Galadriel’s Tragic Pride and Darkness

Toward the end of his life, Tolkien returned to the subject of Galadriel. As was discussed in the last post, the major change had been the ban against her by the Valar – a new idea that actually contradicted his previous writings.

Undeterred, in the late 1960s Tolkien continued his writing and alterations, greatly changing the Galadriel known in the Lord of the Rings. More than likely, this version was to replace the version already written about (and discussed), which would eventually appear in the published Silmarillion. In this new version of things, Galadriel’s stature and importance grew even more.

“Galadriel was the greatest of the Noldor, except Fëanor maybe, though she was wiser than he, and her wisdom increased with the long years.”

This was a pretty big alteration. In the previous writings about her (which are in the published Silmarillion), Galadriel was important enough, but was mentioned and inserted in the Valinor part of the Fëanor story as almost an afterthought. Now, she is found at the center of everything.

Whereas before we were told nothing of her youth, we’re now given a sort of glimpse. She was the tallest of the women of the Noldor, and was “a match for both the loremasters and the athletes of the Eldar in the days of their youth.”

But the best part of Galadriel was apparently her golden hair. “It was golden like the hair of her father and of her foremother Indis, but richer and more radiant, for its gold was touched by some memory of the starlike silver of her mother.”

Rumor around Valinor hard it that the light of the Two Trees was “snared in her tresses.” This, thought many, was the reason that Fëanor thought of capturing the actual light of the Two Trees in the Silmarils.

Fëanor gets a sort of creepy alteration at this point. While he’s still her uncle, he’s completely taken by Galadriel’s hair, which he beheld “with wonder and delight.” He asked her three times for a lock of her mystical follicles, but she wouldn’t even give him a strand.

Having been written decades after the Gimli/Galadriel hair scene in Lord of the Rings, it’s pretty clear where this was coming from. Galadriel’s opinion of Dwarves far outweighed her opinion of Fëanor.

Because of this bit of hair-related drama, we’re told that “they were unfriends forever.” Even this is a change from the Silmarillion. There, we’re told nothing of their relationship, but it seems more or less familial. She is inspired by Fëanor’s words to ditch Valinor for Middle-earth, but wasn’t so swayed by them as she actually followed him in swearing an oath.

But in this version, Fëanor’s words played almost no role. Of course, her desire to leave Valinor was still there, as was the desire for a realm of her own, but even those were different. “She was proud, strong, and selfwilled,” we’re told, but this was not a fault, but a trait. She was, wrote Tolkien, just like her father and her brother.

Even the wording is drastically changed. “To rule there a realm of her own will” now became dreams of “dominions that might be her own to order as she would without tutelage.” Tolkien even padded this dream, explaining what Galadriel’s order would be like.

She had, he said, a “noble and generous spirit” and “a reverence for the Valar that she could not forget.”

“From her earliest years she had a marvelous gift of insight into the minds of others, but judged them with mercy and understanding, and she withheld her goodwill from none save only Fëanor.”

But she was not without some fault – though it was hardly a fault of her own. Galadriel’s insight showed her that a darkness had fallen over Fëanor. She “hated and feared” this darkness, but was so narrow minded in her unfriendship with him that she couldn’t see that “the same evil had fallen upon the minds of all the Noldor, and upon her own.”

It was this evil that, of course, caused her to join with Fëanor and leave Valinor for Middle-earth. But even that is different in this version. While she joined the rebellion against the Valar, she was not at all with Fëanor.

In no part is this more clearly stated than in the Kinslaying. The Silmarillion explains that Galadriel came into the battle on Fëanor’s side against the Teleri. The battle was already in progress, and she joined without really knowing the context.

But now, Galadriel “fought fiercely against Fëanor in defence of her mother’s kin.” Somehow or another, her second column arrived during the battle, sussed out the details and fought alongside the Teleri (or at least Galadriel did, nothing is really said of the other Noldor – or even of her father leading that column).

The story, now completely changed, changes even more. Gone are Fëanor’s burning of the ships and the abandonment of the second column. Now, Galadriel was super pissed and “burned with a desire to follow Fëanor with her anger to whatever lands he might come, and to thwart him in all ways that she could.”

This wasn’t a good righteous thing, per se, but at least she wasn’t implicated in the Kinslaying. She was certainly now acting out of vengeance more than justice, and that, we’re told, was because “pride still moved her.”

It was this pride that now caused her to refuse the pardon of the Valar after Morgoth was overthrown. This change is a bit more subtle, but definitely important. In the Silmarillion we’re told almost nothing about Galadriel’s reaction to the pardon, but that she was unwilling to “forsake the Hither Lands where they had long suffered and long dwelt.”

This almost noble cause later became an out and out ban by the Valar against her, to which she “replied proudly that she had no wish” to return. But in this version, we see that there’s once again no specific ban upon her, but that she refused the pardon out of pride.

It’s implied that she did so to rule a realm, but it’s even a bit darker here. We’re told that what she really desired from her youth was offered to her when Frodo wanted her to take the One Ring, which would give her “the dominion of Middle-earth of which she had dreamed.”

This sheds a whole new light (or darkness, I suppose) on the idea of “to rule there a realm of her own.” Now “there” isn’t just a small parcel of land, but all of Middle-earth. This puts Galadriel in some fairly questionable company – Morgoth, Sauron, and Saruman.

Since that’s a pretty dark way for Tolkien to have left Galadriel, fortunately (for her) he returned to this character once more before his death, giving both her and Celeborn a bit of a promotion.

Camera: Arguc C3 Film: ORWO UN54

Camera: Arguc C3
Film: ORWO UN54

A Few Notes

  • This essay was published in Unfinished Tales, but is actually part of a longer essay called “The Shibboleth of Fëanor: The case of the Quenya Change of þ to s,” written in 1968 or 1969ish. It was printed in The Peoples of Middle-Earth. This change of pronunciation from “þ” (a “th” sound) to “s”, we’re told, was instrumental in Fëanor’s break with the Noldor. It “came long before the birth of Galadriel.” She was so important that time itself was measured by her life. Oddly enough, Galadriel’s father, like his brother Fëanor, used “þ” instead of “s,” but in spite of Fëanor rather than because of him. Galadriel, in turn, used “s” because of her hatred for Fëanor and her youthful sass.
  • The whole point of the “Shibboleth” essay was, it seems, to explain why “s” was used in Galadriel’s Lament in Lord of the Rings instead of “þ” – it “harks back to the days of her youth in Valinor and to the darkness of the years of Exile while the Blessed Realm was closed to all the Noldor in Middle-earth.” It was not because she was still in protest against Fëanor, but because “s” had simply replaced “þ” a long time ago. This is actually more interesting than it sounds, and you should probably read the whole “Shibboleth” essay.
  • Interestingly (and this will pay off later), in the “Shibboleth” writing, the name “Galadriel” was “given to her by her lover, Teleporno of the Teleri, whom she wedded later in Beleriand.” So, somehow Celeborn became a Teleri with a very unfortunate name. Both translate to “wet blanket” (I mean “Silver Tree”).
  • Galadriel’s given name was Nerwen, meaning man-maiden, meaning girl who looks like a man. So … whatever, Tolkien.
  • It’s not said, but I wonder if Gimli going to the West was another dig at Fëanor.
  • Oh! And… I’ve been kicking around the idea of starting a Tolkien podcast this spring. While I don’t have podcasting experience, I’ve listened to a bunch of podcasts over the years and am fairly savvy with audio things. My friend Ryan is interested in helping, but I’m also hoping for a third person who could help with things like ideas, research, etc and also being recorded. I have no idea if this will ever happen, but I’m curious if it’s something that could happen.

About the Photo
Though Galadriel was allowed to cross the Sea to the West, she put up huge monolithic rock islands of pride and darkness all around her so she couldn’t go back. Or something. I really don’t know. I just like the photo.

  • Miles today: 10
  • Miles thus far: 1084 (170 miles since leaving Lothlórien)
  • 219 miles to the Falls of Rauros
  • 689 miles to Mt. Doom

Book II, Chapter 8, Farewell to Lórien. Drifting down the Anduin, February 20, 3019 TA. (map)


18 thoughts on “Galadriel’s Tragic Pride and Darkness

  1. I’d love to see that conversation. “So galadriels name originally meant man maiden.”
    “Oh I see that makes…WAIT WHAT?!”

    • I guess I sort of get what Tolkien was reaching for there. She was athletic and spry just like a proper Elvish young lady should not be. But when was she named this? Was it a self-fulfilling prophecy? Did lady look like a dude? What did all of this mean? And why not just not name her that? That *was* an option.

  2. I dunno, I’m not feeling this new Galadriel heaped with the noble motives and the absolution. Her pedestal’s stacked too high up for one character, imo. Except for the dominion bit you mentioned toward the end, the previous iterations, and the discussions of her, were more interesting. And then she’s getting another promotion, with Celeborn on her dress train, or her trackshoe laces, whichever was fashionable then. Oh great! 😛

    • I definitely see what you’re saying here about noble motives. I’m not sure that I like this version best but I absolutely love the idea of someone moved by a darkness that she hates in others. Though noble, she can’t escape it, and doesn’t until the Third Age. To me, this is much more the Queen we hear of in LotR at the Mirror.

      That she had always wanted to rule all of Middle-earth is just messed up, and I love it. The bits about her childhood, even creepy Uncle Fester, are okay. I see what he did there with the hair thing.

      I want to hear more about her role in the Kinslaying. It’s not even clear who won. She saved her boat and beat Feanor to Middle-earth, so it’s possible it was a draw. Clearly the Noldor got the boats, but I bet Galadriel got all dark and powerful during the battle. I want to see that.

  3. I want to see all that too! – Galadriel going nuclear, Galadriel being honest about her desire for dominion, even if privately, Galadriel being moved by the darkness she hates in others (love this turn of phrase!). But, was Uncle Fester really that bad or was that character assasination? After all, we know who scribes the annals.

    • Sadly, as will be seen in today’s post, Tolkien completely dropped this line of thinking and Galadriel was about to become Mother Mary. Shame, really.

      Interesting about the point of view thing. Was Feanor really that bad? He seems to have gotten worse as Galadriel got darker, maybe as a way to justify her darkness. You’d need to come up with a good reason for why he wouldn’t give the Valar his Silmarils to restore the Trees. That was a dick move for sure.

      I used to make tshirts that said “Melkor Was Framed” on them. Obviously, they didn’t sell.

  4. Oh, Feanor… -_-

    While I thoroughly enjoyed the whole post, I really started nerding out with the mention of Tolkien’s essay. I studied some linguistics in college (and seriously considered minoring in it), so the shift from “þ” to “s” really caught my interest. I need to read that essay. (By the way, if you ever want to see an example of this in English, check out Grimm’s Law. It explains some anomalies between English and German, and was figured out by the Brothers Grimm. 🙂 )

    • The essay is really fun. I’m not really linguistically inclined, so it seems incredibly strange that the þ vs. s thing was actually a thing. Still, there’s a lot of fun to be had in this, and it’s definitely worth tracking down.

      Grimm’s law? I looked it up and while historically fun, it’s really way over my head. I didn’t even think the Proto-Indo-European language was a real thing that actually existed. I thought it was just a created link between Western and Eastern languages.

      • Oh, yeah. It’s such a big deal. A long time ago, I had a paper that showed the words for 1-10 in a variety of languages in the Indo-European branch. Some of the similarities are startling. Language is so fascinating. But that’s a whole different can of nerdiness. 🙂

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