Galadriel, the Elf-Lady of Lorien
Created | Updated Feb 9, 2016
Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings has many characters. One of the most striking is Galadriel, the Elf-woman who rules the land of Lorien along with her husband, Celeborn. She is tall, golden-haired and is immensely old and wise, but like all Elves, looks ageless. She is the mother-in-law of Elrond whom we have already met both in The Hobbit and in earlier sections of The Lord of the Rings.
Galadriel and Elrond are the most important Elves in Middle-earth. We learn that Elrond fought in the Last Alliance of Elves and Men at the end of the Second Age. In that war, Sauron was defeated for the first time and the world was free from his evil influence for many centuries. It is rumoured that Galadriel also did great works in the past but we are not told what they are. In fact, Tolkien invented the character of Galadriel for The Lord of the Rings. After the book was completed, he started to write her into the stories of the earlier ages which he was constantly working on but never completed. He never made up his mind about Galadriel - what her importance was, why she was exiled from Valinor, who exactly her husband was. Even within The Lord of the Rings itself, her story is not completely consistent.
Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings
Galadriel is married to Celeborn, and together they rule the Elves of Lorien. The Lorien Elves themselves are Wood Elves, simple folk without any great knowledge of world events, although their immortality has given them wisdom. Conversations with one of them, Haldir, show that he doesn't know or care much about what happens outside the golden wood in which he lives. Galadriel is different: she is a High Elf. The High Elves were a group who travelled across the sea and lived in the land of Valinor where the Valar, the angelic creatures who built the world, reside. Contact with the Valar made the High Elves much wiser, more skilful in everything they did and more concerned with the fate of the world than the Wood Elves of Middle-earth.
We're not told in The Lord of the Rings about Galadriel's past. She says that many years ago she came eastward across the mountains and settled in Lorien with Celeborn, but she seems to suggest that she came alone, and that Celeborn was already in Lorien. The appendices to The Lord of the Rings give a slightly different story - they say that Celeborn was an Elf of Doriath, that she met him there during the First Age, and that they came across the mountains to Lorien together.
Galadriel's function in the book is to offer Frodo the time to realise that the Quest of the Ring is his own quest, one which he must decide upon. Up to now he has been led by Gandalf, but now he must make his own decisions. The others who accompany him may help, but it is not their role to lead him. Galadriel says she does not offer advice, only information, but there are implicit suggestions in her actions.
Galadriel is described as being very tall, equally as tall as her husband. One of the unpublished notes puts her at 6'4" (193cm) and the tallest Elf-woman who ever lived. Galadriel's hair is amazing: glossy gold1 with a silvery sheen. She looks ageless, neither young nor old, but the eyes are the window to the soul. Looking into Galadriel's eyes gives an impression of great age and wisdom.
Galadriel appears to be able to do magic, although she denies knowing what the word means. She can pour water into a basin in such a way that she or others can see distant events in the water, some actual, some potential futures. She can trap the light of the evening star in a liquid in a crystal bottle which glows brightly in the presence of evil. Frodo and Sam used this later to fight their way through the Lair of the Spider (Cirith Ungol). She can also look into the minds of others, discerning their intentions. Galadriel is the guardian of Nenya, the Ring of Adamant, also known as the Ring of Water. This is one of the three Elven-rings and she draws her power from it. She uses the ring to provide an unspecified protection for the land of Lorien. Time seems to pass more slowly there, and attacks against it by the enemy seem to be less effective than expected. The appendices tell that Lorien was attacked three times by the forces of Sauron after Frodo and his companions left it, but each time, the Elves of Lorien successfully defeated the attack.
Frodo offers Galadriel a choice - he will give her the One Ring, Sauron's ring, to use for the purposes of good. Galadriel correctly recognises that this would not work. The evil in the ring would be too much for her, and she would be a beautiful but ultimately destructive tyrant. She refuses the offer.
Near the end of the book, Galadriel attends the wedding of Aragorn and her own grand-daughter Arwen. Still stunningly beautiful, Galadriel now appears to be less present in the world. Her magic ring has lost its power with the destruction of the One Ring. There is little left for her in Middle-earth, so she sails on the last ship into the West with Frodo, Bilbo, Gandalf and Elrond, returning to the land of Valinor where she was born.
Galadriel in The Road Goes Ever On
English composer and pianist Donald Swann of the Flanders and Swann comedy duo collaborated with Tolkien to produce The Road Goes Ever On, published in 1968. This is a suite of musical settings of poems from Tolkien's work. Galadriel's lament 'Namarië' which she sang as Frodo was leaving Lorien is given a tune for the first time. To accompany it, Tolkien wrote the entire text out in Elvish script. He also provided an explanatory note to go with the text, and this sheds some light on Galadriel's situation in Middle-earth. Although it is only a short comment, it is important, as it was written by Tolkien and published during his lifetime.
He says of Galadriel:
'She was the last survivor of the princes and queens who had led the revolting Noldor to exile in Middle-earth. After the overthrow of Morgoth at the end of the First Age a ban was set upon her return, and she had replied proudly that she had no wish to do so... But it was impossible for one of the High-Elves to overcome the yearning for the Sea, and the longing to pass over it again to the land of their former bliss. She was now burdened with this desire. In any event, after the fall of Sauron, in reward for all that she had done to oppose him, but above all for her rejection of the Ring when it came within her power, the ban was lifted, and she returned over the Sea, as is told at the end of The Lord of the Rings.'
Galadriel in The Silmarillion
After JRR Tolkien died, people were crying out for more of his works to be published. His son Christopher Tolkien worked on collecting all the various unfinished works and putting them together to form some sort of a cohesive narrative. He commissioned fantasy writer Guy Gavriel Kay to edit the work, filling in the gaps in the style of Tolkien. The result was The Silmarillion, published in 1977. It is often considered to be the definitive guide to the First Age and the periods before it, but it should be remembered that it is in fact a selection from a number of conflicting sources.
The Silmarillion gives us Galadriel's family tree. She was related to just about every Elf who had any part to play in the stories of the First Age. We learn that she is the daughter of Finarfin and Eärwen. Finarfin is son of Finwë, the original king of the group of Elves known as the Noldor. Eärwen is the daughter of Olwë king of the Teleri, who is brother of Elwë, the original king of the Sindar. So she is very closely connected to all the Elvish royalty.
Galadriel was born in Valinor. When Fëanor led the revolt against the Valar, she joined it and decided to leave Valinor and make war against Morgoth. But Fëanor and his sons double-crossed the rest of the group and took all the ships to cross the ocean to Middle-earth. Galadriel was left behind with a large group. She and the others made the difficult trek northeast, crossing the polar ice to arrive in Middle-earth.
Galadriel's family are a fierce lot. Here's a sample of what some of her close relatives did during the First Age:
Fëanor - half-uncle of Galadriel. Designs the Elvish writing system. Makes the palantirs, crystal spheres which can be used for communication. Creates the three Silmarils, the most beautiful jewels ever. When Morgoth steals them, he declares war on Morgoth and pursues him to Middle-earth, where he is killed by Gothmog, Lord of Balrogs.
Fingolfin - uncle of Galadriel. Challenges Morgoth to single combat. Puts on a good show, but is crushed under Morgoth's shield.
Finrod Felagund - brother of Galadriel. Founds a kingdom, Nargothrond, based on a system of deserted caves in the gorge of the river Narog. A wonderful musician. Befriends a family of Men and helps when one of them, Beren, goes on a quest to recover a Silmaril from Morgoth's crown. Encounters Sauron along the way and challenges him to a magical singing competition, ultimately losing to Sauron's greater powers. Dies in the dungeons of Sauron's fortress.
Turgon - cousin of Galadriel. Finds a hidden valley which no-one knows about and leads his people there. Founds the hidden city of Gondolin and rules it as king for centuries, until Morgoth finds out and sends his orcs and balrogs to destroy it.
Galadriel herself, on the other hand, doesn't do a lot once she reaches Middle-earth. She visits her relatives, but that's about it.
Christopher Tolkien went on to publish almost all of his father's work relating to Middle-earth, even when unfinished. Rather than trying to make a consistent narrative, he published them as they were in Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth (1980), and commented on the discrepancies between them. There are a few short extracts about Galadriel.
Galadriel and Fëanor
As Galadriel grew to adulthood, she became very competitive and liked to test herself in mind and body against other Elves, both male and female. This earned her the name Nerwen, which meant 'man-maiden'. She was good-looking too and her hair attracted everybody. She had both the gold of her father's hair and the silver of her mother's. Fëanor, her father's half-brother, was considered to be the greatest Elf who ever lived, but Galadriel couldn't stand him. She could see that a dark future awaited him. Fëanor asked her for a lock of her hair, but she refused. It is said that the gold and silver of Galadriel's hair first gave him the idea of trapping the gold and silver light of the Two Trees of the Valar into jewels, the result being the Silmarils.
When Fëanor rebelled against the Valar and was punished by being banished, Galadriel was torn. Her dislike of Fëanor was so intense that she didn't want to follow his lead, but her restless nature meant that she hungered for new places and a country where she could rule. She followed the march to Middle-earth and so fell under the ban, being forbidden from returning to Valinor. This ban was only lifted at the end of the Third Age, as a reward for turning down Frodo's offer of the One Ring.
Galadriel and Celeborn
Before she left Valinor, she met Teleporno2, later known as Celeborn, and married him. When she travelled to Middle-earth, he went with her.
In another version, she met Celeborn in Doriath, the Middle-earth kingdom ruled by her great-uncle, King Elwë. Celeborn was a close relative of the king, possibly his great nephew, so in this story, Galadriel and Celeborn were second cousins.
Galadriel and Celeborn crossed the mountains eastward into Eriador before the end of the First Age. They lived for a while beside Lake Nenuial, later to become the location of the capital of Arnor, but then Galadriel detected an evil presence to the east, so they moved further east and founded the kingdom of Eregion near to the Misty Mountains, to protect Eriador against this as yet unnamed evil. It turned out later to be Sauron, the greatest of Morgoth's servants. The location of Eregion right next to the Dwarf city of Khazad Dum meant that the Elves and Dwarves could work together and Eregion became a great centre of craftsmanship.
It was here that the three Elven-rings were forged by Celebrimbor, who in one version of the story was a grandson of Fëanor, and in another was just an inventive smith working for Galadriel. But Sauron infiltrated the guild of smiths and Galadriel and Celeborn lost control of the country of Eregion to Celebrimbor. Eregion was then attacked by Sauron's forces and destroyed. After this, Galadriel and Celebrimbor fled further east and set up a new kingdom in Lorien.
It is stated in The Lord of the Rings that Galadriel and Celeborn had a daughter, Celebrian, who married Elrond. We're also told an Elvish tale about Amroth, an Elf who loved the Elf-maiden Nimrodel. The tale was a sad one and both Amroth and Nimrodel were lost. In some versions of the story, Amroth was the King of Lorien before Galadriel and Celeborn arrived. In one version, he was their son.
It was normal for Elves to be given two names, one by their father when they were born, and the other by their mother when the child was old enough for the mother to have some insight into their personality. They could also acquire other names during their long lives. Galadriel was named Artanis 'noble woman' by her father. Her mother gave her the name Nerwen 'man-maiden' because of her mental and physical strength and ability.
Later, Celeborn gave her the name Alatáriel (sometimes written Altáriel), meaning 'maiden garlanded with radiance', in a reference to her amazing hair. This name was in the Telerin/Quenya language of Valinor. When she came to Middle-earth, the name was translated into the local Sindarin language as Galadriel and she used that name from then on.
In later years, she was sometimes mistakenly called Galadhriel, 'tree garland', because galadh meant tree and the people she ruled in Lorien were the Galadhrim.
Galadriel and the Golden Trees
The most impressive trees in Tolkien's world were the trees known as mallorn (plural mellyrn). Taking 500 years to reach full height, they were immense, with a single central trunk and many branches. They produced golden flowers in the spring, and in the autumn their leaves turned gold but stayed on the tree, not falling until spring. This meant that for six months, the mallorn forests were golden. Lorien was often called the Golden Wood, because it was the only place in Middle-earth that they grew. The trees were not originally native to Lorien, however. They grew in Valinor beyond the western ocean, and during the Second Age in Numenor, the island in the middle of the western ocean where the ancestors of the men of Gondor lived.
The Numenorian king Tar Aldarion was a great explorer and often sailed to Middle-earth. He gave some mallorn seeds to the Elven king Gil-galad of Lindon but they wouldn't grow there. Gil-galad gave some seeds to his cousin Galadriel. She succeeded in getting them to grow in her home east of the Misty Mountains and that land became the Golden Wood.
The land's original name seems to have been Lindórenand (Valley of the Singers), as the local Elves called themselves the Singers. With Galadriel's gardening efforts it acquired a few new names: Laurelindórinan - the Valley of Singing Gold, Lórinand - the Valley of Gold, and ultimate Lórien - which not only means Golden but was also the name of a garden region in Valinor with which Galadriel herself would have been familiar. The name Lothlórien appears to mean the Land of the Golden Blossom, although Treebeard translates it as 'Dreamflower'. This may have been a poetical name with two meanings.
Galadriel carried on the tradition of giving mallorn seeds, presenting one to Sam. He planted it and it grew into the only mallorn tree west of the mountains and east of the sea.
Galadriel in the Movies
Galadriel appears in Ralph Bakshi's 1978 animated movie The Lord of the Rings, which was in fact only the first half of the trilogy, encompassing all the action up to the Battle of Helm's Deep. She was voiced by actress Annette Crosbie who is probably most famous as Margaret, the wife of Victor Meldrew in the comedy TV series One Foot in the Grave. Galadriel is shown in the movie wearing a silver circlet bearing a gemstone on her brow. Strangely, the only other woman to appear in the movie, Éowyn, also wears one of these.
Peter Jackson has made six popular films about Middle-earth, a trilogy of The Lord of the Rings and a trilogy of The Hobbit. In all of these, Galadriel is played by Cate Blanchett.
Galadriel is not mentioned in Tolkien's book The Hobbit (he hadn't yet invented the character at the time it was written), but plays a significant role in the Peter Jackson films based on the book. She can communicate telepathically with the other holders of the Elven-rings, Gandalf and Elrond. She correctly detects that Gandalf is being held prisoner by the Necromancer, and it is her magic which frees the wizard. As she lies exhausted from the ordeal, Saruman in ominous tones commands 'Take her to the Land of Lorien', a strange way of phrasing it considering that everybody present knew that she lived there.
Galadriel grew in importance in Tolkien's mind as time went on. In The Lord of the Rings she is just a character the party meets along the way, important but not essential, appearing mainly in an advisory role. But Tolkien kept revising his history of her. By the end, she was one of the greatest, the wisest and the most powerful of the Elves.