Middle Earth’s Men of Magic: Beorn, Radagast, Tom Bombadil

NOV / DEC 2012: BY CAITLIN HORTON

radagast

Magic is one of the major themes in Middle Earth, if not the major theme. Tolkien created a world that defies imagination with characters almost too numerous to count and rich in their varying personalities. Some of them, the best and most unique, are nearly always forgotten from screen and radio drama adaptations. Beorn, the shape-shifter who is both man and bear, appears as a hero in The Hobbit. Radagast the Brown is a wizard kinsman to Gandalf who forgot his calling and can never leave Middle Earth. And finally there’s the cheery, enigmatic Tom Bombadil, who can put the Ring on his finger and not vanish. These are men of magic and of ancient wisdom and Tolkien’s finest creations.

For readers of The Hobbit the name Beorn probably sounds very familiar. Tolkien described him quite clearly, as a “huge man with a thick black beard and hair, and great bare arms and legs with knotted muscles.” On top of that, he changes into a bear. His personality doesn’t mesh well with others. He requires his trust to be built up slowly, a feat Gandalf accomplishes when he shares the story of his, the dwarves and Bilbo’s harrowing escape from goblins in the Misty Mountains. The Complete Guide to Middle-Earth lists Beorn as a man, a chieftain of the Beornings, a berserker, and a skin-changer (shape-shifter). The usage of “berserker” reveals Tolkien’s professorship in Anglo-Saxon and studies of medieval literature; according to the English Dictionary it means “frenzied Norse warrior.” Beorn is unique among his people because when Gandalf and the others wind up on his doorstep in need of help he doesn’t turn them away. He even goes to their aid in the Battle of Five Armies; changing into his bear form, he rescues Thorin from a throng of orcs and later kills their leader, Bolg. He is quite a hero and one who should be incredibly memorable in The Hobbit films. It’s not everyone that can turn into a bear!

Radagast the Brown is a character that sort of straddles the fence, as it were. He knows and likes Gandalf the Grey and appears in The Lord of the Rings, with mentions in The Hobbit. While talking to Beorn in the latter, Gandalf brings up Radagast, who lives near the southern border of Mirkwood. In The Fellowship of the Ring, Radagast unknowingly sends Gandalf to Saruman, where he’s imprisoned, and later helps free him by sending the eagle. He does it without knowing he’s helping, thus painting him as rather clueless. The Guide lists him as one of the Istari (order of wizards) who studies beast and herb-lore. He’s a member of the White Council, as is Gandalf and Saruman, and is involved in the attack on the Necromancer, also known as Sauron, which takes place during The Hobbit. Perhaps what the books don’t say about him is more important: he doesn’t fight in the War of the Ring and does nothing to aid any of the people, indicating a passive stance. Radagast is a good man and a decent wizard but he doesn’t take sides. That tendency, more than anything else, explains how and why Radagast can’t move on from Middle Earth. More should be revealed of this character and his quirks in the movies.

Finally, last but never least: the mind-boggling Tom Bombadil of the book trilogy. Don’t bother looking for him in the movies; he’s a cut character whose only image is on a card for a game. Tom is a very hospitable character who takes care of Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin while they travel through the dangerous Old Forest that borders the Shire. He’s a merry figure, wearing a blue coat, yellow boots, long brown beard, and a battered hat with a blue feather stuck in the band. His wife is Goldberry, daughter of the River-woman of the Withywindle in the Old Forest, and she is golden-haired and as merry as her mate. Tom is regarded as important to the lore of Middle Earth, as he states of himself in The Fellowship: “Eldest, that’s what I am… Tom was here before the river and the trees; Tom remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn.” He goes on to state that he knew the dark under the stars, before the Dark Lord came, and when he puts on the One Ring, it has no effect on him at all. His name given him by the Elves, Iarwain Ben-Adar according to The Guide, means old and without father, he is an immortal. Readers can’t even begin to speculate on who Tom is, other than a Hobbit rescuer and friendly figure in a dark passage of the book, so most don’t even try. Tolkien did nothing to fully clarify the character, instead shrouding ancient Tom Bombadil in complete mystery.

These magic men, all with different abilities and talents, are a part of Tolkien’s magnificent world. Within Middle Earth they never meet but the love Tolkien poured into their characters binds them together in a magic that can never be tamed. Even Radagast, who is imperfect and forgetful, has his own unique talents to share. J. R. R. Tolkien was a master storyteller who chose to reflect his faith, his academic work, and his children’s favorite characters in his epic tales. Beorn, Radagast, and Tom are all players in his magnificent set of novels, adding a richness to the stories that is unforgettable. ■

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 ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Caitlin Horton is a 20-something reader, seamstress, and history buff. She lives a life blessed in the knowledge that she is God’s child, and her life has a purpose within the scope of His plan. She encourages her readers to remember, every day can be like Bilbo’s “adventure” if you’re willing to take the “ordinary” and add some “extra” in front of it! She also blogs about her crafts!

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