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.