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Old 03-17-2005, 12:52 PM   #1
Bęthberry
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Boots The Trickster's Consort

littlemanpoet set up a lovely discussion with a new aspect for that old chestnut Tom Bombadil in his thread The Trickster in LotR.

Not everyone accepted the possibility that Tolkien could radically expurgate the malevolent aspects of the trickster god to create merely a mischievious figure in Bombadil. I, however, do think that something like that was indeed 'behind' Tolkien's thoughts on "The Master", as well as many other folklorish ideas such as the Green Man whose images grace so many cathedrals in England.

But now let's consider the distaff side! Goldberry, daughter of the River woman, who with her washing days apparently controls the weather and possibly the seasons.

Back some time on threads whose titles I can no longer remember we have discussed the aspects of the Persephone myth which partially clothe the Goldberry figure. And I also recall a discussion with davem about water figures in ancient British folklore, the terryfying hags who haunt the rivers and streams and lure unsuspecting souls to their doom.

However, I have just discovered that the word 'berry' also has some reference to ancient legend. In Scottish legend, there is the cailleach bheur who seems to have fit the crone aspect of the triple goddess figure. She was the Witch of Winter who ruled from Hallowe'en to Beltane. Actually, there are many versions of the figure, who seems to be associated also with water and the protections of deer. The crone aspect is the hideous frightful aspect, in old legend, but in Northern Ireland, the figure was associated with Spring and the maiden aspect.

One pronunciation for this figure, indeed, a very name, was "Cally Berry." Now, what are the odds that Tolkien with his love of philology would have known of this name and taken 'berry' as the root for the name of Tom's wife?

He would have, of course, been doing with Goldberry what I think he did with Tom, expurgate the chaotic, negative aspects. Tolkien did not stumble as Milton did in the depiction of evil.

Just a little bit of background for she with whom Frodo is so smitten. What do you think? Too much a stretch?
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Old 03-17-2005, 01:27 PM   #2
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Cailleachs and fairies...

In the Scottish lore I know, cailleachs alternate between the crone and the maiden aspects, becoming beautiful if they are wooed and kissed. They are tied closely to the land and represent its sovereignty and fertility. The Loathly Lady Ragnell who became the wife of Sir Gawain was based on such legend. I hadn't heard of a connection with water, though I'm sure you're right.

However, Tolkien seems to have far preferred the Saxon legend to Celtic stories. I suppose, though, that that would not prohibit him from borrowing from them; the Elves often seem not unlike Welsh or Irish figures, living under the hills or in the woods.

Goldberry herself, from the little we see of her, seems intangible, elusive, but worthy of worship and Tom's gifts of lilies and the Barrow jewelery. But she is constant and unchanging at the same time. "Tom has his house to mind, and Goldberry is waiting."

Her fair looks recall Rhiannon, the fey mother of Pryderi in the Mabinogion. Beyond that, I can't get much further. She is related in her influences to Galadriel, and yet wholly different; in a way above the Lady of Lothlorien, greatest of the Elves though she be. She receives adoration without extracting it. She remains secretive and mysterious.
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Old 03-17-2005, 02:04 PM   #3
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I don't think that this is a 'stretch'. It's a fascinating idea and I would love to read the original thread about Goldberry that you mention, Bęthberry.
There are countless folk tales throughout British and European folklore that have river spirits as both friend and foe.Tolkien has concentrated on the friendly aspect, however.

Curiously, most of these water spirits are female, and the tales commonly begin with meeting a beautiful woman with exceptionally long hair, often sitting on a rock in a river or at the very edge of the water, whilst combing her hair, crying or lamenting. Sometimes these women have fish scales or indeed a fish tail. Goldberry it's interesting to note, wears shoes that glisten like fish scales and Tom Bombadil describes meeting her in such a fashion:

Quote:
'By that pool long ago I found the River-daughter, fair young Goldberry sitting in the rushes. Sweet was her singing then, and her heart was beating.'
Reading that quote something struck me.
Tom claims to be the 'Eldest' in Middle Earth. He remembers how it was in the beginning;

'Tom was here before the river and the trees...'

Was he lonely as he watched the new life awaken on the land? The way he found Goldberry;
'...and her heart was beating...'

Did the River make its daughter come alive for Tom?

Tolkien suggests that there are elemental forces in M.E. Boromir's body is given into the keeping of a river;

'...and give him to the Anduin. The River of Gondor will take care at least that no evil creature dishonours his bones.' Is there an elemental power at work here, or am I reaching?

If Tom and Goldberry are elementals (Old Man Willow too) She obviously represents the idea of life and renewal, like Persephone and the Maid. If we begin to understand Goldberry perhaps we can more understand Tom.

Forgive my ramblings, this isn't at all what I intended to post.
Good topic BB.
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Old 03-17-2005, 03:15 PM   #4
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From The Mystic Life of Merlin by RJ Stewart:

Quote:
'The older elements of Merlin are connected to a primal seasonal myth in which a wild man of the woods, ruler of animals, relates to a flower maiden who represents the fertile earth. ...

(On Guendolena, Merlin's wife in the Vita Merlini by Geoffrey of Monmouth):

Guendolena is not merely a stereotype, nor is she a lesser character that Ganieda (Merlin's sister)...She is the image of a goddess of nature, fashioned out of flowers, a being of intense fertility & beauty. She cannot, in fact, exist alone as a stereotype, for she is complemented & fulfilled by her male partner. Merlin as a wild man is likewise fulfilled by Guendolena, & the Vita barely hides an ancient theme in which the two lovers play the seasonal roles of Winter & Spring, Lord of the Animals & Lady of the Flowers, Death & Life.'
For what its worth.....
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Old 03-17-2005, 04:02 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Anguirel
In the Scottish lore I know, cailleachs alternate between the crone and the maiden aspects, becoming beaughtiful if they are wooed and kissed.
So that's where George MacDonald got that theme....

Goldberry is elemental, certainly, but she is also Good, luminous, gentle, brave, cheerful. She has become one of my favorites. The power of Song weaves into all this, too, with Goldberry; did the cailleachs sing much?

I think Goldberry's song prepped Frodo before he crossed the threshold.

Nice thread, River-Daughter's Daughter!
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Old 03-17-2005, 10:38 PM   #6
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Pipe Nothing much to contribute, just . . .

Quote:
Curiously, most of these water spirits are female, and the tales commonly begin with meeting a beautiful woman with exceptionally long hair, often sitting on a rock in a river or at the very edge of the water, whilst combing her hair, crying or lamenting. (Eruanna--emphasis mine)
Because of this, now I think Goldberry has something to do with Uinen, whose hair is spread throughout the waters of Middle-earth.
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Old 03-18-2005, 09:14 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Eruanna
Curiously, most of these water spirits are female, and the tales commonly begin with meeting a beautiful woman with exceptionally long hair, often sitting on a rock in a river or at the very edge of the water, whilst combing her hair, crying or lamenting. Sometimes these women have fish scales or indeed a fish tail. Goldberry it's interesting to note, wears shoes that glisten like fish scales and Tom Bombadil describes meeting her in such a fashion
This reminds me of the tale of the Lorelei. This is both the name of a place on the Rhine, and the name of the mythical woman who is said to dwell there, brushing her hair and luring men to their deaths. Of course, this is also very like the Greek myth of the Sirens, and the English folklore of Ginny Greenteeth or Peg O'Nell. But is Goldberry treacherous in any way? Does she 'lure' Tom? And does she lure him into a negative situation? He does seem to be very attentive, bringing her lilies, and treasures from the barrows.

The name 'cailleach bheur' is very similar to the modern word 'Corryvreckan', the name of a treacherous ocean whirlpool near Jura, and I'm beginning to wonder if this name, in its Scots Gaelic, not anglicised, version would be similar, as there are also folk tales surrounding the whirlpool. St Brigid also has some links to the worship of water and wells. Why must these female figures so often be linked to death and disaster though? Does this have anything to do with the old tale that it is bad luck to have women on board a ship?

Slightly rambling thoughts, but it is Friday afternoon...
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Old 03-18-2005, 09:19 AM   #8
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Boots

Thank you all for your responses!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Anguirel
However, Tolkien seems to have far preferred the Saxon legend to Celtic stories. I suppose, though, that that would not prohibit him from borrowing from them; the Elves often seem not unlike Welsh or Irish figures, living under the hills or in the woods.
Not just preferred, I think. I believe there is a letter (which I cannot find now) where Tolkien states his dislike of celtic stories and myths. He also (again, I cannot find it in the letters at this moment) liked the Welsh language very much, if I am not mistaken.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Eruanna
Tolkien suggests that there are elemental forces in M.E. Boromir's body is given into the keeping of a river;
If I am not mistaken, burial by sending a warrior out to sea in his boat with his weapons was part of the heroic tradition. It is in Beowulf. But I wonder: are there any instances in Middle earth of hostile water forces? (I can think of one in The Silm).

davem, that is an intriguing description of Guendolena from The Mystic Life of Merlin. I have never been able to find a copy of Geoffry of Monmouth's History of Britian but of course I'm sure Tolkien would have known it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mark 12_30
The power of Song weaves into all this, too, with Goldberry; did the cailleachs sing much?
That might clearly be something to track down. I haven't read any really reliable versions of the old tales, just modern summaries. But song is certainly a significant aspect of Goldberry and you are right that it is song which wins Frodo over even before he sees the lily lady.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Nilpaurion Felagund
Because of this, now I think Goldberry has something to do with Uinen, whose hair is spread throughout the waters of Middle-earth.
What I find fascinating about the story of Uinen is how she manages to restrain Ossë when Melkor almost seduced him, and arrange Ulmo's pardon for him.

To tell the truth, what really intrigued me about the name Cally Berry is simply the name, "berry" rather than all the attributes of the hag and maiden and water sprites. Having been given 'the berries' all my time here about my nick I was tickled to find some tangible link with old mythologies and not just juicy fruit. I took my nick from Goldberry for an RPG character and in fact once had "Bethberry" call to her mother to intervene with Uinen to calm wild waters in that game.

Besides Cally Berry, though, there is one other possible "respectable" (meaning less available to Downer's scalliwag teasing) source for the name berry.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary , berry is an Old English variant of "barrow", with the meanings "mound, hillock, or barrow", now obsolete except in dialect. There is also a now obsolete Renaissance meaning as "gust or blast of wind" and a Middle English use " to beat or thrash" as in thrashing corn.

EDIT: cross posting with Lal. A siren song certainly beckons to Frodo!
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Old 03-18-2005, 09:38 AM   #9
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Quote:
Because of this, now I think Goldberry has something to do with Uinen, whose hair is spread throughout the waters of Middle-earth.
An interesting idea! Perhaps it gives credence to the theory that Tom and Goldberry are, in fact, Maia. Goldberry may have been in the service of Uinen.

I had always discounted this idea before, mainly because the others (ie Gandalf) were clearly affected by the ring, yet Tom wasn't and he could see those that the Ring made invisible.The Ring has no power over him.
Tom and Goldberry seem to belong in their environment, they are very much part of the fabric of the land and the seasons, and yet apart from it.
To paraphrase Goldberry, they are.

Elemental spirits is the closest description that I can come up with, yet that does not solve the enigma. I hope that far more erudite posters that I may come up with something better.
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Old 03-18-2005, 02:15 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bb
davem, that is an intriguing description of Guendolena from The Mystic Life of Merlin. I have never been able to find a copy of Geoffry of Monmouth's History of Britian but of course I'm sure Tolkien would have known it.
Geoffrey's History only contains the Prophecies of Merlin (fascinating in themselves - in fact Stewart wrote a book 'The Prophetic Vision of Merlin' on them) not the Vita Merlini. This is available (though difficult to obtain) seperately. It is included in this collection, among many other fascinating works in Myths & Legends of the British Isles:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg...glance&s=books

The History is available in Penguin Classics.
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Old 03-18-2005, 05:43 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bethberry
I wonder: are there any instances in Middle earth of hostile water forces?
There are a few obvious instances of hostile waters, although they do not pose such a threat to those on the side of 'good'. The Ford of Bruinen is one notable example, and also there is the power in the flood which the Ents release upon Isengard (nice mixture of the elements of wood and water there, too). Instances of water being a malevolent force, at least to those we wish to see succeed, seem to arise more from stagnant or standing water, such as the Dead Marshes, or the pool which houses the Watcher in the water outside Moria. Could it be that this water lacks energy, and therefore life, or even Light?

The water used by Galadriel is contained and therefore stil, but it is notably fresh water, from a running supply.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bethberry
According to the Oxford English Dictionary , berry is an Old English variant of "barrow", with the meanings "mound, hillock, or barrow", now obsolete except in dialect. There is also a now obsolete Renaissance meaning as "gust or blast of wind" and a Middle English use " to beat or thrash" as in thrashing corn.
Berry/Barrow in Old English is also found as beorg, meaning simply 'hill'. Not every place name with the word 'Barrow' had anything to do with burial mounds, it may simply have originated from the fact that the place was a hill, or was near one! Interestingly, Berry/Bury can often be found in place names denoting hills; the difference no doubt arose from non-standardised spelling or differences in local dialect.
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Old 03-20-2005, 07:07 PM   #12
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Although I know little of the old legends, I am mighty fond of Goldberry. Things that intrigue me about her:

"Let us shut out the night. Fear nothing! For tonight you are in the house of Tom Bombadil."

Who shuts out the night? Tom? Goldberry? The two together? Either way, it's very impressive and very deep.

Tolkien makes a careful point that her dress rustles, I think in a silky sort of way. Leaves rustle, river reeds rustle... The water doesn't rustle, but things around it do. So the river-daughter is appropriately surrounded by rustling; but she herself sings. THere's something deep about that... somewhere.

Surrounded by lilies... Mithadan started a thread linking this to Song of Songs and I think he was right. So-- marital bliss, and fulfillment, and lots of other stuff.

All Tolkien's super-women were light of foot. But that doesn't make it unimportant. Goldberry leaped over the lily-pots and ran to the guests. We don't see elf-ladies running, except for Tinuviel (in song.) But rivers run. And they leap (over rapids and rocks, maybe not over lilies).

Goldberry (and Tom) dance as they clear the table (or were they setting the table?) I've always loved this. In Scotland, they danced in the kitchen because they only had two rooms, kitchen and bedroom. Ceili was held in the kitchen. But Goldberry and Tom aren't having a ceili. Or are they? Their whole ministry to the guests is like a ceili; songs, dances, stories. Perhaps it IS a ceili, arrival to departure.

Rain-- Goldberry makes rain lovely. The idea of a washed forest is just ... well... ...lovely. Lovely.

She sings in greeting and she sings in farewell.

I'm sure there are more but that will do for the moment. Do these qualities have roots in something findable? Is this archetypal stuff? Or what?

I shall ponder possible biblical connections....
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Old 03-20-2005, 08:31 PM   #13
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Nilpaurion Felagund:
Quote:
Because of this, now I think Goldberry has something to do with Uinen, whose hair is spread throughout the waters of Middle-earth.
I have always felt that Goldberry as River-daughter had to do with Uinen; ever since I first read The Silmarillion. Does it make Goldberry a Maia? Maybe. If she's a daughter of the river, which is feminine, does she have a father? Does she need one? Who can say? One of those mysteries. Is she perhaps a lock of Uinen's hair, come to life?

Lalwendé:
Quote:
But is Goldberry treacherous in any way? Does she 'lure' Tom? And does she lure him into a negative situation?
Have you read the two Adventures of Tom Bombadil poems? In the first one, Goldberry trickes him, pulling on his beard that dangles over the Withywindle (that she is apparently swimming or living in, and steals his hat. Is she flirting?

Back to her mother's house in the deepest hollow
swam young Goldberry. But Tom, he would not follow;


This suggests that Goldberry is trying to lure Tom to her mother's house, whatever that might mean.
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Old 03-20-2005, 09:39 PM   #14
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Quote:
I wonder: are there any instances in Middle earth of hostile water forces? (Bb)
Could the Withywindle be considered a hostile water force?
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Old 03-21-2005, 10:01 AM   #15
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Of course, there was speculation that Gollum was a tricster figure. I suppose we have two possibilities for his 'consort' - Shelob & his Grandmother. What interests me is that just as Tom manifests some of the positive aspects of the Trickster, his consort is a positive figure, while Gollum & Shelob seem to represent the negative aspects.

I wonder if we're dealing with 'Pagan' ideas/symbols as seen from a 'Christian' perspective. The old archetypes don't appear in their pure form but as split into their positive & negetive aspects - as we have the splitting of Odin into positive - Gandalf/Manwe - & negative - Sauron/Saruman. Or the 'good' king/bad king split in Theoden/Denethor.

The four-way 'split' of the trickster-consort pair into positive male-female & negative is interesting. Another thing that occurs is that Tom/Goldberry are childless while Shelob seems incredibly fecund - though she does tend to eat her brood. Gollum also is stated to have taken babies from their cradles to eat. So, the positive dyad seems not to reproduce, & children are absent from their world, while the negative dyad (the female aspect of it at least) reproduces almost uncontrollably but consumes its young....

& I have no idea where I'm going with this, so I'll stop now.
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Old 03-21-2005, 02:58 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LmP
Have you read the two Adventures of Tom Bombadil poems? In the first one, Goldberry trickes him, pulling on his beard that dangles over the Withywindle (that she is apparently swimming or living in, and steals his hat. Is she flirting?

Back to her mother's house in the deepest hollow
swam young Goldberry. But Tom, he would not follow;

This suggests that Goldberry is trying to lure Tom to her mother's house, whatever that might mean.
Quote:
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
Yet it seems that Goldberry wants to make out that Tom has somehow tamed or captured her. Which is the truth? Who captured who?

In folk tales, female water spirits do seem to have a malevolent side, so perhaps Goldberry did have this, but somehow Tom was able to tame her where other 'men' would have failed, possibly as he is no 'mere mortal' himself. Goldberry could have been some kind of 'lure' to tempt mortals into the water, whereupon they would be taken to her mother. However, the idea of her mother is interesting, as it could mean just another aspect of Goldberry herself. When tempting mortals into following her she could be young and beautiful, but as soon as they have been trapped she could become the more sinister 'mother' figure herself.

Quote:
Originally Posted by davem
Another thing that occurs is that Tom/Goldberry are childless while Shelob seems incredibly fecund - though she does tend to eat her brood.
I wonder how Shelob reproduced? In nature, male spiders are sometimes smaller than the female, and she will often eat her mate once she is through with him. Only the strongest of the brood of such creatures will escape being eaten by the mother, surely the ultimate survival of the fittest? A mother who eats her own children is wholly unexpected, and the very opposite of what we would find acceptable, so there could be something of the trickster in Shelob and others like her.

Tom and Goldberry seem to represent nature itself (as do the Ents, who are also lacking any Entings). This might mean that their very nature represents fertility itself so children would not be necessary or expected.
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Old 03-21-2005, 03:59 PM   #17
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I have never had the sense of any 'menace' coming from Goldberry. She does seem to flirt with him, though, in order to attract his attention. There is an old saying (or perhaps it's a song) that 'a boy chases a girl, until she catches him'
Tom, on the other hand, always seems to me to have an underlying power, a sense of danger. That perhaps he is not as innocent as he first appears.

This lack of children is an interesting point. Apart from human and hobbit children are any mentioned?
The ents are unable to reproduce because of the disappearance of their entwives. The elves seem to have had their children long ago and no 'new' offspring seem to be around. I remember reading that elves could delay reproduction in times of war/trouble; but is there something else here?
The elves, knowing that they will soon be gone, are no longer 'investing' themselves in Middle-earth, there is no future for them there.
The dwarves seem to have very few females. Although we have 'son of...'etc, they are all adults and no actual children are mentioned.
Tom and Goldberry have 'retired' into their own little world of the forest and surrounding area. Perhaps, as Lalwendë says, representing nature, they have no need to reproduce. There is also the question that being immortal there is no urge to 'leave behind' a family for posterity, but then that theory doesn't work for the elves.
Are the older races of Middle-earth heading for eventual extinction? Is it truly Man's time? If that is so then Middle-earth will be the poorer for it.
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Old 03-21-2005, 05:12 PM   #18
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Possibly Tolkien felt that the reproductive imperative was adequately--or perhaps we might even say supremely--represented by Sam and Rosie.

The tone used for Tom and Goldberry is, to my mind, markedly different in the poem collection [i]The Adventures of Tom Bombadil[/b] than in LotR. In the poems, perhaps because of the faint echo of ancient ballads and lyrics, there is a slighly suggested menace. This could well represent Tolkien's very prevalent habit of progressively rewriting and or over writing, the palimpsest, as I have called it elsewhere. After all, look at how many versions of Galadriel we have!

Quote:
'Go out! Shut the door, and never come back after!
Take away the gleaming eyes, take your hollow laughter!
Go back to grassy mound, on your stony pillow
lay down your bony head, like Old Man Willow,
like young Goldberry, and Badger-Folk in burrow!
Go back to buried gold and forgotten sorrow!
This is spoken to the Barrow-Wight, so clearly Goldberry here is linked with the dangerous if not hostile elements in Tom's world. I have always found, as well, that Tom's 'catching' of Goldberry carries something of the abduction of Persephone as well.

Quote:
He [Tom] caught her, held her fast! Water-rats went scuttering
reeds hissed, herons cried, and her heart was fluttering.
Said Tom Bombadil: 'Here's my pretty maiden!
You shall come home with me! The table is all laden:
yellow cream, honeycomb, white bread and butter;
roses at the window-sill and peeing round the shutter.
You shall come under Hill! Never mind your mother
in her deep weedy pool: there you'll find no lover!'

Nil, good call on the Withywindle! I would think that the malevolence of this river is part of the general dangerous ground of the Old Forest, but I think it certainly is a way to carry over the slightly menacing tone from the poems into the LotR while 'sanitising' the characterisation of Tom and Goldberry.

And, while I know how much davem enjoys free-from associations, I myself would hesitate to ascribe a 'consort' to Gollem. I grant that there are trickster elements in his depiction, but there is no literal pairing of him with a partner. After all, he seems quite wrapped up in his own Smeagol/Gollem relationship!
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Old 03-21-2005, 08:26 PM   #19
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Eruanna:
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This lack of children is an interesting point. Apart from human and hobbit children are any mentioned? The ents are unable to reproduce because of the disappearance of their entwives. The elves seem to have had their children long ago and no 'new' offspring seem to be around. I remember reading that elves could delay reproduction in times of war/trouble; but is there something else here? The elves, knowing that they will soon be gone, are no longer 'investing' themselves in Middle-earth, there is no future for them there. The dwarves seem to have very few females. Although we have 'son of...'etc, they are all adults and no actual children are mentioned. Tom and Goldberry have 'retired' into their own little world of the forest and surrounding area. Perhaps, as Lalwendë says, representing nature, they have no need to reproduce. There is also the question that being immortal there is no urge to 'leave behind' a family for posterity, but then that theory doesn't work for the elves. Are the older races of Middle-earth heading for eventual extinction? Is it truly Man's time?
davem:
Quote:
So, the positive dyad seems not to reproduce, & children are absent from their world, while the negative dyad (the female aspect of it at least) reproduces almost uncontrollably but consumes its young...
This reproduction issue fascinates me. Everything that is evil seems to spawn at an incredible pace .... as long as the will of a sufficiently puissant evil power stands behind it. Everything that we associate with "Faerie" - Elves, Ents, Dwarves, Tom & Goldberry - either have no offspring or have ceased to issue. Only Man continues. This "death of Faerie" was one of Tolkien's themes, was it not? So I suppose, then, the Galadriel-blessed year of 1420 was a last gasp of Faerie before it began to dissipate in the Fourth Age?
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Old 03-21-2005, 10:05 PM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bęthberry
Nil, good call on the Withywindle! I would think that the malevolence of this river is part of the general dangerous ground of the Old Forest, but I think it certainly is a way to carry over the slightly menacing tone from the poems into the LotR while 'sanitising' the characterisation of Tom and Goldberry.
Malevolent, or just dangerous?

I wonder if it is exactly proper to classify the Withywindle, indeed the entire Old Forest, as evil. Certainly, it bears malice to the Hobbits (and others, it would seem), and it is self-serving, and definitely wild, but can we really call it evil?

It is much like the dark parts of Fangorn that Treebeard refers to, and I believe that the connection is even made by the old Ent. Yet does anyone ever say that parts of Fangorn are evil?

Certainly, there is danger to the Old Forest. It is not a "nice" place, or a "safe" place, and it works actively against those it does not welcome. But does this make it evil, or is it more representative of the 'wildness' of nature?

Actually, come to think about it, I'm seeing a lot of parallels between the Old Forest and Caradhras. Something to think on, anyway...
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Old 03-22-2005, 12:35 AM   #21
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Originally Posted by Formendacil
Malevolent, or just dangerous?

I wonder if it is exactly proper to classify the Withywindle, indeed the entire Old Forest, as evil. Certainly, it bears malice to the Hobbits (and others, it would seem), and it is self-serving, and definitely wild, but can we really call it evil?

It is much like the dark parts of Fangorn that Treebeard refers to, and I believe that the connection is even made by the old Ent. Yet does anyone ever say that parts of Fangorn are evil?

Certainly, there is danger to the Old Forest. It is not a "nice" place, or a "safe" place, and it works actively against those it does not welcome. But does this make it evil, or is it more representative of the 'wildness' of nature?

Actually, come to think about it, I'm seeing a lot of parallels between the Old Forest and Caradhras. Something to think on, anyway...
You have a good point about how to interpret my word "malevolence", Formendacil. I used it to mean "ill will; malice; hatred" or "ill -disposed; vindictive; harmful; injurious" (Random House College Dictionary) rather than
the kind of evil which you infer, the evil of the Enemy.

The Old Forest certainly bears a grudge against the Hobbits from the long ago destruction of trees in the Bonfire Glade and the construction of the Hedge between the Forest and the Brandybuck estate. Old Man Willow is definitely harmful and our young hobbits have fearful feelings about the place.

I wouldn't link it with Sauron or the Enemy but it is a perilous place, isn't it?
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Old 03-22-2005, 03:31 AM   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Formendacil
Certainly, there is danger to the Old Forest. It is not a "nice" place, or a "safe" place, and it works actively against those it does not welcome. But does this make it evil, or is it more representative of the 'wildness' of nature?
Formendacil has got me thinking...Landscape in Middle Earth is very much alive, it is certainly painted in vivid colours, and it could be argued that it is a character in itself. In this, Tolkien has much in common with Thomas Hardy who also makes the landscape come alive, who makes it seem to have its own will, Egdon Heath in Return of the Native being a prime example of this.

Thinking about the characteristics of Tricksters, it is as though the landscape itself is the Trickster, wild, unpredictable and capricious. It can be benevolent, or it can be malicious. There are examples of where 'humans' have attempted to tame the landscape, such as the Hobbits lighting the fire in the Old Forest, and many examples of where 'humans' have waged war on the landscape, such as Saruman at Isengard. But nature, the landscape, always seems to fight back in unexpected ways. Despite what anyone does to it, it is still more than capable of biting back, as shown in The Old Forest.

Like the original ideas of Tricksters, who are not evil or good, who just are, the landscape in Middle Earth simply exists for its own sake, changes according to its own whims, and does just what it wants. Thinking about Ents, maybe this is why the Elves taught them to talk, that they saw just how unpredictable these creatures could be and wished to tame them in some way, or even to civilise them? So too, Tolkien seems to have tamed his Tricksters, but maybe he left one untouched, the land itself.
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Old 03-22-2005, 03:51 AM   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bb
The Old Forest certainly bears a grudge against the Hobbits from the long ago destruction of trees in the Bonfire Glade and the construction of the Hedge between the Forest and the Brandybuck estate. Old Man Willow is definitely harmful and our young hobbits have fearful feelings about the place.

I wouldn't link it with Sauron or the Enemy but it is a perilous place, isn't it?
As the Professor himself put it:

Quote:
Faerie is a perilous land, and in it are pitfalls for the unwary and dungeons for the overbold… The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things : all manner of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and stars uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment, and an ever-present peril; both joy and sorrow as sharp as swords. In that realm a man may, perhaps, count himself fortunate to have wandered, but its very richness and strangeness tie the tongue of a traveller who would report them. And while he is there it is dangerous for him to ask too many questions, lest the gates should be shut and the keys be lost.
Middle earth as a whole is a 'perilous' place - well, certainly the parts of it where 'magic' remains a force, but perhaps, as Tolkien said, this is simply its nature, rather than having any specific reason behind it. The trees of the Old Forest have some justification for the hatred they bear all those who go on two legs, but one suspects that it would be a place of peril anyway, simply because it is a part of Faerie & Faerie is a perilous land. Wny it is perilous to the traveller is another question - perhaps because we are not meant to go there? Perhaps because it isn't our home & if we do stray there, or even, like Smith, are invited to walk there, we have to walk with respect & remember we are guests & enter at our own risk.

Quote:
Originally Posted by LmP
This reproduction issue fascinates me. Everything that is evil seems to spawn at an incredible pace .... as long as the will of a sufficiently puissant evil power stands behind it. Everything that we associate with "Faerie" - Elves, Ents, Dwarves, Tom & Goldberry - either have no offspring or have ceased to issue. Only Man continues. This "death of Faerie" was one of Tolkien's themes, was it not? So I suppose, then, the Galadriel-blessed year of 1420 was a last gasp of Faerie before it began to dissipate in the Fourth Age?
It is interesting - yet Tolkien stated:

Quote:
Evil is fissiparous. But itself barren. Melkor could not 'beget', or have any spouse (though he attempted to ravish Arien, this was to destroy and 'distain' her, not to beget fiery offspring). (Morgoth's Ring - Myths Transformed)The same holds true for Sauron.
Evil replicates itself endlessly, but seems not to produce true life. I don't know if this contradicts my earlier point, but it seems clear that evil 'reproduces' almost by 'fragmenting' itself, so that what is produced are less & less powerful, more & more broken, 'clones'.

This 'fragmenting' perhaps reflects the same kind of fragmenting of Light & Language throughout the Legendarium which Flieger has shown runs down the ages of Middle earth (& for any other fans of Ms Flieger's work on Tolkien who haven't heard, she has a new book out next month:

Quote:
Interrupted Music
Tolkien and the Making of a Mythology
Verlyn Flieger
An eagerly awaited exploration of Tolkien’s Silmarillion
The content of Tolkien’s mythology, the Silmarillion, has been the
subject of considerable exploration and analysis for many years, but
the logistics of its development have been mostly ignored and
deserve closer investigation.
Nineteenth- and twentieth-century scholars understood the term
mythology as a gathering of song and story that derived from and
described an identifiable world. Tolkien made a continuous effort
over several years to construct a comprehensive mythology, to
include not only the stories themselves but also the storytellers,
scribes, and bards who were the offspring of his thought.
In Interrupted Music Flieger attempts to illuminate the structure of
Tolkien’s work, allowing the reader to appreciate its broad, overarching
design and its careful, painstaking construction. She
endeavors to “follow the music from its beginning as an idea in
Tolkien’s mind through to his final but never-implemented mechanism
for realizing that idea, for bringing the voices of his story to
the reading public.” In addition, Flieger reviews attempts at mythmaking
in the history of English literature by Spenser, Milton, and
Blake as well as by Joyce and Yeats. She reflects on the important
differences between Tolkien and his predecessors and even more
between Tolkien and his contemporaries.
This in-depth study will fascinate those interested in Tolkien and
fantasy literature.
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Old 03-22-2005, 03:33 PM   #24
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Good stuff, good points, everybody.

Bęthberry and Formendacil, I think it worth remembering that Treebeard told Pippin and Merry that there were some trees that though sound as a bell in wood and sinew, had black hearts. If that does not denote evil, I don't know what does. So I do not think it's a stretch to say that there are evil trees in Fangorn and the Old Forest. It's a different kind of evil, but "a rose by any other name" and all that....
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Old 03-22-2005, 04:45 PM   #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LMP
If that does not denote evil, I don't know what does. So I do not think it's a stretch to say that there are evil trees in Fangorn and the Old Forest. It's a different kind of evil, but "a rose by any other name" and all that....
Unless 'black' is being used in the sense of darkness, an absence of 'light' implying a lack of moral 'light' or goodness, so that the trees are not actively evil, but merely not 'good'.

Treebeard is sentient to the extent that he is capable of both distinguishing good & evil, & of being able to choose one over the other. Maybe he simply means that those particular trees don't have that capacity & so are dangerous to the unwary, or to the tresspasser.

In short, I'm wary of attributing moral choices to trees, plants or animals. Do they have souls? Can they understand & make moral choices? (Actively)Evil trees seems to beg more questions than it resolves...
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Old 03-22-2005, 05:47 PM   #26
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Unless 'black' is being used in the sense of darkness, an absence of 'light' implying a lack of moral 'light' or goodness, so that the trees are not actively evil, but merely not 'good'.
If rings, places, and even the very fabric of Arda can be evil or contain evil, surely a tree can.
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Old 03-23-2005, 03:14 AM   #27
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And further questioning 'actively'

As even represented today by our legal systems, negligence, or passivity when activity is the more reasonable course, is recognised as an 'evil'. I imagine the trees, imbued with personalities and names by the author, run the whole gamut of goodness from the truly black-hearted to the merely apathetic and upward to the nobility of the tree herders we meet.

I'm not sure if this creates further questions, as Tolkien distinguishes relatively clearly between the Ents and other, non-sentient, living things.
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Old 03-23-2005, 03:30 AM   #28
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Doesn't it require a rational soul capable of making moral choices to be truly 'Good' or 'evil'?

One of the most obvious manifestations of 'evil' in Middle earth is destruction of the natural environment. I don't see any natural plants, trees or animals participating in this kind of behaviour. What I do see is such creatures defending themselves (often, admittedly, to an extremely callous & destructive degree) against those they percieve to be their enemies, or against any who invade their territory.

What I mean is, I don't think we can class any trees or animals who have not been bred, or pressed into service, by the Enemy alongside Sauron or Saruman or the Nazgul. The moral 'evil' of those who have chosen to hate & destroy the Light is of a different order. (Some of) The trees of Fangorn & the Old Forest may have black hearts, but they are not demonic, they have not 'made a pact' with hell.
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Old 03-23-2005, 04:13 AM   #29
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This point depends upon whether it is a tree or an Ent which is being described as 'black-hearted'. Surely a non sentient creature cannot be described as good or evil, as it does not have sufficient consciousness to be able to decide. If we say that it can indeed be evil, then this suggests that evil and goodness can be inherent and that we can do nothing about them, therefore there is no chance for redemption etc. It's the thorny (and wormy) nature vs nurture question.

But something else strikes me as interesting in terms of Arda. Were the Ents once non-sentient in some way? Did the Elves 'awaken' their consciousness and therefore their nature as sentient beings? If so, then this might suggest other creatures have the potential to be sentient.

There's a live thread about whether animals could talk, and these tie together at this point, as we have to ask what it is that makes a non-humanoid (for want of a better word) creature sentient or not.

Trying to classify which creatures are evil and which are not is a bit of a minefield but is possible. We could define categories as those which have been bred for the purpose of evil (e.g. fell beasts), those which have been enslaved (e.g. oliphaunts), those which are employed by the good forces (e.g. horses), and those which are unaffiliated (e.g. trees). But I don't like to do this as where do we start and stop? Can we blame the fell beast for having been bred that way (and a creature is a very different thing to a ring)? And what of the oliphaunt, unfortunate enough to be a massive beast of burden and so dragged into conflict against its nature?

My own feeling tells me that Tolkien was trying to say that nature is 'outside' our concerns of good or bad, that it simply exists for its own sake. He shows us where creatures are 'used' or enslaved, and shows us where they fight back; he also shows us that despite what human-like species do, certain aspects of nature will act independently regardless of good or bad. On the one hand there are the moral forces, and on the other, the forces where morals do not matter. This is why I think the trickster figure is best represented in nature within Arda. How are we to say that a tree is good or bad? It is simply a tree. It has some kind of consciousness but it is beyond our comprehension.
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Old 03-23-2005, 10:56 AM   #30
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Please let us remember that we are talking about Tolkien's Middle Earth. As a Milieu, it functions according to the laws and rules Tolkien built into it. They must necessarily be different from our world in so far as there are no Ents, Trees that can walk and move about and destroy orcs, Elves, Dwarves, Ring, etc., etc. That being the case, we must be careful not to overlay our own moral predispositions and philosophy on top of Tolkien's work, if we are to understand Middle Earth according to Tolkien's intentions (since I'm "trespassing" on canonicity grounds, I included the italicized phrase).


davem:
Quote:
Doesn't it require a rational soul capable of making moral choices to be truly 'Good' or 'evil'?

Ah. You are presuming that making moral choices is a necessary aspect of being either good or evil. I don't think it holds in Middle Earth. Murdering a hobbit, something Old Man Willow was quite intent upon doing, is just as evil as wanton destruction of trees.

Lalwendë:
Quote:
If we say that [a non sentient creature] can indeed be evil, then this suggests that evil and goodness can be inherent and that we can do nothing about them, therefore there is no chance for redemption etc.
Actually, the bolded phrase does not necessarily follow from your premise, whereas the italicized one does. But again, remember, this is within the context of the Middle Earth milieu, and such things as a God/Man dying for the redemption of humans is not part of the milieu; instead, "meant to be-ness" occurs throughout the story such that what was meant for evil turns to good in the eucatastrophic way that Tolkien was so able to give witness to. Therein lies redemption in LotR/Middle Earth.
Also, I must disagree with you that in Tolkien nature existed for its own sake, as The Silmarillion indicates that all things exist for Eru's sake..... at least, if we are going to let Tolkien's creation be Tolkien's.
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Old 03-23-2005, 01:29 PM   #31
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But Elrond States that 'nothing was evil in the beginning. Therfore 'evil' is always the result of a moral choice. Hence, if trees are evil they must not only have become evil, but, one supposes, have chosen to do so. So, can trees & animals make such a choice?

Quote:
Originally Posted by LMP
don't think it holds in Middle Earth. Murdering a hobbit, something Old Man Willow was quite intent upon doing, is just as evil as wanton destruction of trees.
I wouldn't say it is, in that the attempt to kill the hobbits was made by a creature with intelligence (Old Man Willow), a sentient creature who has chosen to do what he did. Of course, its plain that OMW was seeking revenge on those who had harmed his own. Is this evil? If so, aren't the Ents also behaving with evil intent when they attack the orcs? Of course, just because OMW has made a choice doesn't mean that all trees in ME can make such a choice. And how do we account for the fact that the huorns attack the orcs just as eagerly as OMW attacks the hobbits? What I see is trees attacking their attackers - whoever those atackers may be.

This is as vexed a question as SpM's one about orcs. Can we really say that there are creatures in Me which are evil by nature (remaining within Tolkien's parameters for Me)? Any creature which was evil by nature would be beyond redemption, but must have been made evil by Eru - which, as I said, begs more questions than it resolves...
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Old 03-23-2005, 03:46 PM   #32
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It seems, Bęthberry, your thread has been hijacked!

Don't let the name, Old Man Willow throw you. OMW is just as much tree as the trees you insist are inherently good no matter how black their hearts (or is that a misunderstanding on my part of what you're trying to say vis-a-ve trees and inherent goodness?). The degree of OMW's sentience is not given, nor is it important.

Your quote of Elrond is unclear. You're not saying that Tolkien has him saying that moral choice is a necessity, are you? I don't think you are. If you're not, then you seem to be saying that since Elrond says there wasn't evil in the beginning, there had to be moral choice. This does not follow logically. But nonetheless, there was a moral choice: Morgoth's. He corrupted Arda. Thus evil trees did not choose it but became it by his will. Unjust? Certainly. But it reflects reality.

I don't think the problem is as vexed as you seem to think. LotR is the story of war. The Ents get caught up in war. This moves the discussion in the direction of Just Cause, about which I'm sure there are opinions many and varied. But the Ents are an army whereas OMW is at best vigilante and at worst premeditatedly (at least, as much as a tree can be) harmful.
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Old 03-23-2005, 04:28 PM   #33
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Possibly, but I don't get any sense of the Old Forest being evil - not like the Barrow Downs (the place, not the site... oh, I don't know though...) or Mordor, or even Isengard. Certainly it is perilous, but Faerie, as Tolkien has said, is perilous. Certainly Fangorn is not an 'evil' place. Treebeard is speaking of specific trees as having 'black hearts', not the place itself.

Quote:
Originally Posted by LMP
If you're not, then you seem to be saying that since Elrond says there wasn't evil in the beginning, there had to be moral choice. This does not follow logically. But nonetheless, there was a moral choice: Morgoth's. He corrupted Arda. Thus evil trees did not choose it but became it by his will. Unjust? Certainly. But it reflects reality.
I think for an individual to become evil must be the result of a moral choice, so it depends on whether the trees are individuals. You can't have individual 'evil' trees if they are evil as a result of Morgoth's choice - why aren't all the trees evil if that's the cause?

Quote:
OMW is just as much tree as the trees you insist are inherently good no matter how black their hearts (or is that a misunderstanding on my part of what you're trying to say vis-a-ve trees and inherent goodness?). The degree of OMW's sentience is not given, nor is it important.
So, are all the trees of the Old Forest evil, or just some of them? The OF is sentient - & my feeling is that its not just the trees, but the earth & air of the place too. It has moods, emotions even. But it is not Mordor, not by any stretch of the imagination, nor an echo of it. Mordor is a place of death, of unlife, anti-life. The OF is not. In there life, the life of nature, is all powerful. It does not attack the Hobbits in the service of Sauron, but because they are unwanted, uninvited, tresspassers.

Let me try another angle: In the episode of the Old Forest & the Barrow Downs the Hobbits have strayed out of mythic history into a poem - 'The Adventures of Tom Bombadil', where OMW is a sentient being, who can think & act. He is a character, & plays his part. A poem has come to life & the Hobbits find themselves as characters in it. This poem-world has its own rules, & its own conditions . Higher morality does not play a part in this world, Good & evil, do not exist in the form they take in the rest of the book. Tom is not affected by the Ring because it does not belong in the world of the poem - what I mean is, what it represents, the threat it poses, has no 'reality' or relevance in that world. Just as Tom himself & Goldberry, & OMW & the Barrow Wight, don't have any 'relevance' outside their poem-reality ('Tom's country ends here, he will not pass the borders. The OF/BD are a self-contained little world, with its own rules, a secondary world, which can be entered & left (if the traveller is lucky), but is in itself self-contained (which is why so many dramatisations leave the whole thing out. Frodo & his companions may gain something from their experiences there, but that world will remain always intact, un affected by events in the 'outer world - just as Middle earth itself remains an equally 'intact' secondary world to us, whatever events occur in 'our' primary' world. M-e may be 'applicable', but it is not 'allegorical'. In the same way, to the Hobbits, the world of the OF/BD may be 'applicable', but it is not 'allegorical' - ie, it has no one-to-one relationship with the rest of M-e. Hence the fruitlessness of attempting to 'prove' Tom & Goldberry are Maiar - or attempting to fit the behaviour & actions of its in habitants in with the 'moral values' of M-e.

So, Tom is neither a maiar, nor the Trickster. Goldberry is neither maiar nor Trickster's consort. He is - Tom Bombadil. And equally, so is she. And so is OMW & the BW.

And if I've contradicted any earlier statements here I take refuge in my sig
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Old 03-23-2005, 07:58 PM   #34
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I cant add any more to you guys rep points. I got to say bravo. Keep it up
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Old 03-23-2005, 10:18 PM   #35
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Pipe Conscience.

I've always seen the Ents and the Eagles (which were products of Yavanna and Manwë's music) as the conscience of the flora and fauna in ME.

So any place these two did not reach would probably not know the rightness of wrongness of their actions. And those without guidance would probably be inclined more to evil, seeing . . . well . . . Morgoth.
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Old 03-25-2005, 03:54 PM   #36
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davem, do you suppose that a "black heart" is meant, by Tolkien, to mean something other than evil? If so, what? Consider his style in all other places; is it in keeping with LotR to attribute an alternate meaning to it in the case of trees?

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evil as a result of Morgoth's choice - why aren't all the trees evil if that's the cause?
Because the Valar kept him from achieving complete domination of Arda. Fangorn and the Old Forest may not be evil places, but if Morgoth's taint is on everything, even if he did not dominate everything, why would it turn out that some places in Fangorn must not be evil? In our world, there is, by way of example, such a thing as genetic predisposition.

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I think for an individual to become evil must be the result of a moral choice...
Of course, you're entitled to your own theology. Tolkien's theology, however, he being a Roman Catholic, was that of original sin, which means that we are all born tainted with sin; we start out that way. I know this is offensive to some people, but that is Christian theology, and it's what Tolkien believed. Is it to be found in LotR? If Morgoth's taint is not Tolkien's depiction of original sin in Middle Earth, I don't know what it is. Yes, that's my opinion, and it may be debated. It does seem to be more in keeping with Tolkien's ouvre. Thus, moral choice is only one half of the question of evil.

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So, are all the trees of the Old Forest evil, or just some of them?
Some of them. Certainly one of them.

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The OF is sentient...
I think it would be more helpful to say that the trees of the Old Forest are aware. It is one of the three definitions of sentient in my dictionary, but more in keeping with LotR - at least, to my thinking.

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Just as Tom himself & Goldberry, & OMW & the Barrow Wight, don't have any 'relevance' outside their poem-reality ('Tom's country ends here, he will not pass the borders...)
The barrows and the wights that reside there are definitely a part of Arda/Middle Earth, having to do with the old Kingdom of Arnor and old battles fought there, and long-dead warriors' ghosts ... not at all unlike the Dead Marshes. The fact that Tom has power over him gives evidence to his "relevance" outside his own - er - "poem-reality".

I've noticed here at BD that as soon as someone begins to speculate about Tolkien's Middle Earth based on their own personal likes, dislikes, beliefs, and values, the topics seem to, as it were, float up from the groundedness Tolkien has given all of Middle Earth, to become disembodied effluvia that just don't ring true, for me, to Tolkien's Middle Earth. Maybe that's another way of saying which side of the "canonicity" debate I'm on.

That said, I think there is great virtue in what you say about the indefinability of Tom and Goldberry. Nevertheless, I will still point out traits I see, such as the Trickster, when they occur to me, as you are, of course, also entitled to do.
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Old 03-25-2005, 04:19 PM   #37
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Ok, the 'poem-reality' is connected to the 'real' landscape of that part of Middle-earth, but the 'feel' is different. As Sam might have put it, when I read those chapters I feel as if I were 'inside a song'. Another thought occurs. Frodo's dream in the house of Bombadil. Its as if he is both dreaming himself back into his own reality but at the same time dreaming himself into paradise. As if he has passed from the secondary 'poem-reallity' into another, deeper kind of reality. Worlds within worlds

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Tolkien's theology, however, he being a Roman Catholic, was that of original sin, which means that we are all born tainted with sin; we start out that way.
But is this the theology of M-e? Certainly M-e has nothing like the Christian concept of original sin, in that there is no single, all encompassng Fall, just lots of falls - the Noldor, Men (possibly- some speculation in Athrabeth) & Morgoth's. But this is difficult. Tolkien states that Morgoth 'suffused' his evil, his power, into the stuff of Arda, so that matter itself becomes tainted. But this then becomes a given, & all things inherit it. All matter is corrupted, but is it 'fallen' in the Christian sense? I don't know enough of Christianity to say, but it seems different, in that no-one has chosen to be corrupted in that way. It is simply a kind of 'poison' which all things carry around inside them. So there is no personal moral failing involved, & freedom of choice remains. Perhaps this must be so, there being no 'saviour' who can enter in & redeem the inhabitants of Arda (though in Athrabeth Finrod speculates on this possibility).

Perhaps, as fallen beings ourselves, our vision is tainted, & we can only see Middle-earth from that perspective...

Sorry, I'll have to stop there, because I don't know where I'm going with that....
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Old 03-25-2005, 10:51 PM   #38
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I do see a lot of similarity between "original sin" and Morgoth's tainting; and I think you are right in thinking that the differences between the two have to do with the lack of a savior in Middle Earth. It must be remembered that the Athrabeth is a very late part of Tolkien's lengendarium, in which he was rethinking everything in terms of a round-world mythology with modern physics in place from the get-go. So maybe part of his rethinking was the introduction of a savior after all! But who's to know?
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