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Minas Tirith Forums » Library Council of Minas Tirith » Who or what is Tom Bombadil? (Page 5)
Author Topic: Who or what is Tom Bombadil?
Roll of Honor Gildor
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I guess that rules out my idea.
From: Well I was born in a small town | Registered: Nov 2003  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Thalion
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Do excuse my lack of time, but I don't have time at the moment to read all five pages so forgive me if I repeat opinions. But here's my two cents quickly. Tom is probably a Mair, but why would he have to be Manwe or any one big. He was probably a lesser servant to Yvanna; and I don't even want to think about Goldberry right now. []

[ 08-14-2005, 04:42 PM: Message edited by: Thalion ]

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-"It is better to keep your mouth shut and let people think you a fool than to open it and remove all doubt"
-"It is against the rule. Laws are commands upon the will and are binding. Rules are conditions; they may have exceptions."

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Roll of Honor Thorin
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Note: I would like to thank Kosomot for his expert advice on The Kalevala for this post. Kiitos!

It is fairly common knowledge that the Professor took the character of Turin from The Kalevala, that collection of Finnish folk songs collected by Elias Lönnrot in the Karelian region of eastern Finland. However, I believe that J.R.R. Tolkien took one more character from The Kalevala which has not been identified before: Tom Bombadil.

In The Lord of the Rings Tom Bombadil is depicted as an “oldest and fatherless” singer, in very close concert with nature, able to work magic and unaffected by contemporary world problems.

The Kalevala possesses a shockingly similar character, by the name of Väinämöinen. Here I will attempt to show, point by point, the reasons why I believe Väinämöinen was the Professor’s inspiration for Tom Bombadil.

Oldest and Fatherless
Elrond describes Tom Bombadil as “Iarwain Ben-adar… oldest and fatherless.”(1) Väinämöinen is also oldest and fatherless.
quote:
Väinämöinen born alone
The eternal bard appeared
From the woman who bore him
From Air-daughter his mother.(2)

His mother is depicted as a goddess of the air who was also indirectly responsible for the creation of the world. Väinämöinen makes his own decision to be born into the new world. So he is the oldest of all living beings, and it is rare in The Kalevala where he is not described as “old Väinämöinen.” “Old” is the only part of Tom Bombadil’s name that we can translate. Also, Väinämöinen has no father. Specifically, his mother, the air goddess, was impregnated by sea foam.

Magic Use by Singing
Tom Bombadil is able to work his magic by the very unusual Middle-earth trait of magical singing.
quote:
”Old Man Willow?... I know the tune for him. Old grey Willow-man! I’ll freeze his marrow cold, if he doesn’t behave himself. I’ll sing his roots off. I’ll sing a wind up and blow leaf and branch away.”(3)
This trait is again displayed by Tom’s teaching of the Hobbits a song to call him in case of trouble in the Old Forest. Tom banishes the barrow-wight, wakes the sleeping Hobbits, and summons the ponies all by the method of song.

Väinämöinen also works his magic by the trait of singing, which is not at all unusual in The Kalevala. He is often called “the everlasting singer.” One young upstart attempts to try his magic against Väinämöinen. Väinämöinen prevails by sinking the upstart Joukahainen into a swamp by use of song.
quote:
He himself started singing
Himself began reciting…
The old Väinämöinen sang:
The lakes rippled, the earth shook…
He sang him, Joukahainen
In a swamp up to his waist
In a meadow to his groin
In the heath to his armpits.(4)

Tom Bombadil seems to use the term “singing” as a synonym for magic use, as in: “Old Grey Willow-man, he’s a mighty singer; and it’s hard for little folk to escape his cunning mazes.”(5) In The Kalevala “singing” is also used as a term for magic use, as in Joukahainen’s father’s warning regarding Väinämöinen’s magic:
quote:
There you will be sung
You’ll be sung and chanted, face
Into snow, head into drifts
Fists into hard air
Until your hands cannot turn
Until your feet cannot move.(6)

Connection with Nature
Tom Bombadil is portrayed as being in close concert with the natural world. He lives in a household on the edge of an untamed forest. He makes special trips to gather plants, speaks to trees and animals, understands the ways of nature, and regales his visitors with long tales regarding nature.

Väinämöinen is portrayed as being in close concert with the natural world. He lives in a household on the edge on an untamed wilderness. He makes special trips to gather plants, speaks to trees and animals, understands the ways of nature, and regales people with long tales regarding nature.

Goldberry
The most interesting connection is the spouse. In The Lord of the Rings, Tom Bombadil is shown as inseparably connected to his wife Goldberry. He is found by the Hobbits gathering water lilies for her. He doesn’t want to travel far from her. Tom picks out a gift for her from the barrow’s treasure. In fact, Tom’s relationship to Goldberry is shown as stronger than any in all of the Professor’s Legendarium, with the obvious exception of Beren and Luthien.

However, Väinämöinen is alone. It is not through lack of trying, however. He attempts on multiple occasions to find a wife in The Kalevala. He narrowly loses The Maid of the North to the smith Ilmarien, the forger of the Sampo. He is sometimes portrayed as rather grumpy, unlike the merry Tom. However, Väinämöinen is shown as grumpy, almost always, only when referring to his desire for a wife.

In fact, this was the connection that first brought this idea to my attention. While reading, the thought came to my head: “Väinämöinen is just like Tom Bombadil would be if he didn’t have Goldberry.” Turning that around, I wondered: “What would Väinämöinen be like if he found a wife?” The answer was immediate and clear: He would be exactly like Tom Bombadil.

Conclusion
At the end of The Kalevala, Väinämöinen is angered by Marjatta(7) giving birth to the King of Karelia, guardian of all power. He ungraciously sails away from the usurper and from Finland saying:
quote:
Just let the time pass
One day go, another come
And again I’ll be needed
Looked for and longed for(8)

It is interesting to note that Gandalf claims that Tom Bombadil “…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.”(9)

If one were to decide to continue the story of Väinämöinen after his departure from Karelia, it would not be a leap of faith at all to simply add the story of Tom Bombadil to it. If one wanted to know the story of Tom Bombadil prior to what we know from what the Professor has told us it is easy to simply add Väinämöinen’s story to the beginning of it. The characters are virtually identical, in my opinion, and their stories mesh extremely easily. This idea also answers some riddles left by the Professor on Tom’s origin.
Where did he come from?
He was present at the creation, settled far way, and finally came to his new home close to the Shire ages ago.
What is Tom “waiting” for?
The “change of days” and the call to return to his old homeland (Karelia in eastern Finland), or far to the north-east of where the Shire would be (England).
How did he resist the Ring and not turn invisible?
Simple. He was much greater than it. Väinämöinen was present at the Creation, took part in the first ordering of the earth(10), and then decided to settle down and exist in a settled life, much like a mortal(11). It works perfectly with the Professor’s Legendarium if you were to think of Tom Bombadil like Väinämöinen: a god of sorts who decided to live semi-quietly among mortals and enjoy the blessings of nature. He could perhaps be called a Maia, or perhaps an unnamed Vala, or better yet, we could just leave his description as a “god of sorts.” (In deference to Nimruzir’s post.)
Why is he shown in a merry comic light?
Because he is merry. If J.R.R. Tolkien desired to show how Väinämöinen would be if he finally found a wife (as I speculate for the inspiration of The Adventures of Tom Bombadil), he would be portrayed as finally, eternally, happy after his long wait and misfortunes.
Why is Tom shown as rather uninterested?
Because he is uninterested in the Ring or the great matters which occupy the Wise. He is interested in his wife, whom he has long sought, and he is still waiting for the “call” to return to his old homeland.
If this were true, why didn’t the Professor simply say so in his Letters?
For the same reason that he didn’t explicitly say that the character and story of Turin was the character and story of Kullervo.

(1) The Council of Elrond, The Lord of the Rings. See also ‘Iaur’ in the Silmarillion appendix of Quenya and Sindarin names.
(2) 1:107-1:110, The Kalevala
(3) The Old Forest, The Lord of the Rings
(4) 3:283…3:330, The Kalevala
(5) In the House of Tom Bombadil, The Lord of the Rings
(6) 3:45 – 3:50, The Kalevala
(7) An interesting, but unimportant, point is to note that Finnish “marja” is “berry,” and that Marjatta calls her son “kulta” meaning “gold” as a term of endearment.
(8) 50:491 – 50:494, The Kalevala
(9) The Council of Elrond, The Lord of the Rings
(10) Canto 2, up to line 256, The Kalevala
(11) Canto 2, after line 256, The Kalevala

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Thingol of Doriath
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Well researched Thorin(and Kullervo)! I like your reasoning... it makes sense. []
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Faramir Took
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I like your opinions, Thorin, but I have my own opinion to add to the fact that he was very cheery.

I think he was cheery, especially to the Hobbits, to show them, especially Frodo and Sam, that all evil comes to an end, eventually.

And I was speaking as if it was Eru's bidding for him to appear, FYI.


There's my humble opinion.

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Dark Lord Andúril
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I've had a thought.

Could his 'eldest and fatherless' comment mean he was the first of the Maiar to take upon a form?

It is clear from the Silmarillion that the Valar first took form, then they gathered to themselves. There is, however, no mention that the Maiar took form, though it is clear that they did. Perhaps Bombadil was the first Maia to take form?

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Arien the Maia
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I 'm posting a very humble opinion on this but useful, I hope.
Tom Bombandil is one of the most intresting characters of the book because he is unique, there is only one Bobandil, and he does not belong in a group where all have common ancestry.
I don't think that we sould limit down the infuence that helped the good professor imagine this character, since Bombandil's prototype is met in most cultures as the protector of men from nature and nature from men, the human-like version of the nature's power, a version that will not scare (in terms of appearence) the man who meets him, a good, pure, directly related to nature figure.

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Dark Lord Andúril
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But isnt Yavanna the closest personification to nature? Doesnt she at times shape herself to natural objects? Why have a second?
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Thalion
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Perhaps because Tom is like an ambassador to her.

He still could be the oldest and fatherless in ME without being the first to do anything such as take form, because he could be the oldest of the mia to have stayed.

This probly was discussed, but I can't remember it, why would the elves think Toms fatherless, if they know everything came from Eru?

[ 01-29-2004, 11:53 AM: Message edited by: Thalion ]

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Roll of Honor Thorin
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quote:
Could his 'eldest and fatherless' comment mean he was the first of the Maiar to take upon a form?
Possible. Or it could be quite literal, as it fits with the Väinämöinen theory. []

One thing I forgot to mention: Väinämöinen was described by Keith Bosley: "traces of [his] divine status can be discerned in Väinämöinen's association with water and water-spirits..." In the epic itself, he is often called "Calm Waters." Who would be a better spouse for someone called "Calm Waters" than "River Daughter?"

I know The Kalevala isn't widely read in some circles, but I highly recommend it. Besides the obvious Turin / Kullervo "plagarism," I'm curious if anyone else noted the Bombadil / Väinämöinen connection.

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Viscount Værtalion
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MAybe Tom was a powerful Maia, even more powerful than Melkor at his Peak, who was sent to keep an eye on all, actually no, it doesn't make sense.
One thing we do know is that Bombadil was more powerful than Sauron, saruman, Elrond, Galadriel and Gandalf..

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Roll of Honor Gildor
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I could be wrong, but I thought Tom only had power in his own realm. So, Sauron, Gandalf, etc. would have to be in his realm to be less powerful than Tom. But, I could be making this up.

Edit: I also remember reading somewhere that Celeborn called Treebeard "Eldest." I do not remember where I read this but surely he would know of Bombadil and know that he had the title "Eldest." I just thought it was interesting and would bring it up.

[ 02-01-2004, 11:30 AM: Message edited by: Gildor ]

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Thalion
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Bombadil set his limits, he may or may not have power outside of them, but he chooses not to leave his "borders".

I don't have my book, but Gandalf tells Legolas something like he is the oldest living creature. If I got the general qoute right, it would seem that Bombadil is not held to be a "creature" or something native to ME which would mean he has to be one of the Ainur.

[ 02-01-2004, 11:39 AM: Message edited by: Thalion ]

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Dark Lord Andúril
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Gandalf states, that Sauron would defeat Bombadil in the end, in Rivendell, so though the ring may have no power over him, he is not pore powerful than Sauron.
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Hidalgo
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I was reading Lovecraft's The Strange High House in the Mist and noticed that there is a character there that reminds me a bit of old Tom. An inspiration for Tolkien?

Here you have the whole tale.

And here are the paragraphs I had in mind:
quote:
Steps sounded again, and Olney edged round to the north; but before he could find a haven a voice called softly, and he knew he must confront his host.

Stuck out of the west window was a great black-bearded face whose eyes were phosphorescent with the imprint of unheard-of sights. But the voice was gentle, and of a quaint olden kind, so that Olney did not shudder when a brown hand reached out to help him over the sill and into that low room of black oak wainscots and carved Tudor furnishings. The man was clad in very ancient garments, and had about him an unplaceable nimbus of sea-lore and dreams of tall galleons. Olney does not recall many of the wonders he told, or even who he was; but says that he was strange and kindly, and filled with the magic of unfathomed voids of time and space. The small room seemed green with a dim aqueous light, and Olney saw that the far windows to the east were not open, but shut against the misty aether with dull panes like the bottoms of old bottles.

That bearded host seemed young, yet looked out of eyes steeped in the elder mysteries; and from the tales of marvelous ancient things he related, it must be guessed that the village folk were right in saying he had communed with the mists of the sea and the clouds of the sky ever since there was any village to watch his taciturn dwelling from the plain below. And the day wore on, and still Olney listened to rumors of old times and far places, and heard how the kings of Atlantis fought with the slippery blasphemies that wriggled out of rifts in ocean's floor, and how the pillared and weedy temple of Poseidon is still glimpsed at midnight by lost ships, who knew by its sight that they are lost. Years of the Titans were recalled, but the host grew timid when he spoke of the dim first age of chaos before the gods or even the Elder Ones were born, and when the other gods came to dance on the peak of Hatheg-Kia in the stony desert near Ulthar, beyond the River Skai.

Olney, btw, is the main character of the tale, who meets the Tom-like character.

Any thoughts?

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Earendilyon
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The only likeness to Tom that I see is, that both are very old men, telling great stories of years past. But isn't that a rather common theme in tales/literature?

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"For I am a Bear of Very Little Brain, and long words Bother me."

John 3:16-21

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Theoden Horsemaster
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For some reason, I don't know why, but whenever I think of Tom Bombadil, I think of Drew Carry.... [] [] [] [] []

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...Hail Mary full of grace.....
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Madomir
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quote:
For some reason, I don't know why, but whenever I think of Tom Bombadil, I think of Drew Carry....
Right.. Well, there you have it. Another mystery for the ages solved by Theoden Horsemaster. But, what if, and i know it seems crazy to suggest such a thing, but what if TH is mistaken. What if Drew Carey isn't in fact T-Bomb in the 21st century but is actually nothing more than the chubby, beer drinking, mid-westerner that he appears to be? Then what?

Well i think Thorin's hypothesis has some merit. I believe i found a passage that may help tie up a couple of these 'loose ends'.
quote:
Where did he come from?
He was present at the creation, settled far way, and finally came to his new home close to the Shire ages ago.

quote:
How did he resist the Ring and not turn invisible?
Simple. He was much greater than it. Väinämöinen was present at the Creation, took part in the first ordering of the earth(10), and then decided to settle down and exist in a settled life, much like a mortal(11). It works perfectly with the Professor’s Legendarium if you were to think of Tom Bombadil like Väinämöinen: a god of sorts who decided to live semi-quietly among mortals and enjoy the blessings of nature. He could perhaps be called a Maia, or perhaps an unnamed Vala, or better yet, we could just leave his description as a “god of sorts.”

I found this passage in BoLT 1 "The Chaining of Melko" that opens the door for the theory that Tom was actually a Maia or a "god of sorts", was 'alive' at the time of creation and later came to ME prior to the arrival of the Firstborn.

quote:
At that time did many strange spirits fare into the world, for there were pleasant places dark and quiet for them to dwell in. Some came from Mandos, aged spirits that journeyed from Ilúvatar with him who are older than the world and very gloomy and secret, and some from the fortresses of the North where Melko then dwelt in the deep dungeons of Utumna. Full of evil and unwholesome were they; luring and restlessness and horror they brought, turning the dark into an ill and fearful thing, which it was not before. But some few danced thither with gentle feet exuding evening scents, and these came from the gardens of Lórien.
If Tom (and Goldberry?) is one of the spirits from Lórien as i suspect, then he would have come to ME around the same time as the spirits who apparently became the Balrogs, and perhaps other creatures such as the Watcher. If nothing else this quote at least makes Thorin's answers to his own questions plausible. I understand where BoLT falls in the Tolkien Hierarchy, but it at least shows that the notion was there for Bombadilian type spirits to enter ME around the time we believe Tom did. Admittedly the timeline would have to be somewhat different from BoLT to conform with the Silmarillion. The elves had already arrived and were the impetus for the chaining of Melkor in the Sil. In BoLT 1 the chaining was actually prior to the awakening of the Firstborn. But we also know the other events DID happen at some point, the coming of the Balrogs-to-be for instance, so i don't believe the BoLT quote is entirely flawed.

[ 11-29-2005, 08:26 PM: Message edited by: Madomir ]

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Young Master Merry
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Tom is a disguised Entwife...

[]

I'm so sorry. I just couldn't resist.

[ 11-30-2005, 08:01 AM: Message edited by: Young Master Merry ]

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quote:
For some reason, I don't know why, but whenever I think of Tom Bombadil, I think of Drew Carry....
So it's Mimiberry as well?
Kate, Oswald & Lewis are Barrow wights?

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The Witch-King of Angmar
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Others have stated that Tom can't be a Maia, because he isn't affected by the Ring in the slightest: meanwhile Gandalf, also a Maia, is affected by it, and can't even guard it.
Also, the maia are of the people of a particular Vala; for example, Sauron and Saruman were of the people of Aulë, while Gandalf was of the people of Manwë.
It's possible that a Vala could be conquered by all the other powers of Middle-Earth turned against him, and therefore Gandalf said that if Bombadil took and guarded the Ring, then he would fall eventually, "last as he was first."

The Maiar didn't have that kind of power.
However, Gandalf also didn't seem to know who Bombadil was, so it's unlikely he wasn't a Valar either.
Tolkien stated that Bombadil was "an enigma," who embodied the various unresolved issues of the story; as such he defied definition.

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Madomir
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quote:
Others have stated that Tom can't be a Maia, because he isn't affected by the Ring in the slightest:
Where is it written that the Ring is the 100% conclusive litmus test for Maiar-dom?

quote:
Also, the maia are of the people of a particular Vala;
In this case Lorien, as the BoLT quote stated and/or implied.
quote:
The Maiar didn't have that kind of power.
Within the confines of Middle Earth? Sure they did. If he didn't have other Maia to contend with, Sauron would have endured indefinately. Saruman or Gandalf could have been un-conquerable if like Sauron they devoted several millenia to that end and had been free to use their full Maia strength instead of being restricted by the Valar in their mission to ME.

I don't have proof of what Tom was, nobody does, but he's something, and as long as he's something i'm going with his being a Maia of Lorien, akin to Olorin himself who, if memory serves, dwelt with Lorien not Manwe.

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The Witch-King of Angmar
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quote:
Where is it written that the Ring is the 100% conclusive litmus test for Maiar-dom?

Proving a negative.
It's strong evidence: the Ring held power over others because it HAD more power than they did; the Ring had NO power over Tom.
Of course, there are other explanations, like saying he had no ambitions or cares about the outside world etc; but it's a point in his favor, in that the Ring could FORCE such things on a lesser spirit.

quote:
Also, the maia are of the people of a particular Vala;

In this case Lorien, as the BoLT quote stated and/or implied.

Inconclusively; there's no indication that this could be Tom, "oldest and fatherless."

quote:

-----------------------
The Maiar didn't have that kind of power.
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Within the confines of Middle Earth? Sure they did. If he didn't have other Maia to contend with, Sauron would have endured indefinately. Saruman or Gandalf could have been un-conquerable if like Sauron they devoted several millenia to that end and had been free to use their full Maia strength instead of being restricted by the Valar in their mission to ME.

Maiar-power didn't increase with time or location-- rather the opposite. Sauron was defeated in person by a single man and a single elf, once his armies were destroyed-- and this was while he was WEARING the Ring. Bombadil didn't have any armies; we're talking about his INHERENT power, not in his ability to command others and build up reserves over time. Sauron's main strength (and weakness), was that he vested his power outside himself-- Tom didn't, but only used his native power.

The notion that a single Maia would require all the world's armies to destroy, is not consistent with the fact that Sauron, probably the most powerful of the maiar, was defeated by a man and an elf, who were armed only with Elvish and Dwarfish weapons (Aeglos by the Elves, Narsil by Telchar the Dwarf).

quote:
I don't have proof of what Tom was, nobody does, but he's something, and as long as he's something i'm going with his being a Maia of Lorien, akin to Olorin himself who, if memory serves, dwelt with Lorien not Manwe.
Tom said he "saw the first raindrop fall;" I don't know that much about weather in Middle-Earth, but I don't think the rain started only after critters from Lorien started flying over with watering-cans. And before you start it, do spare me the notion that it wouldn't rain before the sun arrived in order to start evaporating waters etc.
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Madomir
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quote:
do spare me the notion that it wouldn't rain before the sun arrived in order to start evaporating waters etc.
Do spare me the condescending attitude, this is a discussion, be respectful or be silent.

quote:
the Ring held power over others because it HAD more power than they did; the Ring had NO power over Tom.
Of course, there are other explanations, like saying he had no ambitions or cares about the outside world etc; but it's a point in his favor, in that the Ring could FORCE such things on a lesser spirit.

I'm not convinced of that. It may be true for lesser folk, hobbits, men etc. But for the more powerful beings such as the Maia, i don't think it FORCED anything. I believe the power of the Ring was that it offered something they desired. They had aspirations on their own independant of the One, the Ring represented a means to that end. With Gandalf he wanted to help people, but he was wise enough to know the Ring would betray him. But it didn't force him to do anything, he was in close proximity to the Ring for months and knew where it lay hid for years without trying to take it, in this matter he had more power than it. His aspirations of doing good things forced him to consider the Ring but in the end he was both powerful and wise enough to resist.

Saruman was seduced by his delusions of grandeur and aspirations of power, again the Ring represented a means to an end. A tool with which he believed he could rule all. The Ring didn't tempt him as much as his own knowledge of what the Ring could bring him did. The closest he ever got to it was when the Fellowship was on Caradhras, so there was never any direct temptation, he did it to himself.

But as for Tom, he wanted nothing. He had all he wanted. He didn't want power, he didn't even want to help out the rest of the world unless they happened to cross his own unseen boundries. His contentment with what he had, and lack of grand aspirations gave him all the power he needed with the Ring. It had nothing to offer him and was therefore powerless against him.

quote:
Maiar-power didn't increase with time or location
You're taking me out of context. Location does matter in this instance because your original point was that Tom would be last as he was first. Well, the last where? In ME of course, therefore location matters. Who else could be last in ME? The elves were leaving regardless of the status of Sauron and the Ring, most other beings would die in time which leaves the Maia or the i guess the Ents. If Tom were a Maia, he'd be the only one at full strength since Saruman and Gandalf were both held back by their mission, so Tom becomes the logical choice.

quote:
Tom said he "saw the first raindrop fall;"
I think you may take some things too literally, this appears to be poetic license to me. Unless Tom was Manwe himself and created the first raindrop how would he know that the first raindrop HE saw was in fact the first raindrow period. The first raindrop could've fallen 500 miles away and he'd be none the wiser. Again, poetic license.
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Roll of Honor Athene
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I agree - the Ring could only work through people's existing aspirations. That is what I perceive Galadriel to mean at the end of The Mirror of Galadriel when she says to Sam at his suggestion that she could use the Ring for good, "I would...That is how it would begin. But it would not stop with that, alas!"

Tom needs nothing. He is part of Arda, not separate from it. I find this interesting because most humans in our world perceive themselves as separate from the natural world. The Ring cannot get a hold on someone who is completely at peace with himself and his place in the world, because It has no way in.

[ 12-02-2005, 03:27 PM: Message edited by: Athene ]

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