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.”
“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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