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Galadriel, political animal of Middle-earth

News from Bree

Dec 22 2012, 11:48am

Post #1 of 11 (1126 views)
Galadriel, political animal of Middle-earth Can't Post

I haven't yet seen The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, but what I've seen and read of the White Council sequence has intrigued me.

Not because of the sniping between Gandalf and Saruman (although that in itself is worthy of a separate discussion), but for the superficially strange behaviour of Galadriel. I write "superficially" since I believe when you think about what's going on more deeply, it reveals a key character trait that most readers (and viewers) overlook.

In the clip, Gandalf and Saruman are at odds facing each other across the table. The two Noldorin elves are distant from the ... exchange ... but Elrond approaches the two Istari to push home his point about the Watchful Peace.

On the other hand, Galadriel waits, watches and circles. A bit like a hawk striking, she makes her message count: "Let him speak".

At first this action struck me as deeply calculated, and I found this off-putting.

Then I realised that must be the point. Because Tolkien's Galadriel is a deeply political animal. A meddler par-excellence, if you will.

This is something that's often subsumed beneath the idea of Galadriel as one the most potent exponents of _magical_ power in Middle-earth -- the wielder of Nenya, creator of the eponymous phial filled with the light of Earendil's star, and owner of the mysterious Mirror that reveals past, present and future.

And that's often the default interpretation of elves -- ethereal and majestic beings wielding an unknowable and puissant magic. It's an idealistic interpretation reinforced by the stereotypes that litter scores of lazily written pulp fantasy novels, Dungeons and Dragons and World of Warcraft. And the pretty but vacuous artwork that tends to accompany all that.

But scratch the surface of Tolkien and you'll find Middle-earth's elves exhibit their own share of (jealousy-driven) brutal politicking. The end of Finrod's rule in Nargothrond is one example. The overthrow of Galadriel and Celborn's lordship over Eregion by the Gwaith-i-Mirdain is another (which we'll explore further in a moment).

Galadriel's history is, of course, convoluted and inconsistent. But across all these variations, themes do emerge. One of these, I believe, is that Galadriel desired to wield (political) influence over others.

Proud, strong, and self-willed...

"She was proud, strong, and self-willed, as were all the descendants of Finwe save Finarfin; and like her brother Finrod, of all her kin the nearest to her heart, she had dreams of far lands and dominions that might be her own to order as she would without tutelage." (Unfinished Tales, The History of Galadriel and Celeborn)

When the Noldor leave Valinor in the wake of Melkor and Ungoliant's destruction of the Two Trees, Galadriel's desire to achieve greater things is plain:

"Galadriel... was eager to be gone. No oaths she swore, but the words Feanor concerning Middle-earth had kindled in her heart, for she longed to see the wide unguarded lands and to rule there a realm at her own will." (The Silmarillion, Of the Flight of the Noldor)

Later, after Morgoth is defeated and the ban of the Valar is lifted, in one version of events, she -- and Celeborn -- reject their pardon to remain in Middle-earth:

"Pride still moved her when... she refused the pardon of the Valar for all who had fought against [Morgoth], and remained in Middle-earth." (Unfinished Tales, The History of Galadriel and Celeborn)

This concept is reinforced when later in Unfinished Tales Tolkien writes of the origin of the Elessar:

'"Will you then pass over Sea?" [Celebrimbor said.]

"Nay," [Galadriel] said. "Angrod is gone, and Aegnor is gone, and Felagund is no more. Of Finarfin's children I am the last. But my heart is still proud. What wrong did the golden house of Finarfin do that I should ask the pardon of the Valar, or be content with an isle in the sea whose native land was Aman the Blessed? Here I am mightier."' (Unfinished Tales, The History of Galadriel and Celeborn)

The Lady of three different realms

No less than three times does Tolkien write about Galadriel establishing a realm of her own in Middle-earth.

The first, although possibly under the stewardship of Gil-galad, is a short-lived elven realm on the shores of Lake Nenuial in northern Eriador.

The second, (at least in one version of events) has Galadriel and Celeborn founding of Eregion as a defence and counter against menaces from the east regions of Middle-earth.

"[Galadriel] perceived that there was an evil controlling purpose abroad in the world, and that it seemed to proceed from a source further to the East, beyond Eriador and the Misty Mountains. Celeborn and Galadriel therefore went eastwards, about the year 700 of the Second Age, and established the (primarily but by no means solely) Noldorin realm of Eregion." (Unfinished Tales, The History of Galadriel and Celeborn)

And the third, after the Noldorin smith Celebrimbor and his Gwaith-i-Mirdain supplanted her power in Eregion, as the Lady of Lorien.

"Galadriel thereupon left Eregion and passed through Khazad-dum to Lorinand... but Celeborn would not enter the mansions of the Dwarves, and he remained behind in Eregion, disregarded by Celebrimbor. In Lorinand Galadriel took up rule, and defence against Sauron." (Unfinished Tales, The History of Galadriel and Celeborn)

The latter two realms were organised with clear purpose: to guard the elven lands of western Middle-earth against the Shadow of the East.

From the tale of Amroth and Nimrodel: "In her wisdom Galadriel saw that Lorien would be a stronghold and point of power to prevent the Shadow from crossing the Anduin in the war that must inevitably come before it was again defeated (if that were possible); but that it needed a rule of greater strength and wisdom than the Silvan folk possessed." (Unfinished Tales, The History of Galadriel and Celeborn)

This is prescient as Lorien, of course, later plays a key role as a bulwark against the growing influence of Dol Guldur on the area around Mirkwood.

Founder of common causes

Galadriel does more than simply establish realms that stand alone against Sauron like sandcastles in the surf. Tolkien observes that Galadriel realised only "a union of all the peoples who were in their way and in their measure opposed" to Sauron could defeat him.

In this way in founding Eregion (and presumably, later Lorien), "she looked upon the Dwarves [of Khazad-dum] also with the eye of a commander, seeing in them the finest warriors to pit against the Orcs."

The White Council is another of these unions of peoples. Although the scale is far more intimate, the purpose is the same. In The Lord of the Rings, Galadriel explains that it was she who created the (second) Council.

"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." (Lord of the Rings, The Mirror of Galadriel)

Tolkien reveals to us a Galadriel who is unafraid to accumulate and wield political influence. She assiduously assembles power blocs of forces sympathetic to her long-term goals.

Eregion also proves that she's pragmatic about it, and unafraid to start all over when it doesn't work out. She is, as she states in The Lord of the Rings, engaged in fighting "the long defeat": falling back, regrouping, trying again.

Deft diplomat

An essential part of her politicking is her deftness as a diplomat. When Celeborn, alarmed at the news of the Balrog, blames the dwarves for rousing it from slumber, she smoothly intervenes and defuses the incident, placating both Celeborn and Gimli.

In fact, with a handful of words she turns Gimli into a firm ally and admirer:

"Dark is the water of Kheled-zaram, and cold are the springs of Kibil-nala, and fair were the many-pillared halls of Khazad-dum in Elder Days before the fall of mighty kings beneath the stone."

There's a significant sequence in the Silmarillion where she matches wits with Melian the Maia under difficult circumstances. Melian wonders at the timely return of the Noldor back to Middle-earth, and doubts that they were sent by the Valar.

'There is some woe that lies upon you and your kin. That I can see in you, but all else is hidden from me... Why will you not tell me more?'

'For that woe is past,' said Galadriel; 'and I would take what joy is here left, untroubled by memory. And maybe there is woe enough yet to come, though still hope may seem bright.' (The Silmarillion, Of the Noldor in Beleriand)

Tester of hearts and minds

Finally, there's the scene where she tempts the Fellowship, offering each a choice between fear of what lay ahead, and some thing they greatly desired. It's an fascinating contrast against Elrond, who chooses to lay no oath or bond on the Fellowship when they leave Rivendell. And note: the magical element is less important than the reasoning behind, and the import of, her actions.

'"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.' (Lord of the Rings, The Mirror of Galadriel)

In testing their resolve it almost seems that she is confirming for herself Elrond's choices. And from another perspective, by challenging their commitment, she is also working to stiffen their commitment to the cause -- akin to the process of tempering steel to give it greater strength.

It is also, like the White Council scene, a calculated act. Galadriel says that none of Gandalf's deeds were needless. The same applies to her: she does nothing without cause.

For two whole ages of Middle-earth -- some 6,000 years -- ruling is Galadriel's purpose. And politicking -- the art of coaxing people to do what you think is best -- is an essential part of that. It's a purpose that she is not willing to give up even for the promise of Valinor:

"It was not until two long ages more had passed, when at last all that she had desired in her youth came to her hand, the Ring of Power and the dominion of Middle-earth which she had dreamed, that her wisdom was full grown and she rejected it, and passing the last test departed from Middle-earth for ever." (Unfinished Tales, The History of Galadriel and Celeborn)

People have a tendency to idealise Galadriel. Yet, really, she is as driven as Feanor. It's something to keep in mind while admiring the pretty dress.

Demosthenes has been an incredibly nerdy staff member at TheOneRing.net since 2001. The views in this article are his own, and do not necessarily represent those of other TORn staff.

(This post was edited by Silverlode on Dec 23 2012, 7:23am)


Dec 22 2012, 5:42pm

Post #2 of 11 (794 views)
Very interesting article. [In reply to] Can't Post

Thank you for writing this - I found it very interesting and was reminded of some things I had forgotten in Tolkien's writings.

Alas, it only kindles my desire for a Silmarillion movie starring Cate Blanchett, which can never be.

Btw, the YouTube video has been taken down.

all we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us...

Superuser / Moderator

Dec 22 2012, 7:00pm

Post #3 of 11 (773 views)
I have moved this to Main so that it can last longer for discussion. [In reply to] Can't Post

Fascinating post Demosthenes - you have cast a new light on Galadriel for me.

Celebrimbor: "Pretty rings..."
Dwarves: "Pretty rings..."
Men: "Pretty rings..."
Sauron: "Mine's better."

"Ah, how ironic, the addictive qualities of Sauron’s master weapon led to its own destruction. Which just goes to show, kids - if you want two small and noble souls to succeed on a mission of dire importance... send an evil-minded beggar with them too." - Gandalf's Diaries, final par, by Ufthak.

Ataahua's stories


Dec 22 2012, 7:20pm

Post #4 of 11 (774 views)
Google it [In reply to] Can't Post

You can find it still out there.

Aiya Eärendil Elenion Ancalima! Hail Eärendil, brightest of stars!


Dec 22 2012, 7:42pm

Post #5 of 11 (771 views)
Interesting post [In reply to] Can't Post

and I agree with the final conclusion that she did indeed have quite a lot in common with Fëanor - the difference being, I suppose, that she had more wisdom than he (as has been counted), which then allowed her to grow and prosper rather than be destroyed by her own fire and ambitions like Fëanor was.


Dec 22 2012, 8:25pm

Post #6 of 11 (766 views)
@ [In reply to] Can't Post

NewesfromBree: I agree with everything you said. Galadriel is really a facinating charcter. No surprise Tolkien put her to be the equal of Feanor. Some people argue that it can´t be cause she never did anything, they then just have to look at your post and some things will become more clear.

Furthermore I don´t get why some people see her characteristics in a negative light, only because she wanted to rule. The need to rule is nothing bad, as long as you don´t want to supress people, which Galadriel never intended. She always wanted only the best for ME and the people.

I admire a person, who searches for responsibility (like Galadriel did) more than a person who doesn´t has the need to accomplish something extraordinary. That person can be really nice and all but the other person would be, don´t know hw to say, greater. Tolkien seems to agree, stating Galadriel and Feanor were the greatest elves, together with Luthien, who is the greatest.


Dec 23 2012, 1:04am

Post #7 of 11 (723 views)
I very much agree with this reading [In reply to] Can't Post

It's worth noting that in An Unexpected Journey, there is clear tension between Saruman and Galadriel. It's almost as if Saruman feels more threatened by her than by Gandalf. And there's a logic to this: they are the two most ambitious members of the White Council, whether they like to acknowledge it or not, and the Galadriel of The Hobbit still dreams of power unlike the more angelic Galadriel we see in the later stages of LotR.

Eärwen of Mithlond
The Shire

Dec 23 2012, 6:09am

Post #8 of 11 (773 views)
This is a terrific article [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks for posting. Galadriel has such a great story that it's always worthwhile to re-examine. : )

Occupation: Ship-building
Hobbies: Swimming, long walks on the shore

The Shire

Dec 28 2012, 3:05am

Post #9 of 11 (687 views)
My favorite item about Galadriel... [In reply to] Can't Post

....is that Feanor once asked her for a strand of hair with which to make some wildly beautiful jewel or other yet she snubs him firmly, ticking him off rather significantly. Yet when a 'commoner' dwarf (Gimli) asks her for hair, she gives him three strands without hesitation, though the request astonishes his colleagues.

To my mind that is one of the most underrated and significant episodes in all of Tolkien, when you really think about its implications, and the persons involved. Gladriel--one of my two or three favorite characters of the entire mythology.


Dec 28 2012, 1:29pm

Post #10 of 11 (676 views)
This is brilliant! I have a question - [In reply to] Can't Post

First - thank you so much for this writing. It has shed such light on the character of Galadriel - so true that behind the airy-fairy depictions of the Elves, many of them were in fact so passionate and strong-willed.

Here is my question, in relation to this below:

"It was not until two long ages more had passed, when at last all that she had desired in her youth came to her hand, the Ring of Power and the dominion of Middle-earth which she had dreamed, that her wisdom was full grown and she rejected it, and passing the last test departed from Middle-earth for ever." (Unfinished Tales, The History of Galadriel and Celeborn).

What was the "it" she was rejecting? Was it 'just' the Ring, or was it more in addition to that, was it the desire for power, or the desire for power at-any-cost, or the wish to rule in Middle-earth...or ??

And if it was in fact more than just rejecting the Ring, what would prompt her to now give up wanting to rule, after wanting to for so many thousands of years?

Any thoughts, either from Demosthenes or any other posters?


Dec 28 2012, 3:19pm

Post #11 of 11 (716 views)
I [In reply to] Can't Post

think the "it" refers to the power she would have if she accepted the ring but she doesn´t want power or rulership any more. After so many years, she maybe begun to understand what is really imporant in life and IMHO she realized that it is her family which is waiting in Valinor and she so much desired to be able to go home (but at this point she didn´´t know that she would be able to) Another point would be is that she knows that the time of Man has begun or shall begin and that it would be against the wishes of Eru if she would delay it. So I would say her longing to go home was stronger than her need to become a queen and she knew that it would be wrong to dominate ME even if she only wished to do good. It was not her time anymore.


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