This was the thought which popped, quite unbidden, into my consciousness the other day while I was vacuuming. (A task I frankly loathe, but decades ago, my wife and I divided up that part of household chores… she chose the wet cleaning, and I chose the dry. Note to youngsters: of such equitable divisions of labour are sound marriages made.) Now, I’ve no idea how or why this very random --- and very odd --- snippet wormed its way up through the vaults of thought, but, like most writers, I’ve come to expect and encourage such snippets when engaged in purely mechanical endeavours. Most of the time, they’re nothing if not entertaining, and sometimes, they’re actually useful with regards to writing.
Of course, you know Tom Bombadil. From J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings (LOTR). What? You don’t know Tom Bombadil? Minor Character Extraordinaire? But… oh, wait, I know: you only watched Peter Jackson’s film version of the tale, didn’t you? You heathen. You Didn’t Read The Book, did you? he said, pointing an accusing finger of condemnation. Sigh. No, Tom Bombadil wasn’t in the film version. Jackson cut him out because he felt Bombadil did nothing to advance the plot. Which, on one level is true, but on others, not. We can discuss that later… or another time.
Anyway. Tom Bombadil appears early on in The Fellowship of the Ring, which is the first book of the trilogy. He’s humanoid, and lives in a very old, first growth forest called (surprise!) The Old Forest. Tolkien does a marvelous job describing this shaggy, overgrown aggregation of trees and other miscellaneous foliage, where the trees are unsettlingly self-aware --- in fact, one in particular, an old willow tree called (surprise!) Old Man Willow, is downright malevolent, and traps our redoubtable hobbits, who have been traversing The Old Forest in an attempt to avoid the agents of evil hot on their trail. Tom Bombadil shows up in the nick of time to save our hobbits from a gruesomely woody death, and then takes them home with him to meet the missus, a water sprite named (surprise --- no, really) Goldberry. They stay at Bombadil’s house for a couple of days before continuing on their journey.
If none of this is (a) familiar to you or (b) rocking your world right now, the main thing you need to take away from it all is that Tom Bombadil doesn’t venture beyond the borders of The Old Forest. Ever. It’s like that’s his quarantine bubble, and he absolutely refuses to travel outside it. Given that there’s no pandemic raging in the rest of Middle Earth (nothing, either along prosaic Covid lines or anything more florid, like Poe’s The Red Death), we’re not really sure why he draws this line. He doesn’t say, and Tolkien never explains Tom’s travel reluctance. Visa problems? Surly border guards? Poor airline food? We don’t know, and Tom ain’t sayin’.
Now, the Bombadil analogy to our current collective situation will only stretch so far… after all, most people don’t particularly want to be quarantined on home turf. But Tom is, in a sense, self-isolating… not from a virus, just presumably from a plague of negativity and evil. (Introverted writers don’t count in this whole thing… we’re the people who feel like we’ve been training for lockdown our entire lives. Oh, please, Br’er Fox, don’t make us stay at home to write in the peace and quiet!) In fact, most of our population is going a little squirrelly --- which is about the politest I can be --- regarding lockdowns and restrictions. In fact, it really does make me despair about the capacity of the human race to solve other major problems confronting our survival as a species. I mean, we can’t even all agree that wearing a small piece of cloth on our faces is a good thing. Or that staying home will save lives. Or so will vaccinations. No, no, we’ve got to rant and rave and froth and bubble about freedom (most people don’t, apparently, understand what it's really all about --- they think it’s just having all the cookies and eating them whenever you want… without having to share) and individual liberties and crackpot conspiracy theories and lions and tigers and bears, oh my. Sigh. I think we could do with more Tom Bombadil in our world today: he’s content where he is, doesn’t let the cares of the world get to him, enjoys and appreciates his beautiful wife, and, basically, doesn’t sweat the small stuff. Or the big stuff, come to that. And he seems to understand what so many people do not: that nothing lasts forever. I’m sure that one day, he’ll look around those shaggy old trees and decide it's time for a wee bit of a stroll beyond those (admittedly self-imposed) boundaries; that whatever it is that’s made him self-quarantine all this time is no longer a threat, and a boat cruise down the Anduin sounds just about right.
So chill, people. Just try pulling together for the common good.
For a change.