Thread: Elementals
View Single Post
Old 03-13-2017, 01:29 AM   #9
Ghost Prince of Cardolan
Zigūr's Avatar
Join Date: Aug 2012
Posts: 712
Zigūr is a guest at the Prancing Pony.Zigūr is a guest at the Prancing Pony.
I've read the article once before, but looking at it again was an engaging opportunity to dig around in the text to look more closely at Professor Tolkien's vocabulary, which is a hobby of mine. With that in mind, I noticed a few things.

Goldberry only refers to Bombadil as "Master" in these quotes:

1. "wait for the Master of the house!" Surely this is a fairly common old-fashioned term for a husband or the man of the house; it's an outdated idea now, yes, and arguably sexist (not my area of expertise), but to me isn't especially noteworthy.

2. "He is the Master of wood, water, and hill." Goldberry isn't describing their relationship there, and sets up the idea that Tom is "master of his environment", that he operates in this potentially dangerous land according to his terms, not the terms of Willow-Man, the Barrow Wights or any other powerful and hostile forces of the area.

3."The trees and the grasses and all things growing or living in the land belong each to themselves. Tom Bombadil is the Master. No one has ever caught old Tom walking in the forest, wading in the water, leaping on the hill-tops under light and shadow. He has no fear. Tom Bombadil is master." Same idea as far as I can tell. She's not saying anything about their relationship.

Goldberry doesn't refer to Bombadil as "Master" in any other way or at any other time, and she never addresses him as "Master".

Just a couple of other observations based on the article, two of which are in agreement with its claims:

1. When I first read The Lord of the Rings at age 10 I immediately picked up that Tom and Goldberry were husband and wife. I'm surprised to learn that this has confused some people.

2. The age difference is more noticeable in "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil" than in The Lord of the Rings. In The Lord of the Rings Tom is only described as having wrinkles when the narrative says "his face was red as a ripe apple, but creased into a hundred wrinkles of laughter" - they're laughter lines, and he spends a lot of time in the sun. Goldberry is described as having been young "long ago". The only other times the words "young" are used in relation to her are in similes: Her voice is "young and ancient as Spring" (emphasis mine), her gown (not even part of her body) is "green as young reeds" and when they meet her the hobbits feel "strangely surprised and awkward, like folk that, knocking at a cottage door to beg for a drink of water, have been answered by a fair young elf-queen clad in living flowers." I have always imagined both as ageless characters.

In "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil", Bombadil is described from the start as "Old Tom", while Goldberry is "young Goldberry", which matches the idea in The Lord of the Rings that Goldberry was young "long ago". Still, clearly there is an age difference between them.

3. I do think the images used in "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil" are a bit unpleasant: "he went and caught the River-daughter" and "He caught her, held her fast [...] and her heart was fluttering" do, in my opinion, suggest an element of coercion, and a rather nasty old-fashioned idea about courting that wasn't perceived negatively as often in Professor Tolkien's day. On the other hand I think the article's suggestion of "undertones of kidnapping and brain-washing" might be stretching things a bit. The poem would, I suppose, be more fair if we got to hear Goldberry's voice.

I think the article would have benefited from mentioning the quotes I've provided above, but I suppose that wasn't really the point.

For my part I'm perfectly content with things being described as "problematic" or what have you, as those are just another instrument of criticism with which one can agree or disagree, and I actually do consider Professor Tolkien's work to be somewhat sexist; it doesn't affect my personal appreciation of the narratives, but perhaps that's a luxury I have being male. I think some of the suggestions the article makes are more supportable than others.
"Since the evening of that day we have journeyed from the shadow of Tol Brandir."
"On foot?" cried Éomer.

Last edited by Zigūr; 03-13-2017 at 01:42 AM.
Zigūr is offline   Reply With Quote