Addressing the One-Note Whingers: Weighing in on Warrior Galadriel

So we have ourselves yet another promotional clip for The Rings of Power, this time one focusing on the show’s characterisation of Galadriel:

The usual suspects have been denigrating this characterisation of Galadriel for some time, castigating her as a Buffy knock-off who isn’t a patch on Cate Blanchett’s ethereal sorceress. Indeed, these aforementioned suspects have a really, really bad habit of citing Peter Jackson’s adaptations as true to the text, in a manner that would have an earlier generation of Tolkien Purists pulling their hair out. Speaking as someone who can remember online fandom twenty years ago, it is truly uncanny how the parallels between Jackson’s Arwen and Amazon’s Galadriel line up. I’ll see your Buffy-Galadriel analogy, and raise you XenArwen. People currently complaining about Celeborn’s absence ought to ask themselves about missing Glorfindel.

(And anyone citing that Jackson interview where the director claims he was “preserving Tolkien’s message” clearly lacks the critical thinking ability of a particularly gullible school child. Even allowing for the fact that Jackson simply doesn’t “get” certain Tolkien themes, he was most certainly imposing his own vision of Middle-earth. Boorman in 1970 also claimed he was being true to Tolkien. You don’t take such commentators at their word!).

The funny thing is that Jackson’s Arwen really was Jackson playing fast and loose with the actual text. The Lord of the Rings is a complete story, with characters and dialogue. Tolkien’s Arwen is something of a non-entity, so Jackson went and changed that in his own version. Which is fine. It’s what adaptations do. The result was a fun and highly popular movie, one that ironically seems to have shaped the interpretations of 2020s Purists more than Tolkien’s original text.

The present show is not dealing with a complete story. It is dealing with summaries, lists, and notes. And in the case of pre-Lord of the Rings Galadriel? We’re not dealing with a clear canon at all. Indeed, we’re dealing with a variety of outright contradictory versions, as Tolkien spent the last two decades of his life trying to retrospectively insert a character he had created in the process of writing The Lord of the Rings back into his existing mythos. Basically, unlike Arwen, there is no coherent character backstory to earlier Galadriel. She’s one of those multiple-choice-origin characters.

But among these multiple-choice pasts, several relevant ideas do appear:

  • Letter 348: In her youth, Galadriel was of Amazonian (i.e. female warrior) disposition, and bound her hair up during athletic feats.
  • Morgoth’s Ring, p.177.: Galadriel was the fairest and most valiant lady of the House of Finwë.
  • Unfinished Tales, p.297: Galadriel was proud, strong, and self-willed… and she “fought fiercely against Fëanor in defence of her mother’s kin.” 

To my mind, a reading of earlier Galadriel as a martial character strikes me as consistent with these ideas. Does it necessarily look like Cate Blanchett’s ethereal sorceress? No, but to think Galadriel never changed during her thousands of years in Middle-earth is to ignore Tolkien’s own idea that Galadriel’s rejection of the One Ring was pure character development (Unfinished Tales, p.298.). Third Age Galadriel is not First and Second Age Galadriel.

(And, as an aside, calling Galadriel the most valiant female Finwëan puts her in competition with Idril. While comparing different eras of Tolkien writings is a dangerous business, I would note that the only full version of The Fall of Gondolin (1916-1920) has Idril in armour, defending her son in battle.* That’s the sort of valiance Galadriel is being judged superior to. Imagining Galadriel herself in armour, and fighting with a sword, a la her fierce fight at Alqualondë, is thus hardly alien to the character. Hell, as her brother Finrod himself showed, it is entirely possible to be an adept magic-user while also fighting what one assumes are more conventional battles in other contexts).

*I have re-checked the text. Turns out little Earendil is the one explicitly in armour. But Idril does subsequently use a sword during the Fall.   

So much for Warrior Galadriel – except to note that the notion of her seeking vengeance for Finrod is a pure show-invention. Which, again, is fine. It gives her an easily relatable motivation in this Second Age story, and a reason for this easily-recognisable character to be coming into direct contact with various residual nasties of Middle-earth. I would prefer, however, for there to be some allusions to Galadriel desiring to rule Middle-earth, as per the character development Tolkien envisaged. Show what she aspired to in her youth, so we can see what Third Age Galadriel was giving up.

And what of Elrond? Here we have the usual suspects complaining that the “Greatest Warrior of the Second Age” is having his martial prowess stripped from him. Again, there is the sense that such people derive their impressions of Middle-earth more from Jackson than from Tolkien. Tolkien’s Elrond does participate in war and the leading of armies, of course. He participates in both the War of the Elves and Sauron, and the Last Alliance. But he remains Gil-galad’s subordinate and Herald, and is a mere fifty-eight years old at the start of the Second Age – there is plenty of room for this initially naïve character to grow, while the noted interest of Amazon Elrond in architecture might be a reference to him building Imladris/Rivendell further down the track. And I dare say, what we’ve seen of Amazon Elrond thus far is arguably closer to Tolkien’s “he was as kind as summer” characterisation than the rather dour and frowning Hugo Weaving.

(If I have an issue with Amazon Elrond thus far – other than the hair-colour – it is that him quipping about Galadriel arriving with mud on her boots is rather at odds with Elrond’s own early life. The guy initially lived in a refugee camp, and lost his biological parents, before being captured and raised by two very scary war-criminals. One imagines that he knows better than to make light of other people living rough).

So yeah. A wee rant about how the self-described fandom is reacting here. None of this is to suggest that there won’t be valid criticisms to be made of the Amazon adaptation – after it actually comes out, at any rate – but I do think, from what we’ve seen, there is a valid foundation for characterising Galadriel in this way, in an adaptational context. I for one also find these newly-minted 2020s Purists more than a bit suspicious in their undying adoration of the Peter Jackson movies. For all that they claim to defend Tolkien against the Political Correctness of the Modern Era (a charge that was, of course, levelled at Jackson himself twenty years ago), it really looks like they are just trying to manufacture Culture War outrage in order to boost the advertising revenue of their various YouTube channels. Two can play at cynicism.

4 thoughts on “Addressing the One-Note Whingers: Weighing in on Warrior Galadriel

  1. Warrior Galadriel is a “wait and see” for me. Galadriel in a commanding position seems fine. I’m less keen on the Legolas-style stunts we’ve seen glimpses of… mostly because I didn’t care for the Legolas stunts to begin with. Funnily enough, looking back at some archived LOTR threads from 2000, there’s quite a bit of Nerd Sexism going on. And a “Tolkien would never have a feminazi elf doing such things!” vibe. As though these people had never heard of Luthien. I wonder what these types would make of the scene of Luthien & Huan going head-to-head in a duel with Sauron whilst Beren is stuck in a prison. “Woke Tolkien HATES MEN shows MARY SUE WOMAN and USELESS EMASCULSTED MAN! ”

    That Jackson quote always just makes me want to post the image of Denethor leaping from the heights of Minas Tirith on fire in response.

    Jackson made some substantial changes to the tone, characterisations and themes of LOTR, and some of them were for the worse (Denethor, Gimli, Frodo sending Sam away, Dumbed Down Treebeard etc). And yes, claims of being “true to Tolkien” is a pretty standard bit of PR: The Shadow of War games – they of the Sexy Shelob and Isildur the Nazgul fame – also made noise about ‘respecting’ the lore.

    Another thing is that whilst I have my concerns with some of the stuff surrounding McKay and Payne’s choices, none of them have quite-so-far struck me as off as some of Jackson’s reportedly early ideas (Jackson originally had Gimli “swearing like a sailor” in an early draft, had Aragorn fight Sauron at the Black Gate, and wrote a skinny dipping scene in the Glittering Cave with Arwen) let alone some of the stuff that made the film. I always wonder what Tolkien’s reaction might be to seeing Gandalf’s awful advice to Theoden, or Gandalf beating up Denethor while his household guards stand by and do nothing.

    But the “TOLKIEN DESTROYED BY AMAZON” silliness is especially grating since the Professor’s work has already survived the Shadow games and the often abysmal Hobbit movies. I think he can survive Amazon as well, however good or bad the show turns out. Depressingly, so much of this outrage bait is about race and women that it reveals an unpleasant reactionary motivation. The show isn’t really what’s at stake here for them. Tolkien purity isn’t “really” the focus of these grifters, it’s just a tool for fanning the flames. Rings of Power is being used as another cassus beli for them against “woke” culture. There’s a really ugly tint to it all. Though I wonder how many of them realise Tolkien himself described Gondor in the Minas Tirith chapter having a mixed-race population and many of the men there as ‘swarthy’?

    Relatedly, there’s now a “Amazon Elrond woke soft boy” thing going about. In comparison to the “Manlier” Jackson version. God help us all.

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    • Precisely Lúthien is the problem. Tolkien deliberately decided that the quintessential example of female empowerment in his universe, the champion of Eru and mother of the sacred bloodline of Númenor, never, ever touched a sword, bow, or wore armor (unlike Idril, Aredhel…). Lúthien is exclusively magical power, she is the sorceress and healer par excellence. Swords and weapons were reserved solely for Beren.
      That’s why it feels strange that Amazon paints Second Age Galadriel, post-Melian, post-Lúthien, as a sword-wielding warrior. It doesn’t seem bad to me, mind you, but it still feels a little weird.
      That since we are with Lúthien, I still think that I don´t think that Amazon will let Warrior Galadriel not participate, at least briefly, in the most glorious adventure of the entire First Age, and even more so with her brother in her midst. I perfectly see her following Lúthien to Tol-in-Garhouth, and playing some part in Sauron’s defeat. After all, in Tolkien’s canon, Artanis was in the perfect place at the perfect time. It is assumed that she was among those who saw Beren stating “Thingol, this isn´t the last time you see the son of Barahir”
      About Teleporno, not to be unfair, but he is a much more important character than the LOTR Glorfindel, who disappears from the plot as quickly as he appeared, and who in a late retcon Tolkien decided was the resurrection of the legendary Lord of the House of the GOLDEN Flower of Gondolin. That’s why I hope that sooner or later Amazon will show us Teleporno, if only to tell us where Celebrian came from, remember, Elrond’s wife, Arwen’s mother -and a certain pair of twins whose absence no one regretted in Jackson’s movies –
      Regarding skin color, I insist again that a Mediterranean swarthy, like the ancient Greeks, Israelites and Babylonians, is not the same as the actors with African skin that Amazon is using. This is like if they made a biblical movie where Noah (and well, according to Tolkien, Elendil is Noah), Moses or David were black people

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      • that now that I fall, if there are a couple of canonical characters from the entire Legendarium that can be black skin without contradicting Tolkien, they are precisely Melian and Lúthien.
        Well, and maybe the Avari Elves -I ask Eru to say that Arondir would have an Avari father or mother-.
        Tolkien specifically painted Middle-earth, especially Middle-earth as we know it (Beleriand, Eriador, and parts of Rhovanion), as an earlier version of Europe. He even said that the territories of the Shire today belonged to England and that Minas Tirith was in the latitude of Troy.
        That “old Europe” obviously includes Hellenized Western Asia, from Anatolia to Judea and Syria, where the Christian faith was born and grew, without which Europe cannot be understood – or Tolkien, by the way. Therefore, both the Elves and the Edain (and their relatives like the Rohirrim) are supposed to look like Proto-Europeans, Israelites or even Norse in some cases.
        Now, with Melian and Lúthien none of this applies. Melian is an Ainu, an Angel who can take any form she wishes, and in the Silmarillion it is said that Yavanna, the Valie of Earth, sometimes took a dark-skinned fana, if I remember correctly. Thus, Melian and her daughter may be black women, even if that contradicts Tolkien’s modeling of Lúthien after his wife Edith, I see less incongruous than Amazon’s Tar-Míriel (“fairer than silver or pearls”) which is even dark-skinned than Arondir .

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  2. I hereby withdraw my commendation of Aramayo as a good actor.

    “Galadrriel! Commander of the Northern Armies! [G. smirks and looks away, probably the way Eisenhower did with FDR.] I half expected you to arrive caked in mud”

    Why the emphasis on “I”? Whatever, the writing is over-trying and under-achieving

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