Here follows a meditation on Pentecost, when God bestowed the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, through the lens of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings—in particular the chapter of the Lady Galadriel’s giving of gifts to the Fellowship of the Ring. This I began with ardour and undertook with caution in mind, for well I knew that Tolkien said of the The Lord of the Rings: ‘As for any inner meaning or “message”, it has in the intention of the author none. It is neither allegorical nor topical.’1 Yet the seed whence sprang the story, and which ‘grew. . . [and] put down its roots (into the past) and threw out many branches’,2 this seed I believe—and I think Tolkien would affirm—is his understanding and love of beauty. As he said, ‘If you really want to know what Middle-earth is based on, it’s my wonder and delight in the Earth as it is, particularly the natural earth.’3 The same principle I think holds true of the characters and themes of this great story, according to their constituents: the ‘characters’ Tolkien was familiar with in real life, such as his friends, his Lord, and his Lady; and the themes of beauty in the world which he wondered at and delighted in through his Catholic faith and his understanding of goodness and truth. Hence I write this, not to misuse the text of The Lord of the Rings as an allegorical text or to pervert the author’s intent, nor to mire the loveliness of the text with scientific analysis, but to perhaps, if I may, set its beauty in such a light that it may more easily for you, dear Reader, reflect the beauty whence I believe sprang Tolkien’s wonder and awe which he has shared with us. For if a painting were made in the memory of a lady, though not named after her nor intended as a portrait, would I not learn of her loveliness by contemplating that painting? In this spirit I shall comment but little, except to relate Tolkien’s passages to truths of the Faith.
This passage by Tolkien (in italics) comes from the chapter Farewell to Lórien,4 in which the Lady Galadriel gives to the parting Fellowship gifts to strengthen them on their journey. In a similar fashion, the Holy Spirit, ‘the Gift that contains all gifts’,5 grants to Christians through the sacraments, especially Confirmation, the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit,6 and all heavenly graces. And ‘[i]n Mary, the Holy Spirit fulfills the plan of the Father’s loving goodness.’7 She is the Lady Who bestows upon those who would come to Her the gifts of strength, wisdom, and life as they journey through this vale of shadows.
‘Courage, dear heart’8
Then she called to each in turn.
‘Here is the gift of Celeborn and Galadriel to the leader of your Company’, she said to Aragorn, and she gave him a sheath that had been wrought of silver and gold, and on it were set in elven-runes formed of many gems the name Andúril and the lineage of the sword.
‘The blade that is drawn from this sheath shall not be stained or broken even in defeat,’ she said. ‘But is there aught else that you desire of me at our parting? For darkness will flow between us, and it may be that we shall not meet again, unless it be far hence upon a road that has no returning.’
And Aragorn answered: ‘Lady, you know all my desire, and long held in keeping the only treasure I seek. Yet it is not yours to give me, even if you would; and only through darkness shall I come to it.’
‘Yet maybe this will lighten your heart,’ said Galadriel; ‘for it was left in my care to be given to you, should you pass through this land.’ Then she lifted from her lap a great stone of clear green, set in a silver brooch that was wrought in the likeness of an eagle with outspread wings; and as she held it up the gem flashed like the sun shining through leaves of spring. ‘This stone I gave to Celebrían my daughter, and she to hers [Arwen]; and now it comes to you as a token of hope. In this hour take the name that was foretold for you, Elessar, the Elfstone of the house of Elendil!’
Then Aragorn took the stone and pinned the brooch upon his breast, and those who saw him wondered; for they had not marked before how tall and kingly he stood, and it seemed to them that many years of toil had fallen from his shoulders. ‘For the gifts that you have given me I thank you,’ he said, ‘O Lady of Lórien of whom were sprung Celebrían and Arwen Evenstar. What praise could I say more?’
That which Aragorn, the rightful king of Gondor, seeks above all is Arwen, granddaughter of Galadriel. So also does King Jesus the Bridegroom desire with all His Heart each of us, who are each children of Mary. And through the darkness of the Cross and of Death He is come to us. And it is Mary’s role with the Holy Spirit to unite souls to Jesus, the ‘living stone’ (1 Peter 1:4). By Her gifts She does this, bestowing perseverance and fortitude even in defeat; and giving hope amid darkness, sorrow, and suffering, that we may yet reach our goal of unending happiness in friendship with God, which is Heaven. In friendship with our Lady of Hope, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, we have no need of fear: For blessed is She among women, and blessed is the Fruit of Her womb! What praise could we say more?
Abiding in Hope
‘For you little gardener and lover of trees,’ she said to Sam, ‘I have only a small gift.’ She put into his hand a little box of plain grey wood, unadorned save for a single rune upon the lid. ‘Here is set G for Galadriel,’ she said; ‘but also it may stand for garden in your tongue. In this box there is earth from my orchard, and such blessing as Galadriel has still to bestow upon it. It will not keep you on your road, nor defend you against peril; but if you keep it and see your home again at last, then perhaps it may reward you. Though you should find all barren and laid waste, there will be few gardens in Middle-earth that will bloom like your garden, if you sprinkle this earth there. Then you may remember Galadriel, and catch a glimpse far off of Lórien, that you have seen only in our winter. For our spring and summer are gone by, and they will never be seen on earth again save in memory.’
Sam went red to the ears and muttered something inaudible, as he clutched the box and bowed as well as he could.
Galadriel’s gift to Sam is small, yet in no way unimportant; for it is a gift of hope to abide with him on his difficult journey. ‘Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit.’ (CCC 1817) It is the sure hope of peace and joy after the long journey and the arduous struggles that strengthens us for battle, sustains us in desolation and suffering, and shines as a beacon of light and life to the tired and weary soul who longs for the end of the road of darkness and for the life of beauty ever after.
For Love of Her
‘And what gift would a Dwarf ask of the Elves?’ said Galadriel, turning to Gimli.
‘None, Lady,’ answered Gimli. ‘It is enough for me to have seen the Lady of the Galadhrim, and to have heard her gentle words.’
‘Hear all ye elves!’ she cried to those about her. ‘Let none say again that the Dwarves are grasping and ungracious! Yet surely, Gimli son of Glóin, you desire something that I could give? Name it, I bid you! You shall not be the only guest without a gift.’
‘There is nothing, Lady Galadriel,’ said Gimli, bowing low and stammering. ‘Nothing, unless it might be — unless it is permitted to ask, nay, to name a single strand of your hair, which surpasses the gold of the earth as the stars surpass the gems of the mine. I do not ask for such a gift. But you commanded me to name my desire.’
The Elves stirred and murmured with astonishment, and Celeborn gazed at the Dwarf in wonder, but the Lady smiled. ‘It is said that the skill of the Dwarves is in their hands rather than in their tongues,’ she said; ‘yet that is not true of Gimli. For none have ever made to me a request so bold and yet so courteous. And how shall I refuse, since I commanded him to speak? But tell me, what would you do with such a gift?’
‘Treasure it, Lady,’ he answered, ‘in memory of your words to me at our first meeting. And if ever I return to the smithies of my home, it shall be set in imperishable crystal to be an heirloom of my house, and a pledge of good will between the Mountain and the Wood until the end of days.’
The the Lady unbraided one of her long tresses, and cut off three golden hairs, and laid them in Gimli’s hand. ‘These words shall go with the gift,’ she said. ‘I do not foretell, for all foretelling is now vain: on the one hand lies darkness, and on the other only hope. But if hope should not fail, then I say to you, Gimli son of Glóin, that your hands shall flow with gold, and yet over you gold shall have no dominion.
St. John of the Cross wrote that inasmuch as a soul hopes, so shall it attain. According to the bold humility of Gimli’s desire was he given. So with us, if we hope and desire for much in humble trust, much shall be given us. Whence said the Wise Man: ’Wherefore I prayed, and understanding was given me: I called upon God, and the spirit of wisdom came to me. I preferred her before sceptres and thrones, and esteemed riches nothing in comparison of her. Neither compared I unto her any precious stone, because all gold in respect of her is as a little sand, and silver shall be counted as clay before her. I loved her above health and beauty, and chose to have her instead of light: for the light that cometh from her never goeth out. All good things came to me with her, and innumerable riches in her hands. And I rejoiced in them all, because wisdom goeth before them: and I knew not that she was the mother of them. I learned diligently, and do communicate her liberally: I do not hide her riches. For she is a treasure unto men that never faileth: which they that use become the friends of God, being commended for the gifts that come from learning.’ (Wisdom 7:7-14; cf. CCC 721)
Come, follow Me
‘And you, Ring-bearer,’ she said, turning to Frodo. ‘I come to you last who are not last in my thoughts. For you I have prepared this.’ She held up a small crystal phial: it glittered as she moved it, and rays of white lights spring from her hand. ‘In this phial,’ she said, ‘is caught the light of Eärendil’s star, set amid the waters of my fountain. It will shine still brighter when night is about you. May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out. Remember Galadriel and her Mirror!’
Eärendil, son of Idril the Elven princess and Tuor the Man, is in Tolkien’s The Silmarillion the mediator between the Valar—powerful spirits who serve Eru Ilúvatar, the One and the creator of all that is—and the Elves and Men who are in need of their grace. He travels across the great sea to the Blessed Realm, where Eönwë, emissary of the King of the Valar, greets him: ‘Hail Eärendil, of mariners most renowned, the looked for that cometh unawares, the longed for that cometh beyond hope! Hail Eärendil, bearer of light before Sun and Moon! Splendour of the Children of Earth, star in the darkness, jewel in the sunset, radiant in the morning!’9 We have for us a forerunner to Heaven and mediator between God and men, Jesus Christ, ‘the bright and morning star.’ (Rev. 22:16) He is the Gift of the Father and the Holy Spirit, through our Lady. She gives Him freely, for He cannot be bought; and any who would desire eternal life, perfect peace, and unending joy need only ask with humble trust. For lo, She stands with arms outstretched, hands open, granting every grace and heavenly blessing for them who would receive Her gifts.
Frodo took the phial, and for a moment as it shone between them, he saw her again standing like a queen, great and beautiful, but no longer terrible. He bowed, but found no words to say.
- Tolkien, J. R. R. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2014, p. xiv.
- Fonstad, Karen Wynn. The Atlas of Middle-earth: Revised Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, 1991, p. ix.
- Tolkien, J. R. R. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2014, pp. 365-367.
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1082.
- CCC, 1299.
- CCC, 723.
- Lewis, C. S. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Collier Books, New York, 1952, p. 160.
- Tolkien, J. R. R. The Silmarillion. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1977, pp. 248-249.