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Old 01-21-2017, 01:28 PM   #1
Balfrog
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Elementals

The fourth and last part on Ms. Seth's series about Goldberry is now available.


https://priyasethtolkienfan.wordpres...17/01/16/3579/


At the beginning, there's a lot of incidental type information – but her basic belief is that Tolkien linked his mythology into our world's legends. In doing so he included the 'elementals' described by the 16th century alchemist commonly known as Paracelsus – citing Tolkien's knowledge of them and him.

There's much good information out there on the Internet about Paracelsus' writings and his belief in spirits inhabiting the four building blocks of the Greek mythological world – earth, air, fire and water. In any case she proposes the stones of Hollin along with Trolls were prime examples of Tolkien's inclusion of Paracelsian elementals into TLotR.

To my knowledge, I haven't seen this proposed before on this site or by established scholars – except in the briefest manner. It seems that the core evidence is a Tolkien letter about Trolls which ties in with medieval mythology that elementals possess no souls. This in turn links back to Goldberry by the way of the once wildly popular tale of Undine – a water elemental who attained a soul by marriage (which she already covered in Part II),

The evidence is scant – but there again there really isn't much written on Goldberry. One thing is for sure and that is Ms. Seth kept her promise in her Introduction at the beginning of the four part series. Certainly she has looked at Goldberry in a completely different manner to others. Her suggestions appear quite plausible – but there again that is my personal opinion.
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Old 01-21-2017, 01:49 PM   #2
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Hm. I'm inclined to discount this just based on a couple of items.

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Quite rightly the reader is entitled to be a little perturbed. Here we have the unusual situation of a rambunctious wrinkly old man cohabiting with a beautiful young maiden who exhibits a degree of worrisome servility.
I am not 'perturbed', nor do I find any evidence of 'worrisome servility' at play there.

Goldberry actually corrects Tom when he's ready to feed the hobbits the first night, telling him they hadn't had a chance to wash up.

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To make matters worse, comic relief was added of the strangest kind in belittling the power of the Ring.
I don't see that scene as 'comic relief', but rather a revealing statement about Bombadil: he, though a part of the physical world, is able to distance himself from it spiritually to an otherwise unseen extent. And as is made clear later at the Council of Elrond, Tom could still not keep the Ring in Sauron's despite indefinitely.

The sight of Tom's blue eye looking through the Ring has to me just been a symbol of Tom as Sauron's opposite, in a way. Tom, I think, had that in mind for Frodo particularly, though his motive for doing it is admittedly obscure.

Really though, the author of the piece seems to misread some elements of the book to the extent that I question her conclusions about the material.
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Old 01-21-2017, 09:19 PM   #3
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earthlings

I'd like to comment on a small error in Ms. Seth's citation of The Creatures of the Earth. While I approve of her decision to note its possible relevance, her statement that Tolkien "labeled 'earthlings' as: 'Beasts, Creatures and Monsters'" does not accurately reflect the contents of that text. A quick glance at Parma Eldalamberon 14 (pages 5-8 are Wynne and Gilson's analysis, with p. 9-10 the actual documents) shows that Tolkien split his hierarchy into eight categories: (A) Elves or Fairies, (B) Ūvanimor / monsters, (C) Earthlings, (D) Fays, (E) Children of the Gods / Valar and their folk, (F) Children of Men, (G) Beasts and Creatures. C does not equal B + G*; I'll summarize the rest of the text for those without (since it's currently out-of-print).

B (Melko's folk) is further subdivided into Qenya words for demons, goblins, balrogs, ogres of the north and south (smaller cannibal giants), and trolls; demons and balrogs are said to be "probably an evil form of D." C consists of wood-giants, mountainous-giants, dwarves, and pygmies. D has fays of the meads, the woods, the valleys, the mountains, and the rivers, though the last unfortunately has no Qenya name provided. E contains the Mānir and Suruli (etc.), with Tolkien saying there is "very little distinction between these and D." Tolkien then presents the hierarchy as E, D, A, F, C, G, [B] so that the Children of Men "thus occupy the middle place in the seven orders."

A separate "Valar" chart is presented afterwards which expands upon D and E subdivided between the elements of Air, Earth, Water, and Fire. Six types are listed for Water: wingildi, oarni (oaritsi), nenuvar, aïlior, ektelarni, and capalindi. In their commentary on p. 7, Wynne and Gilson link the last four to lily-pools, lakes/ponds, fountains, and springs (respectively). Wingildi and Oarni show up in BoLT's The Coming of the Valar alongside the Falmaríni (missing in this "Valar" chart but attested elsewhere), said to be "the spirits of the foam and the surf of ocean." More can be said on the Wingildi and Falmaríni, but neither seem applicable to Goldberry.

If anything in The Creatures of the Earth seems relevant, rather than earthlings I think one might wonder about the unnamed river-fays in D, or the aïlior (presumably fays of lily-pools). I'm not comfortable stating that I think Tolkien classified Goldberry as a river-fay according to his Creatures of the Earth chart, but I do wonder whether he had his earlier Paracelsian nymph ideas in mind as inspiration, even if not the only bones in the soup.

Regarding the note Ms. Seth cites about Tolkien abandoning the concept in Scheme D that mermaids = Oarni in order to have them be "earthlings, or fays? — or both", my first idea is to wonder whether this might be interpreted as shifting from friendly sea-spirits who love/rescue Earendel to being associated with rocks/shoals/sandbars that their associated fays might lure sailors into. "Enchantment of his sailors" in that same note certainly brings sirens and their dangers to my mind.
----

*However, in their commentary on p. 8, Wynne and Gilson compare Creatures of the Earth listing nautar 'dwarves' under Earthlings to "a rejected outline for the Tale of Nauglafring" which classifies Nautar/Nauglath as Úvanimor. They point out that "The designation of Nautar as Úvanimor 'monsters' can be compared to the notion of Paracelsus that dwarves are monstra born of the pygmies or gnomes." Compare also how Úvanimor are said to be "monsters, giants, and ogres ... bred from the earth" in I:268 (Gilfanon's Tale), and how Orcs are said to be "bred by Melko of the subterranean heats and slime. Their hearts were of granite" in II:159 (The Fall of Gondolin).
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Old 01-21-2017, 09:50 PM   #4
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I just can't help but feel, once again, as if trying to "categorise" Bombadil and Goldberry misses the point somewhat; I've always felt like the point was that they can't easily be slotted into a Valar-Maiar-Elves-Men-Dwarves-etc. system. I think it's very possible to argue that there are ambiguous spirits in the texts, but that's the thing – their nature is unclear. They might be spirits, memories, "imprints", all sorts of fantastical things. Trying to pin them down as "elementals" and so on seems a bit too hard-and-fast to me, and seems to want to demolish those "unseen vistas" that are an important part of the text and the thematic content: we're not Eru, and some things in Eä are beyond our understanding or even our possibility of knowing. I'm not saying "don't look for answers"; I'm saying that sometimes answers don't exist and their non-existence is actually part of the argument of the narrative.

On the other hand I think this might be useful for considering influences upon the text and possible avenues of interpretation - the "Tolkien studies" side, rather than the "Middle-earth studies" side, as Michael Drout would put it.
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Old 02-11-2017, 11:52 AM   #5
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"I am not 'perturbed', nor do I find any evidence of 'worrisome servility' at play there."

I suspect Ms. Seth's remark was directed at Goldberry using a term of address for Tom as "Master". And no less than thrice – capitalized each time. Something you obviously missed.

In this day and age – a wife calling a husband 'Master' will be deemed by many as servile. However Ms. Seth left it to the reader to decide how much servility by specifically qualifying it as: 'a degree of servility'


As to:

"To make matters worse, comic relief was added of the strangest kind in belittling the power of the Ring.

I don't see that scene as 'comic relief' "


The hobbits themselves describe part of the Ring episode with Tom as being “comical”. Thus quite reasonably - the reader is entitled to think in the same manner.

"Really though, the author of the piece seems to misread some elements of the book to the extent that I question her conclusions about the material."

Hope you can appreciate that there are other points of view to your critique. An open-minded reader ought to be able to understand that. After refuting these (frankly unwarranted) criticisms – my suggestion is that you take another read of TLotR and also take time to digest Ms. Seth's essay more carefully. Who exactly is guilty of mis-reading? I'll happily engage in further debate – if you so wish.



Tyr

I consulted with Ms. Seth on the “small error” and she totally agrees and much appreciates your gracious way of pointing it out. PE 14 is as rare as hen's teeth – unfortunately her source turned out to be unreliable – and she is grateful for your input. The essay has been updated (hopefully satisfactorily) but essentially its thrust remains unchanged.

I did ask her if she had a view on:

"Regarding the note Ms. Seth cites about Tolkien abandoning the concept in Scheme D that mermaids =*Oarniin order to have them be "earthlings, or fays? — or both", my first idea is to wonder whether this might be interpreted as shifting from friendly sea-spirits who love/rescue Earendel to being associated with rocks/shoals/sandbars that their associated fays might lure sailors into. "Enchantment of his sailors" in that same note certainly brings sirens and their dangers to my mind."

Her opinion was that she understood your feelings – but in her mind it was difficult to equate mermaids as creatures of the sea with them also being, in a sense, coastal 'earthlings'. She felt her argument was valid and justifiable because of Tolkien's rare use of the term 'earthlings' and where it was used in an unmistakable sense – it was within a hierarchy of types of being.
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Old 02-11-2017, 01:04 PM   #6
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"I am not 'perturbed', nor do I find any evidence of 'worrisome servility' at play there."
"Worrisome servility." Heavens, no!

Good Lord... I'm surprised Seth didn't start calling things "problematic" and complaining that there wasn't enough "engagement" or "outreach" done by Tom, or any of the other banal cliches through which all things are politicized now.
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Old 03-11-2017, 10:31 PM   #7
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Here we have, what I think is, a very unusual situation – a wife referring to her husband as ‘Master’ several times in front of strangers, and minutes after meeting them. I cannot imagine my wife doing so – or for that matter any others – in this day and age. Even in Tolkien’s time, I cannot imagine Edith ever calling her husband ‘Master’ in front of guests. I think eyebrows would certainly have been raised both then and now.

Conversely we must also note that at no time is Goldberry referred to as a ‘Master’ (or ‘Mistress’). And let’s face it – if we had a beautiful young sister who was married to a wrinkly old man, most of us would be more than worried by her referring to her spouse as ‘Master’!

In using such a term of address, Goldberry acknowledges who ‘wears the pants’ in the household and who is the ‘underling’. Indeed Goldberry’s lesser role is obvious through Tom being the party listening to the hobbits’ troubles and advising them of precautions to take for the journey ahead. All of this, while Goldberry retires early.

As used by Ms. Seth, the term ‘servility’ doesn’t necessarily imply Goldberry is a slave. She certainly isn’t. Tom appears to treat her with affection and respect; and definitely shares the work in entertaining the arrivals. Once again how worrisome and to what degree of servility – Ms. Seth leaves it to the individual reader to decide. To some ‘Master’ may imply very little – to others perhaps Goldberry appears horrifyingly submissive.
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Old 03-12-2017, 08:00 AM   #8
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I disagree. It's nothing but yet another essayist attempting to foist 21st century mores on ancient times so that, lo and behold, we find something to be problematic.

And, thus, Ms. Seth achieves Raison d'être via a closed loop.
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Old 03-13-2017, 01:29 AM   #9
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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.
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Old 03-13-2017, 10:40 AM   #10
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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,.
I'm not content with it.

I've reached my saturation point with the kind of mutated Puritanism that saturates Seth's article. I've heard too much of it over the years: "Tolkien is sexist", "Tolkien is racist", "Tolkien is classist", "Tolkien is reactionary", etc. etc. ad nauseum.

People can't even appreciate a good story anymore. Instead they take a good story like The Ring Trilogy and look for things that they can classify as "problematic" (or any of the other hackneyed Mc-Cliches they just have to use, or they can't sleep at night, I guess) in order to try and make pseudo-intellectualism seem like the genuine thing.

This is worse than medieval Catholics debating the presence of Adam's bellybutton; and I say that as a Catholic, myself.
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Old 03-13-2017, 11:41 AM   #11
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I'm not content with it.

I've reached my saturation point with the kind of mutated Puritanism that saturates Seth's article. I've heard too much of it over the years: "Tolkien is sexist", "Tolkien is racist", "Tolkien is classist", "Tolkien is reactionary", etc. etc. ad nauseum.

People can't even appreciate a good story anymore. Instead they take a good story like The Ring Trilogy and look for things that they can classify as "problematic" (or any of the other hackneyed Mc-Cliches they just have to use, or they can't sleep at night, I guess) in order to try and make pseudo-intellectualism seem like the genuine thing.
It depends what you think constitutes "pseudo intellectualism" as opposed to the genuine kind, and what it means to "appreciate a good story".

In my thesis research I read a lot of stuff that was very harsh on Professor Tolkien's work, typically and unsurprisingly from political positions quite different from his own. When I read such things I would shrug my shoulders and think "Well, that's this person's interpretation. It's no skin off my nose if they have such-and-such a problem with it."

That's why these things don't bother me. They're just other people's opinions, in the end.
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Old 03-13-2017, 01:19 PM   #12
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People can't even appreciate a good story anymore. Instead they take a good story like The Ring Trilogy and look for things that they can classify as "problematic" (or any of the other hackneyed Mc-Cliches they just have to use, or they can't sleep at night, I guess) in order to try and make pseudo-intellectualism seem like the genuine thing.
Well, we here at the Downs pick the works apart to find inner meanings and windows to Tolkien's imaginative process. That's just a good time.

But we (mostly) use Tolkien's own works and words to make our points, and recognize that imparting motives and inspirations to the books without firm evidence is a fool's errand. The theories espoused by Ms. Seth and other academics are interesting, but ultimately not provable, and in my mind, no more authoritative that anything I've seen aired in this forum.
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Old 03-14-2017, 11:14 AM   #13
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no more authoritative that anything I've seen aired in this forum.
Hey! I'd like to think that we are a darn sight more authoritative.
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