Chapter 2- of loose ends and mysteries
Note: due to the length extreme of this chapter I have split it into sections which you can scroll down to and read at your own leisure. They are in large bold text and are as follows.
1.Tom Bombadil- who and what was he?
2.Radagast The Brown- what happened to him and did he fail in his wizardly task?
3.Balrogs- wings or no?
4.How did Gandalf intend on entering Mordor
Firstly I apologise if this one seems a bit random, however it is a subject that fascinates me, and hopefully will have an interest for you too. It will also be central for those not familiar with characters such as Radagast and Bombadil in particular (if/when he is released as a card), to understanding their importance in Middle Earth. Also I’m sorry for the length, however you can’t really tackle this one without going into a certain level of depth.
Tolkien’s universe is vast, and despite it not having the 14 x1000 page book material of series such as The Wheel of Time, it is no less detailed, and arguably more so for its creativity and originality at the time it was written.
This chapter takes a look however, as some of the unkowns in Middle Earth lore- some of the mysteries that have been discussed in length over the years. There are several, and I could have written double this, however I intend to look at the main following:
Tom Bombadil- who and what was he?
Radagast The Brown- what happened to him and did he fail in his wizardly task?
Balrogs- wings or no?
How did Gandalf intend on entering Mordor?
If ever there was an enigma in Middle Earth it is Tom Bombadil. He appears in person only in 3 chapters of the trilogy (a little more in other works- The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, and is talked about in other chapters) those being The Old Forest, In the House of Tom Bombadil and Fog on the Barrow Downs. He comes to the hobbit’s aid when they are attacked by the evil tree Old Man Willow, and again when they re attacked by Barrow Wights, and shows his, for want of a better word, magical prowess by subduing them both with a song. The hobbits also travel to Bombadil’s house, where he lives with his wife, Goldberry.
Now, onto the mystery. Firstly who is Bombadil? Well there are several theories I have seen, which vary in likelihood.
-He is one of the Valar
-He is Maiar
-He is some form of spirit not known about
-He is Eru- God
-He is the reader (yes, I have seen this stated!!)
I will talk about these each of these in turn, then finish with my opinions, and what I consider to be the most important and conclusive quote of all.
He is Vala
With Bombadil, Tolkien introduces us to a character here that is firstly not connected to anyone else in Middle Earth. He is in the form of a man, certainly, however we know that in Middle Earth this doesn’t mean much. The Istari for instance, were in the form of men, however were in fact Maiar. He is part of no nation that ever was or ever will be, and he lives in, and is bound to, a forest that is part of the ancient forest that covered middle earth thousands of years previously. He has magical powers that give him control over extremely powerful evils, and he describes himself as master of ‘wood, water and hill,’ and most curiously of all- he describes himself as ‘Eldest’ and knew the first raindrop and acorn, and a time before the Dark Lord came from ‘outside’, though which dark lord – Melkor or Sauron is not stated (though its generally thought to mean the original Dark Lord), which is unfortunate as it would have a huge impact on aging him.
If we take all this literally we can take it that Bombadil was present at the creation of the world which would have to place him as one of the godly spirits- the Valar.
The problem here, is that Bombadil is never once mention in the creation of Middle Earth. He doesn’t appear in the Silmarillion and no one like him appears in it either. However during the council of Elrond it is stated that:
'…..was not then his name. Iarwain Ben-adar we called him, oldest and fatherless. But many another name he has since been given by other folk...'
So, if we stick with the literal translation, it would only leave 1 option- that Tom is a Vala, disguised in Middle Earth as the ridiculous merry dol that we know. So how do we find out which one?
Well, seeing as the Valar were paired in marriage, we must take a look at both Tom and his other half-Goldberry, otherwise known as The River Daughter. Firstly-Goldberry, bears a large resemblance to a Vala, namely Yavanna- the Queen of The Earth. Yavanna had spent time in The Old Forest, and was concerned most with plants, which fits her ‘caring for the forest’ personality perfectly. She is also described as clad in green, which in comparison, Goldberry is three times stated alongside the colour green in the Fellowship of the Ring.
So if we take Yavanna, then we must assume that Tom is hr husband-Aule the smith- the master creator of all the physical things in Middle Earth and creator of the Dwarves. Now we see that there are indeed many points to support Tom=Aule. Firstly Aule was among many things the creator of minerals, which would include the rings of power, secondly Sauron himself was a mere servant of Aule, so this would explain Tom’s apparent mastery over the Ring- he was the Ring’s master’s master (if that makes sense!).In fact not only does Tom not have any fear over the Ring, he can make it disappear, showing he has complete and utter control over it, more so than its creator, Sauron.
So there is an obvious connection between Bombadil/Goldberry, and Aule/Yavanna. But is it enough to be conclusive? Certainly not. Here is a quote from Glorfindel at The Council of Elrond:
"...soon or late the Lord of the Rings would learn of its hiding place and would bend all his power toward it. Could that power be defied by Bombadil alone? I think not. I think that in the end, if all else is conquered, Bombadil will fall, Last as he was First; and then Night will come."
So here we have Glorfindel, who is wise even for an elf, clearly stating that Sauron has greater power over Tom. If Tom is Vala then this doesn’t fit. Sauron is Maiar, more specifically as already stated, Aule’s servant. That Aule’s servant could defeat him is pushing the lore of Tolkien a little far. Secondly we have a similar quote from Galdor:
"Power to defy our Enemy is not in him, unless such power is in the earth itself. And yet we see that Sauron can torture and destroy the very hills."
We must take these quotes as truth, not only from their speakers, but also because Gandalf, who knows Bombadil well (this is discussed later) doesn’t object to them. So it can be assumed that Bombadil doesn’t have the strength to hold off Sauron. This is the main counter argument for this theory. However there is more counter-support in this quote, when Gandalf is asked whether Tom could guard then ring:
"He might do so, if all the free folk of the world begged him, but he would not understand the need."
Could a creator of Middle Earth really be so ignorant in matters? No, so we must move on to an alternate theory-
Tom is Maiar
This is in fact the most commonly believed answer. It came about due to the fact the people seen that Tom couldn’t be Vala, so he must be a lesser being, a Maiar. There is one main quote that is at the end of this section that supports this- where Gandalf implies that they are akin. i.e they are both Maiar. However to me this is hugely flawed.
Firstly, it does nothing to explain how he came before the world. Secondly if we use the three main Maiar characters in the third age as examples, we see what their reaction to the Ring was, we find the following
Sauron-its creator, and yet by his own design, was reliant on it
Gandalf- terrified of touching it, would not dare use it for the corruptive effect it would have on him
Saruman-actually become corrupted by the rings master, and the lure for it
So, we can see from this that anything under Valar, couldn’t likely have immunity to the ring, so again, this points to the direction of Tom in fact being a Valar.
Bombadil=Maiar is a convenient answer, as they weren’t all named or accounted for (the moria balrog for example, also the Watcher in the Water was considered one). So it is perhaps a little too easy to slot Bombadil in this category. And to me it is more flawed than the Vala theory.
Tom is Eru
The flip side of saying he couldn’t be Vala, is not going lower, but higher, that he is THE Creator of the Tolkien universe. This would account for many of the things he says, his absolute lack of worry over worldly events, and his power over other beings. Also at one point, when Frodo asks who he is, Goldberry simply states the ‘He is.’ Also Tom uses songs as his power- the universe likewise was created by music.
Despite this, this is one theory we can say with certainty is wrong, given Tolkien in his letters himself stated:
'There is no embodiment of the One, of God, who indeed remains remote, outside the World, and only directly accessible to the Valar or Rulers.'
Furthermore, we have already discussed that Sauron>Tom, which would mean Sauron was more powerful than God which is of course ridiculous.
Tom is the Reader
It’s a shame this isn’t founded in more factual evidence, as I really like this one. Several readers have concluded that given Bombadil’s ‘cut and paste’ characteristics, that he is the reader- in effect the viewer of a world that he takes no part in. Almost as if it were you that took hold of the ring and could make it disappear, as you can in your imagination. As a reader it has no effect as you are separate and apart from Tolkien’s universe so you can still see Frodo for example, when he wears it. Of course this theory is especially far fetched and based on little or no evidence.
He is an unnamed natural spirit
Seeing as there is no definite answer to where Tom fits in the cosmology of Middle Earth, it can be said that he is in fact a being not otherwise talked about- an undiscovered species if you will.
In a passage from the Silmarillion,
'...in majesty they are peers, surpassing beyond compare all others, whether of the Valar and the Maiar, or of any other order that Iluvatar has sent into Ea.'
Here it is shown that Tolkien considered other forms of spirits that entered the world, not just Maiar and Valar. However again this is an open ended theory, possibly the most speculative of them all as we are creating beings out of our own minds and seeing if they fit the character of Tom. In theory we could create anything and say- here is what Tom is, but it would still be our being and not Tolkien’s.
So far we have not really gained much to help us make a decision. We have seen facts that point to Tom being one thing or another, but all are seriously flawed. So, just to confuse us all even more I will leave you with this quote from Gandalf to the hobbits after Sauron’s downfall:
"going to have a long talk with Bombadil: such a talk as I have not had in all my time. He is a moss-gatherer, and I have been a stone doomed to rolling. But my rolling days are ending, and now we shall have much to say to one another."
Return of the King, chapter-homeward bound
This to me this is the most important and conclusive passage of all (if such a thing can be applied to Tom). From it we can take the following-
-Gandalf, after completing his task set out for him in Middle Earth, is going to have the longest and most important talk with Tom of his life. This is a lot to say of a wizard such as Gandalf so we can assume their topic would be pretty epic.
-Gandalf’s words seem to imply that he is ‘reporting back’ to a fellow operative- someone of at least the same stature.(here is the Maiar reference)
-The last part confused me for a long time; however I now understand it to mean the following: Tom’s role in middle earth is static (moss gatherer). He is bound to his forest, but still plays an important role. Gandalf’s on the other hand is constantly moving (doomed to rolling), he is needed everywhere, and played a role that encompasses the entire of middle earth. Now that task is over. We already know this however as he states earlier in the chapter that his time is over.
While this doesn’t conclude anything, and makes things even worse you might say, I can draw the following:
-He was part of, or the creator of, the plan to cause Sauron’s Downfall. Gandalf’s talk to him was a report on all that had happened and that it was successful.
-He was extremely powerful, but for some reason chose not to show it in mortal lands- he was a ‘moss gatherer’ who did his part at home, while Gandalf had the actual task of going to places/doing things.
-There is no answer. Seriously, there isn’t. If you have your own ideas id love to hear them.
Radagast The Brown
Radagast is one of the 5 Istari, and along with Gandalf and Saruman, is the third and last wizard that actually appears in Tolkien’s works- the remaining two are a mystery in themselves.
Radagast, who is featured as a neutral ally card in the game, was a lover of nature in Middle Earth. While his two other companions busied themselves with the world of men and elves and dwarves, Radagast was content with flowers and creatures. Therefore he plays a small and insignificant role in the events of world, and most especially the war of the ring.
The problem here is the Radagast, being one of the maiar sent to Middle Earth specifically to combat Sauron, wanders from his task. He takes part in no battles, he aids no free nation, and counsels no leaders.
So did he fail in his task? Well that is what we are about to find out. First we must take the other two wizards and find out what exactly failing their task means:
Gandalf- absolutely did not fail- in fact he was probably the most responsible for the downfall of Sauron.
Saruman-the opposite- he did fail, to the point that he turned sides and fought for evil
So where does Radagast come in this scale. The middle? Well this all depends on how much he actually did aid either side. There are two main theories on this. The first is that Radagast actually completed his task set out to him before his departure to Middle Earth, and that task wasn’t to aid men or dwarves or elves, but to aid flora and fauna. This would explain his love for such beings, and his general shunning of other races. Therefore, taking this theory, Radagast lies somewhere close to Gandalf’s side of the spectrum- he completed his task, however he wasn’t as active as Gandalf was in causing the downfall of evil.
The second theory is that Radagast was actually ensnared by his leader, Saruman, and lured Gandalf to his initial capture in Orthanc, seeing as it is Radagast that tells him that Saruman is waiting for him in Isengard. The problem with this theory is that it is also Radagast that sends the Eagle Gwaihir to Isengard to gain news of the enemy, which in turn leads to Gandalf’s rescue, so we can see that this second theory falls apart on this basis.
It is far more likely that Radagast was fooled by his more powerful fellow wizard, Saruman, who was still under the disguise of good at that time. In fact it is shown that Saruman has no respect for Radagast calling him simple and a fool, so it would be no giant leap to assume that Saruman, master of deception, could trick Radagast into thinking this.
So we can safely rule out that Radagast failed to the extent of treachery. However at best he only helped out creatures and flowers, it can’t even be assumed that trees and ents fall into this category, as Treebeard pays no mention to Radagast while he is talking about Gandalf being the only true tree friend left in Middle Earth (Treebeard/Two Towers/book1).
The general accepted thought here (and the one Tolkien hints at) is that Radagast in fact forgot his task completely, and became too involved in his love of birds and plants.
He is not again mention in the trilogy. The last mention he gets is in the council of Elrond, where it is stated that he was sought for in Rhosgobel, however wasn’t there at the time of need.
So if he neither failed, nor completed his task, was he allowed back to the undying lands as Gandalf was? Gandalf is the only wizard that truly completed his task so was the only one we know was allowed back. But would Radagast, after so many thousands died in the war of the ring (and they certainly could have used another good wizard), be allowed?
Well, firstly unlike Saruman, who is cast out of the order by Gandalf, and pretty much has his power taken off him, Radagast receives no consequences of his actions. Gandalf certainly doesn’t go off looking for him after the downfall of Sauron, to either invite him back to the Undying Lands or to give him a good kicking for forsaking them all.
Here thankfully we can ask Tolkien what he thought happened-
Radagast’s failure was not as great as Saruman, so he may have eventually been allowed back (if he chose so) to the Undying Lands (not direct quote- I cant find the actual letter reference now, so if anyone knows where this can be found please say).
However this does not tell us either way. Most who have discussed this have came to this conclusion however:
Radagast forgot his task, so much to the point that he forgot why he was in Middle Earth. He became native if you will. A lone spirit of nature left in a world of men. It is also speculated by some that Radagast became the basis for the many earth spirits that were conjured up after Middle Earth’s time, and that he was in fact left there on purpose as a watcher of the world, a last guardian of the Valar. So maybe he is still wandering in the ancient woods of the world?
Balrogs – did they have wings?
Another character that we have encountered so far is a balrog, more specifically Durin’s Bane. Despite most people assuming that balrogs have wings, this is actually down to the art influence of John Howe, and therefore the movies as well, who popularised the fiery bull-like demon on Moria.
Firstly let me introduce you to four quotes, one from the early Tolkien writings, one from the appendices, and two from the chapter The Bridge of Khazad Dum.
1."Swiftly they arose, and they passed with winged speed over Hithlum, and they came to Lammoth as a tempest of fire."
2."Thus they roused from sleep of thing of terror that, flying from Thangorodrim, had lain hidden at the foundations of the earth since the coming of the Host of the West: a Balrog of Morgoth"
3."His enemy halted again, facing him, and the shadow about it reached out like two vast wings."
4."...suddenly it drew itself up to a great height, and its wings were spread from wall to wall..."
Now on the face of it these seem pretty conclusive. These would strongly imply that the balrogs had vast wings, as it is said so and were able to fly. Now if we take each quote and break them down:
Quote 1.Tolkien, like most writers, is known for his love of metaphors, therefore it has been argued that winged speed refers to extreme speed.
Quote 2. Flying is the key word here, however often Tolkien uses fly to mean retreat ie flee. ‘fly you fools!’
Quotes 3/4. The problem here is this: firstly the 3 quote comes before the 4 in the chapter. This is important as we are given the word like, and therefore must apply it to every other description that comes after it. So then we can re-read it like so-
His enemy halted again, facing him, and the shadow about it was like two vast wings.
Then we can take the second quote and assume that it also is making a like comparison, so that when it says its wings were spread from wall to wall, we can take that as its shadow spread from wall to wall, as this is what Tolkien was originally implying.
Therefore these apparently two conclusive quotes can be quite easily broken down to mean the opposite of what is usually read from them. That the wings were its shadow, that we know for a fact that it was cloaked in.
Staying with disproving the wing theory, we also have another point. If balrogs have wings, then why do they twice fall to their eventual deaths when they could have flown?
"Many are the songs that have been sung of the duel of Glorfindel with the Balrog upon a pinnacle of rock in that high place; and both fell to ruin in the abyss."
"I threw down my enemy, and he fell from the high place, and broke the mountain-side where he smote it in his ruin."
And why didn’t the Moria balrog simply fly over the gap after the bridge’s ruin?
Another point that backs this up is in an earlier version of Tolkien’s writings, balrogs are said to have rode to battle up dragon’s backs. Firstly the image of this is terrifying, but more importantly this again shows that Tolkien at some point decided that they couldn’t fly (though admittedly he changed his idea of balrogs over time). Finally we can take a balrog’s size (which is not gigantic as in the film, no more than around 12/13ft) and compare the apparent wing span, which is said to reach from wall to wall (assuming how vast the space is in the bridge area) and we see that its wings would have to be vastly larger than its body. And by this I don’t mean like a Condor’s wing span, which is of course massive, but I mean it would have to be daftly out of proportion, especially for a non-bird creature.
So it can be said that there is certainly no hard evidence for balrog’s having wings, but the arguments against it all depends on how literally you read the given quotes.
How did Gandalf intend to enter Mordor?
This is an interesting one, as it is even debated by the characters of the book, notably Frodo and Aragorn, both of which have no idea to the answer as Gandalf never shared his plans beyond crossing the Misty Mountains and journeying south before he fell to his death in Moria.
Looking at the possible options on how to enter Mordor we have:
-The Black Gate
-A huge round trip of hundreds of miles into enemy lands to skirt round the 3 walls of mountains and enter from the east.
-Some way we don’t know about
So which is most likely?
-The Black Gate: Unlikely. Gandalf would have known how impenetrable the gate was, and if two hobbits and Gollum couldn’t enter unnoticed, I don’t think the fellowship could have. Its been argued the Gandalf could have ‘magiced’ them all in, by invisibility or other means, however this has one main flaw- Gandalf was unwilling to use his powers on Caradhras, hundreds of miles from Mordor, incase of attracting attention. He would therefore not want to use his powers, even if he had such powers, on the front door step of Sauron.
-Cirith Ungol: Again unlikely, but slightly better than the gate. Gandalf is not happy when he finds out Frodo is taking the stair to Cirith Ungol (Shelob’s pass). Therefore it is unlikely it would have been his plan to take that path all along. It is likely he knew of Shelob, or that some evil guarded it, and he would obviously know of Minas Morgul. So no, I don’t think this is a choice. Remember Minas Morgul was known for its watchfulness, the tower rotated, and it was said that non passed before it without them being known. Now obviously Frodo and Sam do, but I think again the fellowship would have a harder time concealing themselves (especially with Gimli in tow, huffing and puffing about having to walk all that way). Remember that hobbits were said to have an almost magical ability to hide themselves (probably given more to their size and lack of shoes).
-The round trip. No. Just not anywhere near feasible. Firstly Gandalf didn’t like the idea of a delay when planning their trip in Rivendell. Secondly it would mean either going south of Mordor, meaning they would have to cross the desertof Harad and Khand- a desert filled with enemies- doesn’t sound nice. Or it would mean going north of Mordor and into Rhun (again enemy territory) then dropping south then west and travel for several hundred miles through the plains of Mordor to get to Mnt Doom. Not nice again.
So where does that leave us? Either, Gandalf knew of an alternate way in to Mordor, or he just plainly hadn’t decided at that time.
-Gandalf knew of an alternate way. Maybe. I wouldn’t say likely. Not by a long shot, but it is possible. Though it raises the question of why would wise old Gandalf not tell another member i.e. Aragorn, of this way incase he fell? Doesn’t seem to fit to me. Also where would this place be? The moutains of Mordor are said to be an impassible fence, with only two entrances as stated. People have argued that all mountains can be climbed or passed at easy places, and that the mountains which range for hundreds of miles must have had more accessible places at some point. The flaw? Sauron would know every inch of his domain. He had had thousands of years to do so, find the weak places, and fortify them.
Here we can maybe take a hint from this though. Apart from Barad Dur, which is Sauron’s base so doesn’t count here, we know of 3 other fortifications in Mordor. The first is The Black Gate, which guards an entrance. The second is Minas Morgul, which again guards an entrance, and the third is the castle Durthang. Perhaps this also guarded an alternate entrance? Perhaps underneath its foundations? It is never stated either way so it remains a possibility, and it follows logic to place a castle near a path into your domain. The rule of odds would certainly agree with this, with 2/3 named defences guarding an entrance. The argument to this is that Durthang was near The Black Gate, so thus acted as an extra garrison to that entrance.
-Gandalf didn’t know. Likely. Perhaps the most likely here. Gandalf knew that the task of the fellowship had little hope. He also knew that they either tried, or they would all die. So it is no stretch to presume that even the wise wizard was stumped on how to get in, but knew he had to go and find out. This would explain him never talking about it to the other members. He probably wouldn’t want to dishearten them- especially the hobbits.
Finally there is another option that I don’t think is likely, but none the less has a stong following: Gandalf didn’t intend to go with Frodo, or let any of the others, so it was up to Frodo to find out. Remember that, unlike in the film, the fellowship was not bound to stay to one another. Several members had plans to go other ways at some point- Boromir and Aragorn intended to go to Minas Tirith, Legolas and Gimli made no promise to enter Mordor in Rivendell. The main argument used alongside this is that Gandalf wouldn’t want to raise attention to the ring bearer in Mordor, him being the enemy’s main foe.
Taking the last point, I don’t think this has any base. We know Gandalf had entered Sauron’s previous base Dol Guldur twice, in disguise, right under his nose. So Gandalf, powers aside, must have had some way of hiding himself from Sauron. So this just leaves abandonment. Again we must not take note from the films here. Aragorn did not let Frodo go in the book as he didn’t realise till it was too late. Despite this, we do know that Aragorn understood the danger of the ring on mortal men, and unlike Boromir, would probably have known it would drive him to take it in the end, so it can be said that even though he let Frodo go so that he could pursue Merry and Pippin, he also did so for Frodo’s own good.
So can we apply the same to Gandalf? There is no question of him knowing its effects. But remember Gandalf was not a mortal man. He had better powers of resistance, as did Gimli and Legolas, and the other hobbits for that matter (arguably hobbits more so than any other). And Gandalf did not have any plans to go to other lands, unlike Aragorn and Boromir. Lastly I just cannot see Gandalf, had he not fallen in Moria, abandoning the hobbits to go through Mordor alone. If anyone would have stayed, it would have been him.
Of course all this leads to another question, a ‘what if’ scenario of what would have happened had Gandalf not fallen in Moria. But that’s could fill a chapter all by itself
Ok if you’re still here after all that massive wall of text well done! And thank you!
Of course to all of these there are no right answers, so if you have your own, please post them.