Of all the chapters we have read so far, I was the most excited for my students to finally reach chapter 7-In the House of Tom Bombadil. While Peter Jackson’s omission of Tom was controversial for some Tolkien fans, many agreed that his presence is not essential to moving the story of the ring forward, therefore it was understandable why his character ended up on the cutting room floor. Neverthless, I still wanted to ask my students “where’s Tom?”
I had my students answer the following question: Was it a good idea or bad idea for Peter Jackson to omit Tom Bombadil from his film?
Nori– “I think it’s a bad idea to leave out Tom because if you put more characters in the movie it’s more fun and Tom sounds like a funny character.”
Gloin– “I think it’s a bad idea because Tolkien talks about Tom in the book, but Peter Jackson doesn’t put him in the movie.”
Balin– “I think it’s a bad idea to leave him out because Tom is funny and he plays with animals and loves nature.”
Bilbo– “No, because it’s not fair to leave any character out of the movie.”
Bifur– “I think it is a good idea that Peter J. took out Tom B. Then it will take more time to make the movie, but I think Tom is my best guy. I wish I could go to his house. That would be awesome!”
Kili– “Good idea because Tom doesn’t go on an adventure with the hobbits.”
Bofur– “Bad idea because Tom is so funny and a really good singer.”
Oin– “The answer is that movie-makers think that if they put everything from the book in the movie, then it will be just like re-reading the book. Tom is like a stupid clown anyways.”
While my students’ opinions on Tom’s absence seem to be evenly divided, they all agree he is a rather interesting character. Some who already know about Treebeard and the ents were able to see how Tom’s speeches about the destruction of forests are used as foreshadowing for events in Two Towers and Return of the King. We also briefly discussed Tolkien’s personal views on the conservation of land and his running theme of nature versus industry throughout Lord of the Rings. My students connected him to another British author, whose works they were familiar with, Beatrix Potter. When these students were much younger, we read all 23 of Miss Potter’s tales and learned about her great conservation efforts of The Lake District in England. They viewed her as an early environmentalist and saw how Tolkien’s views on conservation could be interpreted the same way, although both British authors held these views independent of a political movement.
My students immediately found Tom’s jolly personality and joyful singing very like-able qualities and were daring each other to not just read the songs as poetry, as they often do, but to actually sing them. They argued over who was the best singer to do the job and finally passed it to me, so I did my best to entertain them by setting the words to a few recognizable tunes. Tom’s chapter also led to some other music-making. When they read, “no one has ever caught old Tom walking in the forest, wading in the water”, they all began singing the spiritual Wade in the Water, which they had learned in music class this year. All the mention of food, prepared by Tom and Goldberry, whetted my students’ appetites and Ori, who was reading “Is that enough for us? Is the supper ready?” answered “Like, yes…of course, that’s enough food”, as if he were answering a rhetorical question.
While I wanted my students to focus on Tom, they seemed to be rather fixated with the character of Goldberry, river-daughter. Bilbo and Kili thought that perhaps she may be similar to Poseidon’s daughter, which made them think of Disney’s The Little Mermaid. This led Kili on a bit of a side-track, as she proceeded to list all the characters from that film, “Ariel was the little mermaid….and Sebastian was the crab…” , and needed a little bit of re-direction from myself and the other students to return her focus to Tolkien. Ori also got a little waylaid today when he became fascinated with the name Goldberry. When going through his steno pad at the end of class, I noticed he had written, “Goldberry is a weird name….in fact, all the names in this book are weird.” Then he drew a picture of a berry and wrote “In order to make gold-berries, follow these steps. Step 1: Get any kind of berries you want, I recommend strawberries. Step 2: Get gold. Step 3: Melt the gold. Step 4: Put the berries in the gold. Step 5: Let the berries dry. Step 6: Eat ’em. Yum!” Nori also wrote, “I wish Ms. Rodgers could be Goldberry.” I can only attribute my students’ apparent lack of focus to the fact that today is our last day of school before spring break. Thus we are taking a break from the book and look forward to resuming our journey with you in April. My band of devoted, young Tolkien enthusiasts would like to leave you with this departing message: