My academic essay, “Who is Tom Bombadil? Interpreting the Light in Frodo Baggins and Tom Bombadil’s Role in the Healing of Traumatic Memory in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings,” now appears in The Journal of Tolkien Research 6 (2018): Iss. 1, Art. 1, 1-34.
In Rivendell, after Frodo has been attacked by Ringwraiths and is healing from the removal of the splinter from a Morgul-blade that had been making its way toward his heart, Gandalf regards Frodo and contemplates a “clear light” that is visible through Frodo to “eyes to see that can.” Samwise Gamgee later sees this light in Frodo when Frodo is resting in Ithilien. The first half of this essay considers questions about this light: how does Frodo become transparent, and why, and what is the nature of the light that fills him? As recourse to Tolkien’s letters shows, the light is related to the virtues of Frodo’s character: love, self-sacrifice, humility, perseverance. The light in Frodo also is related to the light in the Phial of Galadrial, which comes from the Earendil’s Silmaril set in the heavens above Middle-earth, which is called the Morning Star. Because “Morning Star” is a name for Jesus in the New Testament, the light within Frodo may be interpreted, symbolically, as the Christ-light.
The second half of this essay considers how this light was ignited in Frodo, specifically by asking: who is Tom Bombadil, and what does he have to do with the light inside of Frodo? The essay explores multiple explanations for the long-standing, critically-debated mystery of Tom Bombadil’s identity, ultimately showing that he must be interpreted at multiple levels of meaning simultaneously. Intriguingly, Tom Bombadil has parallels to the first Adam and the second Adam, Jesus, especially in his role as “Eldest” (or ab origine) and in his ability to bring light to Frodo in the grave of the barrow-wight, save him from death by his song, and heal him from spiritual “drowning” – a word that Tom uses to describe Frodo’s terrifying experience in the barrow and which relates to Frodo’s original childhood wound: the primal loss of his parents, who drowned in a tragic accident. When Frodo receives healing from this trauma, he is strengthened to endure what he later experiences on his quest to destroy the Ring.