Welcome as always, dear readers.
One of the reasons I’ve read and reread The Lord of the Rings has to do with its depth. The story itself is set in a present time: TA3018-19, but, of course just writing “TA” immediately places it in a greater context: this is the Third Age of registered time and we’re now in the 31st century of it. That’s 3,000 years of history right there and back 3000 years of history in our Middle Earth would put us, for example, in the Egyptian 21st Dynasty, when artisans could still create this
or during the so-called Greek “Dark Ages”, when Mycenaean civilization had mysteriously collapsed after creating things as beautiful and sophisticated as this–
If we walked the landscape of Middle-earth with the hobbits, however, as described in The Lord of the Rings, we could be struck again and again by the monuments of its past. Weathertop dates to the time of Elendil, in the Second Age, who, himself, was born in SA3119.
When the hobbits reach Rivendell, they enter a place which had been founded even earlier, in SA1697,
and, coming to the west gate of Moria,
they approach a structure which dated somewhere post SA750, which led them into mines in which the dwarves had been laboring since before the First Age.
Further on their travels, they encounter Amon Hen, built perhaps in the 14th century of the Third Age,
(by Scott Perry)
as was the Argonath.
And yet JRRT has created something even older, providing us not just with physical monuments, but with two actual survivors.
Recently, I’ve been enjoying a re-listening to the 1981 BBC radio series of The Lord of the Rings.
It’s compact, of course—certain moments disappear, usually minor details, but there is one major one casualty: no Tom Bombadil.
He’s an odd character, certainly. According to Humphrey Carpenter, he was originally inspired by “a Dutch doll that belonged to Michael”. That inspiration almost vanished from history when John, who didn’t like it, “one day stuffed it down the lavatory.” (Biography, 181—in case you’re worried, the doll was rescued in time). The inspiration for his name is also a mystery, various suggestions include
1. Captain Bobadilla, a braggart soldier, in Ben Jonson’s (1572-1637) 1598 play, Every Man in His Humour
(This is from the 1616 Workes, published by Jonson himself, which, as you can imagine with such a title, got him mocked at the time. Here’s the play: https://archive.org/details/everymaninhishum030338mbp/page/n5/mode/2up )
2. Boabdil, the last ruler of Moorish Granada—actually Abu ‘abd Allah Muhammad XII (1460-1533)—that “Boabdil” is the Spanish corruption of his name—
(A grand Spanish historical painting by F.P. Ortiz, from 1882: “The Surrender of Granada”—as there doesn’t appear to be an authenticated portrait of Abu ‘abd Allah Muhammad, this is an imaginary one.)
I understand that JRRT might have come across Bobadilla in his education, but Boabdil?
In Anglo-American literature, he turns up in John Dryden’s (1631-1700) 1672 The Conquest of Granada by the Spaniards,
where he is called “Mahomet Boabdelin”. Here’s Volume IV of Sir Walter Scott’s edition from 1808 (the play being retitled “Almanzor and Almahide”—Almanzor is the play’s hero and Almahide the heroine): https://archive.org/details/worksofjohndryde04dryduoft/page/n9/mode/2up As there is caveat emptor!, “Let the buyer beware!”, I would add my own “caveat lector”, “Let the reader beware!” The play is actually 2 plays, totaling over 200 pages and is in rhymed couplets in, as Victorians might say, a rather florid style. Dryden was aware that this might be attacked (it was) and ended the play with an epilogue critical of the plays of Shakespeare and Jonson’s time, then followed that with a 17-page “Defence of the Epilogue”.
In Washington Irving’s (1783-1859) Tales of the Alhambra (1832), he is “Boabdil”, where he makes several appearances, including “Mementos of Boabdil”, which you can find in this 1910 reprint of the revised 1851 edition on page 124 here: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/49947/49947-h/49947-h.htm
As there is no trace of Dryden or Irving in Carpenter or in Letters, however, the origin of Tom’s last name will remain a mystery, pending further research. (Hammond and Scull even suggest that “it may have been one of the Tolkien sons or daughter who chose its name rather than Tolkien himself…” The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion, 124)
Tolkien once described Tom as an “enigma” (Letters, 174) and as “the spirit of the (vanishing) Oxford and Berkshire countryside” (Letters, 26), and, in an earlier posting here, it was pointed out that, without him, there would be no Barrow-wight
and so no ancient sword which had the power to pierce and begin the destruction of the chief of the Nazgul,
a fact which has to be glossed over in any production which avoids him—in the Jackson film, he disappears entirely, taking the Barrow -wight with him, and Aragorn just hands around swords at Weathertop with no explanation of where they came from (The Fellowship of the Ring, Scene 19). And, in the BBC 1981 radio version, the hobbits are in Frodo’s new home in Buckland at one moment, and in Bree, the next, and the swords don’t appear at all.
And yet, considering that the chief of the Nazgul still falls, both in the old BBC radio version and in the Jackson film, this is clearly not a major plot point and therefore no major justification for the keeping of Tom in a story which has been stripped to what the script writers believed to be the most dramatic elements. (Jackson is quoted as saying almost exactly that.)
In the many pages of The Lord of the Rings, however, although Tom rescues the hobbits twice, I think that his real role is what I began with: to provide depth—and not just the depth of monuments or Ages as they display Middle-earth’s history. He, in a sense, is Middle-earth’s history, having been living witness from before its very beginnings. As he tells the hobbits:
“Eldest, that’s what I am. Mark my words, my friends: Tom was here before the river and the trees; Tom remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn. He made paths before the Big People, and saw the little People arriving. He was here before the Kings and the graves and the Barrow-wights. When the Elves passed westward, Tom was here already, before the seas were bent. He knew the dark under the stars when it was fearless—before the Dark Lord came from Outside.” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 7, “In the House of Tom Bombadil”)
As Goldberry says, “Tom Bombadil is the Master.”—of time and memory in Middle-earth. But, as the ghostly voice of Obi-Wan says to Yoda, “There is another”—whom we’ll see in Part 2 of this posting.
Thanks for reading, as ever.
Think, if the past is another country, where can you find its maps?
And remember that, as always, there’s