Hey Dol! Merry Dol! Bombadil is Coming!

Vanity Fair have today revealed that one of Tolkien’s most beloved characters to ever hit the cutting room floor will finally make his on-screen debut, courtesy of Prime Video’s second season of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.

The Age of Iarwain Ben-Adar, Oraid, and Forn is finally upon us!

Old Tom Bombadil is a merry fellow! Bright blue his jacket is, and his boots are yellow! Now let his song begin! But what is he after? Fighting off some barrow-wights? Or a masked ring crafter?

To this point, Jolly Tom’s fandom footprints have been largely limited to readers’ imaginations, audio book embellishments, an iconic Hildebrandt Brothers 1976 calendar (seen below), and an occasional illustration on collectible card games. He’s even made a Weta-crafted live action appearance that only made it as far as a long out-of-print Decipher CCG card.

All of that is about to change as Rory Kinnear steps into the role of Middle-earth’s Eldest and Master. An Olivier Award-winning English actor and playwright, Kinnear is perhaps best known for his roles in the Imitation Game, Penny Dreadful, the Daniel Craig era of James Bond movies, and most recently as Churchill in the Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare. Vanity Fair’s article also includes an interview with the man about to fill these large yellow boots.

Just a quick read of the VF article offers some insight, as well as more mystery, pretty typical of Bombadil himself. We see a character with a more muted color palette, and interacting with another Rings of Power mystery man, or Maiar. Showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay seem to understand the narrative challenges that drawing Tom into their universe entails: he’s an observer without an agenda, a deep well of knowledge delivered in poetry, a natural pacifist who tends to stand alone, a quixotic Master and force of Nature. And he apparently has a second home far to the east of the Withywindle in the now desert wasteland of Rhûn, convenient for meeting up with our intrepid Stranger and his Harfoot companions, Nori and Poppy. Apparently the forests of Lindon are not the only realms vulnerable to Sauron’s creeping blight, and Old Tom may have some work to do, and allies to recruit, to prevent its westward spread. So much potential! So many questions! You can find some earlier OneRing speculation on Tom’s appearance in Rings of Power here.

So just as with befeathered Bombadil, that is where the clarity ends and the mystery begins. An actor of Kinnear’s stature must mean that Tom is more than a fleeting tip of the hat to diehard book fans. What will be the impact of his presence? Where will he appear, and how will this force of Nature contribute to this Second Age story of the emergent Sauron and his Rings of Power? The clues may be rooted in what we know about Tom.

Tom Bombadil in The Rings of Power played by Rory Kinnear

Tom Is Eldest

He has literally seen everything.

“Eldest, that’s what I am. Mark my words, my friends: Tom was here before the river and the trees; Tom remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn. He made paths before the Big People, and saw the little People arriving. He was here before the Kings and the graves and the Barrow-wights. When the Elves passed westward, Tom was here already, before the seas were bent. He knew the dark under the stars when it was fearless – before the Dark Lord came from Outside.” (The Fellow of the Ring, In the House of Tom Bombadil)

Besides his general expositional potential, Bombadil offers a wonderful, and likely cryptic, opportunity to advance the plot. As Eldest, Tom could bring deeply wise counsel, reveal unforeseen connections, surface hidden sources of power, and summon surprising allies as elves, humans, and dwarves battle emergent evil. (Ents, anyone?) Will we see desperate embassies searching for a new and powerful ally somewhere in hills and forests of ancient Eriador?

Tom Bombadil in The Rings of Power played by Rory Kinnear

Tom is Master

Tom is also, of course, one of the most powerful beings in Middle-earth. Perhaps he’s destined for a more dynamic, less reclusive appearance here in the Second Age.

“Tom Bombadil is the Master. No one has ever caught old Tom walking in the forest, wading in the water, leaping on the hill-tops under light and shadow. He has no fear. Tom Bombadil is master.” (The Fellowship of the Ring, In the House of Tom Bombadil

Nothing phases Brother Bombadil: not the worst Willow in the Wood, the specter of deadly barrow-wights, not even the One Ring. He is a being beyond all these Powers, more than Maiar. In some ways, Tom is a virtuous counterpoint to the consuming evil of Ungoliant, who frightened even Melkor. In this coming season, might we see Tom’s power more proactively unleashed? It seems more likely that such a direct conflict would counter Sauron’s (or Melkor’s) minions, rather than Bombadil facing the Dark Lord directly. Could this mean a Second Age barrow-wight battle? Tom’s natural domain lies in the North of Middle-earth, the historic home to the evils of Morgoth, his lieutenant Sauron, and the ultimate chief of the Ringwraiths, the Witch-king of Angmar. Though the Ringwraiths and their King’s story lie far in the future (we’re still waiting to see the rings which ultimately corrupt them to even be crafted), and though the Barrow-wights are connected directly to the Witch-king, we have never learned the origin of the bones which lie in those Barrows. Some are surely ancient. Could there have been “proto-Wights” of an earlier kind loitering in this same region in the Second Age? Galadriel has already discovered signs of Sauron’s necromancy skills early in Season One. Perhaps we’ll get a backstory on those perilous mounds that ensnared four befuddled hobbits north of Tom’s forest home, and see Bombadil’s mastery revealed on a larger scale.

Tom Bombadil and Gandalf in The Rings of Power played by Rory Kinnear
Tom Bombadil in The Rings of Power played by Rory Kinnear

Tom is a Rescuer

In his 1954 letter to Naomi Mitchison, Tolkien describes Tom Bombadil as a “natural pacifist”:

“…if you have, as it were taken a ‘vow of poverty’, renounced control, and take delight in things for themselves without reference to yourself… then the question of the rights and wrongs of power and control might become utterly meaningless to you, and the means of power quite valueless.” (The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, #144, 25 April 1954)

The Rings of Power have no influence over Tom, in part because he exists entirely outside of the need for such power. He is the antithesis to Sauron’s (and Saruman’s) essential driving desire for order, control, and domination. Bombadil lives “without reference” to himself, which makes him the perfect source of rescue for those in desperate need. Tom is always appearing, whether “accidentally” or upon summoning, at points of near catastrophe for our intrepid hobbits, whether they’re about to be squeezed in two by a malevolent tree, or ceremoniously beheaded by a creeping undead hand. Bombadil is the walking, singing embodiment of one of Tolkien’s favorite themes: eucatastrophe, or the “good catastrophe”. Like the great eagles, will Tom also be integral to an unexpected happy turn beyond hope, seemingly out of the blue? (It is a color that looms large in his fashion choices.) Bombadil defies control, carefully laid stratagems, and scripted plots. He simply appears, with inherent Power and Joy.  I hope this is how we see him in Rings of Power: unexpected, at a moment of desperate darkness, fearless, irresistible, beyond explanation and manipulation of any who would oppose him. And singing poetry, of course! It is his natural idiom!

Which means, I hope, that Rory Kinnear has a good voice!