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.
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.
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.