“May It Be a Light to You in Dark Places, When All Other Lights Go Out.” Galadriel Gives a Phial of Light to Frodo.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp.365-367

After Galadriel has given a gift of three of her golden hairs to Gimli there remains one last gift to be given, to Frodo, the Ring-bearer who is not last in her thoughts. She gives to him “a small crystal phial” that glitters as she moves it and “rays of white light” spring from her hand.

Anke Eismann imagines the giving of the Phial to Frodo.

“In this phial,” she said, “is caught the light of Eärendil’s star, set amid the waters of my fountain. It will shine still brighter when night is about you. May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.”

Galadriel captures the light of the star of Eärendil in her phial. I have not been able to find an artist’s name for this. If anyone knows the who created this I would be delighted to add an ascription.

Frodo remembers the verses that Bilbo chanted about Eärendil in the Hall of Fire in Rivendell, the verses that seemed to Frodo “to fit somehow” into something about which he was dreaming, about “an endless river of swelling gold and silver” flowing over him. This is Frodo’s immersion into the history of light of which he is a vital part and of which Galadriel’s phial is now a living symbol.

A ship then new they built for him 
of mithril and of elven-glass
with shining prow; no shaven oar
nor sail she bore on silver mast:
the Silmaril as lantern light
and banner bright with living flame
to gleam thereon by Elbereth
herself was set, who thither came
and wings immortal made for him,
and laid on him immortal doom,
to sail the shoreless skies and come
behind the Sun and light of Moon.

Galadriel herself has been intimately involved in this history from the beginning. It is the story of how Fëanor made three exquisite jewels in which was captured the light of the two trees in Valinor, of Telperion and of Laurelin. Eventually the trees are destroyed by Morgoth with the aid of Ungoliant, the terrible spider-like monster and ancestor of Shelob, who Frodo and Sam will encounter in the tunnels of Cirith Ungol and who Sam will vanquish with the aid of Galadriel’s phial after Frodo is poisoned. After the theft of the Silmarils Fëanor will pursue Morgoth, defying the Valar who forbid him to leave Valinor. Along with his people, the Noldor, he steals ships from the Teleri, slaying them when they try to resist him, and so begins the tragic history of Middle-earth that reaches a climax in The Lord of the Rings.

A light when all other lights have gone out.

There is a sense in which the whole of this history is contained in Galadriel’s phial, both in its beauty and its sorrow. The light of the Silmaril that is captured in the phial is a sign of hope to which all the peoples of Middle-earth can look each morning and evening in the star that shines brightly above them. Eärendil brought hope to Middle-earth when it lay prostrate before the power of Morgoth and his star continues to do so today. In the terrible lair of Shelob, in a place where all other lights have gone out, Frodo cries out, “Aiya Eärendil elenion ancalima!” “Hail Eärendil, brightest of stars!” And at this moment when all hope is gone the light of the Silmaril blazes forth and the memory of the fall of Morgoth is rekindled.

But I mentioned sorrow too. For the story of the Silmarils is a story of trust betrayed. I mentioned the kinslaying of Alqulondë when the Noldor stole the ships of the Teleri but I could mention many other sorrows too. In fact one of the great themes of the story of the First Age as recounted in The Silmarillion is the telling of the sorrows of Middle-earth to the Valar. After the death of Beren Lúthien follows him to the underworld and sings to Mandos the most beautiful song in the world, a weaving together of the griefs of the Two Kindreds of Elves and Humankind that reduces the Lord of Death to tears of pity. Indeed we could add to this story that of Eärendil himself whose journey to Valinor is itself a plea to the Valar to take pity upon these kindreds.

Galadriel has been a part of both the sorrow and the beauty. She was a part of the rebellion of Fëanor and the Noldor, albeit reluctantly, but in her rejection of the Ring when it was offered to her by Frodo she displays her adamantine character and so wins a victory over evil that is vital for the success of the task of the Ring-bearer. Her gift to him is a symbol of that victory.

“What Gift Would a Dwarf Ask of The Elves?” Galadriel Gives Three of Her Golden Hairs to Gimli.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 365-367

Galadriel has prepared gifts for every member of the Company except for one and that member is Gimli the dwarf. Readers of my blog will remember that when the Fellowship first came to Caras Galadhon after the terrible events at the bridge of Khazad-dûm Celeborn was at first angered that a Balrog, Durin’s Bane, had been disturbed in Moria and that he was angry with Gimli, blaming him for this and even for the fall of Gandalf. Long years of division, suspicion and even hatred between Dwarves and Elves were recalled. Celeborn was a child of Doriath, a secret kingdom of the Elves of the First Age in Beleriand and did not forget the killing of Thingol, its king, by Dwarves after the making of the Nauglamir, a wonderful necklace that contained a Silmaril, the one taken by Lúthien from the crown of Morgoth.

“What gift would a Dwarf ask of the Elves?”

It was Galadriel who persuaded Celeborn to put aside his anger and to welcome Gimli into Lothlórien but surely the very fact that she has no gift prepared for him shows that she too is undecided about what kind of relationship she has with this dwarf. “What gift would a Dwarf ask of the Elves?” she asks him. There is no doubt that she wishes to heal a long hurt, not least because she knows that unless all the foes of Sauron stand together they will fall before him, but she does not know how this will be achieved.

“It is enough for me to have seen the Lady of the Galadhrim, and to have heard her gentle words.”

The gentle words were, of course, Galadriel’s words to Celeborn that he should not repent of his welcome to Gimli but also her speaking of sacred names in his own language. He had “looked suddenly into the heart of an enemy” and seen there “love and understanding”. It was a moment that changed him for ever which does not mean that the change is the creation within himself of a quality that had never existed within him but that something has been awakened that hitherto lay dormant.

Galadriel is delighted by Gimli’s answer, her heart goes out towards him and she bids him make a request of her. She wishes to be generous and to heal the ancient enmity but she is entirely unprepared for the request that Gimli will make. Just as Frodo, when in complete innocence, offered the Ring to Galadriel and so exposed desires within her that she had, perhaps, hidden even from herself, so Gimli too, with the same innocence, touches something that has long lain hidden within her.

Gimli asks for nothing but he names a single strand of Galadriel’s hair “which surpasses the gold of the earth as the stars surpass the gems of the mine.” Gimli cannot know that he is not the first to have made such a request of her, and that ages long before, Fëanor himself asked three times for a tress of her hair. Fëanor’s request was bold but not courteous. His desire was not just for her hair but for herself and she had refused him. Fëanor was one who wished to possess and Galadriel had perceived this darkness within his heart. Gimli, on the other hand, wishes only to love in pure devotion and so she gives him not only one strand but three, recalling the three times that Fëanor had made his request and the three times that she had refused him.

Elena Kukova imagines the beautiful hair of Galadriel.

Galadriel unbraids a tress of her golden hair that holds the light of Laurelin and Telperion, the ancient trees of Valinor that Morgoth destroyed, and places three hairs in Gimli’s hands. “I say to you, Gimli son of Glóin, that your hands shall flow with gold, and yet over you gold shall have no dominion.”

Galadriel has been shaken to the very core of her being by the coming of the Fellowship to her land. She had expected that it would mean the end of Lothlórien just as she said to Frodo and she was prepared for this. What she had not expected was that in receiving them her Self would be revealed to herself. She is forced to become vulnerable in a way that she could never have anticipated. We will think about this when we look at her last song in a few weeks time. My belief is that her vulnerability will lead her, not to despair, but to hope. And so it does in all of us.

“There Will Be Few Gardens in Middle-earth That Will Bloom Like Your Garden”. Galadriel’s Gift to Sam Gamgee.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp.365-367

Last week we thought about the gift that Galadriel gave to Aragorn at her parting from the Fellowship. To Boromir she gives a belt of gold. To Merry and Pippin belts of silver with clasps wrought “like a golden flower”. They will put these clasps to good use later in the story when they are captives of the Uruk-hai of Isengard. And to Legolas she gives a bow “such as the Galadhrim used, longer and stouter than the bows of Mirkwood”. Legolas will put his gift to good use in the adventures that lie ahead for him.

To Sam she gives a very particular gift and one that is very close to her own heart.

Edward Beard Jnr imagines the giving of Galadriel’s gift to Sam.

“‘For you little gardener and lover of trees,’ she said to Sam, ‘I have only a small gift.’ She put into his hand a little box of plain grey wood, unadorned save for a silver rune upon the lid.’Here is set G for Galadriel,’ she said; ‘but it may also stand for garden in your tongue. In this box there is earth from my orchard, and such blessing as Galadriel has still to bestow is upon it. It will not keep you on your road, nor defend you against any peril; but if you keep it and see your home again at last, then perhaps it may reward you. Though you should find all barren and laid waste, there will be few gardens in Middle-earth that will bloom like your garden, if you sprinkle this earth there.'”

Galadriel may speak of her gift to Sam as small and in doing so she is kind to him, not wishing to overwhelm him, but in many ways the gift she gives is hardly less significant than the one she gave to Aragorn. If for Aragorn the green stone was a symbol of his kingly destiny, for Sam her small gift is a symbol of all that she has sought to preserve in Middle-earth. It is “a glimpse far off of Lórien”.

We saw when Sam was in Cerin Amroth how he saw in “sunlight and bright day” something more elvish than he had ever heard tell of, and how this had surprised him, thinking that Elves were for the “moon and stars”. Indeed, so moved was Sam by all that he saw and felt that he described his experience as being “inside a song”. Haldir responded by saying that Sam could feel the power of the Lady of the Galadhrim. Galadriel is a woman of the morning, of spring and summer, and in the beauty of Lothlórien she has made a land that expresses all that she is. Later in the story, at the wedding of Aragorn and Arwen, Éomer and Gimli will partake of chivalric dispute over whether Galadriel is the most beautiful woman in Middle-earth or not. Éomer will choose Arwen Evenstar over Galadriel and Gimli will say that Éomer has chosen the beauty of the evening over that of the morning.

Eleniel captures morning upon Cerin Amroth.

Galadriel has seen something of her own spirit in Sam and that Sam, too, is a man of the morning. This is why he will be so important to Frodo in the journey to Mount Doom. Even after the Ring has gone to the Fire and it seems that it is the end of all things Sam will choose the possibility of hope by taking Frodo to a place away from the lava flows. And when Saruman lays waste to the Shire in revenge for his own fall it will be Sam who will use Galadriel’s gift, not only to make his own garden like Lothlórien, but to make the whole Shire a “glimpse far off of Lórien”. The effects of Galadriel’s blessing will perhaps surpass her own imagination. If her heart is now filled with thoughts of fading and ending, Sam’s heart is always filled with thoughts of making. He sees hope and healing beyond the wasteland.

Sam Gamgee healing the hurts of the world.

“Take The Name That Was Given to You. Elessar, the Elfstone of the House of Elendil.” The Gift of Galadriel to Aragorn.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 364-367

At last the feast on the green lawn near the meeting of the Silverlode and the Anduin draws to a close and it is time for partings. Galadriel speaks to the Fellowship.

“We have drunk the cup of parting,” she said, “and the shadows fall between us. But before you go, I have brought in my ship gifts which the Lord and Lady of the Galadhrim now offer you in memory of Lothlórien.”

As we shall see in the next few weeks these gifts differ greatly in significance depending upon the role that each member of the Fellowship will play in the story that is about to unfold and, in the case of Gimli, the gift will be one that he will choose himself, a token of a relationship that has been sundered for so long that its future is still uncertain. But the first gift is given to Aragorn and expresses a relationship that goes far back into history.

The Giving of the Elfstone to Aragorn by Greg and Tim Hildebrandt

Readers of The Lord of the Rings will remember that when Bilbo chanted his Song of Eärendil in the House of Elrond that he remarked that Aragorn “insisted on my putting in a green stone”, and Bilbo does, though never knowing the reason why. Bilbo simply puts an emerald onto the breastplate of Eärendil and leaves it at that but here in this scene in Lothlórien we finally learn of its true importance.

“‘Maybe this will lighten your heart,” said Galadriel;”for it was left in my care to be given to you, should you pass through this land.’ Then she lifted from her lap a great stone of a clear green, set in a silver brooch that was wrought in the likeness of an eagle with outspread wings; and as she held it up the gem flashed like the sun shining through the leaves of spring. ‘This stone I gave to Celebrian, my daughter, and she to hers; and now it comes to you as a token of hope. In this hour take the name that was foretold for you, Elessar, the Elfstone of the house of Elendil!”

John Howe depicts the Elfstone, Elessar

The story of the green stone in Tolkien’s legendarium took many forms over the years but in every source it was given first to Idril, daughter of Turgon, the founder and king of Gondolin, the hidden city and one of the great Noldor kingdoms in Beleriand in the First Age of Arda. Idril fell in love with Tuor, son of Huor, lord of one of the great houses of the Edain, the mortals who made alliance with the Elves in their great struggle against Morgoth. Turgon allowed Idril and Tuor to marry and Idril gave birth to Eärendil, the mighty hero who prevailed upon the Valar to come to the aid of Middle-earth as it lay prostrate before the might of the Dark Lord. Eärendil was the father of Elros and Elrond, and Elrond the father of Arwen Evenstar.

Their eyes met”. Jenny Dolfen depicts the first meeting of Idril and Tuor in Gondolin.

Idril and Tuor survived the fall of Gondolin and were able to rally the exiles of that city in the Havens of Sirion but when Tuor reached old age he took ship into the West with Idril and she gave the Elfstone to Eärendil with the words, “The Elessar I leave with thee, for there are grievous hurts to Middle-earth which maybe thou shalt heal.”

It is this power to heal that lies at the heart of the significance of Galadriel’s gift to Aragorn and this power is revealed in the prophetic words that she speaks to him in the giving of the gift. A prophecy, in its deepest meaning, is the revelation of a truth, one that lies hidden until the word is spoken. So just as the Elfstone of Idril and of Eärendil has lain secret in the care of the women who Aragorn names in his thanks to Galadriel for her gift and her words so too has the secret of the healing of Middle-earth through the heir of Eärendil, Elendil and Isildur, the one who is named Elessar, the embodiment of the true nature of the stone, who even as the stone is pinned to his breast is revealed in his kingly glory.

“O Lòrien! The Winter Comes, The Bare and Leafless Day”. Galadriel’s Lament as She Bids The Fellowship Farewell.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 361-364

Haldir’s return from the Northern Fences of Lothlórien to guide the Fellowship out from Caras Galadhon to the hythe, the small landing place upon the Silverlode where the boats promised by Celeborn await them, gives especial pleasure to Frodo for whom departure from the enchanted land is particularly hard. Their friendship grew in Cerin Amroth when Haldir took Frodo, not just into a place of beauty, but into the deeper meaning of that place to which the beauty pointed. Frodo longed to remain at rest within Lothlórien and that longing could not be satisfied until he came to Valinor itself, to “the far green country” that “opened before him under a swift sunrise” in his dream in the house of Tom Bombadil.

Frodo’s longing for true rest is constantly being refined by the ever growing burden that he bears, the burden of the Ring. As he reluctantly, makes his journey towards Mordor, yet with total dedication, he comes to know that Middle-earth can no longer be a home for him, not even the Shire. Already he has suffered the hurt of the Morgul blade that almost bound him to the will of Sauron to make him a tortured wraith alongside the Nazgûl. Elrond saved him from this fate but it has left its mark. Ahead of him still lies the terrible sting of Shelob in her lair and the tooth of Gollum that will cut the Ring from his finger and which will always remind him of how at the last he was defeated by the power of the Ring and so could not accomplish the heroic deed of casting it into the Fire. And all of these things will separate him, hurt by hurt from the world he once called home, the world that Bilbo said to Gandalf that he was still in love with, and so could not even make the journey to Rivendell that Bilbo was about to take after the long expected party all those years ago.

But if Frodo’s longing is being refined by all that he experiences upon this journey Galadriel’s longing is of a different kind. When the Company meet her swan ship upon the waters of the Silverlode they hear her sing, “sad and sweet”, not only of longing but also of loss.

O Lórien! The Winter comes, the bare and leafless Day;
The leaves are falling in the stream, the River flows away.
O Lórien! Too long I have dwelt upon this Hither Shore
And in a fading crown have twined the golden elanor.
But if ships I now should sing, what ship would come to me,
What ship would bear me ever back across so wide a sea?
Ted Nasmith’s depiction of this scene upon the Silverlode

In these beautiful lines much of the long story of Galadriel is told. Her rejection of the forgiveness of the Noldor by the Valar at the ending of the First Age was because she wished to be a Queen, free from their rule, and to create her own realm within Middle-earth. This she has done with Celeborn in Lothlórien and it is here that she has created “the heart of Elvendom on earth” singing of leaves of gold so that in her song the golden tree that grew “by the strand of Ilmarin” in the Undying Lands might be remembered in her mallorn trees. But even in the creation of such beauty she and all Elves were caught up into the corruption of Sauron. Although Sauron played no direct part in the making of the three Elven Rings, one of which Galadriel bears, they are inexorably linked to his making of the One Ruling Ring so that if he triumphs all the works of the Elves will be laid bare before him and if he falls and the Ring is destroyed all the works of the Elves must eventually fall with him.

Is there a future for the Elves? Galadriel wonders if she will ever be permitted to return to Valinor after her long rebellion. Will she be condemned to share forever in the fading of the Elves and their works upon earth? Frodo senses her as “present and yet remote, a living vision of that which has already been left far behind by the flowing streams of Time”. And we too mourn the paradise that we have lost and long for a world in which that beauty might be restored and yet be free of the taint of corruption, and yet we long for more, a world that is more than memory in which all fading will be passed, our own included.

MH Shokuhi poignantly depicts Arwen amidst the fading of Lothlórien after the passing of the Three Elven Rings from the Earth.

“You Are Indeed High in The Favour of The Lady”. The Fellowship Delight in The Gifts of The Galadhrim Before They Leave Lothlórien.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 360-362

As the Fellowship begin the next stage of their journey packing their “slender goods” as they face the wild once again, Elves who can speak the Common Tongue bring gifts of food and clothing, and then boats and rope.

The pleasantness of lembas

“You are indeed high in the favour of the Lady!” they exclaim as the gifts are given, for it has not been their custom to be so generous to strangers. Doubtless according to the custom of hospitality to strangers provision would be offered but these gifts go far beyond what is customary. The Elves give lembas, “more strengthening than any food made by Men”, and they give garments, woven by the Lady Galadriel and her maidens themselves. They give rope much to the delight of Sam who “knows a bit about rope-making: it’s in the family as you might say”. And last of all they give boats, less to Sam’s delight who looks wistfully at the shore of the Silverlode as his companions make trial of their wayward craft before they set off on their journey.

John Howe carefully places rope in the boat given by the Elves of Lothlórien

Each of these gifts are expressions of the very essence of the intimate relationship between Elves and their world. Pippin is so filled with wonder by what he sees that he asks if they are magic. Here Pippin is close to Sam in his desire to see “a bit of magic like what it tells of in old tales” but the Elves do not know what Pippin means by his use of the word, magic.

Hobbits have an intimate relationship themselves with their land, with the slow rhythm of seed time and harvest, of careful observation of the seasons and of the right times and the right ways in which to prepare the soil for planting and the nurture of that soil and the crop that grows within it till the time comes for harvest and storing. Like the Elves they know of the many uses to which the things they grow can be put. They know how to preserve foodstuffs that can be used in winter. They can hang, dry and salt meat in a world without refrigeration in a way that now we see only in specialist delicatessens. And they can use the fibres of certain things that grow in order to make garments or rope. They can hide from strangers if they choose to do so, blending into the background with ease. All of this they regard as normal, the kind of skills that any hobbit can, and indeed should learn. Tom Bombadil recognises some hobbits as being akin to himself in terms of their relationship to the earth and when Sam expresses his interest in the rope that the company is given the Elves show genuine disappointment in not taking the opportunity to share a skill that they love with him.

Hobbits would never use the word, magic, to describe their own skills and neither do the Elves of Lothlórien. What both recognise is that the farmer’s and craftsperson’s relationship with tools and materials is, in the true sense of a word that is much abused, mystical. When a hobbit pays close and delighted attention to the flask of ale or beer in their hand or a pipe of pipeweed in their mouth, savouring its flavour, lingering over that flavour until it departs at the last, leaving behind a memory that is almost as delicious as was the taste at the moment when first encountered, that hobbit enters into a relationship with these things is sacramental. And the relationship is not only with these elements but with the others with whom they share this. The friendship that they enjoy in an equal sharing of food around a table enhances their delight in the taste of that food. Think of the moment when Mrs Maggot reveals the mushrooms that have grown in her fields and so transforms Frodo’s memory of the fields, the mushrooms and Farmer Maggot and his dogs.

Hobbits have little desire to give words to all of this that make more of it than they think it ought to have. And so too do elves. Unlike hobbits elves are immortal and so have so much longer to craft the relationship between things and to ponder its nature, so when the Lady Galadriel and her maidens weave robes they express the mystery of things in a way that hobbits call magical but but elves do not. And all of this is in sharp contrast to industrial manufacture that gives us quantity in such abundance as to create an illusion of wealth but which robs us of the kind of quality in which the Fellowship are able to delight as they receive these gifts.

Rob Alexander imagines an Elf clad in robes that almost form a part of the background here.

“Maybe The Paths That You Shall Tread Are Already Laid Before Your Feet Though You Do Not Know Them.” The Fellowship Prepare to Leave Lothlórien.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp.358-360

Galadriel and Celeborn gather the Fellowship together and Celeborn addresses them.

“Now is the time… when those who wish to continue the Quest must harden their hearts to leave this land”

Which way will the Fellowship take?

All the Company are resolved to go forward but which way shall they go? The journey will take them down the valley of the Silverlode to the Anduin, the great river of Middle-earth, but which bank of the river will they follow after that? The west bank of the river will take them to Minas Tirith and Gondor. The east bank will take them to Mordor. It is “the straight road of the Quest”, the “darker shore”, but which way will they choose?

For Boromir the choice is clear. He will return to Gondor and to the defence of Minas Tirith. Most of the rest of the Company would prefer to go with him. Such a choice would at least delay the terrible moment when the path of the Quest must take them eastward and to the land of shadow.

Aragorn says nothing. In Rivendell the promise that he made was to go to the war in Gondor to fight alongside Boromir bearing Andúril, the Sword that was Broken reforged, but when Gandalf fell in Moria he became the leader of the Company and which way would Gandalf had chosen were he still with them?

Which way will Aragorn go?

Frodo, too, says nothing. He will not make his choice until the breaking of the Fellowship at Amon Hen and the Falls of Rauros. There the choice will be forced upon him and it will be to go on alone to Mordor, but it is a terrible choice, it is almost certainly a choice to die, and until that moment he remains in silence for he does not wish to die.

Celeborn offers the gift of boats to the Company and they are grateful for this, Sam excepted. On the one hand it eases their journey. They do not have to walk down the Anduin with packs upon their backs. On the other it postpones the moment when the choice will have to be made.

It is Galadriel who offers her wisdom to them regarding the choice. “Do not trouble your hearts overmuch with thought of the road tonight. Maybe the paths that each of you will tread are already laid before your feet, though you do not know them.” And so it will prove. When the time comes the path will be clear for each one of them. Merry and Pippin will be forced to take the road to Isengard when they are captured by orcs. Aragorn will choose to follow the captives and Legolas and Gimli will choose to go with him. Frodo will seek some kind of sign to help him find the way ahead and in the end the sign will be that Boromir will try to take the Ring from him and this will lead him to resolve to go alone to Mordor. Thankfully he will not succeed in going alone because Sam made his choice at the Mirror of Galadriel. Wherever Frodo goes he will follow. He no longer has any uncertainty in his heart about the path that lies before him.

I am sure that Galadriel knows that her words of counsel will not keep the Fellowship from anxious thoughts. The choice that must be made is so great, so terrible, that it is impossible that it can be made without being turned over and over in their minds. At least this is true for Aragorn who must lead them and Frodo upon whom the burden of the Ring has been laid, partly by his own choice at the Council of Elrond, partly by the command of that Council. Perhaps we will always agonise over the great choices of our lives and yet when we look back we see a certain simplicity in the pathway that we have followed. The paths that we have trodden have seemed laid before our feet only we were not able to see those paths until the moment came and we had to follow them. The wisdom of Robert Frost’s wonderful poem, The Road Not Taken, only seems clear as Frost puts it, “somewhere ages and ages hence”. Perhaps when paths must be chosen there has to be agony. We are rarely given freedom from that, at least with the big choices.

Frodo and Sam will go alone but together.

“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.

The Mirror of Galadriel. Sam Gamgee is Torn in Two Once Again.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 351-354

It was the Gaffer, Sam’s father, who expressed a pious hope that his son would not go getting mixed up in the business of his betters or he would land in trouble too big for him, and the Gaffer was right, Sam is way out of his depth, but then so too are the rest of the Fellowship. If they are to triumph in the end it will not be because of their strength or even their wisdom but because something greater than they are is at work in the story of Middle-earth.

But none of this is able to dampen Sam’s curiosity. He would “dearly love to see some Elf-magic”. He knows that what is going on around him in the enchanted land of Lothlórien is of a different order to the fireworks “that poor Gandalf used to show” and that Sam had just celebrated in verse but it is his childlike desire for the wonderful that is at work within him and it is in part at least to this desire that Galadriel responds, almost as a mother will do at a birthday party for her child.

The Mirror of Galadriel

But Galadriel has other purposes in mind than entertainment when she takes Sam and Frodo to see her mirror. She knows that it is these two, the Ringbearer and the one whose faithful companionship will be crucial if the quest is to be accomplished that she needs to test. Each of the others will have a vital part to play but it is only these two that she seeks out at this moment just before they leave.

It is Sam who must be tested first. What he sees in the mirror is what will later be The Scouring of the Shire.

“There’s that Ted Sandyman a-cutting down trees as he shouldn’t. They didn’t ought to be felled: it’s that avenue beyond the Mill that shades the road to Bywater. I wish I could get at Ted, and I’d fell him!”

And there is worse to come.

“They’ve dug up Bagshot Row, and there’s the poor old gaffer going down the Hill with his bits of things on a barrow. I must go home!”

The Scouring of the Shire as imagined by Owen William Weber

And this is the point of Galadriel’s testing. Will Sam go with Frodo to the very end, knowing, as he now does, that behind him, in the place that he loves the most in all the world, destruction is, or may be, taking place? Already we have seen Sam face the same test, at the moment at the Gates of Moria when Bill the Pony fled in terror and Sam had to help rescue Frodo from the Watcher in the Waters, and at the moment when it seemed that Galadriel was offering him the chance to fly back to the Shire to a nice little hole with a garden of his own. At each stage Sam has passed the test and stayed true to Frodo but this is the hardest of them all. The destruction of his home and he was not there to defend it.

Galadriel does not make a speech about how he must stay true to the Quest so that the Ring may be destroyed and the whole world, a world that includes the Shire, may be saved. She simply reminds him that he could not go back alone, that he knew already that things might be amiss in the Shire, and that the Mirror is not a reliable guide to the future.

Sam is shattered. At this moment he is in full accord with the Gaffer’s anxiety that it is a dangerous thing to get mixed up in the affairs of his betters. He has no more desire for magic. Cabbages and potatoes are better for him. He might, on reflection, note that we do not have to go looking for trouble in order to find it. Trouble is capable of finding us while we sit in peace by a well tended hearth. This is the cautious Gaffer’s experience, much to the malicious pleasure of Ted Sandyman. But at the last Sam speaks the words that emerge through all the tests he has been through; words that express his deepest truth.

“I’ll go home by the long road with Mr Frodo, or not at all.”

“What Do You Think of Elves Now, Sam?” Frodo and Sam Think About The Magic of Lothlórien.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 351-352

What healing can be done after the fall of Gandalf is now complete. Frodo and Sam feel a growing restlessness, knowing that the task of taking the Ring to Mordor still awaits and, according to the wisdom of Sam’s gaffer “it’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish”. Wisdom does not need to come from the mouths of the great in order to ring true and, with sadness, Frodo agrees with Sam.

But despite their growing restlessness, they still have time to think about what they have seen and learnt and Frodo has a question for Sam.

“What do you think of Elves now, Sam?”

What do you think of Elves now, Sam? Frodo and Haldir at Cerin Amroth by FÄeriel

Frodo asked the same question of Sam after the second night of their journey while still within the Shire when they had been given hospitality in the woods on the hills above Woodhall and Sam had answered that Elves were “a bit above my likes and dislikes, so to speak”. At that point in the journey Sam was still the loyal retainer, the one who had been given the job of “looking after Mr Frodo”. Now someone might use language like, to have an opinion about Elves is something that is above my pay grade. The language may appear more sophisticated but it still comes from an older world of masters and servants.

Alan Lee imagines the stay with Gildor Inglorien above Woodhall

But much has happened since that time, described by Frodo as seeming “a very long while ago”, and slowly Frodo and Sam are becoming friends. I have written before about how, even after all they had experienced together, Frodo would have to depart the scene in order for Sam to become Mayor of the Shire and a councillor to the King in his northern kingdom of Arnor, but here in Lothlórien we see Sam slowly becoming this person.

“I reckon there’s Elves and Elves. They’re all elvish enough, but they’re not all the same. Now these folk aren’t wanderers or homeless, and seem a bit nearer to the likes of us:they seem to belong here, more than even hobbits do in the Shire. Whether they’ve made the land, or the land’s made them, it’s hard to say, if you take my meaning.”

Sam cannot know that in just a few years these people who “seem to belong” in Lothlórien, more even than hobbits do in the Shire, will have deserted it to go into the West. If he were to have known that it would have given him the sense of the impermanence of all things; that permanence is always illusory, as anyone who has ever emptied the house of a much loved elder after their death in order to prepare it for sale will know. But Sam does have a deep insight into the relationship between people and the land. As Tom Bombadil, who also knows something of the relationship between people and land, says of Farmer Maggot, “There’s earth under his old feet, and clay on his fingers; wisdom in his bones, and both his eyes are open.”

Bombadil could have described Sam in much the same way and one can only hope that they got to know each other better in later years, but he could have used similar language to describe the Elves of Lothlórien. A deep harmony has been created between them and their land. As the great Irish farmer poet, Patrick Kavanagh, put it, “to know fully even one field or one land is a lifetime’s experience”. Sam, Tom Bombadil, Farmer Maggot, and Haldir too, would all have understood Kavanagh in a way in which the homeless wanderers, among whom I would count myself, can never do.

Sam recognises, rightly, that there is magic in this relationship. He can feel it working all around him and he wants to see the Elves perform it. What he does not know, at least not yet, is that the same magic is at work in the Shire also. For Hobbits the magic is almost entirely implicit and deeply hidden within the ordinary. For them, magic belongs to entertainment such as their enjoyment of Gandalf’s fireworks, and they regard anything beyond that as uncanny and to be feared. For the Elves the very same magic is explicit, intentional and also completely ordinary. If Sam but knew, he is much closer to the Elves than he has ever imagined.

The Magic of the Shire. Farmer and Mrs Maggot as imagined by Henning Jansen.