Tom’s Stronger Songs and a Few Naked Hobbits (Day 26)

When it seemed darkest, our hobbits were rescued by Tom Bombadil! After a costume change and a bite to eat, they’re off again, but this time Tom is coming with them.

Camera: Ansco Color Clipper Film: FujiChrome 400D (expired 08/1994) (xpro as C-41)

Camera: Ansco Color Clipper
Film: FujiChrome 400D (expired 08/1994) (xpro as C-41)

Thoughts on the Passage – Book I, Chapter 8 (p142 – 146, 50th Anniv. Ed.)
We learn a few new things about Tom Bombadil in this passage. For one, Tom Bombadil is apparently an incredibly powerful being. When Frodo calls upon Tom, he answers, singing that “None has ever caught him yet, for Tom, he is the master: His songs are strong songs, and his feet are faster.”

Tom then enters the barrow where our hobbits are trapped and sings to the Barrow-wight. He tells him to vanish and shrivel and wail away into the land beyond the mountains and to never come here again. But that is not all: “Lost and forgotten be, darker than the darkness, Where gates stand for ever shut, till the world is mended.”

Tom didn’t just banish them from his land, and he didn’t just send them back to Angmar in the north. He banished them to he darkness, the Timeless Void, where Melkor was cast. So apparently Tom Bombadil is so powerful that he can do this. That’s incredibly intense. But why didn’t he do it before? Was he afraid that Sauron would notice? That the Witch-king would invade?

The idea that Tom’s songs are stronger songs is obvious here – his song beat out the Barrow-wight’s song that enchanted Frodo and the others. But it also brings to mind Finrod and Sauron’s battle fought only by singing.

When the hobbits emerge from the tomb, they’re dressed in thin white rags, wearing crowns and trinkets. The wights had dressed them so, probably because this is how the dead were prepared for burial. Anyway, Tom tells them to nude up while he finds their ponies. “Cast off these cold rags! Run naked on the grass, while Tome goes a-hunting!”

Before too horribly long, he returns and has named the five ponies: Sharp-ears, Wise-nose, Swish-tail, Bumpkin, and White-socks. There is a sixth, Fatty Lumpkin, who turns out to be Tom’s. He explains as they’re getting dressed that when they visited Tom’s house, their ponies became friends with Mr. Lumpkin. When they were scared at the barrows, they ran to him.

After a small meal, they’re ready to leave, and Tom decides to accompany them to the border of his land. He seems to have known he would have to do this, as when he arrived, he brought food already prepared. Here is also where the hobbits received swords. Actually, they were Numenorian (Westernesse) knives taken from the tombs. This is a callback to The Hobbit, but it’s also something we’ll have to remember. The knives were made by the same people who were defeated by the Witch-king, who will be, in turn, defeated by one of the knives.

Right before the start, Tom waxes over the remaining descendants of the makers of these knives. “Yet still some go wandering, sons of forgotten kings walking in loneliness, guarding from evil things folk that are heedless.” The hobbits had no idea what he was talking about, but Tom apparently gave them a vision of a line of Men, the last one with a star on his brow.

The one with the star is Aragorn. This tradition was started on Numenor, as explained in one of my favorite stories from Unfinished Tales: “The Mariner’s Wife.” I won’t get into that long and strange story, but basically, she was a Queen of Numenor and rather than a crown or a necklace, she wanted a jewel to be placed in a fitting upon her forehead. From that time on, it became the tradition, and she was known as the “Lady of the Star Brow.” Though she was queen, she was not the ruling queen, being married to the king. Her daughter, however, was the first Ruling Queen of Numenor.

At any rate, though Tom seems aloof from everything, and is in many ways, he’s not completely isolationist. He apparently knew of Aragorn, just as he knew of the history of The Shire, and just as he knew of the Prancing Pony in Bree. He doesn’t get around and seems to never leave his land (anymore?) but he still appears to be in the loop. He’ll have more to share with the hobbits before his borders are reached.

About the Photo
This is a photo of a Native American burial mound in Moundsville, West Virginia. The building is not a tomb, of course, but I think an old visitors center. Though now the mound is sort of revered in this town, that wasn’t always the case. It’s been abused and desecrated. In the early 1900s, there was a bar (for drinking) built on top of it. It’s such a shame we have to ruin so many things with thoughtlessness.

Thoughts on the Exercising
It’s becoming routine. I don’t know if I should push myself or just revel in the normality of this. My time is getting better, so maybe I should just focus upon that. But there will come a time when I’ll have to do more. That might effect the project (or I might simply not care and continue doing five-ish miles per day). We shall see.


  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 120
    • 15 miles to Bree
    • 94 miles to Weathertop
    • 340 miles to Rivendell
    • 1,659 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place: Moving north toward the East Road (map)

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4 thoughts on “Tom’s Stronger Songs and a Few Naked Hobbits (Day 26)

  1. Why doesn’t Tom accept the ring from Frodo, why doesn’t Tom cast out the Barrow-Wights years before? I think because Tom’s world is Tom’s; his and Goldberry’s. Why indeed hasn’t Tom simply defeated Sauron with his songs, as one could suppose he might indeed posses such power? Tom’s a merry fellow and that is all. He’s so old that time itself is virtually nothing to him. He is ‘other’ and as such he doesn’t partake in all the hubub of the world, which must look to Tom, much like one of those fast forwarded films with a lone standing figure at the centre. I think that’s really why Tom is loved by Tolkien fans, he hints at so much remaining left unsaid and just hovering outside of the world Tolkien has mapped out for us. Even Tolkien didn’t know what Tom is. And that’s what makes him truly mysterious and compelling. Unlike the Elves who are arguably quite predictable in their own way, Tom is what you could call, truly “fey”, a law entirely unto himself. Why does he help the hobbits? Not through some noble calling pertaining to the company and it’s huge mission, but simply because they have dined at his cottage and are now friends of Tom and Goldberry.

      • Quite decent! Though more good than neutral, I’d think. If the “Adventures of Tom Bombadil” poem is to be believed, Tom’s dealt with Old Man Willow and the Barrow-wights before, and in the exact same way that Frodo dealt with them. Tom could easily have cast them out, but he didn’t, and to me that’s just fascinating.

        He seemed to be protective of good people within his borders, especially when it came to the Barrow-wights, who he actually cast out. And actually, there seem to be more than one wight, but from what I can tell, he only cast out one of them (though I could be wrong here).

        You’re right though, Tom isn’t helping Frodo for the same reasons the Elves or the Rangers are. He’s doing it because they’re good people and he seems to like Hobbits.

        With this whole Bombadil read-through, I’ve delved a bit into Tolkien’s letters about him. In #144, he says that Bombadil has “renounced control,” comparing it to a vow of poverty. He takes his “delight in things for themselves,” and so the question of right or wrong, of power and control “become utterly meaningless, and the means of power quite valueless.

        “But the view of Rivendell seems to be that it [Tom’s way of life] is an excellent thing to have represented, but that there are in fact things with which it cannot cope; and upon which its existence nonetheless depends. Ultimately only the victory of the West will allow Bombadil to continue, or even to survive. Nothing would be left for him in the world of Sauron.”

  2. How are the blades of Númenor “a callback to The Hobbit”? No mention of Númenor there; aren’t the interesting blades (Glamdring, Orcrist, Sting) from Gondolin? What have I missed?

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