I know he saves the hobbits from the barrow-wight and gives them weapons which affect the Nazgûl, Sauron's greatest servants. But I've always wondered why a high power, which Tom Bombadil obviously is, doesn't play a more significant part against Sauron. Gandalf says at the Council of Elrond that Tom wouldn't understand the struggle between Light and Darkness.

Asked if Bombadil might take the Ring for safekeeping, Gandalf replies:

"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, Book II, Chapter 2: "The Council of Elrond".

What confuses me is that if Sauron regains the One Ring, Tom will also fall like the rest of Middle-earth.

Is there any other info in the texts (aside from fact that Gandalf says that he basically doesn't care what happens) about why he didn't play a more prominent role?

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    Tom appears to be above an beyond anything sauron could every be, so he has little interest in matters that wont affect him. – Himarm Jun 2 '15 at 16:10
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    @AndresF. I don't agree, unless you're thinking of the answer saying "Tom is a literary device, so no". Bombadil was uninterested in Sauron because he's beyond caring about "good" or "evil"; the answer to this question is not an answer to that one, and vice-versa – Jason Baker Jun 2 '15 at 16:24
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    On a lighter note, he has a hot wife and a nice house guarded by ferocious man-eating trees: why should he care about anything else? :) – Wad Cheber Jun 2 '15 at 21:54
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    It is wrong to think that Bombadil is a great power. He confronts and defeats Old Man Willow and a Barrow-Wight through force of personality; it seems probable to me that the average Elf-warrior could have done the same through force of arms. The Ring has no power over him; this is because he desires nothing the Ring has to offer, which is a feat of enlightenment (in the Buddhist sense), not power. We have no reason to think he could, say, grapple with a Balrog as Gandalf did. – zwol Jun 2 '15 at 22:08
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    Tom Bombadil leaves an idyllic, peaceful, and un-affiliated life. He is the Switzerland of Middle Earth. – Zibbobz Jun 3 '15 at 16:16
up vote 59 down vote accepted

Tolkien addressed this in Letter 144:

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.

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

Basically, Bombadil isn't interested in the threat of Sauron because he is entirely beyond caring about "good" or "evil". In fact, Tom Bombadil doesn't really care about anything beyond preserving the peace within his own borders; even that he only accomplishes with song and force of personality.

Bombadil is ultimately a complete pacifist, and has no use for violence or struggle against anyone, even "evil".

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    I wouldn't necessarily say that he doesn't care about good and evil (that is, that he doesn't care whether individuals behave in a good or evil manner); but he doesn't care about making certain that one side or the other in a "good versus evil" struggle wins. – Matt Gutting Jun 2 '15 at 17:29
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    @Wad: I would guess that he trusts that things will happen as is best in the long run, and if what is best happens to include his death and the destruction of his country, well, ring a dong dillo! – Harry Johnston Jun 2 '15 at 22:16
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    @Wad: or personification of Ea (the Earth) or nature. – Edheldil Jun 3 '15 at 8:11
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    @curiousdannii Depends on your morals, I guess. I don't think we can call Bombadil "good" or "bad"; he's on nobody's side, because nobody is on his side. But I would still call his assistance to the Hobbits "good". Outcome exists independently of intent, as Gollum (and innumerable historical examples) showed us – Jason Baker Jun 3 '15 at 13:02
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    Kaiser in WWI, to the leader of Switzerland: "Your army is only 250,000 men strong. What will they do if I send half a million men across your border?" Swiss leader: "Fire twice and go home". (Every man in Switzerland is obligated to serve in the military and bring his weapons home when his enlistment is over) – Wad Cheber Jun 3 '15 at 18:52

There are some assumptions you're making.

First, there is no real proof that Sauron will simply win if he gets the One Ring. Yes, all of his opponents believe this to be true... but of course they do! Sauron had the Ring in the past and was defeated: from an objective point of view there is no reason to believe that he would actually conquer the entire world. Or that that rule would last forever and be unchanging. It is conceivable that Bombadil simply can weather that storm: and that capability would in no way change Gandalf's assessment, since what Gandalf cares about would still be gravely affected.

Secondly, when Bombadil is described he is described as having been there at the creation of the world, before anything else. Perhaps he is a Maiar or Valar, or perhaps he is another entity entirely, existing tangentially to Middle Earth. That would explain how he could already be there at the creation. "Tom remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn [...] he knew the dark under the stars when it was fearless — before the Dark Lord came from Outside"

Thirdly, there is the assumption that Bombadil is actually a character in the story rather than one of a manifestation of aspects of the world itself that provided the simulacrum of a reasoning entity (nothing says, for instance, that the memory he remembers is his...) or a meta-character, a representation of the reader themselves: he can make the Ring "appear and disappear at will", much like someone who can open or close a book, or start or stop a story. Whether he is such a meta representation of the reader or an actual in-world entity, with such power why would he be concerned about Sauron? Given that he can see Frodo with the Ring on, perhaps he simply has the ability to ignore Sauron's power.

Suffice to say, Bombadil exists next to the Lord of the Rings, and it seems like a misdirection to attempt to ascribe motivations to him similar to the rest of the protagonists.

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    There were a lot more Elves and men in the world when Sauron was first defeated, and an alliance existed then, which is no longer the case. – Wad Cheber Jun 3 '15 at 19:01
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    @WadCheber The strength of the Elves to resist him was greater long ago; and not all Men were estranged from them. As far as the rest of the answer: I'd need a lot of evidence to indicate that Bombadil wasn't "a character in the story" rather than something more "postmodern"; I see no evidence that such is the case, and Tolkien never used such a device in any other of his stories or books. – Matt Gutting Jun 3 '15 at 20:33
  • Are we talking author intent or the possibilities as presented by the text? Arguably one of the benefits of quality literature is that those stories provide a plethora of ways to be read. – Nathaniel Ford Jun 3 '15 at 20:45
  • @MattGutting - you know this isn't my answer, right? – Wad Cheber Jun 3 '15 at 20:47
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    @WadCheber Yes, I just can't call out both you and Nathaniel in the same comment. – Matt Gutting Jun 3 '15 at 20:48

This perhaps goes back to Socratic philosophy. In it, there's a concept of the "Ideal" and the "Physical" with the physical being a pale shadow implementation of what the "Ideal" is / can be.

Plato's theory of Forms or theory of Ideas asserts that non-material abstract (but substantial) forms (or ideas), and not the material world of change known to us through sensation, possess the highest and most fundamental kind of reality. When used in this sense, the word form or idea is often capitalized. Plato speaks of these entities only through the characters (primarily Socrates) of his dialogues who sometimes suggest that these Forms are the only true objects of study that can provide us with genuine knowledge; thus even apart from the very controversial status of the theory,

My interpretation of the book Ethics: The History of Moral Thought is that Socrates believed that evil people could not "harm" a "good" person. In this he did not think that evil couldn't inflict pain and damage upon the physical person of an individual, rather evil could not fundamentally alter the "Ideals" of that individual and therefore couldn't harm his moral essence.

If we consider Tom Bombadil as Tolkein's concept of the "Ideal", then Bombadil isn't worried about/interested in/concerned with Sauron and his evil. Sauron can't harm the ideal and therefore isn't really relevant.

Socrates even believed that people don't knowingly do harm (or evil).

Socrates believed that nobody willingly chooses to do wrong. He maintained that doing wrong always harmed the wrongdoer and that nobody seeks to bring harm upon themselves. In this view all wrongdoing is the result of ignorance. This means that it is impossible for a human being to willingly do wrong because their instinct for self interest prevents them from doing so.

If you ascribe to Socratic philosophy than it makes perfect sense that Tom Bombadil's impression of Sauron (if he thought of Sauron at all) was as not relevant to Tom Bomadil and his interests.

  • Where are these quotes from? Are they quotes? – Matt Gutting Jun 2 '15 at 20:35
  • The quoted portions are from the sources I linked. The other stuff is my interpretation of a set of lectures I got on audio book. – Jim2B Jun 2 '15 at 20:36
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    I know this concept was a stretch but Tom Bombadil's seeming indifference reminded me of Socrates' willingness to ingest Hemlock. Tom nor Socrates worried about their ideals and not much else seemed important to them. – Jim2B Jun 3 '15 at 20:14
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    Prob a down vote. I just wish I knew why :) – Jim2B Jun 3 '15 at 20:55
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    @Jim2B - How do you think I feel? I post pictures of a hot River-Daughter and I get 2 down votes for my trouble. :( – Wad Cheber Jun 3 '15 at 20:57

If Tom is a Maiar (or, just possibly, a Valar), he could just scoot back to Valinor if the Sauron situation got out of hand. Few Valar are concerned with the elves, let alone any of the Subsequently Born; it makes sense to me that their Maiar would show a similar lack of interest in the peoples of Middle Earth and their magical trinkets. The One Ring, the most powerful magical artifact in Middle-Earth, can barely hold Bombadil's attention for more than a few minutes; I suspect he's similarly uninterested in anything that isn't his forest or his wife.

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    Exactly. He's got hot Goldberry sex to think about. Sauron is irrelevant to him. – Wad Cheber Jun 3 '15 at 19:02

Two words: Goldberry. Okay, I guess that's one word. But still, if you came home to this every night, would you really care about anything else?

enter image description here [Credit to Anne Wipf]

To paraphrase the Eels' song "Hey Man (Now You're Really Living)", when you're in love with a beautiful girl, everything else seems less important.

From Tom's point of view, as long as he has water lilies for Goldberry, he has everything he needs, and not much else matters to him.

enter image description here [Credit to Jinx Mim]

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

  • 1
    Common sense and slice of life answers are not necessarily off topic or undesirable. – Wad Cheber Jun 4 '15 at 23:36
  • I have no recollection of ever using the phrase "slice of life". – Wad Cheber Sep 24 '15 at 0:25
  • I don't think this is adding much to the conversation. – kingledion May 3 '17 at 12:59

Tom Bombadil is a particular character Tolken enjoys and fit into the story line. The Old Forest is his Domain on Middle Earth and he is all powerful there. Gandalf does not even recognize his full potential. Had Sauron gotten the One Ring, he would have had no choice but to co-exist with TB. He would not have been successful crossing into the forest boundaries are any successful attempt at polluting the forest. Tom's only concern is for a happy peaceful life with Goldberry. There would be no stopping him from having this or for anyone else he'd allow to reside with him.

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    This does not answer the question. Can you elaborate as to why Tom Bombadil was so unconcerned about the fate of Middle earth? – amflare Nov 14 '17 at 20:36
  • @amflare It kind of does. "Had Sauron gotten the One Ring, he would have had no choice but to co-exist with TB." - this answer is saying that Tom Bombadil would have been fine no matter what happened, so he had no need to care about stopping Sauron. – Rand al'Thor Nov 14 '17 at 22:21
  • I did answer the question. TB had no interest or purpose to involve himself with the Ring. His sole interest was watching over the Old Forest. TB was uneffected regarding the Fate of Middle Earth. No matter what happened, the Old Forest would have remained unchanged. – Ronnie Landry Nov 15 '17 at 20:31

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