The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 123-126
The day that began in Crickhollow and has been lived in the Old Forest where the great journey came almost to a catastrophic end now draws to a close in the house of Tom Bombadil with hunger satisfied and songs poured joyously from hearts that have been warmed by a drink that seems only to be water and yet feels more like wine. This is a house that lies on a threshold between worlds. It is as safe and snug as any that a hobbit could ask for and yet it is presided over by one who embodies nature in its joy and wildness and one who possesses a queenly beauty in a state of complete simplicity.
"I will have love, have love From anything made of And a life with a shapely form With gaiety and charm And capable of receiving With grace the grace of living And wild moments too Self when freed from you."
So wrote the great Irish poet, Patrick Kavanagh, in his poem, The Self Slaved, and Tom Bombadil could be the perfect embodiment of his vision of one, so freed from the slavery of the small self, that he can enjoy gaiety, charm, grace and wildness all in one moment or, should we say, all in one festive evening.
Frodo delights in the feast with his companions but he is always one who is trying to construct a narrative bigger than the present moment.
“Did you hear me calling, Master, or was it just chance that brought you at that moment?”
And Bombadil’s answer takes Frodo to a narrative so great that all the events that take place within it feel like chance, “if chance you call it.” Tom had been there to collect water-lilies for Goldberry from the very pool where he had first met her long ago. Perhaps the feast that the hobbits have shared with their hosts was intended first to be an anniversary celebration. And then Tom says,
For now I shall no longer go down deep again along the forest-water, not while the year is old. Nor shall I be passing Old Man Willow's house this side of spring-time, not till the merry spring, when the River-daughter dances down the withy-path to bathe in the water.
The rhythms of Tom’s life are the rhythms of the seasons and have always been so for he is Eldest. On the night of the feast it is the 26th of September in the year 3019 of the Third Age of the world. The pace of events in the world outside begins to hurry forward eventually reaching a terrifying climax on the 25th March just six months later in a battle before the Black Gate of Mordor and in a lonely struggle in the Cracks of Doom. Does any of this matter to Tom Bombadil? It would appear that it does not. In spring time he will make his journey down the river once more. Do we chastise him for his carelessness? If we do then it would seem to have as much point as it would if we were to become angry at the seasons themselves for not caring about what takes place within them.
Tom Bombadil lives his life at the pace of the passing seasons. Frodo recalled this when he recited the poem about Goldberry with which he greeted her.
O spring-time and summer-time, and spring again after! O wind on the waterfall, and the leaves’ laughter!
The beasts and birds, the trees and flowers, all live their lives in complete disregard for the great events of any time and Tom Bombadil and Goldberry live their lives in rhythm with them. Whether Frodo succeeds in his task or not Tom will go down the Withywindle with Goldberry in the spring time. Now they will make preparation for winter. If Frodo fails how many more springs and autumns will there be? The pace of events in the world outside and in the world in which Tom is Master will eventually meet and as Elrond will say, “If all else is conquered, Bombadil will fall, Last as he was First; and then night will come”.
But not tonight. On this night only the hobbits’ fears can enter the house. They are safe and need not heed any nightly noises.
4 thoughts on ““Heed no Nightly Voices”. The Hobbits in the House of Tom Bombadil.”
“By chance but not by chance,” is the eternal question of life. Is life only a series of accidents or a plan from the unseen God? I would say that Tolkien often had that question of life in the Lord of the Rings. But over and over he quietly states it is not by accident. I love the way he is subtle in his theology, never strident. He has a definite belief but leads the reader to that conclusion. He was a master of leading ones thought while set in a creative framework. So subtle is he that one is often unaware of his conclusions on issues of greater import.
I agree with you entirely, Michael, in all that you say here, both in what you say about chance and providence, and in what you say about Tolkien’s subtlety of voice. I have tried to write about this in other places in this blog, such as Gandalf’s words to Frodo when he tells him that Bilbo and then Frodo himself were “meant” to have the Ring and also the decision that Frodo and Sam make in Mordor to “trust to luck” on the road. As for myself I try to live in such a way that I receive the events of a day as a gift from God, not always so simple with the more challenging ones of course.
The events of the day or circumstances of life are in His Hand, but our responses, successes or failures, belong to us. Tolkien reiterates that point of responsibility often. It is up to us how we live. Tolkien is great in providing the stage on which what might appear to be mundane decisions can have profound consequences.
Of course, the same occurs in our life but we are not in Tolkien’s mythic environment. However, Lewis in Screwtape Letters shows the eternal drama of our lives is much greater than we can see. What appears mundane can have greater significance. Both Tolkien and Lewis have a lot to tell us of the importance of life decisions and their consequences.
Indeed, Michael, so we are.