Lady Galadriel: Mother in the Works of J.R.R. Tolkien

Critics often criticize Tolkien for the lack of women in his novels.

While, admittedly, there are not very many prominent women in his works, Tolkien does create his women in powerful and influential roles.

The Lady Galadriel exemplifies the Tolkien woman in many different ways; even her name is meant to invoke a specific image for those who understand the language, “Galadriel, which means ‘Maiden crowned with a radiant garland’ (Flieger Splintered 82).”

It is to Galadriel, not her husband, Lord Celeborn, or another male elf of prominence, that one of the three elvish rings is entrusted and she is even given the opportunity to yield the One Ring; however, unlike Sauron, Saruman, Boromir and many other men that come before her, she is able to resist the temptation of using the ring.

The most vital role that Galadriel plays in The Lord of the Rings is one of Jung’s archetypes, that of great mother.  “She is a striking representative of the anima, a figure which, Jung says, is often ‘fairy like’ or ‘Elfin,’ and Galadriel is, indeed, an elf” (Grant 94).  Throughout the novels, Galadriel fulfills the archetypal role of mother by caring for the fellowship in the womb of Lothlórien, “giving birth” to the saviors of Middle-Earth and fulfilling the role of numerous forms of mother.

After the trials and grief of their journey through Moria, the fellowship finds themselves in the womb-like home of Lady Galadriel, Lothlórien. 

The place into which the fellowship enters is a beautiful and safe location in that it is untouched by the evils in the outside world and quickly destroys any evil that tries to enter it.  The correlation between Lothlórien and the womb begins early in their time in the forest.

The significance of the womb to a developing child is safety and protection from the outside world.

Once Legolas and Frodo spoke with Haldir in the talans on the outskirts of Lothlórien, they have the protection of the elves.  The orcs that had been pursuing them would have caught up with and attacked them if it had not been for the help of Haldir and his brothers, misleading the orcs.  Then the troop of elves, sent by Galadriel, was able to pursue and destroy the orcs before they could leave the forest.  In this way, Galadriel is using her environment to care for the fellowship, much as a mother’s womb is used in the protection of her children.

Within the womb itself, the mother’s body forms the placenta, which is for the protection as well as the nutrition of the child, filtering everything that comes to the child, creating a “barrier” for the child (Vaughan 63).  The fellowship enters the realm of Galadriel blindfolded, entering into a place of darkness and literally enters into a walled community.  This darkness is comforting and safe, however.

The company passes through the outer walls of Lothlórien and ascends through the city to speak with Galadriel and her husband about the events of their quest so far.  Once the necessary conversations have taken place upon their arrival in the forest of Lothlórien, Galadriel immediately turns to the physical needs of the fellowship, offering them rest from their grief and fatigue:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled…Tonight you shall sleep in peace” (Tolkien Fellowship 422).  

In this way, Galadriel is showing her motherly concern for the members of the fellowship, wishing to nurture and care for their physical needs as well as their emotional needs.  Erich Neumann believes that:   “To nourish and protect, to keep warm and hold fast-these are the functions in which the elementary character of the feminine operates in relation to the child…” (Neumann 32).  The fellowship is nourished and protected by Galadriel in Lothlórien; they quickly lose track of the time that they spend in the forest spending all their time eating, drinking and resting, “so far as they could tell or remember” much as a developing child in a mother’s womb (Tolkien Fellowship 423).

The group receives every type of nourishment they could possibly need.  Not only did the elves of Lothlórien provide them with food, drink and a place for rest, they give the company the chance to mourn the loss of Gandalf.

One of their first nights in the forest of Galadriel, the company sits and listens to the singing of the elves.  Legolas translates for the group as best as possible, telling them that the song is in honor of Gandalf.  Lothlórien is a place set apart from the rest of the world.  It is Sam who emphasizes the difference between Lothlórien and the rest of the world,

‘Anyone would think,’ he exclaims with some heat, ‘that time did not count in there!’…The phrase ‘in there’ seems at first like a throwaway, just what anyone would say about a place in the woods.  But it immediately establishes a contrast with an implied ‘out here’ and has the effect of setting Lórien off from the rest of the world (Flieger Question 90).

While neither Sam, Frodo nor any other member of the fellowship can quite decide what the essence of Lothlórien is, they know that it is unlike any place else in Middle Earth, protected and cared for by no woman found in Middle Earth.

It is also to Lothlórien that Gandalf travels after his battle with the Balrog in order that he can heal and rejuvenate before continuing to help the others with the quest.

Galadriel even extends her protection of the fellowship at this point by sending the eagle, Gwaihir the Windlord, to find Gandalf and bring him to her forest in order that she might care for him.

“‘Thus it was that I came to Caras Galadhon and found you but lately gone.  I tarried therein the ageless time of that land where day brings healing not decay.  Healing I found, and I was clothed in white.  Counsel I gave and counsel took” (Tolkien Two Towers 491). 

By his coming to Lothlórien, Gandalf found the nurturing environment to enable him to continue. It is here, in Lothlórien, that all members of the fellowship gain both the physical and emotional “nutrition” that they need and desire.

Much like the physical traits inherited by children from their parents while still in the womb, Galadriel gives each member of the fellowship what it is that he needs in order to help sustain him through the rest of the quest and aid him in completing the journey before their departure.

“Galadriel’s beneficent influence extends far beyond her relatively brief appearance in The Lord of the Rings.  The reader is reminded of her presence especially through the powerful gifts she gives to the members of the Fellowship” (Thum 239).

The gifts that Galadriel gives to the fellowship include cloaks for both warmth and protection, the phial of Galadriel to give light in times of need and lembas bread to sustain them on their way.  It seems to be the physical gift she gives to Frodo that most sustains him and Sam the most.

As Frodo and Sam enter into the lair of Shelob, they can feel an evil presence upon them.  Sam almost immediately realizes that they have been lead by Gollum into a trap and at that moment, the Lady Galadriel enters again into his mind:

Then, as he stood, darkness about him and a blackness of despair and anger in his heart, it seemed to him that he saw a light:  a light in his mind, almost unbearably bright at first, as a sunray to the eyes of one long hidden in a windowless pit.  Then the light became colour:  green, gold, silver, white.  Far off, as in a little picture drawn by elven-fingers, he saw the Lady Galadriel standing on the grass in Lórien, and gifts were in her hands (Tolkien Two Towers 704).

Galadriel gave Frodo the phial to help them in dark places and situations such as this one.  While the light itself does not immediately force Shelob to succumb, it helps Frodo to gather his strength.  Sam also continues to use the phial to fight Shelob and to get past the watchers on his way to rescue Frodo.

She continues to support the members of the fellowship emotionally even after they have left.  Not all of the gifts passed on to the fellowship by Galadriel are physical:

Frodo instead must use Galadriel’s knowledge and wisdom to further the quest:  she is a bridge to the darkness of Mordor, to which the hero must journey.  So Frodo carries with him the influence of Galadriel’s fairylike, timeless, and magically radiant beauty, and it serves to protect him” (Grant 95).

Even when the physical gifts bestowed upon them are lost, the members of the company are able to struggle on through the horrific events due to the emotional gifts she implanted in them.  She sends messages to Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas through Gandalf to inspire and protect them when he meets them by Fangorn, the Ent forest.  She sends specific messages to each of them; warning Legolas of the sea and renewing the emotional strength of both Aragorn and Gimli.

After the fellowship has had time to regain its strength in order to continue with their quest, the fellowship is “reborn” to Middle-Earth.

At the end of its nine-month development in the womb, a child is then forced into the world, journeying down the birth canal into the sometimes cruel, cold world of humankind.  This also how the fellowship departs from Lothlórien.

After an unknown number of days of receiving their “nutrition,” Galadriel tells the group that it is their time to depart and continue with their quest.  The scene of their departure shows that Galadriel loves the members of the fellowship and wishes only to protect and care for them.  She may not want them to leave, but she understands that they have a greater purpose that requires them to leave the womb.

While it appears that only the fellowship is having to sacrifice for the greater good of Middle-Earth, Galadriel is also sacrificing to better the world for man. 

According to Neumann in his study of the Jungian archetype of “The Great Mother,” the “decisive” moments in the female’s life demand some sort of blood sacrifice, “menstruation, deflowering, conception, and childbearing” (Neumann 279).

In the bearing of the fellowship, Galadriel does not sacrifice any literal blood.  However, she does sacrifice her place in Middle-Earth and the power that she and her ring hold.

“The ring of power she has guarded for many years will be useless…Nevertheless, Galadriel chooses to help the Fellowship and offers her counsel, as well as other gifts to improve their chances for success” (Porter 117). 

By giving up the opportunity to yield the One Ring and assisting the fellowship in their quest, Galadriel has essentially allowed her people to be condemned to death, though, until this point, they have been immortal.

Frodo gives Galadriel the opportunity to take the One Ring and yield it herself.  This would have given her the power and opportunity to save the world that she had created in Lothlórien.  However, in order to allow the members of the fellowship to complete their task, Galadriel must sacrifice the world she has loved for the betterment of Middle-Earth.

The actual exodus of the company from Lothlórien even resembles that of a baby traveling down the birth canal; the fellowship traveling down a river away from the warmth and comfort of their mother’s womb and into the harsh reality and the continuation of their quest.

Water is a common symbol used in literature for cleansing and rebirth.

It is typically associated with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the baptism of the Christian faith, which represents a rebirth into Christianity.  The fellowships’ departure from Lothlórien is fitting as they continue their journey out of Lothlórien on the river Anduin.

When speaking specifically about a river, it represents, according to Michael Ferber: “an image of time itself” (Ferber 172).

The fellowship has to move on from the time and place that they are currently at in order to complete the task at hand; the point from which they start represents a new beginning and the falls where they separate representing both an end and a beginning.  Their return into the real world is facilitated with the bittersweet encouragement of Galadriel in her songs, contracting and pushing them onto their journey’s end.

Not only is Lothlórien a womb like place for the group to refresh and regroup, it is also here that the reader sees Galadriel as the mother figure.

Lady Galadriel fulfills the roles of many different mothers in her brief appearance in The Lord of the Rings.

One of the more obvious mother forms taken on by Galadriel is Middle Earth’s Mother Earth.  “The Great Earth Mother who brings forth all life from herself is eminently the mother of all vegetation…The center of this vegetative symbolism is the tree” (Neumann 48). 

She has created in Lothlórien a place that is as close to the Ancient Realm as possible, even down to creating the gold and silver trees.  The tree as “Earth Mother”:  “bears, transforms, nourishes…The protective character is evident in the treetop that shelters nests and birds” (Neumann 49).

In this same way is the fellowship dependent on the Lady Galadriel.  Galadriel provides a shelter, sometimes literally in the treetop, for the fellowship if only for a short period.  She helps to transform the members of the fellowship in various ways.

Galadriel chooses to permit Frodo and Sam to see things in her mirror that only she can truly understand, preparing her “children” for things to come while at the same time allowing them to learn their own lessons from what it is that they see.

The visions that appear to the two hobbits do not create drastic transformation, however, it does influence and change the way in which they view their quest. 

Sam, thus far in the journey, has only wanted to care for master Frodo.  However, the image of the Shire and his gaffer seems to indicate to Sam what is truly at stake on their quest.  He now seems to understand the importance of the completion of their task.

Frodo’s perspective has developed and matured throughout the journey.  It is in Galadriel’s mirror that Frodo finally sees into the Great Eye, fully realizing the power of the Lord of the Ring.

One of the more important mother figures that Lady Galadriel embodies is that of mother of the saviors of Middle-Earth.

Typical of most religious stories or myths, the savior is born unto a woman who is considered pure and worthy of such an honor.  Tolkien sees these qualities in the Lady Galadriel:

“Tolkien himself calls her [Galadriel] ‘unstained…adding ‘she had committed no evil deeds” (Caldecott 55). 

Not only does she overcome temptation in a Christ-like fashion, but she is also the one who brings Gandalf back from the dead, born into a new life.

Gandalf is drug into a great abyss during his fight with the Balrog and leads the other members of the fellowship to believe him dead.  However, Galadriel does not give up hope as quickly as the others do; instead, she sends Gwaihir the Windlord to find him.

Gwaihir finds Gandalf on top of the mountain, naked and weak like a newborn or unborn child and carries him to Lothlórien so that Galadriel may comfort and care for him.  In this way, Gandalf the Gray dies and Gandalf the White is born into Middle Earth in Lothlórien.

Each member of the fellowship is destined in some way to save Middle Earth: Frodo through the destruction of the ring, Aragorn for his ascending to the throne and leading his armies against Mordor and the rest of the fellowship through various forms of support and action taken.

Their rebirth on the river Anduin through Galadriel reveals her as the mother of the saviors of Middle-Earth.

Critic Hugh Keenan discusses what he feels is a shortcoming of the novel, “What the trilogy lacks is a mother with children.  The women, even if married, are not shown as mothers.  They have charm but not earthiness” (Keenan 71).

However, Galadriel is not only the grandmother of Arwen; she is also the mother to the fellowship as well as her role as Earth Mother also negates Keenan’s belief that the women of Tolkien are not earthy or mothers. She has cared for them in her womb, given birth to them and the continuation of their journey and sustains them until the quest’s end.

The Lady Galadriel is proof of Tolkien’s belief in the need for strong women in literature.

She fulfills the Jungian archetype of the “great mother” in her creation of a womb-like atmosphere in Lothlórien and in her motherly care for the members of the fellowship as they are reborn and continue on their journey.

A continuing debate among critics, however, is whether Galadriel is the allegorical “Virgin Mary.”

According to Gracia Ellwood, the reader should not see her as Mary:  “Thus the Good Mother may take the form of Isis the Queen of Heaven, Our Lady Mary, or the Lady Galadriel, each of whom has distinctive characteristics; but it is the basic common center of creative and nourishing Maternity that we inherit, not Isis or Mary herself” (Ellwood 93).

However, the impact of his Catholicism and the importance of the Virgin Mary to his life are well known.

“The story of Tolkien’s engagement to his wife emphasizes his comfort with, if not outright preference for, a distant idealized abstraction of Woman rather than an actual, present, and less-than-perfect woman” (Frederick 30).

Many critics see Galadriel as the “Virgin Mary” of Middle Earth; a woman who is in many ways worshipped and held as holy in the eyes of her followers.  The comparison to the Virgin Mary is seen in the simplest of actions, such as Galadriel sitting with Sam and Frodo in her garden looking into her mirror.  “Liguori identifies her, as do other commentators on the Virgin Mary, as the inhabitant of the enclosed garden.

This image is portrayed in many medieval Annunciation scenes in which Mary is seated in a small oratory surrounded by an enclosed garden” (Maher 231).

While this topic is still a subject of debate, it is obvious that Galadriel posses the strength and depth to fulfill the necessary role of mother in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

Works Cited

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Darton, Longman & Todd, 2003.

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B. Eerddmans, 1970.

Ferber, Michael.  A Dictionary of Literary Symbols.  Cambridge:  Cambridge UP, 1999.

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