Even in a mythical Age there must be some enigmas,
as there always are. Tom Bombadil is one (intentionally).
(J.R.R. Tolkien: Letter No. 144)
© Frank Weinreich
It was at precisely at this moment that Manwe voiced his anger: at the pass of of Cirith Ungol Frodo lay on the ground after his fatal encounter with Shelob. Sam had taken up the Ring since his friend and master seemed to have met his doom. When Sam determinedly but bereft of all hope undertook the hardest steps in all his life, Manwe, far, far in the West turned with sad eyes to Varda. “Does it really have to end like this …, the third age? Does it have to end with the world sinking in darkness for uncountable years to come?”
“You know that it will never really end in darkness and despair. And, behold my love, Frodo lives, even if his poor little friend cannot know this. Thus the Third Age has not yet completely fallen into the hands of the enemy.”
A forced smile appeared on the face of the Lord of Valinor. “Nevertheless is it not Sams task to destroy the Ring. And he will surely fail if he goes on now.“
“And still we may not intervene, or any kind of balance would be destroyed”, Varda hastily interrupted her husband´s musings, determined to quench any thoughtlessness or folly he might start to contemplate.
Manwe, however, knew this only too well and so he just sighed. “Be that as it may. But one thing remains to be dealt with! One person should have stood against the current unfolding right now, since he had the power to act. One person could have helped, should have helped, because he would have been able to do so. Great power is his, and that bestows great responsibility.”
„You refer to the rhymer in the Old Forest, I presume?“
“It is he I am talking about! Now, since hope passes in the east, he has to answer for his omissions. For too long have we waited to deal with that one.“
„He is a mystery,” whispered Varda, more to herself than to Manwe.
“A mystery which I shall see disclosed.” answered Manwe, who had heard what Varda had said, “He shall be brought forth to our council, for I will not only solve a riddle too long left in the dark, but I will also see justice be done, even if there is nothing else we can do at this time.
At the same moment under the hill Tom Bombadil stepped out of his house precisely when two rays of light beat down from the open sky. The lights congealed in two pillars, which took on vague humanoid forms – they were Maiar, which, ordered by Manwe, appeared before Tom´s hut to bring him to his trial. Maiar, like Valar, can assume each shape they wish to and this was perhaps their most impressing form. The figures consisting of nothing but pure white light emphasized the true self of these angelic beings and the power they held; a power which in those days of the passing Third Age had not been revealed on earth for thousands of years.
Neither was there a witness for the splendor of the Maiar this time. No one … except Tom Bombadil. The Maia standing right in front of Tom spoke: “Tom Bombadil, you will accompany us. You are expected in Valinor.”
„No, that´s not right …“, the peculiarly dressed little fellow replied. But before Tom could go on to explain what it was, that he thought of as not being right, his comparatively frail human voice was drowned by another. A demanding and dominating voice this was, a voice which carried with it the superhuman utterings of many beings and it said: „We do command. Obey!“
A brillant flash sped from the clearing before Tom´s house leaving only empty space were the three figures had stood before and again it seemed to be exactly the same moment that Tom´s small frame appeared within a circle of eight pillars of light. Those eight columns were much larger and even brighter than the two shapes of light which held the human between them. The two smaller pillars released Tom, then withdrew, thus opening an unobstructed view onto the eight incarnations of the Aratar, which stood on the summit of a mountain, forming a circle around small Tom.
For indeed those they were – the Aratar, the highest among the Valar. They had gathered in order to sit in judgment over the small, inconspicuous looking man in their midst. But this man, though small and insignificant he might appear, this man did not seem to be intimidated nor even impressed. He did not look or react as one would have expected of a person who would stand before so mighty a people as these. He calmly observed the pulsating columns of light and in this he seemed to be able to look farther on than the human eye normally can see.
“The Third Age is coming to an end and it is a bitter end, which it has to face right now.” Thus spoke one of the gigantic humanoid pillars. “It is an end which to influence you have had the possibility. But you did not act when you had the chance to help. But we do not want to judge you without granting you the possibility to justify your actions or non-actions. So speak up, but speak well, for the matter at hand is grave.”
In a low voice, without any fear, but shadowed only by a slight mournful accent, Tom answered, “So near with Eru and still so little confidence?”
The voice didn´t bother to put up with this objection, instead it droned on, “So do know what you are accused of. The Powerful in Valinor possess no permission for intervening in Middle-earth any longer, but always do we know what our kindred are doing, even the fallen ones. The essence of the enemy, who once was one of us, is now forged into the One Ring, whose fate will determine the fate of the world in this Age. Thus we do know the Rings whereabouts and what is happening with it all the time. Therefore we also know that it has lain in your palm and rested on your finger when the small people were guests under your roof. And we possess knowledge, about what happened: We do know that you stayed visible when you put on the Ring. We do know that you wore the One without falling under its spell. We do know that you could still see the Ring-bearer when he had donned the One and should have had vanished before your eyes. We do not know, who you are or how you could have accomplished these feats, but we do know at least: The Ring does not hold any power over you! But what did you do with that blessing? You could have preserved the evil artifact when Frodo was wounded so badly! You could have safely carried it on hidden paths when the Fellowship failed in its task at the feet of Amon Hen! You would have been able to hide it from the creature Gollum, when he led the faithful Hobbits onto the pass of Cirith Ungol. What do you have to say to this?”
“But at first I want to know, who you really are, Tom Bombadil” roared another voice impatiently. It was a reverberating sound like the booming of a mighty hammer falling on a giant anvil.
“I am”, answered Tom.
„That is not an answer!”
“I am.” repeated Tom.
“Hoho! So he just is. How very much enlightening that is.“ intervened a third voice mockingly. „We were informed you also claim to be Oldest. The Children say that you were there before the river flowed and before the first tree sprang from undisturbed soil. They says you are ‘Master’ … indeed, and that you saw the first rain drop falling just like the first acorn.”
“T´is true”, Tom said, trying to cut the matter short.
“How can that be? We were there from the beginning of time, and still we do not know you. Oromë, greatest of all hunters, nobody roamed the land as you did. Did you meet this Tom Bombadil on your foragings?”
“No”, a fourth voice said, rich in tone, “I never saw him nor heard anybody telling anything about this man.”
“Yavanna, you know and love everything that lives in Arda. Have you had any acquaintance with this Tom Bombadil or met someone who knew about him?”
“No,” a fifth voice answered and continued, “But I do ask myself how he can claim to be the eldest when we and the Elves were there from the very beginning.”
“We also heard”, the first voice said, “that you call yourself fatherless. Nevertheless we all are Children of the One, we all are children of Eru. Do you perhaps compare yourself to Him, do you perhaps claim to be His equal? Do you believe you are the Creator?“
For the first time Tom showed a reaction – he seemed to be dismayed and shocked to the extreme. “No! No, I never would dare say such a thing. It´s blasphemy! I never meant to express anything near to that when I called myself fatherless. There´s nothing I´d loath more than that. If I hold one thing for true, if only I know just one fact, than it is that we all are children of Eru. That we all are His. The only power of creation we have is the ability of lesser creativity, a creativity shadowing His, following the pure example He hath given.“
„Then answer the question: Who Are You?“
No answer came.
The radiation of the shining pillars multiplied and small Tom seemed to be standing naked and defenseless under their powerful illumination.
Strangely enough, he did not look intimidated. He kept his gaze on the ground but that did not seem to be a sign of fear but rather he seemed to be at a loss of knowing how to react and what to do.
„Who cares, who this petty being is.“ The hammering voice interfered again. „He shall justify himself. He shall explain what he has not done. Scoundrel, have you sworn fealty to Mordor or do you claim to be pure of heart?“
„Has perception and knowledge shrunk so much that you can only think in patterns of black and white? Then, I guess, forgetfulness must have overcome the Valar“, Tom replied determinedly.
„No, we did not forget,“ the fifth voice, Yavanna´s voice, answered, „but it may be that love for life and beauty did cloud our view and let us thirst for revenge, when we are not any longer allowed to stop the hands of evil by direct intervention. Do you understand what is at stake right now out there in Arda? Do you really grasp what is happening, Tom?“
„I do“, answered Tom, „but you don´t seem to really understand. Where is your faith, oh mighty ones?“
„Do not try to distract our judgement.“ the first voice, Manwe´s voice, made himself heard, „Justify yourself!“
„That I cannot do.“
„You confess to your guilt?“
„No! It is not guilt, that burdens me, not as long as the world itself was guilty.“
„Now what does this mean? How dare you equate yourself with Arda?“
„Again he answers as if he were the creator Himself“, Aule hammered.
„This I do not!“ For the first time Tom´s voice was full of passion and his eyes, which were cast down no longer, shone in near fury. „There is only one Creator which we all owe our being! Only one. Only one …“ and his voice lost temper. „But I understand your suspicion. Only … it is not so. It is … Please hear me out!“ His expression gained passion again. „If I would have interfered when the Hobbits were guest in my home. Than nothing of this would have happened.“
„And that is exactly what was to be expected from you – that all of this would not have happened. You would have saved the Third Age.“
„No, I would not have saved it. I would have prevented it. I would have prevented the Age and the world and … Please see, that everything depends on …“
Tom visibly fought for words when all of a sudden a shivering overtook the columns of light which were the Aratar. They forgot the insignificant man in their midst at once for this was the moment when Sam overheard the talk of the Orcs and realized that Frodo was alive still. It was in this exact moment that an opportunity opened itself for the Ring to be brought back to his rightful bearer, filling the Valar again with hope and faith and letting them vanish.
Soon Tom also began to fade away. If there would have been anyone left on the top of the mountain, able to focus her attention on Tom, she would have heard him softly saying: „How should I have said it! How could I have made them comprehend? Comprehend them being dreams in my dream. Make them understand that I am a dream in my dream. They never would have understood, would they? But this Secondary World is so much richer, so much brighter. Has it been a sin to build us a small home in paradise?“
Then the small man had vanished from sight and all that was left on the mountain top was a small leaf that probably had fallen from Tom´s clothes.
(Frank Weinreich, Bochum 04/´07)