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I have often wondered when Tom Bombadil made the One Ring disappear after Frodo gave it to him, did Tom send it into a magical realm/another dimension that only he had access to?

Let's say that in a scenario in which right after Tom makes the One Ring disappear, the Nazgûl were to suddenly come bursting into Tom's house and demanded that they be given the One Ring. At that point, Tom would tell them something like, "You're too late, I have put the ring into a place that you have no access to. Now get out of my house before I sing you a song that you will not like."

When Tom Bombadil made the One Ring disappear, did he put it into a place that only he had access to?

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    Since Bombadil had the same power over the One Ring as the Ring over him... It was probably just a hand trick. It is unlikely that Bombadil could've made the Ring disappear permanently. Just speculation, of course.
    – IloneSP
    Apr 15, 2023 at 19:52
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    My instinct is that it's slieght of hand rather than actual magic - it feels like it's meant to demonstrate that Tom is indifferent to the ring (for better or worse). I dont think there is anything in the text to explicitly confirm this though
    – JayFor
    Apr 16, 2023 at 12:58
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    It was just a trick. existentialcomics.com/comic/157
    – Wastrel
    Apr 16, 2023 at 19:55
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    I wonder whether this was inspired by a hypothetical riddle from Gollum: "What has it got in it pocket dimensionses?" Apr 17, 2023 at 0:38
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    to second @JoshuaTaylor 's point, at the Council of Elrond no-one is worried about Sauron being able to take the ring from Bombadil, they're worried about him losing it somewhere where Sauron can just pick it up
    – Tristan
    Apr 17, 2023 at 9:11

3 Answers 3

77

There is no answer to this for two reasons:

First, Tolkien deliberately did not write about the details of his magic system. He felt that magic was closely related to wonder, and for magic to produce wonder, it needed to be mysterious and not a technology. You'll note that he rarely said anything about how things happened and the greatest practitioners were not even sure that what they did was magic. Galadriel said:

'And you? ' she said, turning to Sam. 'For this is what your folk would call magic. I believe; though I do not understand clearly what they mean; and they seem also to use the same word of the deceits of the Enemy. But this, if you will, is the magic of Galadriel. Did you not say that you wished to see Elf-magic? '

To the extent that we can speak of where magic comes from, it comes from the essence of the being doing it. It's built-in, so to speak, and thus might be quite different from person to person.

'Are these magic cloaks? ' asked Pippin, looking at them with wonder. 'I do not know what you mean by that,' answered the leader of the Elves. 'They are fair garments, and the web is good, for it was made in this land. They are elvish robes certainly, if that is what you mean. Leaf and branch, water and stone: they have the hue and beauty of all these things under the twilight of Lórien that we love; for we put the thought of all that we love into all that we make. Yet they are garments, not armour, and they will not turn shaft or blade.

Secondly, Tom Bombadil himself was left by JRRT as an enigma in an already enigmatic world. He commented that he felt that every world should contain mysteries that can't be explained and that Bombadil was one such. In letter #144 he noted that Bombadil has a role outside the struggle that has dominated both side in Middle-Earth for close to ten thousand years:

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.

If we don't have a science of the magic of Middle-Earth and if Bombadil was an enigma on top of that, and outside the geospiritual forces at play, we surely can't understand what he did with the Ring.

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Book 1 Chapter 7 says:

Tom laughed again, and then he spun the Ring in the air – and it vanished with a flash. Frodo gave a cry – and Tom leaned forward and handed it back to him with a smile.

You can explain a trick like that by the flash drawing attention, or the thrown ring being an illusion, or the ring's capability to become invisible, and so on. One of today's real world magicians could do a trick like that.

The text does not suggest the existence of "a place that only he had access to". Why do you think it's the best explanation for the hobbits temporarily losing sight of the ring?

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  • @ Andomar, it seems to me that Tom actually did make the Ring disappear while it was in midair and he also made it move from the spot it had disappeared from over into his hand. Thus, if Tom could make the Ring move from one spot to another, and he made it reappear in his hand, I think that he could have chosen not to make it reappear. If he had chosen not to make the ring reappear, then it would have to be somewhere, and that somewhere is what I have been curious about.
    – user143126
    Apr 16, 2023 at 12:45
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    @user57467 And if Tom had pulled the Ring out from behind Frodo's ear, would you be more convinced it was just sleight of hand?
    – Spencer
    Apr 16, 2023 at 14:49
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    @Spencer, if that was the case, then yes, I would be convinced that it was just sleight of hand.
    – user143126
    Apr 16, 2023 at 15:16
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    For what it's worth, @user57467, I have always read that scene as being nothing but a parlor trick, Tom is messing with Frodo for his own amusement and just did a little illusion. I see no reason to assume the ring had literally disappeared. Nor that, even if it had disappeared, it would need to have been moved anywhere more fancy than behind Frodo's back. I mean, even if this were an actual disappearance, why would it have to go somewhere special when all it needed would be to go somewhere that is out of the characters' sights?
    – terdon
    Apr 17, 2023 at 13:48
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    @terdon: To combine your comment with the thoughts about Tolkien's "magic system" (or deliberate lack thereof) from the other answer, it doesn't really matter if Tom used what we would call "magic". Whether he used sleight-of-hand, a pocket dimension, or some other method, it was a parlor trick from his perspective: something simple to do, and done for amusement. The point is to illustrate his casual attitude towards the Ring; the mechanical details are unimportant.
    – MJ713
    Apr 17, 2023 at 17:54
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It shows his utter supremacy over the power of the ring. Usually the ring made the wearer disappear, but Tom had the power to make the ring itself disappear. The ring might have shifted into the same dimension it goes when someone puts it on. Sauron and his minions were able to access that even more easily than the normal world.

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    – fez
    Apr 21, 2023 at 9:56
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    I don' t think Gandalf agrees with this. "... he [Tom] cannot alter the Ring itself, nor break its power over others" (The Council of Elrond). That doesn't sound like utter supremacy to me. Apr 21, 2023 at 11:10

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