Tom Bombadil: Peeling the Onion

A curated collection of some of halfir's many contributions to the Tolkien scholarship on the Plaza.
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‘Tom Bombadil: Peeling the Onion’ is possibly the greatest online message-board thread ever composed. On 20 September 2005 halfir posted a new thread on the Old Plaza (see post #1; pages 1-4). In addition to the now legendary list of wild Bombadil theories, he announced: to follow was a personal report on almost a year of research - inspired, it seems, by an embryonic plaza project to resolve the riddle of Tom Bombadil. On 5 January 2009 halfir observes that his thread, for some while ground to a halt and now given an index, "has been running since 19th of September 2005" (sic; #525; p. 177).

Neither in 2009 nor four years earlier did halfir claim to have solved the riddle. He begins and ends by naming his contribution a database. ‘Peeling the Onion’ is more than a database of Tom Bombadil. At the very least it contains many parts of an answer to the riddle. But in halfir’s peculiar vision of Bombadil as both in and out of Middle-earth, which in the thread we watch him draw out of a letter of 1961, is something like the answer.* The two links below allow us to consider this answer while, more modestly, serving halfir's intention of providing a “resource base for others who might wish to take up the torch where I laid it down” (p. 1).

Like the Red Book, the original copy of 'Peeling the Onion' is lost. The two links below are the two versions of the only known transmission, the Forchhammer variant.

(i) Tom Bombadil: Peeling the Onion (View PDF)

(ii) Tom Bombadil: Peeling the Onion (View thread)


The earlier version, link (i), is the thread stripped of most comments. It was prepared by Troelsfo as a Word document in 2011 with the intention, he says, of having a version of halfir's thread that allows his arguments to be read (more or less) continuously (see his post #623, 18 Feb 2011). Before rendering this Word document as a pdf for the new plaza archive, I attempted, over zealously but not systematically, to tidy formatting errors and typos. I also added page numbers to this version of 'Peeling the Onion' to facilitate reference.

Link (ii) is a wayback machine page, questioned as to its authenticity and coherence by halfir in his last post in 2012 (#655), and subsequently bearing a familiar scribal hand, first discernible in late 2013 (see post #669). For example, already at the foot of the first post we find:
Last edited by Troelsfo; 19/Jul/2015 at 02:28 PM. Reason: Troelsfo: Adding colouring etc. as halfir originally used
What had happened to the original post to require restoration may be guessed from the state of the later pages this online editor did not reach. Whether the 2011 version was taken from the original thread, and what its role in the late online restoration, only the elves, or at least Troels Forchhammer, may hope to unravel. If report is received this post on the New Plaza may be updated. The two links may also be updated, if (a) anyone makes html pages from the archive.org site that we can house on the plaza; or (b) the editing work on the 2011 Word document is completed, or even advanced, and a revised pdf made (because, for example, someone makes a table of contents out of the index).


* Critical analysis of halfir's answer begins, of course, on the original thread. See primarily later Forchhammer, especially posts #609 - on 8 May 2010, 'plaza source guru' geordie alerts his friend to an overlooked source - and #680, on 31 December 2014, writing what he does not know as the penultimate comment on a thread whose author he knows will write no more, Lord of the Rings reflects:
...if we say that Tom is 'in Middle-earth but not of it' (much the best description, in my opinion), is that actually a 'deliberate enigma', or is it just saying that Tom lacks a fully integrated status within the sub-created world, and that's that?
- until the dragon comes.

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