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Old 01-07-2004, 08:17 AM   #1
Spirit of Mist
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Sting Tolkien love stories - sources

The Lord of the Rings contains three great love stories, though some may argue that they are a bit sterile in nature. Yet it seems to me that each of the three has roots either in classic literature or in other sources. The three love stories are Aragorn and Arwen, Eowyn and Faramir and Tom Bombadil and Goldberry. Each is different in nature. Aragorn and Arwen tells both of new love (in the appendix discussing their meeting) and old love. Faramir and Eowyn is a tale of new but confused love. Bombadil and Goldberry is a story of old, familiar, deep-rooted love.

Aragorn and Arwen, of course, has its roots in Tolkien's own tale of Beren and Luthien. They meet in a grove while Arwen is dancing and seem to fall in love upon setting eyes on one another. This could be termed "fated" love; they were meant to meet, meant to fall in love, and their love had great implications and was, to an extent, unrequited for many years. Their love had to overcome great obstacles, including the reluctance of Arwen's father, before it could be sealed in marriage; it was star-crossed. In this sense, Aragorn and Arwen is a very traditional sort of romantic story.

Eowyn and Faramir is different. Eowyn believes she loves Aragorn and it is not until she overcomes and deals with that love that she can turn to Faramir. This, too, is classic in nature and has its roots in Greek literature. It involves the difference between "agape" and "eros". Agape, in its Greek form, is brotherly love; the love and devotion between colleagues or friends who admire and are linked to one another. Scholars point to the relationship between Achilles and Agamemnon as an example of agape. Similarly, Eowyn loves Aragorn for what he is, a leader of men, powerful and great. But she confuses this love with "eros", sexual love. It is not until she realizes that her love of Aragorn is more like the love of a daughter to a father or a love between "brothers" that she is able to love Faramir in eros fashion.

But what of Bombadil and Goldberry? What is the source of that love story? Bombadil is a sort of "in-joke" for Tolkien. He is a character based upon a doll that one of his sons owned. He is humorous and silly, but strangely enough wields great power in his own way. And strangest of all, he loves to talk in rhyme and sing seemingly foolish songs. It is in his rhymes and songs that we get a hint of a possible source for that love story.

Here he comes, leaping across the mountains, bounding over the hills. Let me hear your voice for your voice is sweet...
My beloved is mine, and I am his.
He browses among the lilies.

My beloved has gone down to his garden, to the beds of spices, to feed in the gardens, and to gather lilies.
How beautiful are your feet in sandals, prince’s daughter!
Your rounded thighs are like jewels,
the work of the hands of a skillful workman.
Your body is like a round goblet,
no mixed wine is wanting.
Your waist is like a heap of wheat,
set about with lilies.
Sound familiar? Check Tom's rhymes, the description of Goldberry, and her words about Bombadil. There is quite a bit of similarity. But the above quotes are not by Tolkien. Tolkien's references to gathering lilies for Goldberry, bounding about hill-tops, Goldberry's beauty and the girdle in the shape of lilies seem to harken back to the words quoted above. They are from The Song of Songs.

The Song of Songs, to a young student in England early in the 20th century, was likely a bit of an in-joke itself. It is a Biblical poem of deep and passionate love. Its a pretty racy tale as well, and was often swept under the rug by conservative clergy. No doubt, it was the source of much sniggering and jokes by schoolchildren, particularly young boys, in church classes.

I may be entirely wrong. I may be completely off-base. But the similarities are there and if Tom himself is a bit of a joke by Tolkien, could it not be a joke twice over, with the author drawing upon the Song of Songs as a source for Bombadil's rhymes and his love for Goldberry?
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Old 01-07-2004, 08:50 AM   #2
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Running out the door to work....

This is fascinating. I had never thought of anything like this. But I think you may be on to something.

Actually, there's another precendent for Tolkien's language echoing the Bible. In this case it's the Psalms:

Sing now, ye people of the Tower of Arnor,
For the Realm of Sauron is ended forever,
And the Dark Tower is thrown down.

Sing and rejoice, ye people of the Tower of Guard,
for your watch hath not been in vain,
and the Black Gate is broken,
and your King hath passed through,
and he is victorious.

Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
for your king shall come again,
and he shall dwell among you
all the days of your life.

Words like "ye' and "hath" connect the passage with the Authorised Version of the Bible which was widely known to readers in Tolkien's Day. "Sing and rejoice" echoes Psalm 33, Rejoice in the Lord. The entire poem is reminiscent of Psalm 24, "Lift up your head, O ye gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors, for the King of glory shall come in."

Shippey talks about this in Road to Middle-earth. He pointed out that the poem could have a double meaning drawn from the Bible. The statement about the Black Gates being broken "could very easily apply to Death and Hell (Matthew xvi, 18, 'and the gates of hell shall not prevail) and that the reference to King Aragorn could be a veiled reference to "Christ and the second coming."

Whether or not you buy Shippey's interpretation on that, the biblical basis for the poem is obvious. So, if Tolkien could use the Psalms for the basis of a poem in LotR, why couldn't he also use the Song of Songs for describing the relationship of Bombadil and Goldberry? He obviously liked to "play little games" on us like this with veiled references to biblical/religious events.

Just look at the date of Sauron's fall-- March 25. According to Anglo-Saxon belief as well as European popular tradition, 25 March is the date of the Crucifixion, but also of the Annunciation and the last date of Creation. In a way, Tolkien was presenting his eucatastrophe as a forerunner or type of the "greater" one of Christian myth. (These words are Shippey's, not mine.)

So perhaps Tom and Goldberry are "forerunners" of the famous biblical lovers as well? I wouldn't put it past him!
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Old 01-07-2004, 09:07 AM   #3
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Great topic. Actually, I doubt that it was as much of a joke as might seem. Serious scholars have long delved into Song of Songs and, beneath the outlandish metaphors and similes, found in it a wealth of good advice for a healthy marriage-- which Tom and Goldberry seem to have.

The metaphors and similes which abound in Song of Songs are culturally very strange, but that doesn't make them necessarily facetious in intent. "Your teeth are like a flock of sheep" always amused me; but "coming up from the washing" means that her teeth are nice and white, and "Each one has its twin" means that she's not missing any. All in all, a pleasant compliment (assuming you like sheep.)

I could go on and on, but-- I don't get the impression from Tolkien's letters that he would have found Song of Songs primarily amusing. I think he would have been aware of the generosity of the compliments, and their original intent culturally, and woven that into his idea of a happy marriage.

If you haven't already seen it check out Love in the Trees by Michael Martinez.

And I can't resist one last parting dig as I likewise bolt out the door very very late for work:

"Ooo, you GUTSY man you-- the bible and Tolkien???" [img]smilies/eek.gif[/img] [img]smilies/wink.gif[/img] [img]smilies/tongue.gif[/img]


<font size=1 color=339966>[ 10:09 AM January 07, 2004: Message edited by: mark12_30 ]
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