I meant to ask this last time I read the books while it was all still very fresh in my mind but I forgot and now, as I feared, the details are a little sketchy. It’s a simple enough question though: Both Treebeard and Tom Bombadil claim to be the oldest living creature in Middle Earth, who’s fibbing?
From a great Tolkien Q&A archive
I think Treebeard is just the eldest of the Ents.
The informed speculation is that Iarwain (Bombadil) is a Maia who went native as soon as the Ainur descended into the world. This gives him the same original status as Gandalf, Melian, the Balrog, and even Sauron. All living things which required physical being, like Ents, Elves, etc. came later.
Actually maybe even a Valar, since the Ring had no effect. Note that Gandalf was loathe to handle the ring, so it can have an effect on lesser Maiar. However, this may be because Gandalf the Grey had too much human. Gandalf the White might have been able to handle the ring with no ill effect.
Qadgop the Mercotan, I hate to disagree but this is one of the half a dozen subjects informed speculation is completely unable to agree upon. I am in the camp that Bombadil is of annother type completely. Some sort of nature or elemental spirit with more in kin to Caradhras than Gandalf. And it certainly explains Goldberry better than some theories.
Steuard Jensen has an excellent essay here on the subject What is Tom Bombadil? . I don’t agree with every point he makes, but he covers the pros and cons of the most probable of theories. That he comes to the same conclusion as I did is just a bonus.
As far as oldest Tom certainly wins due to the quote Genseric provided. Of course the Dark Lord came from the ‘Outside’ twice, depending on which outside is referenced. However both times take place before the Elves or Ents awoke, so Tom must be older. But he doesn’t claim to be anything other than himself, Eldest is the term he uses. His nature is still hotly debated, but the most likely candidates place him as a nature spirit or a Maia/Vala in which case he should not be properly included among the “living.” Nor is he likely older than the other Maia/Vala/Nature Spirits and is no more eldest than Gandalf. So Treebeard’s claim as the oldest living thing is probably good as Tom seems to exist outside the natural order that Treebeard is refering to.
I will have to disagree (sort of) with the idea that Bombadil wins the oldest competition. Don’t have the book in front of me this moment, but Gandalf himself calls Fangorn the oldest living thing in Middle Earth. I think that this either means that Tolkien goofed (not bloody likely), or that, as has been suggested, Bombadail is not “alive” but is either a Maia or, as I tend to believe, more of a natural manifestation of nature like Caradhras (as Bartman states).
And a related question concerning Ents.
Fangorn tells the hobbits that the Elves taught speach to the Ents. Were the Ents Ents at this point, or were they only trees, in the process of becoming Entish?
If they were just trees before the Elves taught them speach, then does that mean that a tree (Fangorn) was the first living thing in Middle Earth? Just one tree.
and to steal a quote from Rosebud in another thread, someone (Gandalf? Elrond?) also says of Tom, “Even Bombadil will fall, last as he was first, and then Night will come.”
So there are two sources, one saying Fangorn is the eldest living thing, and another saying Bombadil was the “first,” a slightly more enigmatic statement, but seemingly meaning the same as “oldest.” But perhaps not.
bartman, a great link with an excellent summary of the conundrum. And given the following quote by JRRT, one we’re not likely to solve.
I have to remember that Ea was a work in progress for Tolkien, and he was constantly re-inventing it. Therefore I think we’ll always lack final answers to questions like who Bombadil was, where Glorfindel came from (in LOTR), and where the Entwives went. Oh well.
And remember, he was basically “thrown in” as a sop to Priscilla since it was one of her favorite dolls.
A great deal has been written about who and what Tom Bombadil is. He is one of the great mysteries of Lord of the Rings. Here is an essay that explains things a bit.
Even better, try this site.
They sum up the views like this:
Ok, I was bluffing earlier, Here is The Truth About Tom Bombadil.
Genseric, when I discovered usenet a few years back I began keeping track of all the Bombadil theories. I think that one is still my favorite. Certainly not the most likely, but very entertaining.
Well, it’s been a little while now, and like I said in the OP, the details are a bit sketchy, but, weren’t the Entwives in the Shire?
Could one argue that Tolkien himself was unsure of Tom Bombadil’s identity?
I’m always a bit fascinated by authors who seem to be discovering a story rather that inventing one. Makes me wonder about the relationship between art and artist.
That’s more than likely the case. I’m gonna let out a little known fact about LOTR. Tolkien just made it all up, see? So, it’s highly possible, that he just never came up with a solid background on Tom Bombadil. He may have been as much a mystery to JRRT as to everyone else.
But in Tolkien’s case, doesn’t that take on some added artistic significance compared with (say) Anne McCaffey or some other writer who’s accustomed to just making up stuff out of whole cloth? AFAIK Tolkien was very serious about constructing an integrated mythology for his world. I find it interesting that the rational side of his nature would be stumped by something producted by his artistic side.
I don’t agree that we should dismiss the question with “eh, he just made it up” and leave it at that. I think that some justification for one’s creative decisions tends to differentiate that real artist from the hack. If Tolkien were a two-bit “fantasy” writer like what you see these days, then I’d agree that “he just made it up” would cover it. But I think Tolkien is a bit deeper than that.
I can agree with that. I think a likely answer is that Old Tom wasn’t originally intended to be a part of Tolkien’s created world. He was probably inserted into LOTR out of whimsy. Therefore, trying to shoehorn him into a maia or whatever, trying to see how he “fits” amongst valar, eldar, ents, etc. is kind of pointless. As JRRT said, he’s an enigma. Anything else is pure speculation.
While we’re at it, what the heck was Beorn? He alway struck me as a much more interesting character than Bombadil, and as an added bonus, doesn’t have that hey-nonny-ho-nonny-annoying speech pattern-a ding a dillo that Bombadil had.
When I was much younger (11 or so) and less aware of the mythology that Tolkien was trying to create, I worked out a theory that Bombadil was Beorn’s retarded younger brother.
Anyone have any background info on Beorn?