The poem is a much-revised version of an earlier poem by Tolkien, also entitled Fastitocalon, published in the Stapeldon Magazine in 1927. The central character of the earlier poem is a whale, and told a similar story to that of the Old English poem The Whale, where indeed the name Fastitocalon appears. As such, Tolkien imported the traditional tale of the aspidochelone into the lore of his Middle-earth.
Fastitocalon, the central character in the poem in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, is the last of the mighty turtle-fish. This poem is well known to the Hobbits. It tells of how Fastitocalon's huge size enticed sailors to land on its back. After the sailors lit a fire upon Fastitocalon, it dived underwater, causing the sailors to drown.
Fastitocalon was the size of a small island and vegetation would often grow on its back when not submerged, adding to the illusion that it was an actual island. Fastitocalon was far larger than the largest non-fictional turtle (Archelon).
It is never explained whether the turtle-fish were an actual race in Middle-earth or fictional characters created solely for the poem. It is distinctly possible that the story is in fact an allegory of the fall of Númenor. Like the Fastitocalon, Númenor too sank below the waves, and drowned most of its inhabitants.
The first verse runs as follows:
- Look, there is Fastitocalon!
An island good to land upon,
Although 'tis rather bare.
Come, leave the sea! And let us run,
Or dance, or lie down in the sun!
See, gulls are sitting there!
Gulls do not sink.
There they may sit, or strut and prink:
Their part is to tip the wink,
If anyone should dare
Upon that isle to settle,
Or only for a while to get
Relief from sickness or the wet,
Or maybe boil a kettle.
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