In J.R.R. Tolkien's original The Lord of the Rings novels, Tom Bombadil is a key figure, but he was cut entirely from Peter Jackson's movie trilogy. Generally speaking, Jackson's The Lord of the Rings films are faithful adaptations of the source material, but there are some notable deviations. Perhaps the most significant change in The Fellowship of the Ring is the absence of Tom Bombadil.
Bombadil appears in Tolkien's novel when the quartet of Hobbit protagonists are on the beginning leg of their journey, having left the comfy confines of The Shire. Immediately, Frodo's companions find trouble in the Old Forest, as Merry and Pippin are attacked and trapped by a sentient tree considerably less friendly than the Ents they would encounter later on. Desperate, Frodo and Sam seek help and stumble across an old man who introduces himself as Tom Bombadil. This curiously carefree character effortlessly commands the ancient tree to cease his attack and takes the shaken Hobbits back to his home - and this is where the book gets a little trippy.
Along with his wife Goldberry, Frodo's group spend several days with Tom, even telling him about their mission and the Ring, despite strict instructions from Gandalf to the contrary. Strangely, the Ring appears to hold no power over Tom and the old man doesn't even disappear when he wears it. Although Tom's abilities are never fully explored or accounted for, he is described as the "Master" of his realm and seems able to command the area of the forest in which he resides to his will. Tom is prone to burst into song at a moment's notice and his voice appears to have some kind of hypnotic quality that puts both the forest and his Hobbit guests at ease. It's implied, though not explicitly stated, that Tom's powers only extend to the edge of his land.
Tolkien never confirmed Tom Bombadil's origins or race but when the Hobbits finally reach Rivendell, Elrond sheds a little light on the character, explaining that Bombadil is one of the most ancient beings in all of Middle-earth and although quite harmless, has little care for the world outside of his own domain. Tom Bombadil has been a frequent topic of discussion among The Lord of the Rings fans, with many suggesting him to be some kind of God due to his apparent immortality and neutral stance, or a member of the Maiar along with Gandalf, Saruman and Sauron.
Peter Jackson has explained his decision to omit Tom Bombadil from The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, claiming that the character's contribution to The Fellowship of the Ring bore little relevance to the overall plot and did nothing to advance the main story. In this belief, Jackson is entirely correct and given that the first film's theatrical version clocks in at almost three hours, material certainly needed to be cut from somewhere.
Additionally, it's simply difficult to imagine the Tom Bombadil character working in live-action. The chapters in which Bombadil appears not only halt the story's pace completely, but the dream-like nature of Tom's world feels quite displaced from the rest of the book; more like a pleasing excursion than a vital development of the plot. Published in the 1950s, The Lord of the Rings is often named as a key influence in the explosion of folk culture that followed in the next two decades and Tolkien would often crop up in the music of Led Zeppelin, The Beatles and a variety of prog acts (Mick Jagger even wanted to voice Frodo in the animated movie). The Tom Bombadil material perhaps exemplifies this era more than anything else in The Lord of the Rings and it would take a very brave, or foolish, director to try and interpret those scenes for an audience in the new millennium and beyond.
The Lord of the Rings TV series is set to premiere on Amazon Prime. A release date has not been confirmed.