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(Question sparked by discussion on Why does Frodo follow Galadriel and offer her the ring?)

When Frodo suggests that Galadriel should take the ring, she appears tempted: she gives a vision of the power she could wield if she took it — which presumably is what the ring itself wants — but then she refuses it, and returns to normal. “I have passed the test,” she says.

Is she really tempted here? Is this a moment that genuinely could have gone either way? Or is she just calling up the vision to impress on Frodo the point that being “more powerful” doesn’t make her better-qualified to deal with the ring?

I’d always understood it as the latter, but re-reading the scene, it’s a bit more ambiguous than I’d remembered. Is there anything elsewhere in the books or letters that sheds more light on this?

Her full speech from the book:

“And now at last it comes. You will give me the Ring freely! In place of the Dark Lord you will set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the earth. All shall love me and despair!”

She lifted up her hand and from the ring that she wore there issued a great light that illuminated her alone and left all else dark. She stood before Frodo seeming now tall beyond measurement, and beautiful beyond enduring, terrible and worshipful. Then she let her hand fall, and the light faded, and suddenly she laughed again, and lo! she was shrunken: a slender elf-woman, clad in simple white, whose gentle voice was soft and sad.

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

In the film, of course, it is similar but turned up to eleven, with lots of force lightning and floaty hair.

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    This scene really bothered me when I saw the movie. When I read the book, I got the sense that the temptation was a grave matter, but that Galadriel was always in possession of herself. In the movie she seemed almost out of control, and not simply relieved but even half-surprised when she says the words "I pass the test." I loved the movie, but I feel that scene was done all wrong. They shouldn't have "turned it up to eleven." – Mario Apr 20 '15 at 13:58
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    I liked that scene. And yes, I have read the books. :) – Almo Apr 21 '15 at 18:59
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    @Mario I dunno. The exclamation points all over the place seem to suggest shouting or excitement, and the words themselves are pretty dramatic. I don't think she sounds in control of herself at all, and I think that fact is emphasized by her sounding "sad" and her declaration of "pass[ing] the test." Rather, she sounds like she is about to let loose a massive pent up desire for the ring. And after she speaks, something dramatic and powerful happens with her ring glowing, so the movie's crazy glowing and wind and echo voice are only a tad over the top. So the movie portrayal isn't that bad. – jpmc26 Apr 22 '15 at 1:45
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    My eyes are playing tricks on me. "and suddenly she laughed again, and lol she was shrunken" – Paul Draper Apr 22 '15 at 5:56
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    @Mario, true. I felt a key difference was "I pass the test" vs "I have passed the test". I.e. she chooses to decline vs she happened to decline – Paul Draper Apr 22 '15 at 5:58
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She was really tempted.

This is something that Tolkien discusses in Letter 246:

In the 'Mirror of Galadriel', 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. But this the Great had well considered and had rejected, as is seen in Elrond's words at the Council. Galadriel's rejection of the temptation was founded upon previous thought and resolve.

It's also explicitly mentioned in Letter 210:

The disappearance of the temptation of Galadriel is significant.

And a footnote to Letter 297:

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.

And Letter 320:

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.

There are doubtless other examples elsewhere, but these should be sufficient to show that the author's intent is very much that she was tempted.

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    Good answer. It's interesting that JRRT says "especially Elrond" - this would seem to indicate that in his mind Elrond is significantly more powerful (capable of supplanting Sauron) than Galadriel. Yet, in the books, it seems Galadriel is the more powerful of the two. Perhaps there is more to Elrond than we ever see or hear of? – Omegacron Apr 20 '15 at 13:32
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    @Omegacron - this is covered by a previous question: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/28876/… – user8719 Apr 20 '15 at 14:35
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To add to Darth Melkor's excellent answer, it's clear that temptation is very much one of the themes of LotR. Pretty much all of the major characters are presented with it at various points, and either succeed - easily like Gimli or Sam, or with difficulty like Galadriel - or fail, like Saruman and Boromir.

And although generally one has to resist tying everything back to Tolkien's Catholicism, I think this is one of those cases where it is justified.

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    Letter 181: "I should say that within the mode of the story the 'catastrophe' exemplifies (an aspect of) the familiar words: 'Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.'" – user8719 Apr 20 '15 at 14:34
  • when is gimli offered the ring? – user3453281 Apr 21 '15 at 16:39
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    I didn't say they were all tempted by the Ring. Gimli was tempted by whatever Galadriel offered him, which he refused to reveal. – Daniel Roseman Apr 21 '15 at 17:21
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Aside from the other excellent evidence, I think the simple line, “I have passed the test” shows she was really tempted. If she was just making a point, there's no test to pass.

This question may arise if someone wonders why, if she was tempted then, she would not have been tempted as soon as Frodo came within her reach. I would answer that by saying that, while she was never tempted to take it by force, which would break Frodo's mind and betray the entire enterprise, the situation markedly changes when he truly, freely offers to give it to her. Then she does see it as feasible to claim the ring, and it is a test she passes when she refuses.

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The temptation and her refusal was genuine. In addition to excellent @Darth Melkor 's answer, consider the passage itself:

Then she let her hand fall, and the light faded, and suddenly she laughed again, and lo! she was shrunken: a slender elf-woman, clad in simple white, whose gentle voice was soft and sad.

I read that shrunken applying not only to her terrible and worshipful state, but also to her previous prideful self. She now looks rather more simple and approachable than when she was sitting with Celeborn:

On two chairs beneath the bole of the tree and canopied by a living bough there sat, side by side, Celeborn and Galadriel. [...] Very tall they were, and the Lady no less tall than the Lord; and they were grave and beautiful.

Also later

Tall and white and fair she walked beneath the trees.

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    You're reading shrunken to mean she was actually, physically smaller after the vision than she was before the vision? I would disagree with that. I read it that she is shrunken back to her previous self. – Dan Barron Apr 20 '15 at 15:59
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    @DanBarron - I think both are valid interpretations although I do agree that the contrast in the descriptive language before and after is striking. – user8719 Apr 20 '15 at 17:29
  • @DanBarron - I think it's figurative - after all, Galadriel probably was not really towering above the trees a moment ago, else somebody was bound to come to investigate :). Rather, that was her pride and power projecting to Frodo's mind. And when she turned her back on the ring, she also finally rejected the Oath of Feanor ("I will go West ...") and her prideful former self. What remains is a child wanting to get back to her parents. Well, at least that's how I understand that scene :). – Edheldil Apr 21 '15 at 14:52
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Genuine, but the evidence is in the Silmarillion, IIRC. Galadriel took part in the march across the deadly Grinding Ice with the other Noldor who were abandoned by Feanor, but did not return to Valinor.

She did this, at least in part, because she desired lordship, to rule a realm according to her own liking. Take note that she was co-ruler of Lorien, and part of senior leadership, if not a co-ruler of of Eregion (Hollin) at the time of the forging of the Three.

We also know that Elrond came by Vilya by way of Gil-Galad, and Gandalf was given Narya by the Lord of the Grey Havens, but I can't recall Galadriel inheriting Nenya from a ruler who previously held it. Maybe Celebrimbor had it, but I can't place the event, if it occurred. My take is that she was its keeper from the beginning, which would put in in the ruler class of elves. Even if I'm not recalling that correctly, of the secondary keepers, only Gandalf was not a ruler.

The offer of the One would have been a real temptation, the pinnacle of her reason for going to and staying in Middle-Earth, rather than returning to Valinor. By rejecting the Ring, she finally gives up on her ambitions, accepts that her power will diminish, and that she will return to Valinor as an elf, not an elf-lord. By extension, she humbles herself to the rule of the Valar.

In short, she gives up on the ambition that she held onto for all of the Third Age and most of the Second Age. She risked death in her pursuit of her ambition, and in more ways than one.

Abandoning one's life-ambition after such a long time, even by elven standards, is a choice of considerable impact, not least because the fulfillment of her ambition was not only in her grasp, but freely offered, as well.

Realizing you cannot fulfill an ambition is not as big a deal as giving it up, when you are on the verge of achieving it. That's about as serious a test as I can imagine.

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