I have talked in the past about integrity and some of my favorite female characters. One of the characters I mentioned in passing there is Galadriel, and I thought I would come back and talk a little more about why I find her so important and valuable.
To begin with, I wanted to point to who Galadriel is. Within Tolkien’s mythology–which includes but is by no means limited to The Lord of the Rings–she is one of the most powerful Elves in Middle-Earth. She was born in Valinor and after the rebellion of the Noldor was exiled to Middle-earth, where she became the ruler of Lothlorien (earlier Laurelindórenan) and the grandmother of Arwen Undomiel. In addition to all of this, she is the bearer of one of the Three Rings, Nenya.
Both Galadriel herself and the realms over which she has power (Lothlorien and Nenya) are shown to be seats of quiet, centered power. Their strength is often hidden, but it is not diminished by that. I haven’t gone looking for readings of Galadriel, but I suppose it’s possible to see her as passive or isolationist; what I myself see is someone who is secure enough in her own strength to not shout it abroad.
So, before I talk about the moment where Galadriel shows her integrity most openly, let me say what I mean by integrity to begin with. What I mean is acting and living in a way that keeps your self–the core of who you are, as opposed to anyone else–whole. As I said in my earlier post, this often means choices that aren’t easy, that require some sort of sacrifice which isn’t loss of self.
In terms of Galadriel, we see this most clearly in the moment in The Fellowship of the Ring when Frodo offers her the One Ring. It’s a scene that I’ve always found really powerful, because of the opposing images she presents: “I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea an the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning!…All shall love me and despair!”
It’s interesting to note that rather than simply being another Sauron, all of the images Galadriel presents here are visions of her own power, twisted. If she sets no limits on herself, if she takes the One Ring and the power it holds, she will be bright and terrible. But she will have also lost what makes her essentially herself. Rather than being a great light of strength and refuge, she becomes “a great light that illumined her alone and left all else dark.”
And so, when she refuses the Ring, she returns to herself and says, “I pass the test…I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.”
When I first read Lord of the Rings in middle school, I didn’t think of myself as having much power at all. And even now, it’s not necessarily how I think of myself. But rereading these passages it strikes me how clearly Galadriel, out of all the characters in LotR, shows the way that our own talents and strengths can be twisted. By refusing that path, she acts with integrity and remains herself. It’s not an easy thing, but it’s a true thing.
And I also hadn’t quite put two and two together to realize that perhaps for her going into the West is a true reward. Valinor was her home and she has been exiled from it for two Ages. Now she is finally leaving Middle-earth with many who she loves and returning home. I have complicated feelings about Valinor and the multiple ways Tolkien uses it, and yet it remains a powerful symbol, and here it shines a light on another aspect of Galadriel’s journey.
Speaking of complicated feelings, I won’t get into all of my thoughts about Tolkien’s female characters at this point. Suffice it to say that I know there aren’t many, and at the same time they have been very important to me at times, as different ways to be a woman. Galadriel’s quiet strength and clear sightedness, her integrity and her care for others have all made her a character who has informed a lot of who I want to learn to be.