Passing the Test and STILL No Valinor for Galadriel!

‘I pass the test,’ she said. ‘I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.’

After refusing the take the One Ring from Frodo, Galadriel breathed a big ol’ sigh of relief. She had passed some kind of test or something and would apparently live out her days as a typical Elf (more or less).

This whole thing is interesting and a bit tricky. While it’s tempting to recall that Galadriel was banned by the Valar from returning to the West, at the time this passage was written (and even after Lord of the Rings was published) this specific ban did not yet exist in Tolkien’s writing. While it’s true that the Noldar had been banned by the Valar from coming back to Valinor after the whole kinslaying thing, after a bit of paper shuffling and the War of Wrath, that ban was rescinded. Everyone who was still alive was pardoned, and most went back.

That is, except Galadriel and Gil-galad (and a relative handful of others). In the Silmarillion we learn that she willingly chose to remain in Middle-earth after all of her kin had returned to the West. Having refused the pardon, it’s not said (or really implied) that she was then barred from ever going back to Valinor.

Especially at the time when Tolkien wrote the Lord of the Rings and its Appendices, he made no mention at all of a ban on Galadriel. Christopher Tolkien, writing in Unfinished Tales believes that it had not yet come about – and wouldn’t until a decade or so later.

So if the test wasn’t something set up by the Valar to see if Galadriel was able to return to the West, what was it?

Since she was not banned from returning to Valinor, the test she passed was simply the refusing of the One Ring. Taking possession of Sauron’s Ring was something which she had day dreamed about for years and years. If she had taken it, there’s no way she could have returned to Valinor, just as there would have been no way for her to remain Galadriel. And obviously, since she didn’t take it, those things were possible, if not inevitable. But she had to come face to face with the One Ring in order to prove to herself that she could refuse it.

However (and this is a huge however), the water isn’t so clear about this. Just because Tolkien never spoke of a ban against Galadriel’s return to Valinor, that doesn’t mean that she thought she could simply waltz back in. What was barring her way was, more than anything, her ignorance of whether or not she could even get back.

Right as the Fellowship was leaving Lothlórien, Galadriel sang a couple of songs. The first, which can be read here, gives us some interesting clues as to how Galadriel had created and was maintaining Lothlórien: by singing stuff into existence.

It was her own mirror of Valinor on Middle-earth conjured up by a song. In it, she compares Valinor to Lothlórien, but tells of the coming of winter – something Valinor never had to deal with. And while she could create all everyone saw around them – the leaves of gold, the wind – she could not sing up a ship to take her to the West.

But if of ships I now should sing, what ship would come to me,
What ship would bear me ever back across so wide a Sea?

And so even though she passed the test, she wasn’t certain that she could go back by her own designs (and actually seemed pretty certain that she couldn’t).

This theme is taken even further in her following song in which she laments that the years have slipped away from her like too much drink.

Who now shall refill the cup for me?

Galadriel’s cup was near empty, and she could no longer refill it herself. Lothlórien, it seems, was not sustainable, even by her own Ring of Power. No matter what happened to Sauron’s One Ring, whether it was destroyed or found by Sauron, her time was coming to an end. The best case scenario was that she and those Elves around her would “dwindle to a rustic folk of dell and cave, slowly to forget and to be forgotten.”

…all paths are drowned deep in shadow; and out of a grey country darkness lies on the foaming waves between us, she sang of Valinor. Galadriel felt shut out, closed off from the West, and it’s not really certain that she was humble enough to accept her part in it. She sang as if this was being done to her. The ways were blocked because “Varda, the Queen of the Stars, from Mount Everwhite has uplifted her hands like clouds….”

Varda was Elbereth, Queen of the Valar. After the Noldor (including Galadriel) fled Valinor, as Tolkien explained in The Road Goes Ever On, “Varda lifted up her hands, in obedience to the decree of Manwë, and summoned up the dark shadows which engulfed the shore and the mountains and last of all the fana (figure) of Varda with her hands turned eastward in rejection, standing white upon Oilosse.”

And yet, there’s no mention at all of a ban. Neither Galadriel nor Tolkien mention it at all in any of Lord of the Rings. He would later decide that there was a ban, after all, but when he wrote this, there was no such idea. Galadriel’s reason for not returning to the West was fully her own.

In closing, she sang specifically to Frodo: Now lost, lost to those from the East is Valimar! Farewell! Maybe thou shalt find Valimar. Maybe even thou shalt find it. Farewell!

Here use of “thou,” second person singular, was speaking directly to Frodo. And “maybe” was really a bit more certain, like “May it be that you, Frodo, will find Valinor.” And of course, he did.

And of course, she did, too. But that’s a different story. Mostly.

Camera: Arguc C3 Film: ORWO UN54

Camera: Arguc C3
Film: ORWO UN54

A Few Notes

  • Sometimes I feel like I’m rehashing things or flogging a dead Shaddowfax. But really, I think that though I’m repeating some things, it’s necessary to proving the point.
  • So much of this is explained in The Road Goes Ever On: A Song Cycle, and I really wish I’d have a copy of it. Salty, though it is!
  • I suppose it’s possible that Galadriel immediately knew she was going to go back to Valinor, but decided to serenade Frodo and friends with a couple of her golden oldies.

About the Photo
Looking west from some shore (probably the Grey Havens or something) toward some distance place (totally Valinor). Here, you can see Varda’s cloudy hands drowning everything in shadow. Promise.


  • Miles today: 10
  • Miles thus far: 1014 (100 miles away from Lothlórien)
  • 289 miles to the Falls of Rauros
  • 759 miles to Mt. Doom

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

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25 thoughts on “Passing the Test and STILL No Valinor for Galadriel!

  1. This is really cool to think about. I definitely always read it (again not knowing anything outside of the LotR and forgetting most of the Siml that I ever read) as her not feeling ready or worthy to go. She was diminished, she felt she wasn’t OF the type to go to Valinor anymore. She was grateful of her ability to resist the temptation of power… but not great anymore, by her reckoning.

    • It really isn’t super clear, which is why he went back and changed it. And then changed it again. And then again. You know, just so we wouldn’t be confused on the matter 🙂

      • And every time she tells the Fellowship, etc that he’s the wisest in the land, you know she’s giving him a quick glance and eye roll that says ‘nobody is buying this… Hell, I’m hardly even trying to sell it.’ Her sass is all in her eyes. And mirror. And probably in the way she walks. Damn, girl can strut.

  2. How intriguing! Always thought it was the ban that’s stopping her (though why did Celeborn stick around that much longer must be an interesting bitsy in Gladdy’s biography… but I digress, that’s another story altogether), I had no inkling the “test” was something else entirely. And LoL at the comments. Good stuff.

    • Thanks! The ban is really interesting. It’s not even in the Silmarillion. It was first mentioned in The Road Goes Ever On: A Song Cycle, released in 1967. So by the time the Silmarillion was published, people already had it in mind. His Silmarillion writings on Galadriel date from the late 50s, while the ban comes from the late 60s. It’s all pretty insane, and I do my best to suss it out over the next week or so. I was really astonished.

      • Wow! I am still in the kiddie pool when it comes to Tolkien, so this is great info. And as I dig into the Silm, I’m liking Elves more than in LotR or The Hobbit, because they aren’t just uninvolved visions of perfection wafting about.

        To the topic: one thing about Galadriel that’s particularly intriguing to me is her marriage to a Sindar – was it Celeborn who overcame prejuices or did she break through on the Power of Love? Or was there something else in this epitome of matrimonial bliss? And I don’t buy the perception of her almost saintliness in LotR, especially after the benefit of reading the Silm. I’ve even started wondering if it was really just pure happenstance that Celebrian became Mrs Elrond. Incidentally, I frequent a popular ME forum, and there is a marauding Galadriel Defender Against All Negavity whose impassioned and tireless defence of Gladdys is amusing. I would love for that person to read your Gladdys posts, just cos.

        But I digress. Looking forward to more Gladdys psychoanalysis.

        • The Elves in the Silm are absolutely more interesting than in the LotR/Hobbit. I think it’s because they’re more human. We’re not seeing them from the Hobbits’ perspective.

          Interestingly, Tolkien might have wondered the same thing about why Galadriel chose a Sinda like Celeborn. In his later writings, he “promoted” him (but then, he also “promoted” her). I’ll get to that.

          The marriage between Elrond and Celebrian goes mostly unexplained in the Silm, right? I really can’t remember. But in another writing from around the same time when he wrote the Silm stuff (late 50s), he mentioned that Elrond pursued her when Galadriel and family moved to Rivendell for a bit. He kept it to himself and Celebrian left with her family. It was only sometime after that they got together.

          Tolkien doesn’t really explain why he wanted that to be, but maybe it was to show that it wasn’t a political marriage arranged by Galadriel. Or maybe it was at first, but this was part of his redemption of Galadriel kick that he was on from the 60s until the time of his death.

          As for the person on the message board – I was wondering if anyone would get all huffy about my Galadriel posts. Some people are WAY more into Tolkien than I am. I love it, of course, but am very willing to leave the story to look at how Tolkien crafted it. I look at both the fiction and nonfiction concerning it. It works for me, though definitely not for everyone.

          That said, I think it would be fun if someone like that saw them and tossed his/her fake Elf ears into the ring (I’m assuming this person has selected an Elf name and has the ears and an Elf dress – I could be wrong, but… well, I’m probably not). 🙂

          • In the Silm, all that’s mentioned, iirc, is Gladdys hanging around Mengroth to be with her man. Nothing about the Elrond and Celebrian linkup. To me, I see the potential for some “chance” setup to give the linkup the nudge in the right direction. After all, in the Silm, this is THE Noldor highborn who left Valinor with the troops in the express hopes of a realm of her own to rule. One such as she probably saw how special Elrond’s lineage was, or perhaps it’s just that Elven parental insight that convinced her she needed to do her dutiful part in HISTORY MAKING.

            Of all the possibilities mentioned, I like the notion that it might have been a political thing and was part of the prof’s redemption of Galadriel best.

            On huffy defenders of righteousness: heh, it can be fun to be speaking with people are way more in, provided there is discourse. Not this one. It’s his/her way or the highway. I noticed all this person does is search for posts mentioning Gladdys with the express mission of SETTING.THE.RECORD.STRAIGHT. in every post that even dare to think about veering away from the perfection of Gladdys in this person’s mind. That is, unless the post happen to have cited book sources, and is concrete. Anyway, the person seems hellbent on bullying everyone into conforming with his/her perception of how Gladdys should be viewed or treated. Quite a pain actually. (Fair interest disclosure: I am an unabashed Thranduil fangurl, but even to me, this behaviour takes OCD obsession to a whole ‘nother level that I hope I don’t even get anywhere near.)

            On Celeborn: I’ll admit that business with one of the many permutations of his name is forever burned on my cortex… moving on! 🙂

            • So the link up would be between Galadriel and her followers and Rivendell. Though Elrond and Celebrian met when the Galadriel family was on their way to Dol Amroth (from Lothlórien), they didn’t actually get together until they were back in Lothlórien. I’ll actually map this out in a future post. This kept her daughter close, while making a lovely connection. It’s, at least, convenient two of the Elvish Ring bearers are related through marriage.

              My friend Jeff, who is sadly absent from these discussions is a great Galadriel defender. But he’s fine with discourse. I have a big problem with “true believers” of pretty much anything. With Tolkien characters, I’m not really sure I get it. I mean, sure, I adore Sam, but sometimes the guy was a putz. Hell, for that matter, I really like Galadriel even though she’s one shady lady.

              So if you’re a Thranduil fangirl, where do you get your information about him? There’s not much in the Hobbit, and only a tiny mention of him in the Silm. Is it all from Unfinished Tales? That’s kind of awesome, actually.

              If I had to pick which character I’m all fanboy over, I think it would be Sador “Hoppafoot” (from the Narn) or Ghân-buri-Ghân (or really, any of the Drúedain, really – seriously, read the chapter about them in Unfinished Tales). And it delights me to no end that Tolkien was *this* close to making Sador a Drúedain. Oh, or Tom Bombadil. I like him a lot.

              I’ll give Tolkien a pass on Celeborn’s other name, hilarious as it is. I kind of imagine it being heavily edited for TV. The same cannot be granted for Teriron on Tuna (though, if I were ever to open a restaurant, I’d insist there be a dish called Tirion on Tunamelt Sammich – vegan, of course). Oh, and the Wetwang. But this blog has had a collective chuckle about this a few weeks ago.

  3. (The “Reply” button was missing on your last comment for me, so I’m making a new comment to respond.)
    Cool! I’m definitely interested when you publish that mapping. and I do wonder at having 2/3s of the Rings in the family too.

    Re: true believers. Yeah, I don’t get that, glasshouse, first cast and all. Jeff sounds like he’d be someone who can bring interesting discourse to the table. Will be looking forward to his participation in future Gladdys posts you put up.

    As for Thranduil, yeah, I scrape together the bits and pieces lying about. The general lore about Elve, though peripheral, is good for building on understanding of the character too. I’m planning to write up a profile once I’ve done my re-reads. TH is done, Silm in progress, and then all that’s left are LotR and the UT.

    Looking at your fanboy choices, and hope I say this correctly: Am I right to say you have a thing for minor characters? I have only vague impressions of the Narn and the Drúedain, so I’ll circle back after I do get to the UT. As for Tom, he perplexes me – best I could come up with was Ainur deciding to by-pass Manwe and crew, and just go native, living hippily ever after.

    There are some unintentionally strange names, and I can see it amplified for those speaking other languages – if there’s one thing I’ve learnt to appreciate, it’s that some things just don’t localise well.

    • Jeff is awesome for this kind of stuff. I wish he would chime in. Dammit, Jeff!

      What is it about Thranduil that you like so much? He always seemed cranky beyond even Elrond. Not a bad guy, really, but stern. I don’t talk about the movies too much, but having Lee Pace play him was just weird. He kind of nailed it, but I know him from the show Pushing Daisies, where he was not anything at all like Thranduil. It was just weird for me to see. But I liked him. And he rides an Elk, so there’s that.

      I love the little characters that bring a lot of story to the table. Sador didn’t really do that, but Ghan did (and thankfully Tolkien expounded upon his people). Bombadil is just wonderful to me. I don’t place him anywhere. I don’t try to say that he’s a Maia or Vala or anything like that. He’s just Tom. And I really like that about him.

      • My Thranduil fandom: to cut a long story short, Thranduil’s history was intriguing in itself, what the UT gave us, and then add to it the stuff left unsaid but implied/inferred, and it adds up to an intriguing package that’s different from the other TA Elven rulers, and paints a picture that, to me, demands attention.

        Funny you should mention the movies. To be honest, I had gone into The Hobbit not expecting to be wowed by movie!Thranduil, because LotR Legolas was a specimen of physical beauty but not much else (though I have to admit is the one who sent my fangirl radar into overdrive, and led me to his awesome daddy; I was a movie-firster back then, please don’t judge), and Lee Pace (whom I remember as having seen in Lincoln only) just floored me. Not only is he a far superior specimen of physical beauty than Legolas, he is ELF! Very Silmmie vibe for me too, which sealed my fate on the viability of a belieavable movie!Thranduil. I am not liking the way the writers have written Thranduil’s character, but Lee Pace’s Thranduil and that mighty War-Elk of his are totally fine by me. Anyway, going in reverse gear, I’m getting a Memento moment here, I then got into Pushing Daisies (which was weird because there’s no trace of Thranduil there as you say), and The Fall (since that’s the movie Peter Jackson cited as the one bringing the man to his attention), both of which I love, and made me a Lee Pace fan. Two fandoms for the price of one. 😀

        Minor characters are cool! For LotR, I like Barley for some reason, and that un-named banner bearer in TH who told Thorin he could eat his gold and got shot at for his trouble. I think Beleg in the Silm is an interesting guy. From UT, I need to get round to reading it first!

        That’s a good way to approach Tom. Just let him be, he has his own zen anyway. Gotta keep that in mind.

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