Why Peter Jackson Cut Tom Bombadil From The Lord Of The Rings

When "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" hit theaters in December 2001, it was a breathtaking cinematic achievement that helped a new generation of fans discover the books of J.R.R. Tolkien. Jackson's film adapted Tolkien's 1954 novel of the same name, the first in his three-volume "Lord of the Rings" epic. It was faithful to the source material in many respects, but Jackson took some artistic license as he sought to streamline the sometimes-picaresque plot and cater to moviegoers.

One notable subplot excluded from the film involves the character of Tom Bombadil. In the book, Tom Bombadil is a jolly yet enigmatic figure, described by the similarly immortal Elvish lord Elrond (Hugo Weaving in the film), as even "older than the old." The four hobbits, Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin (played by Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Dominic Monaghan, and Billy Boyd) meet him after Old Man Willow, a tree with a mind of its own, has enfolded two of them and taken them captive.

Tom Bombadil, the singing tree whisperer, is able to free them from Old Man Willow, and later, he rescues the hobbits from Barrow-wights. Surprisingly, he's also able to wear the all-powerful One Ring without turning invisible and without it corrupting him like it does with other characters. He's able to see Frodo even when Frodo is wearing the Ring and is himself invisible.

In Tolkien's book, Tom Bombadil appears in Chapters 6 through 8: "The Old Forest," "The House of Tom Bombadil," and "Fog on the Barrow Downs." Maybe part of the reason readers grew so attached to him is that he's the first real character outside the vaguely menacing trees the hobbits encounter after leaving the Shire to embark on their great Middle-earth adventure.

As Jackson's full film trilogy played out in theaters, a common refrain — even among admirers of it — was some variation of the question, "Why did the movies leave out Tom Bombadil?" Even the extended edition of "The Fellowship of the Ring" did not have any scenes with the character.

Tom Bombadil's relevance to Frodo carrying the ring

In the DVD appendices to "The Fellowship of the Ring" extended edition, Christopher Lee, who played the wizard Saruman, anticipated that some people might "complain about the absence of Tom Bombadil." Peter Jackson himself said:

"In the plot of 'The Lord of the Rings,' in our movie, in its most simple form, is Frodo carrying the Ring. Eventually, he has to go to Mordor and destroy the Ring. So, you know, what does Old Man Willow contribute to the story of Frodo carrying the Ring? What does Tom Bombadil ultimately really have to do with the Ring? I know there's Ring stuff in the Bombadil episode, but it's not really advancing our story. It's not really telling us things we need to know."

Although Tom Bombadil was deemed inessential to the plot, it seems Jackson at one point considered throwing in an Easter egg with him. In the December 2001 issue of Cinefantastique magazine (via TheOneRing.net), he explained:

"What we did contemplate, and it was really for the fans, was to have the hobbits walking through the Old Forest and to see a feathered cap come darting through the trees, to hear the sound of Tom Bombadil's voice and song and then have the hobbits turn and run away as fast as they could! We thought [that] would acknowledge Tom Bombadil in an affectionate-joke kind of way. We didn't have time to do it."

Could Lord of the Rings be made now?

An Easter egg might have been a fun nod, but who knows whether it would have really appeased some ride-or-die Tom Bombadil fans. In December 2021, while "The Fellowship of the Ring" was celebrating its 20th anniversary, Elijah Wood made headlines for saying "The Lord of the Rings" movies couldn't be made the same now because they were made "in a bubble" when there was "less scrutiny" on films via the internet's all-seeing, Sauron-like eye.

If "The Lord of the Rings" had been made 20 years later, it does feel like the omission of Tom Bombadil might have sparked an online petition with fans demanding #ReleaseTheBombadilCut. Who knows, though, with Tom Bombadil being "older than the old," maybe there's a chance he could still pop up in Amazon's "The Rings of Power" series, which is set thousands of years before the events of "The Lord of the Rings."