The Gospel According to the Lord of the Rings: Week 7, The Uselessness of Tom Bombadil

Eventually, Frodo makes his move and leaves the Shire, finding himself pursued by the Black Riders.

He's headed to Bree, hoping to meet Gandalf. And on the journey to Bree we meet one of the more enigmatic characters in the story, Tom Bombadil.

It's unclear who or what Tom Bombadil is. In his correspondence Tolkien left Tom's origins a mystery. Tom is a narrative loose end that Tolkien never tied up. From the hints we can gather in the text, Tom, along with Goldberry, is some sort of primordial nature spirit or god. Alone, in seems, in Middle Earth, the Ring of Power doesn't affect him.

Tom Bombadil is a beloved character among many Tolkien fans. He is a favorite of mine. I used to walk in the woods of my grandparent's house singing Tom's song:
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.
But for this series I'd like to make a contrast between Tom Bombadil and Rivendell.

Specifically, when Elrond's Council gathers to discuss how to deal with the Ring of Power, a discussion about Bombadil takes places. Perhaps the Ring could be given to Bombadil for protection? But this idea is dismissed. Fleming Rutledge, in her book, describes this conversation under the heading "Tom Bombadil's Uselessness."

The point to be observed is this. Tom exists in an innocent state of nature. He lives in a world walled off from the concerns of the outside world. And while that makes a stay at Bombadil's house idyllic and enchanted, that loveliness cannot last, not with the Shadow growing. In the end, even Bomdadil would fall before the Darkness.

Rivendell, by contrast, sees the threat and takes action. Rivendell is just as enchanted and magical as the house of Tom Bombadil, but Rivendell hasn't retreated into self-isolation. Rivendell is resistance.

As much as we'd love to linger at Tom's house, the church is called to risk and engagement with the world.

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