14 October 2017

The Wonder of the Unexplained (TT 3.v.498)



Carl Emil Doepler


From early on, people have wondered if Tom Bombadil is really Eru Ilúvatar in disguise. As early as September 1954, within weeks of the first volume's publication on 29 July, Tolkien was answering the question of whether Old Tom was God (No: Letter 153). Even at the stage of page-proofs, the question of who Tom seems to have arisen. Naomi Mitchison, who had been reading them early that year, had written to Tolkien with a number of inquiries to which Tolkien responds, but does not answer. At one point he writes:

There is of course a clash between 'literary' technique, and the fascination of elaborating in detail an imaginary mythical Age (mythical, not allegorical: my mind does not work allegorically). As a story, I think it is good that there should be a lot of things unexplained (especially if an explanation actually exists); and I have perhaps from this point of view erred in trying to explain too much, and give too much past history. Many readers have, for instance, rather stuck at the Council of Elrond. And even in a mythical Age there must be some enigmas, as there always are. Tom Bombadil is one (intentionally). 
(Letter 144, 25 April 1954)

Other mysteries remain as well, and always will I hope. The Watcher in the Water (FR 2.iv.308-09), the 'fell voices on the air' in the night on Caradhras (FR 2.iii.289), the 'nameless things' that gnaw the world 'far, far below the deepest delving of the dwarves' (TT 3.v.501) make up an intriguing set, centered on the Misty Mountains around Moria. Why did Galadriel marry such a dolt? The man Brego and Baldor met at the Door to the Paths of the Dead (RK 5.iii.797-98). Who is that guy? Where does the locked door lead outside which Aragorn found Baldor dead (RK 5.ii.787)? Was that an Entwife Sam's cousin Hal saw up on the North Moors, or was Hal as daft as everybody but Sam seems to think he is (FR 1.ii.xx.44-45). And whose voice was speaking to Sam as he debated what to do when Frodo seemed dead (TT 4.x.731-32). These are only a few of the mysteries we encounter that unexplained make our experience all the richer.  But there's one that seems to have an explanation, but is it the explanation that is suggested to us?

Recall the the night Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas spend beneath the eaves of Fangorn. They briefly see an old man, cloaked and leaning on a staff, wearing a hat pulled down over his eyes (TT 3.ii.442-43). They assume that is Saruman, but the next day they meet Gandalf the White, and Gimli wonders whether they had seen Saruman or Gandalf: "'You certainly did not see me,'answered Gandalf, 'therefore I must guess that you saw Saruman.'" (TT 3.v.498).

But must we guess the same? We never receive a definitive answer, never see a bit of evidence that it was Saruman. Saruman certainly never tells. Who then? In Letter 107 says that he thinks of Gandalf as 'an Odinic wanderer', since Odin sometimes appeared as a wanderer cloaked and in a broad-brimmed hat, much the same garb as Gandalf and (it seems) Saruman wear. He was also called 'All-father' (Alföðr), not unlike Ilúvatar, literally 'the father of the universe', which has il 'all' as one of its roots (Lost Road, 361).

Carl Emil Doepler

Do I really think it's Ilúvatar they see? No. That's not very likely, but it's fun to speculate (so idly) that a visit from god himself might lie hidden in plain sight.  Wouldn't be the first time, I imagine.

3 comments:

  1. Don't make me call another convention of the Celeborn Defense League. You know the last one ended in tears and blood.

    To reiterate: Galadriel would have been miserable if she'd spent 6,000 years married to a man who was just as powerful and strong-willed as she. As Judith Martin put it in her Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior, "if everyone tries to be interesting at the same time, [it] is a social disaster."

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    1. You know, I had crossed that out, but I guess I just forgot to delete it. That quote from Judith Martin reminds me of Twitter, for some reason.

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  2. If we were to say, 'Odin', who would we mean, in Middle-earth terms? In the English glossing of the Planetary naming of the days of the week, Mercury becomes Woden. In a draft Christopher Tolkien discusses in Morgoth's Ring (pp. 434-36), Elemmíre seems identified with Mercury. Does Elemmíre name a steerer, a planetary intelligence of that planet, too? And is this, then, the person whom (for whatever reason) they see? A sort of That Hideous Strength-y bit of The Lord of the Rings?

    David Llewellyn Dodds

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