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Old 08-24-2023, 06:59 AM   #1
Arvegil145
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Goldberry: a relic of an earlier idea?

The nature of both Tom Bombadil and his wife Goldberry has been a subject of a lot of discussions and theorizations.

However, I tend to follow the idea of 'assuming as little as is humanly possible, with the most bang for the buck in return'...


With that out of the way, let me introduce you to Ailinónë:

Quote:
Ailinóne (ĭ) a fairy who dwelt in a lily on a pool.

This quote comes from the Qenya Lexicon ('Qenya' being a very early precursor to 'Quenya') in the Parma Eldalamberon Vol. 12, p. 29

Now, the 'fairy' part of the above quote had a few different meanings in Tolkien's earliest legendarium - but in this context, judging from some other entries (such as 'Nardi', another fay), I believe it is clear that it refers to 'fays'.

What are 'fays'? Fays are essentially Maiar before the concept of 'Maiar' came about: but it's more complicated than that.

In the very early legendarium, such as the one in The Book of Lost Tales, not all of the lesser Ainur (all of whom were called 'Valar' at that point, anyway) who came into the world served the greater Ainur (i.e. Manwe, Ulmo, etc.).

Some just came into the world essentially for fun! And some of them were so minute that even Elves and Men possessed greater power than them - as well as being incredibly detail oriented as well - such as, for example, a fay (i.e. Ainu in the later legendarium) dedicated to lilies in a pool (or, interpreted in an even more extreme point of view, a fay dedicated to this particular lily on a pool).




So...what does all of this have to do with Goldberry? Well:

1) Goldberry's association with both water and lilies

Quote:
Her long yellow hair rippled down her shoulders; her gown was green, green as young reeds, shot with silver like beads of dew; and her belt was of gold, shaped like a chain of flag-lilies set with the pale-blue eyes of forget-me-nots. About her feet in wide vessels of green and brown earthenware, white water-lilies were floating, so that she seemed to be enthroned in the midst of a pool.
- The Fellowship of the Ring, 'In the House of Tom Bombadil'

...and much, much more, both in the LOTR as well as The Adventures of Tom Bombadil (and I really mean it - it's everywhere!)


2) Goldberry's association with Tom Bombadil - the king of all weirdness in the LOTR, as well as with the Old Forest, Old Man Willow and the Barrow-downs: while this isn't exactly a slam-dunk, all of the above elements always struck me as very...fairy like, if you would.

Especially her relationship with the river Withywindle, literally being called the 'River-daughter' (albeit in a poem) - but, unlike in Tolkien's later conception where (at least) the Valar refrained from procreation, in the 'Lost Tales' and the texts closely related to it, the Ainur seemed hardly hesitant to the idea of procreation.

Additionally, the idea of a 'River-daughter' seems quite 'elemental' to me, at least - something that Tolkien himself in his early years enjoyed quite a bit:


Quote:
On another sheet of paper, placed immediately after "The Creatures of the Earth" in the sheaf of loose leaves inserted into Notebook B, there is a short list labeled simply "Valar" that appears to expand on sections D and E of the table, presenting various types of fays and folk of the Valar arranged according to the elemental categories of Air, Earth , Water, and Fire.


About half of the names on the "Valar" list also appear on the "Creatures of the Earth" or in the Lost Tales (or both), including 'manir', 'suruli' (Air-fays); 'Tavari', 'nermir', 'nandini' (Earth-fays); and 'wingildi', 'oarni', 'oaritsi' (Water-fays).[/B] The remaining names are unique to this text. In the list of Earth-fays, the 'pelloini' are apparently fays of towns or hedged fields . . .

. . . The 'alandri' must be fays of the woods . . .

. . . Among the Water-fays, the 'nenuvar' are probably fays of lily-ponds, the 'aïlior' fays of lakes and pools, the 'ektelarni' fays of fountains, and the 'capalini' fays of springs. The "Valar" list provides no names under the category of "Fire", although GL mentions Sacha 'the fire-fay' (Q Sáya), a mysterious being about whom nothing else is ever said.

Tolkien's elemental fays may owe something to the four varieties of elemental "spirit-men" described by Paracelsus: sylphs (air), pygmies or gnomes (earth), nymphs (water), and salamanders (fire). The 'Mánir' and 'Súruli' are in fact referred to as "sylphs" in "The Coming of the Valar". . .
- Parma Eldalamberon, Vol. 14, 'The Creatures of the Earth', pp. 7-8 (some of the linguistic stuff was removed by me, so as not to clutter the post too much)



Anyway...these are my two cents.
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Old 08-24-2023, 07:21 AM   #2
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There are other early hints about the origins and nature of Goldberry (and Bombadil). The following quote is found in the chapter The Chaining of Melko (which itself includes some odd pieces including the capture of Morgoth via subterfuge). In this chapter. Meril is telling Aelfwine how it came to pass that the Valar took up their dwelling in Eldamar while Morgoth remained in Middle Earth and also discussed Orome and Yavanna's travels to and concerns about the great lands.

"At that time did many strange spirits fare into the world, for there were pleasant places dark and quiet for them to dwell in. Some came from Mandos, aged spirits that journeyed from Iluvatar with him who are older than the world and very gloomy and secret, and some from the fortresses of the North where Melko then dwelt... But some few danced thither with gentle feet exuding evening scents, and those came from the gardens of Lorien."

To me, this is altogether too familiar and consonant with my views of Bombadil and Goldberry as consistent with Tolkien's mythos as it evolved, rather than the oft quoted "enigma" reference.
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Old 08-24-2023, 10:22 PM   #3
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In amongst all those snippets from Tolkien's early work, it is intriguing to consider the influence of the story of Väinämöinen and Aino, from the Finnish epic The Kalevala, which had a profound influence on Tolkien's imagination.

A famous triptych of the story can be found here: http://https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aino_(mythology)#/media/File:Gallen_Kallela_The_Aino_Triptych.jpg
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Old 08-26-2023, 04:09 PM   #4
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The influence of the Kalevala on Tolkien is certainly never to be underestimated, but I'm not sure Aino's story fits Goldberry very well.

To begin with, Aino at first is not a water-creature, or even associated with water (unlike her suitor, Väinämöinen himself, whom we first meet floating on the primeval waters in the beginning of the epos, and one of whose typical epithets translates as something like water-dweller) but only becomes so after drowning herself in order to escape a forced marriage with him (which she may be about to do on the right panel of Gallén-Kallelas triptych).

Second, their first first meeting didn't take place by the riverside but in the forest (as we see on the left panel), and it's not she who tries to catch him but he who tries to seduce her.

Finally, when she allows herself to be caught by him, meaning to marry him after all (as we may assume, or rather hope, Goldberry did) she comes in the shape of a fish and he blows it by trying to gut her instead of taking her home as his wife, so she flees again after revealing her identity (middle panel). Fortunately Tom and Goldberry had a happier ending. If you look at Gallén-Kallela's painting in isolation, it could be taken as an illustration of Tom catching Goldberry, but that's not the story it tells.

I rather see Goldberry as descended from the nixies and water-nymphs, the undines and melusines of European folk mythology, which inspired Arvegil145's Ailinóne and her like. One of those was the tragical heroine of Friedrich de la Motte-Fouqué's novella Undine, telling the story of another River-daugher (who, by the way, has an uncle named Kühleborn - does that remind us of anything?). While Fouqué's Undine is unlike Goldberry in a lot of ways (she marries a human knight in order to acquire a soul, which as an elemental she traditionally lacks, prefiguring Andersen's Little Mermaid), a common element is a dangerous spooky forest that her parental river flows through.

Priya Seth, in an (at least initially) less-far-fetched-than-usual blog post, makes a case for Goldberry being inspired by Arthur Rackham's illustrations for an English edition of Undine, of which she reproduces several that, I must admit, look indeed quite Goldberry-ish to me (especially this). There is, however, no evidence that Tolkien was familiar with either Fouqué's story or Rackham's illustrations, so all this has to remain speculation.

(Fouqué himself is largely forgotten today even in Germany, unjustly IMO. Apart from Undine, which was quite famous in its day, he wrote several lengthy prose romances set either in Germanic antiquity or an idealised Middle Ages and often incorporating supernatural elements, which first plowed the field that later authors like William Morris and Tolkien himself cultivated. He also was the first to translate an Icelandic saga into contemporary German.)
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Old 08-27-2023, 10:16 AM   #5
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You can delve into the mythological tendencies of Tom and Goldberry, you can divine their origins from previous Tolkien text, and you can make assumptions about their parturition, place and purpose (or lack thereof) in Middle-earth; however, the inescapable conclusion is that Tolkien presented them as personifications of nature, and he preferred to keep them as such, eschewing any further definition beyond the timeworn "enigma" we repeat ad nauseam whenever the eternal argument arises (Balrog's wings, anyone?).

They are embodiments of wood and water, derived certainly from Tolkien's medieval predilections and the mythos arising from not only England, but Greek, Norse and Finnish studies; hence, in Goldberry's case, the korrigans, Peg Powlers, water-nymphs, selkies, kelpies, mermaids and naiads of folklore (and the "river-daughter" appellation accords with numerous citations in Greek myth).

Harkening back to Bêthberry's reference to Wiki...
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goldberry

One gets a veritable cornucopia (or fish net, as it were) of various explanations from dozens of scholars, each hitting on specific aspects of Goldberry's manifestation. All are true, or half-true, or reasonable assumptions. But in the end, I am inevitably drawn back to a letter from 1937 where Tolkien explained that Tom (and by extension, Goldberry) was meant to represent:
Quote:
'the spirit of the (vanishing) Oxford and Berkshire countryside.'
(The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, no 19)
Goldberry is to water what Tom is to the land, locked together like the woody shore is to the riverbed. You can make guesses beyond that, but Tolkien, wherever he may reside currently, is probably quite amused at our endless conjecture.
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Old 08-29-2023, 12:36 PM   #6
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Intriguing replies, Pitchwife and Morthoron. It is a pity the Downs moves so slowly these days, as it is difficult to give out rep points and be able to return to you both to rep your posts.

Of course there are dozens of mythological figures that provide some provenance for both Goldberry and Tom; however, the degree of similar characteristics between Tom and Vainamoienen in the Kalevala beg us to at least consider where Goldberry might fit in that similarity. Any similarity between Goldberry and Aino does not lie in specific details but in simply their relationship with their male counterparts. Both are tales of the relationship between male and female figures in mythology; it is the sexual tension that intriguingly suggests the provenance. Yes, Aino is told she must provide milk-pots and honey cake for this husband, which is Goldberry's domestic role, and her plaint is that she must marry this old man because of his power and a promise made by a male member of her family and leave her beloved first home. Aino's fate is the fate of many a woman who resisted forced marriage; there are a good many Christian saints who preferred their chastity to forced marriage and a relationship with other women. This is not the fate of Goldberry, but woven in the two tales is the relationship of the young girl with her mother and expectations of a girl leaving her family to marry. In both tales there is some play of sexual tension, with Goldberry initiating the relationship by pulling Tom into the water and then escaping, and then with Aino reappearing as the unusual salmon/perch/trout, only to escape again from the violence of the knife. Goldberry does not escape as Tom "caught her, held her fast! Water-rats went scuttering/reeds hissed, herons cried; and her heart was fluttering" (The Adventures of Tom Bombadil)

I don't push this comparison too far and like Morth's point that Tom and Goldberry should simply be seen as embodiments of wood and water, personifications of nature and a nod to so many mythological figures. Yet it strikes me that there is another similarity here, which shows Tolkien's desire to depict women satisfied with the social expectations of a woman in marriage. Eowyn forsakes her wishes for her own power and freedom from societal restraint and finds domestic success with Faramir. Tolkien replaces the violent sundering of Aino and Vainamoienen with a satisfying domestic relationship between Tom and Goldberry. After all, Tom recognises he has removed Goldberry from her childhood home and so brings her the beloved water lilies.
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Old 08-30-2023, 01:15 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bêthberry View Post
Intriguing replies, Pitchwife and Morthoron. It is a pity the Downs moves so slowly these days, as it is difficult to give out rep points and be able to return to you both to rep your posts.
I have a similar problem with you, Bb, but fortunately not with Morth and (if may be so bold?) Arv.

You raise some good points here. I'm not sure the River-woman meant to marry her daughter off to ol' Tom, but what do we know? In any case Tom and Väinämöinen are indeed similar in the power of their songs. It may be worth remembering that Joukahainen wagered and forfeited his sister, Aino, in a song contest with V.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bêthberry View Post
Yet it strikes me that there is another similarity here, which shows Tolkien's desire to depict women satisfied with the social expectations of a woman in marriage. Eowyn forsakes her wishes for her own power and freedom from societal restraint and finds domestic success with Faramir. Tolkien replaces the violent sundering of Aino and Vainamoienen with a satisfying domestic relationship between Tom and Goldberry.
Indeed. Aredhel and Eöl come to mind as a case where the marriage was not so harmonic, her acquiescence forced, and the divorce disastrous.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bêthberry View Post
After all, Tom recognises he has removed Goldberry from her childhood home and so brings her the beloved water lilies.
Oh yes! Nice touch!
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Old 09-24-2023, 04:14 PM   #8
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Hi Arvegil145

About 7 years ago I put out an article on Goldberry. It was the result of an attempt to understand the etymology behind her name:

https://priyasethtolkienfan.wordpres.../10/goldberry/

I too felt water-lilies were crucial to ‘her story’. In particular - the ‘yellow’ water-lily. And so, using that as a basis I made an attempt to ‘reconstruct’ it using the Professor’s own philosophy:

“To me a name comes first, and the story follows”.

If your ever get to Part IV, The Creatures of the Earth plays a crucial part in my thoughts about nailing down her genus.

It’s been one of my better received articles with much positive feedback. Some members are aware of it. In any case, I recommend a re-read for those who took a look long ago, because I have added much new evidence over the years.
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