the (very few) facts
Names include Tom Bombadil (by the Hobbits, in Bucklandish form),
Forn (by the Dwarves), Iarwain Ben-adar, (by the Elves of Rivendell) and
Orald (by the Northern Men).
Iarwain Ben-adar means "oldest and fatherless". Orald is from the Old English oreald meaning "of great age". Forn is a Scandinavian word meaning
"(belonging to) ancient (days)".
Tom lived in the valley of Withywindle east of the Shire and the Old Forest was his home. He was married to Goldberry the River-daughter. He looked like and old man but had bright blue eyes, and a bristling brown beard. He was too tall to be a Hobbit but too short to be a Man. His costume was blue jacket and yellow boots, and he wore an old and battered hat with a feather (of a Kingfisher or of a Swan). He was also seen wearing a crown of autumn leaves. He sang all the time, both powerfull songs and songs that seemed to be nonsense, as well as songs telling stories.
Who or what was Tom?
This is the the most debated question among Tolkien enthuasiasts. A Vala, a Maia, a spirit, a representation of Nature, Ilúvatar ... there are several theories but no one can know for certain. I suggest you visit the links I have gathered, there are some very well written essays about this subject out there. :) Originally, Tom Bombadil was a doll in the Tolkien family, and then found his way to poems long before the Lord of the Rings was written. Later, Tolkien published a collection of poems called the Adventures of Tom Bombadil with wonderful illustrations by his preferred artist Pauline Baynes.
What does it matter? Why are people interested in him?
I see often frustrated comments from people who are bored of the Bombadil discussion. They say that he's just a side step, doesn't bring anything to the story, doesn't move the story forward, is only a confusion and so on. But as Tolkien so often taught, a secondary world has to be believable if you want to tell a story in it. You can't have a green sun if you can't explain why it is green. Tolkien knows how to avoid these kinds of problems and Arda could very well be the ancient world on this planet like it was meant to be. However - placing an enigma like Bombadil gives more depth to the secondary world. The story is more believable if the characters will meet "fantastic" or unexplained elements as well as the reader.
from the back cover of "the Adventures" by Pauline Baynes
Decipher trading card game
part of an illustration by Roger Garland
an illustration by brothers Hildebrandt
the House of Tom Bombadil by Alan Lee