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Tolkien’s Galadriel and the law of the choice

The law of the choice affects not only the person making the choice but cascades to countless others, including those apparently innocent of the choice.

Detail from "Lothlorien" (Galadriel and her mirror) by Tessa Boronski. (Image: Wikipedia)

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings, Galadriel is a high elven queen and one of the most powerful beings in Middle-earth. In a most memorable scene in the book and film, Frodo Baggins offers her the great Ring of power that the Dark Lord so desires: “I will give you the One Ring, if you ask for it. It is too great a matter for me.”

Galadriel’s reply:

“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…All shall love me and despair!”…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.”

What many readers and viewers of The Lord of The Rings may not know is that Galadriel is the last remaining elf of prominence; she left Middle-earth thousands of years earlier to abide with angelic beings in the Blessed Realm where she lived in bliss for an age. But when her uncle Fëanor, the most gifted of all the elves pursued the stolen Silmarils, the most beautiful things in the world and Fëanor’s masterwork, to Middle-earth, Galadriel accompanied that vengeful host and came under the Doom to which those elves were sentenced. This because they cursed and rebelled against their angelic benefactors, and for the violence they committed against their own kindred in their obsession with recovering the gems.

As recorded in Tolkien’s The Silmarillion:

…but Galadriel, the only woman of the Noldor to stand that day tall and valiant among the contending princes was eager to be gone. No oaths she swore, but the words of Fëanor concerning Middle-earth had kindled in her heart, for she yearned to see the wide unguarded lands and to rule there a realm at her own will.

In other words, Galadriel did not pass that long-ago test and was one of the host that fought their way to Middle-earth and then contended with Melkor (Tolkien’s Lucifer) for hundreds of years, ending in ruin for those pursuing elves and all in Middle-earth associated with them. Refusing the One Ring offered to her by Frodo was a kind of redemption for Galadriel, who had not been able to refuse the lure of the Silmarils and a “realm at her own will.”

Galadriel’s story is part and parcel of a prominent theme in Tolkien’s mythological world—what might be called the law of the choice, not so much expressed as depicted in events, starting with creation. Early in The Silmarillion, we find angelic beings assisting their Creator with the Divine music that brings the physical universe into being. Here, radical freedom is introduced. The Creator’s angelic beings aren’t passive observers but are invited to active participation in the creation event. When Melkor adds discordant notes to the creation music, the Creator does not eliminate those rebellious notes; rather, allowing them to remain and then introducing melodies that bring new and unexpected beauty out of those discordant notes. Likewise, elves and mortals participate in the ongoing creation of their lands, and things of beauty such as the Silmarils.

The law of the choice affects not only the person making the choice but cascades to countless others, including those apparently innocent of the choice. In our own world, how disordered choices produced wars, slavery, Auschwitz. Or when a maimed and wheelchair-bound woman who is heroically living what Saint John Paul II called “The law of the gift” is still affected by the choice made by the woman who’d intended her abortion, the choice of the doctor who performed the abortion, the choice of the man who rescued her from a dumpster, brought her home and, with his wife, raised her as their own daughter.

The law of the choice, like the law of the gift, is a mystery that cannot be intellectually deciphered. Only lifelong contemplation of Christ on the cross suffices.

In the end and after centuries of strife, that bold and ambitious elven maid went into the West as the Galadriel she was created to be. Tolkien seems to be saying that freedom is necessary for sharing in the Divine Life or rejecting that Life. The same freedom exists still; the same choice is before each of us.


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About Thomas M. Doran 71 Articles
Thomas M. Doran is the author of the Tolkien-inspired Toward the Gleam (Ignatius Press, 2011), The Lucifer Ego, and Kataklusmos (2020). He has worked on hundreds of environmental and infrastructure projects, was president of Tetra Tech/MPS, was an adjunct professor of engineering at Lawrence Technological University, and is a member of the College of Fellows of The Engineering Society of Detroit.

9 Comments

  1. Deification of Galadriel wasn’t Tolkien’s ‘choice’, rather beginning with Gandalf, Aragorn elucidating the choice many, perhaps all of us confront. Doran draws us to the most significant [a favorite] text, “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. All shall love me and despair!”
    There’s immense meaning here in Tolkien. Beauty, exhilarating, painfully seductive, devouring the soul. He must have had Our Lady in mind in creating Galadriel. Beautiful, endearing, epitome of pure goodness. All of us as Doran’s thesis tells us face the choice made by Eve, to be God, or to be like God. Lucifer chose to be almighty rather than serve in the likeness of God.
    Whether genius or intellectual pauper, the choice is exactly the same when choosing obedience to Christ or wantonness. The ring represents divine like power, that which is beyond our humanness to accommodate inevitably resulting in absolute corruption as Lord Acton saw. God alone who is infinitely good is suited to infinite power.

  2. It’s good to read an article putting into proper perspective the events of the LOTR. The Silmarillion is must reading to do this.

  3. Fr. Morello’s remarks concerning Thomas Doran’s article sum things up rather well, I think. Here are a few supporting quotes from Prof. Tolkien’s “Letters” (edited by Humphrey Carpenter):

    “There cannot be any ‘story’ without a fall — all stories are ultimately about the fall — at least not for human minds as we know them and have them.” (#131 To Milton Waldman)

    “The woman is another fallen human-being with a soul in peril. But combined and harmonized with religion (as long ago it was, producing much of that beautiful devotion to Our Lady that has been God’s way of refining so much our gross manly natures and emotions, and also of warming and colouring our hard, bitter religion) it can be very noble.” (#43 From a letter to Michael Tolkien 6–8 March 1941)

    Prof. Tom Shippey, who also referenced Lord Acton’s statement regarding absolute power corrupting absolutely, describes in his writing the nature of a hobbit — who believes in “luck” and “fate” — and the nature of an elf, or the wizard Gandalf — who see the hand of God in human affairs. The mission of the Christian, therefore, is to present to others the question concerning the presence of God among us, and how this is revealed. That is basically what Gandalf did (more so in the novel). He revealed the power God at Theoden’s Golden Hall (changed greatly in the movies), and at the Gate of Minis Tirith (again, greatly altered from the origin story in the novel), as well as at a number of other passages in his story.

    In the closing lines of Tolkien’s THE HOBBIT, we have this dialogue:

    “‘Then the prophecies of the old songs have turned out to be true, after a fashion!’ said Bilbo.”

    “‘Of course!’ said Gandalf. ‘And why should not they prove true? Surely you don’t disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!'”

    “‘Thank goodness!’ said Bilbo laughing, and handed him the tobacco-jar.”

  4. Great piece. However, minor correction, paragraph 3: Galadriel was born in the Blessed Realm. She did not depart from Middle-Earth to dwell there.
    Sorry, I know it’s inconsequential to the point being made, but I’m a Tolkien nerd.

  5. The maturing of Tolkein’s mythology occurred in weekly meetings with the word-smith C.S. Lewis at the Eagle and Child pub in St Giles, Oxford, UK opposite The Lamb and Flag pub when attended in the 1950’s by my father, Colin Clark, then directing the Oxford University Institute of Agricultural Economics and as a convert attending daily catholic Mass at Blackfriars Dominican Order chapel adjacent across Pusey Lane to The Eagle and Child that Tolkein may too have attended.
    Position and momentum for a sub-atomic particle found in 2012 as predicted in 1964 to be inseparable and qualitatively equal if so kept in uncertainty of belief by the convert from agnosticism to the church of England, C.S. Lewis, and the converts to catholicism, Tolkein and my father, may exercise an absolute power of authorisation preventing false purporting presuming the catholic Church is an identity when it is a role. The Ring that binds them all is the deadliest sin of pride in this false purporting presuming that at least C.S. Lewis and my father rejected.
    Pope Francis describes as “catastrophe” the catholic church role masquerading as identity in as in “Of Human Life”, Humanae Vitae, 1968 not accepting qualitative equality of consecrated celibacy as marriage in God as a vow to man and marriage of a man and a woman as a vow to God. At issue for those in catholic roles is the Incarnation, Death and Resurrection of Christ whether in a role or an identity evident in Christ’s human limitation of repeatedly representing belief as faith or thinking when it is the keeping in uncertainty of their inseparability and qualitative equality. Opposition of those acting in the church role has continued to Pope Francis from his homily for the Feast of St Joseph on 19 March 2013, a week after his election, including with inseparable as in HV, 12 qualitative equality of role and identity by not asserting custody of Jesus was entrusted to St Joseph. With Frodo the great majority of marriages cannot let go of this Ring of purported presumed non-economic status Power of “higher vocation” and masquerade the ill effects as caused by culture when caused by grooming by family persons in invalid marriages with hidden, incest connected non-economic status inducements. This opposition is of the One Ring that hides your role masquerading it as identity to bind them all. Oliver Clark, Job’s Trust Disability Trust

  6. Umm. Nice discussion about Galadriel. But your insinuation that abortions result in survivable babies being thrown into dumpsters is utter hogwash. A complete distortion of reality. And if your post was really just a platform for an anti-abortion rant, please leave Galadriel out of it.

    • So just what is it you dispute? That living babies are aborted? That some babies survive attempts to kill them in abortion? That some people are depraved to throw living human children into the trash? All of those things are multiply documented occurrences, never mind the particular person that the author addresses in the article.

  7. Well, Oliver, I think that your dichotomy of identity and role is right on. In the same sense, Archbishop Vigano has been quoted in these pages as explaining that the bureaucracy of the Vatican has elevated the institution at the cost of promoting the Christian tradition. This isn’t just a Catholic problem. I equate, (if I understand you correctly), “identity” with protecting the interests of the institutional Church; and “role” with the responsibility of advancing the essential messaged of the Gospel.

    My wife and I just viewed the movie “Belfast.” It is a great drama concerning an Irish family trapped in the midst of a Christian vs. Christian conflict. Here is a perfect example of the fruit of promoting identity with a religion over the genuine tradition of the Church. I highly recommend that film. As my wife noted, it parallels the situation that is unfolding in Portland, Oregon, and elsewhere in this nation.

    I found your anecdote concerning your father’s connection to Tolkien’s and C.S. Lewis’ attendance at the Eagle and Child pub to be very interesting.

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