Tom Bombadil is in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power season 2, played by Rory Kinnear

Tom Bom, jolly Tom, Tom Bombadillo...will host the Stranger in The Rings of Power season 2.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. Credit: Ross Ferguson, Prime Video
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. Credit: Ross Ferguson, Prime Video /

It's official: Tom Bombadil, the eccentric man of the forest from The Lord of the Rings, will appear in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power season 2. He'll be played by veteran actor Rory Kinnear (Penny Dreadful, Our Flag Means Death). Vanity Fair has released the first images of Kinnear in costume as Bombadil alongside an in-depth feature discussing how the Prime Video show is approaching this iconic character. Take a gander:

Tom Bombadil is one of the most iconic — and weirdest — characters in all of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings mythos. An ancient forest spirit man who has been alive for millennia, Tom Bombadil appears in The Fellowship of the Ring, where he helps the hobbits on their way out of the Shire before fading back into the mists of time in his enchanted forest. He's prone to singing and dancing; if you remember Tom Bombadil at all from the LOTR books, it's probably for his songs, his whimsy, and his general irrelevance to the story — which somehow just adds to his mystique and charm.

Due to his somewhat random nature, Tom Bombadil is usually one of the first things cut from Lord of the Rings adapations. He didn't appear in either the 1978 animated film from Ralph Bakshi or the revered Lord of the Rings movie trilogy from Peter Jackson. Even Tolkien himself was aware of how Tom Bombadil didn't particularly serve the overall story of The Lord of the Rings. “Tom Bombadil is not an important person—to the narrative,” Tolkien wrote in a 1954 letter to his proofreader for The Lord of the Rings. “I suppose he has some importance as a ‘comment.’ I mean, I do not really write like that.… He represents something that I feel important, though I would not be prepared to analyze the feeling precisely.”

According to another letter Tolkien wrote to his publisher in 1937, Bombadil represented something akin to “the spirit of the (vanishing) Oxford and Berkshire countryside.” He's a forest spirit guy who loves the forest, and he'll sing and tell you all about it. That makes him an odd proposition for any adaptation where screen time is at a premium, something which The Rings of Power showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay were very aware of when figuring out how to fit him into the show.

“There’s a reason why he hasn’t been in prior adaptations, because in some ways he’s sort of an anti-dramatic character,” Payne told Vanity Fair. “He’s not a character who has a particularly strong agenda. He observes drama, but largely doesn’t participate in it. In The Fellowship of the Ring, the characters kind of just go there and hang out for a while, and Tom drops some knowledge on them.”

“Knowledge that’s not particularly relevant to anything that they’re doing or about to do," McKay added. “He has no clear dramatic function that would justify his inclusion in a really great movie adaptation. He’s whimsical and magical, and almost verging on silly. But also has the wisdom of the ages and the music of the spheres and deep emotional wells of ancient history and myth, and his conception and function are tied to Norse myths and have deep roots in European fairy tale."

"So weirdly, he’s kind of the most Lord of the Rings thing in Lord of the Rings, and also the first thing you would cut if you were adapting it as a film. But we have the advantage of a television show, and hence we are going to find a way to tap into that."

Patrick McKay

For McKay and Payne, the trick was figuring out what was important enough to Tom Bombadil that it would warrant folding him into the narrative. Elsewhere in that 1954 letter to his proofreader, Tolkien expanded on Bombadil's motives. “The story [of The Lord of the Rings ] is cast in terms of a good side, and a bad side, beauty against ruthless ugliness, tyranny against kingship, moderated freedom with consent against compulsion that has long lost any object save mere power,” Tolkien wrote. For Bombadil, “the question of the rights and wrongs of power and control might become utterly meaningless to you, and the means of power quite valueless.”

Tolkien described Tom as having “a natural pacifist view, which always arises in the mind when there is a war." However, given that Tom Bombadil has such a mind for the natural world, Tolkien also thought that he might help out the hobbits to give them an edge in the conflict with Sauron, since "Ultimately only the victory of the West will allow Bombadil to continue, or even to survive. Nothing would be left for him in the world of Sauron."

Tom Bombadil will meet the Stranger near Rhûn in The Rings of Power season 2

These ideas about Bombadil's headspace are what gave McKay and Payne the runway they needed to figure out the character's role in the show. “We started thinking, What does he care about? And how can that be a doorway to drama?” Payne said. “We know he cares about the natural world. And we know he is a helper. He’s not going to push you, but he will help you. And so, traditionally, he lives in this place called the Withywindle, which is this sort of almost enchanted forest.”

Tom Bombadil will not be living in the Withywindle in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. Instead, the show has created another home for Bombadil in Rhûn, the eastern land the Stranger (Daniel Weyman) and the harfoot Nori (Markella Kavenagh) set out to explore at the end of season 1.

“In our story, he has gone out to the lands of Rhûn, which we learn used to be sort of Edenic and green and beautiful, but now is sort of a dead wasteland,” Payne said. “Tom has gone out there to see what’s happened as he goes on his various wanderings.”

Some of the images show the Stranger's meeting with Bombadil, so it's confirmed that the two characters will cross paths. One caption also mentions the fact that Bombadil has a star map on the ceiling of his home in Rhûn, which he's used to look out for important events such as the Stranger's arrival. (Remember, he crashed to Middle-earth inside a meteor.)

Bringing Tom Bombadil into The Rings of Power is a bold move, both because he's such an enigmatically weird character, and because it's yet another large change from J.R.R. Tolkien's source material, where Bombadil doesn't really play a role in the events of the Second Age. It does stand to reason that he's around, considering he's such an ancient being, but the jury is out on how The Rings of Power will handle folding him into the story. According to Payne, Bombadil's inclusion is meant to lighten things up a bit, as a contrast to how dark events are going to get with villains like Sauron and Adar out in the open.

“Season one set the pieces on the chessboard, and in season two the pieces are in motion and it’s really about the villains,” Payne explained. “You’ve got Sauron, who is not cloaked behind the guise of [the human refugee] Halbrand anymore. The audience knows he’s Sauron, so now we’re watching him maneuver as he’s manipulating [the burn-scar covered dark elf] Adar, who’s another big villain of the season.… Really, Tom is sort of a curiosity within that structure because while it is darker, Tom Bombadil is singing and saying lines that could be nursery rhymes from children’s poems. So he sort of defies the tonal shift of the rest of the season and is a real point of light amidst an otherwise sea of darkness.”

We'll finally see Tom Bombadil on screen when The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power premieres August 29 on Prime Video.

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