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.