One of the greatest of all the Eldar, described as second only in power to Fëanor himself, and said to surpass even Fëanor in wisdom. Not only among the mightiest of the Noldor, she was also radiantly beautiful, and her voice was deep and clear in tone. Galadriel was also the tallest of all Elven-women, with a height in modern terms approaching 6' 4" (or about 1.9 m). Most famous of all her attributes, though, was her shimmering golden hair, shot through with strands of silver.
As Galadriel grew, she began to compete with others of the Eldar in feats of both mind and strength. Because of her stature and her strength of will, her mother Eärwen gave her another name, Nerwen, meaning 'man-maiden'. Ultimately, though, she was not known by either of the names given by her parents. Instead, from her shimmering golden-silver hair, she acquired the name Alatáriel, meaning 'crowned with a radiant garland', which would one day be translated into 'Galadriel'. According to some, this name came about especially from her habit of tying her hair into a garland around her head during competitions with others.
A saying grew up among the Eldar that the gold and silver of Galadriel's hair had trapped the gold and silver light of the Two Trees, and according to legend this was how Fëanor first conceived the idea of somehow capturing that light himself. If this is true, then Galadriel's radiant garland was the ultimate inspiration for the making of the Silmarils. Fëanor, it is said, begged Galadriel for a tress of her hair, but she refused him1, and so enmity began to grow between the two greatest of all the Eldar.
When Melkor descended on Valinor and destroyed the Two Trees, Fëanor rebelled against the Valar and led a great part of the Noldor out of Aman and back to Middle-earth. Galadriel's actions and intentions at this time are a little unclear. Though she was an enemy of Fëanor, it seems that she was nonetheless persuaded to travel to Middle-earth with the others of her kin. Ultimately, her father Finarfin abandoned that march, but Galadriel and her brothers continued into the far north, where they crossed the Helcaraxë and came to the cold northern shores of the Hither Lands.
Galadriel's mother Eärwen was the niece of KingThingol of Doriath, and she soon travelled to her kinsman's halls of Menegroth. It was there, according to most versions of her story, that she first encountered another relation of the King: his grand-nephew Celeborn, who would become her spouse and companion through many long years in Middle-earth.
Though she went originally to Doriath as a guest, Galadriel seems to have settled there throughout much of the First Age. It was presumably there that her name was turned from the QuenyaAlatáriel to the more familiar Sindarin form Galadriel, and it was there, too, that she learned the making of lembas from Melian the Queen. At times she would leave Thingol's halls to visit her brother Finrod in his own realm at Nargothrond.
Though Galadriel was proved right that the Eldar could not defeat Morgoth unaided, she failed to foresee the coming of the Valar, and Morgoth's ultimate defeat in the War of Wrath. At this time, Galadriel was offered a pardon by the envoys of the Valar, with permission to return into the West. Filled with fierce pride, she refused, and thus exiled herself in Middle-earth - forever, as it seemed at the time2.
In the years following the War of Wrath, Galadriel remained in Lindon with Celeborn and other survivors of the destruction of Beleriand. As the centuries drew on, the power of Sauron began to re-emerge in Middle-earth, and at one point Celeborn travelled south to help the Silvan Elves of a distant forest land to create defences against the looming threat. Though Galadriel appears not to have accompanied him on that journey, the land he visited would become vitally important to her story: it was the land later known as Lórien.
At about this time the new land of Eregion was being settled far to the south of Lindon, and Galadriel travelled there. Eregion's ruler Celebrimbor was a grandson of Fëanor, and hence Galadriel's distant cousin, and the two became close in friendship. Galadriel was present in Eregion during the time of the making of the Rings of Power, and it was probably at this time that she received the green stone known as the Elessar.
Lórinand was the land that Galadriel and Celeborn would one day rule as Lórien, but they did not settle there yet. Over the next centuries, they travelled together throughout Middle-earth. At one time Galadriel seems to have passed through Gondor, and also explored as far north as the realm of the Wood-elves, before settling for a time in Rivendell.
In the year III 1980, the Dwarves of Khazad-dûm unleashed a horror upon themselves, and over the next year they fled from their ancient halls. The woods of Lórinand lay to the immediate east of Khazad-dûm, and many of its people also fled from the monster known as Durin's Bane, including Amroth the lord of that land. Lórinand was well placed to challenge Dol Guldur across the Anduin, and seeing that its Silvan inhabitants had been left without a leader, Galadriel and Celeborn travelled there to take up Amroth's rule. Galadriel changed the name of the land from the original Lórinand to Lórien, in part in memory of the garden of Lórien she had seen in Valinor in her youth, and in part because of the golden mallorn trees she brought with her to grow in the woods there.
The expulsion of Sauron proved a shallow victory. He had foreseen the White Council's attack, and his response was already prepared. When he abandoned Dol Guldur, he travelled back into his old land of Mordor, which the Nazgûl had made ready for him, and continued arming himself for the great War to come.
In that War itself, Galadriel played little direct part at first, though her counsel was sought by Elladan and Elrohir before the Council of Elrond. She was drawn into events some months later, when the Company of the Ring emerged from Moria and escaped into her land of Lórien. The Fellowship remained in Caras Galadhon for some weeks, and during that time Galadriel used the power of her Mirror to show Frodo and Sam a glimpse into the future. At that time, recognising Galadriel as one of the Keepers of the Three Rings, Frodo innocently offered her the One Ring. For a moment Galadriel was nearly overcome by temptation, and her final resistance of the lure of the Ring would prove more critical than even she imagined at the time.
Probably Galadriel's most crucial contribution to the War came as the Fellowship departed from her land. She gave each of the companions a gift, and several of these would later prove vitally important. Her gift to Frodo was the Star-glass, a crystal phial that contained the captured light of the Star of Eärendil. Without that phial, Frodo and Sam would have been lost in Shelob's Lair, and the Quest of Mount Doom would have been a failure. It seems that Galadriel foresaw these events and planned for them, presumably through her Mirror.
Galadriel's realm of Lórien found itself more directly involved in the War on 11 MarchIII 3019, twenty-four days after the departure of the Fellowship. Long beforehand, Sauron had sent his forces to re-occupy Dol Guldur, and now those forces made an attack across the Great River on Lórien itself. The power of Galadriel was too great to overcome, and the Galadhrim repulsed that first attack, as well as two others on 15 and 22 March, though the woods of Lórien were badly damaged. After Sauron's final defeat a few days later, Galadriel crossed the River herself with Celeborn and many of her people, and broke down the walls of Dol Guldur.
Where The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings make mention of matters in the early history of Arda, they're usually referring to events that were already part of the Silmarillion cycle, and so already documented and understood by their author. For instance, when it's revealed that Glamdring belonged to the King of Gondolin, or Aragorn tells the story of Beren and Lúthien, these are references to stories and poems that really did already exist.
Galadriel, though, doesn't belong to this pattern. The story of The Lord of the Rings establishes that she's a High Elf of some importance, and so should appear somewhere in the stories of the First Age, but in fact her character only emerged during the writing of The Lord of the Rings, and no mention of her existed in the earlier traditions.
Tolkien looked at various different ways to adapt Galadriel into the Silmarillion stories, and the account given in this entry blends the most common themes to produce an account that matches all the published material. It's important to bear in mind, though, that Tolkien never truly finalised Galadriel's role in the earlier history of Middle-earth, or the story of her relationship to Celeborn. He attempted a number of experimental variations on the theme of her life, and the following is a selection of these variations, to give a flavour of some of alternative lives Galadriel might have lived in a parallel literary universe.
Amroth was not merely the former King of Lórien, but actually the son of Galadriel and Celeborn. His parents took over the rule of their son's kingdom after he was lost.
Galadriel didn't merely travel to Eregion, but actually founded that land, and ruled it herself for many years. According to this version, Celebrimbor consorted with Annatar in secret, and made the Rings of Power without Galadriel's knowledge or permission.
It can't be said for certain that Tolkien intended to reject all of these options. In fact, had he survived to complete the Silmarillion himself, some of these elements may plausibly have found their way into Galadriel's 'true' history.
The status of this story of Fëanor's refusal by Galadriel is uncertain, but the very fact that it was even conceivable shows what an extraordinary honour she did Gimli when she granted him three of her hairs in Lórien.
Exactly what happened at the end of the First Age is open to some debate. While some sources suggest that Galadriel was granted a pardon which she refused, others indicate that she had no choice in the matter, and was simply exiled to Middle-earth. Whatever the conditions of her ban, there is no doubt that she considered herself permanently exiled at the time of the War of the Ring.
We know for sure that Galadriel sent out Gwaihir explicitly to look for Gandalf, but that fact raises a few curious points. For example, given that Gandalf was lost far underground, why would Galadriel imagine that an Eagle could hope to find him? Further, it seems odd that she failed to mention her aims to the Fellowship, and that she waited until after they had left her land - a period of a full month - before taking any action.
Perhaps the most plausible explanation is that Galadriel herself didn't imagine that Gandalf had survived until after he returned to life, which was just two days before the Fellowship set out. If she only discovered this later (most likely through her Mirror) that would explain matters to some extent.