Today our hobbits leave Tom Bombadil’s house – but not before a lovely chat with Goldberry herself! Then it’s along the zig-zagging path towards the Barrow-downs.
Since I am also ridiculously under-qualified to talk about Goldberry, I welcome anyone and everyone to give your opinions on the merry fellow. What do you think of him?
Thoughts on the Passage – Book I, Chapter 8 & 9 (p123-136, 50th Anniv. Ed.)
Just like I did yesterday with Tom Bombadil, I’m going to follow the hobbits in how they learned about Goldberry. They, of course, first heard of her from Tom’s song. When they were dealing with Old Man Willow, they could hear Tom singing about the River-woman’s daughter, who was slender as a willow-wand. She was Goldberry, and she was waiting.
At the end of chapter six, Tom goes on ahead to his house singing about how he and Goldberry were fond of parties and were awaiting their arrival as our hobbits followed. As they drew closer, they heard another song in a clear voice. She beckoned them onward, singing mostly of water imagery.
They first met Goldberry as they stepped through the door. She appeared enthroned, regal, and almost like a queen. In fact, Tolkien compares it with going to a cottage for a drink of water and meeting an Elf queen dressed in living flowers (whatever that might be like). They were immediately taken with her, suddenly understanding why Tom Bombadil sang about her (or about anything, really).
She requested they come forward, and when they did, she dropped the royal feel and “sprang lightly up and over the lily-bowls, and ran laughing towards them.” Tolkien uses almost endless watery words in her description. This is fitting, she being the River’s daughter. They immediately feel at ease as she tells them to “Fear nothing!”
Frodo was incredibly nervous, but admitted “Now the joy that was hidden in the songs we heard is made plain to me.” This joy was then spontaneously expressed in poetry.
O slender as a willow-want! O clearer than clear water!
O 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!
I loved this poem so ridiculously much that I actually used it as part of my wedding vows. Crazy, eh? But let’s take a closer look at it. The first two lines are nicked from Bombadil’s many songs, but the last two are Frodo’s.
Goldberry is like the spring and the summer, he claims, leaving out autumn and winter, and going back to spring. She isn’t just spring and summer, but also she is the wonderfulness of skipping out on the death and cold of autumn and winter! This is more or less evident in how Tom is bringing her water lilies “to flower at her pretty feet till the snows are melted” (it’s now late September).
She thanks Frodo, thinking that hobbits are not always so “sweet-tongued.” She then reveals that she can “see that you are an Elf-friend; the light in your eyes and the ring in your voice tells it.” If Tom saw it, he made no mention. This is, I think, the third time Frodo’s been called that. Each time he is, it seems to take on a more profound meaning.
Like the perfect hostess, when Tom Bombadil is ready to eat, she reminds him that while he might be ready, their guests may not be. At the end of the dinner, both Tom and Goldberry clear the plates. This might be the first indication that she was not and Elf queen. Would Galadriel have bussed the table?
As the hobbits are heading to bed, she tells them to “Heed no nightly noises!” Nothing can touch them in Tom Bombadil’s house. Each, but for Sam, have varying nightmares (Frodo actually dreams of Gandalf atop the tower at Orthanc, and his escape by Eagle). In Pippin’s and Merry’s, the voice of Goldberry entered their thoughts.
To Pippin her voice told him again: “Fear nothing! Have peace until the morning! Heed no nightly noises!” And to Merry he seemed to remember: “Nothing passes doors or windows save moonlight and starlight and wind off the hill-top.” It’s not explicitly said whether they just remembered the words or that Goldberry came to them through their dreams, but either way, she had the power to ward off even nightmares – except for Frodo, who dreamed about something that had actually happened.
The next morning at breakfast, neither Tom nor Goldberry were around, though both could be heard about the house. From above them, however, they could hear Goldberry’s clear voice singing, and though they couldn’t make out the words, they could tell it was a rain song. And it was raining. It’s heavily implied that Goldberry made it rain, as it was her washing day. Though Galadriel could certainly sing up a literal storm, she wouldn’t be doing her laundry in it, would she?
As Tom and the hobbits talked about all sorts of things (which were discussed yesterday) Goldberry appeared in the doorway. “‘The rain has ended,’ she said; ‘and new waters are running downhill, under the stars. Let us now laugh and be glad!'” It seems like a strange way to interrupt, but it broke Tom and the hobbits out of the room and to the kitchen table, again set by both Tom and Goldberry (and again, the fare is vegetarian).
Tolkien then describes Tom and Goldberry’s interactions: “so fair was the grace of Goldberry and so merry and odd the capering of Tom. Yet in some fashion they seemed to weave a single dance, neither hindering the other, in and out of the room, and round the table.” And before our hobbits noticed, both were arrayed in the finest of clothing – fit for a dinner. After the meal, Goldberry sang and enchanted them with many songs. Goldberry is the perfect wife for Tom Bombadil, because Tom Bombadil is the perfect husband for Goldberry.
That night, none had dreams, and the next morning, they made to leave. Frodo was remiss that Goldberry was not there so they could say their good-byes. And just like that, she was near, atop a hill. They hurried to her. At the top of the hill, they could see for miles, and it sort of seems like it might have been her doing. That the fog and mists were cleared away by the wave of her arm.
In her good-byes, she gave them advice, mostly practical, and said to Frodo: “Farewell, Elf-friend, it was a merry meeting!”
If I didn’t know better, I would almost insist that Goldberry was an Elf. Tolkien described Frodo’s thoughts at their first meeting: “He stood as he had at times stood enchanted by fair elven-voices; but the spell that was now laid upon him was different: less keen and lofty was the delight, but deeper and nearer to mortal heart; marvelous and yet not strange.”
And that is our Goldberry. She is the River’s daughter. Maybe she isn’t as lofty as an Elf, but she is more relatable. She’s not human, but more human-like than any Eldar. She has a “magic” about her, but it makes perfect sense.
About the Photo
The photo was taken in Havre, Montana’s Underground, which is incredibly interesting, if you feel like doing a bit of research about it. I talk about it here. It reminds me of Tom and Goldberry’s house, where the hobbits ate breakfast.
Thoughts on the Exercising
Another day another fives miles, I guess. Nothing really special going on at this point. But that’s not a bad thing. At this point, if I missed a day, it would feel really strange. I wouldn’t feel lazy or anything, but something would feel as if it’s missing. I’m in a good spot. Time for some Sweet & Sara’s Vegan Mini-Marshmallows!
- Miles today: 5
- Miles thus far: 106
- 29 miles to Bree
- 108 miles to Weathertop
- 354 miles to Rivendell
- 1,673 miles to Mt. Doom
Today’s stopping place: On the way to the Barrow-downs! (map)