Tolkien Geek

Blogging J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" and other aimless pursuits.


The History of Galadriel and Celeborn (Part One)

This section is actually one of the most cumbersome in the whole volume because there is so much information that is contradictory with what we already know of Galadriel and Celeborn in the canonical sense. The material also seems to switch back and forth so much between topics that it's quite difficult to follow.

My approach is to cut through the stories as written and present the information in the context of answers to four specific questions:
  1. Who is Galadriel?
  2. When did she meet and marry Celeborn?
  3. How did she come to eventually rule the land of Lothlorien?
  4. Why did she remain so long in Middle-Earth?
By following this line of inquiry, it is much easier to follow Galadriel's history and contrast it with the many different alternatives that Tolkien had considered even after "The Lord of the Rings" was published.

First, let's find out about Galadriel's origins. Before we delve into the history of the character specifically, it is useful to review the history of the entire race of Elves (at least at a very high level). For those already more familiar with the Elves history, please pardon the oversimplification.

The Elves in the world of Middle-Earth were the "first born", created by Eru Iluvatar. The first Elves awoke at Cuivienen, on the shores of the Sea of Helcar, in a time that preceded the First Age. Cuivienen was located far in the East of Middle-Earth and most likely no longer exists at the time of the events in "The Lord of the Rings". Most were led on a journey to Valinor - the Undying Lands - by the Valar Orome, while others were lost or fell behind along the way and remained in Middle-Earth. Some even opted not to take the journey at all. Three races or "kindreds" of Elves arrived in Valinor: the Vanyar, the Noldor and the Teleri. The kindreds were led by kings named Inwe, Finwe and Olwe, respectively. Other members of the Teleri race did not complete the journey and remained in Beleriand, under the rule of Olwe's brother, Elwe, who later took the name Elu Thingol. Beleriand is a Western land that was later destroyed in the War of Wrath at the end of the First Age and is not present in "The Lord of the Rings".

While the importance of the character of Galadriel to the events of the War of the Ring cannot be overstated, it is fair to say that for Tolkien the scope of Galadriel's role in the broader history of Middle-Earth was one that went though (in his son's words) "continual refashionings". In fact, it wasn't until after her introduction in 1954 that the author began to tinker with several ideas about her back story.

Galadriel was part of the Noldor race, also known as the "Deep Elves" (deep in the sense of "profound" or "wise"). The Noldor were led by Finwe, who had two wives. From his first wife, Miriel, he sired Feanor. His second wife bore him two other sons, Fingolfin and Finarfin. Finarfin was Galadriel's father. Her mother was Earwen, who was akin to the Teleri.

Other than perhaps, Feanor, Galadriel is considered the greatest of the Noldor to have ever dwelt in Middle-Earth. She was born in Valinor prior to the dawn of the First Age. She was physically taller than most Elf women and Tolkien describes her in his writings as "strong of body, mind, and will, a match for both the loremasters and the athletes of the Eldar in the days of their youth". By most standards she was judged to be extremely beautiful and her golden hair was considered to be a "marvel unmatched". One of Tolkien's manuscripts states that it was her hair that inspired her uncle, Feanor, to craft the Silmarils which contained the light of the Two Trees of Valinor. Feanor is also supposed to have asked Galadriel three times for a single strand of her golden tresses, which she refused. This story, of course, puts her gift to Gimli in Lothlorien in a much more interesting context.

It was the custom of the Noldor to give their children two birth names, one from the father and one from the mother. Finarfin named his only daughter Artanis ("noble woman") and Earwen - perhaps anticipating her eventual physical prowess - gave her the name Nerwen ("man-maiden"). Galadriel is a Sindarin name that she took when she came to Middle-Earth. Galadriel had a close relationship with the Valar and studied their skills of creation. Within her grew a desire to create and rule a realm of her own and she often thought of Middle-Earth. While both Galadriel and Feanor were extremely prideful, her uncle was more headstrong and rash. Galadriel learned to be more wise and prudent. And she developed an almost antagonistic relationship with Feanor that would have an impact on her eventual departure from Valinor.

The evil Vala, Melkor, slayed Finwe and stole the Silmarils, taking them with him to Middle-Earth. Using the giant spider, Ungoliant, he destroyed the Two Trees of Valinor which were the only source of light to that point. Feanor and his kin took an oath to pursue Melkor, who he named Morgoth, to Middle-Earth and recover the Silmarils. He defied the Valar and this all-consuming quest led to tragedy throughout his bloodline. In fleeing Valinor, Feanor and his people attempted to take the ships of the Teleri at Alqualonde. The Teleri resisted and many were killed by the Noldor. This event was known as the "kinslaying". Though Galadriel did not take part in this atrocity - indeed, she may well have even helped defend the Teleri - she too defied the Valar and traveled with others of Finarfin's kin to Middle-Earth via a more treacherous route. More concerning Galadriel's motivations will be discussed later.

Galadriel arrived in Middle-Earth and traveled to the land of Doriath, where she had relations. Remember, her mother was of the Teleri race. Here Thingol, the brother of Olwe, took her in and it is generally accepted that this is where she met Celeborn, also a Teleri. This is the story that made it into "The Silmarillion". One account has the two meeting and marrying in Valinor and traveling to Middle-Earth together but this is contradicted by Galadriel's words in "The Fellowship of the Ring":
"[Celeborn] has dwelt in the West since the days of dawn, and I have dwelt with him years uncounted; for ere the fall of Nargothrond or Gondolin I passed over the mountains, and together through ages of the world we have fought the long defeat."
By "the West" she means that part of Middle-Earth that no longer existed. So they met in Doriath and sometime before the end of the First Age traveled East. Another account, also discared, indicated that she did not meet Celeborn until she came to Lothlorien. In Appendix B in "The Lord of the Rings" says they dwelt for a time in Lindon where Cirdan the Shipwright lived on the Eastern side of the Blue Mountains. Exactly when this happened is not clear though Tolkien suggests it was some time prior to the sack of Doriath. Dwarves had made war against Thingol over possession of one of the Silmarils that was recovered from Morgoth. It is this event that causes the initial bad blood between Celeborn and the Dwarves. His distrust of Dwarves in general and Gimli in particular was evident in Lothlorien. Galadriel, however, knowing the need for allies in the War against Sauron, being so very wise among Elves and considering her close connection to the Vala Aule, who created the Dwarves, is much more sympathetic to Gimli.

The Teleri as a race comprise the vast majority of the Elves who inhabit Middle-Earth. Other than Olwe's folk, who had traveled to Valinor, the Teleri spoke Sindarin for the most part. Galadriel speaks Sindarin because of Thingol's ban on the use of Quenya in his realm. But she was of course also fluent in Quenya, the speech of the Noldor. There was a branch of the Teleri who had refused the journey to Valinor altogether and remained East of the Misty Mountains to established a civilization in Greenwood the Great.  They were known as the Nandor.  Greenwood would later became known as Mirkwood when Sauron's power and influence began to wax in the Third Age. The Nandor were called Silvan Elves, or Wood Elves, and were ruled by Thranduil, the father of Legolas, though he himself was a Sindarin Elf who traveled East after the destruction of Beleriand.

At that time, Galadriel and Celeborn also journeyed Eastwards and founded the realm of Eregion. It is here that the events more directly related to Sauron and the War of the Ring begin...

"The History of Galadriel and Celeborn" continues in Part Two.


At 1:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow - this looks like the kind of site my girlfriend is going to LOVE - and I thought SHE was the biggest Tolkien nerd/geek out! Sending her a link to this now, so get ready, I'm sure she'll be here soon!
- PB

At 3:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just an editorial comment--the singular of Valar is Vala. It should be "The evil Vala, Melkor" not "the evil Valar." I skimmed that and went "Wha??? There was more than one evil Vala???"

At 4:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good catch, dude. Thanks.

I did that twice in this post. Let me know if you see it anywhere else. Sometimes I'm so focused on the commentary itself that I make sloppy mistakes like that.

At 2:25 AM, Blogger Patrick said...

Nice breakdown, man. Galadriel is certainly a fascinating character. She knew exactly what she wanted and made no bones about it, but ultimately denied herself the fulfillment of that plan for the greater good. As far as I can recall, she is the only female character in Tolkien's books who is ever tempted by power. Makes you wonder...

At 5:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Legolas is not a Silvan elf, although he lives with them. He is part of the minority of ruling Sindarin elves. Just thought i would let you know :)


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