Tom Bombadil, Evolution, and Useless Knowledge

In a letter answering a number of questions by Peter Hastings, Tolkien explains why he included Tom Bombadil in his Lord of the Rings. The story of Tom is delightful, but Tom is an enigma—not a wizard, elf, or man. And because he has nothing to do with the rest of the war of the ring and greater drama he seems irrelevant. Tolkien describes Tom thus:

He is master in a peculiar way: he has no fear, and no desire of possession or domination at all. He merely knows and understands about such things as concern him in his natural little realm. . . .[He is] a particular embodying of pure (real) natural science: the spirit that desires knowledge of other things, their history and nature, because they are ‘other’ and wholly independent of the enquiring mind, a spirit coeval with the rational mind, and entirely unconcerned with ‘doing’ anything with the knowledge: Zoology and Botany not Cattle-breeding or Agriculture. Letter 153

Tom is able to handle the ring of power without any effect at all. Later when someone suggests giving the ring to Bombadil for safe keeping, Gandalf says this would be dangerous because Tom might lose it because to him it would have no value. Tom’s power is the power of selfless love that seeks to understand (stand under) rather than have power over.

But notice that Tolkien argues for a non-technological approach to science: one which seeks pure understanding. I recently had a long talk with a biology professor about the evolutionary model of speciation. Since I was the English teacher, I asked many specific questions about the beaks of finches on the Galapagos Islands and what biological definition of species was used in the study of finch speciation on the islands. The more my questions focused on actual empirically established facts, the less the finches on this island supported a Darwinian theory of speciation. At the end of the conversation, my colleague agreed that what was called speciation on the Galapagos Islands had not been observed—but we may have observed the mechanism we assume leads to speciation. He agreed that the finches, despite what textbooks say, do not present observable proof of evolution.

I believe that evolution is an explanatory theory imposed on observations, not born of observations. I told my colleague that I was too scientifically skeptical to accept Darwinism. I love science, but seek like Tom Bombadil to simply understand what is—not to chop, stretch, and mangle facts to fit a theory.

About Mark

I live in Myrtle Point, Oregon with my wife Teckla and am the father of four boys. Currently I teach writing and literature at Southwest Oregon Community College. I am a graduate of Myrtle Point High School, Northwest Nazarene College, and have a Masters in English from Washington State University.
This entry was posted in Oyan, Tolkien. Bookmark the permalink.