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Is Tom Bombadil one of the nameless things?

I know I have a whole different website that I use to talk about Tolkien, but sometimes in writing I get a bit stuck. Oddly, perhaps one of the best ways to become unstuck is to write. I beg your indulgence as I write my way out of my hole.

For as long as people read The Lord of the Rings, people will ask questions about Tom Bombadil. Every now and again, someone comes along with a “new” theory, usually one that’s been proposed and dismissed decades before. But this is one I haven’t heard before (not that I think it’s never been proposed before; merely that it hasn’t been proposed in my hearing).

My gut answer was “no. Well…maybe. But not in the way you think.”

Let me explain.

Far, far below the deepest delving of the Dwarves, the world is gnawed by nameless things. Even Sauron knows them not. They are older than he. Now I have walked there, but I will bring no report to darken the light of day.

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, “The White Rider”

First off the fact that Tom has a name does not preclude him from being one of the nameless things. The nameless things are called such because there’s no name for the sort of thing they are (because they were neither discovered by thinking beings nor named in the Music of Creation). You could have a nameless thing named Steve and that wouldn’t be a contradiction.

Where this theory starts to seem plausible is that, as far as we know for sure, there is no name for the kind of thing that Tom is either. Adding credence to this theory is Tom’s claim to being older than Sauron, which apparently these nameless things are as well.

However, what we can know for sure is that Tom is not the same kind of nameless thing that Gandalf refers to as gnawing at the roots of the world.

The first reason we know this is because Tom is clearly a thinking being, while the nameless things are not. The depths below Moria are not filled with merry fellows ring-a-ding-dilloing their way around in the dark, I can assure you of that. We can know that the nameless things are not thinking beings not only from Gandalf’s description above but also because the gift of sapience is an important one in the Legendarium, and not one bestowed by any other than Eru.

The second reason we know this is because Tom is a sort of thing unto himself. In some ways he’s a sort of anti-nameless-thing because not only is he Tom Bombadil, he is a Tom Bombadil (and in fact the Tom Bombadil). The answer to Goldberry’s riddle of “he is as you see him” is simply that he is himself, and there are no others quite like him. Some choose to interpret this as a reference to Jehovah God, the self-existent I Am, but Tolkien himself debunks this theory when accused of being irreverent by including it, and states in no uncertain terms that he did not write an incarnation of God (or even of Eru, Arda’s God-figure) into Middle-earth.

In summary, I think there are some depths to this theory (hah) to be explored, but ultimately I do not agree, and I think there’s sufficient evidence in Tolkien’s written works to call it false.


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