Friday, February 13, 2015

Women of Middle-earth: Galadriel

Galadriel is one of Tolkien’s most complex and continually changing characters. She is by far the oldest of all the women who have a part in The Lord of the Rings, and there’s much more to her than first meets the eye. While she was important and aided the Fellowship in LOTR, things like her powerful ring, silver water basin, and colony of elves that she lived in all have interesting backstories and contribute to her status as a well rounded character.

Before we get too far into discussing the merits of Galadriel and her position as a character and woman in LOTR, first, let’s get some background information set down. There are so many things to learn about her and her family tree that take place before LOTR begins. However, it can be tricky to really get a definitive narrative on Galadriel. In The Hobbit, Galadriel was only barely mentioned (and not specifically) but Tolkien had so many other narratives and pieces of writing on her and her husband, Celeborn, and changed things so many times that it was an ever evolving storyline.
In Unfinished Tales, Tolkien’s son, Christopher, wrote:
“There is no part of the history of Middle-earth more full of problems than the story of Galadriel and Celeborn, and it must be admitted that there are severe inconsistencies 'embedded in the traditions'; or, to look at the matter from another point of view, that the role and importance of Galadriel only emerged slowly, and that her story underwent continual refashionings."
I’m sure that Tolkien, as he created Middle-earth and started weaving so many people and stories together, was constantly finding that there were things that just didn’t line up. After all, he created Middle-earth as a very real place with a very real history, so the storyline and history wasn’t flexible, and this must have been hard to keep on the right timeline. It’s said that even though Galadriel wasn’t even referenced in The Hobbit, Tolkien edited it in 1955 (the year The Return of the King was published) using his special author’s power to indirectly include Galadriel in it as a part of the White Council [2].

Galadriel was born so long before The Hobbit began that she makes most elves look like small children in comparison--yet, like all elves, she ages supernaturally and doesn’t have an end to her years. Tolkien records that she was born somewhere around 1362 (which is during the Years of the Trees. Didn’t know Middle-earth had their version of the Chinese calendar, did you? [3]), which is the First Age of Middle-earth. The Fellowship arrived in Lothlorien (Galadriel’s home) in 3019 of the Third Age, to give you some context--she’s been around for a while.
Finarfin and Earwen were Galadriel’s parents, and they were of the Noldor--basically, they lived in the Undying Lands, and Galadriel goes so far back in history that she actually had come over to Middle-earth from the Undying Lands and she is one of the last to leave Middle-earth. Among other famous relatives and acquaintances, it was Galadriel’s uncle Feanor who created the Silmarils, and she in turn was the grandmother of Arwen. Galadriel was also very close with the Maia, Melian, who taught her a lot about the history of Middle-earth (see, they passed the Bechdel test! [4]) .

So much more could be said about Galadriel’s family, friends, and travels before The Hobbit ever began (read The Silmarillion!) but for the sake of time, she and Celeborn ended up in Lothlorien, bringing a number of elves with them. Lothlorien was actually already inhabited by wood-elves, but there’s no mention of them putting up a fight against this take-over of their space (which they continued to live in).

In our next post: Who is Galadriel, the woman? What is her character? Why the special ring? There’s so much to be learned about her--I knew she was a complex character and remembered she had a long backstory, but it’s even more than I imagined and completely tangled up with the rest of Middle-earth (which is why Tolkien had some continuity issues). She was really quite an independent woman and had such a varied and interesting life, and was a leader and person in her own right. I think if everyone that criticised Tolkien’s writing as being too sexist should read about Galadriel because that would straighten things right out--whether you really love her as a character or not, she certainly deserves respect for being a well rounded, well written woman that shows Tolkien’s dedication to honestly trying to write powerful, realistic women.

Notes: First of all, if this was interesting to you, please read this entry on Galadriel (that is, if you don’t have time for the LOTR appendicies/Unfinished Tales/The Silmarillion) at The Thain’s Book. It is so interesting and chronicles the events in her life very well and clearly and has a lot more than I had time to fill in here.

[1] Unfinished Tales, J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien. 1980.

[2] I saw this on an article about why Galadriel was included in The Hobbit films which seemed to be factually correct about Tolkien editing The Hobbit in 1955.

[3] Nah, not really, but I thought it was funny. Although certain years really *were* the Year of the Tree, but Middle-earth calendars are a topic for another series.

[4] The Bechdel test is a sort of test to use in works of fiction such as TV, movies, and literature. Do two female characters have a conversation about something other than a man? If so, they’ve passed the test.


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