The Elven Queen: Ambivalence in The Fellowship of the Ring

I came across an essay today that fascinated me, as I had written something similar on the topic almost two years ago, during my time studying abroad at Oxford. While closely studying The Fellowship of the Ring (the second book of LOTR), I couldn’t help but feel weird about Galadriel. Part of me didn’t like her, or rather, didn’t trust her.  I found her to be much like I’d imagine a pre-fallen Lucifer to be, someone so bright, so good, they’re too good; they’re too close to darkness, which leaks out at their seams.

“Galadriel, Witch-Queen of Lórien” by Robert T. Tally Jr. examines the more sinister fibers of Galadriel’s being.  Tally does not trust the “greatest of the elven women,” and I agree with him on this.  He goes on to describe Galadriel as having a “rather ambiguous moral character,” as her powers “may well seem like forces of dark magic.”  And they do, such as with her strangely dark Mirror’s visions. I too saw this as revealing the darker threads of Galadriel’s fibers, as her powers and secondary powers, I think, are a manifestation of her own essence, though my own essay concentrated on the ambivalent forces of nature and depiction of landscapes in The Fellowship of the Ring rather than on Galadriel specifically. I’ve enclosed the last portions of my thoughts from that essay below:

Although Aragorn argues that no evil can exist in Lothlorien “unless a man bring it hither himself,” Frodo’s arrival seems to catalyze an excavation of darkness that lies dormant beneath Lothlorien’s “blemish”-free exterior. When Frodo first looks into Galadriel’s mirror, a vision of darkness begins to materialize: “Darkness fell. The sea rose and raged in a great storm. Then [Frodo] saw the Sun, sinking blood-red into a wrack of clouds” (354). Tolkien gives the “Sun” mortal attributes by describing its color as “blood-red,” and this human-like quality turns the Sun from a star into a blemish that mars the otherworldly, supernatural quality of Lothlorien; Lothlorien has now acquired characteristics of mortality that herald tragedies such as “sickness” and “deformity.” Additionally, Tolkien describes the star as “sinking,” which is another word for “falling,” like the darkness, or evil, that “falls” upon the vision, again alluding to the fall of mankind. Like the Garden of Eden, Lothlorien becomes corrupted. Although it is still the “fairest” of all the lands, Lothlorien is not immune to darkness.

Albeit the darkness that Frodo foresees in the mirror is an imagined vision, the mirror’s portal into darkness creates lasting physical effects in the paradise of Lothlorien that transform it into an ambivalent space. Upon viewing the darkness in the mirror and in Frodo’s mind, Galadriel experiences the effects of the darkness herself even under the guidance of the Evening Star’s benevolent light: “So bright was [the Evening Star] that the figure of the Elven-lady cast a dim shadow on the ground” (355). Tolkien’s word choice of “shadow” to characterize Galadriel’s reflection on the “ground” is significant; shadow is a word Tolkien uses to denote evil. When the Fellowship first arrives in the Elven land, Tolkien describes the land as being without “shadow” (340). After the vision, however, a change has been made; suddenly “shadow” becomes associated with Lothlorien, marking a transition into the ambivalent. Although Lady Galadriel passes the test of falling victim to the temptation of the Ring, she cannot undo the darkness that has fallen on her land when she asserts that Frodo should not be fooled into thinking that the “land of Lothlorien [is] maintained and defended against its Enemy’”(355). Although Lothlorien may at first seem predominately pure, its “land” is not without “shadow,” nor without the darkness of its “Enemy.” Lothlorien’s transition into an ambivalent space reveals that even the purest of spaces are not wholly absent from darkness.

Tolkien ultimately argues that the forces of Good and Evil are not mutually exclusive. Elements of both forces coexist in the landscapes of Middle Earth, and this dynamic is central to Frodo’s journey because it is in physical nature that he finds shelter yet also encounters Evil. Moreover, even the most pure characters are not “good” enough to overpower the darkness of the Ring; Galadriel refuses to take the Ring from Frodo because she knows if she does, she would not be able to resist its powers. Ambivalence, rather than Good versus Evil, is the central conflict of The Fellowship of the Ring; Frodo and the Fellowship must navigate a gray space where what is Good is constantly infiltrated by what is Evil, and even as Frodo sets off into his next journey with Sam, this conflict continues to follow them after they “[seek] a path that would bring them over the grey hills of the Emyn Muil, and down into the Land of Shadow” (398). Tolkien characterizes nature as a “grey” space to reveal that categorizing intentions, motivations, characters, and people themselves as only Good or only Evil is reductive, because each possesses elements of both. Rather, Tolkien argues that the true conflict of The Fellowship of the Ring is how to navigate ambivalence so that the darkness in an individual’s soul does not render his or her life a perpetual nadir.

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