Yet another Lord of the Rings question
November 6, 2013 12:06 AM   Subscribe

Who's the boss in Lothlorien?

In Fellowship of the Ring, Celeborn is the Lord of Lothlorien and Tolkien seems to describe him as at least nominally in charge of the place. But Galadriel is clearly the much more important, powerful figure (particularly if one looks at the non-LOTR writings). And she's the one with the Ring of Power, not Celeborn. This puzzles me because just about everywhere else it's men that are the prime movers of the story. Did Tolkien ever explain what made Galadriel/Celeborn different, or am I reading too much into this?
posted by orrnyereg to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Tolkien never addresses it with regards to their particular relationship, but it's because Galadriel is a higher order of elf than Celeborn, in terms of their closeness to the Valar. Galadriel is a Noldor (those elves who completed the journey to Valinor and dwelt with the Valar, but returned to Middle Earth with Feanor), while Celeborn is a Sindar (those elves who started the journey to Valinor, but gave up). As a result, Galadriel is vastly more powerful than Celeborn, and so receives a greater focus in the story.
posted by kithrater at 1:20 AM on November 6, 2013 [14 favorites]

Pretty much what Kithrater says but you can also find a bit more about Celeborn and Galadriel in Unfinished Tales (although character names change through out, confusingly as Tolkien liked to try out different names in draft and these tales are as-they-were.) along with notes and explanations of obscure points.
posted by halcyonday at 2:08 AM on November 6, 2013

I always read it as she tacitly gives Celeborn free rein in Lorien to "make up" in a wifey way for her being immensely more powerful, as in an apprentice marrying the merchant's daughter and running the business "for" her. Doubt Tolkein thought through any feminist/gender implications once it was clear in his mind who was who in terms of lineage though.
posted by runincircles at 3:35 AM on November 6, 2013

Also worth noting that Galadriel is at a minimum something like 8,400 years old during the LotR trilogy (time gets kinda vague since I think she was born before the sun showed up, but she was def born in around the middle of the 1st age, and just the 2nd and 3rd get you to ~6500 years. This Q&A (3rd down) suggests 8,440.

I would have to assume that in 8,000 years you would be able to set up a pretty smoothly functioning administrative system that doesn't require much active oversight (even if she doesn't get to Lorien until sometime in the second age the point stands). How demanding can the day to day business of Lorien be, aside from when there's a dark lord to go fight?

I mention all of this as a reminder of how alien the elves are supposed to be. Why would we expect their ruling structure to be legible to humans? If you buy the Christian eschatology metaphor some people find in Tolkien the elves are supposed to be connected with the idea of man as he was before the fall in Eden, hence the immortality and so on. This gets somewhat glossed over in the movies where you almost never see the elves except when they are in council with other races or fighting alongside them.
posted by Wretch729 at 5:17 AM on November 6, 2013

The elves in Lothlorien are Silvan elves, who, as kithrater mentioned above, refused the summons of the Valar and thus were considered lowest in the ranks of elvish enlightenment. Celeborn's backstory has undergone some revisions by Tolkien himself with attempts to make his ancestry a better "match" for Galadriel's. He always struck me as a bit of an afterthought though - Tolkien probably invented him because Galadriel had to have a spouse for descendants i.e. Elrond, Arwen and so on.

That said, since Celeborn is officially Sindarin (and even in the alternative version he is Teleri) he would very likely be related to and have a longer acquaintance with the Silvan elves living in Lorien. (Silvan elves were part of the Teleri clan.) Previous rulers of Lorien have also been Sindarin. Galadriel, albeit powerful, would be viewed as somewhat of an outsider as well as being an exile, not to mention the whole business of the Noldor precipitating the Kinslaying... although I'm not sure whether that comes into it. Thus Celeborn may be more acceptable to them as a ruler.

(Now that I check it though, they are jointly Lord and Lady of Lothlorien. Maybe Galadriel doesn't like day-to-day admin?)
posted by monocot at 5:21 AM on November 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

What makes Galadriel a bad ass is the hardware, specifically her possession of a Ring of Power. Both jointly rule, but only one person has the super-powerful ring that keeps Lorien young.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:28 AM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think you may be reading too much into what elven kings actually do in Middle-Earth. They don't really seem to have the authority to compel obedience. Their subjects follow them out of love, honor, and respect, but it is not the way of the Free Peoples--particularly the elves--to force obedience where it is not freely given. That is significantly what separates them from Morgoth, Sauron, Saruman, and the Numenorean kings before their fall. So Celeborn and Galadriel were co-rulers of the elves in Lothlorien, but there really wasn't much in the way of a state the way we'd think of it. Certainly little in the way of a bureaucracy. Tolkien hated that stuff with a passion. They led by example and inspiration, not force or compulsion.

As to the difference between Galadriel and Celeborn, kithrater basically has it: Galadriel was one of the few elves remaining in Middle-Earth at the end of the Third Age who had seen the light of the Trees of Valinor before they were destroyed. Tolkien consistently describes that light as having conferred a benefit in terms of strength, wisdom, and skill upon the elves who and witnessed it. We see this when Frodo is almost caught by the Nazgul during the Flight to the Ford, "The moment the flood appeared, [Glorfindel] rushed out, followed by Aragorn and the others with flaming brands. Caught between fire and water, and seeing an Elf-lord revealed in his wrath, [the Nazgul] were dismayed, and their horses were stricken with madness." As Gandalf later explains, "[High Elves] do not fear the Ringwraiths, for those who have dwelt in the Blessed Realm live at once in both worlds, and against both the Seen and the Unseen they have great power." Galadriel was just the same.
posted by valkyryn at 6:36 AM on November 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

I had thought that some of Galadriel's power came from her having one of the elven rings of power (specifically, Nenya). This ring gives protection and eternal spring to the realm of Lothlorien. It was said by Gandolf, I think, that after the One Ring was destroyed that the elven rings would lose most of their power and Lothlorien would fade.

I would also add that when Frodo offers the One Ring to Galadriel, she turns it down. This makes me think that she does not seek power, and thus, would also not need to be the actual one and only ruler of Lothlorien despite her being more powerful than Celeborn.
posted by BearClaw6 at 6:39 AM on November 6, 2013

I'd argue the reverse, she was given the Ring (to keep Lorien safe and young) because she was a badass. She has the inherent power of the "light of the two trees"---the original light of creation---in her hair. Nenya amplified her, that's what the rings do, but she embodies creation and light in some poorly defined way all on her own. She's the only elf, arguably, of Feanor's stature to remain in ME by the time of the war of the Ring.
posted by bonehead at 6:39 AM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

That's the significance of her giving hair to Gimli, btw. She, her hair, was the inspiration for the silmarils created by her uncle, Feanor, who also wanted to capture that light. She denied Feanor, the greatest elf sorcerer who ever lived. She did not deny Gimli.
posted by bonehead at 6:44 AM on November 6, 2013 [9 favorites]

There's history and politics on the side of the relationship too---Galadriel and Celeborn are the same sort of figures as Melian and Thingol. Melian was a maia, an "angel" of the same order of Gandalf, who married Thingol, the high king of the Sindarin elves---Celeborn's nation (in most variants).

Galadriel, being born in Valinor---elf heaven---and reflecting the light of Illuvatar, could be seen as somewhat divine herself, certainly favoured. Celeborn is a prince of the Sindarin elves. Lorien isn't Doraith, but the parallels of two hidden forest kingdoms should be pretty clear.

Thingol's kingdom, Doraith, was a huge forest, protected by the power of Melian's Girdle, hidden and safe. Galadiel is two generations removed from Thingol, but she and Celeborn, carry on that tradition. For Celeborn's part, he gains authority from the continuation, at least in spirit, of the kingship of Thingol, the great hero, a Moses figure, to the Sindarin elves.
posted by bonehead at 7:08 AM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

valkyryn: "Their subjects follow them out of love, honor, and respect, but it is not the way of the Free Peoples--particularly the elves--to force obedience where it is not freely given. That is significantly what separates them from Morgoth, Sauron, Saruman, and the Numenorean kings before their fall."

To be clear, the NĂºmenorean kings ruled wisely for quite some time. It is only in the later rulers - Tar-Meneldur at the earliest, and more realistically Tar-Atanamir - that they began to fall into corruption.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:49 AM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also, Celeborn was the one who led the Galadhrim in battle when they marchd out of the woods to besiege Dol Guldur. So he's heading up the road crew.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:23 AM on November 6, 2013

Also, Celeborn was the one who led the Galadhrim in battle when they marchd out of the woods to besiege Dol Guldur. So he's heading up the road crew.

This is true, but Galadriel is the one who ultimately destroys Dol Guldur. She "threw down its walls and laid bare its pits." So she definitely is not removed from the action all of the time.

I don't have anything else to add textually, but I always thought Celeborn probably did a lot of the political handling and Galadriel probably chose to occupy the role of a spiritual, inspirational figure-- more along the lines of a high priestess (particulary given her gifts of prophecy.)
posted by WidgetAlley at 4:30 PM on November 6, 2013

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