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I always thought it was the other way around, but then I read this (Letter 236):

"Of the others only Gandalf might be expected to master him – being an emissary of the Powers and a creature of the same order, an immortal spirit taking a visible physical form. In the 'Mirror of Galadriel', 1381, it appears that Galadriel conceived of herself as capable of wielding the Ring and supplanting the Dark Lord. If so, so also were the other guardians of the Three, especially Elrond. But this is another matter. It was part of the essential deceit of the Ring to fill minds with imaginations of supreme power."

This "especially Elrond" confuses me. I don´t think that Elrond is inherently more powerful than Galadriel, who is described as the greatest of the Noldor, except for Fëanor (and possibly even his equal).

A quote from Unfinished Tales says:

"...In this he (Tolkien) emphasized the commanding stature of Galadriel already in Valinor, the equal if unlike endowments of Fëanor; and it is said here that so far from joining in Fëanor's revolt she was in every way opposed to him."


"A queen she was of the woodland Elves, the wife of Celeborn of Doriath, yet she herself was of the Noldor and remember the Day before days in Valinor, and she was the mightiest and fairest (so even fairer than Arwen I would guess) of all the Elves that remained in Middle-earth."

(The Silmarillion, of the Rings of Power)

And again...

"Galadriel was the greatest of the Noldor, except Fëanor maybe, though she was wiser than he, and her wisdom increased with the long years."

(the Shibboleth of Fëanor)

Restating it:

"These two kinsfolk (Fëanor and Galadriel), the greatest of the Eldar in Valinor, were unfriends for ever." "Who together with the greatest of all the Eldar, Luthien Tinuviel, daughter of Elu Thingol, are the chief matter of the legends and histories of the Elves."

(Unfinished Tales)

The latter means that Luthien, Fëanor and Galadriel are the chief matter of the history and legends. It seems to me that Tolkien thought of those three as the creme de la creme of the elven crop.

Reading all that I have serious problems believing that Elrond could be superior to her. As great as Elrond is, descending from Melian, he is no equal of Fëanor, who is said to be the mightiest of all elves, and if Galadriel is his equal, then there is no way that Elrond would be mightier than her.

Maybe I just read this "especially Elrond" wrong; it could as well mean that especially Elrond was deceived into thinking that he could master the ring, because that was the deceit of the ring. And Tolkien said explicitly that only Gandalf could possibly master it.

So, what do you think?

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Psst ... it's Letter 246, not 236. –  Kate Ebneter Jan 4 '13 at 8:38
She's mother-in-law of Elrond and that says all about who are at the top of the chain-of-command =) –  jean Apr 20 at 18:08

6 Answers 6

In my opinion, no, because by my interpretation of that letter excerpt that's not what Tolkien is actually saying –

In the 'Mirror of Galadriel', 1381, it appears that Galadriel conceived of herself as capable of wielding the Ring and supplanting the Dark Lord.

That's fairly clear in what Tolkien is saying. He's saying that Galadriel saw herself as being capable of wielding the One Ring and overthrowing Sauron.

If so, so also were the other guardians of the Three, especially Elrond.

What Tolkien is saying here is that if Galadriel saw herself capable of wielding the One Ring, then so did Elrond and the other guardians of the Three Elven rings.

In other words, he's saying that the existing wearers of the Three Elven Rings of Power would all see themselves capable of wielding The One ring.

That's not the same as saying Tolkien saw Elrond as being more powerful than Galadriel.

I just thought I'd add clarification on what the Three Elven Rings were and who the guardians of them were –

Narya, the Ring of Fire, set with a ruby. Originally Celebrimbor gave Narya to Gil-galad, who later gave it to Círdan who later on gave it to Gandalf.

Nenya, the Ring of Water or Ring of Adamant, made from mithril and set with a white stone. Celebrimbor gave Nenya directly to Galadriel, which may explain why she was considered the most powerful Elf of the time given she possesed the ring for so long.

Vilya, the Ring of the Air, the mightiest of the Three, made of gold and set with a sapphire. Celebrimbor gave Vilya to Gil-galad who later on gave it to Elrond.

So the guardians of the Three Elven rings during the time-frame we're refering to here were Galadriel, Gandalf and Elrond.

The Three Rings of Power

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Coupled with this leading directly into a statement about the ring's deceit, I am compelled to say this is the correct reading. –  horatio Jan 3 '13 at 17:21
Elrond was the only other guardian of the Three in 1381, so the sentence makes little sense anyway. –  ohmi Jan 3 '13 at 22:52
@ohmi, that should say I 381, it's a page reference. –  Kate Ebneter Jan 4 '13 at 8:40
"the other guardians of the Three" could also include the past guardians of the Three –  Theoriok Jan 4 '13 at 12:22
"so also were the other guardians" clearly means "so also were the other guardians capable of wielding the Ring", not "so also were the other guardians conceiving themselves as capable ...". You've misinterpreted the sentence. –  TheMathemagician Jan 17 '14 at 23:21

I have read that sentence as in "Elrond was especially liable to conceive himself as capable of wielding the Ring". Of course, he was also wise enough to be able to restrain himself, as shown in various instances. I agree with your reading of Galadriel as a "more powerful" being.

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I like this interpretation. A hint at his part-human ancestry, perhaps. Those Men are always very confident in their ability to use the Ring. –  Plutor Jan 3 '13 at 13:49
That's a complete misreading. Tolkien is saying that if Galadriel were indeed capable of wielding the Ring, then the other bearers of the Three would be capable of wielding it too, especially Elrond. He is not saying Elrond is more likely to conceive himself as being capable of wielding the Ring. –  TheMathemagician Jan 17 '14 at 23:18
And what about the "essential deceit" of the Ring? –  Francesco Jan 19 '14 at 13:14
@TheMathemagician I'm not a native English speaker, and I understood the same as Francesco. Is there a grammatical clue that it means "capable of wielding the ring" instead of "conceiving himself capable of..."? If so, how would you write the sentence to mean what Francesco claims, changing as little from Tolkien's original sentence as possible? (I'm not challenging you, I'm just curious!). If it's not a grammar thing, but merely your interpretation, then how can you claim that it's a complete misreading? –  Andres F. May 10 '14 at 23:30
Tolkien writes "so also were ... especially Elrond" which can only be followed by an adjective. If Galadriel were capable then so also were the others [capable]. If he'd meant that the others also conceived the same thoughts then he would have written "If so, so also did ... especially Elrond". But it doesn't make logical sense this way round in any case. Suppose A and B were equally skilled at something and A believed they could defeat C. It's perfectly logical to say "If so, then so could B [defeat C]". But it's completely illogical to say "If so, then B also believed that". How can we tell? –  TheMathemagician May 12 '14 at 9:28

It's pretty clear to me, at least, that Tolkien in this passage is being a bit sloppy, since the other guardians of the Three were Gandalf and Elrond — keep in mind that this Letter is actually a draft. He may possibly have been thinking at this point of Círdan, who was Sindarin rather than Noldorin, and who was the original bearer of Narya. In any event, I don't think "especially Elrond" means "as opposed to Galadriel" but rather "as opposed to the other ring-keeper." (And keep in mind that he may not have been thinking very clearly about who the other ring-keeper was — he often wrote drafts very quickly.)

So, no, I don't think this overrules anything he says otherwise about Galadriel. She was a Noldo, probably born in Valinor, and one of the greatest of them; Elrond is also very powerful, probably the other most powerful Elf remaining in Middle-earth at the time of the War of the Ring, but he has never been to Aman or seen the Light of the Trees.

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+1; in context it seems quite explicit that "especially Elrond" refers to the other guardians, i.e. excluding Galadriel. Also important to note that "power" in Tolkien may manifest in many different ways, not all of which are comparable to others: "There is power, too, of another kind in the Shire". –  user8719 Jan 4 '13 at 13:50
@Darth Melkor: "There is power, too, of another kind in the Shire". I always refer that sentence to Tom Bombadil who has been, by design or not, a great buffer protecting the Shire alongside the watch of the Rangers, his domain being an extension, am I right or did Tolkien mean something else by that ? –  Joel Apr 20 at 14:55
@Joel I'd say that considering that Bombadil was not in the Shire, Gandalf was talking about the great power of hobbits generally speaking to resist evil - as seen in Bilbo's resistance to the Ring's temptation, or Frodo's resistance to the Witch-king's knife. –  Matt Gutting Apr 20 at 18:07
Nng, it always bugs me when people think Bombadil is unusually powerful for the setting. What makes him special is that he's enlightened, in the Buddhist sense. He doesn't desire anything that the One Ring can give him, and so it has no power over him -- that doesn't mean he wields any more power than it takes to confront and destroy a Barrow-wight (which I expect Beorn or the average Elf-warrior would also have had no trouble with). –  zwol Apr 20 at 19:29
@Joel As to the "power, too, of another kind in the Shire", I believe that is simply the general hobbitish lack of susceptibility to lust for power: which is, perhaps, different only in degree to Bombadil. It is not that Sauron could not conquer the Shire by force of arms, but that he would have more difficulty corrupting the hobbits of the Shire than the men of Minas Tirith (for example). Witness, to that, Saruman's difficulty doing the same. –  zwol Apr 20 at 20:50

especially Elrond.

Elrond has an element of human ancestry: "Elrond half Elven"; and we know humans are more easily influenced by Sauron and his power.

Thus, despite choosing the elven path, he is arguably more vulnerable to the dark influence in all its forms...

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If I read Tolkien correctly, Elrond's choice made him fully Elven, so I don't think this actually applies. –  Kate Ebneter Jan 4 '13 at 8:51
and yet the elvish blood in humans lead to the race of Numenor. Perhaps Elrond half-Elven inherited hybrid vigor from his human ancestry and was more powerful than the typical elf. –  Jim2B Apr 22 at 3:35

Galadriel was clearly the more powerful. She only stood in comparison to Fëanor among the Noldor (as others have noted), and none living in Arda could challenge her.

During the time of the Lord of the Rings, using Nenya, she contended directly with the mind of Sauron, in order that he keep her foremost in his mind as a threat; as one who would use the One Ring against him.

Though not sufficient alone, in this way, her efforts were pervasive and paramount in the success of the quest of the Ring Bearer.

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I agree with this, but while it answers the question in the title, what about Tolkien's letter? –  Andres F. May 10 '14 at 23:36
@AndresF. As given in the question, letter 236 lacks full context for me to answer more certainly but... like Steffi indicates the "especially Elrond" might mean he would be especially susceptible to thinking he could master the One Ring and rule them all. Elrond had, with Galadriel, worn his ring the longest. The Three Eleven Rings remember were created by Celebrimor at the close tutelage of Annatar (Sauron disguised as a Valya from Valinor) and so may have had a 'rule them' bent, even if not to evil ends. Elrond was Eldar as well, unlike Gandalf and may also be more susceptible by lineage. –  user23715 May 11 '14 at 23:09
Correction: "The Three Eleven Rings remember were created by Celebrimor after the close tutelage of Annatar..." –  user23715 May 11 '14 at 23:25
2nd correction: (Arghh!) Sauron was disguised as a Vanya. Conflated Valar and Vanyar. At least I got it right in the singular and not plural form; even if it is a made-up word :) –  user23715 May 11 '14 at 23:44

Before a final answer can be given, we should take a closer look at Sauron's pedigree.

Sauron is a fallen Maiar created by Ilúvatar himself (The Maiar were spirits that descended to Arda to help the Valar shape the World. The Mair are lesser Ainur). Sauron was the greatest and most trusted servant of Morgoth/Melkor, the first and most powerful of the Ainur. (The Ainur were the first, and mightiest, beings created by Ilúvatar before the beginning of the World. The Ainur were each given understanding only of that part of the mind of Ilúvatar from which they came. The exception to this was Melkor, the greatest of the Ainur, who had a part of the gifts of all the others.

So Sauron, the greatest servant of the greatest Ainur, made a ring for himself that could control the other rings of power (and their wielders); be they Men, Dwarves or the mightiest Elf.

According to Tolkien, older is stronger so we can simply run the numbers:

*Sauron (a spirit) was created before the Years of the Lamps which lasted for 3500 years.

*Galadriel was born (a flesh and blood though immortal Elf) at least 4862 years later in the Years of the Trees 1362. (YT lasted 1500 years)

*Elrond was born (a flesh and blood though immortal Elf) 670 years after Galadriel in the First Age 532.

Using their respective ages and Tolkien's criteria, Galadriel is more 'inherently powerful' than Elrond but 'less' than Sauron. Also, given their 'species type', neither Galadriel or Elrond (flesh and blood) could wrest control of the One Ring from Sauron (a spirit).

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