“I Will Diminish, and Go Into The West, and Remain Galadriel.” The Lady Galadriel Rejects The Ring.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp.354-357

It is clear throughout The Lord of the Rings that there is an alternative to the rule of the Dark Lord apart from the destruction of the Ring and that is rule by another. Saruman had long understood this becoming convinced that this rule could only be achieved by one who could match or even surpass Sauron in achieving power over all things. But if Saruman desired simply to replace Sauron either by taking the Ring by force or perhaps by creating his own there are more nuanced alternatives that are considered by the Wise.

When Frodo offered the Ring to Gandalf at Bag End at the beginning of his adventure Gandalf responded with horror.

“Do not tempt me! For I do not wish to become like the Dark Lord himself. Yet the way of the Ring to my heart is by pity, pity for weakness and the desire of strength to do good. Do not tempt me!”

So there is more than one way of the Ring to a great heart. If for Saruman it is by way of his contempt for weakness and a belief that the strong have the right to rule over the weak, then for Gandalf it is by way of the desire of the strong to protect the weak, the very thing that Gandalf has done throughout his career in Middle-earth. The Shire is the fruit of his labour and the right of hobbits to be self-satisfied and even proud of their lack of intellectual curiosity is something that he is content to protect.

The Hildebrandt brothers show us Galadriel in her act of rejection of Sauron and the revelation of Nenya, the ring of adamant.

And what of Galadriel? We saw when we first crossed the Nimrodel into Lothlórien that we were entering an enchanted land. We saw at Cerin Amroth “a timeless land that did not fade or change or fall into forgetfulness”. This is what Galadriel desires to keep even in the midst of all the changes and chances of the world. And Frodo is touched by this desire even as he was touched by Gandalf’s desire to protect the weak, sharing that desire himself. He can envision the enchanted world that Galadriel would create had she the power to do so and he desires, at least in part, to share in it.

“I will give you the One Ring if you ask for it. It is too great a matter for me.”

Perhaps Galadriel had long thought that she had passed the test. She had long pondered what she might do were the Great Ring to come into her hands and doubtless she had rejected that possibility just as she rejected Sauron himself. She knew that if she were to possess and use the Ring she had the power to defeat Sauron once and for all and, as Sam put it, she could “make some folk pay for their dirty work”. But now she knows that until the Ring is within her reach the test is not real. Now she truly faces it.

In preparation for writing this post on my blog I explored artwork under the theme of “I will diminish”. Much of what I found were stills of the scene in Peter Jackson’s imagining of this scene which I confess to find unconvincing. It is not Galadriel’s impossible beauty that is created in that scene in the film but a grotesque distortion of feminine power, one that would evoke fear rather than desperate love. Then I came across an image that was quite different and yet seemed to me to convey something much closer to the fallen femininity of which Galadriel would have been become a terrible expression. This is a painting of the enchantress, Circe, from Homer’s Odyssey, by John William Waterhouse. In the scene that Waterhouse depicts Circe offers Odysseus a cup of wine that will subject him to her will. We can see in her sensual beauty why Odysseus is tempted and what Galadriel might become and even surpass. All would indeed love her, desire her, and despair in never being able to possess her, and in that desire all other good would become worthless in comparison to this unattainable good.

The Pre-Raphaelite painter, John William Waterhouse, depicts the enchantress, Circe, from Homer’s Odyssey.

Frodo offers her the opportunity to achieve this form of feminine power and now it lies within her grasp, but she rejects it. She chooses the way of faith in allowing “what should be” to be. She chooses to diminish and go into the west. She allows her destiny and the destiny of Arda to be shaped by Eru Illuvatar and not by her.

6 thoughts on ““I Will Diminish, and Go Into The West, and Remain Galadriel.” The Lady Galadriel Rejects The Ring.

  1. Your post has prompted me to re-read this passage after many years. It is in fact very different from Jackson’s interpretation. The movie goes more for Galadriel-as-monster, and while I think it departs somewhat from Tolkien’s intent the scene does have a frightening energy; and its Galadriel remains magnificent even when twisted. But leaving the movie aside: Tolkien’s scene is subtle and very complex. I like your link with Homer, and I’ll have to re-read The Odyssey sometime with this scene in mind.

    There are so many ideas around Tolkien’s work now and I’m trying, if I can, to recall my first impression. I think when I first read this scene, “all shall love me and despair” meant that there would be no one else to love, ie, no other love allowed. I wasn’t thinking of anything so specific as the Dark Queen actually outlawing love among her subjects; it was just a vague sense that under her rule only she could be loved, and you couldn’t hope for anything else, hence the despair. I didn’t necessarily feel that the Queen herself would be desirable, only that all other beauty would be jealously destroyed or forbidden.

    But Tolkien describes this dark queen as both “beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night!” That really leaves room for a lot of meanings, including the idea that this dark queen could be in some way genuinely beautiful. I mean, night can be frightening, but what is so terrible about the morning?

    Very complex scene.

    • Many thanks for all your thoughts here, Kevin. As always now when I reflect upon a passage from The Lord of the Rings I try to enter into the scene and allow it to speak directly to me. I am happy to take a risk with it and even to get it wrong. I am most pleased when it evokes a response in someone. I would be interested to hear from a woman here but just as there are various kinds of shadow masculinity so too there is, I believe, a shadow femininity that wishes to be desired and to enslave another in that desire. Not for nothing is Circe known as the enchantress and Waterhouse was clearly enamoured of that archetypal energy and wished to express it in his painting. Was Galadriel tempted by her desire for the Ring to be a Circe like figure? At the very least I wanted to see, to feel what that might imply.
      On the terror of the morning, it is the suddenness of the rising Sun that comes to mind that drives away the dark. I think that Richard Strauss tries to evoke this in the opening bars of his Also Sprach Zarathustra, his sunrise music that has been used in so many movies, perhaps most famously in Kubrick’s 2001, A Space Odyssey.
      And while on this, Kate Blanchette’s remarkable performance as Elizabeth I comes to mind and especially the final scene in which she deliberately casts off any kind of vulnerable femininity in order to become an untouchable Virgin Queen who will be worshipped from afar by her people but intimate with no-one. Once again I wonder if Galadriel is tempted to be this kind of a woman.

      • Agreed on your general point about shadow masculinity and femininity, though I remain unsure what Tolkien means by the beauty of the dark-Galadriel. She says she will not be dark and will be fair as the snow upon the mountain. But all rulers of Terror describe themselves as the source of all light, and as beautiful, in the way that they define (usually describing power as beautiful).

        What exactly Tolkien has in mind, I’m not sure, and it may be a mix of things. But the connection with “Elizabeth” seems spot-on here. I’ve never seen that movie but now I have a very good reason to do so!

      • What strikes me in your thoughts here is that the beauty that Galadriel speaks of in describing herself if she were to possess the Ring is completely self-defined. I don’t think that I had seen that so clearly before. Now in the banal language used by communications professionals the emphasis would be on the creation of her image. As that word came to mind I thought of it, of image, as something emptied of content, something entirely superficial. But then I thought of the image of God, of a richly textured humanity showing forth the divine nature in all of its beauty and vulnerability, the Christlikeness of God. There is nothing banal about that. And the beautiful and poignant ending of the scene is Galadriel’s choice to remain herself as a divine creation.

  2. What those who have not read the Silmarillion would not know is that Galadriel is also a penitent (you probably know she took part in the Flight of the Noldor). I believe Tolkien said that the test of the Ring was meant to be her redemption moment. So I think this explains why she seems more tempted than, for example, Gandalf or Elrond or even Aragorn. I am only beginning to fully appreciate Galadriel’s arc in relation to the entirety of Tolkien’s legendarium—a thing of which we see little in The Lord of the Rings on its own. I think she’s my personal favorite Elf in Tolkien’s legendarium.

    • Thankfully you so much for your thoughts here. I am very drawn to your interpretation of this moment. As Galadriel says herself, “I pass the test”. I tend to follow the arc of Galadriel’s story that is in Tolkien’s “Unfinished Tales”. It seems to work best with the figure that we meet in The Lord of the Rings. I think that Frodo meant it when he offered Galadriel the Ring. She evokes worship in others just by being who she is. And yes, I agree that the woman we meet here is the penitent. I think that this becomes yet more clear in Farewell to Lórien.

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