Tom Bombadil appeared in Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring, and I want to be more like him. In the little bit of researching I did, some articles refer to him as a nature spirit or wood sprite. Some say that he’s the oldest being in Middle Earth. A lot of that is drawn from interpretations of Norse and Scandinavian translations of his name, along with extrapolation from throwaway lines of dialogue. Just a casual reading though will reveal him as just a jolly guy, living a simple life in the woods with his wife, content and oblivious to the world around him. All surrounding him was war and turmoil and strife. He just kicked around, singing to birds and trees. I want to be like him, and it’s hard.
I’m thinking of a recent trip I took, camping on an island on a Maine lake. You have to get the picture. I was relaxing, laying against a rock and gazing at a mountain in the distance. I had just rowed eight miles and made camp. An ever so slight breeze kept the bugs away, and as far as I could see, I may have been the only person on Earth. Beautiful, right? It was a place of absolute tranquility. But in this setting, I couldn’t stop thinking about how people are completely justified in voting third party, and that the people saying those votes are wasted are ignorant. Stupid, huh? I was in paradise, but that’s what I was thinking.
Hell, I don’t even vote anymore. That’s how idiotic that whole thing was. I’m not even registered. I know, I am absolutely convinced, that voting doesn’t matter. It’s not something I do or want any part of. I am so over that. Still, as I sat, that was the thought that kept creeping into my mind. And I was aware of that and I tried to chase it out and away. I wanted to be present and enjoy that view. I really did. But that crap kept kept creeping through my thoughts
Getting caught up in what’s unimportant is annoyingly easy. You see it in so much of society, and it’s infectious. Athletes who don’t stand for the national anthem? So what. It doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t. Actors who think gun laws should be stricter? That’s absolutely irrelevant to anything. I’m not going to say whether it’s evil people purposely dividing us or if people just naturally form tribes and collectives. Either way, it’s bad for us. Focusing on the things that don’t matter and which you can’t control doesn’t do anyone any good. We’d all do better if we stopped. Tom Bombadil didn’t do that.
Indeed, it’s a desire for control that brings so much suffering. In the books, Sauron wanted to wield power over all creation. In seeking control, he directly inflicted pain and despair. Don’t forget though the people fighting him were also seeking control, which led to its own drama. Although righteous, trying to stop Sauron was still vying for control. They were still forcing their will and trying to force their own realty. Tom Bombadil? He just didn’t care. He was above it all. I’m wracking my brain, but he’s the only person in the Rings Trilogy I can remember who was happy. His general lack of desire and overriding disinterest in the world kept him content.
Now, I have to be careful. In a letter to a fan, Tolkien noted that Bombadil’s existence depended on the success of the Council of Elrond. Had Sauron won, the resulting world would have spelled his end. It’s kind of a paradox in that his peaceful life might have indeed depended on others acting violently. Likewise, people will argue that my existence may also depend on just the right people winning and retaining power. Am I free because others fight evil men for me? Does my peaceful existence depend on war? Maybe. I’ll let that stand for a moment, not getting into the politics or realities of the violence waged on my behalf. Myself? I’d prefer it if everyone would just chill, relax, and understand that existence and contentment are possible without violence.
And, as I write this, I’m seeing how there it is again. It’s a great man fallacy, it’s a false dichotomy, and Tolkien was blitheringly wrong. Tolkien was trying to suggest a social contract, and that’s rhetorical nonsense. Tom Bombadil did not depend on other people. His existence was not granted through the efforts of righteous men, wizards, or kings, and he certainly didn’t owe anybody anything. I never recall his asking for anything, anyway. He was just off in the woods, doing his thing. He was nobody’s subject. He abided under no one’s protection. He lived his life, and people either aggressed against him, engaged with him voluntarily, or left him alone. That’s all there is. There’s nothing more.
My ideal, the way I want to be, is to just live that life, enjoy the company of others, and concentrate on what makes me content. I fully understand that there is misery and injustice in the world. If I can help, I want to. But I understand my locus of control. I know that there’s a whole lot I can’t help, and I know that worrying about those things brings me down. How other people feel, or what other people say, or even what they do is something I really, really can’t control. I shouldn’t waste thoughts or time dwelling on it. It’s hard. I’m not there. But I do hope to get there one day.