Tom Bombadil, cut from Lord of the Rings movies, to step out in Rings of Power

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is doing what no Lord of the Rings adaptation has done before: putting Tom Bombadil in the thing.

Rory Kinnear (Black Mirror) will play the puissant and pacifistic character in season 2 of the Prime Video series, Vanity Fair revealed on Wednesday. With a few months ahead of its Aug. 29 premiere date, showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay were ready to explain how and why they brought the oft-overlooked Tolkien character to the screen.

To fans of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Tom Bombadil is divisive out of proportion to his prominence. The linchpin of a three-chapter digression early in the pages of The Fellowship of the Ring, Tom rescues Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin from an intelligent and malicious tree known as Old Man Willow and takes them back to his house to meet his wife. But also, he’s apparently so powerful that the One Ring has no effect on him.

Tom is neither hobbit nor human, nor dwarven, nor elven. He says that he’s older than the existence of rivers, and trees, and paths. Though he has Gandalf’s deep respect, he’s not a wizard, and aside from saving the hobbits’ lives a couple times, he has no interest in weighing in on the Ring Quest. But also he’s cheerful, has a big bushy beard, wears a funny hat, and he constantly spouts almost nonsensical rhyming couplets.

It’s that mystery and dichotomy that made Payne and McKay interested in bringing him into The Rings of Power, despite his canonical appearances being limited to those few chapters in The Fellowship of the Ring.

“Tom Bombadil is singing and saying lines that could be nursery rhymes from children’s poems,” Payne told Vanity Fair. “So he sort of defies the tonal shift of the rest of the season and is a real point of light amidst an otherwise sea of darkness.”

Payne and McKay’s Bombadil is concerned with the fate of natural life on Middle-earth: “In our story, he has gone out to the lands of Rhûn,” said Payne, “which we learn used to be sort of Edenic and green and beautiful, but now is sort of a dead wasteland.” This isn’t a big stretch for a figure who soothes angry trees and married the daughter of a river, but in Rings of Power, he’ll drop some cryptically-put advice to Stranger, who may or may not be an amnesiac Gandalf, instead of a group of hobbits.

“He nudges the Stranger along his journey, which he knows will eventually protect the larger natural world that he cares about. So I’d say our Tom Bombadil is slightly more interventionist than you see in the books, but only by 5% or 10%,” Payne said.

For decades, casual readers have puzzled over Tom’s place in the Lord of the Rings, but the truth is that the character is something of a relic of the origin of Tolkien’s high fantasy trilogy as a simple sequel to his episodic adventure for children, The Hobbit. Tolkien wrote Tom, a figure originally invented to entertain his children, into the story before he had even conceived of Aragorn’s kingly destiny, or that Sauron was the ultimate antagonist, or that Frodo’s name shouldn’t be “Bingo Baggins.”

So why did Tom stay in, through all processes of revision?

“Tom Bombadil is not an important person — to the narrative,” Tolkien once wrote to his proofreader for The Lord of the Rings. “I suppose he has some importance as a ‘comment.’ I mean, I do not really write like that… He represents something that I feel important, though I would not be prepared to analyze the feeling precisely.”

Tolkien was an academic specializing in Old English and Scandinavian languages, one who held a lifelong fascination for the folklore, mythology, legends, and epic poetry of those regions. His fiction is a constant mix and remix of stories he invented for his children, fairy tales, Norse myth, Arthuriana, epic poetry like Beowulf, and other references, allusions, and motifs familiar pretty much only to other academics in his field.

Tom Bombadil began as a cameo for his children, but he stayed in the story because he made it feel more like Tolkien’s favorite kind of stories. Tolkien just liked what Tom Bombadil contributed to the vibe — and so does The Rings of Power, apparently.