Gazing into GHG’s Palantir: ‘The Mirror of Galadriel’

The Grey Havens Group Palantir has seen and heard much, but it is unpredictable and often fell. As the mists clear, the withered leaves of past conversations are revealed in barest shreds…

‘The Mirror of Galadriel’ is a beguiling chapter, not least because at first glance it seems there would be little to discuss beyond a few crucial moments. This is not true in the least!

First, it is a wonder Tolkien doesn’t get noticed more for his masterly use of archaic terms, which he uses to their fullest effect. Such was his use of the word ‘fosse’ to describe the nature of the fortifications around Caras Galadhon. It is easy to forget, though a seemingly tranquil paradise, Lórien is a seat of power and like most of Midde-earth stands ready for war. A fosse is a type of ditch or moat, typically paired with a dike on the far side, used to force any attacker to lower ground and to attack uphill. Also, in the usual construction, the dike acts as a retaining wall, allowing the defenders a natural rampart. Though pristinely green and natural, Lórien is a fortress, a motte and bailey ready for the onslaught of war. The description comes at the very beginning of the chapter, and for the astute who picks up on its full meaning, will completely recolor the Fellowship’s stay in Caras Galadhon.

Though sometimes confusing, Tolkien’s geography is always illuminating. Often the puzzling twists and turns of the quest are the rifest with applicability. Verlyn Flieger, in her book Splintered Light, describes Frodo’s journey as moving widdershins: counter-clockwise, from light to darkness, from good to evil. Interestingly, when approached from the north, one has to travel widdershins, against the grain, to gain entry to Caras Galadhon. When the visitor finally comes to the gate, they face east; they have turned their back to the West. Knowing Galadriel’s history, as one of the Exiles who refused to return to Valinor and forgiveness from the Doom of Mandos after the War of Wrath, the positioning of her city, and its gate are potentially emblematic of her state vis-à-vis the Valar.

Following precedent, the group paid minute attention to the way Tolkien describes the nature of the Fellowship’s greeting party. Only Celeborn and Galadriel are explicitly stated to have chairs. Presumably all others, then, are seated on the floor of the great talan. Also, Frodo is called to sit beside Celeborn. Some debate was required to determine if this should be considered a position of honor, fear, or protection. Paying particular attention to the wording, Celeborn has thus placed himself between Galadriel and Frodo, or more importantly the Ring, either in recognition of the turmoil of her temptation, or as an albeit feeble protection.

In the welcome to Lothlórien, there is an interesting dynamic between Celeborn and Galadriel. He does most of the talking; she only interjects out of surprise for Gandalf’s absence, and in brief correction. As a Noldor, of the line of Finwë (through Finarfin), of whom it is said the light of the Trees is captured in her hair, she is uniquely gifted in foresight and wisdom. Her silence speaks to her troubled nature in this moment. Her interjections potentially indicate this deeper knowledge which, as a Sindarin elf, Celeborn would not be privy to.

Legolas surprisingly refers to Sauron as the most hated by the elves after the Balrog, with no mention of Morgoth. However, it is not so surprising when his nature and parentage is considered. The wood elves are of the Sindar, and though aware of Morgoth, lack the insurmountable hatred of Noldor. Sauron, on the other hand, the elves of the Greenwood know intimately through neighboring Dol Guldur. Their hatred, and therefore Legolas’ is personal, just as the hatred of Morgoth was and is deeply personal for the Noldor.
Galadriel gazes into the eyes of each of the members of the Fellowship, apparently offering some consolation to turn aside from the quest. How does she do this? Is it related to the ability of the Wise to speak from mind to mind? Is it her unique ability? Or does it trace back to her ring, Nenya?

Narya, the ring of fire, is thought to allow the bearer to enflame, encourage and increase the spirit of others. Nenya may work in a similar way, allowing Galadriel to reveal heart s, and their desires, much like the Palantir, with the purpose of healing. The only way to move beyond a fear or to heal a wound is to confront it.

Aragorn repeatedly invokes the danger of bringing evils into Lórien, and indeed those are the only evils which exist in the realm. After Boromir describes his feelings from Galadriel’s gaze, this warning is pointedly repeated. Though Boromir’s temptation is not noted, it may be deduced. Based on Sam’s vision, Galadriel’s gaze appears to bring the greatest desire of one’s heart to the surface to be used as a flame with which to temper their resolve. Therefore, it is likely Boromir saw visions of Gondor saved at his hand, as the ultimate Ring-bearer. From the Council, Boromir has not understood the need to destroy the Ring or its dangers, and in many cases (in his lobbying to travel by way of Minas Tirith) appears to be working towards swaying the rest of the Fellowship to his way of thinking. Boromir’s temptation and madness escalates greatly following this meeting, in the manner of one who has refused treatment, and hardened their heart against it. The first person to deny having a problem is the one with the problem. It appears from this moment on, to his death, little remains of the heroic Boromir; it has been submerged under the driving need of the Ring.

When Frodo creates his ‘eulogy poem’ for Gandalf, Tolkien describes the process of creation beautifully through Frodo’s self critique: “his thought took shape in a song that seemed fair to him; yet when he tried to repeat it to Sam only snatches remained, faded as a handful of withered leaves.” Is this another example of Tolkien inserting his own worries, like Niggle, or Sam at Cirith Ungol, into the text? Is this a larger realization regarding the nature of sub-creation? In self-reflection, we found we have all experienced this phenomenon upon first analysis of work we’ve done. However, often in returning to a work long forgotten, a wonderfully surprising gem may be found. Sometimes we grow too close to the works we create to be able to view them clearly.

Given the nature of time in Lothlorien, as read, and as experienced by the characters, it is easy to forget that the company spends about a month there. In all that time, they have not seen the Lady at all since their initial greeting. Given what is known about Galadriel, and what she states later about her temptation and fate, this appears to indicate the gravity of the test to be faced. This month is the Hush, the long held breath before Fate and Time are allowed to flow once more. When Galadriel passes her test, she immediately acknowledges the renewed flow of Fate, the necessary Event has occurred; now the Fellowship must move on. Tolkien’s language is very particular, using both Fate and Doom interchangeably to add a sense of solemn, melancholy inevitability to the necessary departure of the Elves. It also is the first example of the many who sacrifice their entire being and way of life towards the success of the quest.

What is the nature of time in Lothlórien? Given Legolas’ statement entering the Wood, wishing to see the trees in spring, the natural world is still subject to time. However, as is made clear by Sam’s confusion over the phases of the moon when they leave, time does not affect people, or minimally is not perceived by them. In much the same manner as Rivendel, this may simply be an indication of the pleasant, healing nature of the Wood, rather than any change in Time. On the other hand, it may be the power of Nenya, just as Vilya may lie at the root of Imladris’ similar state. Lothlórien is a moment out of time, a pocket or island around which time flows.

The Mirror of Galadriel and the Palantiri are intertwined, not only in function, but potentially in mechanism as well. Both are devised by Noldor, who are the deep seers, who by virtue of their relationship with Aule and connection to the two Trees are gifted with preternatural sight. Many of the Eldar also have close ties to Ulmo, of whom they’ve learned the deep music of the sea. This is why water figures so greatly into Tolkien’s visions, for in water is captured the Song of the Ainur. Thus water, the blood of life, is instrumental in the Mirror’s function, and also, potentially, in the Palantiri. In the Mirror and the Palantiri, Tolkien has reimagined the mythos of the scrying mirror and the crystal ball.

The character of the visions Sam and Frodo see help to reveal the character of the two hobbits. Sam sees visions of Frodo at Cirith Ungol, the Shire, and the Gaffer. His visions are limited to what he intimately cares about. Like Galadriel’s gaze, though this time in a negative sense, his visions are a sort of test of resolve, which evoke a burning desire to return home; a test he passes in tears. In these moments Tolkien crystallizes the tragic Greek notion of fighting against Fate, wherein Galadriel warns, by way of comfort, that not all seen in the Mirror comes to pass, and often will only occur when the observer turns aside to prevent it.

Unlike Sam, Frodo has a larger mission, and his care extend far beyond himself, as seen in his immediate understanding that he must leave the Shire in ‘Shadows of the Past.’ Like Sam, his visions largely grow out of his central cares: the completion of the quest. Therefore, he is shown the full breadth of the history, past and future, of the War he has become part of. Having little frame of reference, these visions flicker past, much like the Mirror is channel surfing, until he begins to see relevant imagery. The ships he sees may be the Corsairs (as Denethor sees), or Aragorn coming from Pelargir, or even Numenoreans after the Fall. Ultimately, the Ring asserts itself over the Mirror, revealing the Eye. This can be ascertained by Tolkien’s use of the word ‘suddenly’ which is used almost exclusively for cases in which the Ring influences events.

When the temptation comes, and Frodo offers the Ring to Galadriel, she is surprised by his insight and grace, but little surprised by the thought of bearing the Ring. It is evident that in a way her remarks are the product of long thought, wrestling with herself. She has already decided, but this moment is to be feared, particularly as the Ring is offered freely, as in the presence of the Ring who can say if decisions may be held firmly. It has already been seen, and will be reinforced, that Frodo, knowing the depth of the Ring’s evil, cannot bear to part with it or even countenance taking action to harm it (fireside episode in ‘Shadows of the Past). So even though it may be presumed Galadriel long made up her mind, this is the true test. Once pitted against the bare desire and pull of the Ring she is allowed to prove her worth (as Faramir will put it).

The temptation scene ends, as so many tense situations, with laughter. In a common thread, Tolkien uses laughter to show relief, self-actualization and a sort of resignation rather than mirth. It is like the nervous tic or compulsory need to fill the void of silence. Galadriel’s laughter, though still grim and self-deprecating, is of a burden lifted. She is described as small and weary, in perhaps the most poignantly beautiful description Tolkien gives us of her:

“She stood before Frodo seeming now tall beyond measurement, and beautiful beyond enduring, terrible and worshipful. Then she let her hand fall, and the light faded, and suddenly she laughed again, and lo! She was shrunken: a slender elf-woman, clad in simple white, whose voice was soft and sad.”

… until the hour of our next meeting.

Gazing into GHG’s Palantir: ‘Lothlórien’

The Grey Havens Group Palantir has seen and heard much, but it is unpredictable and often fell. As the mists clear, the withered leaves of past conversations are revealed in barest shreds…

“Lothlórien” is a chapter full of some of Tolkien’s most beautiful and painterly prose, as well as surprisingly extensive references to First Age history.

It is a chapter of rampant interlacement. The story of Amroth and Nimrodel echoes that of Aragorn and Arwen, Beren and Luthien, and Tuor and Idril. It hammers home the choices between love and safety, life and death, happiness and despair which so indelibly mark each of these great loves.

Aragorn’s comment regarding the peril of Lothlórien to those who bring evil with them is critical to understanding the development of Boromir in the coming months. He brings his evil, currently deep-seated, with him. His misunderstanding of the Ring, thinking of it only in terms of its potential military might lays the seeds for his downfall as far back as the Council itself. Both the darkness of Moria, and the piercing gaze of Galadriel temper his resolve.

Looking at this simple phrase, there is much more to see than just the immanent betrayal of Boromir. It recalls the tragic history of Middle-earth, where, as Elrond states at the Council, betrayal was ever the greater enemy. In this simple line is felt the reverberations of Hurin’s cry outside the Crissaegrim, Maeglin’s guidance of the orcs into Tumladen, Turin’s construction of the great bridge, Thingol and the dwarves of Belegost, or the sons of Ulfang at the Nirnaeth Arnoediad and so many others. Therefore this is a peril which, in Middle-earth, would be most keenly felt. If anyone doubts the ability of Tolkien to weave stunningly complex characters or his capacity to encapsulate inner/moral/psychological turmoil, they have only to look to Borromir in the coming chapters.

Tolkien’s use of betrayal, doubt and corruption in this manner has many parallels with Shakespeare, though, as Tolkien would say of the Ents, Shakespeare never takes it far enough. In this discussion of betrayal, past and present, despair and the response to certain death was also covered. In these moments the meta-narrative of Tolkien’s possible philosophical musings is evident, evoking thoughts of Gandalf’s seminal maxim “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

The group further discussed the nature of the Gifts of Men and Elves, death versus immortality. Long life or endless life leads to a certain inertia, but also yields endless weariness, loss of values, and the cumulative weight of tragedy. The elves exhibit many responses to the ravages of time: Rivendel’s embodiment of the night and knowledge (building off of the gnomish proclivities of the Noldor, ie. as ‘deep’ elves of knowledge and study and craft), and Lothlórien’s embodiment of the day and sunlight, which rests in a desire to preserve the bliss of bygone ages. In this specifically was seen the reasons for Lórien’s timelessness, and the ability of its environment to take away both age and care.

There are many intriguing similarities between the Mirrormere and the Mirror of Galadriel. There are qualities which define them both, principally the fact that the viewer does not see their own reflection and the ever present question of if what is being seen is real. Again, as with so much in this chapter, when Frodo, Sam and Gimli gaze into the pool reflections appear both past and future: Here the first Durin gazed into the pool at the founding of Khazad-dûm, here Balin gazed prior to his death, and in a similar way, Sam and Frodo observe mysteries in the depths of Galadriel’s Mirror.

It is curious that following the escape from Moria, after wandering in pain for quite some time, Frodo is rather insistently opposed to receiving care. Is this to preserve the secret of his mithril coat, as Bilbo asked? Or is this a sign of something deeper? Early in the text, Frodo is shown often attempting to solve issues himself. He wishes to go on the quest without any help, hoping to give his friends the slip, only bringing Sam because Gandalf told him to. Indeed, we find in this chapter (as so often before) Sam tags along with Frodo compulsively up to the Talan to meet Haldir. It raises the question: would Frodo have any companion in his quest if Sam did not cleave so closely to his duty? Both of these brief moments appear to reinforce the self-sufficiency which Frodo strives for, as well as his compulsive desire to keep those he cares about from pain, even if that requires further sacrifice on his part.

Also, at this moment, Tolkien’s recasting of an English rhyme from the 1700’s was found. Aragorn, upon finding the mithril coat, states “Here’s a pretty hobbit-skin to wrap an elven-princeling in!” Which wonderfully builds off of “Bye baby Bunting, Daddy’s gone a-hunting. Gone to fetch a rabbit skin to wrap a baby Bunting in.”

It should be noted at the Fellowship’s entry into Lórien, the elves are not surprised by the sight of Hobbits. They actually appear to have some familiarity with them. This subtly ties in hobbit history and migrations found in the Prologue, as at one time early hobbits dwelt along the river Anduin.

Tolkien’s wonderful humor is exhibited when the hobbits ready for bed in the flet. Pippin goes on talking for long while, an obvious motor-mouth, where Sam even scolds him. And Sam, of course, sleeps like a log.

Both Pippin and Merry, still in or just out of their tweens, are searching for meaning and purpose in their lives. It was noted that both, as so many in the company, come from wealthy and even aristocratic backgrounds, and so this journey is really their first taste of life off ‘easy-street.’ Their part in the quest, like the entire Fellowship’s, is a process of refinement and tempering, until they reach the critical moment outside the Shire where Gandalf leaves them to their own devices.

Gollum follows the company to the very trees in which they sleep. Frodo at first feels dread and fear at the orcs passing below, but after they pass, his dread only grows. How does he sense Gollum? Is it the power of the Ring as Gollum is in some ways a rather corporeal wraith? Or is it simply the lingering relationship between Gollum and the Ring which is felt? It is currently in the best interest of the Ring to go with Frodo, to go on to Mordor, for the moment their paths coincide. To return to Gollum would be consignment to a cave far beneath the mountains, and next to no possibility of return to its master.

The final scene of the chapter, at Cerin Amroth, is overflowing with gorgeous description and Tolkien’s painterly and philological prose at its best. Here, Frodo’s description of the colors as “those he knew…but fresh and poignant, as if he had at that moment first perceived them” and his earlier vision of light for which no language had a name perfectly echoes the elves at Cuivienen or even Tolkien’s poem Mythopoeia. There is a philological sensibility here, by which words are truly only a myth about that which they describe, and as such only a tiny sliver of the seen or felt. There are rampant correlations to Owen Barfield and Eastern thought to be found here.

… until the hour of our next meeting.