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The Adventures of Tom Bombadil

J. R. R. Tolkien



  77–85 Fulham Palace Road

  Hammersmith, London W6 8JB

  Published by HarperCollinsPublishers 2014

  First published by George Allen & Unwin 1962

  Copyright © The Tolkien Estate Limited 1962, 2014

  Illustrations copyright © HarperCollinsPublishers 1962

  Further copyright notices appear here

  and ‘Tolkien’® are registered trade marks of The Tolkien Estate Limited

  A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

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  Source ISBN: 97800057271

  Ebook Edition © 2014 ISBN: 9780007584697

  Version: 2014-09-12



  Title Page




  1. The Adventures of Tom Bombadil

  2. Bombadil Goes Boating

  3. Errantry

  4. Princess Mee

  5. The Man in the Moon Stayed Up Too Late

  6. The Man in the Moon Came Down Too Soon

  7. The Stone Troll

  8. Perry-the-Winkle

  9. The Mewlips

  10. Oliphaunt

  11. Fastitocalon

  12. Cat

  13. Shadow-Bride

  14. The Hoard

  15. The Sea-Bell

  16. The Last Ship



  The Adventures of Tom Bombadil

  Bombadil Goes Boating


  Princess Mee

  The Man in the Moon Stayed Up Too Late

  The Man in the Moon Came Down Too Soon

  The Stone Troll


  The Mewlips





  The Hoard

  The Sea-Bell

  The Last Ship



  I. Tom Bombadil: A Prose Fragment

  II. Once upon a Time and An Evening in Tavrobel



  Copyright Notices

  Works by J.R.R. Tolkien

  About the Publisher


  In the first part of The Lord of the Rings, Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin are crossing the Old Forest when they are attacked by the malevolent Old Man Willow. By good fortune, they are rescued by Tom Bombadil, ‘a man, or so it seemed’, singing nonsense and wearing ‘an old battered hat with a tall crown and a long blue feather stuck in the band’ and ‘stumping along with great yellow boots on his thick legs. … He had a blue coat and a long brown beard; his eyes were blue and bright, and his face was red as a ripe apple, but creased into a hundred wrinkles of laughter’ (bk. I, ch. 6). To the hobbits he is a saviour but a puzzle. When Frodo asks Goldberry, ‘who is Tom Bombadil?’ she replies simply, ‘He is’ – he, who at that moment is tending the hobbits’ ponies and can be heard singing

  Old Tom Bombadil is a merry fellow;

  Bright blue his jacket is, and his boots are yellow.

  At this, Frodo looks at Goldberry ‘questioningly’, and she adds: ‘He is, as you have seen him. He is the Master of wood, water, and hill.’ Later, when Frodo asks Tom himself, ‘Who are you, Master?’ the reply is: ‘Don’t you know my name yet? That’s the only answer.’ But he too elaborates, referring to the wider mythology, or ‘matter of Middle-earth’, which underlies The Lord of the Rings: ‘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 [Men and Elves], and saw the little People [Hobbits] 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’ (bk. I, ch. 7).

  One reader of The Lord of the Rings, Peter Hastings, felt that Goldberry’s ‘He is’ implied that Tom Bombadil is God. Tolkien disagreed: ‘Goldberry and Tom are referring to the mystery of names. … Frodo has asked not “what is Tom Bombadil” but “Who is he”. We and he no doubt often laxly confuse the questions. Goldberry gives what I think is the correct answer. We need not go into the sublimities of “I am that am” [God’s words to Moses in Exodus 3:14] – which is quite different from he is. She adds as a concession a statement of part of the “what”’ (Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (1981), pp. 191–2). Tolkien’s readers have advanced many theories about Tom, without consensus; we have touched upon these in The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion (2005), and will not rehearse them here. Although one learns more about Tom Bombadil as The Lord of the Rings continues, in the end he does not fit neatly into any category. He does not clearly belong to any one of the groups of intelligent beings established in Tolkien’s private mythology, which also encompasses The Hobbit and the ‘legends’ of earlier days broadly referred to as ‘The Silmarillion’. Nor could there be a definite answer to the question Who (or What) is Tom Bombadil, when his creator did not have one himself. To one reader, Tolkien said that he did not know Tom’s origin, though he could make ‘guesses’, if he chose to do so, but preferred to leave Tom a mystery. To another, he commented that some things in the world of The Lord of the Rings should remain unexplained: ‘even in a mythical Age there must be some enigmas, as there always are. Tom Bombadil is one (intentionally)’ (Letters, p. 174). And to Peter Hastings, he wrote: ‘I don’t think Tom needs philosophizing about, and is not improved by it. But many have found him an odd or indeed discordant ingredient’ (Letters, p. 192).

  This last point can be explained by the fact that Tom Bombadil existed in fiction before The Lord of the Rings was conceived. His name was given first to a ‘Dutch doll’ – a toy made of jointed wooden pegs – owned by one or more of Tolkien’s children and dressed exactly as Tom is described in The Lord of the Rings; and as Tolkien did with other toys in his household, such as the little lead dog that inspired Roverandom and the teddy bears that appear in Mr. Bliss, he put Tom Bombadil into stories. A tantalizing fragment of one of these survives in the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford, and is printed in the present book as an appendix.

  Around 1931, Tolkien also put Tom into a poem. In this he created not only the now familiar Tom Bombadil, but also Goldberry, Old Man Willow, and the Barrow-wight, all of whom would figure in The Lord of the Rings. The poem was published as The Adventures of Tom Bombadil in the Oxford Magazine for 15 February 1934, and is reprinted below. Late in 1937, Tolkien brought the work to mind again when, his recently published Hobbit having proved a success, he was asked for a sequel, but at first was unable to think of one. Instead, he wrote to his publisher: ‘Perhaps a new (if similar) line? Do you think Tom Bombadil, the spirit of the (vanishing) Oxford and Berkshire countryside [the country near Tolkien’s home for most of his adult life], could be made into the hero of a story? Or is he, as I suspect, fully enshrined in the enclosed verses [from the Oxford Magazine]? Still I could enlarge the portrait’ (Letters, p. 26). In the event, Tolkien focused his new story upon hobbits, bu
t included Tom early on, as he wrote to Peter Hastings, ‘because I had already “invented” him independently … and wanted an “adventure” on the way’ (Letters, p. 192). His ‘portrait’ of Tom in The Lord of the Rings was indeed an enlargement, but also a transformation, to suit a story which, like Tom himself, grew in the telling and became notably complex.

  The character of Tom Bombadil appealed to Tolkien’s Aunt Jane Neave, who asked him near the beginning of October 1961 if he ‘wouldn’t get out a small book with Tom Bombadil at the heart of it, the sort of size of book that we old ’uns can afford to buy for Christmas presents’ (quoted in Humphrey Carpenter, J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography (1977), p. 244). Tolkien replied that he thought Jane’s request ‘a good one, not that I feel inclined to write any more about [Tom]. But I think that the original poem (which appeared in the Oxford Magazine long before The Lord of the Rings) might make a pretty booklet of the kind you would like if each verse could be illustrated by Pauline Baynes’, the artist whose drawings had embellished his Farmer Giles of Ham in 1949 and the cover of the Puffin Books Hobbit which had then recently appeared (4 October 1961, Letters, p. 308). On 11 October, Tolkien sent this idea to Rayner Unwin, of the publishers George Allen & Unwin, noting that the ‘Bombadil’ poem was ‘very pictorial’, and that if Pauline Baynes ‘could be induced to illustrate it, it might do well’ (Tolkien–George Allen & Unwin archive, HarperCollins, hereafter ‘A&U archive’; quoted in Scull and Hammond, The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide: Chronology (2006), p. 579).

  Unwin agreed, but asked Tolkien to collect other occasional verses, in order to make up a book of a length reasonable for sales. Tolkien had in mind a small volume like The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter; nonetheless, by 15 November, as he wrote to Unwin, he ‘made a search, as far as time allowed, and had copies made of any poems that might conceivably see the light or (somewhat tidied up) be presented again. The harvest is not rich, for one thing there is not much that really goes together with Tom Bombadil.’ Among the poems gathered up were Errantry and The Man in the Moon Came Down Too Soon, ‘which might go together’. ‘About the others’, he continued, referring to Perry-the-Winkle, The Sea-Bell, The Hoard, and The Dragon’s Visit, ‘I am altogether doubtful; I do not even know if they have any virtue at all, by themselves or in a series’ (Letters, p. 309).

  Writing on 15 November also to Jane Neave, Tolkien referred to ‘raking up’ and ‘refurbishing’ verses published in obscure places, some of which he sent to her, and to the ‘Hey Diddle song and the Troll Sat Alone’ (The Man in the Moon Stayed Up Too Late and The Stone Troll), both of which he had included in The Lord of the Rings (quoted in Christie’s auction catalogue, 2 December 2003, p. 25). A week later, he wrote again to Aunt Jane, having ‘enjoyed myself very much digging out these old half-forgotten things and rubbing them up. All the more because there are other and duller things that I ought to have been doing. At any rate they have had you as an audience. Printed publication is, I fear, very unlikely’ (22 November, Letters, p. 309). With this letter, he enclosed a copy of another poem, Princess Mee.

  Rayner Unwin sent copies of the verses he had received to Pauline Baynes, and Tolkien himself wrote to her on 23 November. The artist replied to both letters favourably. She found the poems dreamlike, to be felt rather than seen, but Tolkien advised her that ‘the things sent to you (except the Sea-bell, the poorest, and not one that I [should] really wish to include, at least not with the others) were conceived as a series of very definite, clear and precise, pictures – fantastical, or nonsensical perhaps, but not dreamlike!’ (6 December, Letters, p. 312). On 8 December, Tolkien wrote to Unwin that Baynes had ‘a great talent for producing vivid and believable pictures while touching them with a delightful air of fantasy which is largely imported by her fluid and dexterous line. But I do agree heartily with her feeling [expressed in a letter to him] that all the pieces are very different and I have some misgivings about lumping them together. I am inclined to think that the vaguer, more subjective and least successful piece labelled The Sea-Bell ought to come out in any case’ (A&U archive; Chronology, p. 582).

  Before long, Tolkien saw that the proposed collection had turned into something other than he had planned. It was no longer a small book reprinting a single, existing poem, a burden more for illustrator than author. Now, ‘looking out, furbishing up, or re-writing of further items to go with Tom Bombadil and Errantry, took a lot of work. …’ Also, Tolkien still felt ‘very uncertain’ about his poems, ‘and doubt my own judgment or criticism of what has been really a private past-time’ (14 December, A&U archive; Chronology, p. 582). At Unwin’s invitation, however, he ‘raked over’ his ‘collection of old verses’, found more ‘that might be made use of with a thorough re-handling’, and sent his publisher four of these – Firiel (later The Last Ship), Shadow-Bride, Knocking at the Door (later The Mewlips), and The Trees of Kortirion. Firiel, he thought, ‘apart from the question of whether it is good or bad in its self’, might go with the other poems he had sent thus far. But ‘The Trees is too long and too ambitious, and even if considered good enough would probably upset the boat’ (letter to Rayner Unwin, 5 February 1962, A&U archive; Chronology, pp. 587-8). Tolkien also now suggested that, if still more poems were required, one or two from The Lord of the Rings might be added, such as Oliphaunt and The Man in the Moon Stayed Up Too Late (Frodo’s song at the Prancing Pony).

  Though he was under much pressure from other matters, and concerned for his wife’s health after a fall, Tolkien gave every moment he could spare to the collection, as he told Rayner Unwin on 12 April 1962. He remained unhappy about the poems, indeed he had ‘lost all confidence in these things, and all judgement, and unless Pauline Baynes can be inspired by them, I cannot see them making a “book”. I do not see why she should be inspired, though I fervently hope that she will be. Some of the things may be good in their way, and all of them privately amuse me; but elderly hobbits are easily pleased.’ And yet, he entered fully into the spirit of the work and gave it a needed context and frame:

  The various items – all that I now venture to offer, some with misgiving – do not really ‘collect’. The only possible link is the fiction that they come from the Shire from about the period of the Lord of the Rings. But that fits some uneasily. I have done a good deal of work, trying to make them fit better: if not much to their good, I hope not to their serious detriment. You may note that I have written a new Bombadil poem [Bombadil Goes Boating], which I hope is adequate to go with the older one, though for its understanding it requires some knowledge of the L.R. At any rate it performs the service of further ‘integrating’ Tom with the world of the L.R. into which he was inserted. …

  I have placed the 16 items in an order: roughly Bilboish, Samlike [‘by’ Bilbo Baggins and Sam Gamgee], and Dubious. Some kind of order will be necessary, for the scheme of illustration and decoration. But I am not wedded to this arrangement. I am open to criticisms of it – and of any of the items; and to rejections. Miss Baynes is free to re-arrange things to fit her work, if she wishes.

  Some kind of ‘foreword’ might possibly be required. The enclosed is not intended for that purpose! Though one or two of its points might be made more simply. But I found it easier, and more amusing (for myself) to represent to you in the form of a ridiculous editorial fiction what I have done to the verses, and what their references now are. [A&U archive; Letters, pp. 314-15]

  Here Tolkien refers to sixteen poems, apparently the final selection as published. By 12 February 1962, he had sent twelve to Allen & Unwin: The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, The Dragon’s Visit, Errantry, Firiel (The Last Ship), The Hoard, Knocking at the Door (The Mewlips), The Man in the Moon Came Down Too Soon, Perry-the-Winkle, Princess Mee, The Sea-Bell, Shadow-Bride, and The Trees of Kortirion. The Trees of Kortirion, a revision of a much earlier ‘Silmarillion’ poem, was later published in The Book of Lost Tales, Part One (1983). Christopher Tolkien, the youngest son and literary executor of J.R.R. Tolkien, has sp
eculated that his father also revised another early work, You & Me and the Cottage of Lost Play, in the process of ‘rubbing up’ his old poems.

  Rayner Unwin agreed that The Trees of Kortirion should be omitted, and The Dragon’s Visit was deleted as well: this account of a dragon set upon by a fire brigade may have proved too difficult to bring into the world of Hobbits. (First published in the Oxford Magazine, The Dragon’s Visit was reprinted in The Annotated Hobbit (1988, 2002), and appeared in revised form in the anthologies Winter’s Tales for Children 1 (1965) and The Young Magicians (1969).) To fill out the collection, Tolkien added three poems from The Lord of the Rings, The Man in the Moon Stayed Up Too Late, Oliphaunt, and The Stone Troll; his new ‘Bombadil’ poem, Bombadil Goes Boating; Cat, which he had written for his granddaughter Joanna in 1956; and a ‘bestiary’ poem revised from an earlier work, Fastitocalon. The final arrangement groups like with like as far as possible. The two ‘Bombadil’ poems are followed by two ‘fairy’ poems, two with the Man in the Moon, and two with trolls; then The Mewlips, an odd man out, placed near the centre; and finally, three ‘bestiary’ poems and four with ‘atmosphere’ and emotion.

  Pleased with this selection, and with Tolkien’s ‘editorial fiction’ that the works came from the same ‘source’ as The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings – the ‘Red Book of Westmarch’ – Rayner Unwin chose to publish the poetry volume for Christmas 1962. Pauline Baynes was now formally engaged to make the illustrations, but could not begin to do so until the middle of June. Her pictures needed careful planning, in concert with Ronald Eames, art editor for Allen & Unwin: some would be in black and white only, while others would have a second (orange) colour added, and for economy, the extra colour would be printed on only one side of each large sheet that made up a gathering. For content, Baynes asked Tolkien for his thoughts, but he gave her a free hand, warning only that his apparently light-hearted verses had a serious undercurrent, and should not be perceived as merely comic.

  By the start of August, Baynes delivered the first of her pictures, including art for the binding and dust-jacket, and by 22 August completed six full-page illustrations. Since Allen & Unwin had allowed for only five, Tolkien was asked to decide which one to exclude. ‘Pauline rather carries one away at first sight’, he wrote to Rayner Unwin; ‘but there is an illustrative as well as a pictorial side to take into account’ (29 August 1962, A&U archive; Chronology, p. 596). Although he admired her large pictures for Cat and The Man in the Moon Came Down Too Soon, he felt that each had faults; neither, however, in his view was as deserving of omission as Baynes’s full-page illustration for The Hoard, which Tolkien criticized for its depiction of the young warrior, and of a dragon lying with its head away from, rather than towards, the entrance to its cave. In the event, all six of the larger illustrations were published, and Baynes revised her art for The Hoard (opposite) when the Bombadil collection was reprinted in Poems and Stories (1980).