By Aaron Hastings
Diversity and variety are the spice of life. The world is a full spectrum of culture and lifestyle, but some lack the mascots to elevate the cause to new heights. Hipsters and vegans everywhere; I bring you a champion.
His name is Tom.
The master of wood, water and hill isn’t just a fictional character who happens to match the certain common lifestyles of veganism and hipsterism; he is the embodiment of those lifestyle choices working in a seemingly perfect scenario.
Just how accurate is his pseudo-reality? Let’s find out.
Tom isn’t a mainstay character in The Lord of the Rings, probably because it became far to mainstream in its publication in 1954.
Tolkien has acknowledged this fact in multiple quotes, including his letters to interested readers:
“Tom Bombadil is not an important person — to the narrative. I suppose he has some importance as a ‘comment.’ I mean, I do not really write like that: he is just an invention, and he represents something that I feel important, though I would not be prepared to analyze the feeling precisely. I would not, however, have left him in, if he did not have some kind of function.”
It’s clear that the character, though he belongs to Middle Earth, is clearly not an essential part of the story in theory. Frodo’s meeting with Tom has no consequential relationship to the plot of the ring and the black riders’ pursuit, save only to keep Frodo off of the eastern road from Buckland to Bree for a short time.
The rules of the world don’t even seem to apply to Tom. “Tom Bombadil is master,” states Goldberry in response to Frodo’s inquiry. Even a straight answer is too mainstream for these people.
This is evidenced by Gandalf’s commentary in the Council of Elrond as well as Tom’s ability to interact with the One Ring to no effect. Frodo, unlike any who has ever born a ring of power, gave up the ring with both willingness and no apparent struggle.
Tom promptly handles it, wears it, and shows no sign of having done so, with neither invisibility nor temptation imparting onto him.
He is simply too meta for the literature, too focused on the past, which is of course where he originates.
The being was inspired by an old Dutch doll that had been flushed down a toilet, and first appeared in The Oxford Magazine circa 1933. The printed poem, entitled The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, essentially follows Tom through a series of inconveniences in which Tom simply commands the situation to be different, and it becomes so. He then marries Goldberry, because why not?
Some have tried to explain this and Tom’s origins by assuming he is either a Maia, an angelic deity akin to God living on Arda, but I think this explanation is again too simplistic and mainstream for Tom.
Rather, I think these attributes go beyond the written word.
Who has the power to resist the One Ring in all this? Who can control the story and its interpretation through simple speaking and thought? Who is the ultimate master of Middle Earth, of Arda, but yet not the master of all because it would be too much of a burden? Only one person matches this description.
Tom is one of the writers.
While Tolkien was the sole author of 1954’s The Lord of the Rings, he makes it clear that this work and all the legends of Arda and Middle Earth are meant as a sort of origin story for England and the U.K.
The in-world authors of the tales are Bilbo, Frodo, Sam, and some others, ranging from the elf lords to the dwarves to the historians of Numenor.
Tom, not caring to manipulate any other part of the world, simply writes in his own story, which is ultimately of no consequence to the remainder of the plot.
Consider also Tom’s appearance compared to the traditional garb and appearance of a hipster.
The hair should look as if it is of no concern to the individual. They do not care what others think of the hairstyle, and do not wish for it to be overly tended or matching a multitude of others.
Additionally, the clothing must appear as if no thought was given to them, with a lack of color coordination or desire to appear normal or in conformity.
In terms of attitude, the hipster is not simply apathetic, but is only passionate about things that are of concern to that induvial, and are not of interest to anyone else.
Let’s compare these to Tom.
First, his hair is described as unkempt, having a long beard and long hair. He also covers his hair with a hat, showing a lack of interest in showing his hair or styling it in an accommodating manner.
Second, his choice of wardrobe must be without great thought or coordination. He primarily is depicted as wearing a coat of blue, yellow boots, a brown hat with an old feather, and trousers of no descript.
Considering the color wheel’s color pairings, his sky blue coat and bright yellow boots are not in coordination with one another except in the presence of red. None is mentioned in the text.
Additionally, the tertiary brown hat does not match well at all with the rest of the outfit, creating a nondescript clash that marks a distinct disinterest in color or appearance, with the only thought seeming to be geared towards utility.
Finally, he must have an attitude of passion only towards things he cares about. This is evidenced by his lack of sympathy or alliance with the free peoples of Middle Earth.
He is not present at the Council of Elrond, does not offer any advice to Frodo in terms of the ring, save only that Frodo’s hand is fairer without it, and is ultimately, while kind to the hobbits, not interested in or involved with the War of the Ring, despite his very existence being tied with its outcome.
Compare this attitude to his obsession with Goldberry, his animals, his garden, and his life in general within the Old Forest. He is passionate about his own affairs, and it even passionate about helping the hobbits if their need is great, but not if that need drives him beyond his own land.
Tom is not a factor in the War of the Ring, and the War of the Ring is not a pressing factor to Tom. He simply doesn’t care about these mainstream issues, even when they directly affect him.
Is Tom a hipster? I say yes. Is Tom meta? I say absolutely. Is Tom a vegan? That remains to be seen.
Vegan of the Old Forest
To determine Tom’s status as a vegan, we must analyze his diet and relationship with animals. This is an easy analysis, primarily stemming from book I chapter VII of The Fellowship of the Ring, titled “In the House of Tom Bombadil.”
“Is the table laden? I see yellow cream and honeycomb, and white bread, and butter; milk, cheese, and green herbs and ripe berries gathered.”
This quote from Tom Bombadil, and the heavy implication that much of the same is served to the hobbits in next two days, enlightens us to the Bombadil diet.
Notice the emphasis on natural yield with green herbs and ripe berries, along with the absence of meat or any animal product, save honeycomb and milk, along with milk byproducts.
The milk is not specifically outlined, and therefore may be plant milk. However, we can assume Tolkien’s writing from the 1950s would not include a product so unknown in the west until soy milk’s introduction to the U.S. market in 1979.
Do not let the use of milk-based products through you off just yet. From Bombadil’s relationship to animals, primarily that of Fatty Lumpkin and the hobbits’ ponies, we can glean that Tom and Goldberry were extremely kind to all animals, including any cows or goats that lived free in their realm. Because these were free range animals under the loving and magical care of Tom, this offense may be pardonable.
As for the honeycomb, we know these can be harvested safely from bees without harming them or their hive. Again, on the assumption that Tom knows the benefits of bees for pollination and treats them with some love and kindness, the animals are not harmed in the process of gathering honeycomb without excess.
Another aspect of vegan living lies in choices for clothing and other products. From what we can gather from the clothes and sheets used in Bombadil’s home, most of these are seemingly of plant origins, though again Tolkien does not specify.
The articles not made of metal include: Two dresses for Goldberry, yellow boots, a blue coat, and a hat for Tom, as well as green clothes and stockings, soft green slippers for the hobbits, and soft bedsheets.
We have several options that potentially could supply the fiber for these products, but I feel the two most likely candidates, due to the environment that spans Tom’s realm, are flax and wool.
Flax comes from the stems of the plant linum usitatissimum, and is used mainly to make linen. The plant has been used for fiber production since prehistoric times, and grows best at northern temperate latitudes, where moderately moist summers.
A rainy forest with a river in the temperate climate of northern Middle-Earth seems to fit this description. The hobbits note the cold fog of the barrows and the Old Forest, making the place ideal for flax to grow.
Consider also what Tom is doing by the river; he is harvesting flowers. Clearly, Tom is a man who knows plants and flowers, and has knowledge of the terrain and what grows within it.
While these lilies he collected are for Goldberry, no doubt he could harvest a great deal of other herbs and stems either from their garden or the river bank.
Additionally, Frodo describes Goldberry as “a fair young elf-queen clad in living flowers.” He also notes that flowers adorn her belt and hair. This familiarity with flowers and its incorporation in their garb indicates a strong connection with the natural uses of plants within their home.
The other candidate is of course wool from sheep. Tom does note in his recollection of the past from chapter VII that the men of the barrow-downs, likely ancient kings of the west, did raise sheep among the grasses.
He also notes that these sheep remained there after the kingdoms of men had fallen, but then further explains that “soon the hills were empty again.” This leads to the introduction of Barrow-wights, which I doubt would be accommodating to sheep herds.
We must also consider the space and amounts needed for wool production that would meet the needs of Tom and Goldberry, who clearly have both the space and the requisite materials to produce a wide wardrobe as well as multiple beds and sheets.
Sheep can produce anywhere from 2 to 30 lbs. of wool per year. While the U.K. has over 200 breeds of sheep, Tolkien was most likely familiar with the Romney breed of sheep, used for both wool and meat, with ancestry tracing back to Kent, in the area just south of London. A mature Romney ram can produce approximately 22 lbs. of wool, of which about three quarters are salvageable.
With Tom and Goldberry’s current living situation, we can assume their borders do not extend far beyond the barrow-downs or the Brandywine River. As such, the only suitable environment in that region for sheep would be on the barrow-downs or north of the road to Bree.
We’ve already discussed the problems associated with the barrow-downs, and we know that Tom, from his own explanation, remains within his own realm and does not use the road, cutting instead through the Old Forest or potentially on the Withywindle to the Brandywine to visit his friend Farmer Maggot.
Of course, it is possible to have a small group, consisting of only a few sheep, in the Old Forest, but grazing would become a significant issue. Then there’s production.
Unlike a cow or goat’s milk, the amount of wool needed for two people’s larger wardrobes plus additional products would take years to produce from one ram.
We’re talking about 16 lbs. of wool usable by Goldberry to work with for a single year, which would be spun into yarn. The amount of yarn depends on the thickness and style of the spinning. Traditionally, a single garment made from yarn approximately translates to 4 lbs. of wool needed.
So, between the coats, slippers, sheets, boost, dresses, and the like, Goldberry would need approximately 208 lbs. of grease wool, conservatively. This means a single mature Romney ram would take 13 years just to produce the items Tolkien mentions in this chapter belonging to Tom and Goldberry.
Considering Romney sheep live about 6-11 years, it would definitely take multiple sheep over time to produce the needed wool, even with natural life increase from the love and care of Tom.
Comparing this to the almost infinite potential to grow flax throughout the forest, flax would most likely have the upper hand on production.
Thus we can conclude that, under these circumstances, Tom and Goldberry are in fact living a successful vegan lifestyle.
A Champion for the Ages
With the evidence reviewed, it becomes clear to me that Tom is not just a meta-hipster vegan. He is the meta-hipster vegan. He is the champion you may or may not have been looking for.
He is the leader, the model, the application, the perfect scenario for the movement. He is the feature all millennial purists and dietary participants long for on a shirt or a poster. Embrace your new champion, for he is Tom Bombadil, and he is master.
And the best part about all this? Tom probably won’t care.