One of the great things about history is that it’s unchangeable – it’s already happened. Approaching Tolkien’s works as history, for me, seemed only natural. There’s one linear story that’s already been written and the author can’t go back and change it. Except, with Tolkien it’s a bit tricky.
What is and isn’t canon sometimes gets fuzzy. For example, what’s in the published Silmarillion isn’t always his final thought on the subject. Concerning the history of Galadriel and Celeborn, Tolkien never stopped thinking about it and changing it, even a few weeks before his death.
Their history, then, can’t be approached as history. What’s recorded in Lord of the Rings, “Appendix B”, the Silmarillion, and a couple of accounts in Unfinished Tales are all dramatically different from each other. Even if you hold Lord of the Rings and the Silmarillion as canon, you’ve got three different versions of the same two characters.
Basically, there are four different Galadriel and Celeborns. You have their history as given in the LotR narrative, Appendix B/Silmarillion, the 1960s Unfinished Tales writings, and the 1970s Unfinished Tales writings.
It’s important to remember that Galadriel’s history was written after he finished Lord of the Rings. Even the bits in Appendix B came later, right before publication. In fact, the first mention of their history is brief and really meant nothing to anyone who read the book in the 50s through most of the 70s, until the Silmarillion was finally published.
In “The Mirror of Galadriel” chapter, we are told by Galadriel that Celeborn “has dwelt in the West since the days of dawn, and I have dwelt with him years uncounted; for ere the fall of Nargothrond or Gondolin I passed over the mountains, and together through ages of the world we have fought the long defeat.”
A strange sticking point is trying to figure out just what Tolkien meant by “the West.” Was it Valinor or the West of Middle-earth (Beleriand)? In the original draft, he wrote that Celeborn lived “here since the Mountains were reared.” And in the Council of Elrond, Elrond says that he has “seen three ages in the West of the world” (meaning the First, Second and Third Ages in Middle-earth).
It makes the most sense that Celeborn lived in Middle-earth since the dawning of the Sun, the beginning of the First Age. It might be assumed that he was around before then, but we’re not told specifically. And so, in Tolkien’s mind at the time of the writing, Celeborn would have been Nandorin.
After the Elves woke, most marched west, these were called the Teleri. Those of the Teleri who refused to cross the Misty Mountains were called the Nandor. It could be figured that Celeborn was one of them, since he was in Lothlórien, east of the mountains, where the Nandor settled.
Galadriel, on the other hand, said that she passed back over the Misty Mountains to join Celeborn. This would make her possibly Sindarin (one of the Grey-elves). There’s no indication that she went to Valinor with the Noldor. She was simply an Elf who at lived west of the Misty Mountains. Since she mentioned both Nargothrond and Gondolin, it’s pretty safe to assume that she lived in Beleriand, which was two large mountain ranges to the west (the Misty Mountains and the Blue Mountains/Ered Luin).
At this point, you really should have a map of Beleriand. You can use this one, which is a combination map that shows the Middle-earth from the Lord of the Rings days, and Beleriand, from the Silmarillion days. Beleriand was the main land in the First Age, but it was destroyed at the coming of the Second Age, leaving only Middle-earth (long story very short).
Galadriel’s backstory of going to Valinor, coming back to live with Melian, the ban, the kinslaying and pretty much everything else that we associate with Galadriel, did not yet exist. It wouldn’t come into being even by the time Tolkien finished writing Lord of the Rings. He decided to work much of this out in the Appendices.
In the previous post, we looked at his very first draft of the Galdriel and Celeborn story. In this, it was said that she and Celeborn had been in Lothlórien since the beginning of the First Age, making both Nandorin, rather than just Celeborn. It’s also possible that he considered them to be exiled Noldoran Elves who came to Middle-earth from Valinor prior to the First Age.
So in the year or so between writing the first draft (1941) and the final (1948), Galadriel had risen in stature from a Nando to a Sinda. Also, in the original draft, there was no mention of either Nargothrond or Gondolin.
These additions follow a trend of Tolkien adding Galadriel to the early Silmarillion writings. When he created her, there was really no thought as to how she might be incorporated into the larger story. But as he went on, he increased her importance until Sam was basically praying to her in Mordor. This was no ordinary Elf – if she was this important, certainly she’d have a role to play in the earlier histories.
We can also look at this version of the narrative – the Lord of the Rings story itself – called the Red Book, as the work of the Hobbits. While they certainly had some grasp of the wider Silmarillion story, they apparently didn’t understand Galadriel’s full role and so didn’t include it in their version.
But the Appendices could be seen to be stories handed down by a variety of sources, though mostly from the Dunedain. The Tale of Years (Appendix B), probably came from Rivendell (I mean, it just makes sense). There’s a good chance these came to be included with Frodo and Sam’s story long after the fact.
The other versions of Galadriel’s history could be seen as either the truth (when it comes to the published Silmarillion/Tale of Years) or as different legends (the Unfinished Tales bits). It all depends how you want to approach the overall story – as a study of Tolkien and his writing, or as part of the greater mythology of Middle-earth. I’ll be mostly focusing on the former, but I’ll mention here and there the latter.
But the most important thing to remember is that Galadriel, in the Lord of the Rings version, was not even important enough to be mentioned at the Council of Elrond. She had nothing to do with the One Ring, no part in the Numenor story, not at all involved in the Battle of the Last Alliance or anything mentioned of any of Middle-earth’s history. She simply played no role in anything, and Tolkien never bothered to go back and include her prior to publishing the Lord of the Rings.
All we can really assume is that she effected nothing in Beleriand and then went to Lothlórien and effected nothing outside of its borders. Her importance was only in the late days of the Third Age. This allowed Tolkien to create a new character without altering in any way his earlier Silmarillion writings. This, however, would soon change.
A Few Notes
- I really hope that it doesn’t seem like I’m needlessly drawing out the telling of Galadriel’s history. If so, I promise that I’m not trying to. There’s just so much to dig into and so much backstory.
- Just to get the years clear. Tolkien started writing Lord of the Rings in 1939. Galadriel was invented in 1941. The final draft of the main narrative of Lord of the Rings was finished in 1948. The Appendices weren’t finished until 1955 – after Fellowship of the Ring was published. Return of the King, which contained the Appendices, was published in October of 1955. I’ll add to this timeline as we go.
- Next time, we’ll take a look at the Tale of Years version of Galadriel. This is when she began to become more than a handy plot device.
About the Photo
Since the dawn of the Sun, eh? Well that means you’ve seen dinosaurs! And many dawns, for that matter. Here’s a bit of both. This was taken at Dinosaur park in Rapid City, South Dakota. It’s an interesting town with nothing at all to eat for a hungry vegan aside from some incredibly bad Indian food.
- Miles today: 10
- Miles thus far: 964 (50 miles away from Lothlórien)
- 339 miles to the Falls of Rauros
- 809 miles to Mt. Doom
Book II, Chapter 8, Farewell to Lórien. Drifting down the Anduin, February 17, 3019 TA. (map)