This is going to be a bit of a history lesson. Say what?
"Today...we're gonna talk about...Nikola Tesla."
Let us begin. I’m gonna explain all this in a second.
Tom goes on telling stories of the world before it was made round and Valinor was lifted from Arda. The hobbits, having returned to his tales from their fears of the Barrow-downs, are enchanted. The rain outside has stopped, and the sun has gone down. They know not how long they have been listening to him talk. Once again, Frodo asks Tom just exactly who he is. Tom answers cryptically. He is old, very old. Older than rivers and trees. He saw men come, and hobbits too. He lived here before the events on the Barrow-downs as he described them. He lived before the world was made round. Before evil.
Goldberry comes in, announcing the end of the rain, and that supper should be had. Tom springs up to get things ready.
Tom Bombadil. Older than evil.
-the western Shore: Undoubtedly Aman, the undying lands, and location of Valinor. A sort of heaven, once a land west from Middle-earth, but since lifted from Arda, the world. Now it exists on a separate plane that only the elves know how to reach.
-the Elf-sires: I can’t tell for certain, but these seem to be ancient elves. Likely the forefathers of present-day elves.
-Outside: The Void. A separate space, or dimension, or something. Think, like, the train station where Harry meets Dumbledore in Deathly Hallows. Or the similar train station in Matrix Revolutions, not that you want to think about it.
Also, Tom refers to a “Dark Lord”. This is not Sauron, which is part of the reason why I didn’t want to officially give him a first mention until his name directly came up. Who is it? We’ll get to that here in due time.
Let’s talk geography. On Arda (again, the world itself) there are a handful of continents. The three most important (two of which no longer exist on the earth as we know it) are Middle-earth, with which we are familiar, Númenor, a land of men, which was sunk all Atlantis-style, and Aman, home of the god-like Valar and final destination of the elves. Middle-earth and Aman were close to equal size, and Númenor was a smaller one in the middle. In fact, map!
Makes this book seem pretty small in scale, doesn't it? (Click to magnify!)
One of the Valar was Melkor, sometimes referred to as Morgoth, who turned to evil long ago. He and his lieutenant, a guy named Sauron you might have heard of, corrupted the men of Númenor, causing them to travel to Aman, where they were forbidden. As punishment, Eru Ilúvatar (the creator we discussed earlier as possibly being Tom Bombadil) sunk Númenor into the sea and lifted Aman off the plane of Arda. The remaining world was made round, with Aman existing on a separate plane that can only be reached by sailing along a path that goes straight on a tangent away from the world’s curvature.
Confused? It's like traveling off of Arda (if Circle A were a sphere) along a path on the line through Point B.
So, Melkor is this other Dark Lord. He was the Dark Lord before Sauron was, and he caused a whole bunch of trouble for the Valar.
As a (hopefully) quick reference, here’s a way to separate all the different beings, powers, races, and what-have-you in your mind:
Eru Ilúvatar created pretty much everything. The first beings he created were the Ainur, the most powerful of which are the Valar, and the lesser the Maiar. The Maiar are people we know like Sauron and Gandalf, along with every other wizard as well as the balrogs. Ilúvatar also created elves, then men. One of the Valar, Aulë, created dwarves, and though the origin of hobbits is a bit of a mystery, they are assuredly related to men. That pretty much covers everyone, right? Oh, orcs were elves corrupted by Melkor. Boom.
As you can see, this is all very complicated, and if you got all that, I applaud you. However, the point of this is that Tom Bombadil is saying that he was alive before and during all of this. That’s OLD. More fodder for those who argue that Tom is Eru Ilúvatar? Certainly. The oldest point he mentions, as cryptic as it is, is “before the Dark Lord came from Outside.” If he’s referring to Melkor coming to Arda from the Void, that would mean in the time shortly after Arda was created, when Melkor left the Void and built a fortress in the darkest corner of Middle-earth. That’s literally tens of thousands of years ago, approximately.
Tom, you old.
I’m going to leave it there. This has been my most complicated post to write. Do you see why Tom Bombadil is such a mystery? I find the mythology of Tolkien’s world fascinating, and I’m still only beginning to understand it, bit by bit.
“Then Tom and Goldberry set the table; and the hobbits sat half in wonder and half in laughter: so fair was the grace of Goldberry and so merry and…”
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