open the pages, read the words, savor the magic

Happy birthday, Professor Tolkien!

Today would’ve been J.R.R. Tolkien’s 121st birthday (if I count that correctly; if I don’t, do correct me). In honor of this great author’s birthday, I want to write quotes from his books about the two characters originally his who are not in any of Peter Jackson movies: Tom Bombadil and Glorfindel.

Tom Bombadil is, well, a ‘being’. He’s old, powerful and enigmatic and lives in the valley of Withywindle, east of the Shire. He settled at the edge of the Old Forest, in which he set boundaries where his power is very big and strong. So special is Tom Bombadil that the Elves call him Iarwain Ben-adar (“Oldest and Fatherless” in Sindarin). He is one of Tolkien’s fan favorite characters that failed to make it into the Jackson movies; some of his lines were given to Treebeard (on account that they are both guardians of nature). When I first read about Tom Bombadil, my first image of him is of a beardless middle-aged man with bright blue jacket and yellow boots, as described in Tolkien’s own passage. But then as I re-read the book, since it was described that he was “an old man”, I added that beard in my imagination.

Frodo first met him after Merry got caught by Old Man Willow and buried underneath it.

‘Help!’ cried Frodo and Sam running towards him with their hands stretched out.

‘Whoa! Whoa! steady there’ cried the old man, holding up one hand, and they stopped short, as if they had been struck stiff. ‘Now, my little fellows, where be you a-going to, puffing like a bellows? What’s the matter here then? Do you know who I am? I’m Tom Bombadil. Tell me what’s your trouble! Tom’s in a hurry now. Don’t you crush my lilies!’

Tom sprang away, and breaking off a hanging branch smote the side of the willow with it. ‘You let them out again, Old Man Willow!’ he said. ‘What be you a-thinking of? You should not be waking. Eat earth! Dig deep! Drink water! Go to sleep! Bombadil is talking!’ He then seized Merry’s feet and drew him out of the suddenly widening crack.

Fellowship Of The Ring, Book 1, Chapter VI: The Old Forest

Every time I read that line of “eat earth, drink water” and so forth, I always imagine that Tom Bombadil often goes to Fangorn forest to have tea with Treebeard, and possibly also Radagast the Brown, to talk about the preservation of the trees and wild life in Middle-earth. And I end up wistfully wishing that the three of them were still here in modern day real life. We could always use beings like them to prevent global warming.

That is not to say Tom Bombadil doesn’t have his fair share of creepiness. I say ‘creepy’, it just means that this passage haunted me since the very first time I read it 11 years ago:

Tom soon disappeared in front of them, and the noise of his singing got fainter and further away. Suddenly his voice came floating to them in a loud halloo!

Hop along, my little friends, up the Withywindle!
Tom’s going on ahead candles for to kindle.
Down west sinks the Sun: soon you will be groping.
When the night-shadows fall, then the door will open,
Out of the window-panes light will twinkle yellow.
Fear no alder black! Heed no hoary willow!
Fear neither root nor bough! Tom goes on before you!
Hey now merry dol! We’ll be waiting for you!

Imagine walking in the forest and then you suddenly hear this voice singing poetically. I would scream for sure. The next passage after that seemed to describe how the forest became a dark and shadowy place for Frodo and his friends. I do not fancy being there with them, standing enchanted at the beginning or not. But I do say this: I would love to visit Tom Bombadil’s house and enjoy his and Goldberry’s hospitality. It sounds as if their home is like a spa resort for the jaded and weary at heart.

After the Hobbits left Tom’s house, journeyed to Bree and met Strider, Frodo experienced the unfortunate event of being stabbed by the Witch King of Angmar. The poisonous Morgul-blade was endangering his life, as a fragment of the blade was left behind in his body, going closer toward his heart. Now, in Peter Jackson’s movie, it was Arwen who came to the rescue. But in the book, it was the gloriously golden-haired Elf Glorfindel who did.

Suddenly into view below came a white horse, gleaming in the shadows, running swiftly. In the dusk its headstall flickered and flashed, as if it were studded with gems like living stars. The rider’s cloak streamed behind him, and his hood was thrown back; his golden hair flowed shimmering in the wind of his speed… it appeared that white light was shining through the form and raiment of the rider, as if though through a thin veil.

Strider sprang from hiding and dashed down towards the Road, leaping with a cry through the heather; but even before he had moved or called, the rider had reined in his horse and halted, looking up towards the thicket where they stood. When he saw Strider, he dismounted and ran to meet him calling out: Ai na vedui Dúnadan! Mae govannen! His speech and clear ringing voice left no doubt in their hearts: the rider was of the Elven-folk. No others that dwelt in the wide world had voices so fair to hear. But there seemed to be a note of haste or fear in his call, and they saw that he was now speaking quickly and urgently to Strider.

Soon Strider beckoned to them, and the hobbits left the bushes and hurried down to the Road. ‘This is Glorfindel, who dwells in the house of Elrond,’ said Strider.

‘Hail, and well met at last!’ said the Elf-lord to Frodo. ‘I was sent from Rivendell for you. We feared that you were in danger upon the road.’ – Fellowship of the Ring, Book 1, Chapter XII: Flight to the Ford

When I first read these passages, they gave me pause. Because I’d already seen the movie, and I saw that it was Arwen who came to Frodo’s rescue, and she was all doe-eyes looking at Aragorn, my slash-inclined brain short-circuited. It was, like, “Wait! Aragorn is secretly gay? His lover who’s coming to rescue Frodo is a golden-haired male Elf with a beautiful voice!”

But later on I found out that most of Glorfindel’s role was given to Arwen so the movie could have a ‘strong female character’. For the most part, I wasn’t too fussy about this, but I can imagine how the purists might dislike this. Glorfindel has a very strong presence in the books – and quite an interesting history dating to the First Age – so it would be a disappointment to some fans not to see him there. Glorfindel was played by an actor, of course, but he was barely even there. Even Bret McKenzie’s Elves had more screen presence than he did. Then again, there are already so many dominant Elves in Lord Of The Rings (most of them male) so it’s all right for me to enjoy Glorfindel’s presence in the book.

He already sounds so perfect from the way Tolkien described him that I think it would be hard to put an actor to play him. He sounds too good to be true.

Frodo looked at them in wonder, for he had never before seen Elrond, of whom so many tales spoke; and as they sat upon his right hand and his left, Glorfindel, and even Gandalf, whom he thought he knew so well, were revealed as lords of dignity and power.

Glorfindel was tall and straight; his hair of shining gold, his face fair and young and fearless and full of joy; his eyes were bright and keen, and his voice like music; on his brow sat wisdom, and in his hand was strength. – Fellowship of the Ring, Book 2, Chapter I: Many Meetings

I imagine him to be more gorgeous and more manly than even Elrond, Celeborn and Thranduil put together. If any of these rulers were evil dictators, they’d probably get rid of Glorfindel just because he would put a shame to their beauty. In my head, I even have this image of Glorfindel looking down at Legolas when he came to Rivendell for the Council, dismissing him as a dirty little wood elf with no manners. *grins*

I also imagine that Glorfindel had moved in to Rivendell during the time of The Hobbit. When Thorin’s company went there to rest, Fili and Kili would’ve been totally infatuated with him much to their own chagrin. The difference is, Glorfindel would’ve been flattered at their attention, while he would’ve been annoyed by Legolas. (Obviously my brain is a very dangerous place to live in. Professor Tolkien would roll on his grave if he saw what’s in the.)

In a way, though, I’m secretly glad that these two characters have not made it to the movies. The movies obviously cannot cover all of the things that Professor Tolkien wrote but I believe that many things that Professor Tolkien wrote should be preserved and let to live in the form of written words only. I’m not saying that no filmmaker could possibly do these characters justice but when the characters have a very strong presence in the readers’ imagination – as it does in MY imagination – I’m saying that it would be hard to find the physical embodiment of these characters that would live up to our imagination.

Thankfully, the filmmakers have so far been successful in finding the perfect Frodo, Aragorn, Gandalf, Gollum, Bilbo and so on. But I don’t mind if Tom and Glorfindel remain invisible to me outside of my head. *shrugs* That’s just the way I feel it.

Thank you, Professor Tolkien. Happy birthday… you might not be with us anymore but you do live on through your stories.


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