We meet perhaps the most interesting female character in Tolkien’s legendarium as the Company prepares itself to move forward.
The Company meets Celeborn and Galadriel, the Lord and Lady of the Galadhrim. Galadriel doesn’t speak for a while, but not for lack of anything to say – in a bit of a change-up, the Lord is simply the more talkative/personable of the two, and perhaps even more emotional.
‘Alas!’ said Celeborn. ‘We have long feared that under Caradhras a terror slept. But had I known that the Dwarves had stirred up this evil in Moria again, I would have forbidden you to pass the northern borders, you and all that went with you. And if it were possible, one would say that at the last Gandalf fell from wisdom into folly, going needlessly into the net of Moria.’
‘He would be rash indeed that said that thing,’ said Galadriel gravely. ‘Needless were none of the deeds of Gandalf in life. Those that followed him knew not his mind and cannot report his full purpose. But however it may be with the guide, the followers are blameless. Do not repent of your welcome to the Dwarf. If our folk had been exiled long and far from Lothlórien, who of the Galadhrim, even Celeborn the Wise, would pass nigh and would not wish to look upon their ancient home, though it had become an abode of dragons?’
I think Tolkien put a bit of himself into Galadriel, making her unique among his female characters. There’s one other female character in the series that would qualify as “interesting” and “fleshed-out”, but Galadriel still stands out as the only one who never seems to be defined by her gender. While there’s a fine line between “undefined by gender” and “uninfluenced by gender”, I certainly appreciate the broader range of characterization.
‘I will not give you counsel, saying do this, or do that. For not in doing or contriving, nor in choosing between this course and another, can I avail; but only in knowing what was and is, and in part also what shall be. But this I will say to you: your Quest stands upon the edge of a knife. Stray but a little and it will fail, to the ruin of all. Yet hope remains while all the Company is true.’
And with that word she held them with her eyes, and in silence looked searchingly at each of them in turn. None save Legolas and Aragorn could long endure her glance. Sam quickly blushed and hung his head.
Evidently she was testing their resolve: She showed each of them their heart’s desire, juxtaposing it with the dark and uncertain quest before them. We only really hear what Sam saw (back in the Shire, with a small home and a garden of his own). Presumably Aragorn’s had to do with Arwen, but of course he knows that he’ll only find his heart’s desire at the end of the path he’s already on.
‘To me it seemed exceedingly strange,’ said Boromir. ‘Maybe it was only a test, and she thought to read our thoughts for her own good purpose; but almost I should have said she was tempting us, and offering what she pretended to have the power to give. It need not be said that I refused to listen. The Men of Minas Tirith are true to their word.’ […]
‘Speak no evil of the Lady Galadriel!’ said Aragorn sternly. ‘You know not what you say. There is in her and in this land no evil, unless a man bring it hither himself.’
It’s interesting how Boromir is the only one who seemed to entertain the possibility that Galadriel might actually be capable of giving whatever it was she showed him – everyone else clearly understood that she was more or less saying, “What if?” Maybe Boromir just really wished it to be true, or maybe he already thinks it may be within his grasp.
The Company enjoys the peace of Lothlórien, and they finally get to process the loss of Gandalf. After a while, though, Frodo and Sam feel certain that they’ll have to leave soon. Enter Galadriel and her magic mirror.
‘Many things I can command the Mirror to reveal,’ she answered. ‘And to some I can show what they desire to see. But the Mirror will also show things unbidden, and those are often stranger and more profitable than things which we wish to behold. What you will see, if you leave the Mirror free to work, I cannot tell. For it shows things that were, and things that are, and things that yet may be. But which it is that he sees, even the wisest cannot always tell.’
There were a couple lines of Galadriel’s that were tweaked in the movie to make her seem more powerful, and this is one: In the movie, she says “things that have not yet come to pass,” which is a much bigger deal than “yet may be”. Here, she makes it clear that even “the future” is not set in stone – she spells out to Sam that sometimes a future will only come to pass if you go out of your way to prevent it. Because Sam actually tries the Mirror before Frodo, and he sees mischief afoot in the Shire, causing him to seriously consider going home.
After a moment he spoke again thickly, as if struggling with tears. ‘No. I’ll go home by the long road with Mr. Frodo, or not at all,’ he said. ‘But I hope I do get back some day. If what I’ve seen turns out to be true, somebody’s going to catch it hot!’
Then it’s Frodo’s turn. First he sees a wizard in white, and although it reminds him forcefully of Gandalf, he wonders if it might be Saruman, since he is (or was) the White Wizard. Then he gets a brief glimpse of Bilbo in his study, before it changes to the history (or rather, story, as some of it hasn’t happened yet) of Westernesse.
But suddenly the Mirror went altogether dark, as dark as if a hole had opened in the world of sight, and Frodo looked into emptiness. In the black abyss there appeared a single Eye that slowly grew, until it filled nearly all the Mirror. So terrible was it that Frodo stood rooted, unable to cry out or withdraw his gaze. The Eye was rimmed with fire, but was itself glazed, yellow as a cat’s, watchful and intent, and the black slit of its pupil opened on a pit, a window into nothing.
Then the Eye began to rove, searching this way and that; and Frodo knew with certainty and horror that among the many things that it sought he himself was one.
After Galadriel snaps him out of that, Frodo notices for the first time that she’s wearing a ring – one of the Elven Rings, as it happens.
‘[Sauron] suspects, but he does not know – not yet. Do you not see now wherefore your coming to us is as the footstep of Doom? For if you fail, then we are laid bare to the Enemy. Yet if you succeed, then our power is diminished, and Lothlórien will fade, and the tides of Time will sweep it away. We must depart into the West, or dwindle to a rustic folk of dell and cave, slowly to forget and to be forgotten.’
Now that Frodo’s seen the Eye of Sauron (representing his search for power and dominion), I guess he can see the Rings because that’s something Sauron wants? But of course Frodo is still frightened and feels like he’s in over his head (even more now that he’s sensed the malice of Sauron), so much like how he offered the Ring to Gandalf when he first learned of its true nature, he now offers it to Galadriel.
Galadriel laughed with a sudden clear laugh. ‘Wise the Lady Galadriel may be,’ she said, ‘yet here she has met her match in courtesy. Gently are you revenged for my testing of your heart at our first meeting. You begin to see with a keen eye. I do not deny that my heart has greatly desired to ask what you offer. For many long years I had pondered what I might do, should the Great Ring come into my hands, and behold! it was brought within my grasp. The evil that was devised long ago works on in many ways, whether Sauron himself stands or falls. Would not that have been a noble deed to set to the credit of his Ring, if I had taken it by force or fear from my guest?
‘And now at last it comes. You will give me the Ring freely! In place of the Dark Lord you will set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the earth. All shall love me and despair!’
[…] ‘I pass the test,’ she said. ‘I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.’
She is wise enough to think of more than her own people and her own time. She’s had too much time to ponder how she could misuse the power of the Ring.
‘But if you’ll pardon my speaking out, I think my master was right. I wish you’d take his Ring. You’d put things to rights. You’d stop them digging up the gaffer and turning him adrift. You’d make some folk pay for their dirty work.’
‘I would,’ she said. ‘That is how it would begin. But it would not stop with that, alas!’
Until next time…