To be or…?

Just reread the first two chapters in LoTR in which we encounter Tom Bombadil, and read a little bit about him afterwards, and was struck by the similarities between Bombadil and a character of my own creation from a book I have not yet finished.

When Frodo asks Goldberry who Bombadil is, she replies simply “He is”. Other sources suggest that Bombadil doesn’t really fit well into any of the categories of beings that Tolkien explains in his discussions of Middle Earth’s creation, and in fact Tolkien deliberately avoided elucidating the mysteries of Tom Bombadil during his lifetime.

Moreover, hints and suggestions drive at Bombadil’s connection to earthly power, and his freedom from control as well. (There is an interesting and, it would seem, well thought-out but sometimes poorly crafted article on this over at Charisma News.) He seems to be, at least originally, a sort of nature spirit, older than anything else in Middle Earth, and wise, powerful within his own domain, but also unconcerned with most mortal goings on, and with the struggle between good and evil, light and dark that plays out across the stage of Middle Earth in the famous trilogy.

Put simply, though we see his strong connection to nature, we don’t know what Bombadil is, and can’t classify him according to what we do know of the universe in which he exists.

My own character, Taciturne, has been giving me problems for years. I can describe him, I can play out his behavior, but I cannot fit him into any definition. I cannot say what he is. As soon as I put down bounding words, they feel wrong, and Taciturne breaks them. “He” (I say this because he appears male, perhaps, in what I am writing, but even that may not be certain) has deep (and often symbolic) connections to certain places or types of places (a ruined tower, storm, perhaps the wild and overgrown area known as the Old realm), but I cannot even say that he is a nature spirit, or a faerie, or an avatar or god or semi-divine being. He is skilled, violent when he turns himself to violence, wicked in his way, perhaps volatile and yet unchanging, or mostly so. Stable in a sense. And yet despite his violence, his sometime cruelty or uncaring nature, his occasional pleasure in wickedness, I cannot name him devil or demon or being of evil. And even to say he is violent is wrong. I like wicked, up to a point, but then wicked turns ill and I like it no more for Taciturne. I like angel because I like the dissonance created when we combine the divine and pure with the alien, the painful, the dark, the mortal, the impure. But I like neither the Islamojudeochristian connections in the word, nor the near-divinity of such beings, nor the link to what is good and true and pure, after all.

In the end, Taciturne simply is.

And now that I’ve gotten to it, I believe the story is about how he loves, how he changes in a very unfamiliar way, how he cannot abide that, and what it drives him to do.