Sam’s Vision in the Mirror – Just What the Hell was Galadriel Thinking? (Part 1)

So far, we’ve taken a look at Galadriel and Celeborn’s history as given in Lord of the Rings and its Appendices. Before moving on to the more fleshed-out Silmarillion and the musings of Unfinished Tales, I thought it best to cover Galadriel’s personality. Though Tolkien had only the barest of histories for this Elvish Lady, he would later construct more based upon her personality as displayed to Sam and Frodo during the Mirror chapter.

After staying in Lothlórien for a few weeks, Sam and Frodo were walking at night, talking about Elves and how the Fellowship would soon have to leave and continue their quest. Frodo mentioned his desire to see Galadriel once more, and with that, she appeared. “She spoke no word, but beckoned to them.” They came to her and she led them to the Mirror, telling them, “I have brought you here so that you may look in it, if you will.”

She further explained to the awe-struck hobbits that she could command the Mirror to reveal many things. To some people, though she didn’t mention who, she could show what they wanted to see. The Mirror would also show things that people didn’t want to see, “and those are often stranger and more profitable than things which we wish to behold.”

So apparently, Galadriel had a Mirror that could show some people what they wanted to see, but it could also show (even those people?) things they didn’t want to see, and when it did, it was better for them. This makes some sense. It’s usually better to not have our opinions and feelings reinforced when we’re trying to learn new things. But she went on.

Though she claimed to be able to command the Mirror to reveal many things, she couldn’t or wouldn’t do that now for Sam and Frodo. Galadriel wanted the Mirror to freestyle it on the hobbits. Where before she said that she could command the Mirror, here she wanted them to “leave the Mirror free to work.” And when it did that, she could not tell ahead of time what they would see.

Let’s stop here and ask a very important question – just what the hell was she doing? It seems like she could have tailored the Mirror to the hobbits, to the quest, gaining for them some help by guiding it to show them things they didn’t want to see. She made the claim that she could facilitate that. But instead of doing that – instead of being obviously helpful – it seems as if she just wanted to see what would happen if the hobbits took on the Mirror by themselves.

That’s fine enough, but then she explained what the Mirror could do: “it shows things that were, and things that are, and things that yet may be. But which it is that he sees, even the wisest cannot always tell.” And now our question really becomes important – just what the hell was she doing? Even under her guidance, the Mirror would show past, present and future, but it was so muddled that most couldn’t tell which was which! And instead of guiding the hobbits, she wanted them to work it on their own.

How is this not endlessly reckless? How can even the wisest act upon this, knowing that what he perceives as the future, might not just be not the future, but might just as well be the past? How could the one who had gazed into the Mirror even begin to parse its depths? And most importantly, how could Galadriel think this was a good idea?

She first asked Frodo if he wanted to look, but he didn’t answer. She then turned to Sam. Apparently, she had been eavesdropping on their conversation, overhearing Sam say that he wanted to see some Elvish magic before leaving Lothlórien. It’s also probable that she just entered his mind and grabbed something that suited her purpose of getting the hobbits to look into the Mirror, and used it against Sam. That’s pretty creepy.

Sam agreed, saying that he’d “not mind a glimpse of what’s going on at home.” He expected to see the rather boring life of the Shire, but instead saw first a pleasant forest scene. This dissolved into a true future (as it happened) of Frodo after he was stung by Shelob, and Sam’s own actions afterwards. he, of course, had no idea what to make of that. But then it went back to the trees, which were now falling.

He saw what would become of the Shire – another true vision. It was horrible. The trees were cut down, a new mill was erected, and Bagshot row was dug up. Sam immediately wanted to leave, to return home to help save the Shire. But Galadriel reminded him that he couldn’t go home alone, intimating that he was the only one who wanted to go back.

Galadriel then brought up a pretty good point. “You did not wish to go home without your master before you looked in the Mirror, and yet you knew that evil things might well be happening in the Shire.” And she again reminded him that her Mirror could show many things, including the future, so the things he saw might not have happened yet. What’s more, she told him that if he stayed true to the quest, the things he saw might be prevented, adding in the end, “The Mirror is dangerous as a guide of deeds.”

Yes! Yes it is! So what the hell was she doing? Sam sat down and was immediately in despair over having ever come on this journey. Soon, he resolved to continue it, in the hopes of making it back to the Shire someday.

This is a good thing, of course. Sam had some doubts and then quickly turned around and strengthened his resolve. However, Sam didn’t have doubts before looking into the Mirror! Galadriel even said that Sam already knew that evil might be afoot in the Shire. Why nearly crack poor Sam for no good reason? There’s no real proof that his resolve and love for Frodo was any stronger after the Mirror, so again, what the hell was she doing?

Next time, we’ll continue on to Frodo’s vision and try once more to figure out what Galadriel was trying to accomplish with her Mirror.

Camera: Kodak Brownie Hawkeye || Film: Kodak Pro 400 PPF-2 (expired 09/1999)

Camera: Kodak Brownie Hawkeye || Film: Kodak Pro 400 PPF-2 (expired 09/1999)

A Few Notes

  • Tolkien mentioned that the Evening Star had risen and was shining upon them. Usually, the Evening Star is Venus, but since Venus only “rises” in the morning (a fact Tolkien clearly knew), he must have specifically wanted to place Eärendil overlooking the scene. We will definitely find out why soon enough.
  • Originally, this post was to continue through Frodo’s vision, but that was too long (well over 2,000 words) and I found myself trying to edit it down in ways that I didn’t like.
  • We’ll also take a look at Galadriel, her ring and the One Ring before jumping back into her history. Stay tuned!
  • Also, this is my 200th post!

About the Photo
There are tons of old mills around here. And tons of newerish brick ones, like the sort that Sam saw in his vision. Also, look closely. For Sam, this was definitely an “emo site”.


  • Miles today: 10
  • Miles thus far: 984 (70 miles away from Lothlórien)
  • 319 miles to the Falls of Rauros
  • 789 miles to Mt. Doom

Book II, Chapter 8, Farewell to Lórien. Drifting down the Anduin, February 18, 3019 TA. (map)

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6 thoughts on “Sam’s Vision in the Mirror – Just What the Hell was Galadriel Thinking? (Part 1)

    • Yay!

      Same here. Way more confusing /pointlessly dangerous than first suspected. It went from magic to just weird and kind of scary. Just wait, there’s more.

  1. If JRRT made an error in astronomy, it wouldn’t be the only one: I’ve heard (though not found the passages myself) that he twice had a waxing moon rise after sunset, which is impossible in the present configuration.

    • He did that a few times. Mostly it came from the times when he shifted times from draft to draft. This happened after Rivendell, which, originally, the Fellowship was to leave much earlier.

    • The earliest Venus rises is about three hours before the sun rises. I suppose it’s possible that Sam and Frodo were out for a super late night stroll. On February 14th (when the Mirror event took place), the sun rises in Paris about 7:50am. I doubt that translates exactly to Lothlórien, but it’s a fine ballpark.

      This would mean that the event had to have happened around 5am at the earliest. This seems unlikely, as when Galadriel left them, she said that the Fellowship was leaving in the morning.

      More than likely, it’s just artistic license rather than an actual calculation error.

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