39

At the end of the Lord of the Rings, Galadriel hops on a boat and sails away into the West. But wasn't she banned after the kerfuffle caused by Uncle Fëanor?

1
  • 16
    Kerfuffle sounds quite a bit more innocuous than what actually happened...
    – AJL
    Aug 19, 2015 at 19:30

6 Answers 6

49

By refusing the One Ring when Frodo offers it to her, and accepting that her own powers will fade, Galadriel proved herself worthy to return to the Undying Lands.

This is not outright stated, but suggested strongly by Galadriel's own words at that time:

I pass the test. I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.

Tolkien says this in his Letter #320:

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.

However, note that the history of Galadriel underwent several revisions in Tolkien's writings; in some of them (but not the one The Silmarillion is based on), Galadriel is entirely innocent of the Kinslaying and goes to Middle-earth independently of Fëanor and the rest of the Noldor; in those versions she did not need an explicit pardon, but stayed in Middle-earth because she loved Lothlórien too much to leave.

9
  • 2
    @Avner Shahar-Kashtan: I believe Ward's statement is wrong, but I'll have to wait till I'm back with my copy of the Silmarillion to confirm. In either case, how else would you interpret "I have passed the test", then? Dec 27, 2012 at 14:40
  • 3
    She was tested - not by some cosmic test that determines her ability to return West, but just a test of temptation when Frodo offers her the ring. How would you account for every other elf out there returning West through the Grey Havens? Dec 27, 2012 at 14:45
  • 6
    @Avner Shahar-Kashtan: Every other elf was not a leader of the Noldor when they defied the will of the Valar and commited the Kinslaying at Alqualondë. Dec 27, 2012 at 15:17
  • 2
    @Avner Shahar-Kashtan: Galadriel was the only leader of the Noldor mentioned in the Silmarillion who survived the First Age (with the possible exception of Maglor). I interpret Tolkien's words to mean that the Valar offered a general pardon, but only to those who asked for it explicitly, which Galadriel was too proud to do. Perhaps the test was necessary to offset that refusal. Dec 27, 2012 at 16:47
  • 1
    Towards the end of the Silmarillion, it says that Eonwe (I think, I can never keep them all straight without the book in front of me) summoned all the Eldar to return to Valinor with him after Morgoth was defeated. Dec 27, 2012 at 23:55
28

All was forgiven after the War of Wrath and the Noldor were allowed to return. Actually, all the Elves were strongly urged to return, but some chose to stay in Middle-earth. For them, The Straight Path to Valinor was still available to them for when they chose to leave.

This is explained in the final page of "Akallabêth" in The Silmarillion.

1
  • 15
    Actually, when Galadriel refused, she was banned again, but accepted when she resisted the temptation of the Ring.
    – MadTux
    Mar 11, 2013 at 10:03
16

The answer appears in Tolkien's The Road Goes Ever On

"The question Sí 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 Ered Luin 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."

JRRT, The Road Goes Ever On, 1967

So while a lot of posthumously published material exists about Galadriel, this is the explanation that Tolkien himself chose to reveal to readers, published in 1967.

3
  • Christopher Tolkien noted that his thoughts on the matter were not consistent over time.
    – Mary
    Aug 20, 2020 at 12:36
  • An answer, rather than the answer, would be more accurate.
    – chepner
    Nov 30, 2021 at 13:29
  • @Mary - Tolkien's thoughts about the reason why the ban was imposed changed over time, but his thoughts on why the ban was lifted were fairly consistent.
    – ibid
    Mar 7 at 14:08
8

This answer is based on Tolkien more than his fictional characters, but presents the point that in permitting Galadriel to return to the Undying Lands (his fictional construct of Heaven/Paradise) he was sending a message to his readers, a message of forgiveness and redemption.

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." (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 L.R. only Galadriel remained." (a letter also dated 1967)

Per the citations above, this was Tolkien doing what he said he didn't like doing in his infamous commentary on Allegory versus Applicability. He was either being allegorical, or was very bluntly moralizing as a result of being a life long and devoted Roman Catholic.

Galadriel is presented as a sinner who has shown that she "rejects the lies of Satan." (baptismal promise, Catholic dogma 101). The forgiveness and redemption of Galadriel is a piece of Christian wish fulfillment. Her sin (along with the other rebellious Noldor) of "turning their backs on the Valar" and by extension Eru the One, Ilúvatar, is forgiven in a redemptive act by the active rejection of Sauron (Satan/Evil/Liar). Power for its own sake, which the Ring symbolized, was for Tolkien a great evil.

Citation

“We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming 'sub-creator' and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic 'progress' leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien

More on power.

“But the only measure that he knows is desire for power and so he judges all hearts. Into his heart the thought will not enter that any will refuse it that having the Ring we may seek to destroy it. If we seek this we shall put him out of reckoning.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

The Noldor "fell" when they left the undying lands. J.R.R. Tolkien couldn't help himself. Given his outlook on life, his own fantasy was woven into the fantasy conflict resolution of his magnum opus. Forgiveness and Redemption had to come through, in the last, since that was his hope as informed by his lifelong faith.

It wasn't until I understood J.R.R. Tolkien as a lifelong and devout Catholic that I began to see some of the messages he sent in this story, which I've read over a dozen times. He wasn't very subtle.

1
  • Excellent answer.
    – Wad Cheber
    Aug 18, 2015 at 23:53
6

Her ban was lifted after she refused the ring, before that she was banned by the Valar for her part in the rebellion, but she actually never took part in the kinslaying, it was just her wish for a own realm to rule that she had to overcome in order to return to Valinor.

4
  • What do you base this on? Jan 1, 2013 at 13:46
  • 1
    ...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. -297, August 1967
    – Steffi
    Jan 2, 2013 at 22:33
  • 2
    also that: the Farewell was addressed direct to Frodo, and was an extempore outpouring in free rhythmic style, reflecting the overwhelming increase in her regret and longing, and her personal despair after she had survived the terrible temptation. [...] In the event it proved that it was Galadriel's abnegation of pride and trust in her own powers, and her absolute refusal of any unlawful enhancement of them, that provided the ship to bear her back to her home. (HME 12:320-21, n.15 to p.299)
    – Steffi
    Jan 2, 2013 at 22:38
  • 4
    These are good quotes. They should be part of the answer itself, not in the comments. Jan 3, 2013 at 5:42
5

At the time that Lord of the Rings was written, Tolkien hadn't yet decided there was a ban on Galadriel sailing west.

The text of The Lord of the Rings itself does not mention any prohibition on Galadriel sailing west, and Tolkien's notes from the time show that the only reasons Galadriel was staying was because of her love of Celeborn, her pride, and her duty.

Christopher Tolkien is inclined to think that a ban on Galadriel's return into the West was not in his father's mind when he wrote Book II, Chapter 8 of The Lord of the Rings. He notes that in the later Concerning Galadriel and Celeborn it is said that 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).
Hammond & Scull, The Lord of the Rings A Reader's Companion (2005) - Book II Chapter 7

The notion of the ban first enters the published canon in 1967, when Tolkien decided that Galadriel would have been one of the leaders of rebellion of the Noldor, and fit this into what had been already written in The Lord of the Rings.

In this new development Tolkien had decided that as the last surviving leader she had a special ban against sailing west, but that because of her work against Sauron and her rejection of the ring, this ban was lifted.

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

The exact circumstances about Galadriel's role in the rebellion and whether there was a ban or not and why changed a lot over the years in Tolkien's notes.

However in all versions it boils down to one of the following:

  1. There was no ban, and rejecting the ring made her realize that it was time to go.
  2. There was a ban, but it was lifted because she rejected the ring.
1
  • 2
    Nevertheless, seating arrangements at banquets in Tirion probably became complicated.
    – Spencer
    Nov 30, 2021 at 14:03

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.