The Fellowship of the Ring
Book II, Chapter 7
Summary — The Mirror of Galadriel
That night, the Company is taken to Caras Galadhon, the main city of Lórien. There, they are brought before Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel, the rulers of Lórien. The great hall of the Lord and Lady is built on a platform in the largest tree in the forest. The Lord and Lady are tall, beautiful, and timeless, seeming neither old nor young. Aragorn tells them of the loss of Gandalf in Moria. It is a grave blow, as Galadriel knew Gandalf well. Celeborn initially blames the Dwarves for waking the Balrog, and he regrets having let Gimli into Lórien. Galadriel, however, quickly tells Celeborn that it is not Gimli’s fault. She goes on to say that she knows the purpose of their quest and the burden that Frodo bears. As the Company stands before her, she looks upon each of its members for a time, searching his heart. Afterward, they all feel as though Galadriel has read their minds and offered them the thing they wanted most—but could get only if they turned aside from the quest and returned home. But some among the Fellowship, especially Boromir, are reluctant to say what it was that Galadriel offered them.
The Company rests in Lórien, where the days pass almost without notice. The entire forest of Lórien seems outside of time. Legolas and Gimli spend much time together, and they become fast friends. They all grieve for Gandalf, and Frodo writes a song in the wizard’s memory. As the day approaches when the Fellowship must leave, Galadriel takes Frodo and Sam to a basin in the middle of an enclosed garden. She calls the basin her mirror. Looking into it, one can see visions of far-off places and times, but interpreting these visions is dangerous. Galadriel fills the basin with water from the nearby stream. When Sam looks in the mirror, he sees parts of Hobbiton being torn up and what looks to be a factory spewing dark smoke. For a moment, he wishes to run back home, but then he masters himself. Frodo sees many things—a bent, old figure clad in white; ships on the sea; a white fortress—before a final vision of a great, dark eye rimmed in fire. Frodo realizes the eye is searching for him.
Afterward, Galadriel comforts Frodo, telling him she can perceive the mind of Sauron and can resist his efforts to perceive hers. As she speaks, Frodo notices a ring on her finger. Galadriel tells him it is one of the three Elvish Rings of Power; Sauron does not yet know that she is its keeper. She tells Frodo that, should he fail, Sauron will overpower her. Nonetheless, even if Frodo succeeds, the power of the Elves will fade. Either way leads to sadness, but Galadriel greatly prefers the latter. Frodo, overwhelmed by her wisdom, beauty, and power, offers her the Ring to keep. Galadriel refuses, knowing that the Ring would corrupt her as well, leading her simply to replace Sauron herself.
Lothlórien is, in Aragorn’s words, “the heart of Elvendom on earth,” and Tolkien spares no superlative in describing it. All in the forest is light, pure, fair, clear, timeless, soothing—generally perfect. The Elves have magical gifts aplenty: they bestow upon the Fellowship long-lasting food and enchanted, chameleonic cloaks with seemingly endless versatility. However, as much as Tolkien evokes a sense of perfection in Lórien, he also kindles an elegiac sense of loss. As Frodo notes, “[i]n Rivendell there was memory of ancient things; in Lórien the ancient things still lived on in the waking world.” Therefore, the loss and the fading that the Elves repeatedly describe will be felt most acutely here in the heart of their realm. Here is the Eden of Middle-earth, the paradise that will inevitably be lost whether or not Frodo succeeds.
Even the near-celestial Elves are not above getting bogged down in a mutually distrustful relationship with their former neighbors, the Dwarves. In a sense, the opposition between these two races offers two different conceptions of art and craft. The Dwarves dig deep into the earth and work in long-lasting stone and metal. The Elves of Lórien live above the ground in trees, and their art tends to be more organic. Of course, there are Elven-smiths like those who made the Rings of Power; on the whole, however, the Elves are associated with moving water and blooming plants—quicker, more ephemeral aspects of nature that fade, change, or disappear. This transience embodies the paradox of the Elves: they are immortal, but their creations are fragile and dependent on their magic. Without the power of Galadriel’s ring, Lothlórien will inevitably fade.
However, the forest will continue to exist in the memories of those who have seen it. For the Elves, memory is a central and powerful force. As Gimli tells Legolas, he has heard that memory is especially vivid for Elves, more like waking life than a dream state. Of course, one would need a good memory to store an eternity’s worth of recollections, and in this sense, the Elves’ ability to remember and their instinct for elegy and nostalgia link them closely with Tolkien himself. All the free races of Tolkien’s universe—Men, Hobbits, Dwarves, and Elves—value songs and stories, but the Elves seem to place the highest regard in such words and records.
The mirror of Galadriel is a powerful image of prophecy—and the limitations of prophecy—that foreshadows the appearance of Sauron’s palantír in The Two Towers, the next volume of The Lord of the Rings. Galadriel’s water-filled basin can provide images of things to come: by the end of Tolkien’s saga, we will recall the ship glimpsed in the water and realize it has foretold the ship that bears the Elves away to the West. Sam’s glimpse of a disfigured Hobbiton foreshadows the trouble that the Shire ultimately faces when the Fellowship returns there after their adventures are over. But while Galadriel’s mirror is undoubtedly powerful and accurate, it is also of limited usefulness. Galadriel herself warns that it is dangerous to try to interpret what one sees in the mirror—yet without an interpretation of what is seen, evaluation and action are not possible. Like the Ring that allows Frodo to see the Riders but not to fight them, the mirror allows seers to glimpse the future but does not empower them to do anything about it. We see again that magic implements may be wondrous, but that ultimately active courage and determination may count for more.
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