of Elrond

Nevertheless whatever the postulated consequences, Tom once again would resist temptation to spoil the natural progression of the play. He would show self-mastery, remain an inconsequential actor and stay incognito.

The Power of Speech and Song

In the 1934 poem: The Adventures of Tom Bombadil – Tom was depicted as projecting power through voiced words. Tolkien deliberately enlarged “the portrait” for The Lord of the Rings to equip him with even more power through words turned into song. The “curious rhythm”27 of the early poetry was transposed into verses that were now most often sung.

We can see, from his revival of the hobbits from their dream-state under the wight’s spell, Tom’s mastery also included the use of unsung verse – invoking a sense of knowledge and power beyond mortal ken:

“ Night under Night is flown, and the Gate is open! ”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Fog on the Barrow-downs

Several religions and cultures link verse and song with power, so Tolkien’s usage is far from unique. One such example may be found in the Finnish Kalevala28 which we know Tolkien admired and studiously devoured. For that Nordic nation, song and music are culturally and mythically associated with ‘true language’, and knowing the ‘true name’ of an individual or thing allows one mastery over that person or object. Tom appears to possess a similar power. Indeed we can see that the hobbits’ ponies:

“… answered to the new names that Tom had given them for the rest of their lives.”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Fog on the Barrow-downs

Such naming goes beyond the actions of Adam from Genesis, whom Tom has been likened too. In the Bible, Adam names the creatures according to their genus or kind. Tom, however, exhibits a deeper and very much individualized connection. His knowledge poignantly extends to understanding their personal essence on a primal spiritual plane.

Tolkien’s myth effectively began with the ‘song of creation’. Was Tom present, or did he come from a separate cosmogony? We will explore this matter further in Parts III and IV. But if Tolkien in finality decided upon full integration, then participation in the creation song would have allowed him to understand the ‘true language’ and more-over witness the origin of many participants in ‘the play’. And being a witness at birth is the key to possessing power – at least in one cultural myth. That could partially explain why Tom had mastery over the inhabitants of his land:

“ ‘ … I know the tune for him. Old grey Willow-man! …’ ”,
– The Fellowship of the Ring, The Old Forest 

but not over the Ring-wraiths – whose souls were tied to the Ring:

“ ‘ … Tom is not master of Riders from the Black Land …’ ”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Fog on the Barrow-downs

And of course we must not ignore the flip-side of the argument: nobody knew Tom’s origin, which is why no one had power over him!

Orchestral Maestro

Despite the exhibition of power through song being a theme well known to Tolkien, there exists a possibility that Toms’ songs in The Lord of the Rings served another secret function. It is curious that Tolkien mentioned in plurality “certain functions” and “certain things” when discussing Tom’s role in Letter #153. Curiosity is further aroused given the extent that Tom sings in the novel. Is it possible that Tom had another allegorical ‘off-stage’ requisite?

Upon reflection, we must acknowledge how Tolkien switched Tom to abundantly sing rather than mainly speak in transitioning from the early poetry. Upon further reflection, notably absent from this ‘play’ was a representation of the ‘orchestra’. Could there be a connection? Was Tom’s singing and whistling meant to secretly fulfill a second secret purpose?

Not to be forgotten is Goldberry. She too sang much of the time. Nor should we forget that an orchestra needs a minimum of two to generate music. Then were the harmonic couple jointly meant to have built-in allegorical roles?

Singing is the most primordial music, and Tom (and Goldberry) sang throughout The Fellowship of the Ring absurdly often. Though hardly any pointers are attributable to this theory – a singular remark, perhaps, gives the game away:

“ ‘I’ve got things to do,’ … ‘my making and my singing, my talking and my walking, and my watching of the country. …’ ”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Fog on the Barrow-downs (my underlined emphasis)

These were Tom’s functions in his own words. We can certainly reconcile the “watching” as his audience role and the “making”29 in terms of making ‘the play’ complete. The “walking” and “talking” are part of seeing and understanding ‘the play’ – but the “singing”? Hmm …. that’s a tough one. Quite possibly then, Tolkien had Tom fulfill a dual allegorical role!

There is little doubt that an orchestra can provide power and depth to a play. The tunes it produces can be of a background nature but it can also extend the highs and lows of emotive acting on the stage. The resulting melodies are meant to soothe, delight and sometimes alarm; and though usually generated by instruments off-stage, there is no reason why song is an unsuitable substitute. The point is that the orchestra’s role is to generate music – whatever form that may take. Rarely is it missing, and so for this ‘greatest’ of dramas – given all that has been discovered – would its allegorical presence have been left out? Who knows? Only Tolkien can tell us, for sure, whether the “curious rhythm” associated with Tom held another remarkable secret!

Summary: Part II
  • The multiple tricks performed by Tom in The Lord of the Rings, can all be analogously attributed to ‘the play’, aspects of a theater and his secret role as the sole representative of the audience.
  • Tom exists and can see in different planes of reality simultaneously. Conceptually, he can straddle the physical stage zone, audience zone and wraith zone.
  • As the designated audience, Tom has the ability to view happenings in the wraith-world, thus the Ring when worn (or not) is visible to him – even under clothing.
  • The Ring as a stage-prop has no effect on Tom – a true audience member who by definition has renounced control and owning anything belonging to another in the theater. When handed over, the Ring had no lustful emotions or weaknesses to play on. Thus it could not grow to fit and it could not confer invisibility. Tom simply didn’t qualify as a potential new owner.
  • Different planes of reality explain the vanishing trick played with the Ring. Tom flicked it ‘off-stage’ into a unique plane (not visible to the hobbits), caught it (without their knowledge) and drew it back ‘on stage’ into the physical plane of Arda. The Ring was then handed back to Frodo.
  • The technique of using different planes of reality explains how Tom’s clothing did not get wet in the rain – only his boots. Conceptually, this is explained by Tom placing himself at the edge of the stage and then leaning over into the auditorium – thus leaving only his boots entirely in one physical plane: that of rainy Middle-earth.
  • The ‘wet boots’ phenomenon is one of the strongest pieces of evidence that backs the entire hypothesis advocated by this writer. There are no other reasonable ways to explain why this occurred except to build upon and extrapolate Tolkien’s own words: “This is like a ‘play’, .
  • Some of Tom’s knowledge and foresight concerning the Ring stems from a viewing of a theoretically available ‘billboard’ and/or ‘playbill’. To Tolkien, it would have been unimaginable that ‘a play’ could be enacted in a theater without such advertisement. So in Tolkien’s mind, Tom would have guessed the rough plot from the titles of the scenes and would have recognized the main characters of ‘the play’ from a Cast List. These typical play necessities are proposed as the prompt to ascend onto ‘the stage’, in realizing that he himself, was also designated a small part.
  • Tom’s physical lands are located dimensionally adjacent to the edge of the auditorium. Within these bounds he is totally safe. The reason why Tom “is Master in a peculiar way” is because he could not be caught for he retains the ability to ‘step off the stage’ and disappear into his private plane of existence whenever he wishes. Naturally then, we can understand why he has no fear.
  • Tom’s house is conjectured to be equivalent to his seat, dragged from its original location in the audience zone to now dually straddle it and the stage. From this seat he is able to view different locations of the stage if he chooses.
  • Portals allow Tom virtually instantaneously travel. Conceptually this achieved by stepping off the stage into the audience and then back onto the stage at a different physical location. However only land dimensionally bordering the auditorium is accessible in this manner. We shall see in Part III exactly how and why Tolkien empowered Tom to travel so quickly.
  • Tom is not interested in the power struggle on stage – apart from unenthused historical knowledge gain. Tom was never designed to contend with Sauron. The evidence points to his songs of power being weaker than Sauron’s.
  • Tom’s large degree of singing/whistling, along with Goldberry’s contribution, is likely to have allegorically represented ‘the orchestra’ of ‘the play’.


Back to Part 1


22 Aligning such a disposition with Tolkien’s comment in Letter #144 when discussing Tom: “It is a natural pacifist view . We should also note that the ideal spectator in an audience is a ‘natural pacifist’.

23 The ‘blue’ eye of Tom faintly resonates with the ‘blue’ of Manwë – Chief of the Valar, and sender of the Istari to contest Sauron in Middle-earth.

24 The mythical leprechaun – portrayed typically as a stocky male and a smaller being than a human, has reasonably strong resonances with Tom. Jacketed, bedecked in stockings and a hat, bearded and of mature age – lookswise there are some strong resemblances. Noted as playing tricks, appearing out of nowhere, and often depicted as the object to be ‘caught’ in Celtic/Gaelic folklore – the leprechaun has other alluring similarities to Tom. Given the many resemblances, one cannot help but suspect that a blending of ‘local’ ancient myth into modern day folklore may have been one of Tolkien’s desires. An intertwining of legends about Tom and Bilbo (as the diminutive fellow who disappeared with a flash and returned with bags of gold) might have in Tolkien’s mind – served as the sources from which the folklore of leprechauns sprang. We must also recognize that though leprechauns play no part in mainland British folklore or culture, for Tolkien’s myth – Ireland was part of the agglomerate land-mass of Middle-earth.

25 A Lord of the Rings draft indicated Tom’s land as lying between the High Hay and Bree (The Treason of Isengard, Gandalf’s Delay) – appearing consistent with the published version.

26 Per The Fellowship of the Ring, Tom could not be caught – but technically he was, in the published 1934 poem: The Adventures of Tom Bombadil.

27 Tolkien letter to Christopher Fettes, 1961: Hammond & Scull LotR Companion p.134.

28 Väinämöinen from the Kalevala displays power through song.

29 In terms of ‘making’ – Tom also almost certainly made paths. These are also deemed necessary to locally view ‘the play’. Alternatively ‘making’ may have been linked to the creation of verse needed for ‘the orchestra’ of ‘the play’. This would be archaic usage of the word.


1/13/16 – Preface added.

1/30/16 – Added sentence to end of Footnote 21.

3/24/16 – Added: “In this case this author … well aware that”. Added: “has been portrayed in the folklore of the British Isles?”.

3/25/16 – Added to Footnote 28: “This would be archaic usage of the word.”.

3/30/31 – Added to Summary: “To Tolkien, it would have been unimaginable that ‘a play’ could be enacted in a theater without a ‘playbill’. So in Tolkien’s mind,”.

3/31/16 – Added quote:  “… ‘No one has ever caught old Tom walking in the forest, wading in the water, leaping on the hill-tops …’ ”. – The Fellowship of the Ring, In the House of Tom Bombadil.

Added: “Despite Goldberry’s assertion that: “ ‘… Tom Bombadil is the Master. …’ ”,
– The Fellowship of the Ring, In the House of Tom Bombadil.

Added: “But though the inhabitants within Tom’s boundaries recognized his authority, the free and natural ones who understood true sovereignty: “… looked for the return of their rightful Lord, the true King.” – The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, #Letter 240″.

Added: “Delegated as the watchful bystander Tom’s exhibition of mastery was purposely self-limited.”.

5/17/16 – Added paragraphs from:  ‘Whoa – hang on a moment’ …” ending  “… Still setting suspicions and logic aside,”.

6/8/16 – Added details of the billboard to section titled: ‘Did Tom have prior knowledge of the Ring?’ and the Summary.

Was: “The Brochure”, Is: “The Imaginary Brochure”.

Added: “taught rhyme”.

Is: “Tom’s ability to defend his sanctuary.”, Was: “Tom’s abilities.”.

Was: “cosmology”, Is: “cosmogony”.

Was: “mainly”, Is: “abundantly”.

6/11/16 – Added “for Middle-earth, and fitting” & “(or the myth’s equivalent)”.

6/15/16 – Added paragraph from: “Our Professor …” to: “‘allegory’!”.

Added: “why the contents of Letter #153 should be considered carefully”.

Added new paragraph to Preface, beginning: “Admittedly …”.

6/23/16 – Was: “no“; Is quote: “no … conscious”.

7/18/16 – Added : “Perhaps we should not be too quick to dismiss allegorical intentions:” and quote: “… though on the surface …”.

7/28/16 – Renumbered Notes.

8/1/16 – Added From: “No in terms of England …”,  To: “… carefree fearless master”.

8/6/16 – Added paragraph starting: “Such naming …”.

8/19/16 – Added: “lustful”.

Footnote 24: Was “myth”, is “folklore”.


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