When it comes to what the Bible means by taking dominion Tom Bombadil comes to mind for me; but I think what comes to mind for most people looks a lot more like Saruman.
If you’re a reader of Lord of the Rings, you understand those references. But if you’ve only seen the films, you probably didn’t–at least not the reference to Bombadil.
Poor Bombadil, what’s he in the story for anyway? (Peter Jackson, the director of the films thought he was expendable.) That whole episode in the Old Forest before the hobbits get to Bree seems like a senseless detour. Was Tolkien dallying? Was it just a bit of comic relief?
I don’t think so. Tolkien worked with texts professionally and he doesn’t strike me as the sort of person to do something on a whim. He was fussy.
I’m a writer in my own small way, and even I know that something that can’t be made to fit should be thrown out.
Either that, or you leave it in because it is somehow a way to underscore the point if the thing.
What’s the point?
There are many things like this in the world: the Sabbath, (what’s the point?), beauty, (what’s the point?), higher education, (what’s the point?).
When it comes to those things some people edit them right out of their lives. Or perhaps worse, they repurpose them to make them fit our restless, ugly, and benighted lives.
I think Saruman missed the point of life in Middle Earth. That’s why he tried to repurpose what he found there.
This was the reason he was interested in the lore of Middle Earth. He wanted power, ostensibly to save Middle Earth from Sauron. But in the process he became Sauron’s slave.
In order to acquire this lore, many eggs had to be cracked and his interrogations were torturous. That’s why Gandalf said to him, “He that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom.”
Saruman thought he could save Middle Earth by dominating it.
But Bombadil just lived there. That’s why he was truly the master.
The word dominion has a fascinating provenance. It’s from the Latin, domus, for house. It is where were get the words: domestic and domicile. And those words never alarm people. But say, dominion, and your mind immediately runs on to domination.
But really, should it?
And this brings me to Bombadil. Just who is this guy? Tolkien didn’t say.
But in The Fellowship of the Ring, in chapter a chapter entitled: In the House of Tom Bombadil (the seventh chapter, by the way), we have Frodo, and the other hobbits wondering the same thing.
And Frodo asks, “Who is Tom Bombadil?” And this is the answer he receives:
“He is, “ said Goldberry, staying her swift movements and smiling.
Frodo looked at her questioningly.
“He is as you have seen him,” she said in answer to his look. “He is the master of wood, water and hill.”
“Then this strange land belongs to him?”
“No indeed!” she answered, and her smile faded. “That would indeed be a burden,” she added in a low voice, as if to herself. “The trees and the grasses and all things growing or living belong each to themselves. Tom Bombadil is the Master. No one has caught old Tom…. He has no fear. Tom Bombadil is master.”
Goldberry is Tom’s fairy-like wife that he received as a gift from the Withywindle–like a similar gift received my another man, long ago.
But unlike that man, or Saruman for that matter, Tom’s mastery is of a different kind than the kind sought by those men. We’re told that he knows the songs. I think that means he knows the natures of things. And his mastery preserves those natures. I think that can be seen in Tom’s rescues of the hobbits. And each time he comes singing the songs that set things right, not as a conqueror. (I’ve written more about that here.)
That’s real dominion for you. It is a very different sort of dominion we see in other deliverers. Whether the deliverer goes by the name Adam, or Bacon, or Saruman, we can know one thing, the sort of dominion they seek is unnatural.
But Bombadil, the funny fellow with the nonsense songs and the yellow boots, we can be sure that he’s on our side. And even though he looks clumsy, he’s graceful enough to flick individual raindrops away from his head in a downpour. He’s the master.
Fathers, when it comes to dominion in your houses be like Bombadil.