I Fear Neither Pain Nor Death: An Introduction to Éowyn

“…SHE, BORN IN THE BODY OF A MAID,
HAD A SPIRIT AND COURAGE
AT LEAST THE MATCH OF YOURS…”

I was ten years old, sitting in the dark theater with my knees drawn to my chest in excitement. I watched as the stalwart warrior-king shouted to his men, “Rally to me! To me!” But moments later, after a monster from the sky threw the stouthearted king and his horse, only one warrior came to his aid.

The warrior, already unhorsed, was short and slim. She stood tall and resisted the supernatural terror that incapacitated a brave young hobbit and half a dozen human soldiers. Her voice shook as she said, “I will kill you if you touch him.” Her terror was clear, but she stood her ground and killed the monster before receiving a severe blow from The Witch-king of Angmar. She knew she was about to die when he growled, “You fool. No man can kill me.”

Just then, a halfling wielding an ancient Elven blade stabbed the Nazgûl in his calf, bringing him to his knees.

And then came the moment that defined power, courage, and womanhood for that ten-year-old girl in the movie theater:

Éowyn pulled off her helmet.

Her blonde hair cascaded to her shoulders.

“I am no man,” she said, and stabbed the wraith.

The Nazgûl, the foe who had stabbed Frodo, beaten [movie] Gandalf, and killed Théoden, was dead.

When I was a girl, Éowyn seemed perfectly strong and self-actualized to me. As I grew older and finally read the books, and read them closely, I saw how broken, how afraid, and how bitter she is when she goes out to fight. Her inner conflicts are deeper than just wanting to fight beside the men of her family, and they aren’t resolved when she kills the Witch-king. Éowyn hungers for glory and love. She hates that her life in Rohan gives her neither, and she only finds peace when she rejects the glorious path of the warrior for the humble calling of a healer.

First, a conversation between Éomer and Éowyn gives a lackluster reason for not sending women into battle. It’s not in the books, but it is a great addition in the movies that expands on the loving, protective relationship between Éomer and Éowyn.

In the extended edition of The Return of the King, Éomer tells Éowyn that Merry will flee the horrors of battle, implying that she would do the same.

“I do not doubt his heart. Only the reach of his arm,” Éomer snickers.

“Why should Merry be left behind? He has as much cause to go to war as you. Why can he not fight for those he loves?” she asks, and her brother turns a serious eye to her.

“You know as little of war as that hobbit. When the fear takes him, and the blood and the screams and the horror of battle take hold, do you think he would stand and fight? He would flee, and he would be right to do so. War is the province of Men, Éowyn.”

His point about the brutality of war is valid for the audience. We love watching warriors take down bad guys but don’t grasp what it’s like to see human bodies torn apart. Many of us haven’t even witnessed our meat getting butchered or seen a violent conflict in person. Esquires of Rohan we are not, except in metaphor.

Considering who Éomer is talking to, though, his speech is insufferable. Éowyn is staying behind to lead her people if Théoden and Éomer fall. That leadership will involve military action. If the Rohirrim die, Théoden has instructed Éowyn to mount the final defense of Edoras. That battle will be MORE horrific than the one the men ride to because CHILDREN will die there.

“But I am of the House of Eorl and not a serving-woman. I can ride and wield blade, and I do not fear either pain or death,” Éowyn tells Aragorn in the book.

It’s not fear – for we are brave – or inner weakness – for we have wills of steel – but a smaller body frame and weaker upper body strength, that kept women off the battlefield. Medieval warfare would put us at a serious disadvantage.

Historically, women are the final defenders of the weakest members of society. In every age, when empires fall, women have watched their children die before being raped and killed themselves. The Rohirrim are riding out to prevent that, but if they fail, Éowyn will witness worse “blood and screams and horror” than Éomer.

Of course, what Éomer means is, “Please give me the chance to protect you from such horrors. Go home and be safe. I love you.”

Éowyn does not fit neatly in the debate about women in combat. The characters around her did their utmost to protect her from the front lines, yet had they succeeded, the Witch-king would have won the day. However, it’s clear in the book that her duty to king and country was to stay behind and lead her people in Edoras.

Through Éowyn, Tolkien articulates the true issue women have faced throughout history. The question is not whether a woman should share roles with a man, but why her role is not valued in the first place.

In the next post, I’ll explore Éowyn’s bitterness. Though she is a shield-maiden and a great lady of a proud nation, she has not been accorded the renown she desires.

The third post will delve into Éowyn’s desire to love, to be loved, and to be proud of what she loves. Romantic love is part of this, as she falls in love with Aragorn, but she also wants a different country and people from her own. She has come to hate Rohan, so she cannot see the value in serving it humbly.

The fourth post will be about her femininity on the battlefield. From bringing Merry along with her to laughing at the Witch King, Éowyn acts distinctly as a woman when she goes to war.

The final post will examine why her glorious victory on the battlefield does not satisfy her. With Faramir’s help, Éowyn grows from wanting death and glory to wanting to heal people.

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Of Argives and Infants, Toddlers and Trojans

I had a parenting break-through today: the best way to get through the late-afternoon doldrums is to read aloud The Iliad while my daughter “sorts” my hats and scarves, carefully removing and studying each article from its box until I tidy up and she starts all over again. 

It seems a weird choice of reading for my infant, but it works.

I want my daughter to be a reader. After her relationship with Christ, it’s what I desire most for her. I want her to experience the joy of discovering new worlds. I want her to grow in empathy as she takes someone else’s point of view, 300 pages at a time. I want her to learn about places and people and times she has never seen. I want her to learn to form deep connections with people as she talks about great ideas.

While I do read picture books and Bible stories, sing songs, and recite nursery rhymes with her, there’s nothing stopping me from pouring a little of my own reading into her ears, too. 

I’ve been trying to read The Iliad for four months now. “I’ll be done by mid-October” turned into, “I’ll definitely finish by the end of the year,” but here we are in January, and I’m less than halfway done. It’s a great story with soaring poetry, incredible heroes, and more than a little humor (Menelaus will always come at you, bro), but by the time I get some free time in the evenings, anything sounds easier than reading a 3,000-year-old epic. 

Enter Sarah MacKenzie of The Read-Aloud Revival. She talks about the benefits of reading to tiny kids, even when they don’t seem to be paying attention. In her book The Read-Aloud Family, she writes,

“The tricky part about reading to little ones is recognizing that you’re successful even when it doesn’t look like it. A small child may be babbling, playing, sleeping, or seemingly ignoring you, and you are left wondering if he is even paying attention…. Let me assure you that it is making a difference — the ripple effect of reading with a child under four is astounding. Even if your small child is busy playing with her toys, staring into space, babbling, or otherwise seeming completely uninterested, the language going into her ears is still making a positive impact.”

The Read-Aloud Family: Making Meaningful and Lasting Connections with Your Kids, page 192.

On episode 119 of her podcast, MacKenzie stresses that kids should see you reading for your own enjoyment. They will imitate and value what you seem to value. My daughter needs to see me reading, and not just on an electronic device. At her demanding age, I can’t sit silently while she plays for more than a couple of minutes. She has a way of insisting on my attention. We’re both happier when I’m reading aloud, if only briefly.

It has helped me with The Iliad, too. Oral poetry, you won’t be surprised to learn, is at its best when read aloud. I get carried away with the alliteration and meter, and I start noticing Homer’s imagery in new ways. He loves comparing warriors to hunted and hunting animals, for example. I slow down to read aloud and have more time to dwell on the space between the action.

From a modern perspective, The Iliad is ridiculous–who, in the heat of battle, has time for page-long debates with one’s enemy, for long death speeches? Yet each character does. In fact, every dying character (that I have noticed; I’m no scholar) is named. We learn of his homeland, his father, and his wife, if he has one. His skill is praised, even as he dies. If he was cowardly or corrupt, that’s demonstrated, too, by his pleading with his enemy to spare him and take him hostage.

Every character is important; every character is a hero. This conveys a time when gods walked the earth, when even the lowliest foot-soldier is actually a prince worthy of note. Yet it also seems to speak to the importance of all people, the ones glossed over by modern story-telling. The nameless extra who dies in the opening battle sequence is named. His death is described, even if the description is gory, with spears through the eyeball and so on, and so he is honored. It’s still a tale that glorifies violence, and no doubt the listeners whooped, gasped, and laughed at the death scenes the same way that action movie audiences do today, but it glorifies violence without debasing the characters. They are fully human, full of the divine spark, the blood of the gods, whether from a father or a great-great-grandfather.

It’s such a different way to approach violence than the modern approach, in which either the violence is fun and the people are worthless, or the people are worthy and the violence is evil. The characters glory in their rampages, and we don’t hate them for it. Some are nobler than others. Valiant Hector eclipses craven Paris. Spitfire Menelaus lacks the prudence of crafty Odysseus, who is not as unstoppable a warrior as Diomedes. None are perfect, but each is worthy of his place in the story. As C.S. Lewis says in his essay The Weight of Glory,

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”

I’m grateful that I can share this with Emma, even as I’m grateful that she has almost no idea what I’m reading. Once she picks up more of the meaning, we’ll have to read an author that talks a little less about stabbing one’s enemies through the nipples. Yet I look forward to the day, and it will be here before I know it, when we can read it together again. I hope, through the reading habits we’re forming now, she’ll see some of what I’ve talked about here. I hope she’ll share her insights with me, too.

The Tragic Heroism of Boromir

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I once looked on Boromir as a mere cautionary character, the only companion in the Fellowship imperfect enough to desire the Ring. This does him an injustice, and I have come to understand, even admire the fallen hero.

Many ancient and epic tales share a type of hero: a strong, fearless, leader among men doomed by fate or hubris to fall. He may die a strong youth like Achilles or a frail, old man like Beowulf; he may live on as a shell of himself like Oedipus; he may descend to villainy like Macbeth or be redeemed like Samson. The manifold examples teach different things, but they all warn against trusting too much in youth, strength, or even wisdom. Heroes are a great blessing to mankind. Their courage and strength are to be admired, esteemed, and imitated, but they are never to be worshiped.

Boromir is the tragic hero in The Lord of the Rings. Though a minor character, he completes the traditional epic hero’s arc, following greatness with greatness until his pride perverts him and he becomes the most imminent danger to Frodo and the Quest. Yet he is redeemed, giving his blood to save the innocent.

A hero is unrivaled in strength. Whether by bloodline, magic, or the blessings of the gods, he surpasses other mortals. Achilles is invulnerable except for his infamous heel; Beowulf is stronger than a monster that can carry half a dozen men at once; Samson can tear down a building. Along with Aragorn, Boromir is one of the two greatest men alive on Middle Earth because they share the blood of Númenor.

In describing firsthand Mordor’s assault on Gondor, Boromir reveals his own skill in battle. He, with his brother, defended Osgiliath until its last bridge fell, when they escaped by swimming across the river. He explains that Mordor succeeded because they had a new, dark captain that inspired terror and despair in even the boldest men. Boromir resisted the Witch King’s influence because of his Númenorian bloodline and because of his own great valor.

Boromir uses this strength to serve the Fellowship. Through six-foot snowdrifts atop Caradhras, he shovels a path for the smaller members of the party. In Moria’s Chamber of Records, he bars the door against a cave troll and helps the party escape hordes of orcs. He unwillingly flees the Balrog, and he and Aragorn would not have fled at all if there hadn’t been the hobbits to protect (Two Towers 684). In his final battle, he single-handedly kills two dozen orcs before dying, even as his sword is breaking and his body is shot with arrows. That is amazing, and drives home the tragedy that they would not have this fighter with them on Pelennor Fields.

Heroes battle on a grand scale. Just as they fight monsters, not mere men, so they save countries, not just individuals. Beowulf has the Danes, Arthur has Britain, Achilles has the Greeks, Hector has the Trojans, Samson has the Israelites, and Boromir has Gondor.

Let us try to regard Gondor as its proud citizens do. The first five chapters of The Fellowship of the Ring teach us to love the Shire almost as the Hobbits do, so we understand that Frodo’s first simple goal is to remove the dangerous Ring from its borders. Likewise, we sympathize when Sam wants to return home after looking in the Mirror of Galadriel. Boromir’s desire to save Gondor is not so different.

Gondor, though fallen from its former glory, is a great nation, and Boromir is its greatest hero. Set aside his haughty tone and listen to his description of the kingdom that guards the rest of the West from Mordor’s encroachment.

“For few, I deem, know of our deeds, and therefore guess little of their peril, if we should fail at last. Believe not that in the land of Gondor the blood of Numenor is spent, nor all its pride and dignity forgotten. By our valour the wild folk of the East are still restrained, and the terror of Morgul kept at bay; and thus alone are peace and freedom maintained in the lands behind us, bulwark of the West…. But still we fight on, holding all the west shores of Anduin; and those who shelter behind us give us praise, if they hear our name: much praise but little help. Only from Rohan now will any men ride to us when we call” (Fellowship 246).

He is ignorant of how the elves, wizards, and the Dunadan have also fought evil, but he is right that Gondor has borne the main assault from Mordor. He is also right that this assault will continue. Sauron hates and fears Gondor. He will send his army there first. If Gondor falls, the rest of the West will follow quickly.

Being a true man of Gondor is a strength and a weakness. He focuses on Gondor’s needs first, and he does not heed warnings from the rest of the Council. He hopes that Isildur’s Bane will be Gondor’s Boon, giving them the strength they need to finally defeat Mordor. Instead of destroying the Ring, he urges that they wield it.

“The Men of Gondor are valiant, and they will never submit; but they may be beaten down. Valour needs first strength, and then a weapon. Let the Ring be your weapon, if it has such power as you say. Take it and go forth to victory!” (268)

Thus, though Boromir is a paragon of patriotic virtue, his love of country gives him a simplistic, shortsighted outlook.

Where Aragorn is the perfect hero whose strength is matched by his faith and virtue, Boromir’s pride sets up his downfall. He believes in ancient lore enough to seek the counsel of the Wise, but he does not embrace their answers. This arrogance is typical of the epic hero, who boasts of his conquests and dismisses the weak, the old, and the unworthy.

Though he submits to the Council’s decision, he does not trust their reasoning. Present trials have distanced Gondor from its past, and Boromir has little faith in the impact of ancient lore on current events. He calls the Ring Isildur’s Bane but doubts its danger to the good-intentioned and the strong. He half-trusts Aragorn’s lineage. The physical sword of Elendil and the prophetic dream he and Faramir shared reassure him, but they do not guide him.
He also trusts less in fate than the others do: where Gandalf says Frodo was meant to bear the Ring, Boromir sees it as an accident. The plan to destroy it sounds dangerous and insane, akin to sending a weak courier into the heart of North Korea with our nuclear missile plans. Like the Enemy, Boromir has too much common sense to accept the “folly” of marching right into Mordor with the Ring.

The tragic hero usually goes wrong when he grasps at power, immortality, or wealth that is not meant for him. He defies the gods or God and ignores warnings, forgetting that he is not the source of his own greatness. Samson tells Delilah the secret of his strength. Beowulf goes after a marauding dragon for its treasure, not to protect his people. Arthur, uniter of Britain, lets rivalry fragment his kingdom until he can only bring a weak force against his enemies. Boromir grasps at the Ring. He defies warnings and lore that tell him the foe is beyond him. He lets himself wonder what would happen if he used the Ring.

This is understandable due to something the book explains but the movies leave unclear*: only Frodo is told to take Ring to Mordor. Elrond explicitly tells the rest of them that they can turn from that path at any time. “The others go with him as free companions, to help him on his way. You may tarry, or come back, or turn aside into other paths, as chance allows” (Fellowship 281).

Boromir plans to lend his strength on his way home to Gondor, and then he will return to his people. In fact, Aragorn plans to accompany him there and take his place as king**: “The Sword-that-was-Broken shall be re-forged ere I set out to war. But your road and our road lie together for many hundreds of miles. Therefore Boromir will also be in the Company” (Fellowship 276). Neither Boromir nor Aragorn plan to go to Mordor.

Gandalf’s death in Moria changes things. Aragorn assumes leadership of the quest, and he is slow to decide that he must accompany Frodo to Mordor instead of continuing to Gondor. This leaves things ambiguous enough that Boromir can imagine the Ring coming to Gondor, where perhaps they could be persuaded to abandon the quest to Mordor. In Lothlorien, he sees clearly his desire to take the Ring for himself.

His hopes are finally dashed when they enter Gondor’s northernmost borders and the decision is put to Frodo. Frodo decides that he must take the Ring to Mordor. Then the months of brooding pour out of Boromir. Why couldn’t the Ring save Gondor? “What could not a warrior do in this hour, a great leader? What could not Aragorn do? Or, if he refuses, why not Boromir? The Ring would give me power of Command. How I would drive the hosts of Mordor, and all men would flock to my banner!” (401). He does what no other character has yet done. He tries to take the Ring from Frodo. The ambition-ruined hero becomes a villain.

Though not all heroes are redeemed, many are. The God or gods forgive them and grant them immortality or glory. The hero’s death is as important as his victories; it can be more of a victory than a defeat. First, it is insulting to the hero if a mere mortal defeats him, so it usually takes a monster to overcome him. In the final moments, his mixed motives should be corrected. Beowulf and Arthur forget their petty greed and jealousy, respectively, to think of their kingdoms’ futures. Samson kills more Philistines through his death than he had in life. However far he has fallen, the dying man is every inch the hero he should always have been.

Boromir does not die a villain. By grace and craft Frodo escapes, and Boromir comes to his senses to redeem himself. He slays Uruk-hai and falls trying to save Merry and Pippin. He dies within the ancient borders of Gondor, defending his homeland and the vulnerable within it from evil hordes. He is a hero restored.

When Aragorn finds him, he has been pierced by many arrows. His sword has been broken, and the Horn of Gondor lies in two pieces beside him. The warrior’s body and equipment are broken, but two dozen slain orcs are piled around him. Boromir confesses trying to take the Ring. “I have paid,” he says, indicating both his wounds and the orcs. He says he failed, but Aragorn says, “No! You have conquered. Few have gained such a victory. Be at peace! Minas Tirith shall not fall!” and Boromir smiles and dies (416).

Why does Aragorn say, “You have conquered. Few have gained such a victory,” if Merry and Pippin were captured? It’s more than a tribute to Boromir’s skill as a warrior, great though it was. Aragorn is talking about Boromir’s escape from the Ring. All who wield the Ring become servants of Morgoth. It was a mercy to Isildur that he died before he had carried it long, and a still greater blessing to Boromir that he never touches it at all. Gandalf says later,

“Poor Boromir! I could not see what happened to him. [The temptation of the Ring] was a sore trial for such a man: a warrior, and a lord of men. Galadriel told me that he was in peril. But he escaped in the end. I am glad. It was not in vain that the young hobbits came with us, if only for Boromir’s sake” (500).

 

The astute reader will point out that Boromir can’t take any credit for escaping. If Frodo hadn’t evaded him, he would have taken the Ring. He needed help…as Frodo himself will need Gollum’s help to destroy the Ring. In the heart of Mount Doom, Frodo takes the Ring for himself. Gollum bites it from his hand and falls into the abyss, and Middle Earth is saved.

Both instances use Tolkien’s “eucatastrophe,” which he defines in his essay “On Fairy Stories” as “sudden and miraculous grace” that “denies universal final defeat” (22). This is why it’s important that Gollum fall into the volcano, seemingly by chance. The powers that meant for Frodo to have the Ring let Gollum fall in. There’s no need for Frodo to push him.

Another eucatastrophe saves Boromir. When Frodo first escapes, Boromir stomps around, cursing the halflings, before tripping over a stone and face-planting. A moment later, he begins to weep over his folly. “What have I said? What have I done? Frodo, Frodo! Come back! A madness took me, but it has passed. Come back!” (Fellowship 403). Frodo’s escape prevents Boromir’s descent to Hell, but tripping on that stone brings him to repentance. Finally, his attempt to rescue Merry and Pippin redeems him. The same power that put a stone beneath his foot to trip him made sure that those two young hobbits would be on the quest, “if only for Boromir’s sake.”

The eucatastrophe is not without its pain. Frodo loses his finger; Boromir, his life. Yet both escape with their souls. A hero who triumphs with external help is no less a victor. As a devout Catholic, Tolkien could say with St. Paul that “in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).

Lest we still doubt that Boromir is redeemed, we’ll end with his funeral. Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas mourn him and arrange him in a boat with the elven cloak beneath his head, the golden belt from Lorien around waist, his helm beside him, his horn and sword on his lap, and his enemies’ swords at his feet (Fellowship 419). When Faramir later sees his brother drift past in the boat, everything has stayed in the boat except the horn, which washed ashore in pieces. Boromir continues to float out into the Great Sea, which might bear him even to Valinor, though Tolkien does not say so.

As Faramir says, “Whether he erred or no, of this I am sure: he died well, achieving some good thing. His face was more beautiful even than in life” (Two Towers 676).

 

Notes

*Also, the movies shuffle around his lines dangerously. In the book, he does not call the Ring “a gift to the foes of Mordor” until he tries to take it from Frodo. The movie has him declare this line to the Council. There’s also no “Gondor needs no king” rubbish in the book. Boromir doubts Aragorn but would never oppose the return of the king. Presenting him that way makes one seriously question Elrond and Gandalf’s wisdom in letting him come along.

Although Boromir is written differently in the movie, Sean Bean was one of the best casting decisions in a trilogy full of excellent casting. He is fearsome, charming, good-natured, and proud all at once. He loves the hobbits and has a sense of humor. His death is one of the most moving in cinematic history. Period. “My brother. My captain. My king.”

**Yeah, Book-Aragorn doesn’t have an existential crisis about putting aside the Ranger and becoming who he was born to be. Adding that dimension gives him a chance to grow, but I still like reminding myself that that was Jackson, not Tolkien.

 

Works Cited

Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition. Catholic Biblical Association, 1965.
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Fellowship of the Ring: Being the first part of The Lord of the Rings. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002.
—. “On Fairy Stories.” 1947.
—. The Two Towers: Being the second part of The Lord of the Rings. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002.

The Temptation of Galadriel, part 2

Part 2: Galadriel’s Goodness

See part 1 in this series on Galadriel here.

Galadriel is powerful, but is she good?  Aragorn may say so, but in any story it’s not enough to trust the narrator or characters’ opinions. An evil character must act evil and a good character must act good to deserve the description. There’s something eerie, not to say creepy, about the “Lady of the Golden Wood,” particularly at their first meeting when she speaks in each character’s mind.

Galadriel offers hope “while all the Company is true” (Fellowship 359). It’s a painful hope to impart, for each member must have his heart tested before he can feel its assurance. Silently she offers each a choice between the dark path ahead “and something that he greatly desired: clear before his mind it lay, and to get it he had only to turn aside from the road and leave the Quest and the war against Sauron to others” (360).

It is a forced examination of conscience, a chance to see one’s deepest longings too forthrightly for comfort. Who can blame Sam for immediately hanging his head, Boromir for suspecting her motives, and most of them for refusing to divulge what she has offered? Only Aragorn and Legolas seem untroubled by her probing, perhaps because they so often examine their motives or because they are undivided in their purpose.

Boromir, though he does not say so explicitly, has heard the Lady suggest he take the Ring to save Gondor. The vision turns his barely-acknowledged wish into a clear, all-consuming desire, but Galadriel has not stirred up anything that wasn’t already there.  As Sam tells Faramir in The Two Towers, “It strikes me that folk takes their peril with them into Lorien, and finds it there because they’ve brought it. But perhaps you could call her perilous, because she’s so strong in herself. You, you could dash yourself to pieces on her, like a ship on a rock, or drownd [sic] yourself, like a hobbit in a river. But neither rock nor river would be to blame” (687).

Galadriel’s true purpose is revealed when she takes Frodo and Sam to the Mirror of Galadriel, a basin of water that shows to those who look in it “things that were, and things that are, and things that yet may be” (Fellowship 364). She grants them firmness in pursuing the quest by revealing the dangers. Sam sees trees being cut down and homes being dug up in the Shire, as well as an image of Frodo seemingly asleep beneath a cliff. Frodo sees a series of brief images: Gandalf on the road, Bilbo at Rivendell, a great city, the raging Sea, the towers of Minas Tirith, and the roving Eye of Sauron. (Though in Peter Jackson’s movies Frodo sees the Eye the first time he wears the Ring, in the books he does not see it until he looks in the Mirror.) Resolve is hardened when tested, and Galadriel knows Frodo and Sam will need this more than anyone. When fear and doubt attack them on the road, they’ll be stronger to resist knowing they have defeated them before.

She never wants the fear to overcome them, nor will she let Sam leave after he has seen the dreaded scenes of the Shire in chaos. “You did not wish to go home without your master before you looked in the Mirror, and yet you knew that evil things might well be happening in the Shire” (Fellowship 365). The Mirror does not guide deeds. It may reveal what is truly happening, or it may portend what could happen if the wrong choice is made. It does not tell the onlooker what the right choice is. The Shire may burn whether the Ring is destroyed or not. Frodo and Sam may suffer for doing good.

Galadriel knows this because her own heart is being tested. The Mirror’s flashing images of a city and the Sea give Frodo a glimpse into Galadriel’s mind. The Fall of Númenor, a tale at the end of The Silmarillion in which a great kingdom falls into the Sea, is the death of an ancient people like her own. The Eye of Sauron is searching for her and her land to destroy them. Her ring, Nenya, has kept him at bay, but Frodo’s “coming is to us as the footsteps of Doom” (Fellowship 368). If he fails and the Ring returns to Sauron, Lórien will fall in battle with the rest of Middle Earth. Even if the Ring is destroyed, Lórien’s future is bleak. Nenya’s power will diminish, and the land will cease to be timeless. Galadriel loves Lothlórien and will regret its end forever.

This mindfulness makes her sympathize with Gimli’s ill-fated desire to look upon Moria: “If your folk had been exiled long, and far from Lothlórien,” she asks Celeborn, “who of the Galadhrim, even Celeborn the Wise, would pass nigh and would not wish to look upon their ancient home, though it had become an abode of dragons?” (Fellowship 358). Such an exile will come. The elves will leave for the West or remain as “rustic folk of dell and cave” (368). There is no hope of continuing on as they have done.

Here we begin to understand the temptation that Frodo offers when he says, “You are wise and fearless and fair, Lady Galadriel. I will give you the One Ring, if you ask for it” (Fellowship 368). She could save Lórien as Sam wishes to save the Shire. She has wondered for years what she could do with the Ring, abolishing the evil and ugliness that ravage the land.

Yet it would not stop there, and she knows the evil would continue to work on her even if she defeated Sauron — and who can doubt that she would have defeated him? In his place, they would, “set up a Queen. And I shall be not dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the earth. All shall love me and despair!” (Fellowship 368).

In short, beauty and wisdom and love would become more terrible even than Sauron’s hateful lust for power had been. There is more to worship in her than in Sauron, so Middle Earth’s doom would be more complete. Like the most beautiful Ainur, she is more in danger of thinking she can rival Ilúvatar. She would be a more perfect tool of Morgoth than Sauron ever was.

The moment passes. As she said before, she desires “that what should be shall be…. [She and her people] will cast all away rather than submit to Sauron,” or for that matter, to any evil (Fellowship 368). She is sorrowful, heartbroken for her land and her people, but she will nevertheless choose rightly and “remain Galadriel” (368).

This is the hope that she has, and it is this hope that she offers them when she tests their hearts: to know that, even if it ends badly for them, they will have done the right thing. Hope is not the reassurance that everything will be okay, but that we will remain true, whatever the danger.

Works Cited

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Fellowship of the Ring: Being the first part of The Lord of the Rings. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002.
—. The Two Towers: Being the second part of The Lord of the Rings. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002.

The Temptation of Galadriel, part 1

Part 1: Galadriel’s Power

Galadriel is an intriguing character. She’s only active in two chapters of The Fellowship of the Ring and mentioned a handful of times in the rest of the trilogy. Her role in destroying the Ring is small. By her own admission, she does not offer counsel. Yet the Fellowship leave Lothlórien with more than waybread and physical gifts. They continue their journey with renewed spirits and deeper insight into what the quest could mean for each of them.

The quest in The Lord of the Rings is straightforward: destroy Sauron’s ancient Ring which, in the right hands, has the power to subdue the entire world. Orcs, wraiths, and other enemies hinder the physical journey to Mount Doom, but the quest is more seriously threatened by the Ring’s draw on each character to take it for him or herself. It can twist the best motives. Thus Boromir begins by wanting to save Gondor, and Sam imagines turning Mordor into a garden. Their fancied reasons for taking the Ring give clear insight into their characters. Investigating those reasons is important not just for understanding them, but for understanding the universal human temptation to do wrong to achieve good. When Frodo offers Galadriel the Ring, we see her desire to save Lothlórien duel with her duty to do what is right.

 

The journey into Lórien is beautiful yet faintly eerie, full of a different sort of magic than the heroes have yet encountered. From the other-worldly mallorn trees to the long-remembering caution of the Galadrhim, one feels as though the Fellowship has briefly left Middle Earth. Frodo reflects that ancient things still walk in this land. It has been unchanged while long years have cast down its contemporaries, flung Numenor into the sea, and decayed the kingdoms of its great-grandchildren. In our world, it would almost be like stepping into Eden and finding our first father and mother there. Galadriel describes her relationship with her husband Celeborn, “…and together through ages of the world we have fought the long defeat” (Fellowship 359). A long defeat, but a slower one than any of their kindred have had.

Lothlórien’s power lies in the ring Galadriel wears: Nenya, the Ring of Adamant, a Ring of Power older than Sauron’s and untouched by his hands. She perceives Sauron’s mind but keeps her own closed to him, and in this, the reader begins to understand that here stands one of the most powerful beings alive in Middle Earth. She had first summoned the White Council to help recover the rings and defeat Sauron, she can discern men’s thoughts and plant ideas in their minds, and she has protected her people from evil for millennia. One might wonder why she stays in a small land sheltered from the action. It might make more sense to join the Fellowship, especially once they have lost Gandalf.

There are several reasons she stays in Lothlórien. A great theme of the book is that the weak may succeed where the mighty would fail. Gandalf, Elrond, and Galadriel do not take the Ring because it would destroy them, turning them into terrible rivals of Sauron. “The evil that was devised long ago works on, whether Sauron stands or falls” (Fellowship 368). Their role, as Galadriel says after she is tempted to take the Ring, is to diminish. They help and guide, as do the less ancient but still mighty men, dwarves, and elves, but they leave the quest in the hands of a hobbit gentleman and his gardener.

There is no shame in caring for the place apportioned to you, whether it is a small garden or a great country. Galadriel is not the first cloistered power we have met, nor is she the last. Bombadil is so old and powerful that the Ring has no effect on him, but he won’t leave the Old Forest. Elrond remains in Rivendell. Treebeard keeps Fangorn; in a way, he is Fangorn. They aid in defeating Sauron, but keeping their lands is a more ancient and important task laid on them. The battle of good and evil is older and deeper than the current conflict over the Ring, and the reader cannot know how much wickedness is thwarted by these quiet caretakers. Lothlórien is not peaceful for lack of outside threats.

The story’s action and adventure make it easy to value glorious battles. They are awesome, in both the popular and archaic sense of the word, but none of the wise live for them. Even the younger son of a corrupt steward knows better: “War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend,” Faramir says later (Two Towers 678). Nor is travel for the sake of travel valued quite like it is in our world. Most of the characters, great and small, tend to stay where they are, and this is not a bad thing. True, a little more worldliness might help the hobbits defend their land better and think less of petty things, and all peoples from the Breelanders to the Galadhrim could view outsiders with less distrust. These problems will be rectified in the peace that follows the destruction of the Ring.

Galadriel is just where she needs to be. One might wish her to take a more active role with the cast of male characters, forgetting that she is arguably the most successful ruler Middle Earth has ever seen. No blushing violet, she overshadows her husband even as she declares him the wisest elf on Middle Earth.

Galadriel is wise and fearless and fair, yet the reader may wonder if she is truly good. In part 2, I discuss the temptations she offers the Fellowship and her own temptation to take the Ring.

 

Works Cited

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Fellowship of the Ring: Being the first part of The Lord of the Rings. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002.
—. The Two Towers: Being the second part of The Lord of the Rings. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002.

Catherine, Called Birdy: 4/5 Stars

Karen Cushman’s historical fiction shines as always. This funny story, as told by its cheeky heroine, is delightful.

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Join Catherine (called “Birdy”) as she comes of age on a fourteenth-century English manor. It seems that, so far in her life, she has been given more freedom than most girls of her time would have had. She learned to read and write (the book is her diary), and she initially spends most of her time running off with the field workers and avoiding ladylike work.

However, Catherine is now a young teenager, which means she is of marrying age. Her father is eager to marry her off to someone wealthy. Catherine is eager not to wed. She spurns suitors, and he tries to strong-arm her. Catherine is spunky, bad-tempered, witty, and a little immature: a perfectly normal teenage girl. However, as the story continues, we become wise to the fact that her childhood is ending.

Cushman honors the time period. A girl like Catherine would have to either marry or become a nun, and her father cannot pay to send her to a convent. Catherine’s upbringing has prepared her to wed, have children, and care for the people on a manor. She does not have a trade or a skill. Marriage is inevitable, so rather than denounce it entirely, she had better hope her father will choose a good man.

I won’t give away anything else, but I loved how the story turned out. Had Cushman merely written about a modern girl in medieval Europe who miraculously avoids marriage, supports herself, and finds freedom, I would have dropped it in disgust.

Instead, she offers a more insightful story, especially for young readers wondering what will make them happy in life. Life choices are layered. People are not always what they seem. Wherever your path leads, it is in your power to find meaning and be satisfied. Don’t be sad that you’re not someone else. As one character tells the wayward Catherine,

“Remember, little Bird, in the world to come, you will not be asked, ‘Why were you not George?’ Or, ‘Why were you not Perkin?,’ but, ‘Why were you not Catherine?'”

I would consider this a sixth grade book, but I’ll give my usual warning that Catherine is irreverent and writes candidly about the smelly, coarse, gruesome life of a medieval manor. She curses comically with, “God’s Bones!” and “God’s Thumbs!” If you’re uncomfortable with this, adjust grade level accordingly.

I Didn’t Write

I didn’t write because I was folding laundry.

I didn’t write because the baby wouldn’t nap.

I didn’t write because the first murmurs of separation anxiety made her cry if she wasn’t carried everywhere.

I didn’t write because it was easier to check my email and social media again.

I didn’t write because I was using my vestige of intellectual energy to read The Iliad.

I didn’t write because I couldn’t sit down to type.

I didn’t write because washing dishes was a more visual accomplishment.

I didn’t write because I was lying in bed with my arm around a little girl who couldn’t fall asleep by herself.

I didn’t write because I watched TV with my husband.

I didn’t write because I was exhausted.

I didn’t write because I doubted that I had anything meaningful to say.

I didn’t write because I didn’t think anyone would read it.

I didn’t write.

But then,

I wrote because I realized that some things can be tapped out one-handed on my phone while a little one snuggled into me.

I wrote because I can be a better mom and wife when I feed the parts of me that have nothing to do with my daughter and husband.

I wrote because I know I’m not the only one who feels too tired for hobbies.

I wrote because eventually babies do fall asleep.

I wrote because a notebook of sentence fragments jotted throughout the day can still communicate something.

I wrote because Nate encouraged me to.

I wrote because laundry can wait.

I wrote because eventually the only thing stopping me was myself.

I wrote because I want my daughter to know who I am.

I wrote because I have a voice that isn’t silenced by staying home with my daughter.

I wrote because I love it.

I wrote.

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