One of the marks of genius in Lord of the Rings is the way Tolkien builds suspense and the sense of uncertainty, fear and danger as the quest progresses.

And yet within the confusion fear and setback there is woven a thread of some deeper meaning. Characters appear to assist or save the hero, but they are never introduced as a deus ex machina plot device. Instead the introduction of a new character is the result of a deeper plot–one that is deeper than the awareness of any of the characters, one that is only guessed at–even by the characters who are wisest and most aware.

When Tom Bombadil rescues the hobbits from Old Man Willow, Frodo wonders if he heard them calling for help. Tom replies, “Eh what? Did I hear you calling? Nay I did not hear, I was busy singing. Just chance brought me then, if chance is what you call it. It was no plan of mine, though I was waiting for you.”

This is the way we operate and interact with providence. We go about our business, aware that there is a greater plan, aware that there are other forces drawing on us and pulling us on, and yet that plan is so much bigger than anyone can see. That plan is greater than we can image and all we can do is mind our own business, try to trust and obey and try day by day to say the simplest of prayers: Thy Will be Done.

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  • Tom Bombadil is the most important character in the whole work. Right at the beginning, when he puts on the ring, there’s the lesson we ought to carry throughout: evil only affects you if you let it. Missing from the film, of course.

  • The post makes me think of this: “Oh what wisdom is it to believe, and not to dispute; to subject the thoughts to His court, and not to repine at any act of His justice! He has done it: all flesh be silent! It is impossible to be submissive and religiously patient, if ye stay your thoughts down among the confused rollings and wheels of second causes; as, ‘Oh the place!’ ‘Oh the time!’ ‘Oh if this had been, this had not followed!’ ‘Oh the linking of this accident with this time and place!’ Look up to the master motion and the first wheel. ‘How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!’ His providence halteth not, but goeth with even and equal legs.”

  • Anonymous

    Diana Wynne Jones (who took a narrative class from Tolkien, with the predictable frustrations and the stubborn perseverence of a true fan) wrote a wonderful essay on Tolkien’s non-traditional narrative structure and his use of motifs to tie the whole thing together. I don’t know if it’s been book-published too many places beyond her NESFA fest-volume, but it might be online somewhere.