Tolkienian Speculative Guessing II: All Shall Love Me and Despair
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!
Following on from my earlier post, imagining the Ringwraiths as rational actors during the Weathertop confrontation, someone posited another Tolkienian “what if:”
How would the story have turned out if Galadriel had accepted the Ring from Frodo?
As someone with a fondness for both Tolkien and Alternate History, I can hardly turn up my nose at Tolkienian Alternate History. This is the sort of messy, unanswerable question I adore. So let’s take a shot.
Before we start, I think it necessary to consider a couple of questions about how Middle-earth operates, and about Galadriel’s motivations. Tolkien himself obligingly provides us with some help, in the form of a letter from September 1963:
Of the others only Gandalf might be expected to master [Sauron], being an emissary of the Powers and a creature of the same order, an immortal spirit taking a visible physical form. In the ‘Mirror of Galadriel’, 1381, it appears that Galadriel conceived of herself as capable of wielding the Ring and supplanting the Dark Lord. If so, so also were the other guardians of the Three, especially Elrond. But this is another matter. It was part of the essential deceit of the Ring to fill minds with imaginations of supreme power. But this the Great had well considered and had rejected, as is seen in Elrond’s words at the Council. Galadriel’s rejection of the temptation was founded upon previous thought and resolve. In any case Elrond or Galadriel would have proceeded in the policy now adopted by Sauron: they would have built up an empire with great and absolutely subservient generals and armies and engines of war, until they could challenge Sauron and destroy him by force. Confrontation of Sauron alone, unaided, self to self was not contemplated.
Emphasis mine. The basic points are twofold:
(i) The Ring tricks people into imagining they are more powerful than they really are (an extreme example is Sam Gamgee fantasising about turning Mordor into a garden).
(ii) Galadriel with the Ring cannot beat Sauron in a one-on-one confrontation. Only Maiar-level spirits can hope for that – Gandalf, Saruman, Radagast, the Blue Wizards, and (rabbit hole time), the Balrog of Moria. Galadriel must focus on building up armies.
Building armies takes time. The longer the War drags on, the better for Galadriel – whereas it is suddenly in Sauron’s interests to force a confrontation, and quickly.
As a further question of motivation… why might Galadriel accept Frodo’s offer? Tolkien’s Letter explicitly states that she had previously considered the question, and resolved to reject. What could change her mind?
Hypothetically, two considerations. Firstly, she is uniquely stuck in Middle-earth – if Sauron is victorious, she cannot run to the Havens, and she remembers what happened to her cousin, Celebrimbor, when Sauron got his claws on him:
Secondly, Gandalf’s fall in Moria makes it appear (on the surface) that the Quest is doomed. If the Ring is destroyed, Elven civilisation will be wiped out via the ravages of time, but at least Sauron will be beaten. Now even that hope has gone. Frodo taking the Ring into Mordor is utter madness – while Galadriel taking the Ring is not only in the interests of herself and her people, but also the interests of Middle-earth.
And thus the Lady makes her decision.
Frodo finds giving up the Ring difficult, but feels extreme relief afterwards. He informs the rest of the Fellowship. The other hobbits are merely sad or relieved, Boromir is irritated that the Elves get the Ring and not Gondor, while Legolas and Gimli secretly feel excited at the prospect of a Queen – Legolas for reasons of Elvish solidarity, Gimli because he’s in courtly love with Galadriel (not that they say anything). The only truly horrified member of the Fellowship is Aragorn, who tries to talk her out of it.
Aragorn’s efforts fail, and create animosity between the Fellowship and the Lady. There will be no gift-giving. Moreover, since there is no realistic way of heading back, it is agreed that the entire company head to Minas Tirith.
Since Frodo does not have the Ring, Boromir does not attack him, so Frodo and Sam do not sneak away. When Saruman’s Orcs arrive, they capture all four hobbits – Boromir is still killed defending them. We then follow the book – the hobbits end up in Fangorn Forest, while Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli run across Rohan in pursuit. The Three Hunters encounter Éomer, and pick up the horses on the understanding they will be returned.
Gandalf returns to life, and, as per the book, heads via eagle to Lothlórien. There he gets a truly unpleasant surprise. Galadriel has not yet worn or claimed the Ring, since she does not want Sauron to know what has happened, but she is making preparations for War. Gandalf tries to convince her to abandon this madness. Galadriel believes he wants the Ring for himself, and orders his imprisonment. Gandalf surrenders to the Elves.
Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli enter Fangorn Forest, and get extremely lucky – they stumble across an Ent, who takes them to Treebeard and the hobbits. The Fellowship is reunited, and everyone learns of Saruman’s activities. Aragorn decides the hobbits are safest here, but Rohan must be warned. Together with Legolas and Gimli, he takes Éomer’s horses to Edoras.
Without Gandalf to free the King, Wormtongue has all three captured and imprisoned.
Saruman’s forces sweep across Rohan with no resistance. Edoras is easily captured, Théoden is killed, as is Éomer, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli (they never escape the prison). Wormtongue sets himself up as Quisling over any surviving Rohirrim, while Éowyn kills herself.
The Ents take out Isengard, leaving Saruman’s victorious armies with no leader. The Uruk-hai grab what they can, and retreat to the White Mountains in little bands of marauders, while the Dunlendings think about resettling Rohan again after five centuries. Wormtongue gets murdered in his sleep.
Galadriel has now built up enough strength to assail Dol Guldur and Southern Mirkwood. She claims the Ring openly – finally tipping off Sauron about what is happening. The Dark Lord realises he needs to move fast.
Logistics mean that the only way Sauron can attack Galadriel in sufficient force is via Gondor – and he needs to take Minas Tirith before the Lady wins them over to her side. Denethor is uncomfortable with this turn of events, but ever the Realist, he sends a diplomatic envoy to Lothlórien, asking for an alliance. Rohan is no longer an option, but perhaps the Elves might help?
The envoy does not return in time. Sauron hurriedly assembles a force, and sends it against Osgilliath. Having secured the river-crossing, the Dark Lord then attacks Minas Tirith.
On one hand, Sauron’s attack is even more rushed than the book version, and he will have to keep the Ringwraiths (including the Witch-King) away from the enemy – he can’t risk Galadriel interfering with their loyalty. On the other hand, there is no Rohirrim or Aragorn coming to the rescue for Gondor in this scenario. No Gandalf to lift hearts either.
On balance, I think Minas Tirith falls. Denethor and Faramir die. Denethor’s death is more conventional than the book – the idea of Galadriel as Ring-Lord gives him hope that Sauron can be defeated, and the accelerated attack means he has less time to slip into suicidal despair. That said, Mordor’s lack of organisation makes the defeat of Gondor a close-run thing – Sauron’s victory ends up being a Pyrrhic one.
Meanwhile, Galadriel has conquered Dol Guldur, forced Thranduil into an alliance (he tolerates it), and set her sights on Erebor, Dale, and Lake Town. Men are willing to serve her, but the dwarves of the Lonely Mountain refuse. She ignores them for now – there are other concerns. She also finds Sauron’s Easterling army (the one that attacks Dale in the book), and converts them to her side. Using logs from Mirkwood as rafts, she gets her new allies back over the Anduin, secures her position, and awaits Sauron’s attack.
Sauron wastes little time sending his forces to Minas Tirith via Osgilliath, and then north to Lothlórien. As mentioned, it is a battle against the clock for him – he needs to overwhelm Galadriel before she can overwhelm him. Quite apart from the losses suffered against Gondor, his troops are tired, poorly prepared, and nervous. More than a few Orcs disappear into the White Mountains en route (Gorbag and his “few trusty lads”), while the Haradrim are annoyed that they have to keep fighting after the defeat of their ancestral enemy – they may hate Gondor, but Gondor is gone.
Galadriel wins the resulting battle.
Sauron realises the game is up, and does all he can to fortify Mordor’s defences against attack. He cannot even use the Ringwraiths for scouting missions now.
Galadriel wins over surviving (rural) Gondorians, and attacks Mordor via Morgul Vale. The evil of the Vale drives a portion of her forces to madness, but it is nothing a few fires can’t fix, and she has reserves anyway. While the Orcs now have the advantage of fighting a defensive war, they find the prospect of fighting the Lady terrifying.
Rather than hiding in Barad-dûr amid a prolonged siege, with inevitable capture and execution waiting at the end, Sauron might choose to run. With a new Ring-Lord on the scene, his ability to “come back” from such a defeat might well be too limited – so I think he flees east with the Nine Rings. Galadriel’s forces accordingly find an empty Barad-dûr.
Galadriel is now triumphant. The dream she once had, all those years ago in Valinor, of ruling a great realm… it has now been fulfilled. But even from his confinement, Gandalf still defies her. Still insists she ought to destroy the Ring. Rank hypocrisy! He would sit where she sits – but he lacked the courage. She alone defeated the Dark Lord. She alone! And she will brook no rival. But if she executes Gandalf, he might return somehow. Maiar are strange beings, and who knows what plan the Valar have, those who banished her and her people all those millennia ago?
Better to put Gandalf next to Saruman. And what better place than the inescapable dungeons of the Dark Tower? Elrond seems to have escaped to the Havens, back across the Sea, to what her uncle once called the cages of the Valar. Let him run.
She will rule this Middle-earth.