In The Fellowship of the Ring, the first volume of The Lord of the Rings, Frodo Baggins and his companions Sam, Merry, and Pippin encounter Goldberry and Tom in the Old Forestnear Buckland. The couple gives them shelter in their cottage after the Hobbits are rescued from Old Man Willow. Their stay is brief but puzzling, for Tom and Goldberry are clearly more than they seem.
Although Goldberry's origins are uncertain, Bombadil clearly identifies her as having been found by him in the river and her title "River-woman's daughter" strongly suggests that she is not a mortal human being, but rather a spirit of the river Withywindle in the Old Forest of Tolkien's Middle-earth. This is similar to the many named river spirits of traditional English folklore such as Peg Powler of the River Tees, or the naiads of the Greeks, although Goldberry is noticeably gentler. Otherwise, she and Bombadil are enigmas in Tolkien's Middle-earth legendarium, not fitting easily into any of his definitions of sentient beings in his imagined world. One frequently proposed explanation is that she is a (minor) Maiar associated with the element of water and in some way with the river Withywindle in particular, though that is by no means the only possible answer.
In Tolkien's The Adventures of Tom Bombadil the first poem tells the tale of her "capture" by Tom Bombadil.
Goldberry and Tom are notably absent from most media adaptations of The Lord of the Rings. Filmmakers Ralph Bakshi and Peter Jackson stated that the reason the characters were omitted from their films was because, in their view, he (Bombadil) does little to advance the story, and would make their films unnecessarily long.
Goldberry appears in the massively multiplayer online role-playing game The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar. She can be found in "Goldberry's Glade" in the Old Forest. Her race is referred to as "River-maid". The game also features another member of this race, Goldberry's sister Naruhel, known as the Red Maid, who is of a darker and crueler nature. This is an original character not featured in Tolkien's writings.