Book 1, Chapter 7: In the House of Tom Bombadil

The Hall of Fire's extended chapter by chapter discussion of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings
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vison
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Post by vison »

I think Tom and Farmer Maggot could have lovely conversations. The farmer would know about the weather and the meaning of a cloud formation and the signs of cattle turning their rumps to the wind, and all that kind of stuff. Like Gabriel Oak, the night of the great storm.
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Post by Voronwë the Faithful »

Teremia, thank you for that observation about the Ring's working on Frodo. The focus here is usually on the fact that the Ring doesn't seem to effect Tom, but Frodo's out of character conduct here is more important to the story. In fact, it is arguably the only portion of this chapter that actually contributes to the plot.

vison, what is about Goldberry that you like so much?
"Spirits in the shape of hawks and eagles flew ever to and from his halls; and their eyes could see to the depths of the seas, and pierce the hidden caverns beneath the world."
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Post by vison »

Goldberry is the River Daughter. Is she a woman? Water in a woman's form? At night, when Tom's asleep, does Goldberry go out and let herself become water again, and go flowing down to the river to see her mother?

I don't know. She's magical and I like that.
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Post by Holbytla »

Frodo's out of character conduct here is more important to the story
Explain please.
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Post by Voronwë the Faithful »

Holbytla wrote:
Frodo's out of character conduct here is more important to the story
Explain please.
Okay. :)

Frodo is presented up to this point as a solid, mature Hobbit. Suddenly we see him acting in a childish, petulent manner not in keeping with that picture. I would argue (and honestly I never thought of this before I read Teremia's post) that this is the first indication of the Ring's ultimately affecting Frodo's character, which we see so much more blatently later in the story.
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Post by Cerin »

I've never liked the use of 'carefree' to describe Tom, because he has so many responsibilities. Can a master really be described as carefree?

Tom has that child-like side, which I take to be a manifestation of joy and contentment; but at the same time there is a profound seriousness about his attitude as he attends to his domain. It reminds me of the idea of monastic living, in which a state of tranquility is achieved by embracing simple tasks with a spirit of devotion. Here are all these immense events about to take place in the world, but I think arguably the most urgent words we hear from Tom are, 'Don't you crush my lilies!'

I think I love this place the most, of all the environs we come to know in Middle-earth.
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Post by Holbytla »

Voronwë_the_Faithful wrote:
Holbytla wrote:
Frodo's out of character conduct here is more important to the story
Explain please.
Okay. :)

Frodo is presented up to this point as a solid, mature Hobbit. Suddenly we see him acting in a childish, petulent manner not in keeping with that picture. I would argue (and honestly I never thought of this before I read Teremia's post) that this is the first indication of the Ring's ultimately affecting Frodo's character, which we see so much more blatently later in the story.
I have always assumed that Frodo put on the ring at that point for two reasons. One was that he was indeed a bit suspicious of Tom after he made the ring disappear momentarily and the other was that Tom's lightheartedness (as evidenced in their singing freely at dinner) was rubbing off on them.

I never attributed the ring itself as the cause, mainly because of the manner in which he had put it on. Earlier in the story he was nearly overcome with a desire to put on the ring (when hiding in the Shire from the Black Rider) and that was true of all subsequent reasonings for his desire to put on the ring. It was an outside force acting upon him.

Certainly later on the ring was getting a hold of him, especially as he neared Mordor, but at that time he didn't appear overly posessed.

Why I wonder, if it indeed the ring tempting him, did this manifest itself in a completely different way from every other instance?
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Post by Voronwë the Faithful »

I'm not even so much talking about Frodo actually putting the Ring on. I'm talking about the petulent attitude that he displays in doing so.
Why I wonder, if it indeed the ring tempting him, did this manifest itself in a completely different way from every other instance?
Perhaps because the House of Tom Bombadil is a completely different kind of place than any other place on Middle-earth?
"Spirits in the shape of hawks and eagles flew ever to and from his halls; and their eyes could see to the depths of the seas, and pierce the hidden caverns beneath the world."
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Post by Primula Baggins »

It might not have been the Ring actively tempting him in Bombadil's house. I always got the feeling its powers were muted there—Bombadil saw him while he was wearing the Ring, and the Ring manifestly had no power over Bombadil.

But even if the Ring was not actively working on Frodo, he was still the hobbit who had carried it for seventeen years. His possessiveness and suspicion, which made him test the Ring, may have been inherent in Frodo by this point, rather than projected from outside.
“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
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Post by solicitr »

Although this little stunt is very uncharacteristic of Frodo, it's entirely in character for childish, petulant Bingo, the Hobbit who was Ringbearer when this chapter was written. While the early version of the Maggot chapter had invisi-Bingo duping a mug of beer over his host's head(!) and of course was later entirely rewritten, this chapter remains very close to the draft except for name changes.

Even in the book as published, Frodo isn't acting all that unreasonably: Tom had just vanished the Ring and produced it again like a street magician, and Frodo clearly isn't entirely sure if the ring he got back was the genuine article. So he wanted to make certain.

------------------------------------
I've never liked the use of 'carefree' to describe Tom, because he has so many responsibilities. Can a master really be described as carefree?
Does Tom really have responsibilites? He doesn't seem, to me, to be any sort of 'shepherd' like the Ents. He just Is: he's Master meaning that he's his own master- a completely passive meaning of the term. Nothing has any power over him; he's a totally free person. But I don't see him exercising any sort of rule or control, simply unalloyed autonomy.
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Post by Primula Baggins »

But, solicitr, he's able to save the hobbits from Old Man Willow, and he vanquishes the Barrow-wight. And if his mastery were entirely passive, how could he protect his domain against the active, meddling evil of Sauron? Yet the hobbits feel safe with him.

I would agree that he's passive in the sense that he won't leave his bounds, or use whatever power he has to help in the fight against evil. He only protects what he feels responsible for protecting. But then he does have some power to do so.
“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
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Post by solicitr »

All right, "passive" isn't exactly the right word. Perhaps "reactive." Tom isn't any sort of ruler, and he is, I daresay, entirely irresponsible. What he can do is neutralize other entities' power, when they impinge on his prerogatives and immediate interests. It doesn't appear that Tom had a policy of interfering with the Barrow-wights' predations, for instance, nor had he over the long centuries troubled himself to banish them all, which he could easily have done had he chosen to. He certainly hadn't done anything to oppose the growth of Willowman's malign influence over most of the Forest- "such things have little hold on his mind."

His reaction to Frodo's panicked pleas seems to indicate that Old Man Willow was fairly insignificant as far as he was concerned. And why not, considering that neither the Willow nor anything else, even the Ring, posed any sort of threat or even inconvenience to him? Bombadil hadn't the slightest trace of the impulse to set the world to rights- the impulse to stewardship that drives Gandalf: but also Saruman and Sauron. He had renounced control.
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Post by Voronwë the Faithful »

I definitely don't think it would be correct to see that Tom has "responsibilities" (unless you consider gathering Lillies for Goldberry to be a responsibility). But I wouldn't call him either passive or reactive. Tom just is, as Goldberry says. He just "happens" to be be in the right place to save the hobbits from Old Man Willow because he was gathering those Lillies. He did make a point of looking out for the hobbits when they left his house and got caught in the Barrow, but even there his instructions to the hobbits was to essentially tap into his unique wavelength by singing that nonsensical refrain. This is getting into the next chapter, so I don't want people to actually answer this question but only to start thinking about it, but how is that Tom is actually able to be there when the hobbits need rescuing from the Barrow, since he obviously did not actually follow them?
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Post by Primula Baggins »

Yes, "reactive" is a good word. The first time I read LotR, I was troubled by the fact that Tom had not dealt with all the Barrow-wights long ago.
“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
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Post by Cerin »

Tom is anything but irresponsible as the person who meticulously maintains his house and grounds, even if you disregard his oversight or caretaker role toward the forest at large, 'walking wide, leaping on the hill-tops ... nosing wind and weather'. He is constantly going here and there seeing to tasks, keeping things right within his domain, as he did in his rescue of the hobbits. I don't see how anyone who knows anything about running a smooth ship, and all the organization and discipline that entails, could continue in the impression that Tom is irresponsible. Would an irresponsible person have immediately gone off and seen to the needs of the hobbits' weary ponies? Would the home of an irresponsible person be so clean and orderly? I see Tom as someone whose very essence is responsible stewardship, and who is full of the purposeful energy of someone who always has some job to do.
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Post by Voronwë the Faithful »

I don't think that anyone has indicated that they believe that Tom is "irresponsible". :scratch:
"Spirits in the shape of hawks and eagles flew ever to and from his halls; and their eyes could see to the depths of the seas, and pierce the hidden caverns beneath the world."
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Post by vison »

Within his bounds, Tom is "responsible", but in the midst of the greatest crisis to face Middle Earth in centuries (to use modern terminology :D ) he is content to stay within those bounds. He won't be drawn into a power struggle, he has renounced power. So he lets WillowMan be, a kind of entente cordiale, two - um - powerful - (sorry, no other word will do :( ) beings living side by side and not interfering with each other. But in capturing the Hobbits, the Willow stepped over some line - and, after all, Tom happened to be coming by. "Happened"? "Bilbo was meant to find the Ring." I've said before that I profoundly loathe these "meanings" and "happenings", I find them heavy-handed devices that serve only to either forward the plot or explain the inexplicable. I'd be happy if they were left out, it wouldn't change much. Coincidence is good enough for me. ;)

Someone said to me once that Tom's like a little child, unable to focus. But I think that's entirely wrong, I think Tom has his focus only on "his realm".
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Post by Cerin »

Voronwë_the_Faithful wrote:I don't think that anyone has indicated that they believe that Tom is "irresponsible". :scratch:
solicitr wrote:Tom isn't any sort of ruler, and he is, I daresay, entirely irresponsible.
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Post by Voronwë the Faithful »

Ah, I missed that, apparently.
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Post by Holbytla »

Tom is responsible as far as his concerns go. Water lillies. willow trees and keeping his part of the world as is with no unwanted outside intrusions. He has become or always was an isolationalist and his concern and responsibilities only lie within his world.

Where he lacks responsibility, or maybe more aptly, understanding is when the outside world's concerns embark upon his world. Gandalf alludes to this in the Council of Elrond as I am sure everone is aware.
He wouldn't understand the need to take care of the ring and would eventually lose it or throw it away. It is beyond his (and I hate to use this word but) ken.
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