BIRT Tom Bombadil is a Gary-Stu for J.R.R. Tolkien

I’m sleepy, so this may not make much sense, but…

The character of Tom Bombadil in The Lord of the Rings has very little relevance to the actual plot (he provides the Barrow-blade to Merry that the hobbit will later use to wound the Witch-king at the Pelennor Fields). Tolkien himself has asserted in his letters that Bombadil is ‘an enigma’, an anomaly that appears randomly in the narrative and disappears just as randomly.

More tellingly, Bombadil has near-omniscient, if not omniscient, powers and is able to resist the power of the Ring–not to mention a hot wife (shades of Beren and Luthien?).

Is Bombadil a self-insert on the part of Tolkien himself? Discuss. :slight_smile:

I don’t think so. In point of “real world referent,” Tom Bombadil was the name given to a(n adult) doll belonging to one of the Tolkien children, I think Priscilla but am unsure. (This is mentioned in passing in either the Letters or Carpenter.)

In terms of who and what he is, remember that Tolkien was a scholar of English literature, with, like Lewis, a taste for the medieval. Bombadil is a character constructed on the lines of the jovial, gamboling nature spirit that is so common an allusion in everything from the Green Knight to the Faerie Queen. Tolkien was enamored of this sort of character; Thingol Greycloak was first drawn as just such a figure. While most of his leading elves are drawn as Our Hero Nobly and Philosophically Faces His Fate, there’s always a hint of the other sense of Elves Engaged in Revelry going on in the background in the elven elements. (And yes, Bombadil is not an Elf in the Studies in Middle-Earth Anthropology sense; what I’m saying is that literarily Bombadil and the Elves are draughts drawn from the same hogshead.

Bombadil is the genius loci, the resident demigod of the particular spot where he is found. And he has the function of taking the four hobbits the first step from the everyday experience of the Shire into a world full of new and strange experiences.

Tolkien was fairly realistic about his own motivations; he is on record as considering himself “a hobbit” in the sense that he depicted them as liking what he liked by way of relaxation. Insofar as he idealized himself and his wife to write them into his story, it’s quite literally graven in stone who they saw each other as: the epitaphs on their tombstones are each one word long: Luthien and Beren. And of course the characters Aragorn and Arwen are depicted as seeing themselves re-enacting the Lay of Leithian knowingly in their own time – which means that inevitably Aragorn takes on a bit of Gary-Stu “if I were a fantasy hero” coloration, though Tolkien was too good a craftsman to allow much of this.

But I believe that has more than a little to do with the decidedly odd motivations of Aragorn-in-the-book, who in some ways seems to be a two-dimensional Missing Prince Reared in Humble Circumstances Who Is Fated to Get the Fabled Princess and Reclaim His Throne character (though again Tolkien is far more subtle than that, but I feel the initial romantic conception interferes with his ability to draw Aragorn as realistic character). The Jackson/Mortensen Aragorn, though still all that, actually has human traits beyond the ability to rise nobly to a challenge: he actually has some self-doubt to conquer, and has to screw up the courage to lay it all on the line for great reward. And Viggo’s Aragorn, unlike the one in the book, can actually feel a twinge of temptation for Eowyn, despite being in love with and pledged to Arwen.

Bombadil, however, is part of a long-standing but extremely moribund literary tradition: slightly more than a personification of the Warwickshire countryside that Tolkien knew and loved, he is both incarnator and protector of that mise en scene. And characters of his ilk, figures out of faerie tied to a particular place, date back to the days of the Greeks (Alpheus and Arethusa, for example, or Narcissus or Hyacinthus) and were relatively common in the more fantastic elements of medieval story.

Your post makes perfect sense, the thread title however mystifies me greatly.

Bombadil seems to be some sort of theophany, one of those odd personifications of the Divine or the Numinous, who comes out of nowhere & goes of who knows where. Reminds me of Melchizedek.

Wikipedia informs me on Gary Stu, but I’m at a loss for “BIRT”

Be It Resolved That.
I had no idea what a “Gary-Stu” was, although I’ve heard of “Mary Sue”

Got it! Be It Resolved That. I’d heard Mary Sue before, but not the male equivalent.

I just figured it was an acronym I wasn’t familiar with.

Or else BIRT is the life partner of IRNIE. :wink:

Nice comparison there.

I’ve always felt that Aragorn (as written by Tolkien), and indeed many other characters, carried with him the knowledge (conscious or not) that he was living in and a part of the end of an age, and really of the world as he knows it. That shadow hangs over the entire book, but while characters like Merry and Pippin seem oblivious to it, Aragorn’s every moment is spent knowing that despite all the trials he and his must go through, everything is about to end; it’s just a matter of which sadness Middle-Earth will face. The departure of Elves (and magic, and many other fair things), or the reign of Sauron.

I think Aragorn is as . . . detached as he is at points precisely because he knows that in his life even victory is no victory. Faramir also knew this, I think, but in a more narrow view, his realm of knowledge being much more limited to Gondor.

Well, according to the Tolkien Theory page, Tom is the Witch King, so PJ probably couldn’t figure out how to foreshadow the ending so that it worked out okay.

I too needed help with both BIRT and Gary-Stu.

Tom is not a Gary-Stu. There is more of Tolkien in Gandalf and Frodo than any characters of the Trilogy. If Tolkein had a true Gary-Stu it was Beren. The inscription on his wife’s and his gravestone that says.

Beren fits the Wiki description of a Gary-Stu fairly well. Bravest hero, gets the prettiest girl, fights the worst evil, everything the author would like to be.

Back to Tom, as others said, Tom predates the Lord of the Rings by a bit and Tolkien simply inserted him into the early part of the books before he had a complete idea of where the story would lead. For those of us that love Tom & Goldenberry, we are probably fortunate that Tolkien did not edit them or Old Man Willow out. Tom & the Ents represent to some degree Tolkien’s love for nature. He is an enigma, Tolkien does not know who he really is and no one else did. Elrond was ignorant of who Tom was, but Gandalf the White at least had an ‘Inkling’ of who or what he is.

Polycarp, great post, I think Aragorn is but a shadow of Beren. I do not see him as Tolkien’s bit of Id in Middle-Earth. He put more of himself into Frodo and a little into Gandalf.


Aragorn is most interesting as a character when the hobbits first meet him at the Prancing Pony, and he’s sulking bitterly about having to skulk in the wilderness protecting the same plump ignorant schmoes who, unaware of his noble purpose, distrust him for being a rootless wilderness-skulker. There’s just a flash of a real person in there, but the more he assumes the mantle of leadership, the more boring he becomes.

I think a huge flaw with this theory is that Frodo gives the Ring to Tom, and he GIVES IT BACK. Why would the witch king return the ring to Frodo instead of jumping up, rigging off his disguise and yelling “Gotcha!” and flying off on the nearest Nazgul to Mordor?

Because he knows his boss is all about the despoliation of innocence and corruption of strength and beauty. He knows his boss wants to grind this Baggins fellow down to little tiny nubs before eating his soul like a little tasty Hobbit Snack.

No, no, no!

Worst Theory Evah!

Especially as therefore the Witch King would have actually turned over the blade that could harm him to an enemy instead of leaving it lost forever. This is the last thing he would want to do.

And he cares because? The Witch-king has done tons of very very not nice things in the service of Sauron. I’m just not seeing where he’s ever shown that he’s not OK with it. Where does he show any kind of remorse for his actions that might lead one to think he’s no longer being Forced to be the baddest MOFO on winged fell beasts?

Or even “Gotcha-ya!” Actually, I was going to post that same debunkoid. If we’re allowed to account for Tom in more detail than Tolkein even cared to, I’d say he’s a retired or relaxing
Ainur. The politics and magics of Middle Earth would be far beneath him and would even strike him as somewhat insignificant. It would also account for his easily dismissing Sauron–a mere Buttboy of Morgoth–and his little toys.

From that perspective I wouldn’t think of him as a Gary-Sue or whatever, he’s just one of the Ainur that have been doing their own thing since the early days of the Silmarillion.

Good point. Especially as we know that it’s canon that Ulmo, the #2 man on the loyal Valar, has the same ultimate goals as Manwe and the other Valar, but acts almost completely unilaterally, ignoring their “corporate policy” (e.g., w/r/t Tuor), and lives in a pineapple under the sea, errr, in his palace in the depths of the Encircling Seas.

I’d like to thank Kytheria for remembering that a Mary Sue has to be an avatar for the author.

You know, as much as I know that the Bombadil / WitchKing is not the case (just as, most likely the theory that he is an Ainur is not true either), it would make for a very interesting redemption side story.

If one ignores the council of Elrond, wherein the history and powers of Tom are discussed, one could make (IMO) a cool side story about how even the fallen Witch King strives for redemption, but can only do so by creating a persona of all that he is not: beautiful, care-free, bound to no one, full of love, etc., and keeping this persona from his master. Perhaps this is even known to Goldenberry (who is a Maiar in her own right and can thus withstand the demonic powers of the chief ringwraith). To this end, it makes sense that he would have to not only give back the ring to Frodo, but also to equip the other hobbits with a weapon that could help defeat him, as this personna is all that the kingwraith is not.
Sort of a Fight Club meets LoTR.