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January 2002

The Bombadil-Dark Santa connection…

The following paper was posted to the usenet newsgroup, rec.arts.sf.written, by a person posting under the name “Sea Wasp”. The circumstances whereby he acquired a copy of the paper were not related. The matter is under investigation by They Who Shall Not Be Named.

(the following is a transcript of a paper presented by Eukonidor at the Fifth Age Conference on Arisia to the delegation from Middle-Earth)

An Examination of the History of
the One Ring subsequent to the
“War of the Ring”, and the
Implications Thereof for the
Future of Civilization

As is well known, at the conclusion of the Third Age of Middle-Earth, the One Ruling Ring fell into the Cracks of Doom and was destroyed, obliterating the works directly tied to the One and undoing the Dark Lord Sauron entirely.

Unfortunately, that which is “well-known” can often be incorrect. Subsequent events of a disquieting nature demonstrate all too conclusively that in point of fact not only was the One not destroyed, but it was also taken up by a being more than capable of utilizing it for its own purposes.

That being, known to most of the residents of Middle-Earth as “Tom Bombadil”, encountered the Ruling Ring quite early in its journey towards Mount Doom. The incidents involving Bombadil and the Ringbearer are often discounted; in fact, at least one dramatic production of the story neglects this entirely. And to a mind incapable of visualizing the Cosmic All in detail, it is true that this incident does not in fact appear to have much bearing on the history of the Ring.

Yet to discount this apparently chance encounter is to discount the significance of Bombadil himself. What, than, is Tom Bombadil? Some have claimed he is Maia; he certainly cannot be Vala, for the Valar have all been well known and accounted for. Yet, in his statements and those of others, there are clues — ones which point to an entirely different origin, and which speak volumes of both his power and potential vulnerabilities. He is the “Eldest”. “Tom was here before the Dark Lord came from Outside”. The “Dark Lord from Outside” is, of course, Morgoth, once called Melkor, mightiest of the Valar. Yet the Valar were the first permitted entry to Arda. How, then, could Bombadil be there before them?

Even a very moderate intellect, given this clue and a few other such as Bombadil’s ties to the natural world, can envision the obvious solution. Bombadil is the very spirit of Arda itself; he is the living soul of the world of Middle-Earth. (Thus the statements that he could not resist Sauron successfully, unless the strength to do so lies within the Earth itself)

Such a being cannot be discounted by any who walk the surface of Middle-Earth. This casts grave doubts, then, upon any assumption of coincidence or happenstance leading to the meeting of the Ringbearer and Tom Bombadil.

Much is made of the apparently failure of the Ring to affect Bombadil. Yet there is a much simpler explanation, one which unfortunately leads to darker conclusions. The Ring was created by a being of spirit, and its powers work equally on beings of the flesh and ones of pure mind — witness the temptation it worked upon such as Gandalf of the Maiar, who was fortunately strong enough to resist it, and Boromir of Gondor, who was not. It is then questionable, at the least, to contend that Bombadil was immune.

Visibility, however, is an aspect of the physical. The Ring’s invisibility worked by shifting the being more fully into the shadowy realm in which corrupted spirits in Middle-Earth are found, an alternative or neighboring dimension in the more mechanistic terms of Civilization. Bombadil, however, is the entirety of the world’s spirit. He cannot be shifted away, or rather if you shift one part, another takes its place. The Ring worked perfectly upon Bombadil; he simply existed simultaneously on all levels, so that there was no way for the Ring to actually make him invisible, unless its power would have permitted it to make the entire world invisible — something beyond even the power of Morgoth, let alone his sycophant’s creation.

But if Bombadil is the spirit of the world, it follows that things which affect the world affect Bombadil. Morgoth’s delvings at Angband and Thangorodrim, the wars, the “bending away” of huge parts of the world, the despoiling of Mordor, and the actions of Sauruman, a thousand other things, all would rebound upon he who represents the spirit of Middle-Earth. And just as a peach can seem perfectly fine to the casual glance, yet be suffering from rot beneath, so too can this damage leave Bombadil apparently his normal, carefree, cheerful self yet with dangerous and unnoted changes beneath. On these changes the Ring could work. In a sense, Bombadil was NEVER far from the One Ring; his spirit pervades the entirety of the world. Though the consciousness that was Bombadil was, for the most part, distant, nonetheless the echoes of the Ring’s influence could still touch upon him.

By the time Bombadil met the Ringbearer, the damage had begun. Internally Bombadil was filled with conflict, yet never having had anyone like himself to speak with, he could neither understand nor even verbalize the existence of his conflict. It is clear that he bent the Ringbearer’s path to himself; this is a trivial exercise of power that even the Elves could manage. Eventually, he gained momentary possession of the Ring — and it was then that his simple, direct cleverness tricked all of the Wise. With the same skills of a sideshow magician, Bombadil palmed the One and returned to Frodo Ringbearer an identical-seeming Ring — a lesser Ring, which unlike the Nine, Seven, and Three was unadorned, yet which by the Ruling Ring’s enchantment was still bound to it.

What followed would, of course, have been impossible had any lesser being taken the Ring. Perhaps one of the great Maia, or a Valar, could have done what Bombadil did, but even that is of doubt. But Bombadil is born of the World, and in the world his power is great beyond easy reckoning. While the Ringbearer journeyed, he kept much of the power of the One channeled to the lesser Ring that Frodo now carried. Had anyone performed the same test Gandalf had in Bag End — casting it into the fire — the substitution would have been unmasked. But Bombadil knew that it was exceedingly unlikely anyone would, unless they were given reason to suspect a substitution, and he made sure that there were no such grounds for suspicion. At the ultimate moment, he directed not only the full power of the One, but some of his own might through the Earth that is his to command, and the works of Sauron that depended upon the One were unmade. The Nazgul appeared to die, and Sauron himself became a great shadow and was blown away. To all appearances, the One was destroyed, Sauron undone, and the rest is known.

But what, we ask, were the motives of Bombadil?

Following the changes through the subsequent ages, and looking at the damage done by the Enemy and his Servant in the prior ones, a pattern emerges. Technology can be an aid or a hindrance; the mining of metals and forging of them can be done destructively or not. The wars, and destructiveness of technology, in Middle-Earth have nearly all stemmed, not merely from pride, but from covetousness — the desire for material things, and the mistaking of this desire for a need, and the satisfaction of the desire for happiness.

Bombadil is a being like a caring parent — in fact, many cultures view the Earth-spirit as female, not male. It wants its “children” — those who inhabit the world — to be, for the most part, happy. Bombadil is the essence of growth and life, but the essence of Morgoth’s works, and those of his protege’, is and was corruption, barrenness, sterility, and a turning inward in search of unfulfillable desires.

The small corruptions done to Bombadil’s spirit over the Ages accumulated, and were worked upon by the Ring’s peculiar tendency to find one’s weaknesses and play upon them. Bombadil then took the Ring for himself and found a mad logic to the contradictions that were plaguing him. If his “children” found joy in these things, then joy there must be, even if it seemed painful to him. So he would embrace the pain and make it a joy.

The rise in material and commercial culture, and its strident and ever-quickening pace — something seen more than once in the history since the great War of the Ring — reflects the efforts of Bombadil to reconcile his spiritual knowledge with the corruption that has infected him.

Bombadil has always chosen to have a locus — a place in which he is content to do his own work, far from the easy access of others. With his newfound purpose, however, the backwoods and rivers and natural vistas no longer held a fascination; he needed a place of isolation where he could have vast workshops to produce these “things” that people coveted, that seemed in his now-bent mind to be the focus of joy. Therefore he travelled far to the North, to lands lost to mortal access by the “bending” of the world, but not lost to him since they remained yet a part of what he was. At the ruins left by Morgoth, in the uttermost North, he settled. And to him in tatters came the Nine, and he drew others to his cause — elves and orcs together in unholy accord, the one drawn by Bombadil’s call, the other by the power of the Ring. And in the reopened delvings he began to create. The Nine he reshaped into more fitting seemings. Dark Lord he might be becoming, yet his essential personality was not entirely gone, and perhaps could not be ever entirely destroyed; the full power of Middle-Earth may well lie beyond even the Ring to reshape in its entirety.

Bombadil became a subtly corruptive spirit — apparently a bearer of gifts (reflecting, of course, the original guise with which Sauron had tricked others into the snare of Ring-Forging, Annatar), but his gifts carried with them the corruption of desire. He encouraged the gift-giving, taking pleasure in the giving, yet the very power he used was to slowly emphasize the need for ever MORE gift-receiving on the part of the mortals involved. In early days he was seen in a number of guises, but as the effects of Bombadil’s Corruption began to be seen more and more throughout the world, his image was refined — partly by himself, and, in accordance with the way it had begun, partly by the very organizations of mortals that his corruption had helped to define. The Nine were now Reindeer, or so they would appear to most, and Bombadil, still jolly and cheerful, was Saint Nicholas, or Santa Claus. The origin of the Christmas celebrations of course were tied to the old celebrations of nature which Bombadil had now forsaken.

But what of Sauron? The One still, in fact, existed. Thus Sauron could no more have been destroyed than the Nine.

This much is true; yet with a Power so great in utter and complete control of the One, Sauron had been reduced to a state lower than any he had previously attained. Barely able to regain power to manifest at all, he became a sour and weak spirit, assuming a generally humanoid form. He had of course lost all ability to take a pleasing form after the first War of the Ring, but now, reduced as he was, he could not even assume one with majesty or terror, but one of simple ugliness, to inspire distaste or pity. So weakened was he that he could not even remember, clearly, who and what he was.

Instinctively he sought the places least affected by the power of the Dark Lord Bombadil, for if he were to recover at all, he had to spend many years indeed unmolested and unremarked. By coincidence or destiny, the place he chose was the Shire, or rather what the Shire had become in the intervening years.

The Hobbits, always insular, over the years became more and more inward focused. Their borders became harder and harder to find or define as time wore on, and not only they personally, but their entire land, seemed to remain remarkably free of the taint of Bombadil’s Gifts. Why this was is clear to any adequate mind, but is not the subject of this particular discourse.

An Age passed, and the Hobbits changed, as did the world around them, but in a different way. Still unaffected by the Power of Corruption, at least for the most part, they exchanged gifts at Christmas but did so in the spirit that was outwardly intended, succumbing little, if at all, to the corruption of the One combined with the First, and what little corruption seemed to take hold was only in the frenetic enthusiasm of their celebrations. Due to the changes in the world, the lingering Elven magic gifted to them through Sam Gamgee, and certain other obvious influences, they became a diverse people in appearance, yet still completely isolated; in fact, many if not all of them had ceased to think of there being any outside world, and indeed to reach the outside world from the place that had been the Shire was now a task no ordinary mortal could manage.

Sauron, not even a shadow of his former self, of course detested the joy and generosity of these people; in part, because he confused his own memories with those he ripped from others, he adopted an almost Gollum-like attitude, associating all “presents” with the one “precious present” that he’d given himself, and despising the ceremony of giftgiving. He was, however, also fearful and wary, knowing somehow that these harmless-looking creatures had been responsible for the condition he now found himself in, and for uncounted years he lived there, skulking in the mountains that now cut off the once-Shire from the rest of the world, a bogeyman to the little people below (originally calling him, in mangled Elven, Gaur ringe-oron (“the werewolf of the Cold Mountain”). Inevitably this was shortened to “The Gaurringe” and eventually to “The Grinch”.

Eventually, towards the end of the 5th age (the latter part of the 20th century in Earthly terms), his bitterness overcame his fear, at least to the extent that he determined to make everyone in the lands below as miserable as he himself was. On Christmas, he raised up what little power remained to him, and stole every gift that had been prepared for the celebration, and their food as well, thinking that not only would they be deprived of the joy of gifts, but of food as well; perhaps they would starve, or turn upon one another in their misery.

However, the Hobbits, or what they had become, had long since recognized their own joy in community and being together; thus their traditional celebratory rituals — singing in the new year at the end of the old, which was how they viewed this particular celebration — proceeded unchanged. It wasn’t that they didn’t notice the things missing, but that they possessed an absolute certainty that they could work out such problems as long as they, themselves, were unharmed.

What happened next could not have happened if things had gone at all differently; had Sauron been stronger, Bombadil weaker, the Hobbits and their descendants less resistant to corruption, the tale would have a different ending. But Sauron was weak, yet still a conscious mind, and all minds desire some kind of communication with others. And for two ages he had had no such communication. The song reached him where he stood, ready to cast all the accumulated treasures into the void on the other side of the mountains. And it touched a part of him which had been thought dead ages agone, that which had once borne the name Aulendil, and awakened in him the possibility of friendship. For in the past Ages was he too well known, both to himself and others, and trust would have been long, long in coming, and never fully would it be given. Now was he almost unknown, and that which he had been not even a rumor to these people. And with that came hope, and with hope there re-awakened within him the knowlege of the Light of Aman. The Light rekindled, he rose, and for the first time in uncounted years one of the Maiar stood upon the soil of that which had been Middle-Earth. Then did he return unto the people that which he had taken, and took up his abode among them. With this clarity of strength and purpose had come recognition of the changes, and he now resolved to discover what had happened to the world… but that, too, would take much time, as would becoming firm and accustomed to being one with the world itself.

Thus the Symmetry of Corruption; the corruption of the land that Morgoth and Sauron promoted led to the downfall of the Dark Lord, and the corruption promoted by the new Dark Lord led to the rise of one who had been utterly fallen. There is hope in even the darkest of events, and a cautionary word is needed even in the brightest of times. Remember these words, and think upon them, Wise of Middle-Earth, for the next Age is upon thee, and how you deal with the Powers that now reawaken will determine the shape of all things to come.

This page was last updated July 14, 2002.
Copyright © 2002 by Sea Wasp

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Science Fiction
Guest essays
January 2002