“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.

Frodo and the Challenge of Leaving Home

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp 64-69

It was the difficulty of actually leaving Bag End for good that finally gave Frodo’s plans away. He meant to leave the Shire in secret, taking only Sam Gamgee with him and in order to do this he decided to sell Bag End to the Sackville Bagginses and to buy a small cottage in Buckland on the eastern border of the Shire. But his plan to leave in secret was rather spoilt by his habit through that last beautiful summer of taking long walks and then saying things like: “Shall I ever look down into that valley again, I wonder”.

Let us not be too harsh on Frodo. He has already made up his mind to give up everything in order to save the Shire, even his own life. This is not a holiday that he is going on, a diversion from the tedium of ordinary life. Imagine, if you will, a tour operator who tries to sell you a holiday in which there is a strong possibility that you and your loved ones will not return from it alive. Even the armed forces today must reassure the families of their recruits that they take the duty of care seriously. How different that is from a time of war in which the survival of the country is at stake.

And so we should not be too hard on Frodo.

Shall I ever look down into that valley again?

Our longing for home, for belonging, is the most powerful that we will ever know. It gathers together all of our longings for safety, for control and for affection. Every safe arrival at the end of the day, wherever we are in the world, is a little homecoming. When I was a young man, working in Africa, I used to travel in the holidays and often a bed to sleep in and food to eat felt like a small miracle, a pure gift. This experience, far from the temporary shelter of my simple house in the school in Zambia, and farther yet from England heightened my sense of what home was to me.

I grew up in a family that was constantly on the move. By the time I was eight years old we had already lived in seven different places. I developed early an attitude to friends based upon my complete expectation that our friendship would not last. When we moved yet again I would end things quite brutally, even on one occasion destroying a play castle that I had built in a farmyard with the boys who lived on the farm where my father worked.

In all that experience of seemingly endless change my parents were a fixed point, a place of solidity. As I grew up I had a sense somewhere within me of what home was. But what about Frodo? He first came to Bag End after the tragic death, by drowning, of his mother and father. Bilbo took him in and eventually adopted him. Bilbo is unfailingly kind but he can never be a mother to the child who comes to live with him and we are not aware of any strong feminine influence upon Frodo anywhere in the story. I am struck that nowhere in The Lord of the Rings does any woman ever develop any romantic feelings towards him as they do with Sam or Aragorn or Faramir. Goldberry and Galadriel both display a motherly tenderness towards Frodo as does Rosie Cotton at the end of the story but no one ever falls in love with him. If anything it is the countryside of The Shire that is the biggest feminine influence in Frodo’s life with its gentle hills, small woodlands and little streams. It is a domestic landscape as much of England is and certainly the countryside of the English Midlands where Tolkien, another motherless child, grew up. And it is this that Frodo has to leave. No wonder it is so difficult.

“He is still in love with the Shire, with woods and fields and little rivers“.
A view of Worcestershire, England