20

So, I just finished The Silmarillion, and of course The Hobbit and LotR before that. One of the reason I wanted to read Silmarillion is because I didn't quite understand the part of Galadriel's speech at the fountain in Lothlorien. I went online and saw some explanations of which the most well-versed was the one given by none other than Tolkien himself in a letter:

The attempt of Eärendil to cross Ëar was against the Ban of the Valar prohibiting all Men to attempt to set foot on Aman, and against the later special ban prohibiting the Exiled Elves, followers of the rebellious Fëanor, from return: referred to in Galadriel's lament. The Valar listened to the pleading of Eärendil on behalf of Elves and Men (both his kin), and sent a great host to their aid. Morgoth was overthrown and extruded from the World (the physical universe). The Exiles were allowed to return — save for a few chief actors in the rebellion of whom at the time of the L. R. only Galadriel remained.

[Footnote:] At the time of her lament in Lórien she believed this to be perennial, as long as Earth endured. Hence she concludes her lament with a wish or prayer that Frodo may as a special grace be granted a purgatorial (but not penal) sojourn in Eressea, the Solitary Isle in sight of Aman, though for her the way is closed. (The Land of Aman after the downfall of Númenor, was no longer in physical existence 'within the circles of the world'.) Her prayer was granted – but also her personal ban was lifted, in reward for her services against Sauron, and above all for her rejection of the temptation to take the Ring when offered to her. So at the end we see her taking ship.

Anyway, so I read the Silmarillion and it only had the following.

Yet not all the Eldalië were willing to forsake the Hither Lands where they had long suffered and long dwelt; and some lingered many an age in Middle-earth. Among those were Círdan the Shipwright, and Celeborn of Doriath, with Galadriel his wife, who alone remained of those who led the Noldor to exile in Beleriand.

So, there is no text about an extra ban on Galadriel. Now I revisited those Q/A sites and it turns out that that theory was from Unfinished Tales and not from The Silmarillion.

So, can anyone please explain the canonical explanation, from each of the books. Like explain what the reasons would be if the other books were not published. Like what the explanation would be if we had only LotR, and not Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales; and then what the explanation would be if we had LotR and Silmarillion but not Unfinished Tales and not the letters, etc.

5
  • 9
    It is perfectly possible that at the end of the 1st Age and beginning of the 2nd Age Galadriel was both forbidden to return to Aman and also wished to remain in Middle Earth. Thus both statements would be partially correct but omit some details. It is also possible that the Red Book of Westmarch and other surviving sources from those days contained contradictory statements about Galadriel's status. It is also possible that Tolkien sometimes forgot what he previously wrote and contradicted himself. He eventually planned to make Galadriel innocent of the rebellion of the Noldor. – M. A. Golding Jul 7 '19 at 15:37
  • 1
    Why exactly is this nagging you? These books/entries/letters were written over decades? The Final Sil pieced together by Christopher. – Edlothiad Jul 7 '19 at 16:06
  • 1
    @Edlothiad, so wouldn't you agree that the part of Galadriel's refusal of pardon and second ban would be added in The Silmarillion, since it was after Tolkien's death and his lore were present? This is nagging because even though I know Tolkien wanted to create numerous stories set in the same world, I really would've loved to get important characters explained within the books they appear in. For example, I don't care that I don't know who Tom Bombadil is, but I really want to know what the speech of Galadriel was about after refusing the Ring, and I want it to be in the LotR. – klaus Jul 7 '19 at 16:18
  • 3
    The origin of the confusion is that Galadriel was a character created for The Lord of the Rings, who Tolkien only later began to integrate into the earlier stories. Given his unsystematic way of revising The Silmarillion, some parts of the story were never fully updated to account for elements added for The Lord of the Rings. – Buzz Jul 7 '19 at 17:42
  • @klaus - My answer should explain what it meant in each of the books, and why this information was not included in the published Silmarillion. – ibid Jun 29 at 11:44
41

I think that the passage that best explains the apparently contradictory versions of Galadriel's status in the Third Age is given in the chapter The History of Galadriel and Celeborn in Unfinished Tales.

Pride still moved her when, at the end of the Elder Days after the final overthrow of Morgoth, she refused the pardon of the Valar for all who had fought against him, and remained in Middle-earth. It was not until two long ages more had passed, when at last all that she had desired in her youth came to her hand, the Ring of Power and the dominion of Middle-earth of which she had dreamed, that her wisdom was full grown and she rejected it, and passing the last test departed from Middle-earth for ever.

Unfinished Tales Part Two, Chapter IV: The History of Galadriel and Celeborn
Pages 222-3 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 2012 Kindle Edition)

When the Noldor pursued Morgoth to Middle-earth against the orders of the Valar, they were all exiled. The above passage says that after the War of Wrath, the Valar pardoned the Noldor, but Galadriel (in her pride) rejected the pardon and so was still exiled.

The fact that she willingly rejected pardon means that there is no inconsistency with the passage in The Silmarillion that says she remained in Middle-earth of her own will.

Yet not all the Eldalië were willing to forsake the Hither Lands where they had long suffered and long dwelt; and some lingered many an age in Middle-earth. Among those were Círdan the Shipwright, and Celeborn of Doriath, with Galadriel his wife, who alone remained of those who led the Noldor to exile in Beleriand.

The Silmarillion: Quenta Silmarillion, Chapter 24: Of the Voyage of Eärendil and the War of Wrath
Page 264 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 2012 Kindle Edition)

Letter 297

Letter 297 of The Letters of JRR Tolkien also appears to contradict the "rejection of the pardon" explanation. In it, Tolkien writes:

The Exiles were allowed to return – save for a few chief actors in the rebellion, of whom at the time of L. R. only Galadriel remained.

The Letters of JRR Tolkien: Letter 297

We can resolve the discrepancy by assuming that Galadriel was one of a group leaders of the Noldor who refused the pardon of the Valar. That group would have been unable to return, not because of a new ban imposed by the Valar, but because they rejected the pardon that would have cancelled the original ban.

The Lord of the Rings

The passages I have the most trouble reconciling are in The Lord of the Rings.

When Frodo offers to give Galadriel the Ring, she describes how, if she took it, she would use it and be corrupted. She ends by saying

‘I pass the test,’ she said. ‘I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.’

The Lord of the Rings Book Two, Chapter 7: The Mirror of Galadriel
Page 366 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Single Volume 50th Anniversary Edition)

Surely this means that she believes that she would be allowed to sail to the West. This is not consistent with the idea that in refusing the pardon of the Valar, her exile remains in place.

However, the song she sings in the very next chapter suggests that she thinks returning to the West is not an option for her.

But if of ships I now should sing, what ship would come to me, What ship would bear me ever back across so wide a Sea?

The Lord of the Rings Book Two, Chapter 8: Farewell to Lórien
Page 373 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Single Volume 50th Anniversary Edition)

Out of universe

At the beginning of The History of Galadriel and Celeborn, Christopher Tolkien tells us that:

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.

Unfinished Tales Part Two, Chapter IV: The History of Galadriel and Celeborn
Page 220 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 2012 Kindle Edition)

It seems clear that, at different times, Tolkien intended that Galadriel:

  • Was free to return to Valinor but stayed in Middle-earth by choice.
  • Would have been able to return to Valinor if she had not refused the pardon offered to all the Noldor.
  • Was among a few leaders of the Noldor who were never pardoned or refused their pardons.
11
  • 2
    Good post. The contradiction within LotR you write of may be resolvable: Galadriel may have hoped that her refusing the Ring would lift the ban against her, but how could she know that? (Surely she hadn't been offered a quid pro quo or gotten an eaglegram.) When the Fellowship left Lothlorien she was still is doubt and sang a song that she'd no doubt been singing for centuries. She was simply unsure. The real question for me is when and how did she learn that she would be allowed back? I can't believe she set sail with Gandalf, Elrond, Frodo, et al still unsure of her reception in Valinor. – Mark Olson Jul 7 '19 at 18:07
  • Thanks for your answer. I read the excerpts myself, but getting those in contained and serialized and listed form really helped my understanding. I myself believed that Galadriel remained in ME, even til 3rd age, because she had the desire to rule a kingdom, not because of a ban, and when she got lured by the promise of the Ring and denied it, then she thought that she was to return West to be among Elves because she got weary of the world and removed her dream of ruling. I don't know about the lament when Frodo departed, I didn't even make the connection because I hadn't yet read Silmarillion – klaus Jul 7 '19 at 18:13
  • 2
    @MarkOlson, about how Galadriel learnt of her being allowed back in Vallinor, I think LotR has so soft a magic system, that it would hurt the overall vibe if we got some answer for that specific a question. Myself I would think that the ship wouldn't go on the Straight Road if all aboard were permitted to enter Vallinor, so Cirdan the shipwright must know who is permitted. Thus my answer is that, she just knows – klaus Jul 7 '19 at 18:20
  • 3
    @klaus: She was friends with Gandalf, who was essentially the representative of the Valar, and who apparently had the authority to approve Bilbo and Frodo's trip. 'No doubt it was Gandalf who was the authority that accepted her [Arwen's] plea.' So I would say Gandalf told her. scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/48375/… – Shamshiel Jul 7 '19 at 19:10
  • 3
    The song also contains the line "Now lost, lost to those of the East is Valimar!" (though in another language). This would seem to obviously no longer be the case since the elves are mostly sailing West. Is it possible the song is merely an old one written in the past to lament their situation? – jpmc26 Jul 8 '19 at 12:36
7

They are not consistent

There is no definitive version of Tolkien's word on Middle-Earth. They were written, revised, scrapped, re-started, re-revised, scrapped again, restarted and so on over many years. The Silmarillion itself was started three times after the publication of the Lord of the Rings and never reached a state in which he was willing to submit to a publisher - that was left to his son to do after his death. It is itself a summary of a much wider and broader mythology that Tolkien had been working on all his life.

Further, they were conceived as a mythology - not a history. Mythology is not consistent (neither is history but at least it aims to be). Modern fantasy authors go to great pains to ensure consistency in their worlds to the detriment - in the real world we can't agree on what's happening now, a fantasy world where everyone agrees on what happened thousands of years ago is quite clearly a fantasy world.

5

In The Lord of the Rings itself, there is no clear evidence of a ban. Tolkien came up with this later and published it in The Road Goes Ever On. The ban is not mentioned in detail in The Silmarillion because all of Tolkien's drafts of its ending were written before Galadriel existed.

Galadriel was a character created for The Lord of the Rings, after the story of the first age had already been more or less finalized. Tolkien struggled with how to back-insert her into The Silmarillion, and changed his mind many times.

Let's look at four different versions of the story of her ban against returning to Valinor. 1) From LotR itself, 2) From texts Tolkien himself published in 1967 3) From the Silmarillion itself, of which this part was last updated by Tolkien in 1937, and 4) From Tolkien's final thoughts in the last couple of years of his life.

1. The Lord of the Rings

In the Lord of the Rings itself, the text is ambiguous as to weather or not there was a ban on her sailing west

when she rejects the Ring,... she says: ‘I pass the test. I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel’ (p. 366,1: 381). This suggests that she believes she has the option to return to the West, and yet her song of farewell to the Fellowship of the Ring ends with the words: ‘But if of ships I now should sing, what ship would come to me / What ship would bear me ever back across so wide a Sea?’ (p. 366,1: 381). This may be a symbolic question, for she surely knew about the Grey Havens, but it might indicate that there was a prohibition against her return to Valinor.
Hammond & Scull, The Lord of the Rings A Readers Companion (2005) - Book II Chapter 7

Christopher Tolkien is of the opinion that at that time The Lord of the Rings was written his father had not yet conceived of the ban. He says this based on the existence of an outline of Galadriel's life written shortly afterwards which makes no mention of the ban, but instead offers other reasons for her staying.

it was for love of Celeborn, ‘who would not leave Middle-earth (and probably with some pride of her own, for she had been one of those eager to adventure there)’, that Galadriel did not return into the West, and that later in the Second Age ‘she deemed it her duty to remain in Middle-earth while Sauron was still unconquered’ (Unfinished Tales, pp. 234, 240).
ibid

2. J.R.R Tolkien's later published works

While Tolkien did not have the ban in mind while writing The Lord of the Rings, he had left the text ambiguous enough that he was able to fit it in later. His conception in 1967 was that Galadriel was the last surviving leader of the rebellion of the Noldor, and thus had a special ban on her coming back, which was only lifted because of her opposing Sauron and rejecting the ring.

Unlike Tolkien's previous stages of post-LotR development, this wasn't confined to his private notes, and was actually included in published books and can be seen in a letter he wrote at the time.

The question Si man i yulma nin enquantuva? and the question at the end of her song (Vol. I, p. 389), What ship would bear me ever back across so wide a Sea?, refer to the special position of Galadriel. She was the last survivor of the princes and queens who had led the revolting Noldor to exile in Middle-earth. After the overthrow of Morgoth at the end of the First Age a ban was set upon her return, and she had replied proudly that she had no wish to do so. She passed over the Mountains of Eredluin with her husband Celeborn (one of the Sindar) and went to Eregion. But it was impossible for one of the High-Elves to overcome the yearning for the Sea, and the longing to pass over it again to the land of their former bliss. She was now burdened with this desire. In the event, after the fall of Sauron, in reward for all that she had done to oppose him, but above all for her rejection of the Ring when it came within her power, the ban was lifted, and she returned over the Sea, as is told at the end of The Lord of the Rings.
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Road Goes Ever On (1967)

The Exiles were allowed to return - save for a few chief actors in the rebellion of whom at the time of the L.R. only Galadriel remained. . . . At the time of her lament in Lorien she believed this [the ban] to be perennial, as long as Earth endured. Hence she concludes her lament with a wish or prayer that Frodo may as a special grace be granted a purgatorial (but not penal) sojourn in Eressea, the Solitary Isle in sight of Aman, though for her the way is closed. .. . Her prayer was granted - but also her personal ban was lifted, in reward for her services against Sauron, and above all for her rejection of the temptation to take the Ring when offered to her. So at the end we see her taking ship.
Letter to Mr Rang, August 1967

3. The Silmarillion

The ending of the Silmarillion last revised by Tolkien in 1937, before he even began working on The Lord of the Rings (and so before Galadriel existed). When Christopher was editing the book for publication he was very limited in what could be changed without requiring substantive rewrites. The 1937 text already had a passage about Elves staying in Middle-earth, and so Christopher just added a mention of Galadriel to the paragraph. Christopher did this in a way that fit with the already published story from The Road Goes Ever On.

Yet not all the Eldalië were willing to forsake the Hither Lands where they had long suffered and long dwelt; and some lingered many an age in the West and North, and especially in the western isles and in the Land of Leithien. And among these were Maglor, as hath been told; and with him for a while was Elrond Half-elven, who chose, as was granted to him, to be among the Elf-kindred; but Elros his brother chose to abide with Men.
J.R.R. Tolkien, the 1937 Quenta Silmarillion, published in The History of Middle-earth V - The Lost Road and Other Writings

Yet not all the Eldalië were willing to forsake the Hither Lands where they had long suffered and long dwelt; and some lingered many an age in Middle-earth. Among those were Círdan the Shipwright, and Celeborn of Doriath, with Galadriel his wife, who alone remained of those who led the Noldor to exile in Beleriand. In Middle-earth dwelt also Gil-galad the High King, and with him was Elrond Half-elven, who chose, as was granted to him, to be numbered among the Eldar; but Elros his brother chose to abide with Men.
Christopher Tolkien, The 1977 published Silmarillion (added words are in bold)

4. Tolkien's final thoughts

In the final years of his life Tolkien again returned to the question of how to better fit Galadriel into the first age, and came up with a series of new ideas. None of these made their way into the Silmarillion material, and Christopher felt it would have been too difficult to work them in.

  • 1971: Galadriel was already offered a pardon at the end of the first age, but refused it.

I think it is true that I owe much of this character [Galadriel] to Christian and Catholic teaching and imagination about Mary, but actually Galadriel was a penitent: in her youth a leader in the rebellion against the Valar (the angelic guardians). At the end of the First Age she proudly refused forgiveness or permission to return. She was pardoned because of her resistance to the final and overwhelming temptation to take the Ring for herself.
Letter to Ruth Austin, January 1971

Pride still moved her when, at the end of the Elder Days after the final overthrow of Morgoth, she refused the pardon of the Valar for all who had fought against him, and remained in Middle-earth. It was not until two long ages more had passed, when at last all that she had desired in her youth came to her hand, the Ring of Power and the dominion of Middle-earth of which she had dreamed, that her wisdom was full grown and she rejected it, and passing the last test departed from Middle-earth for ever.
J.R.R. Tolkien, very late philological essay

  • 1973: Galadriel was actually innocent, and not a part of the revolt

Galadriel was ‘unstained’: she had committed no evil deeds. She was an enemy of Fëanor. She did not reach Middle-earth with the other Noldor, but independently. Her reasons for desiring to go to Middle-earth were legitimate, and she would have been permitted to depart, but for the misfortune that before she set out the revolt of Feanor broke out, and she became involved in the desperate measures of Manwë, and the ban on all emigration.
Letter to Lord Halsbury, August 1973

In Fëanor's revolt that followed the Darkening of Valinor Galadriel had no part: indeed she with Celeborn fought heroically in defence of Alqualondë against the assault of the Noldor, and Celeborn's ship was saved from them. Galadriel, despairing now of Valinor and horrified by the violence and cruelty of Fëanor, set sail into the darkness without waiting for Manwë's leave, which would undoubtedly have been withheld in that hour, however legitimate her desire in itself. It was thus that she came under the ban set upon all departure, and Valinor was shut against her return.
Christopher Tolkien's summary of a note his father's from August 1973

Tolkien died on September 3rd 1973 and his rough note about Galadriel fighting back at Alqualondë is assumed to be his last writing on Middle-earth.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.