Professor J.R.R. Tolkien was many things. A historian, a philologist, a poet, an academic—and above all, a creator. He filled his fantastical, fictional world called Middle-earth with magic both literal and literary, with wonders both great and small. There are everyday heroes and there are all-powerful wizards; majestic towers and simple countrysides. It’s these juxtapositions that make his works so memorable, along with his beloved, heroic, and whimsical characters.
And none are so whimsical as that rascal Tom Bombadil. If you’re a movie-only fan, you might not be familiar with that name. Peter Jackson famously axed the character from his film trilogy, for reasons that make plenty of sense when you consider pacing and tone. Tom Bombadil is certainly not the most necessary character in The Lord of the Rings, but he is one that stands out to book readers. Because there’s no forgetting Tom Bombadil once you’ve encountered him.
Fans eager for a live-action look at this enigmatic character might finally get their wish this year. Amazon’s The Rings of Power comes out this September and it could introduce us to an onscreen version of Bombadil. But before we get into pure speculation, let’s take a look at Tom Bombadil as he appears in Tolkien’s books. Then we’ll talk about his other notable onscreen appearances, and why he’d make a great addition to the new TV series.
Who is Tom Bombadil?
Readers will recognize Tom Bombadil as the lively character who saves Merry and Pippin from Old Man Willow in the Old Forest. The Hobbits trek through the legendary wood in The Fellowship of the Ring when they encounter Tom, who is neither man nor Hobbit nor any other determinable creature in Tolkien’s universe (called Arda). Indeed, given what he tells the Hobbits, he may in fact be the oldest living being in Middle-earth and therefore all of Arda.
“Eldest, that’s what I am… Tom remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn… He knew the dark under the stars when it was fearless – before the Dark Lord came from Outside.”
Tom takes the Hobbits into his home, nestled in the heart of the Old Forest—east of the Shire and near the Barrow-downs—where they meet his wife, Goldberry. He is a jolly fellow, prone to song, and appears as a wildly bearded old man wearing a blue jacket and hat and large yellow boots. Most delightfully, he’s also the owner of a pony named Fatty Lumpkin. But his merry exterior is deceiving, for Tom Bombadil is as powerful as they come; arguably more powerful than Gandalf or even Sauron.
How do we know this? Aside from his ability to command Old Man Willow, his Earthy affinity for the land around him, and the breadth of history in his songs, Tom is also immune to the power of the One Ring. Frodo even lets him wear it, but it doesn’t make Tom disappear, as it does all other wearers. When Frodo wears the Ring in his presence, Tom claims he can see him, despite his invisibility to all others. But even though he pays no real mind to the Ring’s allure, he does seem aware of its powers, telling Frodo he should remove it as his hand is fairer without it.
Tom saves the Hobbits a few more times (and receives more ponies as a reward) and comes up at the Council of Elrond, where the council briefly considers letting him have the Ring. (Elrond, the elf ruler, claims he knew Tom long ago.) But other than that, he has no major lasting effect on the story. He is merely one jovial anecdote in Frodo’s odyssey to Mount Doom.
Where have we seen him before?
It’s clear why Peter Jackson cut Tom Bombadil from his cinematic trilogy. Like we just said, Tom has no real bearing on the story. There is a quick nod to Old Man Willow in the extended editions of The Fellowship of the Ring, but other than that, Tom’s presence is fully absent.
However, if you’re a Lord of the Rings movie completionist, you’ve seen Tom Bombadil in other film versions. He appears in the 1971 Swedish adaptation, Sagan om Ringen, where he’s the same size as the Hobbits, for some reason or another. In the 1991 USSR adaptation Khraniteli—which made its way online in 2021—Tom is now not only not Hobbit-sized… he’s a full-blown giant. He appears again in the 1993 Finnish film Hobitit, sans whimsy. He’s actually kind of scary in this one.
Why should he appear in The Rings of Power?
As you can see, there’s yet to be a really definitive onscreen version of Tom Bombadil. (No offense to the aforementioned titles, which did the best they could with limited budgets.) But Amazon’s The Rings of Power would be the perfect place to bring him to life. Tom was alive and in Middle-earth in the Second Age, where the series is set. And because Tom appears in The Lord of the Rings, he’s a part of Amazon’s rights package from the Tolkien estate.
Tom is a little like Yoda in Star Wars. George Lucas famously gave us very little information about his wizened green Jedi, preferring to leave his origins a mystery. Tolkien did the same with Tom Bombadil. Is he an Ainur, one of the angelic beings who shaped Middle-earth? Or is he Eru Ilúvatar himself—the God of this universe, disguised in human form? We’ll never know Tolkien’s intentions, but just as The Mandalorian sheds more light on Yoda’s race, The Rings of Power could give us more about Tom Bombadil’s origins. And because the series isn’t a direct adaptation of a single book or story, there’s plenty of room to take some liberties—so long as they don’t stray too far from Tolkien’s word.
Who could play him?
Tolkien fans are clever beings and already have some ideas about who could play Tom Bombadil in The Rings of Power. One theory posited by TikTok user @donmarshall72—known on the platform as “Obscure Lord of the Rings Facts Guy”—is that Joseph Mawle is Tom. He sites an alleged leak from Fellowship of Fans that claims Mawle, who we know will appear in the show, is playing a character named Adar. (Fellowship of Fans correctly leaked Morfydd Clark as Galadriel and Robert Aramayo as Elrond, so they have some credibility here.)
Adar means father in Elvish and in the books, the elves called Tom Iarwain Ben-adar. That repetition of Adar doesn’t seem like a coincidence, but it very well could be. In the original Deadline report announcing Mawle’s casting, they say he’s playing a villain named Oren. Tom Bombadil is far from a villain, so unless they were being totally deceiving, it’s probably not him.
However, the character posters Amazon released ahead of the show’s trailer could also show Bombadil. Some suspect this one of a dirty hand holding an apple is Tom. Amazon confirmed the person in this poster is actor David Weyman, playing someone known as “The Stranger,” who Vanity Fair says is a central mystery in the show. Is Amazon obscuring the real identity of this character because it’s a fun reveal like Tom Bombadil? Could be! However, it’s just as likely Weyman is another familiar character in a different form. (The apple makes us think of the witch from Snow White in disguise; could this actually be Sauron?) Another poster shows someone dressed in a blue cloak holding a wooden weapon of sorts. Maybe this is Tom?
We don’t know for sure if Tom Bombadil is indeed in The Rings of Power or who is playing him if he is, but it’s fun to speculate for now. We’ll continue holding out hope for our jolly, bearded, pony-owning, yellow-booted fave until September.