207) The Mirror of Galadriel

The Mirror of Galadriel

Having arrived in Lothlórien, the Fellowship now meet its rulers:

“Haldir turned towards the Company.

“`Welcome to Caras Galadhon! ‘ he said. ‘Here is the city of the Galadhrim where dwell the Lord Celeborn and Galadriel the Lady of Lórien.

The Fellowship are brought to meet them:

“On two chairs beneath the bole of the tree and canopied by a living bough there sat, side by side, Celeborn and Galadriel. They stood up to greet their guests, after the manner of Elves, even those who were accounted mighty kings. Very tall they were, and the Lady no less tall than the Lord; and they were grave and beautiful. They were clad wholly in white; and the hair of the Lady was of deep gold, and the hair of the Lord Celeborn was of silver long and bright; but no sign of age was upon them, unless it were in the depths of their eyes; for these were keen as lances in the starlight, and yet profound, the wells of deep memory.”

The silver and gold combination reminded me of the Two Trees: yet this was not the first idea.  The first mention is of a Lord and Lady clad in white, with white hair and ‘piercing eyes like a lance in sunlight’.[A]  You would expect the kingdom to have a King, but here it is Lord and Lady.

The next idea was the brief notion of Galadriel, alone and the wife of Elrond.  Living apart for unspecified reason, well before the invention of Arwen and of her mother Celebrían, Elrond’s wife and Galadriel’s daughter, who is absent after being wounded by orcs.

For Elrond and Galadriel to be married but separate would have been an odd notion, and not in keeping with Tolkien’s general regard for marriage.  In any case, the Lord and Lady reappear and Keleborn and Galadriel, with other names considered first.  Back then it was Keleborn to make clear it was a K sound, and I personally wish it had been left so.

Being rulers, the Fellowship must meet them.

“Haldir led Frodo before them, and the Lord welcomed him in his own tongue. The Lady Galadriel said no word but looked long upon his face.

“`Sit now beside my chair, Frodo of the Shire! ‘ said Celeborn. `When all have come we will speak together.’”

To sit in the presence of a ruler is an unusual honour.  He may have seen that Frodo was wounded.  And realises his importance as the Ring-Bearer.

“Each of the companions he greeted courteously by name as they entered. `Welcome Aragorn son of Arathorn! ‘ he said. `It is eight and thirty years of the world outside since you came to this land; and those years lie heavy on you. But the end is near, for good or ill. Here lay aside your burden for a while! ‘

“’Welcome son of Thranduil! Too seldom do my kindred journey hither from the North.’

“`Welcome Gimli son of Glóin! It is long indeed since we saw one of Durin’s folk in Caras Galadhon. But today we have broken our long law. May it be a sign that though the world is now dark better days are at hand, and that friendship shall be renewed between our peoples.’ Gimli bowed low.”

Only now can they bring themselves to explain about Gandalf:

“When all the guests were seated before his chair the Lord looked at them again. ‘Here there are eight,’ [Celeborn] said. `Nine were to set out: so said the messages. But maybe there has been some change of counsel that we have not heard. Elrond is far away, and darkness gathers between us, and all this year the shadows have grown longer.’

“`Nay, there was no change of counsel,’ said the Lady Galadriel speaking for the first time. Her voice was clear and musical, but deeper than woman’s wont. `Gandalf the Grey set out with the Company, but he did not pass the borders of this land. Now tell us where he is; for I much desired to speak with him again. But I cannot see him from afar, unless he comes within the fences of Lothlórien: a grey mist is about him, and the ways of his feet and of his mind are hidden from me.’

“’Alas! ‘ said Aragorn. `Gandalf the Grey fell into shadow. He remained in Moria and did not escape.’

“At these words all the Elves in the hall cried aloud in grief and amazement. `These are evil tidings,’ said Celeborn, `the most evil that have been spoken here in long years full of grievous deeds.’ He turned to Haldir. `Why has nothing of this been told to me before? ‘ he asked in the Elven-tongue.

“’We have not spoken to Haldir of our deeds or our purpose,’ said Legolas. `At first we were weary and danger was too close behind and afterwards we almost forgot our grief for a time, as we walked in gladness on the fair paths of Lórien.’”

Note that Gandalf can hide from Galadriel, and perhaps feels the need to do so.  We will later learn that she is open to corruption.

It also seems that ‘Durin’s Bane’ was not previously identified:

“When Aragorn recounted all that had happened upon the pass of Caradhras, and in the days that followed; and he spoke of Balin and his book, and the fight in the Chamber of Mazarbul, and the fire, and the narrow bridge, and the coming of the Terror.  ‘An evil of the Ancient World it seemed, such as I have never seen before,’ said Aragorn. `It was both a shadow and a flame, strong and terrible.’

“’It was a Balrog of Morgoth,’ said Legolas; `of all elf-banes the most deadly, save the One who sits in the Dark Tower.’

“`Indeed I saw upon the bridge that which haunts our darkest dreams l saw Durin’s Bane,’ said Gimli in a low voice, and dread was in his eyes.

“’Alas! ‘ said Celeborn. `We long have feared that under Caradhras a terror slept. But had I known that the Dwarves had stirred up this evil in Moria again, l 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?

“’Dark is the water of Kheled-zâram, and cold are the springs of Kibil-nâla, and fair were the many-pillared halls of Khazad-dûm in Elder Days before the fall of mighty kings beneath the stone.’ She looked upon Gimli, who sat glowering and sad, and she smiled. And the Dwarf, hearing the names given in his own ancient tongue, looked up and met her eyes; and it seemed to him that he looked suddenly into the heart of an enemy and saw there love and understanding.”

In the first drafts which we have from the History of Middle Earth, they wonder if the Balrog may have been sent from Mordor, or whether Balin’s dwarves may have disturbed it.  In the previous chapter, Haldir had said the orcs had been sent to Moria, so it might be a Balrog also.  The notion of it as Durin’s Bane came later.  And whether it took orders from Sauron is left open.

Galadriel now explains who they are, and seeks to win over the Fellowship:

“’Your quest is known to us,’ said Galadriel, looking at Frodo. `But we will not here speak of it more openly. Yet not in vain will it prove, maybe, that you came to this land seeking aid, as Gandalf himself plainly purposed. For the Lord of the Galadhrim is accounted the wisest of the Elves of Middle-earth, and a giver of gifts beyond the power of kings. He has dwelt in the West since the days of dawn, and I have dwelt with him years uncounted; for ere the fall of Nargothrond or Gondolin I passed over the mountains, and together through ages of the world we have fought the long defeat.

“’I it was who first summoned the White Council. And if my designs had not gone amiss, it would have been governed by Gandalf the Grey, and then mayhap things would have gone otherwise. But even now there is hope left. 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.

“At length the Lady Galadriel released them from her eyes, and she smiled. `Do not let your hearts be troubled,’ she said. ‘Tonight you shall sleep in peace.’ Then they sighed and felt suddenly weary, as those who have been questioned long and deeply, though no words had been spoken openly.

It later turns out that each of them has been tempted to give up the Quest:

“‘What did you blush for, Sam? ‘ said Pippin. `You soon broke down. Anyone would have thought you had a guilty conscience. I hope it was nothing worse than a wicked plot to steal one of my blankets.’

“`I never thought no such thing,’ answered Sam, in no mood for jest. ‘If you want to know, I felt as if I hadn’t got nothing on, and I didn’t like it. She seemed to be looking inside me and asking me what I would do if she gave me the chance of flying back home to the Shire to a nice little hole with-with a bit of garden of my own.’

“`That’s funny,’ said Merry. ‘Almost exactly what I felt myself; only, only well, I don’t think I’ll say any more,’ he ended lamely.

“All of them, it seemed, had fared alike: each had felt that he was offered a choice between a shadow full of fear that lay ahead, and something that he greatly desired: clear before his mind it lay, and to get it he had only to turn aside from the road and leave the Quest and the war against Sauron to others.

Considering that she has a desire for the One Ring, I find this suspicious.

Let’s now step back and ask how the character of Galadriel emerged.  If early drafts, the  proto-Galadriel is not one of the High Elves whose powers were boosted in Valinor.  Or not as I read it:

““The lord and lady of Lothlorien are accounted wise beyond the measure of the Elves of Middle Earth, and of all who have not passed beyond the Seas.  For we have dwelt here since the Mountains were reared and the Sun was young.”[B]

In his note, Christopher Tolkien takes this to mean they came from Valinor.  To me, it says the reverse – they were Avari, but also very special among them.  And in Unfinished Tales: The History of Galadriel and Celeborn, Christopher Tolkien takes a different line, assuming that Celeborn was a Nandorin Elf, one of the Teleri but one of a group that refused to cross the Misty Mountains.  But he also tells how story was changed in later writings, with a final form in which they both depart Valinor separately from Feanor.  Which leaves unexplained why Celeborn cannot go with Galadriel when she returns to Valinor.

There is anyway a contradiction: in the previous chapter, Haldir was expecting his people could cross the Great Sea, but regretted that there might be no mallorn trees there.

Other matters now intrude.  The elves mourn Gandalf, and Frodo composes a poem for him, which I’ll quote the start and end of:

“When evening in the Shire was grey
“his footsteps on the Hill were heard;
“before the dawn he went away
“on journey long without a word.

“He stood upon the bridge alone
“and Fire and Shadow both defied;
“his staff was broken on the stone,
“in Khazad-dûm his wisdom died.”

Several evenings later, Galadriel seeks out Frodo, who is with Sam.  This is only the second time they have seen her:

“[Frodo says] I hope very much that before we leave we shall see the Lady of the Elves again.’

“Even as he spoke, they saw, as if she came in answer to their words, the Lady Galadriel approaching. Tall and white and fair she walked beneath the trees. She spoke no word, but beckoned to them.

“Turning aside, she led them toward the southern slopes of the hill of Caras Galadhon, and passing through a high green hedge they came into an enclosed garden. No trees grew there, and it lay open to the sky. The evening star had risen and was shining with white fire above the western woods. Down a long flight of steps the Lady went into a deep green hollow, through which ran murmuring the silver stream that issued from the fountain on the hill. At the bottom, upon a low pedestal carved like a branching tree, stood a basin of silver. wide and shallow, and beside it stood a silver ewer.

“With water from the stream Galadriel filled the basin to the brim, and breathed on it, and when the water was still again she spoke. `Here is the Mirror of Galadriel,’ she said. ‘I have brought you here so that you may look in it, if you will.’”

This wonderful passage includes a goof by Tolkien.  The planet Venus is closer to the sun than Earth, and so from Earth it seems to rise as the Morning Star ahead of the sun, or set as the Evening Star after it.  And if you manage to see a Total Solar Eclipse, you will usually see it and Mercury close to the sun, where they would normally be lost in the brightness of the sky.

Venus could not rise while the sun sets unless it had an independent orbit around the Earth, which is of course is how Tolkien’s mythology has it.  In his subcreation, Venus is the last Silmaril borne on Earendil’s magic ship.

The mirror also reminded of the Lady of Shalott, who in Tennyson’s poem can only watch the outside world through a mirror and must weave what she sees.  The mirror is Tennyson’s addition to a doomed lady in Arthurian legend, though there are plenty of other magic mirrors, most notably in Snow White.

Galadriel makes a great show of them being free to choose:

“’What shall we look for, and what shall we see? ‘ asked Frodo, filled with awe.

“`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, things that yet may be. But which it is that he sees, even the wisest cannot always tell. Do you wish to look? ‘

“Frodo did not answer.”

The Mirror seems superior to the Palantir, which are not mentioned as being able to see the future.  Its power might come in part from Earendil’s Star: she uses that light later to make the phial she gives Frodo, which also holds water from the Mirror.

Back then, Frodo is understandably reluctant to see more disturbing visions, having had many dreams of his own.  But in the book, unlike the film, Sam is also present, and easier to persuade:

“`And you? ‘ she said, turning to Sam. ‘For this is what your folk would call magic. I believe; though I do not understand clearly what they mean; and they seem also to use the same word of the deceits of the Enemy. But this, if you will, is the magic of Galadriel. Did you not say that you wished to see Elf-magic? ‘

“’I did,’ said Sam, trembling a little between fear and curiosity. `I’ll have a peep, Lady, if you’re willing.’

He sees peril to The Shire – what they will actually find, eventually.  But Sam could not have dealt with it.  It will need Frodo’s success in getting the One Ring to Mount Doom, which Sam is essential to.  It will also need Merry and Pippin, greatly strengthened by their later experiences.  But Sam is naturally concerned:

“’Elrond knew what he was about when he wanted to send Mr. Merry back.’ Then suddenly Sam gave a cry and sprang away. ‘I can’t stay here,’ he said wildly. `I must go home. They’ve dug up Bagshot Row, and there’s the poor old gaffer going down the Hill with his bits of things on a barrow. I must go home!’

“’You cannot go home alone,’ said the Lady. ‘You did not wish to go home without your master before you looked in the Mirror, and yet you knew that evil things might well be happening in the Shire. Remember that the Mirror shows many things, and not all have yet come to pass. Some never come to be, unless those that behold the visions turn aside from their path to prevent them. The Mirror is dangerous as a guide of deeds.’”

She now asks Frodo if he will risk it, and he does.  He sees a series of confusing images, ending with the Eye of Sauron.  And after this, he is able to see that Galadriel has one of the Elven Rings.  He did not see it before, and Sam sees it as a star.  This is clearly an option when a Ring of Power is held by someone already powerful.  Bombadil had earlier used it to make even the One Ring invisible.

She then explains the issues

“`Yes,’ she said, divining his thought, `it is not permitted to speak of it, and Elrond could not do so. But it cannot be hidden from the Ring-bearer, and one who has seen the Eye. Verily it is in the land of Lórien upon the finger of Galadriel that one of the Three remains. This is Nenya, the Ring of Adamant, and I am its keeper.

“`He suspects, but he does not know – not yet. Do you not see now wherefore your coming is to us 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.’

“Frodo bent his head. `And what do you wish? ‘ he said at last.

“`That what should be shall be,’ she answered. `The love of the Elves for their land and their works is deeper than the deeps of the Sea, and their regret is undying and cannot ever wholly be assuaged. Yet they will cast all away rather than submit to Sauron: for they know him now. For the fate of Lothlórien you are not answerable but only for the doing of your own task. Yet I could wish, were it of any avail, that the One Ring had never been wrought, or had remained for ever lost.’”

It seems to me that she is setting him up to offer her the One Ring, while pretending otherwise.  Possibly Tolkien originally intended it so, and then fell in love with his own creation and changed details to make her seem more noble and virtuous.  Regardless, we have a key moment:

“’You are wise and fearless and fair, Lady Galadriel,’ said Frodo. `I will give you the One Ring, if you ask for it. It is too great a matter for me.’

“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! ‘

“She lifted up her hand and from the ring that she wore there issued a great light that illuminated her alone and left all else dark. She stood before Frodo seeming now tall beyond measurement, and beautiful beyond enduring, terrible and worshipful. Then she let her hand fall, and the light faded, and suddenly she laughed again, and lo! she was shrunken: a slender elf-woman, clad in simple white, whose gentle voice was soft and sad.

“’I pass the test,’ she said. `I will diminish, and go into the West and remain Galadriel.’”

It is a splendid phrase: “from the ring that she wore there issued a great light that illuminated her alone and left all else dark”.  Her corruption would be unlike Sauron’s: she would want to be loved rather than feared.  She already has something like this: almost a goddess in her own land.  Grown stronger, her vanity would cast the rest of the world into darkness.

All this was barely changed from the first draft, we learn from Christopher Tolkien.  Which again raises the question of which elves can go to Valinor, but that is best re-considered in the next chapter.  For now, we find Sam unable to understand the issues:

“Did you see my ring? ‘ she asked turning again to Sam.

“’No, Lady,’ he answered. `To tell you the truth, I wondered what you were talking about. I saw a star through your finger. 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! We will not speak more of it. Let us go!’”

Note her admission of being so far tempted by the One Ring that she wondered about taking it ‘by force or fear from my guest’.  Like Gandalf, she is aware of the temptations of power and resists them.

I also wonder why Gandalf was planning to trust her.  Did he miss the bad intentions, as he had with Saruman?  Or did he think his own influence would be enough to prevent this?  In the event, Galadriel faces temptation and overcomes it.

Like the Wood-Elves that Bilbo met in Mirkwood, but at a much higher level, she matches the traditional notion of elves beautiful but not trustworthy.  You find this rather well expressed in Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword.  Curiously, this has been lost in most later fiction.  An exception is the elf-like Mimbari in Babylon-5.

As I said, I feel that Tolkien fell in love with his own creation, and got too forgiving of her.  Tried to change her back-story, as is explained by Christopher Tolkien in Unfinished Tales.  Of those on the side of Virtue, Galadriel is the most tempted by the ring.  She admits to having thought of taking it if it came into her power.  She is closest to Saruman’s view: Boromir only falls after long exposure.  And note again that he is right to be suspicious of Galadriel.  Aragorn here is mistaken, trusting her too much.

Copyright © Gwydion M. Williams.

[A] The History of Middle-earth Volume 7 – The Treason of Isengard, page 233.

[B] The History of Middle-earth Volume 7 – The Treason of Isengard, page 248