Tolkien’s Tom Bombadil is a notoriously mysterious character, standing somewhat apart from the central narrative, who has elicited debate and speculation among Tolkien’s readers ever since The Lord of the Rings was first published. This paper argues that Tom’s identity can be read not only as enigmatic, but as drawing on the enigmata, the riddle tradition, of the ancient and medieval world. The way in which Tom is presented amounts to a purposely obscure description that invites engagement and speculation from the reader, and that also depends for its reading on readers’ familiarity with a specific shared tradition. A number of ancient, medieval, nineteenth- and twentieth-century texts that can be said to participate in that tradition are examined. Against this backdrop, Tom emerges as having a special relationship with the Wind, and this is useful not because it explains away any of Tom’s essential mystery, but because it connects him in felicitous ways with the imagery and concerns of the larger text of The Lord of the Rings.
Copyright held by Artist