Goldberry- Servant or Master of Bombadil?

 

goldberry

By Andrea Mathwich

 

It was a warm Thursday evening when the Greyhavens Group of Colorado gathered for their weekly Tolkien meeting inside their comfortable Hobbit Hole. The topic of the evening was; who is Tom Bombadil? The ensuing arguments were passionate and eloquent, but for me, I was more curious about who the Lady Goldberry was. Goldberry is described in The Fellowship of the Ring (TFOTR) in the following manner:

“In a chair, at the far side of the room facing the outer door, sat a woman. 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,” (Tolkien 172).

Our fine group had just recently finished reading the Silmarillion and the stories were fresh in my mind. Yes, Tolkien’s descriptions of Goldberry reminded me of his descriptions of the glorious Yavanna, one of the mighty Valar (gods and goddess in Tolken’s world) created by Iluvatar, the mightiest of all the gods in his mythology. In the Silmarillion, Yavanna is described in the following way:

“The Giver of Fruits….In the form of a woman she is tall, and robed in green; but at times she takes other shapes. Some there are who have seen her standing like a tree under a heaven, crowned with the Sun; and from all its branches there spilled a golden dew upon barren earth, and it grew green corn” (Tolkien 15).

When Frodo and friends visit the house of Tom Bombadil and Goldberry , Frodo’s reaction when meeting the two is telling. While Frodo is merely friendly with Bombadil, he literally is moved with joy when he sees Goldberry and instantaneously belts out a song in worshipful tones:

“Fair lady Goldberry! O slender as a willow-wand! O Clearer than clear water! Reed by the living pool! Fair river-daughter! O spring-time and summer-time, and spring again after! O wind on the waterfall and the leaves’ laughter,” (TFOTR, 173).

Tolkien writes that Tom Bombadil is “Master of wood, water, and hill”, but he leaves hints that Bombadil is no master of Lady Goldberry. The two are at the minimum equal to each other in status. And if Goldberry is a re-incarnated Yavanna (Valar), I would even suggest that Bombadil is a Maia, or servant to Goldberry/Yavanna, In Tolkien’s world, the Maiar are in the similar order of the Valar but to a lesser degree. The Maiar often support and serve the needs of the Valar. And even Tom hints at his own particular ways of honoring Goldberry/Yavanna. Tom sings softly:

“I had an errand there; gather-ing water lilies, green leaves and lilies white to please my pretty lady, the last ere the year’s end to keep them from the winter, to flower by her pretty feet till the snows are melted,” (TFOTR, Tolkien 176).

Like Frodo, Tom sings his praises and worships Goldberry by laying flowers at her feet, an established method of honoring and praising someone of higher status. While Frodo only has an innate sense of who Goldberry is, Tom probably knows she is Yavanna and honors her accordingly.

Tolkien’s rivers have a persona of their own. They can be fierce-some walls against unwelcome guests, for instance, as the Bruinen was against the Black Riders.   They can also be life-giving forces. The flowing Withywinde River, for example, could be the watery pathway in which Yavanna enters Middle Earth. Remember, Tolkien describes her as someone who takes on other shapes. Bombadil finds her “sitting in the rushes… and her heart was beating” (LOTR 176). She is not the only Vala that Tolkien sends to Middle Earth, of course. Another infamous Vala, Melkor, also visits Middle Earth but for more sinister purposes.

Goldberry was created out of the waters of Middle-earth and she continues to have uncanny power over water. When the Hobbits were dreading leaving the safe haven of Tom Bombadil and Goldberry, the weather quickly changed around them:

“As they looked out of the window there came falling gently, as if it was flowing down, the rain out of the sky, the clear voice of Goldberry singing up above them. They could hear few words, but it seemed plain to them that the song was a rain-song, as sweet as showers on dry hills, that told the tale of a river from the spring in the highlands to the Sea far below,” (TFOTR, Tolkien 179).

It was too wet for the Hobbits to continue their journey and Tom even adds,“This is Goldberry’s washing-day” (TFOTR, Tolkien 180). He then proceeds to tell the Hobbits even more amazing stories.   When the Hobbits finally do leave their house, Frodo remembers he didn’t say goodbye to the beautiful Goldberry. When he turns to look for her, he sees her and once again he bows down low, sensing her godly nature.

“Her hair was loose and as it caught the sun it shone and shimmered. A light like the glint of water on dewy grass flashed from under her feet as she danced,” (TFOTR, Tolkien 187).

Yavanna and Goldberry are one and the same. Every word and description Tolkien writes has meaning; nothing is accidental in Tolkien’s world. Both women wear green. Both are encircled in gold. Goldberry has a belt of gold and Yavanna is “crowned with the sun” (Simarillion 15). Both women are also bathed in earthly dew. Frodo innately senses that Goldberry is a goddess. He sings to her and even bows down low when they part. She has the ability to create the weather while Bombadil can only predict it. He constantly is bringing her flowers and placing them around her feet, an act which is traditionally a sign of reverence.

The day turned cool as the Grey Havens Group finished their discussion and exited the Hobbit Hole. I still was not sure of Tom Bombadil, but I now feel certain who the Lady Goldberry is.

 

 

Works Cited

Tolkien, JRR. The Fellowship of the Ring. New York: Random House, 1965. Print.

Tolkien, JRR. The Silmarillion. Great Britain: Houghton Mifflin, 2004. Print.

7 thoughts on “Goldberry- Servant or Master of Bombadil?

  1. We actually talked about Goldberry at length today in the GHG Palantir meeting. In paticular, there are strains of the abducted/pursuaded woman about her akin to the story of Persephone. Does Tom bring her water lillies to keep her with him? Does he follow her to the river for her spring ablutuions out of love, or to make sure she’ll come back?

    You may also want to look at Frodo’s reaction to the first sight of her before his song. She evokes an enchantment like the elves, but not as lofty or removed. She is of the earth and to see her is to recover the wonder of the river, of nature.

  2. This is wonderful, Andrea! Thank you for posting.
    The more I think about both Bombadil and Goldberry, the more enigmatic they become in my mind. But your case that Goldberry is Yavenna is well made and insightful. I also see similarities to the relationship between Goldberry and Bombadil to that of Lady Galadriel and Celeborn. In both cases, the male is the nominal ‘lord’ of the manner and realm. But the female is arguably the more powerful being. There is also the sense in both relationships that the Lord exists primarily to serve and support the more powerful – and more essential – Lady.

  3. While I love your musings here, and agree that Tom and Goldberry are at least equals, I have always seen them both as Maiar. The reason for this is because in two independent places of Tolkien’s work, Goldberry is referred to as “The River Woman’s Daughter”. Which makes her a spirit born out of another powerful spirit, in my mind.

    From The Adventures of Tom Bombadil:

    “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. . .
    “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!”

    From The Fellowship of the Ring:
    “Down along under Hill, shining in the sunlight,
    Waiting on the doorstep for the cold starlight,
    There my pretty lady is, River-woman’s daughter,
    Slender as a willow-wand, clearer than the water.
    Old Tom Bombadil water-lilies…”

  4. Pingback: Rain Songs | The Grey Havens Group

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