Before you read and reply to my musings, please bear in mind as I want to make clear, I am not trying to debate whether pacifism is good or bad in the real world, I am just putting out my interpretation of Tolkien’s writings (both in the books and in his letters) to try and work out how Tolkien himself regarded pacifism, and specifically, whether he himself actually regarded Bombadil as the Hero many hold him as.

Tom Bombadil has a very strong fan base, full of people who claim he holds a secret power. A power used to withstand the Ring- and had a strong heart/power in his choice of pacifism. Some even claiming he had close to the power (in his own way) to Sauron and the Maiar themselves!

It is clear to me, from Tolkien’s writings, that Tolkien did not approve at all of Bombadil’s pacifistic approach, and regarded it as completely powerless in every way- or at least regarded it as a childish stance to take. In his notes he writes,

"But if you have, as it were taken 'a vow of poverty', renounced control, and take your delight in things for themselves without reference to yourself... the rights and wrongs of power and control might become utterly meaningless."

After reading this a few times, I can only think that Tolkien is casting pacifism in a negative light, saying it means you no longer care about rights and wrongs. And this goes completely against the overarching theme to his stories, that good is worth fighting for.

"Power to defy our Enemy is not in him, unless such power is in the earth itself. And yet we see that Sauron can torture and destroy the very hills."

Gandalf's own words, showing that it isn't power or resilience in Bombadil that make him "withstand" the ring, but actually merely a total lack of interest in the lives of others- hardly a noble trait in a world of good vs evil. Even in Bombadil’s history it is clear he was the First to come to Middle Earth, the embodiment of the Earth and the Animals, both of which are also indifferent when it comes to the War.

In this respect, Bombadil is actually painted as the most useless person in Middle Earth, in need of being looked after by those who WILL fight for good. Even the Ent’s went to battle when battle came to them, yet a true pacifist, which Bombadil is, would not raise a weapon even to save themselves-

"Bombadil will fall, Last as he was First"

~Glorfindel makes clear. It is also made clear that he is above the events on Middle Earth not through secret power, but through ignorance- if all the free folk of the world begged him to look after the ring

"he would not understand the need"

~Gandalf. Again, not a positive take.

Furthermore, and my second main point, it has become accepted that the Ring really struggled to find a hold over Bombadil and likely despaired at not being able to corrupt him as he toyed with it like a trinket. However this passage is very open to interpretation, and based on my understanding that Tolkien was not one to suffer pacifism (all the Heros’ in his stories literally fight for good at one point or another) I do not believe the Ring struggled at all to find a chink in Bombadil’s armour. I believe the Ring did not care for Bombadil the same amount as Bombadil did not care for the Ring. It saw Bombadil would be of no use whatsoever in its quest for power, and therefore did not bother to influence his mind, or even make him invisible. It allowed Bombadil to play like a child, knowing it would be handed back over to Frodo.


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    @JoeL. One of our top questions is Who or what was Tom Bombadil?
    – Rand al'Thor
    Sep 16, 2016 at 0:48
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    Bombadil is the classic DND Neutral-Neutral archetype. If you think of the ring as an amplifier, there is nothing to amplify in him. He is the value zero on the moral scale. I always felt his character was included as a reference point more than anything. It only helps to put other events in perspective. Sep 16, 2016 at 5:18
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    I remember reading one interesting interpretation of the figure: that he is basically Tolkien himself, as the author. His powers are unlimited, Middle-Earth only exists with him (he was the First and Last)... but if he intervened, there would be no story. I can't find the reference, though :)
    – Luaan
    Sep 16, 2016 at 10:41
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    You are trying to generalize the world "pacifism" and thus create a question out of nowhere. Imagine: three men met a wild bear. The first shot the pear down. The second scared the bear away with a stinky mixture he prepared just for the case. The third was eaten. Who of the three was pacifist? Sep 16, 2016 at 16:56
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    Granted, I've not read the books in over a decade, but Bombadil never seemed a true pacifist to me. While he generally wasn't interested in killing, there's no indication I remember that he wouldn't defend himself or something he cared about if it was threatened with violence. However, his extraordinary powers meant he usually didn't need to result to violence. Furthermore, recall that Bombadil gave the hobbits weapons; a true pacifist wouldn't provide arms to someone, even a friend or ally.
    – GreenMatt
    Sep 16, 2016 at 21:17

7 Answers 7


Tolkien felt that Bombadil represented an important concept in the story, but that he was essentially useless in defeating evil as represented by Sauron.

Here you have it from the horse's mouth. I'm not sure if this is sufficient to address your issue, but it's the only mention of pacifism in a Bombadil context in Tolkien's Letters.

Tom Bombadil is not an important person – to the narrative. I suppose he has some importance as a 'comment'. I mean, I do not really write like that: he is just an invention (who first appeared in the Oxford Magazine about 1933), and he represents something that I feel important, though I would not be prepared to analyze the feeling precisely. I would not, however, have left him in, if he did not have some kind of function. I might put it this way. The story is cast in terms of a good side, and a bad side, beauty against ruthless ugliness, tyranny against kingship, moderated freedom with consent against compulsion that has long lost any object save mere power, and so on; but both sides in some degree, conservative or destructive, want a measure of control. but if you have, as it were taken 'a vow of poverty', renounced control, and take your delight in things for themselves without reference to yourself, watching, observing, and to some extent knowing, then the question of the rights and wrongs of power and control might become utterly meaningless to you, and the means of power quite valueless. It is a natural pacifist view, which always arises in the mind when there is a war. But the view of Rivendell seems to be that it is an excellent thing to have represented, but that there are in fact things with which it cannot cope; and upon which its existence nonetheless depends. Ultimately only the victory of the West will allow Bombadil to continue, or even to survive. Nothing would be left for him in the world of Sauron.

-- J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #144 (bold emphasis mine)

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    I find it notable that he takes pains to remark that Bombadil's ineffectiveness is "the view of Rivendell." Sep 15, 2016 at 22:38
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    It is great reading the full quote that mine was sampled from, but all it has done is solidified in my mind that Tolkien did not exactly treasure pacifists, which he himself labels Bombadil. It could well be the "feeling" he refers to (and asks us not to analyse- very sorry :p ) is one of disagreeing with pacifism- the feeling that flows through the rest of his stories. The function, showing the Ring is useless (whether by its choice or otherwise) in the hands of a pacifist. He finishes off by pointing out that should Bombadil's pacifistic way have been upheld, Bombadil would have perished.
    – Herbzical
    Sep 16, 2016 at 0:01
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    To put this into some context think about Tolkiens background. He was a soldier himself during WWI and fought on the front lines during the Battle of the Somme where hundreds of thousands died. He also had just witnessed WWII before writing most of his books. One sided pacifism would in both wars have led to certain demise of Britain and thus might explain his view on things.
    – Adwaenyth
    Sep 16, 2016 at 7:05
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    I'm not sure this answer is correct, in spite of it's quotation of the Letter. It seems to me more like giving someone with a medieval lifestyle a smartphone. To us, it's something we covet , but to the medieval man, it's just a flat thing. He knows neither internet, nor electricity and the 'problem' the device solves is not a problem he has. It simply has no effect on how he lives his life and what he values. So it is with the one Ring, as Tom knows no concept of power the ring has no hold over him and is inherently worthless to him.
    – Cronax
    Sep 16, 2016 at 13:44
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    It seems to me that the most important part of the quote in regards to the question is: "It is a natural pacifist view, which always arises in the mind when there is a war. But the view of Rivendell seems to be that it is an excellent thing to have represented, but that there are in fact things with which it cannot cope; and upon which its existence nonetheless depends." He doesn't despise pacifism but see's it as an ideal. But as with most ideals the real world won't allow it. That we should strive for pacifism but in the face of evil we must fight.
    – josh
    Sep 16, 2016 at 16:56

Tolkien probably disagreed with pure pacifism

Judging the views of an author from their work is always a risky proposition. That said, I think this passage captures something of Tolkien’s views on war:

I am in too great doubt to rule. To prepare or to let be? To prepare for war, which is yet only guessed: train craftsmen and tillers in the midst of peace for bloodspilling and battle: put iron in the hands of greedy captains who will love only conquest, and count the slain as their glory? Will they say to Eru: At least your enemies were amongst them? Or to fold hands, while friends die unjustly: let men live in blind peace, until the ravisher is at the gate? What then will they do: match naked hands against iron and die in vain, or flee leaving the cries of women behind them? Will they say to Eru: At least I spilled no blood?

Unfinished Tales

While he would have rejected a position of militarism for its own sake (a la Sauron), or to defend against imagined or nebulous threats, he would also have rejected pacifism as useless in the face of evil.

In his own words, he portrays a rather ambivalent attitude toward war:

…But all Big Things planned in a big way feel like that to the toad under the harrow, though on a general view they do function and do their job. An ultimately evil job. For we are attempting to conquer Sauron with the Ring. And we shall (it seems) succeed. But the penalty is, as you will know, to breed new Saurons, and slowly turn Men and Elves into Orcs.

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 66

But far more explicitly:

The utter stupid waste of war, not only material but moral and spiritual, is so staggering to those who have to endure it. And always was (despite the poets), and always will be (despite the propagandists) – not of course that it has not is and will be necessary to face it in an evil world.

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 64

Tolkien despised war. He was far too aware of its human cost. But yes, it seems likely that he would have seen pacifism as naive, unwilling to recognize the necessity of standing against evil.

But Tom Bombadil was certainly immune to the Ring

The power of the Ring was to corrupt people’s essential nature by giving them delusions of power. What their goals were mattered little; what mattered was that the Ring would give them the power to achieve those goals. Galadriel imagined herself as a dictator like Sauron, but adored, not feared. Gandalf would have become a moralistic tyrant. Even for Sam, whose main ambition in life was to be a great gardener, the Ring presented a temptation:

Already the Ring tempted him, gnawing at his will and reason. Wild fantasies arose in his mind; and he saw Samwise the Strong, Hero of the Age, striding with a flaming sword across the darkened land, and armies flocking to his call as he marched to the overthrow of Barad-duˆr. And then all the clouds rolled away, and the white sun shone, and at his command the vale of Gorgoroth became a garden of flowers and trees and brought forth fruit. He had only to put on the Ring and claim it for his own, and all this could be.

The Return of the King

The Ring cannot simply overpower someone’s will, nor change their essential nature. Rather, it deludes them into believing it alone can give them the power to achieve their goals:

If an entity had no ambitions whatsoever, the Ring would be powerless to affect it. Tom Bombadil was a different matter. He is entirely content with who and what he is. Goldberry’s words are telling:

‘Fair lady!’ said Frodo again after a while. ‘Tell me, if my asking does not seem foolish, who is Tom Bombadil?’

‘He is,’ said Goldberry, staying her swift movements and smiling.

The Fellowship of the Ring

As such, the Ring has no hold over him. Thus its failure to render him invisible. As Gandalf says, when asked whether Bombadil might guard the Ring:

‘No,’ said Gandalf, ‘not willingly. He might do so, if all the free folk of the world begged him, but he would not understand the need. And if he were given the Ring, he would soon forget it, or most likely throw it away. Such things have no hold on his mind. He would be a most unsafe guardian; and that alone is answer enough.’

The Fellowship of the Ring

That Bombadil was immune to the power of the Ring is no judgement on pacifism. The greatest heroes of The Lord of the Rings all were vulnerable to its pull. Gandalf, Galadriel, Frodo, Sam…if Tolkien did not shy away from giving admirable characters this vulnerability, why would he hesitate to give immunity to a character with which he had a political disagreement?

  • Fascinating quotes from Tolkien on war. His thoughts are perfectly reflected in his writings, to face evil before it spreads is necessary and courageous. You do make good points about Bombadil as well- I had thought myself into a circle thinking that it would be insulting if the Ring did not care about him in the slightest, but perhaps you are right- this is not so.
    – Herbzical
    Sep 15, 2016 at 23:55
  • I suppose what I am asking boils down to the validity of two statements. 1) Tom Bombadil is a pacifist. 2) Tolkien thought fighting for good was far better than pacifism, which is doomed to fail. As far as I can tell both of these are true. Therefore I suggest an alternative viewpoint to the Rings apparent lack of power over Bombadil, and suggest he actually had no power at all- as this interpretation fits in better with Tolkiens personal views.
    – Herbzical
    Sep 16, 2016 at 0:43
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    That's the best analysis I ever read about Tom Bombadil vs The One Ring. And looks like Tolkien can quote Sun Tzu
    – jean
    Sep 16, 2016 at 14:16
  • Amazing answer! The Unfinished Tales paragraph definitely nails it. I'd be curious if Tolkien in any way discussed the topic with Orwell (who was quite against pacifists) Sep 16, 2016 at 15:10
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    @Herbzical: I think the immunity to the ring represents the dilemma of pacifism on its own: Yes, Bombadil cannot be influenced by the ring, but ultimately (because of his lack of ambitions, which the ring would otherwise abuse) he cannot attempt to change anything (be it for better or worse). In other words, a pacifist, while noble in thought, cannot bring change to the world (e.g. stop a war). Also, even if "the good side" would be in favor of pacifism (= give Bombadil the ring), it would just delay the war (see quote on Bombadil losing the ring).
    – hoffmale
    Sep 17, 2016 at 21:55

I find it revealing to look at Letter 153, one of the few pieces of Tolkien's writing on Bombadil that you haven't quoted (emphasis mine):

I don't think Tom needs philosophizing about, and is not improved by it. But many have found him an odd or indeed discordant ingredient. In historical fact I put him in because I had already 'invented' him independently (he first appeared in the Oxford Magazine) and wanted an 'adventure' on the way. But I kept him in, and as he was, because he represents certain things otherwise left out. I do not mean him to be an allegory – or I should not have given him so particular, individual, and ridiculous a name – but 'allegory' is the only mode of exhibiting certain functions: he is then an 'allegory', or an exemplar, a particular embodying of pure (real) natural science: the spirit that desires knowledge of other things, their history and nature, because they are 'other' and wholly independent of the enquiring mind, a spirit coeval with the rational mind, and entirely unconcerned with 'doing' anything with the knowledge: Zoology and Botany not Cattle-breeding or Agriculture. Even the Elves hardly show this: they are primarily artists. Also T.B. exhibits another point in his attitude to the Ring, and its failure to affect him. You must concentrate on some part, probably relatively small, of the World (Universe), whether to tell a tale, however long, or to learn anything however fundamental – and therefore much will from that 'point of view' be left out, distorted on the circumference, or seem a discordant oddity. The power of the Ring over all concerned, even the Wizards or Emissaries, is not a delusion – but it is not the whole picture, even of the then state and content of that part of the Universe.

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien 153: To Peter Hastings (draft). September 1954

Contrary to your reading of the text, I don't see Tolkien casting judgement on Bombadil's pacifistic position, but rather included him as a way of pointing out that the perspective of the Elves is not the only one, or necessarily the correct one; I see this pointed out again in Letter 144 (the same as quoted by Rand al'Thor, though I take a different meaning from it; emphasis mine):

It is a natural pacifist view, which always arises in the mind when there is a war. But the view of Rivendell seems to be that it is an excellent thing to have represented, but that there are in fact things with which it cannot cope; and upon which its existence nonetheless depends.

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien 144: To Naomi Mitchison. April 1954

Although Tolkien was certainly not a pacifist in the manner of Bombadil, reading a criticism of pacifism feels disingenuous to me; Tolkien himself was no stranger to avoiding conflict for acadmic pursuits, having availed done exactly that in 1914:

[W]ar broke out the next year, while I still had a year to go at college. In those days chaps joined up, or were scorned publicly. It was a nasty cleft to be in, especially for a young man with too much imagination and little physical courage. No degree: no money: fiancée. I endured the obloquy, and hints becoming outspoken from relatives, stayed up, and produced a First in Finals in 1915.

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien 43: To Michael Tolkien. March 1941

Though of course he did join the war in the end.

  • The Letter 153 quote is certainly interesting and relevant, but does it directly answer the question of whether Tolkien thinks Bombadil-pacifism is useful in-universe (rather than just as a demonstration to the reader that other valid points of view exist)?
    – Rand al'Thor
    Sep 15, 2016 at 22:44
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    @Randal'Thor I'm quite confident that nothing answers that question. Fortunately, this question is about how Tolkien's opinion of pacifism comes through in his writing Sep 15, 2016 at 22:48
  • Hmmmm I agree the first quote does not give any information on his opinion either way, and merely puts the viewpoint forward. The comparison to natural science is interesting. It could imply that Bombadil, in the company of Sauron and evil would only attempt to learn knowledge from him as a natural scientist- not for a purpose, just for knowing, and conserving what he finds without emotion. In other quotes however, including the full quote your second is sampled from, his thoughts seem a lot clearer on taking that position. Very interesting that he chose academia over being a soldier at first.
    – Herbzical
    Sep 16, 2016 at 0:16
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    ....And even more interesting that he felt bad and judged by society whilst taking the pacifists path.
    – Herbzical
    Sep 16, 2016 at 0:27
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    @Randal'Thor: I feel like Tolkien would reply that Bombadil's path is not at all "useful" and that's exactly the point. It's not able to stand up to Sauron alone; that doesn't mean it shouldn't exist or be treasured or protected. Sep 16, 2016 at 1:44

Tolkien did not intend to express any personal opinion about anything, and discouraged the reader from attempting to decipher his views based on interpretation of L.O.T.R.

Here is a quote from Tolkien's foreword to Fellowship:

"The Lord of the Rings has been read by many people since it finally appeared in print; and I should like to say something here with reference to the many opinions or guesses that I have received or have read concerning the motives and meaning of the tale. The prime motive was the desire of a tale-teller to try his hand at a really long story that would hold the attention of readers, amuse them, delight them, and at times maybe excite them or deeply move them....As for any inner meaning or 'message', it has in the intention of the author none. It is neither allegorical nor topical....Other arrangements could be devised according to the tastes or views of those who like allegory or topical reference. But I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse 'applicability' with 'allegory'; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author....An author cannot of course remain wholly unaffected by his experience, but the ways in which a story-germ uses the soil of experience are extremely complex, and attempts to define the process are at best guesses from evidence that is inadequate and ambiguous." [emphasis mine]

  • Agreed. However, three of the other answers have Tolkien's own views and interpretations of his work.
    – Adamant
    Sep 16, 2016 at 16:38
  • Yes Tolkien expressly asked again and again not to analyse his work on a personal interpretational level, as I expect any modest author would. But that does not stop us, and- when you think about it- any story is a window into what the writer holds dearest, whether it is intended to be or not. Tolkien gave enough of his notes and letters to us for us to make quite strong conclusions on things actually, we just need to draw it all together without pre-thought or prejudice. His books and letters are a little piece of a great man, so I jump at the chance to get inside his mind.
    – Herbzical
    Sep 16, 2016 at 22:16
  • His familiar remarks on allegory in the foreword clash curiously with what Jason Baker’s answer say about Tom being an allegory.
    – PJTraill
    Sep 19, 2016 at 22:54
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    @PJTraill Yes, but within one sentence of that answer Tolkien appears to be contradicting himself about whether Tom is an allegory - he begins with "I do not mean him to be an allegory....". Maybe he means that Tom is not an allegory to a practical political viewpoint, as opposed to a non-political personality type?
    – Jackman
    Sep 20, 2016 at 14:19
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    I should have read more carefully: he says “‘allegory’ or exemplar” with inverted commas there to make clear that the usual interpretation does not exactly express what he means. I’m not sure what you mean about political / non-political”, but I think he means that Tom is meant to be a full, round personality, which allegorical figures typically are not.
    – PJTraill
    Sep 21, 2016 at 11:28

Though I won't be able to provide a perfectly formatted answer with references and a bibliography, I did want to weigh in with my thoughts.

I've always seen Tom (within the bounds of LotR) as something extremely unique and rare. To answer as to why he has no control over the one ring and why it has no control over him, you would have to understand who he is and what he is. You see, there isn't anyone else like Tom in all of Ëa--he is one of a kind. He is neither human, elf, dwarf, any fell creature, nor is he counted among the Ainur. Do, what is he?

He is the living spirit of the forest. Now, that identification can be stretched to include all of the forests, or every green thing, or every living thing (flora and fauna) in Arda, though I subscribe to the former (forest). I don't think of him as being created in autonomy and intention, rather that he is a byproduct of the forests' creation. As long as there are living forests, Tom will exist. Likewise, if all of Arda were razed and all greenery was eradicated, Tom would die off or cease to exist

Because he is the spirit of the forest, he doesn't concern himself with the affairs of others. Nothing short of the persistence and proliferation of his domain is where his interests and efforts lie. As a spirit, he lacks a body, mind, heart, and conscience which are all things the ring of power can corrupt. Because it lacked all of that, either the ring chose not to act or attempted to and realized it would have better luck manipulating the rain over Tom.

He was discounted as a suitable choice to hide the ring during the White Council convening at Rivendell because it was noted that he couldn't care less about a magic ring that could make one invisible. It is the very same that so many men, elves, and dwarves fought and died over, and the one that harolds death, destruction, darkness, and fell creatures with all kinds of malicious intent wherever it goes. Tom may have seen that possibility and opted to be oblivious to the world's plight or maybe he wasn't fully aware of the potential ramifications of destroying or hiding the ring as he was only concerned with matters effecting his own domain.

Now, to bolster my interpretation and to legitimize Tom's nature, I submit this: there have been great and powerful entities that have left their own mark on Arda whether it is good or bad. Morgoth's ring was Melkor's influence in Arda and it had permanently altered Arda in darker ways. Since that is the case, wouldn't it be logical to assume that the presence of the woods throughout Arda lead to Tom as a personification of the spirit of the living forests?

To me, that is what Tom is and why he couldn't have been a likely candidate to assist in the efforts to conceal the ring of power. It wasn't pacifism--trees couldn't give a fig about wielding such power over people and that is why he seemed entirely disinterested and unaffected by it's influence.

Just my interpretation and $0.02.

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    I feel myself most in sympathy with your answer. My view is that Bombadil represents the principle of Nature, the natural biological order. That is why he is the first and will be the last. Sauron's evil is that he destroys nature. Sep 16, 2016 at 11:33
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    I've always seen Tom as being earth, not forest, and that together with his counterpart, Goldberry who is water they create nature. Sep 16, 2016 at 14:12
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    Tolkien famously disliked allegory so I would shy away from those identifications. Edit: I now see that Woody's answer even quotes Tolkien's passage about allegory!
    – Charles
    Sep 16, 2016 at 18:04
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    Nice interpretation of Bombadil, but lacks the detail to answer the question at hand :p I do agree with lots of what you think, in terms of Bombadil representing a natural order without concern, and I acknowledge this in my original question. Interestingly, another of Tolkien's quotes directly labels Bombadil as taking the role of a natural sciences academic. Always curious as to the hows and whys of what he sees, but emotionally impartial. I like this interpretation as it explains everything, and does not take anything away from Bombadils uniqueness or importance. He is worth protecting.
    – Herbzical
    Sep 16, 2016 at 22:12

The OP’s interpretation of LOTR as a parable of the need to match power against power is the same common misunderstanding of the books that I fear Peter Jackson made, especially insofar as George Bush quoted The Two Towers in a speech justifying the Iraq war, and Jackson confirmed in interviews that LOTR was applicable to the War on Terror in his opinion; and on a very surface level that seemed especially suitable to a resident of an isolated and non-diverse community who had no plans to become a warrior himself. (Such critics are very hobbit-like in that regard.) Jackson didn't necessarily impute anti-pacifist sentiments to Tolkien, but criticized the source material for not being more oriented toward martial struggle.

Tolkien was fairly clear that in his personal religious belief the highest morality was that exemplified by Gandalf and Frodo, which is the principle of mercy, defined explicitly in opposition to action which redounds to the benefit of the character, as noted in his Letter on mercy vis-a-vis Gollum. Frodo became a pacifist at the end of the book, as well.

As Tolkien noted, despite Frodo's feelings of inadequacy due to his personal "failure" which according to Tolkien actually ennobled Frodo -- to do the right thing despite certain failure.

The condemnation of Bombadil’s implicit pacifism as “useless” in the war is Sarumanian in its perspective – and I think Tolkien would have said so, since he noted about Bombadil that he represents an alternative way of looking at the whole battle betweeen good vs. evil thing – one of great importance to Tolkien when the grey areas of actual good and evil (in the “fallen world” of later ages) are taken into account. We also have the statement on what the outcome of the war would be, had it adhered to modern historical principles. The Ring would have been used and copied, and the hobbits themselves would have been decreed useless pacifists and destroyed.

Gandalf was clear that the Quest for the Ring was itself doomed to fail by normal military means,* and could be called dereliction of duty by a standard military perspective, i.e. that of Denethor, whose crime Tolkien made clear was not just one of despair, but lack of imagination and unwillingness to put faith in Providence, do the right thing and let chips fall where they may.

* to paraphrase Tolkien’s Letters – Frodo’s quest was doomed from the moment ”he could not bring himself to throw the ring in his own fireplace – it was an act of grace, in reward for mercy against all reason towards Gollum, that saved the Fellowship. This obviously relates to Tolkien’s (and Catholic) views on non-utilitarian pacifism as a high ideal that possibly conflict with the OP’s (and most readers’) perspectives.

In summary: Tolkien presented Bombadil as one of a number of characters whose beliefs were not always practical, but unique and valuable in their perspective. Some of these characters represent high ideals, often explicitly doomed ideals. (that are nevertheless cherished precisely because they are doomed). It is up to the more practical characters to "muddle through" (as the hobbits do in modern British fashion), but looking up to, and emulating, the actions of the doomed heroes that preceded them.

Some of the heroes were avatars of pacifism, others were martial but committed to impractical oaths. Vala Manwë, the avatar of all good on Middle-Earth, was so pacifist he was incapable of fully understanding evil, as Sauron was incapable of understanding nonviolence (cf. Ring's destruction).

This resulted in much strife (due to Manwë's release and attempted rehabilitation of evil Melkor, and refusal to interfere in the resulting war), but it was later deemed necessary strife, on which the entire story depends; and one that relates a tale of high good vs. evil wherein a martial culture was considered inherently fallen. (One of Melkor's crimes was to inspire the Elves to make weapons of war in the first place.) In other words, "necessary strife" here = "necessary evil", not good in itself.

I would take the very Tolkien quote the OP cited as arguing the opposite of the assumption which OP takes as natural and irrefutable in the real world. But that is why we have applicability and “death of the author” theory, to give people freedom to make wild re-interpretations, thus increasing the beauty and diversity of the whole.

  • +1 for a good answer. However, we try to Be Nice here, so I edited out the part characterizing the OP’s question as a “rant.” (There are other parts that could do with some application of the policy as well).
    – Adamant
    Sep 18, 2016 at 10:15
  • I will edit it slightly to be charitable. I didn't downvote the OP or anything, because I don't believe in downvoting just because I disagree with the premise, but I do believe it's a premise that begs the question somewhat.
    – Ber
    Sep 19, 2016 at 4:27
  • I have clearly touched a nerve here and for that I am sorry. It is a shame, because you have a few under-explained good points in with the rest of your digressions. I made perfectly clear I am not discussing anything other than Tolkien's views on pacifism, and not making any insinuations on the real world nor my own opinion, so please stay on topic. If anything, I would say that your answer seems to be tainted by your own opinion. I would like more evidence that indicated Tolkien genuinely thought pacifism was preferable to fighting for good and the chance for pacifism to continue in peace.
    – Herbzical
    Sep 24, 2016 at 19:08
  • @Herbzical I didn't mean to sound upset at you, we may disagree thats all. I don't think Tolkien was a pacifist, but he seemed to struggle with these issues being a survivor of WWI. I don't read it as a critique of pacifism.
    – Ber
    Sep 25, 2016 at 7:28

As requested by the OP - these are my thoughts.

The question is three-part (sorta, the questions/answers are inextricable from one another not just because they revolve around Tom Bombadil but because they aren't really separate).

Part 1 - What is the relationship between Tom Bombadil and power in Middle Earth?

The One Ring magnifies a lust for power - Any Power. You want to grind the Elves to dust? It can help you with that. You want to garden your way to everlasting fame? It can help you with that too.

Tom Bombadil had no lust for power or rulership.

Therefore there was nothing for the ring to magnify in him.

Everything left in Middle Earth that Tom enjoyed was there in the Old Forest. The One Ring could give Tom nothing to any degree that he did not already enjoy to the fullest extent.

Part 2 - Why is the One Ring a "trinket" to Tom?

The One Ring was created in the pursuit of all power. In particular power over Arda and everything/everyone in it.

Tom's goal in life, if "goal" is the right word, was to come into the "deepest part" of Creation and see for himself what the Song of Creation was all about. He was master in his realm, not by dint of intent to dominate but by consequence of the complete knowledge he held. Old Man Willow was not old to Tom. Nor was Treebeard for that matter. Nor Galadriel.

Tom was, in Glofindel's words, "first". That is seemingly accurate and bespeaks an interest in Arda-for-Arda's sake unparalleled among the Ainur.

The Maiar (Ainur who by their labors set shape to Arda (as was sung in the Song of Creation)) cared to put shape to the Song and to (later) dwell in Arda but their continuing role, under the Valar, is as Powers over the Creation until the End of Days.

Tom was Ainur but clearly not Valar or even Maiar. It would seem not unlikely that Tom was there in Arda from the beginning, watching but not making.

Other answers/comments (on this and related questions) see Tom as neutral in the struggle between opposing forces - the evil of Melkor (Sauron, etc.) and the good of Manwë (Gandalf, etc.) OR as a manifestation of the pantheistic creation-force. Tom is nothing like either.

Tom is a person (not an impersonal manifestation, not an avatar) and is a good person because he was created good (so he is not neutral). He remains good because to take away from the Song and it's outworking is plainly untempting to him in every way.

In short, The One Ring was powerless over Tom just as Tom was powerless over the ring.

Part 3 - (implied) Why can Sauron beat Tom but not the other way around? / Is Tom the ultimate pacifist?

Tom is Ainur but not Valar (or a lessor Maiar) so he makes a poor ally (if outstanding refuge) in the course of our hero's adventure. Sauron, possessing the One Ring can destroy or dominate all that Tom cares for. Tom would be last in Sauron's conquest because once everything Tom cares for has passed away, so too will Tom. Not, it would seem, because Sauron with the One Ring is more powerful than Tom or could dominate him directly.

Part 4 (bonus!) - Related, but informed, speculation.

There is a strong implication that Tom leaves Middle Earth (if not Eä) well before the End of Days, sometime in the 4th Age. Once the Old Forest is gone, Tom checks out in some unspecified fashion. Sooner if Sauron retrieves the One Ring; later if Frodo is successful and the Elves subsequently sail to Valinor leaving Humans to roll back the wild with their fire and steel. Or perhaps once Goldberry becomes weary of Middle Earth, they hop on over to make a home in Aman somewhere outside Valinor. The latter seems unlikely since I suspect Goldberry is unaffected by the pull of Arda in the presence of Tom.


Because of some community member concerns (that I cite no references but offer only my mere opinion), I'll state that all relevant portions of Tolkien's writings have been consulted. In the interests of conciliation I'll cite one portion of the story not cited by others and show how it bears directly on my opinion. While Tom is escorting Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pipin to the boundary of his land nearest Bree, after rescuing them from the Barrow Downs, the narrator has this to say about Tom Bombadil.

"Tom sang most of the time, but it was chiefly nonsense, or else perhaps a strange language unknown to the hobbits, an ancient language whose words were mainly those of wonder and delight." tFotR, p. 202, emphasis mine.

"Wonder and delight", are exactly what an 'earth spirit' (if indeed Tom is himself 'of the earth') would not exhibit since were he of the earth all such knowledge would be intuitive (and/or possibly irrelevant) to him.

Though Tom is of the Ainur he had no part in the creation and is simply there to delight in the whole ever-changing cycle of it. Tom is the ultimate Naturalist in Tolkien's view. Endlessly curious about the creation for the sake of knowing.

Just because Tolkien intentionally left some things a mystery about Tom doesn't therefore mean anything is possible regarding the same. The OP specifically asked for opinion on Tolkien's presentation of Tom (and the One Ring, and pacifism, etc.) and that is what my answer provides. Not liking my answer means one does not vote it up. Voting it down means it violates the OP and/or SE rules. Given that criteria, I do not believe my answer deserves any down votes; though that does not imply that it deserves any up votes.


  • I always assumed that Tom just stayed in his forest, and will continue to do so until the End. What makes you think that he left Middle-earth?
    – Molag Bal
    Sep 17, 2016 at 22:37
  • 1
    Are you referring to this quote from Gandalf? “And now he is withdrawn into a little land, within bounds that he has set, though none can see them, waiting perhaps for a change of days, and he will not step beyond them.” That suggests that Tom will leave his forest when the age changes somehow, perhaps.
    – Molag Bal
    Sep 18, 2016 at 1:25
  • @amaranth -- Good comment. My thinking is that Tom is hemmed into his "little land" because he does not commit violence against the Free Peoples in order to maintain it's extent. -- So someday it will all be gone and Tom will move along since there's nothing more to see here (btw I'm making a bald assumption that Goldberry goes with him).
    – user23715
    Sep 19, 2016 at 20:44
  • Yes, that makes sense. Maybe he relocated to Aman rather than fighting back men as they paved his forest. :-/
    – Molag Bal
    Sep 19, 2016 at 20:59
  • 1
    This answer is mostly speculation and unsourced assumptions (likely untrue.)
    – Shamshiel
    Sep 21, 2016 at 21:23

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