There is a good essay up at the Front Porch Republic. It is one of the better ones, I think, on the subject of Tom Bombadil, and by virtue of that, I think it is one of the better essays on The Lord of the Rings.
Some people, including me, can remember where they were when they heard that President Kennedy had been killed; and some people, including me, can remember where they were when they first read The Lord of the Rings.
It was the early summer of 1968, and I was home from my first year in college. The Vietnam war was red hot, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were freshly dead, George Wallace was running for President, the Summer of Love was a year in the past and the summer of Woodstock was a year in the future. For a summer job I was working in the family printing business, and I had just purchased the complete set of Tolkien's books -- paperback -- on the recommendation of a good college friend named Jay.
This particular edition, from Ballantine Books, had psychedelic covers. (I bought the poster.) The Hobbit was subtitled "The Enchanting Prelude to The Lord of the Rings," and that was where I began. I read the whole set at one time. I think it took me about four days to read the four books.
My mind was greatly, and permanently, changed.
At that time, I knew absolutely nothing about "Tolkien lore," or C. S. Lewis and the Inklings and their place in English Literature. And although I was living in a world that was being deeply modified by these very conscious and active men, I also knew nothing about John Paul Sartre and his writings on existentialism, nor of Allen Dulles and his reflections on the craft of intelligence, nor of Wendell Berry and his place on earth, despite the fact that all of their writings were quite available at the time. And although I had had real interactions in all three of those modes of thinking and living of which they wrote, I was, quite simply, unaware.
I liked to read well enough. I had read some of Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo, Jack London and Jules Verne, Zane Grey and Allen Drury -- my tastes were, I guess, somewhat eclectic. But I'll credit J.R.R. Tolkien with opening a kind of good door in my mind that has led to my discovery of some very interesting places and people.
What was it about this story that could open a person's awareness (mine) -- not just to a "fantasy world," but also to that part of the "real" world all around him that to him (me) was still un-real?
New as I was in those days to the world of Tolkien's understanding, I could still see that Tom Bombadil was in some ways the most interesting character. Who was he, that he could laugh and toss the Ring with no seeming ill effect? So I was sorry, when the otherwise very good movie trilogy was released, that Peter Jackson had left him out completely. I had thought that Bombadil was in some sense the unmoving pivot around which the entire War of the Ring revolved. I have never lost that sense, even if Peter Jackson seems never to have found it.
So here is the link to Front Porch Republic, with its essay by Chris Wiley, "The Bombadil Option." I think that I have found, at least in some sense, a kindred spirit.