The Adventures of Tom Bombadil
The Adventures of Tom Bombadil is a series of sixteen poems by JRR Tolkien originally published in 1962 as The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Other Verses from the Red Book with illustrations by Pauline Baynes.
Only two of the poems actually deal with
the enigmatic character known for his role in The Fellowship of the Ring, though “The Stone Troll” mentions a Tom who may or may not be Tom Bombadil.
Tom Bombadil has his roots, like many of Tolkien’s stories, in the Professor’s children. Priscilla Tolkien had a wooden jointed doll that her brother John put down the toilet, yet the toy was rescued and Tolkien used him as a character.
The Adventures of Tom Bombadil includes the poems:
- The Adventures of Tom Bombadil
- Bombadil Goes Boating
- Princess Mee
- The Man in the Moon Stayed Up Too Late
- The Man in the Moon Came Down Too Soon
- The Stone Troll
- The Mewlips
- The Hoard
- The Sea-Bell
- The Last Ship
The entire collection is presented as a selection of verse from the Red Book of Westmarch, the fictional text written by Bilbo, Frodo, and Samwise after their respective adventures in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
In other words, the poems are presented as traditional hobbit-poetry and folklore, or in some cases as directly attributable to Bilbo or Sam.
To quote the Preface:
“The present selection is taken from the older pieces, mainly concerned with legends and jests of The Shire at the end of the Third Age, that appears to have been made by Hobbits, especially by Bilbo and his friends, or their immediate descendants. Their authorship is, however, seldom indicated. Those outside the narratives are in various hands, and were probably written down from oral tradition” (The Tolkien Reader, pg. 191).
These poems were originally published after the success of The Lord of the Rings in a stand-alone hardcover format. These hardcover editions are all out-of-print and fairly expensive collector's items now.
The entire collection of poems appears in paperback format as part of
The Tolkien Reader
a collection of Tolkien’s various lesser-known writings.
The tone of the poems is generally light-hearted and adventurous, though a few have darker tones.
“The Mewlips” is rather dark, and might very well describe the Dead Marshes from The Two Towers.
The two poems concerning Tom Bombadil, “The Adventures of Tom Bombadil” and “Bombadil Goes Boating” are both quite light in tone, as befits the eternally cheerful Tom.
The first tells of his adventures in capturing and marrying Goldberry, the River-woman’s daughter.
The second poem tells of a farcical boat trip Tom makes to visit Farmer Maggot in The Shire.
Other noteworthy poems among the collection include “Errantry”, which is an adventure poem and perhaps the best-known of Tolkien’s poems that does not appear in The Hobbit of The Lord of the Rings. With its rhyming couplets and singsong cadence, it is reminiscent of Lewis Carroll…and a very enjoyable read.
“The Hoard” is another adventure poem, but with a serious feel to it, like something the dwarves might have sung the night they all arrived unexpectedly on Bilbo’s doorstep.
“The Sea-Bell” is another little gem from this collection, the tale of a man who feels the pull of the sea and takes an imaginary boat “to a forgotten strand in a strange land” only to return to his own life and find that it is much more colorless than before. This reminiscent of the voyage every reader of JRR Tolkien's novels experiences.
W.H. Auden, the great English poet, was a tremendous fan of The Lord of the Rings, and thought “The Sea-Bell” was Tolkien’s best piece of poetry.
The final poem, “The Last Ship”, concerns the departing of the final ship of elves from Middle-earth. They have one final spot on their ship and they beckon to Fíriel, who stands on the shore, but she refuses to leave.
‘I cannot come!’ they heard her cry.
‘I was born Earth’s daughter!’ (TR, pg 250).
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