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Close to the end of The Return of the King, Gandalf tells one of the Hobbits that it's time for him to go and have a long talk with Tom Bombadil. Was there anything significant to this talk? Does anyone know what it would be about, etc?

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    If the conversation is about anything other than Goldberry or water lilies for Goldberry, Tom Bombadil isn't going to be interested.
    – Wad Cheber
    Sep 22, 2015 at 0:00
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    I guarantee the consistency and flavor of pipe-weed will come up at some point.
    – Omegacron
    Sep 22, 2015 at 18:49
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    Doesn't he say something like "For I have been like a pebble stumbling down a river and Tom has been like a stationary rock."
    – Joe C
    Oct 3, 2015 at 6:07
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    "I am going to have a long talk with Bombadil: such a talk as I have not had in all my time. He is a moss-gatherer, and I have been a stone doomed to rolling. But my rolling days are ending, and now we shall have much to say to one another." - The Return of the King (Homeward Bound) Mar 9, 2016 at 5:05
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    Pretty sure this is one of those times when the author encourages each reader to utilize their own creative input - to answer the question for themselves, based on what the story meant to them.
    – Misha R
    Dec 16, 2018 at 19:34

6 Answers 6

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With the understanding that

  • Bombadil was clearly depicted as the oldest being in Middle Earth (He tells the Hobbits this in their encounter with him ... "Tom was here before the river and the trees"(FoTR))
  • Gandalf was one of the Maiar, which were spirits created before Middle Earth took the shape it was in when the elves first awoke (Olórin he was called before Gandalf, cited in LOTR and The Silmarillion)

it is easily argued that these two were kindred spirits from waaaaay back.

Tolkien humanizes Gandalf in his role as "old man", in that he hungers to have the freedom (after his long labors against Sauron, who was also once one of the Maiar*) to sit down over a pipe and have a long discussion or reminiscence with someone more like him, someone who remembers *the old days1.

There are very few beings on Middle Earth who could fulfill that hunger: Bombadil2 was one such.

I am going to have a long talk with Bombadil: such a talk as I have not had in all my time. He is a moss-gatherer, and I have been a stone doomed to rolling. But my rolling days are ending, and now we shall have much to say to one another." - The Return of the King (Homeward Bound)


1 As @corsiKa pointed out, Gandalf had recently defeated three other Maiar: (Durin's Bane aka the Balrog (corrupted ages ago by Morgoth), Sauron, and Saruman (who had been corrupted by the desire for Power, or as Gandalf put it in LOTR, wanting to "become a Power")). These three were, back during the Great Music described in The Silmarillion, originally spirits of the same kind. Gandalf and Tom Bombadil might very well be "the last of the breed" in Gandalf's reckoning, and as such would be one of the few with whom he could share the old stories.

2 FWIW, his Sindarin name Iarwain Ben-adar (Eldest and Fatherless) is another point to him being the first being on Middle Earth as we know it.

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    Not only is Tom Bombadil someone Galdalf may have a good time with, but he also represents the peace and prosperity Middle-Earth may now achieve. Just like Gimli and Legolas went off to visit their favorite places, Gandalf visiting Tom may be representative of the fact he no longer has to worry about the well-being of the world, and can afford to sit back and enjoy himself. Sep 21, 2015 at 20:45
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    Gandalf also recently defeated three of the other Maiar he could talk to (Durin's Bane the Balrog, Saruman, and Sauron) and the other three he didn't have all that much contact with (Peter Jackson's rabbit-sleds not withstanding). That left himself and Tom for people who really could kick up the old stories.
    – corsiKa
    Sep 21, 2015 at 22:09
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    @Shokhet: “what's-his-name the Brown is also recently dead”. Is he? Wikipedia says: “The only other reference to Radagast in The Lord of the Rings is after the Council of Elrond when it is decided to summon all the allies against Sauron together. Scouts are sent to look for help, and it is reported that Radagast is not at his home at Rhosgobel and cannot be found. Tolkien makes no mention of what has happened to Radagast, and he plays no further role in events.” Sep 22, 2015 at 14:03
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    @Chop Tom is not one of the blue wizards. The wizards, being Maiar, existed before Time, making them older than the world. Tom is clearly younger than the world, as per Tolkien Letter 153: Only the first person (of worlds or anything) can be unique. which is a footnote on the phrase he is.
    – corsiKa
    Sep 22, 2015 at 14:42
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    They could talk together about what an egomaniac old Sauron turned out to be, since they all sang together in the same school choir. :-) Sep 23, 2015 at 2:23
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Perhaps Gandalf wanted to investigate any being who could not be affected by the One Ring, as it contained the power from a Maiar (Sauron). Remember how Bombadil remained visible when he placed the Ring on his finger, and how, in fact, he had power over IT, causing it to disappear and reappear.

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  • No need to investigate, if he is, as is often supposed, one of the Maia and thus of the same age/lineage as Gandalf. Sep 22, 2015 at 23:48
  • @KorvinStarmast Gandalf believed he would be corrupted by the ring, and Bombadil felt no fear of it, and was not corrupted by it. So even if Bombadil is a Maia, he knows something Gandalf does not (how to resist the ring).
    – Yakk
    Sep 23, 2015 at 13:55
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    @Yakk That's a good point, but, since the Ring is destroyed at this point in the story, whatever Gandalf can learn from Bombadil can't or won't be applied to the Ring anymore. It might offer him insights into his own Ring, but that too is about to pass into the West. Sep 23, 2015 at 14:30
  • Why would Tom want to be invisible? The Ring does as told as long as that gets it closer to Sauron. Sep 23, 2015 at 17:29
  • @CeesTimmerman When Bilbo first uses the ring, he does not tell it to turn him invisible. That effect simply happens and he then exploits his new invisibility to escape. Sep 24, 2015 at 19:20
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Too much reading into things. Most other comments are poppicock and things rejected by Tolkien himself. What did Gandalf and Bombadil talk about? Likely how to live a life without the need to wander and what is to be done when the mission is completed. Tom had no cares or goals or desire to travel. How to live such a way happy is likely the one thing Tom knew and Gandalf did not. The reason for the talk was stated and likely was just about that specifically

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    You could improve this answer by editing it to add the relevant quote/s from Tolkien to confirm what precisely he rejected, as well as the specific quote where "The reason for the talk was stated". Apr 3 at 18:58
  • If you are referring to "He is a moss-gatherer, and I have been a stone doomed to rolling" then please add that citation to support your answer. (And it does) 😉 Apr 3 at 23:25
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Or, as some have posited, a messianic figure, similar to Melchizadek, Jesus, and any other who might have come before or after, as a son of God - meaning one who is free from the effects of the Fall, but not an "aspect", to bring mankind back to God. Such ideas have been conveyed throughout the ages. This idea would not make any Messianic figure an "aspect" of God, but their own entity (Restored Man) as in why Jesus screamed out to God "Why have you foresaken me?" to God, clearly denoting the difference in the two beings, God and Jesus. (Not saying this is true or false)

So, onto what they would have discussed. Gandalf says, "...He is a moss-gatherer, and I have been a stone doomed to rolling. But my rolling days are ending, and now we shall have much to say to one another."

Since his "rolling days are ending", he wants to discuss with Bombadil (his superior) what his purpose in life should be now since his days protecting Middle-Earth and the Shire are completed. Who better than a Messianic figure to talk about such things with?

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    Hi, welcome to the site. What are you addressing with the first paragraph of this answer though, as it doesn't appear to be the question. If it's a response to one of the previous answers, it should be left as a comment beneath the relevant answer, rather than being included in this answer, as answers are meant to be focused on the original question. As a new user, you need to earn a bit more reputation to unlock the comment everywhere privilege. Please take the tour and visit the help center center to learn more. Mar 14 at 3:14
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    If your answer is that Gandalf wants to discuss his purpose, then you should lead with that and concentrate on defending that thesis, rather than jumping in with a discourse on messianic figures.
    – DavidW
    Mar 14 at 4:05
  • The start of your answer looks like it is a follow up to a different answer. Each answer is to stand alone (this is not a forum threaded discussion) so please identify who the Messianic figure is, and how these to fit into the points that you are making, and what supports your point on that similarity/structure. Are you following on to Michael Organ's answer? We seem to pick you up in the middle of a conversation. Apr 3 at 23:28
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The suggestion that Gandalf was visiting Tom Bombadil to speak with the "Master" is the most logical one. As he says to the hobbits upon their parting company: "I am turning aside soon. I am going to have a long talk with Bombadil: such a talk as I have not had in all my time." This points to the importance of the meeting, and the heightened status of Tom, at least in Gandalf's mind. Gandalf now feels, following his death and rebirth and the defeat of Sauron, that he is able to talk with him like never before. His negative comments in regard to Bombadil at the Council of Elrond may need, in his mind, to be readdressed. This adds to the argument in regard to Tom Bombadil being a manifestation of Eru.

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    Except Tolkien rejected that idea, and said: "Lots of other characters are called Master" (Letter #153). Tolkien also said elsewhere: "The Incarnation of God is an infinitely greater thing than anything I would dare to write"(Letter #181), where he discussed Gandalf's revival. If he wouldn't dare to make Gandalf the One on earth, why Tom?
    – Eugene
    Sep 30, 2021 at 1:44
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There's also the theory to consider, that Tom Bombadil was some kind of aspect of Iluvatar; a way to have a perspective in the world without interfering himself. This means it could be just a report on the situation to his superior.

The power of Tom Bombadil had no match. The ring was a thing so complex, so powerful, that were none in the world able to undo it, or even completely control it (except for Sauron in this regard). None but Tom. Tom could not be corrupted by the ring, could not be controlled or tempted. Even more impressively, he could change the ring, control it, play with it in a technically impossible way.

So I always imagined this talk between him and Gandalf as a discussion about "Is the work really done now? What is left to do? What are the possibilities for the future; is it really rid of Melkor and Sauron's influence for good?". Should I stay or should I go now?

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