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Why sometime’s it’s better to leave things vague.

Posted by Charles Gray on March 2, 2014

Many modern authors try to nail everything down in their books. At times, that can be a good thing. But not always.

For example, consider the case of J.R.R. Tolkien and Tom Bombadil.  He famously left the identity of the strange man living in the forest open to question.  Was he a mair, a Valar…was he an incarnation of Eru?  Nobody knows. It’s left as an exercise for the reader.

And that has spawned a vast number of speculations about the identity of Tom Bombadil.  One of the most interesting, if rather dark, comes from Keith Martin, who provides us with an unsettling case for old Tom being not nearly the innocuous fellow he presents himself as being.  

There is a boundary around Bombadil’s country that he cannot or will not pass, something that confines him to a narrow space. And in return, no wizard or elf comes into his country to see who rules it, or to disturb the evil creatures that gather under his protection.

And this gets us back to the original point– if Tolkien had left everything plain, there would be no room for such speculation– or such long running interest. It is the mystery that keeps fans wondering about the identity of Tom, and without that, it’s likely he would have become a complete footnote.

So don’t feel the need to explain everything. Sometimes a little mystery is good for the soul.

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