Greetings, friends. Welcome to the inaugural edition of In the House of Tom Bombadil. Before I tell you more about what to expect from this newsletter, I suppose I should explain this Tom Bombadil business.
He’s an enigmatic character from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings series. He appears about midway through Book One of The Fellowship of the Ring. Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin spend two nights at his home. The chapter in which the story is told is titled “In the House of Tom Bombadil.” Bombadil didn’t make it into the Peter Jackson films, most likely because it isn’t clear whether his story and the hobbits’ encounter with him advance the plot at all. Moviegoers want action!
Tolkien scholars (yes, they exist) debate Bombadil’s identity, the significance of Frodo’s interactions with him, and other geeky issues. I’m intrigued by Jane Beal’s take on some of these questions. In an essay from Journal of Tolkien Research, she argues that:
[Bombadil] must be interpreted at multiple levels of meaning simultaneously. Intriguingly, Tom Bombadil has parallels to the first Adam and the second Adam, Jesus, especially in his role as “Eldest” (or ab origine) and in his ability to bring light to Frodo in the grave of the barrow-wight, save him from death by his song, and heal him from spiritual “drowning” — a word that Tom uses to describe Frodo’s terrifying experience in the barrow and which relates to Frodo’s original childhood wound: the primal loss of his parents, who drowned in a tragic accident. When Frodo receives healing from this trauma, he is strengthened to endure what he later experiences on his quest to destroy the Ring.
Engrossing stuff, right?
It’s that part about parallels between Tom and the Second Adam that caught my attention. Spending time in the house of one who gives light to those trapped in darkness, delivers people from death through the power of words uttered in song, and applies spiritual healing to wounds inflicted by the trauma of life’s sorrows sounds to me like an excellent idea for a weekend getaway. I could use a bit of the same strength for the journey that Frodo received.
Anyway, that’s who Tom Bombadil is and why I’ve chosen to give the newsletter such a strange title. (My wife says the title is fitting because nothing of any importance occurs in the longish section of the book in which Bombadil appears. Oh well).
I’ll try to publish weekly (no promises). Content will include lists of interesting (at least to me) books and articles, quotes from what I’m reading, perhaps with some of my own annotations, as well as thoughts about Scripture, theology, and current events (with a focus on issues of social and cultural importance). Don’t anticipate full-blown essays presenting the fruit of well-aged reflection. It’s more like Ryan is thinking out loud (not always a wise decision). I welcome replies and will do my best to get back to you.
Please don’t forward the newsletters to others yet. I want to write for friends at the moment. I don’t intend to be provocative, but not everyone is able interact well with new ideas or positions with which they disagree. I don’t want to unnecessarily upset anyone.
Thanks for reading. I hope I can make this newsletter worth your time.
Old Tom Bombadil is a merry fellow;
Bright blue his jacket is, and his boots are yellow.