Academic journal article Mythlore

Beorn and Tom Bombadil: A Tale of Two Heroes

Academic journal article Mythlore

Beorn and Tom Bombadil: A Tale of Two Heroes

Article excerpt

IN The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, two characters appear to be purposefully designed to be literary complements of each other: Beorn and Tom Bombadil. In The Hobbit, Beorn helps Bilbo and his company on their way to the Lonely Mountain, and later joins in the Battle of Five Armies. Tom Bombadil appears near the beginning of The Lord of the Rings, and he saves the Hobbits twice, first from Old Man Willow and later from a Barrow-wight. Several have written on the contrasts between the 'good' figures of Tom Bombadil, the Rangers, and the Ents as opposed to the 'evil' figures of Shelob, Gollum, the Nazgul, and the Balrog among others. (1) Yet there is a different kind of literary kinship between Beorn, the skin changing man in The Hobbit, and Tom Bombadil, the eccentric being in The Lord of the Rings. As Peter Beagle notes, "in a literary sense [Beorn] is the forerunner of the more deeply realized Tom Bombadil" (xii). (2) In this article I will discuss the main characteristics of Beorn and Bombadil, their differences, and what makes them so connected. I will start with the questions of their identities, then look at some general comparisons and contrasts of their positions in their respective stories, and discuss the relationship of Beorn to Tom Bombadil in Tolkien's work.

Who is Beorn?

The question of Beorn's background is actually more complicated than might be imagined. Tolkien never mentions him in his many histories, such as The Silmarillion, The Lost Tales I or II, or Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle-earth, and in the narrative of The Hobbit, even Gandalf is uncertain about his origins (Hobbit [H] 117-9). Beorn is introduced in the seventh chapter in The Hobbit, where Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf and the thirteen dwarves stay with him in his house until their departure into Mirkwood Forest en route to the Lonely Mountain. He is also mentioned in the eighteenth chapter of the same book, where he participates in the Battle of Five Armies and accompanies Bilbo and Gandalf to his home after the battle.

Beorn and his relations, the Beornings (Fellowship of the Rings [FR] 30), are descendants of one of the three houses of the Edain (or at least a close kin), whose language relates to both the Adunaic of the Dunedain of Numenor and the Rohirric of the Rohirrim (Return of the King [RK] 506-8). Originally, all humans were called 'the Edain' in Sindarin and 'the Atani' in Quenya, which meant 'the second people,' (3) but later 'the Edain' was the name given to the three houses of elf-friends, who were noble in spirit, and who with the elves opposed the evil of Morgoth. In the Third Age (TA), the Edain's descendants were the Dunedain, the Rohirrim, the Beornings, the men of Dale, and some others who likewise opposed evil in Middle-earth as represented by the orcs, dragons, and Sauron (Two Towers [TT] 40; RK 388, 404, 429, 506-8; Silmarillion [S] 143, 259-60). The nearest kin to Beorn and his clan were the Rohirrim (in Sindarin the 'horse-lord people') who originally dwelt in the area around the Carrock and the Gladden Fields. Their territory was called 'The Eotheod,' which in Rohirric means the 'horse-folk.' (4) Upon the fall of Angmar in TA 1977, they drove away the remnants of Angmar's people who resided east of the mountains. In TA 2510, Cirion the Steward of Gondor sent a cry for help to the men of Anduin's vale, and Eorl, the Lord of the Eotheod, lead a great host of riders to their assistance. They arrived at the battle of the Field of Celebrant, and turned certain defeat into victory for Gondor. As a reward, Cirion granted to Eorl and his people the region of the Calevardhon from the Anduin to the Isen. Thereupon, they called themselves the Eorlings or the men of the Riddermark, and they called the new land the 'Mark of the Riders,' but in Gondor they became known as the Rohirrim from the land of Rohan (RK 428-30, 459, 508).

The immediate clan of Beorn is called the Beornings, and they guarded the trade routes from the Misty Mountains' passes on the east edge of Eriador to Mirkwood Forest, especially the High pass through the Misty Mountains and the Ford of Carrock. …

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