Posts Tagged ‘J. R. R. Tolkien’

The Time-Value of Tom Bombadil

March 15, 2017

Of all the second-tier characters in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy–and there are many–few perhaps raise as much discussion or garner as much criticism as Tom Bombadil, the mysterious figure whom the hobbits encounter in their first adventures outside the Shire.  Here is a short synopsis of his role in the book, hopefully without too many spoilers:

  • The hobbits leave the Shire and get into trouble.
  • Tom Bombadil bails them out.
  • The hobbits leave Tom Bombadil and get into trouble.
  • Tom Bombadil bails them out and escorts them to the next town.

Bombadil then disappears entirely from the story, having dragged the reader through two and a half chapters punctuated by childish poetry and nonsense words, in which nothing particularly momentous happens and the menace of the Black Riders is completely absent.  At least that’s the criticism.

Some might even go so far as to refer to Bombadil as the Jar Jar Binks of Middle-Earth:  annoying, hard to understand, and mostly pointless (though at least no one would label Bombadil as incompetent).

It is true that there are faster-moving portions of the story, and indeed for those very sensitive to time this episode may seem like a needless extravagance:  witness that the incidents are completely glossed over in the 1981 radio series, as well as the Peter Jackson movies.  (Interestingly, Bombadil was included in the now-lost 1955-6 radio series; but as that production was thoroughly panned by no less a critic than Prof. Tolkien himself, perhaps among producers Bombadil suffers from guilt by association.)  But to say that Bombadil contributes nothing positive to the story is unfair.  At any rate, one could make the argument that, if the Bombadil segment is redundant, so too is the interlude in Lothlorien… in which, again, nothing happens (nothing action-y, anyway) and the inhabitants don’t appear again until after the climax.

At the highest level, of course, one could suggest that the entire epic is unnecessary.  Countless lives were lived before the publication of The Lord of the Rings, and countless lives continue to be lived with little or no exposure to the books, or even the movies.  So perhaps necessity isn’t the best measure to use in this debate.

So what does the Bombadil section contribute to the story?

Even from the narrative perspective, there are contributions.  First, Bombadil fills the narrative space between the Shire and Bree.  While in the Peter Jackson movies it is apparently possible to make the trip from the Shire to Bree is a single evening marathon, the distance in the book is a little longer.  Gandalf is absent and they have yet to meet Strider, so Bombadil acts as a sort of temporary chaperone through the hobbits’ first foray into the wild.  Not wholly unrelated to that point, the adventure allows the hobbits to grow.  There is a distinct difference between the blind panic in their first Bombadil-bailout compared to Frodo’s more hands-on role (so to speak) in the Barrow-wight adventure.  He still needs rescuing, but at least he’s able to grapple with the problem and hold the fort until help arrives.  The hobbits’ growth is perhaps symbolized by the fact that, when they leave Bombadil, they are for the first time armed.  Third, the pause in the action allows time for introspection and a bit of foreshadowing (another similarity to the Lothlorien visit).

But perhaps the most significant contribution–and maybe the one that Bombadil’s critics fail to see as a contribution–is to what we might call “local color.”  Bombadil gives us a look at the sorts of characters that inhabit Tolkien’s world.  True, we’ve already met hobbits, elves, and a wizard; and other creatures are hinted at (did you notice the (presumed) Ent in the Shire in chapter 2 of Book I?).  But here’s a couple of people who are completely different.  In fact Bombadil is never completely explained, even by his (also-enigmatic) spouse Goldberry.  (Readers of The Silmarillion may reasonably peg them as Maiar, but that’s never explicitly stated).  We do learn that Bombadil is a great storyteller; unfortunately we aren’t given the stories themselves, which is a shame:  new material concerning what’s hinted at in the book might do better in the shops than trotting out the The Silmarillion’s grimmer bits in new packaging.

To be fair, I’m not a great fan of Tom Bombadil.  There are other characters who contribute more to the story, but it seems unfair to make him out as pure dead-weight.  After all, if nutrition were the only measure by which we judged our food supply, there are a lot of people in the spice-and-flavorings industry who might suddenly find themselves out of work.


News Flash: Smaug Ouster Weighs on Middle-Earth Economy

July 25, 2014


Rhovanion Times-Observer

A report published today by the Middle-Earth Economic Forecasting Bureau shows that the economy of Rhovanion shrank for a third consecutive quarter, threatening to pull the whole economy of Middle-Earth into recession.  The economic weakness in Rhovanion follows upheaval throughout the region in the wake of the sudden ouster and death of Smaug the Dragon in Esgaroth late last year.

The North Rhovanion Constabulary Force is continuing its investigation into Smaug’s death.  All that is known is that Smaug was shot by a lone bowman as he arrived in Esgaroth by air to consult with local leaders over a growing wave of anti-dragon sentiment.

The economic turbulence immediately following Smaug’s death has been somewhat better documented at this point.  Smaug’s mid-flight demise caused him to crash land on top of the town of Esgaroth, causing damage estimated at 9,435 gold pieces.  The town’s insurance firms have filed a claim against Smaug’s estate for that amount plus 5,000 for pain and suffering on the part of the residents.  Smaug’s demise also precipitated an orc invasion, requiring military involvement from the Dwarves of the Iron Hills and the Elves of Mirkwood to repel.  Both groups have submitted claims against Smaug’s estate to recoup the costs of the intervention.

Further complicating matters, a party of dwarves from the Blue Mountains have petitioned the court for ownership of Smaug’s estate, the bulk of which is represented by the Lonely Mountain and its contents.  The claim is based on the dwarves’ previous ownership of the estate and assertions that Smaug obtained the estate through dubious circumstances.

“The words of these dwarves stand on their heads,” said Ozaun, Smaug’s younger brother and next-of-kin.  “Their claims that Smaug somehow forced his way into ownership of the property are ridiculous.  The Dwarves of Erebor were in a state of financial ruin.  Their very successful extraction of gold and other valuables from the Mountain had caused runaway inflation in prices of commodities like food–particularly and especially food–as well as a significant uptick in criminal activity.  Smaug bought the place out of bankruptcy, reduced the local gold circulation, and through careful estate management has made the place a going proposition once again.  So naturally the dwarves want it back now.”

The extent of Smaug’s economic involvement in the economy of Rhovanion has been a lesson slowly and painfully learned over the last six months.  “Naturally Smaug was extremely interested in the economic well-being of the district,” said Karbomonauksyde, Smaug’s nephew and erstwhile property manager.  “It’s hard to grow your own wealth if all the lands around are economically stagnant.  Do you think dragons grow their hoard by piling it up in a great hall and sitting on it?  Of course not; it has to be invested.”

Much of that investment turned out to be in civic and infrastructure projects, especially in and around Esgaroth.  Projects undertaken by his corporate presence, Dino-Might LLC., included the extension of the pilings on the south side of the city to make room for three more city blocks, the western bridge, and the Great Marketplace.

Dino-Might LLC also provided start-up financing for a number of small businesses, including Forrester’s Blacksmith Shop of West Esgaroth, Iron Hills Savings and Loan, and the North-Lake Pony Farm and Supply Company.

“I don’t think most people quite realized just what place he had in things,” said a spokesman for the government of New Esgaroth.  “He was a major financial partner.  Of course if he caught you mishandling his money he’d eat you alive–so to speak–but he certainly had a claw in a lot that went on around here.  It might be too much to say he had a heart of gold; but he was, in his way, golden.”

Most market-watchers report confidence that a quick solution to the investigation and legal actions could prompt the beginnings of an economic recovery.

Meanwhile, markets were buoyed somewhat on news that redevelopment plans for the long-dilapidated Barad-dûr district in northern Mordor could move forward.  The plans had been held up by disagreements on the requirements for volcano insurance.

Copyright 2014–to the extent that fan fiction can be copyrighted.  Smaug, Middle-Earth, Rhovanion, Esgaroth, and all other entities appearing in “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” are of course properties of the Tolkien estate.  Usage of these entities is deemed to comply with relevant Fair Use provisions.

The Lord of the Rings Real Estate Quiz

July 30, 2011

One of the biggest challenges in selling a house is trying to find the words that provide an accurate description of the property while emphasizing its good points and minimizing its bad points.  Conversely, one of the biggest challenges in buying a house is getting through the advertisements to figure out what a property is really like.

The fact that people who are buying a house in one location may at the same time be selling a house somewhere else, and therefore know all the marketing doublespeak, makes it that much harder for the seller.

To test your skills at understanding the real-estate dialect of the Marketingian language, as well as your knowledge of Middle-earth, I’ve included ten descriptions of properties that by the end of The Lord of the Rings are either vacant or might be going on the market soon.  It’s up to you to penetrate the verbiage and identify which property matches the following descriptions:

(Warning:  Possible spoilers!)

1.  Riverfront Property in Historic District!  A little TLC will turn this property into a handy place for retirement or weekend getaways–close to the city, but not that close.  A must for those interested in history, as archaeological sites abound nearby.  As-is.

2.  Build your dream-home on hilltop site in shady eastern Wilderland.  Lot features plenty of mature trees.  Stunning view of Anduin valley.  Lumber on-site.  Did we mention the trees?

3.  Love to be beside the seaside?  This well-tended coastal property has had only one owner in last 6,000 years.  Property includes cozy workshop and ship-building facility.

4.  Mountaintop Retreat features convenient access to nearby areas and overlooks natural splendor. Enough space to host a small army. Security features. Unique local wildlife which you won’t want to overlook.

5.  Newly-renovated home in area with very active neighborhood watch features uniquely durable exterior that defies the elements.  Fresh landscaping work guaranteed to remain green and growing for a long time.  Interesting knick-knacks stay with the property.

6.  Scenic and secluded!  Vacant lot awaits new construction in secluded valley, complete with mountain stream and unusual flora.  One visit and this will become one of your favorite haunts.

7.  If you love the outdoors, this one’s for you!  Large, well-maintained multi-storey house in greenbelt area with mature trees is move-in ready.  Features the ultimate in “green” building standards.

8.  Astonishing vista!  Recently-cleared site with commanding perspective of rugged scenery and plenty of open space.  Quiet neighborhood.  Room for a very deep basement.  Nearby geothermal feature can be used to help reduce heating bills.  Check volcano insurance requirements.

9.  Large but cozy estate in foothills of Misty Mountains makes a wonderful retreat–you’ll feel you’re at home and on holiday at the same time. Security features. Plenty of room for lots of guests or large family.

10.  Unlimited Storage Space! Surprising location in scenic Misty Mountains features plenty of elbow room. Security features included. Some rooms have skylights. West side of property includes stocked pond; east side also scenic.  As-is. Buyer must verify dimensions.

And now the properties:

  • A.  Barad-dur
  • B.  Caras Galadhon
  • C.  Cirith Ungol
  • D.  Dol Guldur
  • E.  The Grey Havens
  • F.  Minas Morgul Ithil
  • G.  Moria
  • H.  Osgiliath
  • I.  Orthanc
  • J.  Rivendell

And just so there’s a distinct visual break between the questions and the answers, let me take this opportunity to mention that I am not at all connected with the Tolkien estate or the people making the movies…and also to plug my JRR Tolkien Minor Character Quiz, which you also might enjoy.

Okay, here are the answers:

1-H.  2-D.  3-E.  4-C.  5-I.  6-F.  7-B.  8-A.  9-J.  10-G.

The Unofficial JRR Tolkien Minor Character Quiz

February 21, 2011

“It’s not always a misfortune to be overlooked.”  -Merry Brandybuck

They say the easiest story to produce is one about a set of people trapped in an elevator:  a limited cast, few sets, and limited action.  At the other end of the spectrum is the work of Professor Tolkien, who created a whole world and populated it accordingly.  While all of these characters add color and depth to the story, it presents a challenge to his readers who, as the story progresses and bifurcates, must keep track of who (and what) the different characters are and where they belong.  It also presents a no-win scenario to the people who try to dramatize it, since due to production constraints there is simply no way to avoid dropping somebody‘s favorite character.

Defining a “minor character” for this quiz presents something of a challenge:  there are so many characters in Tolkien’s world that even the major ones must fight for recognition.   For example, there’s Lotho Sackville-Baggins, who creates a sizable plot turn without ever stepping in front of the camera.  Even Sauron, the central villain of the piece, only gets about three lines of attributed dialogue.  Generally I have aimed for characters who are below the first tier of characters (and the second tier, for that matter) but who still do something reasonably significant, or at least who do more than step up, say one line, and disappear back into obscurity.

So your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to match the following names with the descriptions below.  If you haven’t read the book but saw the movie…good luck.  For the record, I have not included any names from The Hobbit or The Silmarillion (in which practically everyone is a minor character):  these all appear somewhere in the Lord of the Rings.

Just for the record, I have no affiliation with the Tolkien estate.  This is merely a bit of appreciation from a fan.  So, thanks, Prof.

  1. Beregond
  2. Bregalad
  3. Fredegar Bolger
  4. Ghan-buri-Ghan
  5. Gildor Inglorion
  6. Glorfindel
  7. Grishnakh
  8. Halbarad
  9. Imrahil
  10. Ioreth
  11. Mablung
  12. Nob
  13. Radagast
  14. Shagrat
  15. Tom Bombadil

a)  The Prince of Dol Amroth in Gondor
b)  One of the orcs that kidnap Merry and Pippin
c)  An inhabitant of the Old Forest
d)  The Chieftain of the Druadan Forest
e)  A hobbit from Bree.
f)  A caretaker in the Houses of Healing
g)  A resident of Minas Tirith who befriends Pippin
h)  A wizard with an interest in birds.
i)  An Ent.
j)  A wandering Elf who meets Frodo in the Shire.
k)  A Ranger and relative of Aragorn.
l)  A soldier in the Company of Ithilien
m)  An Elf from Rivendell
n)  A friend of Frodo in the Shire
o)  An orc in charge of the Tower of Cirith Ungol

And in order to provide a bit of visual separation between the quiz and the answers, this is as good a time as any to mention my Middle-earth Real Estate quiz.  Meanwhile, here’s a score table to see how you did.

1-3: At least you saw the movie, right?
4-6: Time to “brush up our toes,” isn’t it?
7-9: Either you read the books, or you’re a really good guesser.
10-12: “Does it guess easy?”…oh, that’s from The Hobbit, isn’t it? Never mind….
13-15: Lord of The Lord of the Rings

Answers:  1) g; 2) i; 3) n; 4) d; 5) j; 6) m; 7) b; 8) k; 9) a; 10) f; 11) l; 12) e; 13) h; 14) o; 15) c.