The common way to read Tolkien is to tear through The Hobbit, savor Lord of the Rings, and then to read about a third of The Silmarillion before promising yourself that you’ll get back to it someday. This just makes sense. The Silmarillion isn’t an easy read. It’s full of ridiculous stories, a mind-bogglingly profuse amount of names in various made up languages, and virtually no reference at all to Lord of the Rings until the very end.
Many readers believe that Tolkien wrote the Silmarillion prior to writing Lord of the Rings, but never finished it and thus it was never published. That’s not quite true. While he had been writing about Middle-earth since World War I, Tolkien continued working on it long after finishing Lord of the Rings. In the case of Galadriel, he wrote about her until he was literally on his death bed.
How his son, Christopher Tolkien, pieced together the published Silmarillion is confusing and fraught with understandably puzzling decisions. Basically, he cobbled it together by using the last finished version of whichever particular story. Sometimes he had to piece the stories together from several different sources, and sometimes he made mistakes. Very often, he was not able to include his father’s last word on the subject or character because it either wasn’t available to him or was woefully incomplete.
This places the published Silmarillion in a very strange place. The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings are obviously canonical because Tolkien wrote, revised and published them himself. The Silmarillion, however, was compiled, edited and published without his input after he died. Still, with nothing at all to use in its place, out of necessity, most readers consider it canon or something very close to it.
And so shall we – for now anyway – while we take a look at how the character of Galadriel was changed from her appearance in Lord of the Rings to what we get in the published Silmarillion. As I’ve written before, Galadriel was invented by Tolkien in 1941 while writing the Lothlórien chaptee. Later, around 1948, he added a little to her history while writing the Tale of Years for Appendix B.
Then, toward the end of the 1950s, a few years after Lord of the Rings was published, Tolkien turned again to the Silmarillion material. During his many revisions and rewritings, he decided that Galadriel should play a larger role. Since she was so powerful and important in the Third Age, he must have figured that she’d be just as important long before that. The published Silmarillion, then, is our way of learning the history not only of Middle-earth, but of Galadriel.
We’re first introduced to Galadriel as the daughter of Finarfin, prince of the Noldor. Her uncle, Fëanor, had captured the light of the Two Trees inside the jewels known as the Silmarils. When the Two Trees were destroyed by Melkor (Sauron’s master), Fëanor’s Silmarils were the only light still remaining. The Valar asked him to give the light over so that the Two Trees could be restored, but he refused.
This soon didn’t matter since Melkor had stolen them. When Fëanor found out, he blamed the Valar and swore an oath to track down the Silmarillion at any cost. This sounds all well and good, but mostly it was done with scorn toward the Valar. Fëanor’s sons went along with it, as did many of the Noldor, including Galadriel.
This is where Tolkien essentially added Galadriel to the mix. We’re told in the Silmarillion that Galadriel “was eager to be gone” from Valinor. She had been moved by Fëanor’s words to want to leave, but not enough to swear an oath. She didn’t really care all that much for her uncle, but “yearned to see the wide unguarded lands [Middle-earth] and to rule there a realm at her own will.”
And here is the connection to Lord of the Rings. The reason she left Valinor wasn’t out of anger against the Valar or because she wanted to follow Fëanor. Instead, she saw an opportunity to see the world and become a queen, so she took it.
Fëanor needed ships and knew just where to get them – the Teleri on the shores of Valinor. But they weren’t so keen on giving them over, so Fëanor ordered his men to take them. However, not all of the Noldor were with him and Fëanor went into battle with too few men. When the Teleri fought back, many of them were killed, but they nearly won the day until Fëanor’s reinforcements came. Galadriel was with these reinforcements under the command of Fingolfin, Galadriel’s father (Fëanor’s brother) .
Fingolfin’s soldiers didn’t really understand what was going on, but saw their fellow Noldoran Elves being killed and joined the fight. Most of the Teleri were “wickedly slain”. This was known as “the Kinslaying”.
The Noldar went north in search of Melkor, but came upon the ice of the Helcaraxë. Along the way, many of the ships had been destroyed and conditions were pretty crowded. Unable to continue as a whole group, at the port of Losgar, Fëanor stole all of the ships, taking his people with him, burning the remaining ships, and leaving Fingolfin’s kindred (including Galadriel) behind.
Faced with no other choice, Fingolfin’s people, led in part by Galadriel, passed over the Helcaraxë. “Small love for Fëanor or his sons had those that marched at last behind him, and blew their trumpets in Middle-earth at the first rising of the Moon.” That it took them this long to arrive in Middle-earth is important because while they were marching, Fëanor was killed in a battle with a Balrog. With his death, the two tribes of Noldor were reunited.
Not long after that, Galadriel came to Doriath and stayed with Thingol and Melian. Thingol was a Teleri who, unlike most of the Elves, had never left Middle-earth for Valinor. He was supposed to leave, but met Melian, a Maria from Valinor who lived in Middle-earth, fell in love, and founded Doriath. When Galadriel arrived, she met Celeborn, and decided to stay. “Therefore she remained in the Hidden Kingdom, and abode with Melian, and of her learned great lore and wisdom concerning Middle-earth.”
And we’ll get into why all of that is important and how it connects to Lord of the Rings in our next post. Stay tuned!
A Few Notes
- Again, this Beleriand/Middle-earth map might help you in your ways.
- I’ve not read the Silmarillion in a really long time (a couple of years, anyway). Just flipping through it for this post makes me really want to give it the same treatment I’m doing for Lord of the Rings. Someday, I bet.
- A great summary of the early part of this story can be found here. And one on the darkening of Valinor is here and then go here.
- I think I need a bumper sticker that says: “I’d rather be reading the Silmarillion.”
About the Photo
This is the light from a hallway in one of the ferries around Seattle. I’ll let you figure out why I picked it (and it’s not only because it was the first photo I saw).
- Miles today: 10
- Miles thus far: 1034 (120 miles since leaving Lothlórien)
- 269 miles to the Falls of Rauros
- 739 miles to Mt. Doom
Book II, Chapter 8, Farewell to Lórien. Drifting down the Anduin, February 19, 3019 TA. (map)