Tom B - does he have a chance to become a hero?

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elvenpath 23/Dec/2006 at 11:05 AM
Torturer of Mordor Points: 2310 Posts: 2270 Joined: 28/Apr/2004

I shall start with a quote:

"Do you think Tom Bombadil, the spirit of the (vanishing) Oxford and Berkshire countryside, could be made into the hero of a story?"
Letter 19

So, Tolkien thought Tom B can not be a hero and this is how Tom B didn’t become a hero.


What about Frodo?! He was a boring Hobbit after all…Why was he chosen to become a hero? So was Bilbo before being forced by Gandalf to take part to that adventure…Not to mention the gardener, Sam, who is a hero as well…


If I think of their lives before being forced to leave their cozy homes, they don’t exactly represent the image of a hero.


I know that Tom B was not interested in what was happening outside the borders of his territory, but I think he would have protected his territory if faced with an evil power, so if his territory would have been attacked, he could try, at least, if not succeeded, to destroy the Ring.


Some other opinions?

Elhir Bregalad 23/Dec/2006 at 11:41 AM
Merchant of Mirkwood Points: 997 Posts: 777 Joined: 24/Feb/2005
Tom Bombadil was a hero.  He saved the hobbits from Old Man Willow and from the Barrow-Wights so I suppose you could say that Tom Bombadil did his part in destroying the One Ring by saving Frodo.  If Frodo had died the quest would have failed.
Magradhaid 23/Dec/2006 at 02:07 PM
Imp of Umbar Points: 7957 Posts: 8204 Joined: 13/Sep/2008
The context of that quote (December 16, 1937) is the Hobbit had just been published two months ago (September 21), and about a month ago (November 15) Tolkien had sent a bundle of manuscripts containing Farmer Giles of Ham, the Gest of Beren and Lúthien, Mr. Bliss, the Silmarillion, and the Lost Road to Allen & Unwin. The day before your quote (Dec. 15), JRRT had gotten the manuscript back. It had been shown (only a very small portion of it) to a reader, and Stanley Unwin (largely trying not to hurt JRRT’s feelings) quoted only the positive remarks made by the reader, then saying "The Silmarillion contains plenty of wonderful material; in fact it is a mine to be explored in writing further books like The Hobbit rather than a book in itself." Christopher Tolkien wrote "my father was entirely misled [...] he was quite obviously under the impression that The Silmarillion had [...] been read and rejected, whereas it had merely been rejected." So JRRT, then having hope to one day publish the Silm, started on a Hobbit sequel and (three days later on Dec. 19) sent a letter to A&U having written a draft of the first chapter.

Now,three years prior in 1934, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil had been published in the Oxford Magazine, as A&U undoubtedly knew. Tolkien was not saying that Tom could not be a hero, but that it wouldn’t work to have him be the main character (i.e. hero) in the Hobbit sequel A&U had just asked for. The next two phrases after your quote are crucial here;
"[...] made into the hero of a story? Or is he, as I suspect, fully enshrined in the enclosed verses? Still I could enlarge the portrait". So the idea and character of Tom Bombadil was (apparently to JRRT) adequately fleshed out in the poems he had written and published three years prior, but he was willing to write more about him (maybe incorporate him somehow within the Hobbit sequel?), just not make him the main character.

As for Tom ’defending his borders’ by attempting to destroy the One Ring, A) he would not leave the borders of his place and B) such things were not ’important’ to him; he was a pacifistic observer, and would have been quite careless had the Ring been given to him.
elvenpath 23/Dec/2006 at 02:57 PM
Torturer of Mordor Points: 2310 Posts: 2270 Joined: 28/Apr/2004

Tyrhael, I was referring to Tom B as THE hero, the one who destroys/tries to destroy the Ring.


Your answer to my question is no and you bring 2 arguments. Allow me to debate your arguments…


There is not much difference between TomB’s character and the character of a Hobbit:


-          both are not well known in the world outside

Hobbits are an unobtrusive […] people LOTR,FOTR, Concerning Hobbits

Not many people remember of Tom B

-          both have a joyful nature

Their faces were as a rule good-natured rather than beautiful, broad, bright-eyed, red-cheeked, with mouths apt to laughter, and to eating and drinking. And laugh they did, and eat, and drink, often and heartily, being fond of simple jests at all times, and of six meals a day LOTR,FOTR, Concerning Hobbits

I suppose I don’t have to quote anything to prove TomB was a really happy fellow

     - both like simple things

They do not and did not understand or like machines more complicated than a forge-bellows, a water-mill, or a hand-loom, though they were skilful with tools LOTR,FOTR, Concerning Hobbits

-          both are not sociable

Tom B set his own boundaries

The Hobbits “avoid us with dismay and are becoming hard to find. ” and “they heeded less and less the world outside “LOTR,FOTR, Concerning Hobbits

-          both are peaceful

At no time had Hobbits of any kind been warlike, and they had never fought among themselves.

They were, if it came to it, difficult to daunt or to kill LOTR,FOTR, Concerning Hobbits


I guess they are pretty similar. A Hobbit would not leave his place for such a journey normally, the matters of the outside world were not important for the Hobbits either, but the moment their realm was endangered ,a Hobbit tried to do something about it. So, if a Hobbit reacted this way and went to such a journey, why wouldn’t Tom B be able to do it if his realm would have been endangered?

Boromir88 23/Dec/2006 at 02:59 PM
Merchant of Minas Tirith Points: 3627 Posts: 2473 Joined: 24/Mar/2005

If I think of their lives before being forced to leave their cozy homes, they don’t exactly represent the image of a hero.~elvenpath

That’s the whole point of the story.  In a thread discussion I have been talking about some similarities between George Orwell and JRR Tolkien.  Both are amazing writers with different styles, yet both were also satiric writers and parallels can be seen between their works.

In Tolkien’s stories you don’t have your classical idea of a hero.  They are ordinary people who decide to step out and do extraodrinary deeds.  They aren’t the rippling muscular, happy-ending woman of their dreams in their arms, typical hollywood crap.  They are ordinary people, who make mistakes, who don’t always do the right thing, but who do decide to try and accomplish truly heroic tasks.

I mean George Orwell’s main hero in 1984 is Winston, who is a measly small physically repulsive person...and his rebellion against Big Brother ends in a failure (as George Orwell’s novels often take a bleak outlook and end in failure).

The Heroes in Lord of the Rings are the small little hobbits...a people who mostly could care less what happened outside their borders and wanted to keep to themselves.  And being ordinary people they make mistakes in trying to do something extraordinary.

There really is no true ’heroic’ figure that we commonly see in Hollywood movies where everything ends exactly like we want to believe and everything’s just all peachy.  Even after Aragorn getting the throne and becoming King of Gondor we know that the 4th Age isn’t all happy-going, and ’perfect’, as evil will come and go as it always does.  In 1984 Big Brother prevails and we get a sense that despite Winston’s attempt of rebellion, Big Brother will always prevail and will always exist.

In Lord of the Rings the heroes (the hobbits) return home they don’t come back proud holding their heads up high, and going back to their wives (or loved ones) where everything goes on happily-ever after.  They come home changed from the savagery of war, and in a case you can argue that Frodo and Sam return back ’shell shocked.’  As Frodo is completely broken and can only truly heal from the horrors he went through by leaving Middle-earth completely.

That may be a reflection on Tolkien’s war experiences.  Tolkien denies using allegory of the war when it comes to the main plotline of the story...however he can not deny that he was wholly unaffected by his experiences in war, and at times I think we can see our heroes like those soldiers returning home from World War 1.  Tolkien was proud of his service in the war, yet all the soldiers face tremendous heartache death and pyschological wounds.  Tolkien lost his two best friends in the war and as he talks about in the Foreward to LOTR:
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 inadquate and ambiguous. It is also false, though naturally attractive, when the lives of the author and critic have overlapped, to suppose that the movements of thought or the events of times common to both were necessarily the most powerful influences. One has indeed personally to come under the shadow of war to feel its oppression; but as the years go by it seems now often forgotten that to be caught in youth by 1914 was no less hideous an expreience than to be involved in 1939 and the following years. By 1918 all by one of my close friends were dead.
To kind of tie this all together here.  World War I was a violent and gruesome war.  In the beginnings it was old fighting tactics against new technology and the result was deadly with millions upon millions being killed.  It was so violent it was termed the ’War to End all Wars’ since everyone felt like after going through that experience no one would want another war.  Even as a person reading about World War 1 you can understand how horrific it was, yet you can’t understand exactly or feel exactly the way the returned soldiers felt...coming back from the ’horrors of war.’

The problems remained as the peace treaty didn’t solve anything that started the war.  Nobody invaded Germany, yet it was Germany to go to England and France to strike up a peace treaty.  Since, the entire war was pretty much a stalemate and the countries could no longer keep up with the costs and the life to continue on with the war.  And a bigger problem remained integrating these physically and mentally wounded soldiers back into society where there was no more war.  I’m reminded of a poem written by a World War 1 soldier...I came across it and I’ll see if I can dig it up again to get the whole thing; but I’ll give a few excerpts I remember.  It’s titled Does it Matter? and the author takes a sarcastic approach of integrating the deeply effected soldiers back into a warless society.

Losing your legs - does it matter?
People won’t look at you differently...

Losing your sight - does it matter?
there are good jobs for the blind...

And the last part I will never forget...

All the bad dreams - does it matter?
You can just drink them away and forget...

The credibility, reality, and truly effective writing that Tolkien did comes right here.  It’s a story that although is a fantasy, the characters and their trials are completely credible and believable.  When the heroes return after fighting the good fight, not everything is back to the way it was, not everything is happy and merry.  They don’t come back proud and honoured...they come back changed, solemn, and in Frodo’s case wounded and broken.  To have them come back from the trials they suffered and went through and be the ’Hollywood hero’ would be all too unbelievable, because that is not reality, that is not how life was after World War 1.  I would say that Tolkien was proud of his service in the war, yet you can not deny that war changed people and broke those who fought in it.  To portray the story differently in creating these ’classical hollywood cliched heroes’ would be far too unbelievable and make the story not credible at all.

I think that is where the true greatness of Tolkien’s writing shines through.  He is able to take a made up fantasy story yet hold the strong realism of life.  He gets his readers to experience events that happened long before they were born, and experience reality.  To create the hollywood hero in his story would be far too cliche and the fantasy story would be far too unbelievable.  I’ll stop this ramble with one of my favorite parts of the book and I think it will really sum up what this is all about...Tolkien taking a story he made up yet employing a sense of realism in his characters:
It was Sam’s first view of a battle of Men against Men, and he did not like it much. He was glad that he could not see the dead face. He wondered what the man’s name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil of heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would not really rather have stayed there in peace - all in a flash of thought which was quickly driven from his mind.~Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit

halfir 24/Dec/2006 at 05:35 AM
Emeritus Points: 46547 Posts: 43664 Joined: 10/Mar/2002

Boromir 88:Let me assist you:

Does it Matter?
Siegfried Sassoon

Does it matter?--losing your legs?... 
For people will always be kind,
And you need not show that you mind 
When the others come in after hunting 
To gobble their muffins and eggs. 

Does it matter?--losing your sight?... 
There’s such splendid work for the blind; 
And people will always be kind, 
As you sit on the terrace remembering 
And turning your face to the light. 

Do they matter?--those dreams from the pit?... 
You can drink and forget and be glad, 
And people won’t say that you’re mad; 
For they’ll know you’ve fought for
your country 
And no one will worry a bit.


Siegfried Sasson - 1886 - 1967 - fought in the first world war on the Western Front in France. He was awarded a military cross for rescuing a wounded man whilst under heavy enemy  fire. He returned to Britian in 1917 after being wounded in action. The poems he wrote on his return to England reflected his anger regarding the tactics being employed by the British army. He believed "the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it.". However Sassoon continued to fight in the war, despite his beliefs before being injured again and returned to Britian.


Over the next thirty years Sassoon wrote three semi-autobiographical works, Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man (1928), Memoirs of an Infantry Officer (1930) and Sherston’s Progress (1936). This was followed by three volumes of autobiography, The Old Century (1938), The Weald of Youth (1942) and Siegfried’s Journey (1945).

 You can hear the poem recited here:


Boromir88 24/Dec/2006 at 06:04 AM
Merchant of Minas Tirith Points: 3627 Posts: 2473 Joined: 24/Mar/2005
Thankyou very much halfir...I’ve been looking for that poem and forgot who wrote it so it was a bit difficult.  Thankyou again.
Woggy Hardbotom 24/Dec/2006 at 07:50 AM
Bounder of the Shire Points: 7395 Posts: 7243 Joined: 18/Jan/2004
A boring hobbit? *indignant*

Putting that aside, I entirely agree with Boromir when he says that ordinary people leaving their ordinary lives to become a hero is one of the centripital themes in The Lord of the Rings.

Why wasn’t Tom Bomdadil the hero? He didn’t NEED to be. He had such a mastery and control over his own life that by the time the Ring would come to affect him, the rest of Middle-earth would be covered in shadow. The other races were in a more dire situation than he; their NEED to destroy the Ring much greater than his.

It fell on the shoulders of Frodo and Sam to destroy the Ring because they NEEDED to. That’s what heroes do - get the job done when it needs to be done. Fate put the hobbits in the situation where they would either rise up from nothingness and become heroes, or die, so if your upset that Tom Bombadil was never given the opportunity to be the hero - blame fate. It’s fate who "chose" Frodo.
elvenpath 24/Dec/2006 at 09:16 AM
Torturer of Mordor Points: 2310 Posts: 2270 Joined: 28/Apr/2004

Woggy, don’t take personally the boring hobbit thing... Hobbits are funny creatures.  I used boring refering to the fact they do nothing extraordinary

I am for sure on the same side with you - Tolkien’s heroes are common people with common lives, who had the luck/bad luck of getting into a nasty situation and they HAD TO become heroes. They didn’t plan to become heroes, they just ended up in a situation which turned them into heroes.

Fate indeed chose Frodo as is written in several places in LOTR to destroy the Ring, but allow me to get back to my point and add something else...I do not wish to turn my theory into a "if" discussion, but try to bring some arguments, so... Tom B is all you said he is,  but the moment the Hobbits needed his help, he stopped being indifferent and helped them. They were coming from outside, Tom B had nothing to do with them, they were some strangers crossing his territory… still he saved them and took them to his house. This makes me think he was not completely indifferent and if someone or something endangered his realm, he would have reacted and he would have done whatever needed, just like Frodo did. (after all Frodo decided to take the Ring to Imladris because he had no other choice) So, if needed he would have opposed to Sauron&co and would have tried to destroy the Ring, but only the moment his realm was ‘under siege’

 Boromir, thanks for the post! Very relevant!