The NEW Timebenders Books are coming!

Battle Before Time

For the past few weeks, I have been working closely with my new publisher, Greenbrier Book Company of North Carolina, to bring back my Timebenders science-fiction adventure series for young readers. I am revising and updating each book, and my friends at Greenbrier are repackaging these tales as ebooks with stunning new covers. They will be available in all popular ebook formats.

After more than a decade, I finally feel these books are exactly as I want them. I am extremely grateful to my Greenbrier publishers, Ron and Janet Benrey, for producing these new and improved editions of my Timebenders series. Very soon, I’ll be announcing the release of the first two books in the series, Timebenders Book 1: Battle before Time and Timebenders Book 2: Doorway to Doom. And just look at these incredible covers!

Doorway to Doom

Within a few weeks, I’ll also be announcing the release of the next two books in the series, Timebenders Book 3: Invasion of the Time Troopers and Timebenders Book 4: Lost in Cydonia. And after that, who knows? I have a lot of ideas for future Timebenders books on the drawing board.

Please help me spread the word through word of mouth, Facebook, and Twitter. Tell other young readers and parents about the thrilling new Timebenders books from Greenbrier Book Company.

And please write to me. Post your comments right here at my Timebenders blog. Tell me what you think of the Timebenders books. If you’re interested in writing books and stories, send me your questions. Let’s get acquainted.

I’m looking forward to hearing from you.


The Enigma of Tom Bombadil in The Lord of the Rings (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1.

The true nature and identity of Tom Bombadil is a mystery even to scholars and fans of The Lord of the Rings. Some have suggested that he is one of the Valar, the Powers of the World, the rulers who were sent to Eä (the universe) by Eru Ilúvatar. Possibly so. It’s clear that the jolly, silly, carefree Tom Bombadil persona serves to disguise a deeper, wiser, more powerful reality than Tom lets on. Tolkien isn’t telling, and we can never know for sure.

Tolkien in 1916

We do know that Tom’s stature as a mythic figure grew in the telling. Tolkien originally conceived Tom Bombadil as a having a smaller role and lesser significance in a planned sequel to The Hobbit—the role of a mere forest sprite or spirit. In a 1937 letter, Tolkien pondered whether “Tom Bombadil, the spirit of the (vanishing) Oxford and Berkshire countryside, could be made into the hero of a story.” As Tolkien’s vision for The Lord of the Rings grew, so did the stature—and mystery—of Tom Bombadil.

As filmmaker Peter Jackson demonstrated, you can advance the storyline of Tolkien’s tale quite economically by leaving Tom out. But in doing so, you lose something that is very important to the tale—and to Tolkien. As Tolkien himself wrote in a 1954 letter, Tom Bombadil “represents something that I feel important.” I believe Tom represents an elusive but crucial piece of Tolkien’s Christian worldview.My purpose here is not to pin down Tom Bombadil’s precise identity in Tolkien’s legendarium. Instead, I want to talk about Tom Bombadil’s unique place in Tolkien’s spiritual vision. The worldview, structure, and themes of The Lord of the Rings are drenched in Christian memes. So here is my theory about Tom:I believe Tom Bombadil represents the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity in Christian belief. If Eru Ilúvatar, “The One, the Father of All,” is an echo of God the Father, and if Gandalf, Frodo and Strider are echoes of Christ as Prophet, Priest, and King, then there must be, embedded in The Lord of the Rings, an echo of the Holy Spirit’s influence.

Like the Holy Spirit, Tom possesses an irresistible power and authority, including authority over the created order (see Genesis 1:2). Tom brings comfort and wise counsel to the hobbits, much as the Holy Spirit, our all-wise Comforter who speaks healing to our souls (John 14:26). The Spirit calms our fears and brings us joy and peace. He refreshes us when we feel exhausted, gives us sound guidance and advice, and reminds us to avoid evil. These are all ministries that Tom performed among the hobbits.

The Spirit is God, so He is rightfully the Eldest, who was here before all things. The Spirit knew the dark under the stars before fear came into the world. The Spirit knows all things before they come to pass. Nothing catches the Spirit by surprise. We can conceal nothing from the Spirit, and sin (like the Ring) is no match for the power of the Spirit. We can’t hide from the Spirit, and He rescues us when we call to Him.

Perhaps the most important parallel is this: The Holy Spirit gives us gifts. Tom Bombadil echoes the Spirit by giving gifts to the hobbits. Tom gives them ponies, and he also gives them daggers from the Barrow-wights’ treasure horde. The daggers have blades that “seemed untouched by time, unrusted, sharp, glittering in the sun.” The daggers are swords for the hobbits to use for self-defense on their journey. “Old knives are long enough as swords for hobbit-people,” Tom tells them. “Sharp blades are good to have.”

Clearly, the hobbits don’t fully appreciate the true nature of the battle they have joined. Tolkien writes, “Fighting had not before occurred to any of them as one of the adventures in which their flight would land them.” This echoes our own obliviousness to the spiritual battle of this life. As Paul writes, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12 NIV).

And how does the Holy Spirit arm us for spiritual warfare? The same way Tom Bombadil armed the hobbits: with a sword. Paul writes: “Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17 NIV). And Hebrews 4:12 also compares God’s Word to a sword: “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

Tom’s gift of the ponies enables the hobbits to carry out their mission more effectively. The ponies remind us of the gifts of ministry that the Spirit gives to believers, as described in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, and elsewhere.

The God-likeness of Tom Bombadil is reinforced by Goldberry. When Frodo asks her, “Tell me, if my asking does not seem foolish, who is Tom Bombadil?,” she replies simply, “He is.” That is clearly a parallel to God’s own statement about himself, “I Am that I Am” (see Exodus 3:14).

In all of these ways, Tom Bombadil is an echo of the Holy Spirit. Is Tom an allegory of the Holy Spirit? No. Tolkien disliked and distrusted allegory. Symbolic characters in The Lord of the Rings offer a resonance of a deeper reality, but they are not intended to teach Bunyanesque lessons.

At the Council of Elrond, we hear many things about Tom Bombadil that are both like and unlike the ministry of the Spirit. Like the Spirit, Tom has set the boundaries of his realm and will not step over them. The Spirit is a still, small voice who invites us to follow Christ—but the Spirit respects human free will and will not step over that boundary.

House at 20 Northmoor Road, Oxford, England, where Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings

But at the Council there are things said about Tom that directly contradict the idea that he is a symbolic echo of the Spirit. First, Gandalf says that Tom would be “a most unsafe guardian” of the Ring, and “would soon forget it, or most likely throw it away.” That certainly doesn’t sound like the Spirit! Second, the elf Glorfindel says that Tom would ultimately fall to the onslaught of the Enemy—”Last as he was First; and then Night will come.” Clearly, the Holy Spirit could never be overcome by the evil of the Enemy.

So these descriptions of Tom at the Council of Elrond seem to undermine my theory that Tom represents the Holy Spirit. I see two possible explanations for this contradiction:

1.  In Tolkien’s mind, Gandalf and Glorfindel might simply have been wrong about Tom. They might not have recognized the true depths of Tom Bombadil’s power and wisdom. But I think this explanation is unlikely. It’s hard to imagine that Gandalf could have misread Tom so completely. I think the likelier explanation is:

2. Here is where the similarities between Tom and the Holy Spirit end. Tom is not an allegorical figure. He echoes some aspects of the Spirit—but not all. At some point, the analogy must fail. Tom is a character of fiction after all. Tolkien didn’t intend to teach us about God through Tom and the other God-like characters. He intended to connect with something we already know about God, so that these characters would have greater depth and resonance than mere words on a page. He was tapping into our consciousness of God.

I’m not sure that Tolkien consciously and deliberately created Tom with all of these echoes and resonances of the Holy Spirit. Some of these symbolic parallels may have originated in a subconscious act of the author’s creativity and imagination, infused by his faith. In The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, the author wrote that Tom Bombadil “represents something that I feel important, though I would not be prepared to analyse the feeling precisely. . . . Even in a mythical age there must be some enigmas, as there always are. Tom Bombadil is one (intentionally).”

As I was writing my Timebenders series (beginning with Battle Before Time), I often discovered spiritual symbols and parallels in the work only after I had written it. I didn’t always consciously intend for this event or that character to stand for something larger.  But later—sometimes years later—I would reread the story and discover what my subconscious imagination had been up to while hiding from my conscious intellect. I’m sure Tolkien must have had similar experiences again and again.

I was very impressed with the Peter Jackson film version of The Lord of the Rings—but I did miss Tom Bombadil. The enigma of Tom Bombadil is a crucial dimension of Tolkien’s original story. Tom gives us a glimpse into the underlying spiritual reality of the War of the Ring. Without Tom, without that still small voice of the Spirit infusing the earth and air and water of Middle Earth, something doesn’t quite ring true.

Much of the power of Tolkien’s story comes from the fact that it feels like it is also our story—the story of spiritual warfare in the real world, the story of a struggle that is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, authorities, and powers of this dark world, and against the forces of evil in the heavenly realms. The enigmatic Tom Bombadil is an irreplaceable part of The Lord of the Rings. Tom visibly represents that invisible Presence, the Holy Spirit, whose still, small voice speaks softly to us throughout the tale, and throughout our lives.

The Enigma of Tom Bombadil in The Lord of the Rings (Part 1)

For years, I’ve been promising myself a return trip to Middle Earth. It’s been at least fifteen years since I’ve read The Lord Of The Rings. Too long. Well, a couple of weeks ago, I finally took Volume One down from my shelf and began re-reading.

It’s been a long time since I last viewed the Peter Jackson film trilogy, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that I am still able to visualize the story through the lens of my own imagination, not the movie images. I still see the characters and scenes as I remember them from my first reading of the book when I was a teenager.

The Adventures of Tom Bombadil

The Adventures of Tom Bombadil

My latest trip through Middle Earth is doubly enjoyable because I am reunited with one of my favorite Tolkien characters, Tom Bombadil, who was unfortunately omitted from the film version. I’ve always thought it was a mistake for Jackson to leave Tom Bombadil out of the movie.

Though many people think of Tom Bombadil as a minor supporting character in The Lord Of The Rings, he is actually the key to understanding Tolkien’s worldview—a worldview that saturates every page of the trilogy. Tom is character of great symbolic and spiritual depth.

I’m not saying that Tolkien’s intentions are allegorical. Far from it. Tolkien himself once wrote, “I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence.” In other words, Tolkien disliked stories in which various characters and story elements are mere symbols intended to teach the reader some sort of lesson.

When Tolkien stated his dislike of allegory, I’m sure he had in mind stories like Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, in which the protagonist (named Christian) journeys toward the Celestial City (heaven), carrying a heavy burden (sin), and meets various characters along the way with names like Evangelist, Obstinate, Pliable, Help, Mr. Worldly Wiseman, Mr. Legality, and on and on. Tolkien’s close friend, C. S. Lewis, captured Tolkien’s viewpoint in a December 7, 1929, letter, saying that some of Tolkien’s early material (which later evolved into the Rings trilogy) had “mythical value: the essence of myth being that it should have no taint of allegory to the maker and yet should suggest incipient allegories to the reader.”

As a mythmaker and storyteller, Tolkien knew that his first duty was to tell his tale and captivate the reader. There is not a single sentence in the entire three-volume work that is deliberately intended to teach the reader a lesson. Yet, as you read, you encounter, again and again, images, phrases, snatches of dialogue that have “the ring of truth.” These story elements touch our souls as glimpses of an underlying truth—but never as a “lesson” or “the moral to the story.” These glimpses never intrude on our enjoyment of the tale. If we fail to recognize them, no matter—the story still enthralls. If we catch Tolkien’s deeper meaning, our reading experience is that much richer.

So I’m not suggesting that Tom Bombadil is an allegorical figure, or that The Lord Of The Rings as an allegory at all. Yes, there is Christ imagery in The Lord Of The Rings, and it is resonates powerfully in the Christian soul. In fact, the tale contains not one Christ figure, but three: Gandalf the Grey, Frodo Baggins, and Aragorn (Strider). These three figures resonate with the three biblical roles of Jesus Christ—prophet, priest, and king—and each of these figures undergoes a symbolic death and resurrection.

Gandalf represents Christ the prophet. He is the one who understands Deep Wisdom. Like the prophets of the Bible, he is not as much concerned with foretelling the future as with “telling forth” the deep truths that Frodo and the rest of the Fellowship of the Ring need to know. Like Christ, Gandalf sacrifices himself for his friends in the mines of Moria—and later rises again, changed and glorified.

Frodo represents Christ the priest. He is the Christ figure who carries the sin of the world—the Ring. As Christ bore the cross along the Via Dolorosa, Frodo the Ring-bearer carries the crushing weight of the Ring. He takes the Ring to the gates of hell itself, the Cracks of Doom. As Christ defeated sin on the cross, Frodo succeeds in unmaking the Ring. Frodo even undergoes death (after his battle with the giant spider Shelob) and resurrection. In the end, Frodo experiences an ascension into Paradise when he sails with the elves to Valinor, the Undying Lands.

Aragorn represents Christ the King. The third volume of the Rings trilogy, The Return of the King, is named for Aragorn. He is a king who, like Christ, has left his kingdom and is destined, according to prophecy, to return and regain his throne. In Aragorn, there’s a resonance of the second coming of Christ. There is also a scene in which Aragorn descends into “hell” in order to find the ghostly Dead Men of Dunharrow.

Is there a being in The Lord of the Rings that corresponds to God the Father or God the Creator? Yes. He is known as Eru Ilúvatar (which means in Elvish, “The One, the Father of All”). He is a remote presence, rarely referred to in The Lord of the Rings, yet there is a sense in which the divine will and providence of Eru Ilúvatar weaves its way throughout the story, influencing events in the same way that the divine will of God the Father shapes human history. While God and Eru Ilúvatar both respect human free will, both are sovereign over history, and their purposes cannot be thwarted, either by Satan or by the Dark Lord.

That brings us back to Tom Bombadil. If you’ve read the trilogy, you remember that Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin meet Tom Bombadil in the Old Forest when he rescues them from the evil tree spirit, Old Man Willow. He later rescues them again from the zombie-like Barrow-wights. Tom Bombadil also appears in a 1962 book of poems called The Adventures of Tom Bombadil.

Tolkien originally envisioned Tom as a merry nature spirit of the Old Forest and River—whimsical, carefree, and untouched by the cares and evils of the world. Yet Tom also possesses an irresistible power and authority. Old Man Willow and the Barrow-wights fear the power of his voice. At his command, evil creatures retreat from him. Called the “Master of wood, water, and hill,” Tom is married to Goldberry, the River-woman’s daughter. He speaks in a poetic meter, so that his dialogue lilts with a song-like rhythm.

After rescuing Frodo and the other hobbits, Tom feeds and shelters them for two nights. On the first night, Tom tells them stories, sings songs to them, and gives them advice. When he speaks to them, they lose all sense of time and experience a soul-deep healing. Tom calms their fears and tells them, “Have peace now.” He brings them joy, saying, “Let us now laugh and be glad!” As Frodo listens to Tom, time passes without any sense of feeling hungry or tired—only a sense of wonder.

At one point, Frodo asks, “Who are you, Master?” Tom replies, in part: “Eldest, that’s what I am. . . . Tom was here before the river and the trees; Tom remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn. He made paths before the Big People, and saw the Little People arriving. He was here before the Kings and the graves and the Barrow-wights. When the Elves passed westward, Tom was here already, before the seas were bent. He knew the dark under the stars when it was fearless—before the Dark Lord came from Outside.”

In an understated way, Tolkien makes it clear that Tom’s meeting and rescue of the hobbits was not a chance encounter. Tom clearly expected the four hobbits—though we are not told how he knew they were coming. It’s clear that Tom expected them because, on the hobbits’ first night in his house, Tom takes them to their guest bedroom, opens the door—and there are four beds already made up and waiting for them, with a pair of slippers beside each bed. Even before their arrival, Tom had prepared a place for each hobbit.

There’s a significant moment near the end of Book I, Chapter 7, where Tom questions Frodo about his travels, and Frodo finds he can conceal nothing from Tom. Frodo finds himself telling Tom more about his own hopes and fears than he has even told his friend Gandalf. Then Tom suddenly commands, “Show me the precious Ring!” Frodo, to his astonishment, finds Tom’s command irresistible: he takes out the Ring and hands it over.

Tom places the Ring on his own finger—yet the Ring has no effect on Tom. It doesn’t make him invisible as it would anyone else. In fact, Tom spins the Ring in the air, and the Ring vanishes with a flash. When Frodo is alarmed at the disappearance of the Ring, Tom makes it reappear and gives it to Frodo. Then Frodo, to make sure it’s the actual Ring, slips it on his finger and becomes invisible to everyone—except Tom.

Why does the Ring have no effect on Tom Bombadil? The Ring does not stir Tom to desire its power—an influence that the Ring has on everyone else, even the Christ-figures, Gandalf, Frodo and Strider/Aragorn. Just as the humanity of Christ was tested in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11) and the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-44), the three Christ-figures were tested by the Ring—and they passed the test. But Tom Bombadil, who calls himself the “Eldest,” and who “remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn,” is completely beyond the Ring’s power and influence. He is neither tested nor tempted by the Ring.

Before sending the hobbits on their way, Tom gives them sound, biblical advice to not be afraid, but to avoid evil. And he gives them a rhyme to sing if they fall into trouble. Tom promises to hear and come to their rescue. The hobbits later use this rhyme to summon Tom when they are captured by the Barrow-wights.

There’s a significant moment in Book II, Chapter 2, during the Council of Elrond in Rivendell. Elrond, the Elf Lord of Rivendell, calls Tom Bombadil by his ancient name, Iarwain Ben-adar, which means “oldest and fatherless.” He is “older than the old,” says Elrond.

When Erestor, Elrond’s chief counselor, suggests that Tom could help them because “he has a power even over the Ring,” Gandalf replies, “No, I should not put it so. Say rather that the Ring has no power over him. He is his own master. . . . [Tom] is withdrawn into a little land, within bounds that he has set, though none can see them, waiting perhaps for a change of days, and he will not step over them.”

Erestor observes that, within those bounds, “nothing seems to dismay him.” So why not give the Ring to Tom and let him keep it there, “for ever harmless”?

Gandalf rejects the idea. If Tom were given the Ring, Gandalf says, “he would soon forget it, or most likely throw it away. Such things have no hold on his mind. He would be a most unsafe guardian.”

Another elf, Glorfindel, adds his opinion that in the end, even Tom Bombadil would fall to the onslaught of the Enemy. “I think that in the end, if all else is conquered, Bombadil will fall, Last as he was First; and then Night will come.”

Who or what does Tom Bombadil—Iarwain Ben-adar, the oldest and fatherless—symbolize? Or should we avoid reading any hidden meaning into this character?

The answer will be revealed in Part 2.