Musings of the Eldest

Tom Bombadil has always been (one of) my favourite character(s) in the Lord of the Rings, precisely because he's such an enigma and a mystery. So this basically just explores his identity and what it would be like to view the Ringbearer's quest from his perspective.

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2. A long year

The next year passed slowly and with a distinct sense of uneasiness within Tom, which was reflected throughout the forest itself. The badgers hid deep within their setts and rarely emerged even when Tom was passing by, singing every now and then with a "hey dol" and a "derry dol" in a desperate attempt to lighten his heart and rid the forest of the all-pervading gloomy atmosphere.

He went down to the Withywindle more often than ever in that year, to clear his mind and reflect upon the menacing, foreboding tidings his messengers too often brought him. One morning a small raven flew up to him, perched on a branch, cocked its head, and announced gravely: "Olorin, he who is called Gandalf the Grey, is fallen". Without speaking another word, or waiting for any word of thanks, the raven flew away and was soon gone beyond visible sight.

Tom stood for a while, staring blankly at the beech tree in front of him. Then the smile he had worn in a brave attempt to face the day with cheerful optimism gradually faded; his face fell and at length he turned, went into the house and locked himself in one of the rooms within. He did not emerge until late the following evening.

His heart was heavier after that. His messengers brought him frequent news on the progress of the ringbearer and other happenings of the world, but the things they told him did little to lighten his ever-sombre mood, and he knew that soon Frodo would pass into Mordor, where not even the bravest of his messengers dared enter. Then the Ring would be completely lost to Tom's knowledge.

The news of Gandalf's return was a brief ray of sunshine in the long, bleak, unforgiving darkness he felt hopelessly lost in, but in light of the growing strength of Mordor it did little to ameliorate his foreboding.

He could feel Goldberry growing more distant from him every day, as he began to spend more and more time alone at the Withywindle instead of with her. He invited her to come with him, and she did, often, despite the cool chill of the river. Yet they rarely spoke and he became increasingly lost in his own deep musings by the riverside.

"Why did you take me away from here, Tom?" she asked one day, drying herself after bathing in the river while he stared into the water, his brow furrowed in deep thought.

He started with surprise. "What?" he murmured faintly.

"When we met. You took me away from the river to live with you deeper in the Forest. Why?" There was no resentment in her voice, no bitterness, merely curiosity and a desire to understand. "You had a small house there, but we could just as easily have built another here. I was quite contented and you seem to enjoy it here more than anywhere else in the Forest. I never questioned it at the time. But why leave?"

Tom's face grew serious and heavy. He cocked his head to one side and leaned it on his shoulder while he considered her question, splashing his feet in the water somewhat absent-mindedly.

"Here, I cannot be your husband," he replied at length. "Here, I am Eru, the One, not Tom Bombadil. As I sit here, by the river, I see the strands of the Universe weaving in and out, and I marvel at the beauty of the tapestry it creates. I sit here, entranced by the faint whisperings of the Music of Creation that sometimes reach my ears. If I stayed here, that is all I would do. I would be lost in the progression of the Music, lost in the unfolding of the tapestry; I would sit here, a useless wretch, neither eating nor drinking, merely listening for faint, brief snatches of melody and harmony, unable to turn away, like a starving dog that sits whining and begging by his master's table for an occasional, tiny scrap of food, and it would benefit nobody. The Symphony of the World continues to play, and I have learned that it is futile to try and anticipate what it will do next. Nobody can tell how the Music will play out. Not even I. Not even here." His voice became gradually softer and eventually faded into a whisper as he stared once more into the depths of the Withywindle, lost again in deep thought.

As Spring became Summer, Tom's heart lightened somewhat. He always enjoyed Sumer, and the sunshine certainly made his journeys to the Withywindle much more pleasant. One evening, after spending the day swimming in the River with Goldberry (something he had been too heavy-hearted to do for many months) and reflecting on the events of the world as they had transpired over the past year, he made his way home humming an old tune he had picked up from Farmer Maggot's family a few years ago - some nonsense about the Man in the Moon that Tom suspected was actually much more than mere nonsense at its heart. Suddenly, he noticed the area around him become markedly darker as a huge shadow passed over him. His melody broke off in surprise and he quickly looked up. High in the cloudless sky, an Eagle flew, crying loudly in joy with a strong voice that carried far and clear across the whole Forest and, Tom supposed, beyond.

"Well, roll me up in a lilypad and sail me to open waters!" he murmured. His face suddenly lit up with excitement and he turned to the badger who walked beside him, regarded him for a while, and then set off briskly towards home, talking excitedly all the way, half to himself and half to the badger.

"Remarkably rare to see Eagles in these parts, my friend. 'What does it mean?' I hear you ask. Well," and at this point his voice rose with barely concealed joy, "It means, my young friend, that the quest is complete. Successfully, too, I might add." His voice suddenly became more sombre, a shadow passed briefly over his face and he slowed almost to a stop. "Though not without high cost, I'll wager...Still," he continued in a lighter tone and with a cheerful grin, "cause for celebration, in my opinion!" After saying this, he left the badger and set off for home, walking briskly and with a huge smile on his face.

Be gone, you fiend of blackest night,

Vanish in the dawn:

Night is vanquished. Let us sing

And revel in the morn.

No more shall gloom and darkness reign:

Lifted is the billow,

And merry is the heart and soul

Of Tom Bombadillo!

Thus singing, he arrived at home and flung open the door. "Evening, my darling. The first leaf fell today, Autumn will soon be upon us, Old Man Willow's in a bad temper again, the birds are just preparing to fly South and Sauron's vanquished. By the way, dinner smells delectable." He spoke very briskly, with his characteristic playful tone that had not been heard in the Forest for far too many months.

Goldberry, rather taken aback by all this, asked incredulously: "What?"

"Dinner. It smells delicious, my dear. I am truly famished."

"No, no. The other thing. Before that."

"Oh. The Ring is destroyed. Sauron is defeated. An Eagle passed by not an hour ago shouting out the news to all who know how to listen. I expect Olorin will be along in a few days to discuss the whole business, if I know him at all."

Goldberry was silent for a long while. Then, slowly, she broke into a magnificent, full-hearted grin. "I see," she said simply. "Well, that is good news. Very good news indeed".

"The best," he beamed back at her. They were silent for a long while, smiling at each other.

"I've missed you," she said at length.

"I know," he said simply. "I've missed you too." They fell into silence again for a long moment.

"Well," she said suddenly, "If Gandalf really is coming in the next few days, as you assure me he is, then we have some tidying up to do. And don't expect I shall be doing it all, Iarwain Ben-Adar. You may be the Creator of Arda, but don't think for a minute that you're excused from household chores."

With a sigh, but also a smile, he winked at her and dutifully began to sweep the floor.

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