(Updated on 27/6/15)
Lothlorien, as is made clear in the opening pages of this chapter, is a Kingdom in the trees. Elves in The Hobbit lived in a forest, but choose to dwell underground. These guys have taken to the other extreme. The Elven connection with nature is emphasised big time, the denizens being in perfect harmony with their surroundings. Lorien is peaceful, magical, like Rivendell but different, very much a direct follow-on from the closing pages of “Lothlorien”, which was all just preamble to this glimpse of the actual city itself.
We are soon introduced to its rulers, Celeborn and Galadriel, whose individual welcomes of the Fellowship run the gambit from foreboding (“But the end is near, for good or ill“) to hopeful (“It is long indeed since we saw one of Durin’s folk in Caras Galadhon“). It’s very much like the kind of faerie court from old stories, Oberon and Titania from A Midsummers Night Dream. Phantom voices, the abnormal passing of time, and an odd (dare I say, “queer”) constant sense of sameness mark this place out, a world within a world. Sam, in his own brilliant way, sums it up nicely: “It’s wonderfully quiet here. Nothing seems to be going on, and nobody seems to want it to.”
Here are the King and Queen of a mystical Kingdom, the very heart of magical energy in Middle-Earth. They hold court in a wooden keep built around a tree after all, a really spectacular image: “At a great
height above the ground he came to a wide talan, like the deck of a great ship“. It really is something out of another world, a sight the equal of the Dwarrowdelf in Moria, but also very different in contrast. In fact, the contrast between the manufactured world of the Dwarfs and the organic world of the Elves will never be more pronounced than at this moment.
The Elves are shocked and stunned by news of Gandalf’s death, crying “aloud in grief and amazement“, a measure of his standing in Middle-Earth. The Dwarven hate swiftly comes back as the news hits, standing against an earlier welcome Celeborn gave to Gimli: he even gives it to Gandalf, saying “And if it were possible, one would say that at the last Gandalf fell from wisdom into folly, going needlessly into the net of Moria“. Galadriel steps in though, showing herself as the true master of Lorien in a way, and we get the first hints of her magical powers, fixing Gimli with a stare and seemingly striking him dumb. Like a referee, Galadriel makes her presence felt and then moves on, but not before moving something inside Gimli, not least through her use of dwarven words: “…it seemed to him that he looked suddenly into the heart of an enemy and saw there love and understanding. Wonder came into his face, and then he smiled in answer.”
It is in these moments that the Elven life and culture is openly described for the first time as “the long defeat”, a gradual decline that cannot be stopped “through ages of the world”. The typical Elf non-advice is then offered, little more than telling the Fellowship, that they must “hold true” or fail. Real helpful, though Lorien will be offering more tangible assistance later. The more insidious angle is the “if” that accompanies that statement, as if Galadriel is baiting one of the Fellowship to reveal treacherous leanings.
Galadriel fixes them all with the same stare she first gave Gimli, and later paragraphs indicates that she speaks with them each telepathically. She is said to offer them something that “they greatly desire” as a test of their commitment to the quest. One wonders what they were offered. Frodo, presumably, is offered a simple life back home, Sam a garden of his own. Merry and Pippin, who knows? Gimli might have been offered wealth, Legolas, peace. Aragorn, presumably, is offered Arwen, as much as that gift is for her grandmother to give.
But they are all just sort of a sideshow in this moment, it’s Boromir that is the focus here. Presumably, from what happens later, he is offered the Ring and the power to save Gondor single-handed. His gradual fall has been subtle so far, but is far more pronounced in these moments as he breaks down a little in the aftermath, protesting too much and complaining bitterly about the experience (brilliantly demonstrated in the movie by Sean Bean). He’s cracking big time and Galadriel’s intervention doesn’t seem to help. In fact the opposite: by offering him the Ring, she seems to embiggen the temptation for Boromir, and only upsets his mental wellbeing more than it already is. His “It need not be said that I refused to listen” in the aftermath is a very obvious mask, a true case of protesting too much. Indeed, Galadriel’s whole purpose seems to have a negative effect, with several members of the company left disturbed and unhappy, and unwilling to recount fully what they heard.
Lothlorien mourns Gandalf in song, a weeping lament that fills the air. It is good to remind the reader that Gandalf was someone very important and well known, a person whose death is very meaningful. We have not seen much regret from the party since his fall, for obvious reasons, but it comes home here. Frodo puts his own grief into song, a simple poem that makes its point without hanging around for too long. Frodo displays a longing for the simple aspects of Gandalf’s personality, but the time has seemingly passed.
Frodo and Sam have a crucial conversation at this point, as the Fellowship gets some RnR in Lorien. Sam expands on his changed view point on life. Having seen the Elves he’s happy but remains homesick for the Shire. However, he is now, perhaps more so since the death of Gandalf, more seriously committed to seeing the quest through and recognises that the only way that he is going to get home is by going forward and completing the mission. We might remember Pippin’s song from way back in “Three Is Company”.
“Home is behind the world ahead
and there are many paths to tread…”
I love this conversation, because it shows Sam growing as a character, gaining maturity and perspective in the light of recent events. He’s becoming the hero of the story, the down to earth guy, the everyman, who ends up with the world on his shoulders, but is committed to the task. And, of course, it’s here that the coming break with the Fellowship gets even more obvious. Frodo and Sam will have to stand on their own if they ever want to see home again.
After that, we come quickly to the crux of this particular chapter, the titular mirror. Galadriel, being an Elven Queen, is as mysterious as possible in this section, offering little answers, explanations or actual advice. Her vague definition of “magic”, mentioning that such a word could also be applied to the workings of the enemy, is interesting and gives us a sense of how natural all of the weird stuff is to the Elves. They don’t consider the mirror, or the telepathy, “magic” anymore then breathing, it would seem, and they find it strange that Sam does. What’s that old chestnut? “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”?
We are in truly alien territory as the two hobbits step up for their respective visions. I question the point of this sequence really, since it doesn’t appear to do much. Sam sees glimpses of the future, both his and that of the Shire. But they’re both muddy and doubtful, and mean nothing with no context. Furthermore, Galadriel says they may not even be true. So, what’s the point, other than to mess with Sam’s head, other to make him even more homesick? I suppose Sam’s vision is a tie-in to his earlier conversation with Frodo, in that he is given a brief glimpse of that which he wants in danger, but resolves to go the opposite direction anyway. But the point had been made openly there, and for Sam to receive this moment of temptation afterwards feels a bit clunky for the narrative. Would it not have been better for Sam to have his vision, and then to detail to Frodo his newly-found willingness to see the whole quest through?
Frodo’s vision is just as nonsensical, lacking context. Sure, we’ll get it all by the end, but right now it’s just glimpses of seemingly random things that mean nothing to the reader. I suppose this sort of prophecy scene is typical of fantasy, but I have never especially liked it too much. It’s supposed to be foreshadowing, but I’ve always found it clumsy and self-defeating: the visions are too random to be anything other than somewhat memorable, and only make complete sense hundreds of pages later.
It’s Frodo’s vision of the Eye, the symbol of Sauron, and the Ring actually dragging him towards the water, which marks this scene out, demonstrating the magic of Galadriel and the will of the Ring, as well as granting us a memorable glimpse at the story’s central antagonist.
The rest is more of the morose Elven stuff. Galadriel is revealed as a keeper of one of the three rings, though it is not made very clear just what power it has in the text. We can infer though, that the power of this ring is what’s keeping Lothlorien in the way that it is, a bastion of Elven power. The destruction of the One will probably result in the diminishing of whatever power it has, and with it, the end of “the long defeat” with the final departure of the Elvish race over the sea, though it is a sacrifice gladly made in opposition to Suaron.
In this regard, Galadriel faces her own test, in facing the temptation of the Ring, freely offered by an overwhelmed Frodo. You have to have read The Silmarillion to fully appreciate this moment, but it is rather crucial for the Galadriel character, a woman who has made unwise choices before. The Ring is temptation incarnate, the worst kind, the kind that starts off with good intentions and turns into pure evil, the road to hell: the road that the reader must know that Boromir is already heading down. Galadriel and Gandalf won’t touch the thing for fear of what it might do to them. So, it is left to the hobbit. At the end, this is the point that “The Mirror Of Galadriel” is trying desperately to make, that the Ring will destroy the Elves either way – by its destruction or by its use. The Lady of Lorien passes the test, but knows that it is a pyrrhic victory in many ways: “I will diminish, and go into the West and remain Galadriel.” The last lines of the chapter are a dismissal of the events there from Galadriel herself, satisfied that she has rejected the shadow and unwilling to talk further about the mirror and the visions, which is a bit frustrating for a reader, naturally.
She’s an interesting one for sure, though her notability is rather out of proportion to her impact on the tale. Galadriel is cloaked in mystery, and in a weird way the reader might not even trust her very much. Her vagueness is very much in keeping with her race, but it’s something else too, maybe the obvious connection with strange “magic” and the rather creepy glimpse at what a One Ring-bearing Galadriel could be like at the conclusion of the chapter: “…all shall love me and despair!” It’s an opinion I’ve seen expressed elsewhere at times, so I know I’m not alone: even among the Elves, there is something about Galadriel that is just a little off. She is happy to mentally torment members of the party with visions of things they greatly desire, and is almost amused when Frodo innocently flings the same test back at her towards the conclusion, her mind long since made up despite a brief dalliance with the idea of taking up the Ring. She does reject the Ring, standing in marked contrast with Boromir later in the story, the wise and unwise. Not that we will get much time to examine her, as a character, further.
This chapter is a short one, but a bit more enjoyable than “Lothlorien”. While the events of this chapter don’t have all that much bearing on the rest of the story, it at least gives us an awesome glimpse at a different part of Elven life in Middle-Earth, and gives us a few pages to enjoy with, perhaps, the most powerful Elf still standing. The mirror scene, while largely superfluous, is still written well, and this is also the chapter from which Boromir’s fall becomes a large part of the story. Sam gets some nice bits of dialogue too, his first of real note in a few chapters. In a larger sense, Tolkien is starting to lay the groundwork for “The Breaking Of The Fellowship” in this chapter, as Frodo and Sam take their first tentative steps towards the fateful decision to head for Mordor alone.
As with “Lothlorien”, you can’t get away from the feeling that this chapter, and later “Farewell To Lorien”, might not have been a bit better if they had been compacted into two, or even one, chapters, with some tighter editing to make them a bit more seamless. There is still much to enjoy here, but by the time the reader gets to the end of this chapter, the narrative slowness that plagued parts of Book One is rearing its ugly head once more. The Lorien chapters are like a slightly elongated, slightly more interesting “In The House Of Tom Bombadil”. And the sojourn in Lorien is not over yet.
For more Chapter by Chapter reviews of The Lord of the Rings, check out the index here.