Should the Lord Of The Rings TV Series Include Tom Bombadil?

Room for Tom Bombadil could easily be found in Amazon's Lord Of The Rings prequel TV series. Could this be his on-screen chance?

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

In a letter to the writer and poet Naomi Mitchison, who had been proof-reading The Lord Of The Rings for him, J. R. R. Tolkien described Tom Bombadil as an “enigma,” “intentionally” so, and admitted that the character was “not an important person to the narrative” but added that he would not have left him in “if he did not have some kind of function.” Bombadil represents, Tolkien suggested, “a natural pacifist view,” a character who has access to immense power but chooses not to wield it, but rather to observe and not to participate in the wars around him. He had a symbolic importance to the overall story (not allegorical – a point both Tolkien and his friend C. S. Lewis were quite firm on, no matter how many people have insisted their works were allegories) but played no significant part in the plot.

Tolkien had used Bombadil partly because he had already invented him, in poems written in the 1930s, and he was easy to insert as an “adventure” along the way (as Tolkien told bookshop owner Peter Hastings). However, Bombadil appears only in these poems (published in a collection called The Adventures Of Tom Bombadil) and in The Fellowship Of The Ring. Although a powerful and ancient character, he does not appear in The Silmarillion or Unfinished Tales. Because he is not intrinsic to the plot, he has been left out of nearly all adaptations of Tolkien’s material, with the exception of a few games (both video games and tabletop games) in which he and his wife Goldberry are useful as powerful characters.

When the author himself has clearly expressed that a character plays no major function in the narrative, it is hardly surprising that a film series cutting the huge source material of the three-part epic down to three feature-length films did not include the escapade with Tom Bombadil and Goldberry. This decision is, for an adaptation, a no-brainer. However, many fans of the books were disappointed to see Bombadil cut out of the story, and some still believe he should have been included, either because of what he represents, or simply due to their own desire to see him and his wife brought to life on screen.

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As a story that stands by itself, Frodo and company’s encounter with Tom Bombadil and Goldberry offers the opportunity for rich visuals and at least two dramatic sequences. In The Fellowship Of The Ring, the hobbits travel through the mysterious and threatening Old Forest, where Old Man Willow puts them to sleep and tries to draw them into himself (this scene was shifted to Fangorn, where only Merry and Pippin are attacked and are saved by Treebeard, in the Extended Edition of The Two Towers film). Tom Bombadil rescues the hobbits and takes them home to meet his wife, the ‘daughter of the river’, Goldberry, and they spend the night. Bombadil explains that he is ancient, older than almost everything, and demonstrates that the Ring has no power over him at all (it does not even make him invisible).

The following day, the hobbits leave, but they have to cross the Barrows – the Anglo-Saxon-style burial mounds of ancient royals. A thick fog descends and they are attacked by a Barrow-wight (an ancient royal zombie) and Frodo calls Tom Bombadil for help. Bombadil saves them and they loot the tombs for some treasure and weapons (no one in The Lord Of The Rings seems to have a problem with grave-robbery) but after that they travel out of Tom’s lands and he will no longer help them.

If a TV series were to be made of The Lord Of The Rings itself, there would be clear reasons to consider including Tom Bombadil. While he plays no real part in the larger narrative, these episodes would make a perfect self-contained ‘filler’ episode – an “adventure on the way”, as Tolkien put it. The special effects required are not too demanding (an actor dressed as a zombie, some ‘scary-tree’ effects) and only three guest actors are required (Tom, Goldberry, the Barrow-wight), so the incident would give TV producers a chance to save some money and extend the story to fill however many episodes were required. The presence of Goldberry also introduces another female character into a story in which these are severely lacking (the principal cast of The Fellowship Of The Ring includes 19 characters, of whom two – Galadriel and Arwen – are female).

Amazon’s new series, however, is a prequel series, to take place before the events of The Lord Of The Rings and presumably not including the events of The Hobbit (since that’s already been adapted into feature films and expanded far beyond its limits anyway). The most obvious conclusion is that this will be an adaptation of stories from The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, and The Children Of Húrin, with the last being particularly appealing as it offers a complete, epic, rather miserable (and therefore ‘dark’ and ‘gritty’) story including (accidental) incest, which will almost certainly appeal to Amazon executives trying to compete with Game Of Thrones.

However, there are other possibilities. The show will apparently follow ‘new storylines’ preceding The Lord Of The Rings, so rather than delve into Tolkien’s elaborate mythology, they may decide to focus on the backstories of characters met in The Lord Of The Rings and material from the Appendices – Aragorn’s hunt for Gollum, for example. However, with a multi-season commitment, it seems likely that they will be going fairly far back into the mythology to begin with, and it would be an odd decision to scrap so many potential storylines sitting waiting to be adapted.

Either way, Tom Bombadil could easily be included. As an ancient character encountered by the heroes of The Lord Of The Rings, he can be inserted pretty much anywhere. It’s true that Bombadil does not appear in the major myths of Middle Earth, but then, Legolas does not appear in The Hobbit either – but his presence in a time and place where he would logically be makes perfect sense in the film adaptations (however unwise the resultant drawing out of the narrative may have been). He cannot, of course, encounter Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin, but aside from that one moment with the Ring, there is nothing about the episode that needs to relate specifically to them – any other character with limited powers could encounter the original Old Man Willow, the Barrow-wights, and Bombadil. But should Bombadil be included?

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Some of the reasons to include him are less pressing if the series is not adapting the central narrative of The Lord Of The Rings. For one thing, there are far more female characters in Tolkien’s background mythology that there are in The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings, largely because there is a lot more romance (and sex, and incest) in the wider Middle Earth mythology than the rather half-hearted attempt at a love triangle drawn between Aragorn, Arwen and Eowyn. Goldberry is a fun character, but there are more interesting women in Tolkien’s universe. Whether Bombadil fits as a representation of a wider theme – of the beauty of willingly refusing power, alongside the danger of stepping back from involvement (as Elrond points out, Bombadil will not survive if Sauron takes over) – depends on what thematic threads the series wants to pursue – which will, of course, depend in turn on exactly which stories they want to adapt.

Some of the advantages to including Bombadil remain, however. On a practical level, this is still an opportunity for a small, self-contained episode of television that requires minimal special effects and guest stars, while still offering an exciting incident (and the chance of getting a new weapon out of it, so it’s not completely useless to the plot). Any human character or characters can be substituted for the hobbits, and if need be, Bombadil’s lands can be moved from their place next to the Shire, however much this may annoy Tolkien purists (who will point out that the name ‘Tom Bombadil’ probably originates in Buckland – but most of the audience will be blissfully unaware of this). And, of course, slipping the Bombadil incident into an earlier story will offer all those fans disappointed not to see him realised on the big screen a chance to see his story adapted into dramatic form (though let’s face it, the people annoyed at his exclusion from the movies will probably be no less annoyed at seeing him inserted into a different time and place for the television series – but you can’t win ‘em all).

Overall, there are probably more advantages to including Bombadil in a television series than there are disadvantages. The increased running time of a television series and the division of a series into episodes make the inclusion of a single incident only tangentially related to the plot much less awkward, and the opportunity to throw in some spooky zombie-princes is surely not to be missed. In the course of adapting a disparate set of stories covering an enormous amount of time into a coherent television series, much will have to be changed, moved around, added to or cut down – in the course of all that, room might as well be found, finally, for Tom Bombadil.