Galadriel, Warrior Princess
I’m back to The Lord of the Rings again. I’ve already unloaded most of my frustration and concern over Jeff Bezo’s new pet project, but after having let things cool and settle, I want to start writing about specific aspects of the show that seems to be causing dysphoria in the Tolkien fandom. While I haven’t planned out a series of articles to write about, I decided to just get started and see how and where it goes.
For this article I want to have look at Galadriel and some of the complaints about her from the fans. Cate Blanchett did a fantastic job of portraying Galadriel in Sir Peter Jackon’s trilogy back in the early 2000’s. She was mysterious, beautiful, terrifying, magical and all the other adjectives you can think of and she just fit the role like a bespoke sock. Yes, she is Galadriel, which is what I think a lot of people, whether fans of the books or only the films, think. It’s difficult to shake this portrayal of Galadriel out of one’s head and it is so iconic, but I have to say, I am looking forward to Morfydd Clark’s take of this character.
Morfydd Clark – A Young Galadriel
Morfydd Clark was announced as the actress who would play Galadriel in The Rings of Power back in 2019 to generally favourable reviews (I think). The description of the character she is going to play, however, caused a few ripples in LOTR fandom. ‘Young Galadriel’ kept popping up in a lot of articles, and even from the showrunners themselves and this left many scratching their heads and grabbing their pitchforks to fight against the mere notion of a ‘young’ Galadriel. ‘But she’s thousands of years old already!’ they would cry, and if you look at it from our perspective of ageing, it’s an understandable reaction. Vanity Fair even unhelpfully labelled Galadriel (and Elrond) as an ageless character, which would cause a problem.
How on Earth could Galadriel be described as young when she is thousands of years old in the Second Age? Well, that’s the issue; it’s not Earth. I initially had a similar opinion of a young Galadriel, but after going back to the texts, my opinion of Amazon’s portrayal of Galadriel has changed. I had never been against the idea ‘War Galadriel’ but my opinion wasn’t based much on fact.
To find out some more information on Galadriel, I first (by pure chance) looked to the most recently published book edited by Carl F. Hostetter, The Nature of Middle-earth. Now we are treading into the really nerdy realm of Tolkien here, but it offers a fantastic insight into how Tolkien laid out the ageing process of different races, which totally changed my perspective.
To explain it in extremely basic terms (as I am not much of a mathematician): although we say that a character may be X number of thousands of years old, this is given in ‘mortal years’, i.e. the age of man, essentially. To make it even more complicated, ageing also changes depending on where one is in the world. This means that effectively Galadriel would still be relatively young in ‘age years’, which adds some credence to the description of her as ‘young’, being still in her early twenties by the start of the Second Age. As a side note, this would also mean that she was in her mid-nineties by the end of the Third Age, but err… Well, I guess we don’t really know if that means she would be like a 95-year-old human or not.
I could be wrong, but I believe that a lot of YouTubers who are stirring up a lot of discontent in the fan base are not truly aware of this type of information and automatically jump on Amazon for creating a character that does not fit their ideal, which until now has only been depicted in The Lord of the Rings and not earlier in her life.
After this research, I am on board with ‘young’ Galadriel, and I have to say I’ve taken a bit of a fancy to Morfydd herself. There’s not a lot available on her online, but here’s an interview with her last year. I think she could be as perfect for the role as Cate Blanchett albeit for different reasons, which is a good thing.
Piss and Vinegar
Age is not the only thing that people criticise Amazon for. While I think some of the expressions and words that have been used by Amazon and journalists are unfortunate, I do not think it is totally inaccurate.
People who criticise this character essentially see her as a ‘strong female character who don’t need no man’ who is being used purely as a means for Amazon to create a Mary Sue type feminist who hates men. While I totally understand the concern when we look at how some female characters have been portrayed in other big franchises, I’d like to remain positive that this will not happen to Galadriel.
The idea of Galadriel being a physically strong female character does not contravene Tolkien’s writings at all. As I said before, every portrayal of Galadriel so far has been in LOTR only where it is understandable that she is calmer, more demure and not used as a warrior-type character. This may fit in with the impression a reader of LOTR would get, but let’s have a look at some of Tolkien’s other writings. It should be pointed out before we get into it, that there are some contradictions in his writing as the ideas evolved and changed slightly over time, but nothing on the description of the character really changed, only some plot points. Galadriel herself seems to stay fairly consistent across the board. All the information I have gathered below is from The History of Middle-earth and The Unfinished Tales.
First, I’d like to start with the names. While we call her Galadriel as that is her name in LOTR, this is not her only name. As is fitting with elf culture (yes, I just wrote that) she actually has a total of three (or four depending on how you look at it) names. Her ‘father-name’ is Artanis, which means ‘noble woman’. Nothing special there. Her mother-name, however, is Nenwe, which translates as ‘man-maiden’ given to her ‘because of her strength and stature, and her courage’.
The important thing about the mother-name is that, unlike the father-name, it is given later in life and reflects the elf’s character and abilities known through the insight that Eldar mothers have into their children. From this alone, we can gleam that Galadriel was very much ‘male’ in many ways, which could easily translate as being of a warrior composition (more on that in a bit). Finally, Galadriel (or Alatariel) translates as ‘maiden crowned with a garland of bright radiance’, which is actually in reference to her hair, not a literal crown that one would expect of a king or queen.
Next, I’d like to look at some of the language that Tolkien used to describe Galadriel.
‘Commander of the Northern Armies’ is a phrase that many people have umbrage with, specifically the use of the word ‘commander’. It’s true, Tolkien did not write about Galadriel ever specifically being a commander, but in Tolkien’s own words on Galadriel in the Second Age:
‘She looked upon the Dwarves also with the eye of a commander, seeing in them the first warriors to pit against the Orcs’.
I would say that’s a pretty strong case for making her one, whether officially or not.
I won’t go through every single mention of her in these books as it would get too long, but it’s important to know that Tolkien really only ever describes Galadriel as being strong. Sauron himself ‘perceived at once that Galadriel would be his chief adversary and obstacle’ and she ‘took up rule and defence against Sauron’. She ‘fought heroically’ and later ‘fiercely’ in the battle of Alqualonde along with Celeborn. Words like ‘proud’, ‘strong’ and ‘self-willed’ pop up and there is even a character who was effectively a prototype of Galadriel before Tolkien started writing her into his legendarium, who was:
‘Well nigh of warrior’s stature with golden hair’.
She’s certainly an ambitious character, which is something else that people have an issue with. She so wanted a realm of her own to rule and in leaving Valinor, she was ‘the only woman of the Noldor to stand that day tall and valiant among the contending princes’. She is described as having ‘no peace within’ which effectively took her ‘two long ages’ to achieve once she had her own dominion in Middle-earth. It is not just her physical abilities that cause issue, but also her emotional state as well.
Going back to the idea of Galadriel being more demure and calm as she is portrayed in the films, we are now being given words such as ‘hot-headed’ and ‘rage’ that originate from some leaked details, adding to the worry from fans. The argument again that she is thousands of years old and shouldn’t be this way, is a bit of a misjudgement. Elves that passed over the Helkaraxe, which includes Galadriel, ‘were yet mighty folk’ and ‘the fire in their hearts was young’. Young hearts can be full of rage, I’m sure you can agree. She also:
‘burned with desire to follow Feanor with anger to whatever lands he might come, and to thwart him in all ways that she could’
I think there is enough source material to go off to justify a hot-headed warrior Galadriel and I do not believe it wholly goes against Tolkien’s own image of her. I am not necessarily defending Amazon’s creative decisions and there are plenty of other questionable decisions (her armour for one thing) they’ve apparently made, but this is not one that I have any issue with, and is actually something that I am looking forward to seeing.
It’s very easy to get wrapped up in the online rage, but I think it’s important to step back and really look at what people are arguing about. People are labelling the show as a ‘dumpster fire’ already, and I admit that I am still not totally on board with the show but on the topic of Galadriel at least, I am fine.
I probably don’t need to write this, but no, Amazon haven’t paid me to write this, but how I wish they did!
I love Galadriel’s story in Tolkien’s legendarium. Even those who only read The Lord of the Rings are missing a lot.
Thanks for your comment! Yes, it’s true. There is a lot more to the character that people miss but I think it makes it more fun and fascinating to do a bit of digging.
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Agreed. I really like what is told in The Unfinished Tales.
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