Where’s Tom Bombadil?

Paul R. Potts

This is not exactly a film review, but it is here to provide commentary on the changes Peter Jackson introducing when adapting The Fellowship of the Ring. I wrote this while teaching a class about the book for elementary school students. We read bits of the book out loud, along with bits of Beowulf and The Silmarillion, and wore name tags that said things like “Hi! My name is Boromir!” I performed songs from the book, and one day I had the students close their eyes while I acted out this little playlet.


SOUND FX: coconut shells banging together to indicate hoofbeats; the horse slows to a walk; a person walks on a gravel path; Darth-Vader style heavy breathing; a heavy knock on a wooden door.

SILLY MALE VOICE: Who is it?

CHILLING, RASPY VOICE: I… SEEK… BAGGINS

SILLY MALE VOICE: Who?

CHILLING, RASPY VOICE: I.. AM.. ONE.. OF.. THE.. NINE.. NAZGÛL… I SERVE THE DARK LORD OF MORDOR… I SEEK BAGGINS… OF THE SHIRE…

SOUND FX: a wooden door creaks open.

SILLY MALE VOICE: Old Tom Bombadil is a merry fellow.. bright blue his jacke… Whoa! ho there! Hey there rider all in black, you startled Tom! Now step you back! Don’t trample on my lovely path… what you be a wantin’?

CHILLING, RASPY VOICE: I… SEEK… THE RING…

SILLY MALE VOICE: Hmmm! well, old Tom doesn’t know anything about rings… but come in! I have butter, cream, and honeycomb, and fresh bread!

CHILLING, RASPY VOICE: SHUT… UP! I… SEEK… THE ONE… RULING RING…

SILLY MALE VOICE: Don’t go breathing down Tom’s neck! come, have a hot bath and sit by the fire!

CHILLING, RASPY VOICE: UGH… FIRE… NEVER MIND. UMMM… IS THERE ANYONE ELSE IN THERE I CAN TALK TO?

SILLY MALE VOICE: Just a split second! don’t you be a-leaving! Tom’ll bring Goldberry, daughter of the river! Lovely as the lilies, her you’ll be a-greeting!

SOUND FX: the wooden door closes; soft footsteps inside the house; indistinct conversation for a moment; the wooden door creaks open again.

SILLY FEMALE VOICE: I am Goldberry, river-woman’s daughter! Running down the hillside, ere the dawn was breaking, golden hair a-blowing, wind among the…

CHILLING, RASPY VOICE: OH… MY… GOD… SHUT UP… JUST… SHUT… UP… URGH… NEVER MIND…

SOUND FX: the wooden door slams shut; a horse neighs; hoofbeats fade into the distance.

SILLY MALE VOICE: Hmm. What a strange man. What did he say he wanted again?

SILLY FEMALE VOICE: I think he might have been selling something.

SILLY MALE VOICE: Oh, well… old Tom Bombadil is a merry fellow…


So why wasn’t Tom Bombadil really in the movie? The obvious answer is “it was already too long, and cuts had to be made,” but the less obvious answer is that the first half of the movie is propelled forward by the sinister figures of the black riders urging Frodo to move very quickly. It would have been too jarring and dissonant to have both the black riders and Tom Bombadil in the same movie. There is also the not-to-be-understated problem of portraying Tom, without the portrayal degrading quickly into camp or unintentional comedy.

I’m not actually criticizing Tolkien, and I know many fans of the book love Bombadil, but there is no denying that he doesn’t quite fit in the book. He was actually a character Tolkien had developed years earlier, and featured in of some of his comic rhymes. Tolkien probably wrote him into Fellowship while he was still floundering a bit, trying to figure out what to do with the hobbits. Tolkien himself seems to acknowledge that Bombadil doesn’t really fit in the darker world of the later parts of the story, because Bombadil is briefly mentioned in The Return of the King, but has no scenes after he rescues the hobbits from the barrow-wights and sends them on to Bree.

Tom’s a digression. In a book, the author can get away with incongruent side quests and radical shifts in style, and digressions are often fun for the reader. But it is hard to do that in a film and still expect it to maintain any momentum.

Ann Arbor, Michigan
2002

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