. Alas, not me: Galadriel and the Fall of Gandalf

17 July 2016

Galadriel and the Fall of Gandalf

It's that woman again

My last post looked at Celeborn's famously poor showing as the wisest of the Elves of Middle-earth. Here I want to take a quick look at Galadriel in the same scene.
When all the guests were seated before his chair the Lord looked at them again. 'Here there are eight,' he said. 'Nine were to set out: so said the messages. But maybe there has been some change of counsel that we have not heard. Elrond is far away, and darkness gathers between us, and all this year the shadows have grown longer.'

'Nay, there was no change of counsel,' said the Lady Galadriel speaking for the first time. Her voice was clear and musical, but deeper than woman's wont. 'Gandalf the Grey set out with the Company, but he did not pass the borders of this land. Now tell us where he is; for I much desired to speak with him again. But I cannot see him from afar, unless he comes within the fences of Lothlorien: a grey mist is about him, and the ways of his feet and of his mind are hidden from me.'

'Alas!' said Aragorn. 'Gandalf the Grey fell into shadow. He remained in Moria and did not escape.'

(FR 2.vii.355)
From the very first we can see that she perceives more than he does, not in the sense that she may be wiser or more intelligent than he is, but the juxtaposition of his words and hers suggests that her perceptions take in a wider world, at least as far as Gandalf is concerned. Celeborn and Galadriel do not share altogether the same frame of reference. She speaks of Gandalf as if she can still somehow sense him. She does not know where he is, or what he is thinking, but he is still out there somewhere. 

That Gandalf is 'hidden' in 'a grey mist' is an enticing detail, since when Frodo looks into Galadriel's mirror later in this same chapter, he twice sees a mist: first one that clears to reveal to him a vision of the Sea (FR 2.vii.364), which hobbits, mistakenly, regard as 'a token of death' (FR Pr. 7); and then he sees a 'small ship, twinkling with lights' 'pass away' into 'a grey mist' (FR 2.vii.364). That ship of course is the same one Frodo dreams (or has a vision) of in Fog on the Barrow-Downs (FR 1.viii.135), and upon which he sails into the West in The Grey Havens (RK 6.ix.1030). And in both of these passages the farthest shore is at first obscured by 'a grey rain-curtain'. 

What comes next in this scene is also intriguing. For Galadriel says not a word in response to Aragorn's euphemistic announcement of Gandalf's death. In fact she says nothing at all until he tells the tale up to their arrival at the bridge and the coming of the Balrog. When she does speak, it is to pull Celeborn back from his hasty remarks, to reaffirm that none of Gandalf's deeds were 'needless', and to greet with 'love and understanding' the member of the Company who has in fact suffered the most, Gimli, who has endured the loss of Balin and the dwarves of Moria, has seen his people's worst nightmare drag Gandalf into the abyss, and has so far met a rather hostile reception in Lothlórien (FR 2.vii.356). Is it an accident that she proceeds immediately from this to a statement that directly touches upon her wider perceptions and then to a demonstration of them?
'But even now there is hope left. I will not give you counsel, saying do this, or do that. For not in doing or contriving, nor in choosing between this course and another, can I avail; but only in knowing what was and is, and in part also what shall be. But this I will say to you: your Quest stands upon the edge of a knife. Stray but a little and it will fail, to the ruin of all. Yet hope remains while all the Company is true.' 
And with that word she held them with her eyes, and in silence looked searchingly at each of them in turn. None save Legolas and Aragorn could long endure her glance. Sam quickly blushed and hung his head. 
At length the Lady Galadriel released them from her eyes, and she smiled. 'Do not let your hearts be troubled,' she said. 'Tonight you shall sleep in peace.' Then they sighed and felt suddenly weary, as those who have been questioned long and deeply, though no words had been spoken openly.
(FR 2.vii.357, emphasis mine)
Her statement that she can 'avail' only through her knowledge of the past, the present, and 'in part' the future gives an authority none question to what she says about the hope and the precariousness of their quest. But note also that Galadriel does not say that she knows what may, or what might, or even what will be. She states that she knows some of what shall be. Shall is at least emphatic, and at most denotes necessity. Thus Galadriel here speaks not of possibilities, but of certainties. Yet we can also see her phrase 'in part' reflected in her later remarks about what one may see of the future in her Mirror:

'For it shows things that were, and things that are, and things that yet may be. But which it is that he sees, even the wisest cannot always tell.'

'Remember that the Mirror shows many things, and not all have yet come to pass. Some never come to be, unless those that behold the visions turn aside from their path to prevent them.'
this is beginning to look like an obsession
But for all the caution with which she warns against the indeterminacy of a future which is always in motion, there is something of which she is quite sure, as her use of shall attests. What can Galadriel mean? I believe we need to see her hint that she still perceives Gandalf in context with Gwaihir's statement to Gandalf that Galadriel had sent him looking for him (TT 3.v.502), which in turn leads to a question: why send an eagle to look for someone who had fallen to his death in a profound abyss beneath a mountain range? I would suggest that the future which Galadriel knew in part was Gandalf's death at the hands of the Balrog atop Zirakzigil and his return as Gandalf the White. (Recall that Frodo also sees Gandalf the White without realizing it in the Mirror -- 2.vii.363-64). It was only when Aragorn brought word of his fall at the bridge that she became certain, and stepped in to help keep the Company from straying too far before he returned. A look at the chronology presented in The Tale of Years is revealing here.
15. The Bridge of Khazad-dûm, and fall of Gandalf. The Company reaches Nimrodel             late at night.
17. The Company comes to Caras Galadhon at evening.
23. Gandalf pursues the Balrog to the peak of Zirak-zigil.
25. He casts down the Balrog, and passes away. His body lies on the peak.

15.* The Mirror of Galadriel. Gandalf returns to life, and lies in a trance.
16. Farewell to Lórien. Gollum in hiding on the west bank observes the departure.
17. Gwaihir bears Gandalf to Lórien.
(RK App. B 1092)
The first thing we may notice is that Galadriel's initial perception that Gandalf was 'hidden' was more accurate than what the Company had actually seen with their own eyes. She learned of his fall when she met the Company on 17 January, but Gandalf did not die until the 25th. It also seems hardly coincidental that the day on which he returned to life is also the day on which Galadriel brought Frodo and Sam to the Mirror and told them it is time for the Company to move on (FR 2.vii.366).* The facts of the story almost invite us to conclude that Galadriel kept the Company in Lothlórien, 'in the ageless time of that land where days bring healing and not decay' (TT 3.v.503), until Gandalf revived; only then did she send them on their way, rested and recovered from the shock of the loss they thought they had suffered, and tested in ways that prepared them all, even perhaps Boromir**, to be the right people in the right place at the right time.



*Hammond and Scull (2005) 718, point out that editions prior to 2005 wrongly dated the Mirror episode to 14 February, which does not match the events as described in the text. The episode takes place 'one evening' (2.vii.360), and Galadriel tells Frodo and Sam the Company must depart 'in the morning' (366). Directly after she says this, at the beginning of the next chapter, we read 'That night the Company was again summoned to the chamber of Celeborn' (2.viii.367). The demonstrative that and the adverb again can together refer only to the same evening as in The Mirror of Galadriel. Since the morning on which the Company departs is 16 February, and there is no evidence for an extra day, 15, not 14, February must be the correct date. This has no effect on my argument, but readers with an edition from before 2005 might note a discrepancy that needs to be explained.

**This may seem surprising, but it may be that by confronting Boromir with the temptation he felt to take and use the Ring Galadriel actually saved him. The self-knowledge she gave him created a conflict within him that came to a head on the slopes of Amon Hen. Without that knowledge or that conflict, he could never have pulled himself back and repented for his failed attempt to take the Ring from Frodo. His successful repentance forms an interesting counterpoint to Gollum's failed repentance. So I guess I've just thought up another article. You know, I'm convinced that at the end of one of these veins of mithril is a Balrog. 


  1. "in part what shall be" -- My years inside the Beltway reading government contracts have given the word "shall" a particular resonance. The government uses that word when success is not negotiable. The talents of the contractor had better be up to the parts that say "shall", or he'll find out just how unequal the power balance is. Not quite "this has been willed where what is willed must be," but close.

    I don't know what JRRT would think of it, but the idea that Galadriel can hear those parts of the Music that can't be otherwise works for me.

  2. it's a very ancient and regrettably old fashioned use of the word.

  3. Shawn E Marchese19 July, 2016 15:26

    "Shall" is a very interesting word. As you say, it denotes a sense of necessity or inevitability that even "will" (which philologically denotes choice and free will) does not.

    I find Galadriel's comments about the uncertainty future nicely coherent with The Silmarillion, p. 41, and Men's "virtue to shape their life, amid the powers and chances of the world, beyond the Music of the Ainur, which is as fate to all things else." I don't think this passage should be interpreted as saying Elves don't have free will (certainly Fëanor, Turgon, and even Galadriel here in LR 2.vii exercise free will, just to name a few), but I'm left believing that Men present more of an X factor because they are guests in Arda and not bound to it. As time goes on, starting with the Second Age and continuing on, Arda under the dominion of Men should become ever more uncertain and less bound to one version of "things that yet may be," and this may be the reason that "even the wisest cannot always tell" which is which.

    And even if they could tell, they could not necessarily change the future. As Galadriel says, some possible futures are made real by the very actions to avoid them. "Understanding is a three-edged sword."

  4. Thank you, Shawn. I never thought of free will as entropic before, but of course that is precisely what it has always been, ever since "Didn't I tell you not to eat the fruit of that tree, just that one tree?" I suppose that's what makes some uncomfortable with it. "The avalanche has already started. It is too late for the pebbles to vote."

  5. The Roman Empire after Diocletian was much lower-entropy than it was before. The manuscript of the B-Minor Mass is much lower entropy than the bottle of ink and ream of paper it came from. So I can't say that free will is always entropic.
    But you're right -- something about that statement feels true.

  6. Shawn E Marchese29 July, 2016 16:15

    "Entropic" is a good word that hadn't crossed my mind in writing that comment. But yes, I think the general trend viewed over time may be entropic simply because of the number of factors introduced (i.e., the number of wills to contend with). But though the general trend is entropic, that doesn't mean there aren't little spikes along the line where order is introduced, as Joe suggests.

    I haven't read that book by Knox, but I will. Oedipus is always a great vehicle for that question.