Terabithia – Origins

Ruins near TerebI’ve recently been enchanted by the movie Bridge to Terabithia. I’m not going to go on a rant about how great I think it is, but I ordered the DVD, original book and movie companion book the day after I saw it, which expresses the gravity of my fondness for it (and my impulsive buying habits).

In addition to that, I did some research on the name ‘Terabithia’. I already wrote about this on the A Place For Us forums, but I thought I’d also post them here because I thought the results were rather interesting, and maybe Terabithia fans will come across it here (also, it’s a good enough reason to do a blog post). There’s also a treat for Myst fans at the end, so those of you who fall into that category; keep reading!

So let’s start our journey through the history of the name Terabithia. The author of the book on which the movie is based, Katherine Paterson, says on her website that, when she had nearly finished the book, she discovered that she probably unconsciously copied the name from the island called Terebinthia, from C. S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the third (or fifth depending on which numbering convention is used) book in the Narnia series. In the book, a sickness on the island prevented Prince Caspian and his men from going ashore.

Pistacia palaestinaInterestingly, in Paterson’s book it is noted that Leslie, who named Terabithia, is very fond of Narnia herself. It’s probable that Lewis in turn got the name from the biblical terebinth tree. This is just one of the many biblical references and metaphors in the Chronicles of Narnia. The tree referred to as the terebinth actually exists, under the scientific name of pistacia palaestina. Note the Palastine reference for now.

Now for some lessons in etymology. The word terebinth originates from the Middle English terebinthe, from the Old French terebinte, from the Latin terebinthus, from the Greek terebinthos. Now the Greek suffix -inthos is used to refer to places (for example labyrinthos, place of axes; the first labyrinth was a palace full of axes).

Ruins near TerebDisappointingly, tereb does not bear any meaning in Greek, or any other language that I could find. However, it is an ancient name for a place now known as Tel el-Athrib, near Aleppo in Syria, now an archaeological site. Notice the Palestine connection here. In fact, there was once a part of Syria that was specifically called Palaestina; the Holy Land. The area of Aleppo is also said to be one of the oldest inhabited places on earth.

Going from these facts, the Greek terebinthos could mean “tereb-place”: the place Tereb. If this would truly be what the word Terabithia originates from, it might mean it is the Holy Land, as well as one of the earliest homes to man.

Ruins near TerebThere is another interpretation of the name Terabithia. The Latin terra refers to earth, place or land, and there’s the English Bithiah, from Hebrew batya, meaning “daughter of god”. As such Terrabithiah or Terabithia is the land of the daughter of God. For those who have seen the movie or read the book, that should seem quite fitting.

The land of the daughter of God, the Holy Land, and the origin of man. I guess my work here is done. Of course I don’t really believe that these explanations are very plausible or intentionally crafted by the author or anyone involved, and there are a lot of gaps and guesses, but I still thought it interested that I ended up with these explanations.

Now for the part the Myst fans have all been waiting for. I went into the A Place For Us chat today and met someone who had played some of the Myst games and seemed to have been quite into it for a while. He told me a fun story, which I’ll quote here:

when we were kids we use to have this game where atrus would leav notes in the garden
and then we’d have to do what the notes said to save cathrine
it was good fun
i don’t think the puzzles i made up were very good though.
actually what i’d do is i had this tape recorder
because my voice was so high, i sounded nothing like atrus
so what we did was you know how those tape recorders have a slow thing
to slow your voice down
we slowed it down to make it sound deep, and it was so hilarious
so yeah, it was either a note or a recorded message, then then u had to go and find all these things in the park

I thought that was fun. Anyway, thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed it!

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17 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Alex said,

    Interesting article on blind people working with echoreflexion of their voice. Kind regards, Alex

  2. 4

    sidney orr said,

    …interesting and charming research….the Terebinth tree is mentioned
    in the Tanach BTW…it may have stood on the spot about the year 3300 Hebrew calendar 8-hundred-something BCE ) where the first temple was built, according to rabbinical research…

  3. 5

    Shawnii said,

    Wow, the terabithia research is interesting, but not exact i would say. Also I do appreciate your research though, very helpful.

  4. 6

    Maize said,

    This website rocks! It really helped me with a SCAPA quest project. Thanks creator! I loved my time on this site!

  5. 7

    Sarah Yohe said,

    I appreciate this website. I go to SCAPA elementary and I was reading the book, “Bridge to Terabithia.” I had to find out about the history of the peculiar word, “Terabithia.” This website came in handy. Thank all the people who helped make this website. I love you guys and this rockin’ website! Thanks!

  6. 8

    nordsmetal said,

    thank you for sharing it, it is an useful article, research

  7. 9

    wow! this article really helped me.
    actually,i really have no assignment or whatever of reason to read this.

    i just really love discovering new lessons and studies to be found out.

    thanks very much ’cause i’m really curious about what “terabithia” is since i watched the “bridge to terabithia” :))

  8. 10

    Dorothy said,

    Ok all this info is good,But has Terabithia, the word, ever been used as a name?

    • 11

      sidney orr said,

      I haven’t checked the OED re the etymology, but who can explain that better than the author:

      Katherine Paterson acknowledges that Terabithia is likely derived from Terebinthia.

      “I thought I had made it up. Then, rereading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis, I realized that I had probably gotten it from the island of Terebinthia in that book. However, Lewis probably got that name from the Terebinth tree in the Bible, so both of us pinched from somewhere else, probably unconsciously.”[6]

  9. 13

    John Kellimer said,

    Terabithia … sounds like Terra – Bi – Thea (as in Theocracy) …kind of like “Land of Two Gods” or maybe the author’s way of promoting two ways of looking at the same God. The movie attempts to instill doubt regarding the bible.

    • 14

      sidney orr said,

      That’s somewhat of an oversimplification, JK. Christian theology leaves lots of room for the presence of “supernatural” beings of all sorts. Unequivocally so. Consider that old Puritan John Milton, for one… what is he famous for writing about…..really?

      And, another Abrahamic faith, whose scholars have studied and continue to study the Bible for the last 3 thousand+ years – its called “Tanach” in Hebrew – a much more extensive collection than the Trent council liked – and the strong consensus among the “People Of The Book” is that there is no such thing as magic, the supernatural, or the like… notwithstanding the frequent reference to famous Angels in the Tanach itself, and Hebrew writings and Art… Jews just don’t _believe_ in the world of magic – but that doesn’t stop anyone from enjoying little artful and highly accomplished literary mythologies just as much as any other writing….

      And, please consider CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien…. among the most orthodox Christians in all of Christendom….yet….what are they famous for??

      • 15

        sidney orr said,

        Hint to my last rhetorical question: Tolkien and Lewis are famous for the deeply metaphorical and highly artful face of magic they placed on orthodox Christian beliefs. Most Christians don’t hold it again ’em…. I for one, endlessly admire those professor’s
        incredible skills making metaphors….

  10. 16

    erik said,

    well if it could be of any help, Terab or turab depending on the zone you are means soil, ground, earth in arabic

  11. 17

    Mike said,

    Seems to me it might have something to do with the etymology of the term “bet” – older roots that include “beet” and “beit” – originally standing it for making good on a promise. Related is the Russian term “obet,” meaning “promise.” In other words, you could argue “Terabithia” just stands for “promised land.”


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