Nov 20, 2017

Let's Read Tolkien 38: The Mirror of Galadriel

The sun was sinking behind the mountains, and the shadows were deepening in the woods, when they went on again.

The Fellowship of the Ring arrives in Caras Galadhon, the City of the Trees. Haldir leads them through the city, to a really big tree topped by a platform, on which stands the hall of Celeborn and Galadriel, the Lord and Lady of Lórien. The Fellowship is taken up to meet them, and they tell the story of Gandalf's fall in Moria. Celeborn and Galadriel know what the Fellowship's mission is, and Galadriel tests each member of the Company by having a staring contest with them. Only Aragorn and Legolas distinguish themselves.

The Fellowship hang out in Lórien, and the elves sing about Gandalf. As Frodo and Sam are talking about him, Galadriel finds them and invites them to look into her Mirror. It's basically a silver birdbath, but you can see stuff in it; in her words, "things that were, things that are, and things that yet may be".

Sam looks, and sees some unclear flashes of vision, and then a longer sequence where trees are being cut down in the Shire, and his dad is hauling his possessions on a barrow. Sam is furious and wants to set off home immediately, but is dissuaded by Galadriel.

Frodo also looks in the Mirror. He sees a wizard in white - either Gandalf or Saruman - and a brief glimpse of Bilbo at Rivendell, followed by a sort of credit-sequence version of the history of Gondor. Eventually, though, the Mirror is completely dominated by the Eye of Sauron.

After the vision, Galadriel reveals that she bears one of the elven-rings: Nenya, the Ring of Adamant. She spells out the fate of the elves: if Frodo fails, everything is lost, but even if he succeeds, the elves will dwindle and disappear with time. "We must depart into the West, or dwindle to a rustic folk of dell and cave, slowly to forget and to be forgotten." This is one of the clearest statements of how Tolkien saw his elves becoming the fairies and elves of folklore.

Frodo then straight up offers to give Galadriel the One Ring. She presents a vision of herself as a terrible queen, but refuses. Frodo also wonders why the Ring doesn't grant him more powers, and Galadriel explains that he would need to train his mind to use it. Nonetheless he already sees more than most, including of her thoughts. With that, they leave the Mirror.


I have to say that in Lórien, Tolkien's powers of exposition and geography seem to fail him. It's possible that the failure is mine: I wrote these posts at a time when I was under quite a bit of stress, which is also why this blog is so abysmally late, so maybe I just completely missed all the good stuff. But Lórien never really made that much of an impression on me. There's just like a bunch of trees. Both Rivendell and the Elven-king's halls were much more memorable.

The focus of the chapter is Galadriel. One of Tolkien's ethereal faerie women, of whom Lúthien is the archetype, she embodies Tolkien's version of the Madonna-whore complex, which in his case might better be called the Madonna-invisibility complex: women in Tolkien's world tend to be either elfin, otherworldly creatures whose feet never quite touch the ground, or not there at all. There are vanishingly few exceptions. Of the women we've met so far, Goldberry and Arwen are Midgard Madonnas, while the lone delightful exception is Lobelia Sackville-Baggins.

Galadriel, though, gets to be a character, if not nearly as much as Lobelia. I've always read this chapter as presenting Celeborn as nominally in charge in Lórien, but Galadriel as the actual brains of the operation. Which, now that I think about it, might also fairly characterize Otho and Lobelia Sackville-Baggins. Galadriel speaks for Celeborn; she tests the Fellowship, and it's she who wears the Elven-ring, and shows Frodo the Mirror - which isn't the Mirror of Celeborn, after all. Although she's an example of the ethereal Madonna archetype, Galadriel is also a very strong female character, one of the most powerful beings in Middle-earth. She's part of the White Council with Gandalf, Saruman and Elrond, and if you know her history from the Silmarillion, that hardly makes her any less impressive.

She's also a foil for Frodo in the introduction of one of the most crucial themes of the Lord of the Rings: the Fall of Frodo. In their conversation by the Mirror, it's significant that we don't get any insight into what Frodo's actually thinking. Galadriel speaks of herself quite openly, but Frodo says little. When he offers her the Ring, she says: "Gently are you revenged for my testing of your heart at our first meeting. You begin to see with a keen eye." She may be joking, but I think she's more than half serious. Especially in the context of his questions about the Ring, I think Frodo is beginning to realize that as the Ringbearer, he too has power, and he's beginning to test it. Maybe Gandalf's absence also plays a part here.

But in any case, we're left to guess Frodo's sincerity in offering Galadriel the Ring, and his intentions. Whereas Sam responds vocally and emotionally to his vision, Frodo keeps his thoughts to himself, even from the reader. I think there's at least an element of mischief, if not malice, in Frodo's offer. He's feeling his power as the Ringbearer.

Next time: leaving Lórien.


Leon said...

I share your pain. I'm in crunch time with my masters program and have a family member with a terminal illness. Stay strong.

Michael Halila said...

Thanks, you too! I appreciate your support.