July 27, 2016

Tom Bombadil and Goldberry

I'm listening to Tolkien on audiobook to fall asleep just now, and bits of it are tickling my fancy especially. I know a lot of people don't like the interlude in The Lord of the Rings with Tom Bombadil and his wife Goldberry. And, in truth, it seems a little out of place in the book. And yet the episode places the Shire and the West more firmly in the context of the broader mythology of Middle Earth, with its strange pockets and odd ends, rather than floating tetherless without any mythology, or with only the high stories of the Elves to anchor it. I've always loved old Tom, with his battered hat, blue coat, and yellow boots, and lovely Goldberry, whatever anyone else may say of them.

Tom Bombadil is an odd figure. Oldest and Fatherless, he's called. He comes into few tales because, though very powerful, his adventures are highly localized, and much smaller than the grand epics of the Elves. Yet he is older than they are, the first to walk in the world, child of the earth itself.

Goldberry, too, has her power. She is the daughter of the river itself, of Withywindle, a tributary of the mighty Anduin in the end.

In Hellenic terms, Bombadil would be a Titan, a child of Ge but not Ouranos, and Goldberry a nymph. Strong and ancient they stand, guardians of their territory, place spirits with their own boundaries that they themselves have set. They are not a part of the family of the Valar, not servants of Iluvatar or among the host of the Ainur, nor of the Istari or any other group. They creatures of the earth and the water, they don't come from outside space and time. They are not there to be worshiped, and care nothing for that. Instead, they are content to guard their lands and tend its inhabitants, and to make friends with those worthy of their friendship. They are of the world as well as in it, concrete and walking lesser gods, who have not fled, nor do they hold that this is a fallen and sorrowful age. They are joyful regardless, and merrier than the Elves, who are a merry folk. (Don't get me started on the way the movies spoiled the Elves by making them too serious.)

Tom and Goldberry would be at home at one of Dionysos' revels, providing honeycomb and yellow cream and white bread and butter to anyone who came near them, singing songs loudly and lustily. For Tom as for Orpheus, the trees bend as they are asked, and beasts of field and sky draw near. For Goldberry, all the creatures of the water attend.

Truly, is it any wonder I like them?