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Goldberry and similar historic examples


Oct 22 2012, 3:58pm

Post #1 of 18 (1031 views)
Goldberry and similar historic examples Can't Post

"In The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, Tolkien describes Goldberry as the seasonal changes in nature.."
""She is the rain and snows that arise from the waters and replenish them again."

"An Apsara (also spelled as Apsarasa) is a female spirit of the clouds and waters in Hindu and Buddhist mythology........Apsaras are beautiful, supernatural female beings. They are youthful and elegant, and superb in the art of dancing. They are often the wives of the Gandharvas, the court musicians of Indra. They dance to the music made by the Gandharvas, usually in the palaces of the gods, entertain and sometimes seduce gods and men. As caretakers of fallen heroes, they may be compared to the valkyries of Norse mythology. As ethereal beings who inhabit the skies, and are often depicted taking flight, or at service of a god, they may be compared to angels."

Boann - a water goddess.

"The Neck/Nixie (German: Nix/Nixe/Nyx) are shapeshifting water spirits who usually appear in human form. The spirit has appeared in the myths and legends of all Germanic peoples in Europe.[1] "


"Ved-ava is a water deity, common to several Baltic and Finno-Ugric peoples traditionally dependent on fishing. She is also sometimes associated with fertility. She is generally depicted as a water creature resembling a mermaid, with long hair, large breasts, and the lower body of a fish complete with tail, and is sometimes said to play or sing, seducing humans with her music.."

(This post was edited by Eruonen on Oct 22 2012, 4:00pm)

Tol Eressea

Oct 22 2012, 5:14pm

Post #2 of 18 (778 views)
Sorry, I didn't recognize that quote - [In reply to] Can't Post

("She is the rain and snows that arise from the waters and replenish them again.")

- I can't find it in 'Letters'. It doesn't sound like the way Tolkien would put it such a way. What Tolkien says in 'Letters' is:

'We are not in 'fairy-land but in real river-lands in autumn. Goldberry represents the actual seasonal changes in such lands.'
(Letter no.210, to Forrest J. Ackerman)

Googling your phrase takes me to this page, among others -


- which says that the phrase comes from a source-book for some game or other.


(This post was edited by geordie on Oct 22 2012, 5:17pm)


Oct 22 2012, 6:40pm

Post #3 of 18 (769 views)
The source is non-canonical but the spirit seems accurate [In reply to] Can't Post

I missed referencing "The Fellowship of the Ring Sourcebook" for that quote.


"..I am Goldberry, daughter of the River..."

"...by that pool long ago I found the River daughter,...sweet was her singing...."
"...but it seemed plain to them the song was a rain song..."
"This is Goldberry's washing day...and her autumn cleaning"

Water through the cycles of the seasons, at least in their bordered land, is directly affected by her singing.

(This post was edited by Eruonen on Oct 22 2012, 6:41pm)


Oct 22 2012, 7:34pm

Post #4 of 18 (791 views)
Does Nimrodel count as a water spirit also? [In reply to] Can't Post

I agree that Tolkien was drawing on the very common idea of water-nymphs and nature-sprites, in his evocative but unclear language about Goldberry's identity. But your quotes also made me think of Nimrodel, the lost Elven maid of Lothlorien whose voice is said to be preserved in the burbling river and falls that the Fellowship cross on their way into the Golden Wood. But Nimrodel is not said to be embodied in the river, only her voice. Does that count?

Also, although I appreciate the literary effort made by the anonymous writer of the quote that you first gave, I wouldn't say it is "non-canonical". As I see it, to use that term is to assert that it was indeed written by Tolkien -- but was not published by him, or else is contradicted by some competing piece of writing, thus is not actually "canon". But if Tolkien didn't even write it, it doesn't matter who did or how much it may be true to his style or ideas - it's still not Tolkien and shouldn't be offered as being relevant to an analysis of his writing. As you and Geordie showed quite quickly, there is plenty of Tolkien's writing on Goldberry that is perfectly relevant to your point about the multiple occurrences of seasonal water-spirits in western literary culture.

Here is another, much earlier, pre-LotR perspective on Goldberry that emphasizes her riverine spirit rather than her atmospheric one:
There his beard dangled long down into the water:
up came Goldberry, the River-woman's daughter;
pulled Tom's hanging hair. In he went a-wallowing
under the water-lilies, bubbling and a-swallowing.

'Hey, Tom Bombadil! Whither are you going?'
said fair Goldberry. 'Bubbles you are blowing,
frightening the finny fish and the brown water-rat,
startling the dab-chicks, and drowning your feather-hat!'

'You bring it back again, there's a pretty maiden!'
said Tom Bombadil. 'I do not care for wading.
Go down! Sleep again where the pools are shady
far below willow-roots, little water-lady!'

Back to her mother's house in the deepest hollow
swam young Goldberry. But Tom, he would not follow;
on knotted willow-roots he sat in sunny weather,
drying his yellow boots and his draggled feather.
And here is the rape scene:
But one day Tom, he went and caught the River-daughter,
in green gown, flowing hair, sitting in the rushes,
singing old water-songs to birds upon the bushes.

He 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 peeping round the shutter.
You shall come under Hill! Never mind your mother
in her deep weedy pool: there you'll find no lover!'
from: "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil" The Oxford Magazine (1934); reprinted in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil (1962); reprinted in The Tolkien Reader (1966).

That Goldberry is watery is plain. But in The Fellowship of the Ring, as witnessed by the hobbits, her primary connection to the waters of the world seems to be as a rain goddess, and as you say, there is a clear seasonal connection with the fall rains, washing her household as well as feeding the river of her birth at its source. But in the earlier poem that I have quoted from, she is purely a river-nymph, living deep under water. In a later passage not quoted here, it is notable that only after Tom bids farewell to Goldberry does it rain, which forces him to hide in a hole and confront the Badger. There is no connection of this unlucky wet weather with the singing or even presence of Goldberry. And at the end, the songs she is singing when he captures her are "old water-songs", evidently about her beloved river rather than the capricious rains.

squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Footeramas: The 3rd (and NOW the 4th too!) TORn Reading Room LotR Discussion; and "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
squiretalk introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary

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Tol Eressea

Oct 22 2012, 8:00pm

Post #5 of 18 (768 views)
I may be in a minority here - [In reply to] Can't Post

 - but to me, the rain is not affected by Goldberry's singing - Tom tells the hobbits 'I am no weather-master, nor is aught that goes on two legs'. The way I read it, Goldberry chooses this day as her washing-day and autumn-cleaning _because_ it's raining, rather than the other way round.



Oct 22 2012, 8:10pm

Post #6 of 18 (738 views)
A minority of two [In reply to] Can't Post

At least. Smile

(In other words, I agree.)

'But very bright were the stars upon the margin of the world, when at times the clouds about the West were drawn aside.'

The Hall of Fire

Tol Eressea

Oct 22 2012, 8:13pm

Post #7 of 18 (769 views)
Oh, come now - 'rape scene'? [In reply to] Can't Post

- surely not! But then I suppose it depends on how we define 'rape' - in his essay 'The English Prose Morte', CS Lewis defends Malory by putting his alleged crimes in their proper medieval contexts, where 'rape' could simply mean abduction (not always for dishonourable means). In the passage from ATB which you quoted, Tom simply snaffled Goldberry away from her mother, and took her home to marry her. I'm sure you didn't mean the modern meaning of the word rape, did you?

The next verses of the poem read, 'Old Tom Bombadil had a merry wedding...' Surely Goldberry was happy about her wedding day, too?



Oct 22 2012, 8:21pm

Post #8 of 18 (731 views)
Possible but his line by Tolkien is odd - [In reply to] Can't Post

"Tolkien describes Goldberry "AS" the seasonal changes in nature..."

If Goldberry = seasonal changes in nature it implies
a deep connection and possible control of seasonal elements.


Oct 22 2012, 8:35pm

Post #9 of 18 (771 views)
You are right [In reply to] Can't Post

I was using the older sense of the word. But the connotation of violence is in that usage as well as in the more modern one - and as in the poem too. Tom did not woo Goldberry, or even seduce her. He took her by force, declaring himself her new "lover" willy-nilly. The fact that she accepted her fate almost immediately, and that she loved him thereafter in a state of marriage, does not make the meaning of the word go away. Tolkien knew what he was doing with mythic conventions, and those who say that he bowdlerized his mythologies are sometimes not reading between the lines carefully enough.

We had a similar discussion about Beren and Luthien's "premarital/marital" hookup on the big night in The Lay of Leithian. The ever-amazing but lately-missed Stanislaus B. identified the poetic convention as that of aubade! I don't know if there is a similar term for the scene of Goldberry's rape, but I wouldn't be surprised if there were.

squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Footeramas: The 3rd (and NOW the 4th too!) TORn Reading Room LotR Discussion; and "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
squiretalk introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary

= Forum has no new posts. Forum needs no new posts.

Tol Eressea

Oct 22 2012, 8:40pm

Post #10 of 18 (725 views)
Ah, no - at least, I don't think so - [In reply to] Can't Post

- what Tolkien said was that Goldberry 'represents the actual seasonal changes in such lands' (ie real river-lands, as opposed to 'fairy-land'). I think this is important; the non- Tolkien quote you gave, mentioning snow etc, sounds 'airy-fairy' to me. Not grounded, as it were; trying to make out that Goldberry was something other than what Tolkien describes her as.

Tolkien was quite clear about Tom, at least in one respect - he says (in one letter or another) that Tom represents 'the vanishing Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire countryside'. Old Tom is an enigma; as Tolkien said in a letter to Christopher Fettes, he is 'in Middle-earth, but not _of_ it. And if that is true of Tom, I'm sure it's also true of Goldberry.



Oct 22 2012, 8:43pm

Post #11 of 18 (726 views)
I think you protect too much... [In reply to] Can't Post

1. not included within a canon or group of rules.
2. not belonging to the canon of Scripture.

Authorship is not the same in "non-canonical" works.
Using the Bible as an example...all of the texts are written by different or unkown authors and only thosed deemed by the Church at the time were accepted as "canon" - "of or relating to the books that are considered to be part of a religion's official text". The books left out were of multiple authors. The quote was just that, a quote that I missed attributing to its proper source. Only Tolkien can be canonical for his works. He was the sole author. Something "non-canonical" is outside (not belonging to) Tolkien as was the quote.

Tol Eressea

Oct 22 2012, 8:43pm

Post #12 of 18 (733 views)
Well, [In reply to] Can't Post

 that's reading more into Tolkien's silly 1934 poem than I have; that's for sure.



Oct 22 2012, 8:48pm

Post #13 of 18 (725 views)
It's left a little unclear just what she is washing, or how, or where [In reply to] Can't Post

"This is Goldberry's washing-day" suggests that like any housewife she washes up once a week. But she is heard singing outside, "above" the hobbits in a one-story house, singing with words that seem to be coming down on them with the rain, so that her song and the rain are one. Nor is there any sign of her about the house, although Tom can be heard noisily doing his chores. So she may not have brought the rain - she is no weather-master if her husband is not - but whatever she is doing, she's not doing her "washing" in any conventional sense.

I'm not surprised by, nor do I disagree with, any suggestion that in this scene Goldberry has somehow become incorporated into the rain. By this reading she is "washing" and "autumn-cleaning" the landscape of Tom's country itself, not just the house-linens and the flagstone floors. Such understated and unclear magic is, to me, perfectly appropriate for the wife of Tom Bombadil - a wife who, it is said, is the "daughter of the river."

squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Footeramas: The 3rd (and NOW the 4th too!) TORn Reading Room LotR Discussion; and "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
squiretalk introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary

= Forum has no new posts. Forum needs no new posts.


Oct 22 2012, 9:15pm

Post #14 of 18 (733 views)
How do we interpret "represents the actual seasonal changes" [In reply to] Can't Post

...by her dress and choice of color? Her home decorating style?

I think he was pointing to her inherent being. And what comes with the changing seasons? Different weather, including water in various forms that she was closest to (being the River Woman's daughter).

"as if it was flowing down the rain out of the sky...the clear voice of Goldberry singing above them...it seemed lain to them that the song was a "rain-song"....that told the tale of a river.."

What does this mean? It is open to interpretation.
A Birdsong or Bird-song means "the singing or calling of birds." A rain-song" means "the singing or calling of rain."

Tolkien was not clear and I think he wanted ambiguity for both Tom and Goldberry.

There is a scene where Frodo is looking out the window watching the chalky path turn milky white in the running water. She may be cleaning the area...directing the waters. Open to interpretation.

(This post was edited by Eruonen on Oct 22 2012, 9:21pm)

Tol Eressea

Oct 22 2012, 9:22pm

Post #15 of 18 (723 views)
Thanks! [In reply to] Can't Post

 - it's nice to know I'm not alone.



Oct 22 2012, 9:31pm

Post #16 of 18 (714 views)
I wonder if Tolkien took some influences [In reply to] Can't Post

from the Lady of the Lake and Nimue? Merlin being the wise older man and Nimue the young enchantress.


Oct 22 2012, 9:49pm

Post #17 of 18 (804 views)
The elves had some water power as illustrated [In reply to] Can't Post

"By Elbereth and Luthien the Fair" said Frodo...

".....plumed cavalry of waves.....white riders upon white horses...."

I read that fnal page in Flight to the Ford and realized how much I had forgotten - books vs movie.
Three black riders washed away with the rest on the shore....and a "shining figure of white light...small shadowy forms waving flames...."

Gandalf or Glorfindel? Energized blades?


Oct 25 2012, 1:29am

Post #18 of 18 (864 views)
Identity of figure and forms... [In reply to] Can't Post

"shining figure of white light" = Glorfindel as seen "on the other side".

"small shadowy forms waving flames" = Aragorn, Sam, Merry and Pippin waving torches to scare the black horses into the river.

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit...


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