The Lord of the Rings Reread

LotR re-read: Fellowship II.7, “The Mirror of Galadriel”

And now for chapter 7 of book II of The Fellowship of the Ring, “The Mirror of Galadriel.” Spoilers and comments follow after the cut.

What Happens

The Company comes to the city of Caras Galadhon and are received by Celeborn and Galadriel, who are dismayed to hear of Gandalf’s death in Moria. Galadriel makes Gimli welcome after Celeborn’s initially-harsh words and silently tests each of the Company.

The Company rests and mourns for some days, mostly by themselves. At the end of this period, Frodo and Sam are invited by Galadriel to look in her Mirror. Sam sees trees tossing in the wind, then Frodo asleep under a cliff and himself climbing a stair looking for something, then trees not tossing but being cut down in the Shire, along with a new mill being built and Bagshot Row being dug up. Sam exclaims that he must go home, but Galadriel tells him that he cannot go home alone, and he decides unhappily that he will “go home by the long road with Mr. Frodo, or not at all.”

Frodo ses a white-clad figure who reminds him of Gandalf, walking on a road; Bilbo in a rainy room; a sequence of three ships arriving and departing against sunrises and sunsets; and a fire-rimmed seeking Eye. Galadriel tells him that she also saw the Eye and not to fear, for she perceives the Dark Lord’s mind and he does not see her. Frodo sees her Ring (Nenya, the Ring of Adamant) and says that he will give her the One Ring if she asks. Galadriel admits that she has desired and imagined having it, but refuses (to Sam’s disappointment).


As a child, I was rather poorly educated in Western folklore, I think, to not have recognized Elven lands as Faerie, particularly Lothlórien. There are voices of unseen speakers all about them as they enter the city, time passes in odd ways that are hard to discern, the seasons seem mixed, and it’s fundamentally static, as Sam describes:

It’s wonderfully quiet here. Nothing seems to be going on, and nobody seems to want it to.

Now, I am not the gotta-keep-busy one in my family—a day spent sunbathing on the beach or curled up on the couch sounds just fine to me—but even still, that statement makes all of my muscles just twitch.

Two less abstract comments about the city:

Caras Galadhon is encircled by a fosse (moat) and a wall whose ends overlap and have a gate between. Maybe I just haven’t paid enough attention to descriptions of fortifications in other books, but the overlapping walls struck me as unusual.

Galadriel’s mirror, a silver basin, is echoed by the fountain near the tree where they dwell.

* * *

The introduction of Celeborn and Galadriel:

Celeborn says to Aragorn that it has been 38 years since he was there, which I don’t think actually helps the reader figure out Aragorn’s age, since he doesn’t say anything more.

Apparently Galadriel does not tell all she knows to Celeborn, since she knew that Gandalf set out from Rivendell but he wondered if there’d been a change of plans. But how does she know? She says she can’t see Gandalf unless he comes to Lothlórien, and the messages Celeborn refers to predate the Company’s departure. Psychic Ringbearer-to-Ringbearer message from Elrond that she neglected to pass on? If they can do that, why send messengers?

Once again we see the importance of language, since it’s Galadriel using the Dwarves’ own names that prompts Gimli’s change of heart. (Which in turn seems to prompt Legolas’s.)

Galadriel says that Celeborn “is accounted the wisest of the Elves of Middle-earth,” which surprised me since I don’t remember him doing anything of note, umm, ever. And this came right after she told him to think twice about being rude to Gimli! Am I being unfair to him?

Galadriel’s testing of the Company: having typed that phrase and spent five minutes staring at it, off and on as I addressed other bits of this post, I think I’m just going to leave it at, well, she tested them. That’s all I got. *shrugs* What about you all?

* * *

This chapter echoes two different episodes from Book I: Gildor, in the repeated steadfast refusal to give counsel, and Tom Bombadil, in the period of respite and the hosts’ strong roots to the land that Sam perceives. The structures of the two Books so far have similiarities but are not strict parallels.

* * *

The Mirror:

As a preliminary note, my e-book edition of the 50th Anniversary Edition has footnotes that link the mention of the evening star to the story of Eärendil in the Appendices, which is not something I’d had in any prior edition. It’d be the equivalent of hazing to think that if Tolkien wanted people to be able to figure what was going on so easily he’d have put the footnotes in his own darn self, huh? (Well, once all three volumes had been printed.)

Sam and Frodo’s visions: what’s important to Sam is Frodo and/versus the Shire. To Frodo, it’s Gandalf (and I think from our perspective as re-readers we can say it is Gandalf), Bilbo, and then the big picture: the history of the Númenóreans and the War of the Ring in the form of three ships, plus Sauron. (I specifically remember trying to figure the ships vision out as a kid and being unable to. But since two of the three ships are ones we haven’t seen yet (Aragorn’s arrival at the Pelennor Fields and the Ring-bearers’ departure), and I believe the third was only mentioned in passing at the Council, well, I think that wasn’t so unreasonable.)

What do you suppose would have happened if Frodo had touched the water?

Galadriel says, “I perceive the Dark Lord and know his mind, or all of his mind that concerns the Elves.” And somehow I don’t believe her—I don’t think she’s lying, that is, but I don’t feel like it fits my conception of Middle-earth and the story. On the other hand, I can’t think of how things might be different in the story if it were true, so maybe it doesn’t matter. But it feels wrong.

But the big question I have about this section is prompted by Michael Swanwick’s description of Frodo as

travel(ing) through Middle-earth like some kind of God-sent integrity test. The Wise, if they were truly so, upon seeing that he had come to visit, would shriek, “Oh, no! It’s that fucking hobbit! I’m not in!” and slam the door in his face.

(More discussion of his essay “A Changeling Returns” over at my LiveJournal.)

So: is Frodo deliberately testing Galadriel? The narrative pulls back from his thoughts at this point, and I don’t think we ever get his POV on the question again. I lean against it, because I don’t think he sees himself as someone who could or should do so, but I’m not sure.

Finally, a silly thing. We have a little rhyme we sing to SteelyKid (our almost-nine-months daughter), modifying the words as appropriate, and one particularly trying day early in her life I found myself thinking of the line “All shall love (her) and despair”—which, you guessed it, fits the rhyme. So now my default association with that line is “colicky baby” rather than “beautiful and terrible.” Chalk it up as number 31,845 in the list of “unexpected things about parenthood.”

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