I am going to return to The Silmarillion anon but in the meantime, here’s something to cause MCQ and RAF certain pain.
If you only know the Lord of the Rings via the Peter Jackson films you will not know Tom Bombadil. A shame but an understandable one. He’s a weird character who doesn’t do a great deal to progress the story of the journey of the Ring from The Shire to Rivendell.
Tom is one of Tolkien’s earliest creations, named after one of the Tolkien children’s dolls and the subject of a 1934 poem. His cameo appearance in The Fellowship of the Ring is as a mysterious, somewhat ridiculous character, who aids Frodo and company in the Old Forest.
I believe that Tom represents an incarnation of God in a story in which God seems otherwise to be absent. In Tolkien’s legendarium, this is Eru, also known as Ilúvatar, the great creator of the world (see the Ainulindalë and Valaquenta). It would be more accurate to state that I believe Tom could be God. He need not be but the reasons for so believing are compelling and so I choose to believe.
First the obvious counter-arguments. Tolkien himself was not keen on the idea. This might seem to kill the whole fanciful notion dead except that I do not believe that Tolkien is the sole proprietor of the tale: he is but the sub-creator and like old Niggle, the tree he paints is not the tree itself.
The second objection is that Tom is not very godly, with his yellow boots and silly rhymes. This does not worry me. If you expect God to be the Mormon-type CEO, busy doing lofty things in the universe, Tom is obviously not him. If you prefer the perfectly holy God of Catholicism — whose one Incarnation was similarly austere, serious, and holy — then Tom is obviously not him. I am not tied to such an image of God, however, so this objection fails. There is a huge space in the tale for Ilúvatar to fill — his interventions in the world are otherwise few and far between. Where has he been in the meantime? Wandering the Old Forest, of course.
In no particular order, here are the reasons why Tom is God:
- He is not concerned about the One Ring. The Silmarillion tells us that Ilúvatar is supremely confident that all the music — including the discordance of Melkor (Satan) — will redound to his will. Even the Ainur (demigods) would not be that confident. Tom has the air of someone with an eternal perspective (to borrow a Mormon term). Gandalf worries that Tom would lose the Ring if given it, such is his disinterest. Gandalf is not capable of such calm but then Gandalf is not God.
- Given that confidence, where better for God to spend his time than in his creation, enjoying the simple pleasures of leaf and stream? I must admit that this appeals to my aesthetic of heaven.
- Tom’s power is in his singing. Ilúvatar’s creation was one led by music.
- Tom describes himself as the “Eldest” and the “Master,” one who has been on Earth since the beginning (Cf. the Ancient of Days). At the very least, this places him above the mortal realm. That he stands at the head of the immortal realm is revealed by his wife Goldberry, who answers Frodo’s question, “who is Tom Bombadil?” with a simple “He is.” (Cf. ʾehyeh ʾašer ʾehyeh.)
- Tom represents the hoary old trope of the King Incognito.
- Tom rhymes in alliterative verse. The first such example of this in English is Caedmon’s Hymn. Note the words (emphases added). Words matter in Tolkien and this is a remarkable connection:
Now [we] must honour the guardian of heaven/the might of the architect, and his purpose/the work of the father of glory/as he, the eternal lord, established the beginning of wonders/he first created for the children of men/heaven as a roof, the holy creator/Then the guardian of mankind/the eternal lord, afterwards appointed the middle earth/the lands for men, the Lord almighty.
So there. A reasonable, nay, a compelling case for Tom being God. One need not believe, of course, but it would make you a miserable sod to do so. As consolation, I offer the remarkable Tolkien Ensemble: