There are two kinds of Lord of the Rings book fans. The ones who despise Tom Bombadil, hands down the weirdest character in The Lord of the Rings, and the ones who have memorized every word of his silly rhyming songs.
2021 marks The Lord of the Rings movies' 20th anniversary, and we couldn't imagine exploring the trilogy in just one story. So each Wednesday throughout the year, we'll go there and back again, examining how and why the films have endured as modern classics. This is Polygon's Year of the Ring.
Then there are Lord of the Rings movie fans, who may know nothing of the character, as Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, and Fran Walsh couldn’t find room for him in their three-picture adaptation — even in the Extended Editions. Anyone who hasn’t read the books has likely encountered Bombadil Discourse, but may never fully understand how one character can inspire such strong emotions.
I have an answer for movie fans. An answer that might even turn some Bombadil skeptics into Bombadil boosters.
Tom Bombadil is the Stan Lee Cameo of The Lord of the Rings.
Who is Tom Bombadil, really
Multimedia LOTR buffs know Tom Bombadil as one of the most famous omissions that the movie trilogy makes from J.R.R. Tolkien’s books. He’s also a particular favorite of famous Tolkien nerd Stephen Colbert.
But to elaborate for the viewer’s sake, Tom Bombadil marks a strange three-chapter digression early in the pages of The Fellowship of the Ring. Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin take a shortcut through the Old Forest on the border of the Shire, only to be mesmerized and nearly drowned by an intelligent and malicious tree known as Old Man Willow. They are rescued by a cheerful, bearded man “too large and heavy for a hobbit, if not quite tall enough for one of the Big People,” wearing a blue coat, yellow boots, and a hat with a feather in it. He constantly spouts almost nonsensical rhyming couplets.
There was a sudden deep silence, in which Frodo could hear his heart beating. After a long slow moment he heard plain, but far away, as if it was coming down through the ground or through thick walls, an answering voice singing:
Old Tom Bombadil is a merry fellow, Bright blue his jacket is, and his boots are yellow, None has ever caught him yet, for Tom, he is the master: His songs are stronger songs, and his feet are faster.
This is Tom Bombadil, “Tom Bom, jolly Tom, Tom Bombadillo!,” who whisks them off to his wholesome home to meet his beautiful wife, Goldberry, the “River-woman’s daughter.” And in addition to not being a Man or a hobbit or a dwarf or a wizard, Tom has weird powers. A chapter later, he rescues the hobbits from a terrifying undead creature, the Barrow-wight, simply by commanding it. He can speak to plants and animals (his pony’s name is Fatty Lumpkin). Weirdest of all, he can put on the Ring of Power without turning invisible or being tempted by it.
Readers have attempted for decades to puzzle out a place for Tom Bombadil in the larger Middle-earth myth, suggesting that he is secretly one of Middle-earth’s gods, or demigods. One (humorous) essay theorizes that he is the Witch-King of Angmar on vacation. Ev