Part IV – The Encoding in The Lord of the Rings

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Automatic Tommy:

Before I move on to boldly explore a completely new way of looking at Tom, further pushes spotlighting the strength of the allegory theorem will be made. Readers of this article will firstly be asked to consider and weigh the merits of ‘Automatic Tommy’.

Now the telling of a story is as old as history itself. From the tales of cavemen etched out on prehistoric cavern walls, to the Romans and Greeks in their open air forums, to Shakespeare and modern day theaters – an acting performance (especially in front of a group) is a supreme and most long-standing form of entertainment. From time immemorial, humanity has always desired to know more about history and the ways of ‘Mother Nature’. Seldom have our plays not reflected such facets.

As an ‘outsider’ Tom was an intelligence intensely interested in everything about the natural world as well as the behavior of its denizens. Tom’s mind worked no differently than the other higher life-forms present in God’s theater. Being ab-origine to the ‘play’, he was:

“… a spirit coeval with the rational mind …”.
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #153

Hence for Eru’s great cosmogonical drama, for this greatest of earthly plays, for the history of all flora and fauna on our planet – it would be fascinating watching the unfolding of creation, the path of evolution and then the history of things that were “other” than him. What else could enamor Tom and keep him so rapturously joyful but the road of life itself?

Yet despite a fulfilling and wholesome role there was one not so minor issue. Viewing and listening from afar would not be enough. Tolkien must have felt that after watching it in a spiritual state, Tom’s desire to interact physically would become overwhelming. A morphing from a spiritual allegory into a physical “exemplar” of an allegory would be the solution, thus allowing him to participate on the main stage.

Nevertheless whatever form Tom took within the Universe, we must note that an ideal audience member is always automatically:

(1) “First” and “last” to actually see the ‘play’
(2) A “natural pacifist”
(3) “Eldest in Time” – Time being counted from when the performance officially begins (curtains open)
(4) “watching” and “observing”
(5) “unconcerned with ‘doing’ anything with the knowledge” gained from the ‘play’
(6) One that “desires knowledge of other things”
(7) “Not important to the narrative”
(8) One that “hardly interferes”
(9) One who has “renounced control”
(10) One who has unknowingly “taken a vow of poverty” (non-ownership of anything inside the theater)
(11) A being that is “other” (to those on stage)
(12) There to take “delight” in the performance
(13) One that can never be an “owner” of anything on the stage
(14) One who understands “the question of the rights and wrongs of power and control” is not for them to decide
(15) Aware that “night will come” when the ‘play’ is over.

It shouldn’t be hard for the reader to appreciate how the ‘audience’ as an automatic match to Tolkien’s remarks, attunes extremely well. Beyond that diagnosis, one can also judge whether those fifteen quotes synchronize with other theorems about Tom. How well do they exhibit automatic applicability for say the Vala Aulë, or a Nature Spirit, or a Spirit of the Music, or even Adam in an unfallen state? Undeniably a few conform quite decently – but certainly not all fifteen!

Tom: A Case of ‘Applicability’ or ‘Allegory’?

Though Tolkien’s dislike of allegory is well known among scholars, nevertheless its employment is virtually undeniable. Tom Shippey sums the situation up quite succinctly:

… the evidence is rather against Tolkien .
– J.R.R. Tolkien Author of the Century, Chapter IV, T.A. Shippey

“He was perfectly capable of using allegory himself, and did so several times .
– J.R.R. Tolkien Author of the Century, Chapter IV, T.A. Shippey

Most perceptively Shippey remarks:

“Tolkien did not think that allegories made sense unless you could consistently and without error fill these in.
– J.R.R. Tolkien Author of the Century, Chapter IV, T.A. Shippey

“One can accept, then, that Tolkien disliked vague allegories, allegories which didn’t work, though he accepted them readily in their proper place, .
– J.R.R. Tolkien Author of the Century, Chapter IV, T.A. Shippey

One can judge for oneself on this matter when it comes to Tom. Given how this article has shown a uniquely fastidious path taken to fit Tom into an allegorical role – Shippey’s words on Tolkien’s penchant for consistency and dislike of vagueness ring very true.

Despite this writer’s strong conviction that Tom was partly a sophisticated allegorical puzzle, it is unfair to ignore Tolkien’s position advocated in The Lord of the Rings:

many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’; .
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Foreword

The hard question that must be asked is: Did the Professor consider Tom a case of ‘applicability’ rather than ‘allegory’?

Unfortunately this is extremely difficult to unerringly resolve as it involves understanding a thought process that only Tolkien would have been able to explain and convey. We cannot possibly put ourselves fully in his shoes – and the answer will remain unknown – unless further information comes to light by way of missing/lost correspondences. However it is not beyond our comprehension that myth and legend historically transmitted into modern times – involving ‘little old bearded men possessing magical powers and exhibiting trickery’ – has some degree of ‘applicability’. Tom may well have been imagined as the missing link between a long lost epoch and modern-day Celtic folklore.

Though one can only crudely guess at Tolkien’s thoughts, the justification to ‘applicability ‘ when it came to Tom – on the face of it is decidedly weak. Tolkien must have realized that the vast majority of readers, scholars and particularly critics – would simply be unable to sympathize or align themselves with such a position. Tom would in the end be inevitably viewed as an ‘allegory’. That is of course if Tolkien came completely clean with what he had done.

And so it appears that in finality (at least to the point publication began), the Professor was unable to justify a case for ‘applicability’ even to himself:

he is then an ‘allegory’ ”.
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #153   
(Tolkien’s italicized emphasis)

Humor and Secrecy

For those who agree with the analysis in the three preceding sections, an awareness of Tolkien’s exceedingly particular and meticulous personality must have become apparent. Tom was not haphazardly inserted into The Lord of the Rings. Plainly quite the opposite. The care, attention and sophisticated thought put into his assimilation highlights areas of Tolkien’s psyche that perhaps have been under-researched: those of his humorous and cryptic sides. Exposed then, is a rare glimpse of his secretive nature. An aspect which his friend Clyde Kilby confirmed:

if I would hold it confidential, he would “put more under my hat” than he had ever told anyone.”
– Tolkien and The Silmarillion, Clyde Kilby, Summer with Tolkien   (Kilby quoting Tolkien)

This enormously interesting statement was made many years after publication of The Lord of the Rings. Was it something to do with Bombadil? What had Tolkien to hide? We do not know, and Kilby never found out.

Naturally, a whiff of a conspiracy begins to arise and waft its way towards our merry fellow. One could well suspect a cunning plot had been hatched against us. Albeit documented within his letters is a quote that might lead us to believe the puzzle of Tom’s role was not crafted to amuse his readership – rather the intent was to amuse himself:

“I only work for private amusement, since I find my duties privately amusing.”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #165

How can we be certain the above joking quip has applicability? Well it is quite obvious that without crucial information in his private letters it would virtually have been impossible to guess Tom’s hidden function. Indeed Tolkien explicitly stated as much:

“Tom Bombadil won’t be explained, because as long as you are concentrated on the Ring, he is inexplicable.”
– 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

How could the reader not be focused on the Ring? After all, the whole tale revolved around it. This statement is one of the few which indicates Tolkien knew the approach to solving Tom needed lateral thinking and that indeed a solution existed. Added to the above, it appears an identity pursuit was somewhat discouraged. Because the author also knew full-well how the information placed within the novel was wholly insufficient:

“I don’t think Tom needs philosophizing about, and is not improved by it.”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #153

“He is best left as he is, a mystery.”
– Tolkien letter to Christopher Fettes – 1961: Hammond & Scull LotR Companion p.134

Tom was Tolkien’s private joke. To the readers who inquired on this extraordinarily fascinating character, never was he prepared to give anything away but the vaguest of clues. Only his long-time friend Przemyslaw Mroczkowski was privileged enough to have more revealed. Though even then – the suspicion is that the beans were not entirely spilled.

Did Tolkien’s children or nearest relatives know? Was it a closely guarded family affair? To those questions, the answers are also unknown. However what is clear is that the Professor could keep a secret – at least from the general public.

Cryptography – An Understudied Talent

Given our favorite writer’s propensity to puzzle his readership, one cannot help but feel being the object of laughter from the sidelines. To my mind, with such an intriguing solution to Tom’s role, one must wonder whether there was more tucked away within The Lord of the Rings. Since it has taken nigh on sixty years to uncover a whole new way of looking at such a widely disputed subject, then perhaps other things have been missed?

After much research, the conclusion was positive. Yes, there is is undoubtedly further information about Tom buried inside the Professor’s opus. But to fully ferret it out, it was necessary to understand more about the real Tolkien. As such, I had to delve into an area whose surface has hardly been scratched – that of cryptography.

Oh yes, there is a whole field of study pertinent to The Lord of the Rings, and only recently exposed, we have no reason to exclude. It is both valid and compelling to explore a side scholars have ignored, dismissed or are simply unaware of. Because in the end, it will give us a better appreciation of his masterpiece and the depths to which he went to make it truly unique.

The ‘Tolkien Code’

Without emphasizing the expertise Tolkien had in the field of cryptology and his close association with not just riddles but codes and puzzles too – I cannot reasonably hope to convince readers of this article that indulged in – was some further mildly artful deception. In the book: Breaking The Tolkien Code, a whole chapter is devoted to studying the Professor’s close affiliation with coding. Outlined are examples of some remarkable pictogram code-puzzles devised in early childhood. Written in teen years, the Book of Foxrook (now held at the Bodelian Library in Oxford) contains a series of secretly formulated codes. Then as a young adult, traced are Tolkien’s professional skills attained as a British Army Signals Officer in World War I. Formal training led to familiarity with a variety of methods to send and decode secret messages. We now know how good use was made of such knowledge on deployment in France. For embedded coding within letters sent to Edith, enabled her to track his whereabouts.

There is far much more discussed within Breaking The Tolkien Code than can be summarized here in a couple of short paragraphs. Of the more interesting episodes, before publication of The Lord of the Rings, is one whereby Tolkien nearly landed a job as a professional cryptographer. Indeed the great novel may never have been written as he was almost hired by the British Government’s secret code-breaking establishment at Bletchley Park.

Coinciding with the subject of secret codes is their close connection with the invention of languages. Tolkien’s creativity in this department was, of course, one of the outstanding features of his myth. Yet we must recognize that a language is no more than a code whose secret has already been unlocked. Furthermore, as a professional philologist, Tolkien’s passion had natural linkage to code-breaking. Ancient words whose meanings were lost in antiquity needed a specific methodology to decipher and interpret. Tolkien’s first civilian job after the Great War helped him considerably. Detective skills honed while working as a lexicographer at the New English Dictionary, were worthy of Sherlock Holmes himself!

Perhaps most interesting of all, is the attainment of expertise in the field of Anglo-Saxon studies which undoubtedly involved close study of ancestral puzzle creation techniques. For the ancestors of the modern-day Englishman too hid secrets in the form of riddles, anagrams and acrostics within literary works. Somehow just maybe the Anglo-Saxons inherited these traits from even more ancient times and earlier races?

Such a notion is hypothesized as one Tolkien could use and build upon. The blend of ancient history with myth is thought to have been once again (as in the footsteps of The Hobbit), irresistible. And so it is conjectured that a resurrection of an earlier idea led to including such puzzles within the ‘Great Work’. In culmination, my thoughts on such a possibility led to the closest of textual examinations of The Lord of the Rings.

To my lasting surprise, hidden within the text were uncovered seven secret and distinct puzzles, And to boot, most of they came complete with encoded answers. Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? Really – cryptographic encoding that his been missed by 100 million plus readers – some of whom are the most dedicated and pedantic of scholars? Yes, even I shook my head in disbelief!

But maybe Tolkien’s grandchildren would not be overly surprised:

“I had a lot of fun times with my grandfather We played endless word games and I asked him innumerable questions about Middle Earth ”,
– J.R.R. Tolkien’s Grandson (Simon Tolkien): In my Grandfather’s Footsteps, Huffington Post, 26 April 2010   (my emphasis)

“He loved riddles, posing puzzles and finding surprising solutions.”
– The Life and Works of J.R.R. Tolkien as experienced by a grandson (Michael Tolkien), Leicester College Lecture, October 19th 1995

Incredible though it might seem, the findings were hard to refute as four of the puzzles intentionally revolved around another mysterious and much debated creature. Extraordinarily, the solution to the puzzles spelled out a secret code. Well I will let the reader weigh the evidence – but the good news for those prepared to give these findings a chance – is that one of the seven related to Bombadil.

The Lying, the Itch and the Word Road

An allegory, is a solution that many scholars will feel uncomfortable with. Despite Tolkien’s explicit remarks in Letter #153 connecting Tom allegorically, undoubtedly some will point to vigorous denials in other private letters:

“Certainly it has no allegorical intentions, general, particular, or topical, moral, religious, or political.”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #165   (Tolkien’s italicized emphasis on ‘no’)

“There is no ‘allegory’, moral, political or contemporary in the work at all.”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #181   (Tolkien’s dual emphasis, italicized emphasis on ‘no’)

“There is no ‘symbolism’ or conscious allegory in my story.”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #203   (Tolkien’s dual emphasis, italicized emphasis on ‘no’)

It is unclear how much thought and care Tolkien put into one-on-one correspondences. In particular – in Letter #203, had he slipped up with an overly zealous denial? Though one cannot refute Tolkien’s numerous rebuttals – they must be viewed in light of the frequent questioning received on the matter. Questioning that almost became harassment.

“An enquirer (among many) asked whether it was an ‘allegory’.”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #205   (Tolkien’s italicized emphasis, my underlined emphasis)

Eventually did the Professor simply become fed up with a seemingly brutal and endless bombardment? It would seem so. Therefore it is hardly surprising that a need arose to put the matter, once and for all, to bed. By 1961 any urge to reveal an allegorical link to Tom had disappeared:

not that I feel inclined to write any more about him.”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #231

Then in 1965, the following statement was added to The Lord of the Rings to quell further inquiries:

“I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, ”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Foreword, 2nd Edition

Rather than focus too heavily on The Letters, perhaps in this instance, it is best just to rely on his carefully selected wording per trusted canon. If we adopt such an approach, his statement in The Fellowship of the Ring does allow for ambiguity. A “dislike” does not rule out some usage. And so in finality, one cannot absolutely dismiss Tom possessing a hidden allegorical role (despite the categorical denial in Letter #203). Neither would it be fair to charge Tolkien as having lied. Our beloved Professor was evasive, yes – but a perpetrator of a deliberate falsehood? Given the circumstances, that is an overly strong accusation.

Nevertheless Tolkien had misjudged the degree of questioning and general interest in – what he had regarded at outset as – an uninteresting and inconsequential matter. The unanticipated flood asking about allegory left him few options. No longer could he negotiate a u-turn after so many private denials. He had no choice but to make a stand. Officially from 1965 onward, the allegory would be hidden; Tom would have to remain a mystery – permanently.

As an allegorical puzzle, Tom had been part of an early itch. An itch that Tolkien couldn’t help but scratch. For he:

found the blend of vera historia with mythos irresistible.”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #26

The infusion of Anglo-Saxon elements into The Hobbit had been substantial. Indeed a whole chapter had been devoted to riddling – and here the historical connection is indisputable. Tolkien had modeled The Hobbit riddles on those in The Book of Exeter – an Old English work. Somehow The Lord of the Rings would need puzzles too – but they would have to be of a more sophisticated variety. This book was, after all – for adults. And so with such a mindset, Tolkien embarked on his new tale. But puzzles in this novel would require much creativity – much more than just cunning allegory; for this would be his attempt at creating a masterpiece!

There are many ways one can hide a secret within written words. Man has been using the ‘Road of Words’ ever since the invention of writing. Did Tolkien do so? Did he use all the skills of encoding acquired along his own difficult road? And if he did, then how? And then what gives away clues to indicate Bombadil was a solvable riddle – much in the style of those of the famous riddling match in The Hobbit?

A Trail of Subtle Hints

One textual hint that Bombadil became an intentional riddle is the way Tolkien had Tom relate his historical association to Middle-earth. The list is chronologically all over the place. For example: we are left to try to figure out what was meant by the “little People arriving” or if the “first raindrop” preceded the appearance of the “Dark Lord”. In a way, Tom’s rambling left us a puzzle. One that eventually led to the reader wondering whether Tom was an immortal as old or older than Arda itself.

But what kind of immortal? Surely Tolkien would have also assigned an in-cosmology counterpart to the allegorical solution? Well – a second hint that now starts to steer us towards a specific type is Gandalf’s comparison:

“ ‘ He is a moss-gatherer, and I have been a stone doomed to rolling. …’ ”.
– The Return of the King, Homeward Bound

Immediately, to many, will arise strong connotations of the modern-day proverb: ‘A rolling stone gathers no moss’. Surely Tolkien knew the reader would pick up on this. Deliberately then, was left a sense of kindred bond between Gandalf and Tom – with the implication of them both being ‘stones’ – in other words – of the same kind. Then given The Silmarillion information, where Gandalf (Olórin) is indisputably categorized as a Maia – very subtly Tom is implied to be one too.

A third more cryptic clue adding weight to a Maia identity is Tom’s question to Frodo:

“ ‘ Tell me, who are you, alone, yourself and nameless? …’ ”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, In the House of Tom Bombadil

On the surface it appears Tolkien constructed an extremely profound question. On the other hand it has the unmistakable hallmark of a riddle. How could this not have got the reader thinking? The advice given in a reply to Peter Hastings was to:

“See and ponder Tom’s words ”.
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, #153

Tolkien left a clue on how to attack the riddle:

“You may be able to conceive of your unique relation to the Creator without a name – can you: for in such a relation pronouns become proper nouns?”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #153

The response, couched as a question, was meant to get the recipient thinking. No, the answer was actually the other way round. Without a name one can only relate to God by using a pronoun – such as ‘I’.

So getting back to Tom’s riddle-like words – we must acknowledge that they were meant for Frodo without any indication that the Creator was behind Tom’s thoughts. Despite the religious connotations presented to Peter Hastings, we must not lose sight of what Frodo might have said.

Without using his name, Frodo ought to have seriously considered that an adequate reply would have been: ‘I am a hobbit’. Because without a name, and resorting to pronoun usage, we simply belong to a race – that is the next logical step to best identify oneself. And this interim line of thought is perhaps subtly paved out in further discussion with Mr. Hastings:

“But as soon as you are in a world of other finites who are you?”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #153   (my emphasis)

Frodo most definitely lived in a world of other hobbits; but the problem is, that in this “world of other finites” – he was not ‘alone’. To be truly ‘alone’ Frodo would not belong to any race. Logically then, to fully answer Tom’s question:

“ ‘ Tell me, who are you, alone, yourself and nameless? …’ ”,
– The Fellowship of the Ring, In the House of Tom Bombadil

Frodo would have had to stop at: ‘I am a ….?’

Curiously the phrase ‘I am a ….?’, is an anagram of the Sindarin word: ‘Maia’.

We need to hold that thought yet not unduly dwell on this particular oddity – except to note that is impossible Tolkien wasn’t aware of anagrams and the way that they could secretly hold clues. Clues that would remain true no matter how future editions might be affected by re-pagination. Despite the intriguing rearrangement, the strength of such a contrived anagram was deemed insufficient to be totally convincing. There had to be more – and so attention needed to be refocused by investigating the emphasis made on the last word of the comment:

Goldberry and Tom are referring to the mystery of ‘names’.”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #153   (Tolkien’s italicized emphasis)

The Mystery of Names

So had Tolkien left a cryptic inkling that an anagram approach was the method to arrive at the answer? And the answer was that indeed Tom is a ‘Maia’?

Well Tolkien’s masterstroke was actually quite straightforward but deceptively so. Tom outright told us there was only one way to obtain a solution. He relayed that everything defining a person is encapsulated in a name:

“ ‘Don’t you know my name yet? That’s the only answer. …’ ”.
– The Fellowship of The Ring, In the House of Tom Bombadil   (my emphasis)

Then why should we not believe him? But let us explore whether a secondary solution exists. For this statement has the distinct feel of another riddle. A deliberate one; and if we think about it, we are faced with an ‘enigma’ proper. Since as we can see: Tom ‘speaks in riddles’.

Inevitably, one must come to the conclusion that if there is a secondary answer – it lies in Tom’s name. Had Tolkien left us to think laterally to obtain the solution – for the phrasing is possibly deliberately cryptic? Once again, Tolkien’s grandson’s remark appears poignant and applicable:

“He loved riddles, posing puzzles and finding surprising solutions.”
– The Life and Works of J.R.R. Tolkien as experienced by a grandson (Michael Tolkien), Leicester College Lecture, October 19th 1995

Any professional cryptographer – even one who has no knowledge about The Lord of the Rings – would most certainly explore the possibility of covertly concealed information in our ‘engima’s’ name. Intuitively – it is likely the first route a professional would seek to attack the mystery.

Very cleverly Tolkien provided us with four names. Three of them were disconnected by four chapters from the first textual appearance of ‘Tom Bombadil’. In the Professor’s eyes, this would make the solution a tad more difficult. After all, the riddle had to be formulated for the adult reader – he wasn’t about to make this mere child’s play.

The four provided names of our enigmatic hero are:

‘Tom Bombadil’, ‘Orald’, ‘Forn’, ‘Iarwain Ben-adar’.

Hmm …. so if a riddle – could it possibly be an anagram? Could something meaningful be formed from this assembly, and then what would it reveal about his genus? Surely this could be a way to answer the “ ‘mystery of names’ ”!

Tomfoolery – The True Anagram

If we review the four names of our tricky fellow, there are a couple of curiously suspicious matters that raised my eyebrows. The first is that two of this character’s Middle-earth names: ‘Forn’ and ‘Orald’ – after anagrammatic rearrangement spell out: FOR RONALD. Was this another leading clue? Yes ‘Ronald’ is the name used by close family members and friends, and undoubtedly (from the way letters were signed) the one Tolkien associated himself with.

Stranger still is the name invoked by Elrond for Bombadil: ‘Iarwain Ben-adar’. Tolkien provided an explanation in a privately held letter that ‘Iarwain’ meant ‘Old-young’, and we can readily deduce ‘Ben-adar’ means ‘Fatherless’. Yet it is a tad odd the way the simple short original name: ‘Iaur’ in The Treason of Isengard – was changed to such a long one. The extended Sindarin based final version contains an unusual number of vowels, four ‘a’s and has hyphenation too. Might this be a telltale sign for the inquisitive cryptologist? For no other Sindarin designation in Tolkien’s list of Elvish names (per The Lord of the Rings index) contains as many ‘a’s, and to boot – only one other is hyphenated (Gil-galad)!

A deliberately contrived word puzzle is a distinct possibility. A seasoned code-breaker would no doubt eye ‘Iarwain Ben-adar’ with deep suspicion. A comparatively naive amateur as myself found the whole affair remarkably coincidental – too coincidental!

It wasn’t long before anagrammatic transposition revealed:

Warn Bilbo and Frodo I be a Maia – Mr Ronald T

Eureka . so Tom didn’t come in from a completely different cosmology – there was an ‘internal’ answer! Tolkien in the end, had fully integrated Tom into the myth. Whatever meager writings existed before The Lord of the Rings could simply not be justified as a wholly different legendarium.

Examination of the Encoded Solution

After some initial euphoria, the time soon came to calm down. Elation needed to be tempered with cold analysis. A fair attempt had to be made to poke holes in the result.

In terms of hidden puzzles – remarkably this is one of four revealed in Breaking The Tolkien Code revolving around a formulation of Tolkien’s name. Additionally it is one of two that specifically uses key words beginning with ‘wa..’ – which we know Tolkien had close research affinity with at the NED. Again this is all rather too coincidental to call ‘chance’. Despite trying to be cynical, I couldn’t help but think – what better way to confirm that an anagram is truly the solution, but by self-signaturizing the rearrangement. Then what about the remainder? How well does it shape up?

The word ‘Maia’ deserves detailed scrutiny. The first documented occurrence of its use was in the ‘Annals of Aman’ – datable to the early 50’s, before publication of The Fellowship of the Ring. Certainly by first book release, the Istari, Balrogs and Sauron were established as all being Maiar. Why Tolkien opted not to include its usage in the vocabulary or index of The Lord of the Rings is conjectural.

Possibly a purposeful disinclusion of ‘Maia’ was down to a strong desire to leave behind some unexplained mysteries in The Lord of the Rings. This is evident by Tolkien’s remarks about Gandalf’s genus and origin:

what ‘wizards’ are, or whence they came I have thought it best in this Tale to leave the question a ‘mystery’, not without pointers to the solution ”.
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #153   (Tolkien’s italicized emphasis, my underlined emphasis)

The reader would be left hanging – unable to solve Gandalf’s genus until the release of “The Silmarillion” promised per Appendix A. Such planning on the Professor’s part makes it much easier to reconcile that Tom had also been carefully planned as a puzzle – and as a Maia too.

Though the proposed linkage hinges on somewhat tenuous extrapolation – we must be aware of two other important points. Firstly with the information currently available, we cannot ever understand when exactly Tolkien invented the word ‘Maia’ (it could have been many years before any of the hitherto released documentation). Secondly, neither can we understand exactly when Tolkien devised the anagram. There are some things impossible to piece together – and though I might speculate that he became nervous of including allegory and hidden puzzles, there is nothing concrete I can reference as back-up. Did the Professor in the end purposely discard use/definition of the word ‘Maia’ in The Lord of the Rings because of this? Or was it down to a desire to create an intentional mystery?

Getting back to the anagram – why would Tolkien have wanted Bilbo and Frodo to be alerted by Tom that he was a Maia? Why would the Professor have picked on these two hobbits and no one else? Well the reason is quite obvious. Quite simply, how could the two main writers of the Red Book (from which the tale was derived for our benefit) not be in on the secret? What a tragedy it would be for them not to have known: the real heroes of the story, and probably the two most beloved of all!

Lastly, a less obvious clue left by the Professor, is that the confirmation is spoken in the English country-yokel manner of the novel. Tom too used similar phrasing:

“ ‘What be you a-thinking of? …’ ”,
– The Fellowship of the Ring, The Old Forest

“ ‘ Where be you a-going? …’ ”.
– The Fellowship of the Ring, In the House of Tom Bombadil

Hmm …. well given the analytic review, what we have – is almost a ‘perfect’ anagram. Even if it is a fluke, Tolkien would have been hard pressed to provide one more believable!

In Good Company

Although the idea of Tom representing an allegory of the ‘audience and orchestra of a play’ is a very simple concept to comprehend, for many the proposed theory will nonetheless be a difficult pill to swallow. It will certainly go against the grain for the more staid and traditional scholar. Indeed the opening up of a whole different layer of meaning to Tolkien’s world will no doubt be a shock and a step that some will want to dismiss out of hand. To negate an instinctive defense mechanism, this writer recommends the reader dwells on the presented scholarship with an objective and open mind. Instead of focusing on criticism – chewing on its strengths and attempting to embrace lateral thinking should help. One should recall and ponder Tolkien’s words that effectively tell us that without ‘out of box’ thinking – Tom will always be unsolvable:

“Tom Bombadil … won’t be explained, because as long as you are concentrated on the Ring, he is inexplicable.”
– 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

But beyond this initial step – this essay clearly asks even more from the reader. The demand made is way beyond accepting Tom as simply Tolkien’s secret personal puzzle. It is one that requests the reader seriously considers whether Tolkien embedded a deeper layer of puzzling within his masterpiece. Why he would have done this and what thwarted the master plan is too long a story to discuss within this essay. Unfortunately all we are left with is traces and remnants of intent that were ruefully abandoned due to circumstances outside of his control (see Breaking The Tolkien Code).

Why Tolkien possessed such desires in the first place, is thought to be bound up with his profession, a need to strongly connect his myth to Anglo-Saxon history and perhaps also a wish to emulate others who had already trodden this route. When we focus on writers who were just of British origin, the hiding of anagrams and acrostics within literary works spanned from the days of the Anglo-Saxons all the way to his renowned predecessor at Oxford University: Lewis Carroll. Even his close friend C.S. Lewis is now widely acknowledged to have had an underlying secret theme to the ‘Narnia’ series (see Planet Narnia by Michael Ward). Extraordinarily enough there is continuity to this day, for the fantasy writer J.K. Rowling keyed in on anagram usage too (‘Harry Potter’: Tom Marvolo Riddle = I am Lord Voldemort). Was this a curiously British trait? If so – Tolkien’s opus is not just in good company – but great company!

A Final Summary

At the beginning of this journey I promised a unifying theory. One that explained virtually every unusual statement or action concerning Tom, either in the novel or Tolkien’s letters. Though some of the spin in using quotes in the manner they have been will certainly receive criticism, nonetheless I have tried to use the Professor’s own philosophy in terms of contextual applicability:

“Hardly a word has been unconsidered. And the placing, size, style, and contribution has been laboriously pondered.”
– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, #131

Reflecting back on all four parts of this essay – pretty much all that we currently know has been reasonably well tied-up. There is however, one notable exception. Tolkien made the following comment to a fan in 1961:

“I do not know his origin though I might make guesses.”
– Tolkien letter to Christopher Fettes – 1961: Hammond & Scull LotR Companion p.134

At face value this is rather a shocking admission. Was Tolkien telling the truth? If so – does it blow all the preceding analysis to smithereens? Indeed would any and every pursuit be futile?

The letter is known to have been a draft made and kept by his secretary and the current owner is not disclosed. Whether it was actually sent is unverified. If not, the possibility arises that Tolkien himself rejected it as an untruthful statement and thus unsatisfactory to send out. Even if this did not occur, if we think a little more about it – we do not know of the way the question was asked – which might have had some relevance to Tolkien’s response.

There exists a possibility that if Tolkien had been thinking about an out-of-cosmology origin, he may not have remembered what triggered Tom’s invention in the first place. For the in-cosmology ‘get-out’ – we might reconcile the draft words being the results of musings over exactly in which order the Ainur were created. Was it the Valar first – then Tom. Or was Tom created to witness all events and thus ahead of all the other Ainur? Perhaps the Professor never figured it out. In any case – there is more than reasonable doubt – that the “origin” Tolkien had typed in this draft letter, was not the final say.

So personally, I find the proposal of Tom’s secret role in Part I and his trick-based usage of different planes of reality in Part II as elegant answers to many conundrums. In my humble opinion – they are worthy of the Professor’s lofty intellect. We have an overall solution that uniquely allows us to solve Tom’s puzzling words; his actions; his tricks; and his personality – that other theories fail to adequately (or completely) address. Tolkien did think very carefully about each and every word – and therefore no longer do we have to deal with, what have been regarded by scholars as contradictory textual statements or inexplicable matters. Moreover we can now understand; the cryptic nature of comments in Tolkien’s letters; the reason for his inclusion into The Lord of the Rings; as well as a route used to achieve full integration. The superiority of the proposed theory is directly aligned with Occam’s Razor – essentially, a solution which is the simplest and one fitting known ambiguities, is usually the right one.

Indeed the proposal agrees with observations made by other scholars in that Tolkien often tried to explain away inconsistencies by doing his best to somehow fit them into the framework of the existing legendarium. And so we can rationalize that once the idea arose of Tom becoming part of The Lord of the Rings – then a way would have to be found. This was Tom’s destiny.

In line with a disciplined persona, we can see how the utmost care was taken to assimilate Tom into the tale. Though it would end up as a bedeviling puzzle – to Tolkien, it was a case of – the reader be damned. Because for anyone else to arrive at the answer would be a near-impossible task; or so he thought. But the Professor had not accounted for his private letters. For us – they would be key. The key to unlocking a truly remarkable ‘enigma’!

As the length of this article shows, Tom ranks as one of Tolkien’s most complex characters. An ‘allegory’, a ‘nature spirit’ and a ‘Maia’ are all parts of his essence. But to figure this all out needed a combination of recent literary evidence and a whole new perspective. Rather than start by a process of elimination based on racial profiling (a path many scholars have taken) – ‘out of box’ thinking was deemed a superior approach to solve an extraordinary mystery. A method that aptly fitted Tolkien’s own persona:

“He loved riddles, posing puzzles and finding surprising solutions.”
– The Life and Works of J.R.R. Tolkien as experienced by a grandson (Michael Tolkien), Leicester College Lecture, October 19th 1995

Steering reasonably clear of draft texts and shying away from a conventional approach has opened up a brand new area of research that has intriguing possibilities. The cryptological revelation of Tom’s in-cosmology genus renders an answer that many have suspected. Tom being a Maia is generally a favored option among the public. However it is the method of extraction that will undoubtedly arouse controversy. There are very few ways to assuage cynical concerns. Those who choose to try – can take a long hard look at Breaking The Tolkien Code. There can be found a beginning that may yield many more surprises!


To whet the appetite for those desiring to dig deeper – the path to the first letter of ‘The Tolkien Code’ is revealed below. The first exposed puzzle in Breaking The Tolkien Code centers around another mysterious and much debated character: the Balrog of Moria.

Learn how Tolkien intended to use a continuation of a ‘Riddles in the Dark’ theme from The Hobbit by employing the ‘Mooreeffoc effect’. Learn how at the last minute he was thwarted by the publishers and denied inclusion of self-forged manuscripts belonging to the ‘Book of Mazarbul’, yet it was too late to change the text. There at the end of the final parchment, Tolkien had contrived a hidden jigsaw-puzzle depicting a side-profile of a mail-cloaked, physically winged Balrog surrounded by shadow!


Extract from Pictures by J.R.R. Tolkien (interpretation provided on RHS)

And there in the text, in the words of Gandalf, were subtly hidden clues confirming the image. Clues such as:

“ ‘ there is no time to puzzle out the last few pages …’  – with the only use of the phrase: ‘puzzle out’ in the entire novel.

And, his clever play-on-words:

“ ‘… There is nothing more.’ ” – a punning way of saying there was: ‘more in the nothing’ of the cutout.

And, the covertly hidden anagram deciphered as:

‘Plan gives us Balrog hidden in last char’

And of course the remarkable hidden pseudo-acrostic confirming Tolkien’s inside joke:

‘Take M……..’

There inside Breaking The Tolkien Code the rest of it can be found, and much, much more!


But before that its time to understand: Goldberry: The Enigmatic Mrs Bombadil



6/15/16 – Added new section: ‘Automatic Tommy’.

Switched order of section: ‘Humor and Secrecy’ with ‘Tom: A Case of ‘Applicability’ or ‘Allegory’?

6/15/17 – Deleted: “irrelevant late poetry”.