Many fans were surprised to learn that actress Cate Blanchett would be reprising her roll as the elf queen Galadriel in Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of The Hobbit. It is common knowledge, at least to fans of the book, that she does not appear in the story. As such, they were left wondering just what she may be doing in the film. However, textual evidence from other books by Tolkien seems to indicate just what exactly Galadriel may be doing during the events of The Hobbit.
But just who is Galadriel? Why is she so important to Tolkien’s mythology? She only appears in one book, The Fellowship of the Ring, and shows up briefly at the very end of The Return of the King. She does not appear to fight in the War of the Ring, and if we are honest there are other characters that play a greater part in that quest. However, the books The Fellowship of the Ring, The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales and even the films to a lesser extent reveal that she is one of the oldest, wisest and post powerful beings in that world.
She is revered as the greatest of Elven women. Appropriately, her name has a ring of beauty to it as it means, “Maiden crowned by a radiant garland.” The description of her hair is much like a garland, and Tolkien wrote in one of his letters that when Galadriel was a youth and took part in athletic events she tied up her hair in a crown like fashion.
Typically we associate garlands with the celebration of Christmas as a form of decoration, a simple decorative wreath or chain, hung on a door way or over a banister. However a garland was also a decorative crown made of flowers. This means that Lady Galadriel was decorated with light, perhaps not unlike a halo upon an angel. As such in most illustrations and films, she appears in such a fashion.
Like Gandalf and Elrond, she is revered for her wisdom. Her name is then almost reflective of Proverbs 4: 9. This verse describes wisdom in terms of a beautiful woman who, “Will place on your head a graceful garland; she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.” Her wisdom, not just her goodness, is her garland of light. Further, her Elvish clan is named “The Noldor”, which roughly translated from their tounge means “Those with knowledge.”
In many ways because of her wisdom, her function is almost like that of an Oracle in ancient Greek mythology towards the Fellowship on their journey. As a hero would embark on a quest, they would usually speak with an Oracle, typically a woman who possessed great wisdom. They would help the hero discover insights about themselves, as among their vested pearls of wisdom was to “first, know thyself.” Galadriel actually reveals to the members of the Fellowship many things about themselves, and tests their hearts. She also shows Frodo some things that were, things that are, and things that may yet be through her mirror.
As she tells Frodo,
“Many things I can command the Mirror to reveal… and to some I can show what they desire to see. But the Mirror will also show things unbidden, and those are often more profitable than things which we wish to behold. What you will see, if you leave the Mirror free to work, I cannot tell. … Which it is that he sees, even the wisest cannot tell.”
Like the Ghosts of Past, Present, and Future in Dickens Christmas Carol, the things the person sees are not bidden by them. This also means that in seeing what may be, the individual has the ability to change that outcome. The future is not set in perfect stone, and as such can be altered by the events that transpire. In this case, she shows Frodo and Sam the breaking of the Fellowship and the Scouring of the Shire. These are things they can avoid if they try, however the heart of one member is already fallen under sway by the power of the Ring. Further, by finding their courage and skill in their quest, Frodo, Sam and their Hobbit friends Merry and Pippin are able to fight against the forces of evil that end up enslaving the Shire.
Galadriel also gives them some much needed comfort and bids them not to let their hearts be troubled, but to come and find their rest. At this point in their journey, the Fellowship is reeling from the loss of Gandalf. Each of them had known the old wizard very well. To the Hobbits he had been like a kindly uncle, showing up at parties with stories and fun. For Aragorn, Gimli, Boromir, and Legolas he was a wise and trusted friend. As such the loss of him cut them deeply to their core. Aragorn even pronounces after Gandalf falls that they will have to do with out hope.
Because of this Galadriel provides them with a maternal figure. While Gandalf and Elrond provide them with fatherly wisdom and guidance, Galadriel provides them with motherly love and rest. Aragorn presses them outside of Moria to keep moving, but Galadriel bids them to come and find their rest. In fact in Lothlorien, it is like time stands still, and in fact 14 days pass between their arrival and departure without their notice, plenty of time for them to reflect, remember and grieve. A father may come beside you when you are hurting, put a hand around your shoulder and say, “there, there”, but a mother takes you in her arms and comforts you. A friend may tell you to get over the pain, but a mother will give you time to grieve. Frodo and his friends are in desperate need of that kind of comfort.
In Tolkien’s Unfinished Tales she is described thusly,
“Even among the Eldar she was accounted beautiful, and her hair is held a marvel unmatched. It is golden like the hair of her father and of her foremother Indis, but richer and more radiant, for its gold is touched by some memory of the starlike silver of her mother; and the Eldar say that the light of the Two Trees, Laurelin and Telperion, has been snared in her tresses…She was proud, strong, and selfwilled…. Yet deeper still there dwelt in her the noble and generous spirit of the Vanyar, and a reverence for the Valar that she could not forget. From her earliest years she had a marvelous gift of insight into the minds of others, but judged them with mercy and understanding, and she withheld her goodwill from none….”
When Frodo and the Fellowship leave the Mines of Moria following Gandalf’s fall in battle against the Balrog, it is her home in Lothorien that they go to. Among the Fellowship, Aragorn and Legolas long the most to visit her home as it is a place of great beauty. The leaves are said to be of gold, and the bark of the trees like silver.
Like Rivendell , Lothlorien is protected from evil by Galadriel and her husband Celeborn’s powers. However, even Galadriel admits her skills are not magic. When she shows Sam the Mirror she tells him,
“For this is what your folk call magic, I believe, though I do not understand clearly what they mean, and they seem also to use the same word to describe the deceits of the Enemy.”
Tolkien himself admitted in several of his letters that he did not like using the word magic, but felt there was no better word to choose. He likened the practice of the elves and wizards to science or art. Therefore if an Elf or a wizard used their skills for evil, it was like a mad scientist using their knowledge to create a monster rather then help the world.
It is through their arts, that Galadriel presents the members of the Fellowship with gifts for their journey. Each of them receives special Elvish cloaks that actually have the ability to provide the wearer with a form of camouflage. Legolas receives a bow and a quiver of arrows that will never run out. Aragorn received her blessing to marry Arwen, as Arwen is Galadriel’s grand-daughter. Merry and Pippin receive elvish daggers. Sam is given a rope and a small box of earth from Lothlórien to help set things right back in the Shire following it’s scouring. Frodo receives a star glass containing the light of their most beloved star, with it he can light his way upon the dark path.
To Gimli the dwarf she gives him three locks of her hair, as all he could ask her to give was a lock of her radiant hair to remember their meeting. When arriving in Lothlórien, Gimli was disgusted at the very thought of meeting her. He had heard rumors of her, among them was that she was an elf witch, and any who looked upon her fell under a spell. Upon seeing her and meeting her, Gimli was struck by her beauty and grace and swore allegiance to her. He had expected to look into the face of an enemy and saw that of a compassionate friend, one whom he would give his life for.
Gimli even nearly came to blows with the human Éomer over the honor of Galadriel. Because of this, and because of many other qualities she has, many have likened her to the Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Tolkien admitted that his Catholic faith did have some influence on the character, but at the same time, she was not a strict Mary figure. Tolkien pointed out in one of his letters that,
“I think it is true that I owe much to Christian and Catholic teaching and imagination about Mary, but actually Galadriel was a penitent.”
How could such a wise, powerful, and benevolent character be a penitent? It was an event that transpired some 7000 years before even the events of The Hobbit, back during the First Age of Middle-earth. Melkor, also known as Morgoth stole from Valinor several jewels known as Silmarils. Thus would begin the War of the Silmarils better known as the War of the Jewels. These gems were the light of Valinor and their land began to grow dim. He went into the house of the king of the Noldor, one of the clans of elves and slew him. The King’s son, Fëanor was outraged. The Valar told the Noldor they could not leave to retrieve the jewels or to avenge the wrongs committed by Morgoth.
As Galadriel herself states,
“We were not driven forth, but came of our own will, and against that of the Valar. And through great peril and in despite of the Valar for this purpose we came: to take vengeance upon Morgoth and regain what he stole.”
Fëanor gave a stirring speech to the Noldor and swayed many of them to his cause. Among them was Galadriel. Their intentions certainly seem noble, but their motives were not. They were not seeking justice but vengeance, and they were acting out of anger and rebellion, against those whose rules they did not understand. The Valar knew what was best for them, and Morgoth was a deadly adversary and would no doubt do great harm to all the Noldor. Nothing could assuage their anger. Tolkien describes this episode of her life:
“…But Galadriel, the only woman of the Noldor to stand that day tall and valiant among the contending princes, was eager to be gone. No oaths she swore, but the words of Feanor concerning Middle-Earth had kindled her heart, for she yearned to see the wide unguarded lands and to rule there a realm at her own will.”
She wanted to have power at all costs, and was willing to disobey the Valar, the beings that are below Illuvatar, but above the Maiar like Gandalf, and had told them not to leave, in order to do it. She broke company with them eventually and did not take part in the slaughter they committed. She had perceived a darkness forming in Fëanor’s heart and hated it. However, she was still barred from returning to Valinor until she atoned. Galadriel was prideful and would not relinquish her heart’s desire just yet.
This moment of atonement came when Frodo offered the Ring to her. She said,
“I do not deny that my heart has greatly desired what you offer. For many long years I have pondered, what I might do, should the Great Ring come into my grasp, and behold! It was brought within my grasp. …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!”
However, she refuses to take the Ring, and by doing so says that she will diminish, pass into the West and remain Galadriel. Actress Cate Blanchett said of Galadriel that,
“She is very mercurial,… There is a sadness that comes about her knowledge that the age of the Elves in Middle-earth is coming to an end, but also an edge of danger to her character because she, too, is a ring-bearer and has the potential-were she to take the One Ring, to become a force as terrible as the Dark Lord, Sauron, himself.”
By this act, she lets go of her pride and is forgiven for what she had done. During the years in between the War of the Jewels and the War of the Ring, many events would transpire, that would cause Galadriel to grow in wisdom, humility, and compassion. There was the tragic love story of Beren and Luthien, and the equally tragic tale of the Children of Hurin. Towards the end of the Second Age, Galadriel, along with Elrond took part in a last war against Morgoth and banished him from Middle-earth.
But in the shadows or war and tragedy, Galadriel met and fell in love with another elf named Celebron and they set up their home of Lothlórien, where they served as guardians of that wood. She also learned much in terms of lore and wisdom of Middle-earth. In time she became the bearer of Nenya one of the Three Elven Rings of Power. But deep in the Shadows a new threat grew. Morgoth had a lieutenant, known to many by the name of Sauron.
The Maiar or the Wizards soon came to Middle-Earth and in time the Council of the Wise was formed to help combat this growing threat, and Galadriel was among them. Saruman was chosen to be their chief, and despite Galadriel’s suggestion that Gandalf lead their order, that task went to Saruman. Saruman was proud, and desired to be a master over all, and he was obsessed with studying Sauron and his devices. Further, he had his own motives. He wished to take the One Ring of Power for himself and set himself up in place of Sauron.
She had no doubt perceived the darkness inside Saruman, and with her long-life and strong memory would have no doubt recalled her experiences with Fëanor. She knew firsthand how easy it was to be swayed towards darkness and to succumb to one’s own pride and selfish ambitions. She had learned the hard way that true power came not through the desire to dominate, but the willingness to serve, and that wisdom was greater than strength, and humility better than pride.
This Council of the Wise or The White Council would meet many more times after that, including during the events of The Hobbit. As Sauron’s shadow lengthen in the forest of Mirkwood, it became imperative to them to drive him off from those woods. It would not be enough to defeat him, but just to weaken him further, especially because it would stall Sauron’s efforts to find The One Ring. The council waged a battle against the Dark Lord and drove him off from the wood. Galadriel took part in all these meetings and in the war, and was responsible for destroying the Dark Lord’s fortress in Mirkwood.
Galadriel is many things. A motherly figure supplying comfort in times of trouble, a wise and powerful lady of the wood, and a warrior. This was something that the most dedicated of Tolkien’s fans knew from the expansive amount of material Tolkien wrote. Now, at last movie-goers will get to see the same thing.
Colbert, David. The Magical Worlds of Lord of the Rings
( Film) Jackson, Peter ( Dir.) The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring 2001New Line Cinema
(Film)Jackson, Peter. ( Dir.) The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.2002 New Line Cinema
(Film) Jackson, Peter. (Dir.) The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. 2003 New Line Cinema.
Sibley, Brian The Lord of the Rings Official Movie Guide Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2001
Tolkien, JRR. The Hobbit 1937, 1966, 1981, 2001. Del-Ray MTi.
Tolkien JRR. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings 1955, 1965, 2001 Del-Ray MTi.
Tolkien, JRR: The Silmarillion. 1977, 1999 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Tolkien, JRR: Unfinished Tales 1981. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Tolkien, JRR. The Letters of JRR Tolkien .Edited by Humphrey Carpenter. 1981. Allan and Unwin Publishers.
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Galadriel character one-sheet poster from the film The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. A Warner Brothers and MGM/UA release.