Academic journal article Mythlore

Fair Lady Goldberry, Daughter of the River

Academic journal article Mythlore

Fair Lady Goldberry, Daughter of the River

Article excerpt

"Come, dear folk!" she said, taking Frodo by the hand. "Laugh and be merry! I am Goldberry, daughter of the River." (Tolkien, Lord of the Rings [LotR] I:7, 121)

CRITICS HAVE TAKEN J.R.R. TOLKIEN TO TASK for the paucity of female characters in The Lord of the Rings, with some analysts even going so far as to charge him with misogyny. Catherine Stimpson asserts that Tolkien's women are built upon "the most hackneyed of stereotypes" (18), and Edith L. Crowe maintains, "The most problematic aspect of Tolkien is indeed the disappointingly low percentage of females that appear in his best-known and best-loved works, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings" (272). Close analysis of the text, however, reveals a roster of women whose characters are rich and diverse, well drawn, and worthy of respect. In fact, as Lisa Hopkins notes, "their very scarcity seems to invest them with an air of uniqueness and of almost talismanic status" (365). Tolkien creates two kinds of women: the noble woman of elevated stature--Galadriel, Arwen, Eowyn--and the rustic, down-to-earth women, typified by female hobbits, such as Rosie Cotton. All of the female characters in the novel can be neatly divided between these two categories, with one exception: Goldberry, Tom Bombadil's "pretty lady," daughter of the river. Although Goldberry appears only briefly in the novel, both her character and her actions are thematically significant, providing symmetry with later events and characters, bridging the gap between the Anglo-Saxon, noble women and the rustic women of the Shire, and providing an Eve figure who parallels the Mary figure Galadriel.

We as readers are aware of Goldberry's existence even before we meet her. Tom Bombadil sings of her as he walks home:

   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 the willow-wand, clearer than the water.

   (LotR I:6, 117)

After rescuing the hobbits from Old Man Willow, Tom invites them to his home, but insists that Frodo postpone his tale until they are seated at the dinner table, for "Goldberry is waiting" (I:6, 116), and Tom, the considerate spouse who brings flowers to his wife, does not want to be late. Bombadil appears to be a good husband, and he and Goldberry seem to enjoy a happy marriage. Although The Lord of the Rings does not specifically state that Goldberry and Tom are married, Tolkien's "Adventures of Tom Bombadil" gives us the history and marital status of this couple:

   Old Tom Bombadil had a merry wedding,
   crowned all with buttercups, hat and feather shedding;
   his bride with forgetmenots and flag-lilies for garland
   was robed all in silver-green. ("Adventures" 16)

Tolkien had very specific ideas on marriage for his hobbit characters:

   As far as I know Hobbits were universally monogamous (indeed they
   very seldom married a second time, even if wife or husband died very
   young); and I should say that their family arrangements were
   'patrilinear' rather than patriarchal. [...] But the government of a
   'family', as of the real unit: the 'household', was not a monarchy
   (except by accident). It was a 'dyarchy', in which master and
   mistress had equal status, if different functions. (Tolkien, Letters
   293)

This formula seems to have extended beyond the borders of the Shire into the Old Forest as well, for Tom and his wife exhibit mutual consideration and respect. Bombadil's song focuses on Goldberry's appearance, but we soon learn that she is wise and perceptive as well. As Frodo and his friends enter the home of Tom Bombadil, his wife jumps up to greet them, instinctively going directly to Frodo, who, as Ringbearer, represents the most important individual in the group: "'Come dear folk!' she said, taking Frodo by the hand." Moreover, Goldberry recognizes him as an elf-friend, telling Frodo "the light in your eyes and the ring in your voice tells it" (LotR I:7, 121-22). …

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