Wednesday, October 23, 2013

LOTR Read-Along: In the House of Tom Bombadil (FOTR Ch. 7)

I'm not a huge fan of this section of the book, I'm just going to admit it here and now.  I know a lot of people love it, and so every time I read it, I feel like I'm missing something.  If you're one who loves it, can you please help me see what I'm missing?

Maybe what trips me up is all the religious imagery -- I know that Tolkien says in the "Forward to the Second Edition," which is included in my copy, that these books are "neither allegorical nor topical" (p. xvi).  So I bounce between trying to figure out who or what Tom Bombadil is supposed to represent and saying that he doesn't represent anyone/thing... but then what is the point of this chapter?  I'm so confused.

I mean, at the end of the previous chapter, Tom hops away singing, "Tom's going on ahead candles for to kindle" and "Fear neither root nor bought!  Tom goes on before you" (p. 118).  To me. that sounds so much like when Christ told his followers, "I go to prepare a place for you" (John 14:2b).  And when the hobbits ask Goldberry who Tom Bombadil is, she simply says, "He is" (p. 122), which sounds an awful lot like God telling Moses that his name is I Am (Exodus 3:14).  And then, when the hobbits leave, Tom teaches them something to say if they get in trouble that sounds awfully prayer-like, ending with "Come, Tom Bombadil, for our need is near us!" (p. 131).

I don't get it -- I'm horribly confused.  If anyone can enlighten me, please do so!

Favorite Lines:

The sound of her footsteps was like a stream falling gently away downhill over cool stones in the quiet of the night (p. 123).

As far as he could remember, Sam slept through the night in deep content, if logs are contented (p. 126).

Possible Discussion Questions:  What's it all about, Alfie?

32 comments:

  1. I really don't know . . . I like your insight, though :) As for an idea, I suppose Tolkien might not have wanted anything to appear allegorical, but it ended up being so because we as humans have a need for a God in our world, and Tolkien just sort of ended up putting one (or two) Godlike figures in his world, unable to escape from his soul's need.

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    1. It's interesting that, in LOTR at least, we have a Devil-figure in Sauron, but not exactly a God-figure. We do have Gandalf rising from the dead, appearing in glory in a very Christ-like way, but that's not quite the same. Hmm.

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    2. Yes, it is very interesting. I can't see Gandalf as Jesus except for his "rising from the dead," and I would see Bombadil as God except that he seems very careless about things in general. Maybe Tolkien realized that these two appeared sort of Godlike to others and toned them down a little with odd attributes.

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    3. Or maybe he wanted us to clearly realize that they are not supposed to be God-figures?

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  2. Clever observations! I must confess I haven't noticed the religious allusions when I read it (all the zillion of times) probably because I'm a stranger to scriptures, but your point sounds convincing enough. I also don't like this part, mostly because of abundance of silly poetry. I looove Tolkien's poetry, but the style he gave to Bombadil's verses is immensely irritating :)

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    1. How interesting! Bombadil's nonsensical poetry doesn't annoy me at all, but I skim all that long stuff in later chapters.

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  3. Also, there are a lot of other Christian allusions in his works, especially in Valaquenta. It is a creation myth which looks EXACTLY like a christian one, except that it is Music instead of Word which was in the beginning. Also, Melkor's fall and further career resembles the devil's VERY much. So Tolkien played a lot with religion, and it's very probable that Bombadil's figure is also affected.

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    1. I must admit that I haven't read any of Tolkien's other things about Middle Earth, just LOTR and The Hobbit. Is this part you're talking about in the Silmarillion?

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    2. Yes, it's the first part of Silmarillion. If you like LOTR, I highly recommend you to read it, because it'll allow you to understand all the references :) Besides, there are some really powerful stories there!

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    3. Just jumping in here. I wrote an article on the first part of the Silmarillion, the creation story in the webzine Femnista last year. You can read it here if you like: http://issuu.com/femnista/docs/femnista_nov_dec_2012

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    4. The article is called 'The symbolism of Ainulindalë'

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    5. Oh, this is super-interesting! I haven't got to your article yet, because I'm reading EVERYTHING! But I will :) Thanks a lot for sharing!!!

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    6. Awesome, Birdie! I have a feeling I'll be reading that whole issue ;-) But I'll start with your article! Or the one on Boromir... decisions, decisions.

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    7. Birdie -- I read your article just now, and it's so cool! I definitely want to read the Silmarillion next year now. I'm now working my way through the rest of that edition of Femnista and loving it. First the Boromir article, of course, then one about Eomer, and there I must stop because it's nearly supper time. Thanks SO much for sharing!

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    8. Thank you so much, Hamlette, that's wonderful to hear! It was a good issue of Femnista, one of the best of the last years I believe!

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  4. I have had another thought on this, one that makes a wee bit more sense to me, somehow. Tom and Goldberry are almost like Adam and Eve, if they had never fallen. The world around them has fallen, but they themselves are pure and innocent, and Tom is master of his garden much like Adam was told to "work in and keep" Eden (Gen. 2:15), and to subdue the earth and have dominion over all living things (Gen. 1:28).

    I'll have to think more about this. I feel like, either this section has some kind of meaning, or else Tolkien was just stalling because he didn't want the action to start yet. (That could be because I've been known to stall actiony scenes because I struggle with writing them, hee.)

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    1. Yes, makes sense. These parallels may be not intended by Tolkien, but they are obviously there :)

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    2. That's a very interesting thought, I'd never considered it that way! It sure would make a lot more sense that Tom is married when you think about them as Adam and Eve in stead of a God-like figure.

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    3. Okay, glad that made sense to someone besides me :-) And now I kind of a little bit understand this part better -- it adds to The Shire in the list of "things we will lose if Sauron wins."

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  5. This is a really interesting discussion! Want to know what Tom Bombadil immediately brought into MY mind? "Tapio", the god and protector of the forests in Finnish pre-Christian religion! Tapio also has a beautiful, blonde-haired, gentle wife called Mielikki. It is certain that Tolkien was very interested in Finnish mythology for some odd reason, and he even learned Finnish well enough to read Kalevala, which is kind of like the Finnish Beowulf or Iliad and Odyssey. I have huge respect for the man for reading that, because the language is so archaic and poetic that most modern Finns find it difficult to read!

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    1. How cool! I am woefully uneducated when it comes to pretty much all folk lore and mythology, so I had never heard of Tapio and Mielikki, but given Tolkien's ties to all kinds of mythology, including this one, I bet you are exactly right as to the inspiration for Tom and Goldberry! Fascinating!

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  6. I can't say I love Tom, but I find him an important part of the books, and it was sad seeing the movie for the first time and realizing they'd cut him out. I mean, it makes sense for the movies, but... awwwww. I talked with D awhile about this after reading your write-up, because Tom B. is one of his favorite characters in the book. I wanted his insights.

    He says that Tom represents all the purity of heart and good that is still in Middle Earth, that has not been touched Sauron. He can hold the ring and it does not affect him or Frodo. Tom's the last bastion of uncorrupted goodness in the world, what everyone's fighting to protect, and why we have to destroy the ring. As long as Tom and Rosie are still there, there's still hope.

    That is how he thinks of it. I think my thoughts ran similarly. It's really the only carefree place we're shown. And because the Hobbits encounter it first, it gives them something to fix in their minds and hearts and fight for later. My thoughts never ran to anything religious.

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    1. I was wondering how this struck you, since the religious overtones would just not be there for you. I can agree with what D is saying to an extent, but nobody later on (that I recall right now) thinks about saving Tom Bombadil, they're all about the Shire or Gondor or Middle Earth as a whole, etc. But if Tom was not around, the rest of Middle Earth might be a bit different. Hmm.

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    2. I believe this chapter is for us, the readers, to remember about the purity and good still in Middle Earth, not necessarily the characters to remember. They're more concerned about not being eaten by trees or barrow wights!

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    3. That makes complete sense to me! It's for us, not them. Because you're right, the pastoral bliss of the Shire wouldn't seem blissful to everyone.

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  7. Very interesting. I wasn't thinking at all about what Tom Bombadil was supposed to be a symbol of, so that didn't bother me at all when I was reading it, but I really like your idea of him and Goldberry symbolizing an unfallen Adam and Eve. They have dominion over their own particular "garden," and they know little about the distinction between good and evil, which would explain why the Ring has no power in Tom's house. I also like the idea that we get a glimpse here of the purity and beauty that are hidden in Middle Earth. After having just gotten a glimpse of the murkiness that can lie below the surface in the Old Forest, we get a glimpse of the beauty that also lies below the surface.

    It also strikes me that this juxtaposition of chapters (Old Forest and this one) is the first in a pattern. After Tolkien takes us through a section of darkness, danger and evil, he usually follows it up with a place of beauty, safety and rest. The Old Forest, the first dangerous place the Hobbits come across, is followed by the house of Tom Bombadil. The attack by the Black Riders that wounds Frodo is followed by the peace of Rivendell. The darkness of Moria is followed by the beauty of Lothlorien. And on it goes. This is so much of a pattern that I can't help believing Tolkien intended it. It gives the characters a chance to catch their breaths, and as a reader I liked it very much. It gave me a chance to catch my breath too.

    As you commented above, Middle Earth definitely has a Satan figure in Sauron, but not a definitive God-figure. In some ways I wish he had had some image of God; it would have strengthened certain aspects of the story. The characters tend to have a belief that something is guiding their paths and that it was all meant to fall out this way, which is very interesting given that they never consider who or what this something is. And there are moments where it almost feels like they need something higher than themselves to battle Sauron. On the other hand, it is possible that having a God-figure would have lessened the tension over whether Sauron would actually win or not. I wonder whether not having a God-figure was a conscious choice on Tolkien's part or whether a character like that was just too difficult to write. (I would understand if he found it difficult; I've had multiple stories where I have Satan-like figures and no God-figures. They're just a lot harder to write.)

    On a lighter note, I do like the way Tom talks. A good number of his sentences have a lilt to them even if they aren't written in poetry fashion. I found it a lot of fun reading them aloud with a lilt.
    ~Marcy

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    1. Marcy, you're right, Tolkien definitely follows dark sections with light ones. It's a good rhythm that most storytellers use -- follow a tense or suspenseful scene with a calm one, so that your story sort of flows in waves, with peaks and troughs, if that makes sense, all building up to the climax.

      Tolkien does have a God-figure for Middle Earth, called Eru ("The One") and Iluvatar ("Father of All"), who creates lesser beings (like angels) who help him sing the world into existence. That story is told in The Silmarillion, and does set up the conflict that will play out in LOTR. The Satan-figure is called Melkor, and Sauron is one of his followers, so while Sauron seems like Satan in LOTR, he's really more like a horrible follower and doer of evil, Hitler or Stalin and so on. But Eru sort of sets the world in motion and then steps back, letting the Valar and Maiar (Gandalf is a Maia) take care of things. I've only read The Silmarillion once, and it is very dense and full of details, and written in a very different style from LOTR. I read it as part of a read-along hosted by a blog called The Tolkienist's Perspective, and that really helped me understand what was going on in it -- first post of that event is here if you're curious.

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    2. Makes perfect sense. I haven't really noticed this in other books as strongly, but I'm sure you're right.

      As far as the God-figure goes, I was referring strictly to LOTR, because he never comes up in those books at all. Which I rather wish he had in some form or fashion, if Tolkien was going to write him into Middle-Earth, because as it stands, it feels like either everyone in Middle-Earth is fearfully ignorant of him or he is something of a Deistic God, who winds up the world and then lets it run down as it will. I don't really like either of these options.

      But it's nice to know the backstory in The Silmarillion! I've never read it, but it sounds interesting. Thanks for the link.
      ~Marcy

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    3. I think that not having a God-figure makes a lot of Christians more comfortable with Tolkien's fantasy, because he's not mixing magic and religion. I know I always liked that about the Harry Potter books too -- there's simply no religion, good or bad. I'm a little disturbed by "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" having a church building figure strongly in the plot, inhabited by the Bad Guys no less. Not liking the connections they seem to be drawing there.

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    4. Okay, yeah, I understand that. I wouldn't have minded a God-figure at all though, since it already feels like the good "magic" (Gandalf's and the Elves') comes from some source outside what we know, and I wouldn't mind that source being God. Also, it still feels to me like there are points in the story where God is either hinted at so strongly or needed so much that it would have been stronger if Tolkien had put Him in. (I.e., when Gandalf says that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by Sauron, and there are others.) But that's just my opinion, and I do understand how other people would be more comfortable without Him there. (And I think I would be much more uncomfortable with religion in a book like Harry Potter where magic is learned, not something you're born with, but as I've never read those books I could be totally off the mark here. But a church being used by bad guys -- ouch.)
      ~Marcy

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    5. I think Tolkien could have made it work, but at the same time, it's so full and rich already that maybe it would end up just feeling like more? Hmm

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    6. That's also a possibility. And don't get me wrong, I totally, completely love the books the way they are. I was expecting them to be good, and they were wonderful. It's only that there's a few moments where I was feeling, "If there actually was a God in this world, this scene would be even more perfect," if you know what I mean. :)
      ~Marcy

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