Who is Tom Bombadil in The Lord of the Rings? (New Rings of Power character explained)

Tom Bombadil is a merry fellow, his jacket is blue and his boots are yellow! Let's discuss one of the quirkiest characters J.R.R. Tolkien ever created.
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 /

This week, Vanity Fair broke the news that the iconic Lord of the Rings character Tom Bombadil will appear in season 2 of Prime Video's The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, played by veteran English actor Rory Kinnear. Here he is in full costume as the character, on set with the Stranger (Daniel Weyman):

LOTR_S2_UT_230123_00083_R2_Credit: Ross Ferguson_Prime Video
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. Credit: Ross Ferguson, Prime Video /

If you've never read The Lord of the Rings books by J.R.R. Tolkien, you could be forgiven for not knowing who Tom Bombadil is — despite his part in The Fellowship of the Ring, Bombadil was cut from both the Peter Jackson films and the 1978 animated movie. But let me tell you, you want to know who Tom Bombadil is, because he's one of the weirdest, most bizarrely fun characters that Tolkien ever invented.

Tom Bombadil is a kooky, seemingly immortal forest spirit guy with a penchant for singing silly songs about himself and nature. He has been alive for as long as Middle-earth has existed — his origins are never made explicit, but he states that he was around before Sauron came to the world, which puts him in the running as one of the oldest beings in Middle-earth. He and his wife Goldberry have a deep affinity for the forest and all things wild, and live in an enchanted wood called the Withywindle. According to a letter Tolkien wrote to his publisher in 1937, Bombadil represents “the spirit of the (vanishing) Oxford and Berkshire countryside.” Tom first appeared in a poem called "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil" published in 1934, before Tolkien had even published The Hobbit in 1937 and long before The Fellowship of the Ring came out in 1954. So Tolkien may well have had Tom Bombadil in his head before coming up with characters like Frodo and Aragorn.

In The Fellowship of the Ring, Tom aids the hobbits in their exodus out of the Shire, while dropping a bunch of somewhat random wisdom about the natural world in the process. He's mentioned after that during the first meeting of the Fellowship in the Ring in Rivendell, where the possibility of giving Sauron's One Ring to Tom is discussed. The group decides against that, since they figure Bombadil would just lose the Ring and it would eventually find its way back to Sauron. And remember: even powerful characters like Galadriel and Gandalf fear becoming enthralled to the power of the One Ring; that Tom would simply forget about it and misplace speaks to how strangely powerful he is. He's not seen in the trilogy again.

If it sounds like I'm making Bombadil out to be somewhat superfluous to the story, that's because he kind of is. Even Tolkien himself acknowledged that Bombadil was all about the vibes and doesn't play a huge role in the actual narrative of The Lord of the Rings — which is why he's typically cut from adaptations. “Tom Bombadil is not an important person—to the narrative,” Tolkien wrote to his proofreader in another letter“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.”

All that said, Tom Bombadil certainly has his fans. With catchy lyrics like "ring a ding dillo" and "Old Tom Bombadil is a merry fellow; Bright blue his jacket is, and his boots are yellow" the guy is a shoe-in for the most entertaining guest at any Lord of the Rings-themed party. Fans of the series tend to either loathe Tom for his irrelevance, or love him for his jolly spirit.

LOTR_S2_UT_230320_00101_R3ALT_Credit: Ben Rothstein_Prime Video
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. Credit: Ben Rothstein, Prime Video /

How The Rings of Power will be changing Tom Bombadil

Tom Bombadil appearing in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is very interesting. On the one hand, Bombadil was alive during the Second Age of Middle-earth when The Rings of Power is set, so even though he didn't play a role during that era (at least not in the chronology of events as laid out by Tolkien in the appendices to The Lord of the Rings or in The Silmarillion), it's not unreasonable to expect him to show up in The Rings of Power. On the other hand, the show is relocating him from his home in the Withywindle to the land of Rhûn, far to the southeast, where he'll cross paths with the Stranger.

According to the Vanity Fair article, Bombadil will travel to Rhûn to find out why the wilderness there has become barren. That in itself is giving him a bit more agency than he ever really showed in Tolkien's work, but it could be a fun way to tie in an iconic character from The Lord of the Rings who's never gotten to appear on the big or small screen before.

We'll see how it goes when The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power season 2 premieres on August 29.

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