Gandalf Visits Bombadil
“Be sure that thou hast come to the right
place, Olorin. For what is wisdom but the knowledge of what one does
not know?” Tom said.
“Then I must be one of the Wise, indeed,”
Gandalf answered. “For there is much I do not know.” He knocked the
ashes from his pipe and sat turning it idly about in his hands. “Thou
hast asked for news, Master Tom. Yet thou knowest the chief news, that
Sauron has fallen, and the King is returned.”
“I have seen so many kings,” Tom said. “What
in especial should I know of this one? Nay, nay, I do know, of course.
He is Isuldur’s Heir the Ranger Strider, Aragorn son of Arathorn,
foster-son of Elrond Halfelven. His father I knew somewhat of, and his
father before him. Indeed, I knew of them all, one way or the other,
back even to Isuldur himself. Yet it has not happened before that the
rising of a king in the West had aught to do with me.”
“Maybe this one does not, either,” Gandalf
replied. “Yet his rise heralds the change in this Middle Earth, the end
of the Third Age and the beginning of the Fourth.”
“But I knew this world before there was even
the First Age,” Tom reminded Gandalf. “For I was here when the Elf
sires awoke, before fear entered into the darkness.”
“It is not often that I am younger than my
companions,” Gandalf said. “Yet next to thee it seems that I am young.
Age alone, however, means nothing. It is experience that counts, does
“I am rebuked,” Tom said, smiling, “for thy
‘experience’ may indeed be greater than mine! It has not fallen to me
to save the world.”
Gandalf laughed heartily. “I see that thine
axe is not used only to fell trees, but to cut down any vanity that
might raise itself.” But then his demeanor changed. “It was why we were
sent here, we Istari. Five we were. Alatar and Pallando are long
vanished from our ken. Saruman has fallen into Evil, and wishes no
redemption. Radagast? I have had no news of my brother Radagast for
“Nor I, “ Tom said. “I last heard of him at
his dwelling in Rhosgobel. What say you, Mithandir? Shall we set out
one day soon and see what has become of him? You say you have no task
left to complete? Well, here is one that might suit us both. I would
stretch my legs somewhat, and here is a journey that is easily within
“Ever hast thou been a home-stayer, Master
Tom. Yet here art thou proposing a journey! Is this only for my
benefit, that I might walk off my ill-mood? Surely, the same might be
accomplished with another mug or two of thy lady’s Mead-brew?” Here he
bowed his head to that lady, who sat near the window with some
needlework in her hands.
She did not hear. But she was not intent on
her stitchery, for she seemed to be day-dreaming, watching the water
drops race down the glass of her window. Her lovely face was still, no
smile curved her lips. Her deep dark eyes were wells of thought, but
what those thoughts might be could not be guessed at. The cool light of
the rainy day fell on her pale face, and erased any sunlight that might
have been caught in the tresses of her golden hair.
Gandalf had a sudden vision of her in the
water, her mother’s realm. The lady drifted, white hands folded on her
bosom, silver gown, girdle of gilt flowers, and all. Her eyes were open
and unseeing, her lips closed, and her long hair flowed with the water.
He shivered, and saw that Bombadil was watching him.
“Yes,” Bombadil said, softly. “My lady
Goldberry is bound to this place, to the waters of her making, far down
Withywindle. Tom shall not go from here, from the River-daughter.
Evening will follow day, and night will follow evening. Will the
morning come again? Who can say? It is enough for me, that spring has
ever followed winter, and summer has ever followed spring. So the
seasons of the year turn. I cannot answer for the turn of the ages.”
Goldberry, hearing Tom’s voice, turned to them. She smiled, and resumed her sewing.
“No one can,” Gandalf murmured. “The wheel
turns, the low is now high, the light becomes dark. Will the light come
again? There are those who say it has come.” Then his voice changed,
and he said, “But it is all dark for me, now. And there is another,
too, who cannot see by this new light! I have sent him beyond my aid,
now, poor Frodo.”
“The Halfling,” Tom said. “Here he sat, at my fireside. And in the barrow…..did he ever tell thee of the barrow?”
“He did,” Gandalf answered shortly. “Ever did
the quest hang on the edge of a knife! Even the wise cannot know all
ends, they say. Truer words were never spoken. I do not know if I could
have seen him go forth, had I known to what end he would come.”
“A fool’s errand, Mithrandir. And wert thou not the wise fool that sent him?”
“I can take neither the credit nor the blame.
Things fell out as they fell out, and luckily for me, and maybe for
you, the fool succeeded.” He leaned forward and stared into the fire.
“But while I am whole and hale, he is broken and lost. It was too heavy
“And what does Frodo son of Drogo say of these matters?” Tom asked.
“He says little. He keeps himself to himself, as they would say in the Shire.”
“I said before that pride has overtaken thee,
Mithrandir, and I see that it is true. For dost thou not imagine that
this is all thy doing? The halfling Frodo was not at thy command,
Olorin the Wise, neither his comings nor his goings. That thing, the
Ring, it was not in thy gift. Had it been, where wouldst thou have
Gandalf shot Bombadil an angry look. “Not in
my own pocket!” he barked. But then he shook his head, “Forgive me,
Master Tom, I should not have spoken so. It is true, I did not choose
Frodo, nor did I give him the ring. Those matters were never in my
hands. But from the start I understood it would overtax him, that it
would destroy his peace, make him unfit for everyday life. I had
intended to walk with him, to be his guide and comforter, to be his
counsellor. Yet it was not to be, and he went with only his servant
Samwise, all that long and lonely path!”
“Without thee, without any of the Wise. Who
would have thought it could be so? Such lowly folk, to undertake such
an important task,” Tom said.
“Dost thou think it is that? That I sneer at
their breeding, or that I am envious of their valour? They are now
counted as among the most noble of this world, companions of kings!”
“Rightly so, I deem. Yet, I deem, too,
Mithrandir, that this is this thy prideful fault, that thou thinkest
that only thy hands could do the work in the right way, that only thy
wisom was sufficient? Almost, one might ask, what purpose did Gandalf
the Grey serve after all? These Men and Hobbits, they might have
managed very well without thee.” Tom put out one brown hand, to
forestall Gandalf from replying. “It is not I that say these things,
mind thee, but maybe in thy heart, thou art asking these questions?”
“Yes,” Gandalf replied, almost in a whisper.
“Not that only. For whether I was needed or not, before, be sure I am
not needed now. Now, I am only to pack up my staff and go to the
Havens, and go away!”
“And thou art not ready,” Tom said.
“This Middle Earth is a beautiful place,”
Gandalf said. “I have come to love every stick and stone of it, every
root and branch. Friends have I made, dear friends. One is now on the
throne of Gondor and wedded to the highest and loveliest lady that now
walks this earth. To be sure I might have stayed to counsel him, to see
that he set his feet straight on the path of kingship, but truth to
tell, he did not need me. He is a man both noble and humble, a king
come to power by the consent of those he would rule. A new kind of king
for a new age, it would seem.” He sighed, and wrung his hands together.
“So I said farewell to Elessar Telcontar, and to Arwen Undomiel. It was
a bitter parting, and not only for me. Elrond Halfelven no doubt would
think my pain is as nothing, so hard was that leavetaking for him. The
old Hobbit, Bilbo, in Rivendell, he would end his book with “they all
lived happily ever after”. But here am I at the end of my book, and
there is no happiness in sight!”
“Ah, well,” Tom said, nodding. “There will be
many a merry day yet for thee, Mithrandir! At this moment art thou
woeful, and wondering. But surely, the Sun will shine on thy face
again, and thy heart will lift at the sight of the Stars? Come, come,
my friend. Thou art falling into despair, and surely that is to spurn
the gifts of fortune or whatever thou wouldst call thy fate? Thy labour
is over, and now comes cold over thee the fears that were pushed aside,
and the weariness that could not be admitted in the midst of thy toil.
It is oft seen, I think. The heart must be stout and bold in the midst
of the fray, but after all is safe and secure, in the watches of the
night, terror creeps in, and doubt. Is it not so?”
“It is so. But I wonder, Master Tom, whence this wisdom has come to thee?” Gandalf peered under his brows at Bombadil.
“Mithrandir, that would indeed be a long
tale, too long for short telling. Look thee! The rain has stopped, and
if there is no sunshine, at least it is dry enough for us to go out and
take some air. Thy horse Shadowfax would be pleased to see thee, I
think, and to shake the fidgets out of his legs in the pasture.”
Bombadil rose briskly, but before leaving the hearthside he said, “I do
not make light of thy troubles, Mithrandir. Too well can I see that
thou art out of frame, and wanting cheer. Well, my lady and I will do
what we can to ease thy heart. Often, it is enough to speak thy mind.”
“My friend, you are in the right of it.
Indeed, I am somewhat merrier than I was. Maybe that happy ending will
be around the next turning?” He rose to his feet and followed Bombadil