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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3. The true heroes

   Over the next few days, a renewed peace settled within the house and throughout the Forest. The strange, perturbing silence which had filled the woods over the past year swiftly dissipated, driven away by the cheerful chirping of the birds, the scuffling of the animals through the fallen leaves and all the other sounds which gave the Forest its old atmosphere of vitality.

   Two days into this renewal, Tom sat on a log outside the house. The air was cool, crisp and clean, with a distinct scent of pine tree, most likely due to the logs he had cut earlier that morning. Suddenly, he heard a faint rustle of leaves that gradually became louder and then suddenly stopped.

   "They say a lot of fresh air makes a fellow drowsy. But I'm afraid that is no excuse to sit here lounging about on a log when you have a whole garden full of vegetables ready to harvest. Or had you forgotten about them? Really, Tom, I'm beginning to fear you may be growing senile in your old age."

   Rising quickly in mock indignation, Tom turned to face his guest. "Old age? Well, you'd know all about that, wouldn't you, Gandalf?" The two stood staring at each other for a moment. Then Gandalf's face broke into laughter and he smothered Tom in a firm embrace.

   "It's good to see you again, my friend!"

   "Not as good as it is to finally meet you, Gandalf 'the White'. I had feared you would be completely different, but from the look of things you are still as ugly as ever. Apart from the colour of your cloak, there doesn't seem to be much different. Well, you might as well come in , if my abode is not too humble to house the glory of the magnificent Gandalf the White."

   "Not at all," Gandalf replied, his lips twitching into a smile. "I would be delighted". They walked into the house just as Goldberry was setting the table for lunch. "Greetings, fair river-daughter," Gandalf said, bowing his head respectfully.

   "You speak almost as eloquently as your young hobbit friends, Mithrandir," Goldberry remarked with an amused smile. "Or is that name no longer appropriate, 'Grey Pilgrim'?"

   "Just Gandalf will suffice, I think," he replied, smiling.

   "Well then, Gandalf, would you do us the great honour of joining us for lunch?"

   "Oh, believe me, the honour would be entirely mine, Lady Goldberry. There is much I wish to discuss with your good husband here, though I doubt much of it will be of any interest to him."

   "On the contrary, Gandalf, I am sure it will interest him very much, though he may not show it," she said, sharing a knowing look with Tom. "But either way," she continued, "I am sure all conversation will be much more enjoyable over a little lunch. Please, sit down; I'll just bring it out now," and she disappeared into the kitchen, soon returning with large plates of ham and roast vegetables, after which they all sat down and commenced eating.

   There was not much conversation for a long while following that, as everyone eagerly devoured the meals set before them, but after lunch was finished, Gandalf and Tom walked outside to sit in the modest, yet well-kept garden.

   After a long silence that was comfortable and companionable rather than awkward, Tom spoke: "Well, then? What is this news that I shall find so tedious to listen to?"

   Gandalf sighed. "I am sure you recall those hobbits that passed through here about a year ago."

   "Hmm.....yes, I think I can just about remember them," Tom replied, smiling to himself, not mentioning that they had occupied nearly every minute of his waking thoughts for the past year.

   "Yes, well, I shan't bore you with the details, but the long and the short of it is that they were successful in their quest to destroy the Ring. Mordor is still full of shadows of course; I expect the darkness of Sauron's malice will never entirely disappear. Perhaps in time, though, we can learn to forget."

   "Not forget," said Tom sharply. "Never forget. The only reason Sauron was able to gain such power in the first place was because the races of Middle Earth were too quick to forget the horrors that Morgoth had wrought before him".

   "Morgoth?" said Gandalf wonderingly. "You truly are old, aren't you, Tom? There are very few today who remember the evil that walked the land the land in the days of Morgoth."

   With a smile, Tom repeated the words he had spoken to the hobbits so many months ago: "Eldest, that's what I am. Mark my words, my friend: Tom was here before the river and the trees; Tom remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn. He made paths before the Big People, and saw the Little People arriving. He was here before the Kings and the graves and the Barrow-wights. When the elves passed westward, Tom was here already, before the seas were bent. He knew the dark under the stars when it was fearless - before the Dark Lord came from outside".

   Gandalf sat in stunned silence for a while. Then: "Tom," he said. "Who are you? Really?"

   Tom smiled at him. "I think you already know the answer to that, my friend."

   Gandalf cleared his throat and then turned his face to gaze into the forest. "I always had suspicions, but they were mere speculations, intuitions....So it's true then? You really are Eru Iluvatar, the Creator of Arda, composer of the Ainulindale, Lord of the World, Father of elves and men alike?"

   Tom's lips twitched into an amused smile and he chuckled softly. "Yes," he said. "I suppose I am. But you can call me Tom," he added with a wink.

   Gandalf was silent for a long while. Finally, he spoke, and his voice was laced with bitterness: "I had expected you would be more....caring......for your own creation. I had not expected the Creator of Arda to sit tending his beehives and humming merry old jigs to himself while thousands of both the Firstborn and the Followers were slaughtered, tortured and maimed by the servants of Sauron."

   "I know," said Tom softly. "And I have nothing to offer in my defence. But you're wrong to suggest that I don't care. I care very much, my friend. Very much indeed."

   "Then why do you refrain from acting? You are the Master of Creation; there is no force in Middle Earth that could stand against your voice! Instead, our fate was placed in the hands of hobbits, and believe me when I say that they did more to benefit this world than I have ever known you to do".

   "I believe you. And I agree. I have done very little that has been of any benefit to anybody, but you have no idea how much it killed me inside to stand by and watch while the forces of Sauron have plagued the earth. Yes, I could have acted. And you would be sincerely mistaken to suppose that I did not come very close to it at times. But believe me when I say that to do so would have caused a tragedy far worse than the horrors of the past years."

   "How?" Gandalf whispered incredulously. "In what possible could....?"

   "I don't know." Tom stared at the ground in sorrow. "I don't know," he repeated. "But I do know that the Music of the Ainur was perfect. It left no room for improvement. And what we have experienced..." here his voice faltered as he was reminded of the events of the past year. "What we have experienced is part of it," he went on. "I do not understand the part it plays. Its role in this most perfect of symphonies is beyond my comprehension. But I know it is necessary. And I hope that one day, we will understand. I'm afraid that is all I can offer."

   Gandalf nodded slowly, if not entirely happy with Tom's response, at least somewhat satisfied by it and willing to give it careful consideration. "I am leaving Middle Earth, Tom," he said after a long silence. "I was sent here with a task to perform, and I've completed it."

   Tom nodded in understanding. "Where will you go?" he asked curiously.

   "Back to Valinor, I expect," replied Gandalf. "You should come with me, Tom," he said suddenly. "You and Goldberry. You are the One, the Father of All, the Master of Arda. You should take your place at the head of the Valar in the Undying Lands."

   Tom was silent for a long while, considering this. "No," he said at length. Gandalf arched his eyebrows in surprise. "If there is one thing I have learned over the past year, Gandalf, it is never to underestimate the importance of the small and seemingly insignificant in comparison to the great and mighty," Tom explained. "You see, Gandalf, in reality it is not you, or Master Elrond, or King Aragorn that are the true heroes of this quest. It never has been the likes of you or I who are the true heroes of this world. In this epic, crucial endeavour, the true saviours were the halflings, the Little People, four ordinary, plain, simple hobbits with extraordinary courage. I think I'm beginning to understand why I haven't been able to see the Music's structure, why I haven't been able to truly understand the way it works. I've been looking in all the wrong places, listening for all the wrong things - for the great and mighty themes and the strong, sweeping melodies. In truth, I am convinced that that the key to understanding it lies in the small, subtle, humble parts, played by the most common and unassuming of instruments. They are the vital components of this glorious Music. And I hope that as I sit by the Withywindle this year and listen for them rather than the grand, powerful melodies, I shall begin to understand the Music once more. It is not in the Undying Lands that the true greatest heroes reside, Gandalf, nor is it there that the most important parts are played. It is here, Gandalf, in the Shire, in Middle Earth, amongst dwarves and hobbits and mortal men. So no, Gandalf. I do not belong in the great halls of Valinor. One day, perhaps, when the final note of this wondrous Music has faded. But until then, my place is here."

   Slowly, a smile crept over Gandalf's face, and he stood up. "Well, Tom Bombadil, I'm beginning to think you are not a complete fool after all. I shall miss you, you know."

   "I know," said Tom. "And the Shire."

   "Yes," Gandalf smiled sadly. "And the Shire." Suddenly he chuckled.

   "What?" asked Tom.

   "All this time, and you never told me. You never once told me you were Eru Iluvatar."

   "I don't see that it makes much difference. I'm just as clueless as everyone else. If you knew, you'd doubtless try to pressure me into taking action and getting involved, and I came to realise long ago that that would be disastrous."

    Gandalf nodded ponderously in agreement. Then he stepped up to Tom and wrapped him in a warm embrace. "Farewell, Tom," he said.

   "Goodbye, Gandalf," replied Tom.

   With a nod and a final smile, Gandalf placed his hat on his head and began walking. Tom looked off into Forest and heard the rustling of the leaves become gradually softer and quieter, until eventually he could not hear them at all. 

    "Goodbye, Gandalf," he sighed again. "I imagine things shall be very different in this part of the world without you around. Thus ends the Third Age." He shook his head in wonder. "Never in a thousand years would I have imagined any of this." He was silent for a long time, looking deep into the Forest after Gandalf had gone. Then, suddenly, he shook himself. "I suppose I had better harvest these vegetables after all," he grumbled, and reluctantly knelt down and began work on pulling up the first row of carrots.    

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