The Encyclopedia of Arda - an interactive guide to the world of J.R.R. Tolkien
Dates
Born in Valinor during the Years of the Trees, returned to Middle-earth with the Noldor I 1, departed over the sea 29 September III 3021
Race
Division
Other Names
Titles
Meaning
'Maiden Crowned by a Radiant Garland' (referring to her hair)
Pronunciation
gala'driel

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  • Updated 15 June 2008
  • This entry is complete

Galadriel

Lady of Lórien

Encyclopedia of Arda Timeline
Years of the Trees First Age Second Age Third Age Fourth Age and Beyond
"Hard as di'monds, soft as moonlight. Warm as sunlight, cold as frost in the stars. Proud and far-off as a snow-mountain, and as merry as any lass I ever saw with daisies in her hair in springtime."
From Sam Gamgee's description of Galadriel
The Two Towers IV 5,
The Window on the West

Rulers of Lórien

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.

Early Life in the West

Galadriel was the youngest of the five children of Finarfin and Eärwen, and so was born into the noblest house of the Noldor in Aman during the blissful Years of the Trees. At her birth, her father Finarfin gave her the name Artanis, 'noble woman'.

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 in Beleriand

Galadriel's mother Eärwen was the niece of King Thingol 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 Quenya Alatáriel 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.

Galadriel played little direct part in the great wars of the First Age. She judged that the defeat of Morgoth was beyond the power of the Eldar, and with Celeborn she travelled across the Blue Mountains, seeking to build up resistance against the Dark Lord among the peoples beyond Beleriand.

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.

The Second Age

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.

In the eighth century of the Second Age, Aldarion of Númenor landed in Lindon and became an ally of King Gil-galad. Aldarion gave Gil-galad a gift: seeds of the malinornë tree from the Undying Lands. Those trees would not grow in Lindon, but Gil-galad gave some of the seeds to Galadriel.

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.

When the Rings of Power were revealed as a plot by Sauron, it was Galadriel who counselled Celebrimbor that the Three Rings were now in danger, and proposed sending them far from Eregion. He agreed, and two were sent north into Gil-galad's keeping. The third, Nenya the White Ring, he gave directly to Galadriel. She took it through the Dwarf-city of Khazad-dûm to safety beyond the Misty Mountains in a land then known as Lórinand.

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.

The Rule of Lórien

It seems that Galadriel remained at Rivendell at least into the first few centuries of the Third Age. It was in the second century of that Age - the year III 109 to be precise - that her daughter Celebrían wed Elrond the master of that House. After that point, we hear nothing definitive of Galadriel or Celeborn for nearly two thousand years.

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.

In Amroth's time, the people of Lórien had taken to building telain, wooden platforms among the tree-tops. Galadriel and Celeborn ruled their kingdom from a city of these telain, Caras Galadhon in the easterly part of Lórien known as the Naith. As the centuries passed, Galadriel's association with the Silvan Elves of Lórien grew, to the extent that she was sometimes even known as Galadhriel, reflecting Galadhrim, the Elvish name for her people.

Bearing Nenya, the Ring of Adamant, Galadriel placed Lórien under her power, to the extent that time flowed more slowly there than in the lands outside. To the Men who lived in the lands about, the 'Sorceress of the Golden Wood' became a figure of awe and fear. Nonetheless, Galadriel did what she could to aid the people of Middle-earth. She was among those who founded the White Council, and she gave magical help to Eorl as he rode past her land to Gondor's aid in III 2510.

Conflict With Sauron

Even before the Necromancer was recognised as Sauron returned, Galadriel had allied herself with those who opposed him. In III 2463, she was instrumental in the formation of the White Council, a circle of Elves and Wizards that met in opposition to the darkness of Dol Guldur. The Council's strength was undermined by Saruman's secret rebellion, but in III 2941 they succeeded in ousting Sauron from Dol Guldur and freeing Mirkwood from his influence for a time.

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.

Galadriel in the War of the Ring

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.

After the departure of the Fellowship, Galadriel began to work to aid the success of the Quest. Though she had been told of Gandalf's fall in Moria, she nonetheless called on Gwaihir the Windlord to seek him out3. Thus Gandalf, returned from death, was rescued from the peak of Celebdil. He was carried back to Lórien, where Galadriel brought him back to health. When he set out once again, she sent messages with him, including a reminder to Aragorn of the prophecies about the Paths of the Dead. Meanwhile, she sent a further message to Rivendell, summoning Aragorn's fellow Rangers to his aid, and so it was through Galadriel that the Grey Company rejoined their Chieftain. She may also have used her powers to aid the Ring-bearer directly: trapped in Shelob's Lair, Sam Gamgee received a sudden bright vision of Galadriel, reminding him of her Phial and so saving his life.

Galadriel's realm of Lórien found itself more directly involved in the War on 11 March III 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.

After the War of the Ring, Galadriel travelled south to Minas Tirith with Celeborn, where she was a guest at the wedding of Aragorn and her granddaughter Arwen. She returned to Lórien for a short time, but her actions during the War, and particularly her rejection of the Ring, led to a lifting of her exile from the West. In III 3021, she travelled north and west to the Grey Havens. There, she took ship across the Great Sea with the other Keepers of the Three Rings, at last returning to the land of her birth in the Uttermost West.


Theme and Variations

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.

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.

Notes

1

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.

2

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.

3

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.

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