Barrow-downs, Barrow-wights, Bree, Dagger, Dorset, Eowyn, Fangorn, Frodo, Gandalf, Middle-earth, Nazgul, Neolithic, Old Forest, Old Man Willow, Peter Jackson, Sauron, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Ring, Tolkien, Tom Bombadil, Weaponry, Westernesse, Witch-King of Angmar
Welcome, as always!
As you can see from the title, this is a continuation of the previous posting, in which we began a discussion of a two-part question: 1. What would be the advantage of keeping Tom Bombadil in a recorded (audio or film) version of The Lord of the Rings? 2. What would you need to keep?
To summarize the previous posting, we suggested that:
- he, along with Fangorn/Treebeard, represents the great age of Middle Earth—something very important to the author–and a continuity of living things, which leads us to
- he might also be seen as a form of hope: the Ring has no effect upon him and he remembers a time before the arrival of Sauron, suggesting that there might be a time after him, as well, and that the Ring has limits
- as it seems out of place even in the current text, the bulk of Tom’s verse and the sometimes rhythmicized prose could be removed, leaving only the character himself and his part in the plot
We believe, however, that there is a more pressing reason for keeping him in the text, and it has to do with something Gandalf says to Frodo when Frodo, panicked at the prospect of having to deal with the Ring, demands, “Why did it come to me? Why was I chosen?” LotR 61.
“’Such questions cannot be answered,’ said Gandalf, ‘You may be sure that it was not for any merit that others do not possess: not for power or wisdom, at any rate. But you have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have.’” LotR 61.
This is a continuation of Gandalf’s earlier statement that:
“Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you also were meant to have it.” LotR 56.
Thus, there is a level of intentionality at work in Middle-earth, something beyond Sauron. And, when we see Bombadil next, he will prove to be an instrument of the intention.
The Hobbits have left his house and, following his directions, have passed onto the Barrow-downs.
A down is a piece of rolling countryside, often bare at the top, with trees in its folds—as here in Dorset.
The Dorset Downs have lots of Neolithic remains, including numbers of barrows or tumuli, grave mounds commonly covering an interior structure, not uncommonly made of stone—
Such tumuli once contained the body or bodies usually of high-status persons
and all sorts of grave goods, either as a display of wealth or perhaps for some sort of afterlife use.
Bombadil has been careful, however, to say “more than once” (LotR 134) that the Hobbits are to avoid the barrows themselves, telling them not to meddle with them or “cold Wights” (LotR 133). (He also says that they should pass them “on the west-side”—there have been lots of guesses about this—we would add our guess that it might have to do with the orientation—literally—of the entry. If entries faced east and the rising sun, it would be wise of the Hobbits to skirt the barrows’ potential blind side, on the west. And there is also the rather obvious point, once you’ve looked at a map of the area, that, if they kept the barrows to the right and the Old Forest to the left, they would be heading north towards the road to Bree, as they intended.)
Those Barrow-wights are not the original inhabitants of the mounds, but agents of the Witch-king of Angmar, who sends them to take possession (The Lord of the Rings Companion, 144-145), long after their original occupation—but, what’s interesting is that, at least one of these tumuli appears not to have been plundered and this leads us to our next point about Tom Bombadil. After he rescues the Hobbits (showing again his mastery over at least the minor forces of evil), he does a little plundering of his own, including:
“For each of the hobbits he chose a dagger, long, leaf-shaped, and keen, of marvellous workmanship, damasked in serpent forms in red and gold…Then he told them that these blades were forged many long years ago by Men of Westernesse: they were foes of the Dark Lord, but they were overcome by the evil king of Carn Dum in the Land of Angmar.” LotR 146.
Here are a few ideas of what, at least, the leaf shape might have looked like:
And we include this third one just because it looks so cool—
Bombadil, of course, has actually seen all of this happen, and here we see that theme of great age appear again. And there’s the pedigree of those blades. Unlike the sack ‘o swords slung without any more explanation than “These are for you. Keep them close.” to the Hobbits in the film, these were weapons made by heroic men of the past, doomed men, but who fought evil until they were overcome (a strong theme throughout the history of Middle-earth).
Late in the story, one of those blades seems to be the instrument of intentionality once more. When Eowyn faces the Witch-king of Angmar, now the chief of the Nazgul—
and he is about to kill her with his mace, Merry strikes him from behind, stabbing him in what, on a living man, would have been a vulnerable spot, the back of the knee. (LotR 842.)
Distracted and, surprisingly, in pain, the Nazgul stumbles and Eowyn destroys him and here, once more, we may see intentionality, and all because of Tom Bombadil. Merry’s sword, from its contact with the undead flesh of the Nazgul, withers away, but—
“So passed the sword of the Barrow-downs, work of Westernesse. But glad would he have been to know its fate who wrought it slowly long ago in the North-kingdom when the Dunedain were young, and chief among their foes was the dread realm of Angmar and its sorcerer king. No other blade, not though mightier hands had wielded it, would have dealt that foe a wound so bitter, cleaving the undead flesh, breaking the spell that knit his unseen sinews together.” LotR 844.
So, for everything from Old Man Willow (whom the script writers couldn’t resist completely, transposing him to an improbable scene with Fangorn/Treebeard) to showing the great age of Middle-earth to suggesting other powers untouched by the Ring to offering possible hope to showing something of the intentionality behind certain actions in the story to providing the ancient and magical weapon which could finally bring down the Witch-king of Angmar and save Eowyn at the same time, might we suggest that, next production—audio or visual—of The Lord of the Rings, Jolly Tom might have a place in the cast?
Thanks, as always, for reading.
If you would like to read more about Tom, see, for example, Dorathea Thomas, “He Is: Tom Bombadil and His Function in The Lord of the Rings” at Academia.edu.