🪞 The Trial of Galadriel the Beautiful and Terrible
The Tester becomes the Tested
The final night before the Fellowship departs the elven haven of Lórien, Galadriel gives Frodo and Sam the chance to look into a basin filled with water called the Mirror of Galadriel. They accept. What Sam sees is a vision of the Scouring of the Shire. Frodo sees not just one vision but a series of visions that include glimpses of Gandalf the White, Minas Tirith, Aragorn’s banner unveiled from the Corsair ship sailing up the Anduin, and finally the Eye of Sauron itself.
In the ensuing discussion about Sauron and the One Ring with Frodo, Galadriel reveals that one of the reasons she is able to contest Sauron’s efforts to perceive her thoughts as well as protect the realm of Lórien is that she is the wielder of Nenya, one of the three elven Rings of Power.
Praising her as “wise and fearless and fair,”1 Frodo offers to give the One Ring to her.
Thus begins the trial of Galadriel. For though it was originally she who intended to test Frodo, the tester becomes the tested.
“I do not deny that my heart has greatly desired to ask what you offer,”2 she admits. The scenario she has imagined countless times before—the One Ring coming into her grasp—has come to pass. In a preview of what would occur should she accept, Galadriel exclaims:
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! 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!
Lifting the hand that bears Nenya and illuminated by a bright light emanating from the Ring, Galadriel “stood before Frodo seeming now tall beyond measurement, and beautiful beyond enduring, terrible and worshipful.”
The brief moment passes, however. Galadriel lets her hand fall and laughs as the light fades. No longer the towering and terrible figure, she is again simply Galadriel.
“‘I pass the test,’ she says, ‘I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.”
If you’re mainly familiar with the film adaptation, this might be all you remember of the scene. Indeed, that’s how I pictured it. But there’s a fascinating callback to this scene in the very next chapter of the book that didn’t explicitly make it into the movie that beautifully illustrates the consequences and outcome of this test that Galadriel faced.
The next morning the Fellowship departs Lórien. On their way out of her realm, Galadriel gives gifts to each of the members of the Fellowship. When it comes to Frodo’s turn, Galadriel gifts him a phial containing the light of Eärendil’s star. “May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out. Remember Galadriel and her mirror,”3 she says to Frodo.
What happens next leaves Frodo speechless.
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