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LotR: The Fellowship of the Ring
Kate kate_nepveu
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LotR re-read: FotR I.7, "In the House of Tom Bombadil"

Look, I haven't abandoned this!

What Happens: The hobbits spend one night with Tom Bombadil and Goldberry, being fed and sharing stories. At the end of the chapter, they resolve to set out the next day, armed with a rhyme to call Tom in need.


Relatively short domestic interlude, with hints of danger to come.

* * *

I did spot the rhythms of Tom's speech this time, so that's an improvement.

I will have to look whether Goldberry speaks in a manner similar to Galadriel, who I think she prefigures.

Is anyone able to picture Tom and Goldberry as a married couple in any psychologically realistic kind of way? Because I tried and I can't.

(I did notice, this time, that for all that Goldberry's barely present, she was the one to successfully reassure the hobbits that they were safe over the night.)

* * *

Have I remarked on Frodo's dreams yet? This time, he gets a direct hotline into plot elsewhere, seeing Gandalf escape Orthanc. Even though he doesn't recognize Gandalf, I still don't like it.

* * *

This is really a remarkable paragraph:

Suddenly Tom's talk left the woods and went leaping up the young stream, over bubbling waterfalls, over pebbles and worn rocks, and among small flowers in close grass and wet crannies, wandering at last up on to the Downs. They heard of the Great Barrows, and the green mounds, and the stone-rings upon the hills and in the hollows among the hills. Sheep were bleating in flocks. Green walls and white walls rose. There were fortresses on the heights. Kings of little kingdoms fought together, and the young Sun shone like fire on the red metal of their new and greedy swords. There was victory and defeat; and towers fell, fortresses were burned, and flames went up into the sky. Gold was piled on the biers of dead kings and queens; and mounds covered them, and the stone doors were shut; and the grass grew over all. Sheep walked for a while biting the grass, but soon the hills were empty again. A shadow came out of dark places far away, and the bones were stirred in the mounds. Barrow-wights walked in the hollow places with a clink of rings on cold fingers, and gold chains in the wind. Stone rings grinned out of the ground like broken teeth in the moonlight.

That shift of voice starting with "Sheep were bleating" is very effective.

This reminds me that if I didn't know the underlying myth, I'd be trying to catalog what we've been told to date and what one could get out of it. I remember skipping a lot of the long poetry when I was a kid, and I don't know if I ever understood about Earendil until I read The Silmarillion, or whether I could have if I tried.

* * *

Tom's description of himself:

"Eldest, that's what I am. Mark my words, my friends: Tom was here before the river and the trees; Tom remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn. He made paths before the Big People, and saw the little People arriving. He was here before the Kings and the graves and the Barrow-wights. When the Elves passed westward, Tom was here already, before the seas were bent. He knew the dark under the stars when it was fearless — before the Dark Lord came from Outside."

If he fits into the cosmology established by The Silmarillion, I think this would make him a minor Maia.

* * *

I like the psychological realism in Frodo's reaction to Tom's handling of the Ring.

* * *

Action next chapter, which Le Guin has already analyzed, saving me some effort, so I hope it won't take me so long to get around to it.

[ more LotR re-read posts ]

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I'm not clear at this point (if I ever was) about the distinctions among Maia, Valar, etc., but it seems clear that Tom is something other than mortal or elven. I suspect that Goldberry isn't a person in the usual sense of that term either; which in turn suggests that expecting their marriage to fit into any model that works for humans or sort-of-human folk (including elves) may be a category error. Whether that's because they mean something different by "marriage" than humans do, or because their psychology is different enough o make a marriage work even though it looks very odd to us. I also suspect that Tom and Goldberry may be less a married couple as we (contemporary Westerners) understand that term, than some sort of (perhaps magical) alliance between the Maia and the land.

Another possibility: Tom and Goldberry have a somewhat-"normal" marriage, and it amuses him, or both of them, to play odd roles on the rare occasions that they have mortal visitors.

The Maiar are something like polytheistic deities, and the Valar as the most powerful of them. Gandalf is stated to be a Maia in canon outside the LotR.

As I said below, Tom's constant reference to Goldberry as "my pretty lady" read as a romantic relationship to me, but you may very well be right that it's a category error. The idea of an alliance with the land is an interesting one.

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(no subject) - kate_nepveu, 2006-11-27 12:05 pm (UTC)(Expand)
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(no subject) - kate_nepveu, 2006-11-27 06:38 pm (UTC)(Expand)
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(no subject) - houseboatonstyx, 2006-12-01 10:25 am (UTC)(Expand)
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(no subject) - tekalynn, 2006-12-04 11:41 pm (UTC)(Expand)
The relationship between Tom and Goldberry has always reminded me of Theoden and Eowyn more than a marital relationship.

And in fact after going back to the book, there is no clear indication that they are married. They certainly live together and there is a type of love between them but it is not written specifically that they have an eros style love or that they are married. Just that she chose to cohabit with him rather than stay with her father. Tom mentions that he woke Goldberry by singing under her window so they may not even share a bedroom.

(no subject) - kate_nepveu, 2006-11-27 02:43 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - katie_m, 2006-11-27 05:02 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - kate_nepveu, 2006-11-27 06:40 pm (UTC)(Expand)
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I would be very peeved if some of the Valar were slumming on Middle Earth during the Third Age, so I'm going to pass on that one. =>

(no subject) - rushthatspeaks, 2006-11-27 04:06 am (UTC)(Expand)
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(no subject) - kate_nepveu, 2006-11-27 06:51 pm (UTC)(Expand)
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(no subject) - (Anonymous), 2006-11-29 10:35 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - nancylebov, 2006-11-28 05:08 pm (UTC)(Expand)
They were married in one of the Bombadil poems, I think. Based on the "Silmarillion" cosmology, they are indeed probably both Maiar of different kinds. From what Tolkien said in his early notes, "marriage" means an "association". This was after he gave up on the idea of the Valar having children among themselves in Arda (in the original conception, Orome was Yavanna's son but not Aule's!).

Let's get this quite straight: Bombadil is not a Maia.

(Terminology: Maiar (plural of Maia) are angels, Valar (plural of Vala) are archangels, and Ainur (plural of Ainu) is the general term for all of them.)

First, we have to remember that the whole concept of Maiar didn't emerge in Tolkien's mind until after he wrote LOTR. That Gandalf, and Sauron, and the Balrog were all creatures of the same kind was a retroactive conception that does not even always fit all that well for them, let alone for Bombadil.

Second, Maiar are not immune to the Ring. Saruman succumbs to Ring-lust, Gandalf knows he's succeptible. Bombadil isn't.

This fact has led some into thinking that instead of being a Maia, Tom is a Vala who's gone slumming. But this is even more ridiculous. And the Valar aren't different from the Maia in kind, only in degree. A Vala who took physical form and lived in Middle-earth would be subject to the same weaknesses that the wizards are.

Bombadil isn't any of these things. Frodo asks him directly, "Who are you, Master?" and he answers, "Don't you know my name yet? That's the only answer." You quoted the rest yourself.

When people insist that Bombadil has to be part of this or that pre-existing category, they're falling into the trap of treating LOTR like a role-playing game, with rules and all-encompassing categories. It isn't: that's what makes it great. I'm sorry that Tolkien went as far in that direction as he did by inventing the concept of Maiar in the first place.

Ah, thank you. I was hoping that someone with knowledge of the revision history would chime in.

Maiar are not immune to the Ring

Also, yes, that would be a problem regardless.

When people insist that Bombadil has to be part of this or that pre-existing category, they're falling into the trap of treating LOTR like a role-playing game, with rules and all-encompassing categories.

I think you're being rather harsh, here. _LotR_ is a world, after all, with extraordinary depth and thoroughness to the worldbuilding. Tom is the major element that I can come up with, off the top of my head, that doesn't get explained or related to something else in the course of the narrative proper or the appendices. Given that everything else fits together, why shouldn't people try and figure out if Tom does as well?

(no subject) - kalimac, 2006-11-27 10:49 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - kate_nepveu, 2006-11-27 11:14 pm (UTC)(Expand)
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(no subject) - kate_nepveu, 2006-11-28 02:24 am (UTC)(Expand)
Other stuff:

Did you notice that Bombadil is a vegetarian? So is Beorn.

The poem "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil" states that he and Goldberry were wed. Of course that's a hobbit poem, and what do hobbits know about Bombadil?

True, Bombadil and Goldberry aren't like most married couples I know, but I don't consider them impossible for purposes of a stylized romance tale. I don't believe in people who speak in rhythmic verse in real life either.

Frodo later tells Gandalf about his dream, and Gandalf points out that it was late. He escaped Orthanc a few days before Frodo ever left Bag End.

Why do you dislike the dreams? Tolkien doesn't punch holes in the plot by giving characters information in dreams that they can actually use and could not otherwise have gotten.

Yes, I did notice that they were vegetarian, and forgot to mention it.

I dislike the dreams for the same reason I dislike Frodo occasionally doing something for no reason that he can explain. Granted, it's not as extreme, since the dreams don't advance the plot, while calling out "help" or whatever does, but--and I'm not sure whether I can articulate this adequately--it still feels like the author intruding to make things work, either the plot or to feed the _reader_ information. What other purpose does it serve, to have Frodo dream about Gandalf in Orthanc? He doesn't understand it, nothing happens from it, it's not thematic, it's just giving the reader an unnecessary preview.

(no subject) - kalimac, 2006-11-27 10:46 pm (UTC)(Expand)
I didn't know the underlying myth, I'd be trying to catalog what we've been told to date and what one could get out of it.

the first time I read this I of course didn't know the underlying myth, and I was trying to do exactly that. And I remember sadness. The idea that old kingdoms had been there but failed is filled with sorrow in Tolkien's delivery, and it really comes across.

The more I look at that paragraph the more I admire it.

(no subject) - kalimac, 2006-11-28 12:19 am (UTC)(Expand)
I am in the midst of reading (and recommend) _At the Bottom of the Garden: A Dark History of Fairies, Hobgoblins, Nymphs, and Other Troublesome Things_ by Diane Purkiss. Her discussion of Nymphs resonates with Goldberry on a number of levelsL the beauty, the lack of overt sexuality, and the lack of any obvious story of her own. The traditional danger of becoming entangled with a nymph is that one essentially becomes "stuck in time" as they are, removed from any possibility of heroism or glory; this could easily be a description of Tom, except that he views it as not a peril, but his natural state.

Even before reading this, I'd always viewed her as very nymph-like. The epithet "River's daughter" certainly evokes that.

Hmm. That's very interesting. Is this related to the traditional time-slip of visiting Faerie proper?

(no subject) - alexx_kay, 2006-12-01 09:16 pm (UTC)(Expand)

Frodo's dream of Gandalf

I've thought for a while now that Frodo's dream of Gandalf here is easily explainable: one of the powers of the One Ring is the ability to know what's going on with all those little elvish trinkets out there. Frodo is desperately worried about Gandalf, and wondering where he is... so, unconsciously, he reaches out through the Ring to Narya and taps into Gandalf's situation report. It shows up as a dream...

Re: Frodo's dream of Gandalf

You know, except that the dream is apparently not real-time, I rather like this explanation.

It doesn't help with everything inexplicable that Frodo does, of course, but still.