Academic journal article Mythlore

Bombadil's Role in the Lord of the Rings

Academic journal article Mythlore

Bombadil's Role in the Lord of the Rings

Article excerpt

When J.R.R. Tolkien began to plan a sequel to The Hobbit, his thoughts first turned to Tom Bombadil. His publisher, Stanley Unwin, had urged him to follow up the success of The Hobbit, but Tolkien was initially at a loss as to how to continue in the same vein. In mid-October, 1937 he wrote Unwin saying, "I cannot think of anything more to say about hobbits" (Letters 24). In casting about for another sort of suitable character his thoughts turned to Tom Bombadil, the hero of Tolkien's curious poem "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil." In mid-December 1937, he sent Unwin a copy of the poem and wrote to explain that the fun of hobbits was all used up and that he would have to pursue something different.

  And what more can hobbits do? They can be comic, but their comedy is
  suburban unless it is set against things more elemental. But the real
  fun about orcs and dragons (to my mind) was before their time. Perhaps
  a new (if similar) line? Do you think Tom Bombadil, the spirit of the
  (vanishing) Oxford and Berkshire countryside, could be made into the
  hero of a story? Or is he, as I suspect, fully enshrined in the
  enclosed verses? Still I could enlarge the portrait. (Letters 26)

Tolkien soon found, however, that he did have a great deal more to say about hobbits after all. Still, he managed keep his original idea in play. He enlarged the portrait of Tom Bombadil and used his "spirit" to express an idea of primary moment to the story of The Lord of the Rings.

Although Tom Bombadil might seem to have come into the tale by accident, he certainly did not remain there by accident. Tolkien went through a careful, painstaking process of selecting and refining to shape his story. His early efforts with The Lord of the Rings show that he did not have any clear idea about the story that he had set out to write. He went through many early drafts and made numerous changes to characters and plotlines. He was, as Tom Shippey remarks, "writing his way into the story" (56). One of Tolkien's remarkable features as an author was his readiness to sacrifice his labors, even long hard labors, for the sake of getting the story working to his satisfaction. Characters that he had developed in the course of several drafts he would finally abandon and then proceed with someone new. In the first draft he made his central character Bingo Baggins, the son of Bilbo. By the fourth draft he had changed Bingo into a Bolger-Baggins, now Bilbo's nephew and adopted heir (Return of the Shadow 28). In these early drafts Tolkien brought Bingo and his friends, Marmaduke Brandy buck, Frodo Took, and Odo Bolger (sometimes Odo Took), through their dangerous journey to Bree, where they would meet an odd character named Trotter, a sharp-witted hobbit, browned and wrinkled from his many years in the wilderness, who clopped about briskly in wooden shoes. Such was Tolkien's initial idea for a Ranger. All these characters eventually transformed, with some difficulty, into what we now know. When Tolkien first had the idea of calling Bilbo's nephew Frodo instead of Bingo Bolger-Baggins, he rejected it. He struck out the name Frodo and wrote in the margin, "No--I am now too used to Bingo" (221). So he wrote still another draft with Bingo before his better judgment finally gave way to Frodo Baggins. As for Trotter, although he may seem absurd to us now, Tolkien, as Shippey points out, had become "strongly attached to this character, and even more strongly attached to the name Trotter" (54). Nevertheless, the tough old hobbit Trotter at last gave way to the stern, mysterious man Strider. One feature of the story, however, remains consistent in all these early drafts. Once the hobbits had finally begun their journey to Bree they went into the Old Forest and had to be rescued from the Willow Man (as Tolkien first called Old Man Willow) and from Barrow-wights by Tom Bombadil (Christopher Tolkien, Shadow 110-114). This remained a consistent feature of the early drafts. …

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