Beautiful she is, sir! Lovely! Sometimes like
a great tree in flower, sometimes like a white
daffadowndilly, small and slender like. Hard as
di’monds, soft as moonlight. Warm as sunlight,
cold as frost in the stars. Proud and far-off as a
snow-mountain, and as merry as any lass
I ever saw with daisies in her hair in springtime.
(Two Towers, p. 357)
Lady Galadriel, who is so poetically and very precisely described by Sam in his conversation with Faramir, came to become one of the pivotal characters in Tolkien’s mythology. Born in Aman to Finarfin and Eärwen during the Years of the Trees, she, as it was the Elvish custom, had several names which reflected different aspects of her character.
Traditionally, the first name given to a child in the Elvish culture was a father-name. Being a true name, it was often main and the one the Elves used as a public name. For his daughter Finarfin chose Artanis, meaning ‘noble woman’ (Quenya: arta – ‘lofty’, ‘exhalted’ and nis – ‘woman’). This name is a tribute to her family heritage. Galadriel was born into the wise and noble House of Finarfin. In her there mingled the blood of all the three Elvish kindreds: the Vanyar, the Teleri and the Noldor. Her father Finarfin was half-Noldo, half-Vanya and her mother Eärwen was from the Teleri. Thus Galadriel inherited the qualities of all the three kindreds, and this attributed to her great wisdom and nobleness. Gifted with insight into others’ minds, Galadriel judged most of them with understanding. She is named one of the greatest Noldor, alongside Fëanor, but, unlike Finwë’s eldest son, she was very wise and far-sighted, and these traits improved with years.
Galadriel’s mother-name, given to her later in life by Eärwen, was Nerwen – ‘man-maiden’ (Quenya: ner – ‘man’, wen – ‘maiden’). As it is the case with mother-names, they were true names, like the father ones, described the qualities or abilities of a child and often reflected mother’s foresight. The name Nerwen showed how strong the Elf-lady was in body, mind and will. Galadriel was tall “beyond the measure even of the women of the Noldor” (Peoples of Middle-earth, p. 337) and a good match for the athletes of the Eldar. The same was true about her being an equal to the loremasters. Her strong will and mind are seen when during Fëanor’s rebellion, Galadriel was “the only woman of the Noldor to stand that day tall and valiant among the contending princes” (Silmarillion, p. 89). Bold and proud though she was, these qualities of hers were smoothed by sensibility and wisdom so that her boldness did not turn into rashness. Galadriel was wise enough not to swear any oaths, but was eager to leave Aman to pursue her own purposes: to see the lands of Middle-earth and rule her own realm there. In Letter 348 Tolkien comments that “she was then of Amazon disposition and bound up her hair as a crown when taking part in athletic feats” (Letters, № 348). This peculiar fashion of wearing her hair is connected to the name we know this character by.
Galadriel is a Sindarin version of the name which has an interesting etymological history. Originally it was given to her in a Telerin form by Celeborn – her then-future husband. In the language of the Teleri it was Alatāriel(lë). In Quenya the name sounded like Altariel (or Altáriel/Alatáriel) though, as Tolkien noticed in The Shibboleth of Fëanor, it should have been Ñaltariel. This name was rendered into Sindarin like Galadriel.
Thus the name’s formation looks like this:
ÑAL – the Common Eldarin stem – ‘shine by reflection’ -> ñalatā – ‘radiance, glittering reflection’ (from jewels, glass or polished metal or water).
> Quenya – ñalta
Telerin – alata
Sindarin – galad
RIG – the Common Eldarin stem – ‘twine, wreath’ -> *rīgā – ‘wreath, garland’.
> Quenya, Telerin – ría
Sindarin – rî
> Quenya, Telerin – riellë, -ríel – ‘a maiden crowned with a festival garland’.
The Elf-lady’s name in all the three Elvish tongues means ‘maiden crowned with a garland of bright radiance’. It was, in fact, an epessë – an after-name or a name of honour, which described well-known qualities of famous Elves and was given to them later in lives. It was her most beautiful name and also the one she chose to use in public.
Galadriel’s hair was indeed a marvel to behold:
It was golden like the hair of her father and her foremother Indis, but richer and more radiant, for its gold was touched by some memory of the star-like silver of her mother; and the Eldar said that the light of the Two Trees, Laurelin and Telperion, had been snared in her tresses.
(Peoples of Middle-earth, p. 337)
Many even believed that this comparison of Galadriel’s hair with Laurelin and Telperion inspired Fëanor to blend the light of the Trees in the Silmarils. He asked Galadriel for a lock of hair three times, but she refused, sensing the darkness in him. However, hundreds of years later she granted a similar wish that Gimli the Dwarf expressed as the Fellowship was leaving Lórien. This fact, which surprised the Elves of the Golden Wood, emphasises how much Galadriel disliked and feared Fëanor, so they were forever ‘unfriends’.
After Galadriel became Lady of Lórien, her name was sometimes incorrectly interpreted as Galadhriel (Sindarin: ‘tree-garland’). She was then the Lady of the Galadhrim and the capital city of Lórien was called Caras Galadhon, so the word galadh – ‘tree’, was used to form the Lady’s name with an entirely different meaning. This confusion must have risen out of the close association of Galadriel with her people.
- J. R. R. Tolkien – The Silmarillion (edited by Christopher Tolkien); HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 1999.
- J. R. R. Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2001.
- H. Carpenter – The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien; with the assistance of Christopher Tolkien; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2012 (Kindle edition).
- J. R. R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien – Morgoth’s Ring; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2015.
- J. R. R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien – The Peoples of Middle-earth; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2015.
Featured image – Creative Common Licence found at Pixabay.