Christ's Shadow in Tom Bombadil

Anyone who knows our family well knows we love to watch 'The Lord of the Rings' and 'The Hobbit'. All our children have read the books, as I did when I was a child. However, to my shame, I have not read the books since I was 14. I know, shocking! Recently, I remedied this. One thing that has struck me has been the amount of theological themes that J. R. R. Tolkien inserts into the books, for those who have eyes to see.

One example is Tom Bombadil. As I read about Tom Bom, as I affectionately nicknamed him, one thought that struck me was how much he appears to be like Christ. I would like to share with you three Christological references in the person of Tom Bombadil, and I might offer another three I found in another article!

Tom Bombadil's Eternity

When the hobbits come to the house of Tom Bom there are two interactions around who Tom Bom is.

'Fair lady!' said Frodo again after a while. 'Tell me, if my asking does not seem foolish, who is Tom Bombadil?' 'He is,' said Goldberry, staying her swift movements and smiling. Frodo looked at her questioningly. 'He is, as you have seen him,' she said in answer to his look. (122)
'Who are you, Master?' Frodo asked. 'Eh, what?' said Tom, sitting up, and his eyes glinting in the gloom. 'Don't you know my name yet? That's the only answer. Tell me, who are you, alone, yourself and nameless? But you are young and I am old. Eldest, that's what I am. Mark my words, my friends: Tom was here before the river and the trees; Tom remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn. He made paths before the Big People and saw the little People arriving. He was here before the Kings and the graves and the Barrow-wights. When the Elves passed westward, Tom was here already, before the seas were bent. He knew the dark under the stars when it was fearless - before the Dark Lord came from Outside.' (129)

Elrond agrees with this when he says,

I had forgotten Bombadil, if indeed this is still the same that walked the woods and hills long ago, and even then was older than the old. That was not then his name. Iarwain Ben-adar we called him, oldest and fatherless. (258)

I wonder if you here the references to the gospel of John jump to your mind. John 8:58, "Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am." There is a sense in which Tom Bom is claiming to be eternal, or at least, from the very beginning. Yet what Tom Bom claimed, we know is far more emphatically true of Jesus Christ: Jesus is the Eldest, Jesus was here before all people and all things, and yes, Jesus knew the dark under the stars when it was fearless - before the dark lord of this world came.

As the Apostle Paul put it, "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together." (Col 1:15-17)

Tom Bombadil's Rest

The first night at the home of Tom Bom the Hobbits are tired and afraid. They were like sheep who struggle to settle after a fright. When they had bathed and eaten, they went to bed and Tolkien writes,

"Goldberry came and stood before them, holding a candle; and she wished them each a good night and deep sleep. 'Have peace now,' she said, 'until the morning! Heed no nightly noises! For nothing passes door and window here save moonlight and starlight and the wind off the hill-top. Good night!" She passed out of the room with a glimmer and a rustle. The sound of her footsteps was like a stream falling gently away downhill over cool stones in the quiet of night." (Page 123)

Throughout the night they wake up to strange noises but each time these comforting words enable them to rest again. In the knowledge of their safety under the presence of Tom Bom the Hobbits could sleep and rest.

Is it any different for the Christian? In the knowledge of the near presence of Christ as our shepherd, can we not also lay down and rest? As Jesus says, "I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me," (John 10:14) and as David knew, "He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters." (Psalm 23:2) We can rest because we have one greater than Tom Bom watching over us. Even in the face of great enemies, while surrounded by immense enemies, we can rest, for we know our shepherd is near.

Tom Bombadil's Help

When the hobbits leave the house of Tom Bom he kindly gives them a song to sing if they are in danger the next day.

Ho! Tom Bombadil, Tom Bombadillo! By water, wood and hill, by the reed and willow, By fire, sun and moon, harken now and hear us! Come, Tom Bombadil, for our need is near us! (Page 131)

The next day the hobbits get themselves in grave danger. Three of them are unconscious and about to die, and only Frodo is still awake. As all things are about to end in peril, Frodo remembers the song:

All at once back into his mind...the memory of the house down under the Hill, and of Tom singing. He remembered the rhyme that Tom had taught them. In a small desperate voice he began: "Ho! Tom Bombadil!" and with that name his voice seemed to grow strong: it had a full and lively sound, and the dark chamber echoed as if to drum and trumpet. Ho! Tom Bombadil, Tom Bombadillo! By water, wood and hill, by the reed and willow, By fire, sun and moon, harken now and hear us! Come, Tom Bombadil, for our need is near us! There was a sudden deep silence, in which Frodo could hear his heart beating. After a long slow moment he heard plain, but far away, as if it was coming down through the ground or through thick walls, an answering voice singing: Old Tom Bombadil is a merry fellow, Bright blue his jacket is, and his boots are yellow. No one has ever caught him yet, for Tom, he is the master: His songs are stronger songs, and his feet are faster. (Page 138)

Tom Bombadil comes and saves them from their peril. Is this not a stunning picture of what Christ has also promised us? Tom Bombadil promised to help if they ask. Jesus said to his disciples, "Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full." (John 16:24) Tom Bombadil promised to be with them in their hour of darkness, Jesus promised, "I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matt 28:20)

We have one comforting us far greater than Tom Bombadil. "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin." (Hebrews 4:15) We have one who has entered our brokenness and thus offers us comfort.

I am thoroughly enjoying reading through Lord of the Rings again, however, the thing I am enjoying the most is seeing biblical truths in the writing of Tolkien. In everything the shadow of Christ is cast, we should work to find it everywhere, so that even our leisure experiences become joyous moments to see the fingerprints of God.


This article was contributed by Logan Hagoort. Pastor from Covenant Presbyterian Church.

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