Tolkien’s Final Words on Middle-earth – Galadriel Unstained

In the last few weeks of his life, Tolkien had a visitor named Tony Giffard, the Earl of Halsbury. He and Lord Halsbury had been friends since the 1950s, when Tolkien had even given him a copy of the Silmarillion to read.

Being very familiar with the material, having read it for nearly twenty years, when Lord Halsbury would visit, he and Tolkien would discuss different aspects of the legendarium. On July 26, 1973, they discussed Galadriel. Though no record really exists of their talk, Tolkien quickly took to writing what they must have discussed.

First, he went back to the Annals of Aman, a sort of Tale of Years for the Silmarillion-era, which he started writing in the 1930s. In 1951, after writing Lord of the Rings, he returned to it, rewriting much of what came before.

Based on this meeting with Lord Halsbury, in the summer of 1973, he made a short margin note next to a section about the Kinslaying. Originally, Tolkien had the Second Column of the Noldor, assumedly with Galadriel, coming in on the side of Fëanor to kill the Teleri. The margin note, however tells a different story:

“Finrod and Galadriel (whose husband was of the Teleri) fought against Fëanor in defense of Alqualondë.”

Tolkien had batted around both the idea that Celeborn, Galadriel’s husband, was actually a Teleri, and that she fought against Fëanor. In a way, this was nothing new. But in another way, with this margin note, it seemed about to be made canon. The Annals of Aman, as opposed to the notes discussed in my previous post, was the backbone of the whole Silmarillion. If it happened in the Annals, it was about as canon as it could get.

On August 4th, about a week after Halsbury’s visit, Tolkien wrote to him. Looking on it now, it is a sad letter. In it, Tolkien made tentative plans to have Halsbury help him finally finish his life’s work. “When you retire,” he wrote, “I shall certainly beg your help. Without it, I begin to feel I shall never produce any part of The Silmarillion.”

Since the visit, Tolkien had become “vividly aware” of Halsbury’s effect on him, and needed that inspiration to continue. Since publishing Lord of the Rings, Tolkien had “lost confidence.” He wanted Halsbury to visit again soon so they could talk more about it.

Of Galadriel, he wrote:

“Galadriel was ‘unstained’: she had committed no evil deeds. She was an enemy of Fëanor. She did not reach Middle-earth with the other Noldor, but independently. Her reasons for desiring to go to Middle-earth were legitimate, and she would have been permitted to depart, but for the misfortune that before she set out the revolt of Fëanor broke out, and she became involved in the desperate measure of Manwe, and the ban on all emigration.”

This is quite a bit to take in. Those who have read the Silmarillion know (or “know”) that Galadriel was not unstained. She specifically went to Middle-earth to “rule there a realm of her own.” In a later writing, Tolkien took it even farther, indicating that she had desired since youth to rule over all of Middle-earth. She was prideful and cunning and got her own way. This new Galadriel was certainly someone different than all previous Galadriels.

Around the time he wrote the letter, Tolkien also wrote a brief and partially illegible outline. This outline built upon the margin note and the letter to Halsbury, and turned out to be the last thing Tolkien ever wrote about the legendarium.

This new Galadriel wished to return to Middle-earth because the Valar had taught her all they could. “Being brilliant in mind and swift in action she had early absorbed all of what she was capable of the teaching which the Valar thought fit to give the Eldar.” She felt “confined” in Valinor.

Manwë knew about her desire and didn’t forbid her to leave. But he hadn’t given her his blessing, either, so she held off on leaving. Instead, she went to her mother’s people, the Teleri in Alqualondë. She went there to see about a ship to take her to Middle-earth.

It was there she met Celeborn, who, in this version, seems less like a wet blanket. They built a ship together, and were about to ask Manwë for permission to leave Valinor when Melkor and Ungoliant destroyed the Light of the Trees.

This naturally put a kink in her plan, as did Fëanor’s revolt, which soon followed. Here, she played no role at all in the revolt. During the Kinslaying, when Fëanor attacked Alqulondë, Galadriel and Celeborn were living there and fought against him, even managing to save the ship that they had built.

After the attack, Galadriel left Valinor, even though Manwë did not, and likely would not, give his permission. She was horrified at Fëanor’s violence and despaired of Valinor. So then it was now more of a question of timing than intent that made her fall under the ban against the Noldor.

Somehow, they reached Middle-earth ahead of Fëanor and lived more or less as they had in previous versions – with Thingol, and then in various places around Beleriand. As before, they wanted to build up their power in the east, where they thought Morgoth would be reinforced. They moved there, and though there is no mention of Dwarves, they befriended the Dark Elves and Men, teaching them what they could. For some reason, this didn’t fly with the Elves of Beleriand.

After the First Age, when the Noldor were pardoned by the Valar, Galadriel and Celeborn rejected the offer and remained in Middle-earth. No specific reason was given why they stayed.

One thing that is striking about the outline is that Galadriel and Celeborn are seen as more of a unit than ever before. Celeborn gets a nice promotion to Teleri, but he also does stuff! He builds a boat, fights against Fëanor and teaches the Dark Elves. Everything they do, they do together. Really, the only thing that indicates that she’s of a higher stature than Celeborn is that she’s a Noldo while he’s Telerin (hell, she’s half-Telerin).

This new Galadriel would have changed everything so much so that much of the Silmarillion would have had to be rewritten. Given the time, and maybe a few more visits from Lord Halsbury, something most definitely would have come from this.

By all indications, in early August of 1973, Tolkien was ready to begin another rewriting (or intense re-editing) of the Silmarillion material. In the last few weeks of his life, he was up and around, visiting a botanic Ggarden a couple of times and staying with friends in Bournemouth.

On the 31st of August, he was taken to a hospital for an acute bleeding gastric ulcer. His family was summoned, but the next day he developed a chest infection, and in the early morning of the next, he died.

Tolkien loved Galadriel, that’s perfectly clear. And it’s only fitting that she was the last of his characters to be with him before his death. It’s a tragedy that he was not able to continue this line of thought. Though it’s a bizarre departure from the more gray-area Galadriel that I enjoy, he obviously felt something reawaken in him because of Lord Halsbury and because of Galadriel (and, I suppose, Celeborn).

Camera: Kodak Signet Film: Eastman Plus-X (expired 2004)

Camera: Kodak Signet
Film: Eastman Plus-X (expired 2004)

A Few Notes

  • Halsbury liked the Silmarillion, and suggested in the late 50s that it might be published as a serial subscription. Tolkien thanked him for the idea, but figured that the success of Lord of the Rings would guarantee that the Silmarillion would soon be published. Of course, it wasn’t, but the friendship they struck lasted for two decades until Tolkien’s death.
  • In a letter sent by Halsbury, the Earl apparently said some flattering things about Tolkien. In reply, Tolkien wrote: “You pile Weathertop on Erebor, as Bilbo might have said, with your other generosities.” This is a phrase I encourage everyone to use. A lot.
  • The letter is No. 353. The margin note appears in Morgoth’s Ring. And the outline is paraphrased in Unfinished Tales.
  • And that about does it for the Galdriel History posts. Well, almost. Next, I’m going to do a timeline with changes and then we’ll check in on the Fellowship’s voyage down the Anduin.

About the Photo
Since Celeborn and Galadriel built a boat, I had to include a boat picture. Weirdly, since I’m almost totally surrounded by water, I don’t have many photos of boats. I do have this one, however. And so here it is.

  • Miles today: 10
  • Miles thus far: 1094 (180 miles since leaving Lothlórien)
  • 209 miles to the Falls of Rauros
  • 679 miles to Mt. Doom

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


16 thoughts on “Tolkien’s Final Words on Middle-earth – Galadriel Unstained

  1. The gastric ulcer leading to death is always hard for me to read. You can’t help wonder if it was a long term h. Pylori infection, like many ulcers today. That can easily be treated with antibiotics, though it was undiagnosed in most people prior to the 90s.

    I suppose we have no way of knowing, and it’s silly to lament the past. Still, bothers me…

    How in the world did you get an empty ferry photo? They always seem so crowded.

    • I’ve actually not read any bios of Tolkien (apart from the ones more focused upon his writing). Such a strange way to die.

      The empty ferry photo was taken right when we came on, but since we were in one of the last cars, I have no idea how there weren’t people there. The ferry wasn’t full, but it certainly wasn’t empty. I guess just good luck. I remember seeing that it was empty and thinking “oh, I need to get this shot!”

  2. That was the ultimate twist, to me. That Tolkien allowed the opinions of a friend influence his creations so profoundly was a surprise as I was under the impression he was quite the soloist in his writing career.

    So Galadriel was being transformed into Fëanor v1.0, the ace Elf in the light. Comes with a side of not-quite-as-crafty in consideration of room for her groom. This was also where Thingol got inked as Celeborn’s uncle I suppose?

    Interesting turn of events in her biography but no matter how high the pedestal she was supposed to have vogued on, I’d still think fighting on the side of Teleri doesn’t absolve Galadriel of kinslaying-she’s still taking out kin after all.

    P.S. Beautiful empty ferry pic. Never thought I’d see one ever 🙂

    • Huge twist, and I definitely don’t care for it as much as the one before it. I don’t think Halsbury influenced him so much as got him talking and thinking. That’s my impression anyway.

      I think the Celeborn/Thingol connection came earlier than this. I might have missed it since it’s so hard to deal with his wet blanketness.

      Certainly not to defend this version, but I think that Tolkien saw the Teleri as innocent. Since Galadriel defended them, she was absolved of any kinslaying. And of course, we don’t even know how she fought and if she killed. In this version, she’s super powerful, so how the battle would have went down isn’t clear. Could have been in song ala Luthien. Tolkien wrote some questionable stuff late in his life.

      Yay for the ferry pic! Thanks so much!

      • The Teleri do seem to have drawn the short straw. Kinslaying and sundering? All them. The other calaquendi clans had it so much better. Well, except for the Exiles.

        Someday I’ll start to research and read the behind the scene stuff. But for now n the novels.

        • Yeah, but the Exiles didn’t have a very surprising short straw. They may have been unhappy, but they certainly weren’t shocked.

          The whole research thing is just in my nature. I love it. That said, I’ve done very little of it when it comes to the Silmarillion stuff. I’ll get to that at some point.

  3. Wow. I’m so happy to have stumbled upon your blog. You write beautifully about Tolkien and provide wonderful insight about Galadriel, who has been my favorite character since I first I was a little girl.

    • Yay! Thank you so much! I admit, that I really didn’t like Galadriel prior to delving into her history. Now, though, I’m just fascinated by her.

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