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.
“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.”
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.
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.