Envisioning Tom Bombadil as the "unconditioned self"
When Alan Strachan PhD and Janet Coster, MA asked me to create an illustration of Tom Bombadil, (from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings), I remember first re-reading chapters of "The Fellowship of the Ring" - and searching online to see if anyone had ever attempted a portrait of him. Most of the images I found painted old Tom as a comical character. That was not how I envisioned him.
I had turned down many previous requests to paint Tom Bombadil, because his nature was elusive, and I had no idea how to interpret him. After reading the first draft of what started as an essay, I was enchanted by their knowledge and insight and decided to give it a try.
Alan and Janet felt strongly that "Tom" needed to embody great wisdom, his visage old yet ageless, with a great sense of joyfulness that emanates from him. I had to begin with Tolkien's description, but also searched for the visual connection to the "unconditioned self", an entity with no fear of any dark lord, no desire to possess the One Ring.
As a big fan of JRR Tolkien’s writings and all things Middle Earth from my high school days- certainly decades before Peter Jackson’s films - I looked up every scholarly opinion on Tom I could find, looking for clues. Everything written about him was paradoxical. Tolkien himself was vague and elusive.
So this illustration was truly a collaboration. The physical aspects of the old Man Willow, Tom’s hat and blue feather, those came easily. Where to connect the psychospiritual concept was a bit difficult, the light was really key to connecting the lotus of eastern philosophy to the one ring itself and the sparks of consciousness. The hardest part was Tom’s visage; his face, his twinkling blue eyes and that Celtic red beard, as real as if he were standing in front of me.
Alan and Janet involved themselves at every iteration, with both feedback and guidance. For me, most of the creating is very intuitive, and some of the best ideas just happen as one is “lost in the process”.
What do you think of this interpretation of Tom Bombadil? Does this illustration capture the essence of his character?
If you're interested in reading the book, or listening to the audio version, here is the Amazon link: The Lure Of the Ring, Power, Addiction & Transcendence by Alan Strachan, PhD & Janet Coster, MA
Disclaimer: I don't have anything to gain by recommending the book. I thought it was excellent, that's why I wanted to illustrate the cover.