‘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.’ (Fellowship of the Ring, p.495 ). The parting gift from Lady Galadriel to Frodo was a small crystal phial filled with the light of Eärendil’s star. Little did the Hobbit know then the potency and power of the gift and how helpful it would be to him and Sam on their dark road.

It was not until the very borders of Mordor that Frodo was reminded of Galadriel’s gift. As the Lord of the Nazgûl was leading the army out of Minas Morgul, he sensed the presence of the One Ring not far away in Morgul Vale. Bending his thought on the Ring, he nearly forced Frodo into putting It on, but as the Hobbit’s will was striving against the command of the Wraith-King, Frodo’s hand found the phial. The mere feel of it banished the thought of the Ring from his mind, and the Lord of the Nazgûl continued on his errand. This episode was a reminder of the Lady’s gift and only a small glimpse into the great power of the precious thing.

The phial seems to have reminded of itself just before the road Frodo and Sam were undertaking turned darker than it had been before. “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” (Fellowship of the Ring, p. 495), were Galadriel’s words to Frodo. And so it was. Not only did the phial provide a source of physical light in some of the darkest places of Mordor, but it also proved light to the hearts, minds and souls of the Hobbits when their hope was nearly gone. It became their support and help in the darkest hour, in the direst peril, inspiring courage, confidence and strength when they were most needed.

Pursued by the monstrous Shelob in the lightless tunnels of Cirith Ungol and not yet knowing what wanted their deaths, Sam remembered about the phial and reminded Frodo about it:

For a moment it glimmered, faint as a rising star struggling in heavy earthward mists, and then as its power waxed, and hope grew in Frodo’s mind, it began to burn, and kindled to a silver flame, a minute heart of dazzling light, as though Eärendil had himself come down from the high sunset paths with the last Silmaril upon his brow.

(Two Towers, p. 410)

No wonder Frodo gives the shining light of Eärendil’s star a proper welcome in Quenya: Aiya Eärendil Elenion Ancalima! The sight of the blaze gives hope to Frodo and at the same time as his hope grows, it starts burning brighter, too. One seems to be unlikely without the other: Frodo’s hope and the power of light increase together, and the stronger the hope is, the more dazzling the shining becomes.

This interdependence is also seen when Sam launched his attack on Shelob with Frodo lying still, drugged by the monster’s venom. Furious and desperate, Sam had already wounded Shelob greatly, and as he prepared for a final battle, the light of Eärendil supported the Hobbit’s warrior-like mood:

As if his indomitable spirit had set its potency in motion, the glass blazed suddenly like a white torch in his hand. It flamed like a star that leaping from the firmament sears the dark air with intolerable light.

(Two Towers, p. 422)

That light was enough to set Shelob running back to her hiding place to nurse her wounds. It hurt her physically, and at that point no sword was needed to fight her anymore.

Captured in the phial, the light of Eärendil’s star has the same effect that the star itself produced when it first ascended the skies. Its appearance gave hope to the Elves, and became the source of doubt to Morgoth. In a way the star of Eärendil heralded his defeat in the War of Wrath that was soon to take place.

When Shelob first saw the light from the phial held by Frodo, her first reaction was also doubt and careful regard of the new thing too bright for her dark tunnels.  Later, that very light helped bring about her defeat, rendering the monster inactive for quite a long time. In the same way the shining light of the phial broke the evil vigilance of the Watchers guarding the entrance to the Tower of Cirith Ungol, allowing Sam to get into the tower and then escape out of it with Frodo. In both cases the evil vigilance of the Watchers was broken by the power of the light accompanied by the Hobbits’ courage and persistence. The phial supported their mood and “blazed forth suddenly, so that all the shadowy court was lit with a dazzling radiance like lightning” on the Hobbits’ escape from the Tower as of it wanted “to do honour to his [Sam’s] hardihood, and to grace with splendour his faithful brown hobbit-hand that had done such deeds” (Return of the King, p. 225).

If we remember where the light of the phial came from, its effect on the evil characters can indeed be understood. The Star of Eärendil was one of the Silmarils that Eärendil the mariner carried on his brow as he traversed the skies in his ship Vingilot. One of the constituents of the Silmarils was the light of the Two Trees of Valinor, and the jewels were hallowed by Varda upon their making, so it is hardly surprising that the dark side can barely stand the holy light of the star gathered in Galadriel’s phial.

Two facts stand out definitively about the phial and its connection with Frodo and Sam. First of all, it is wielded much more by Sam, than by Frodo, whose gift it originally was, and becomes a real help to the Hobbit when he is left alone to make choices the likes of which he never made before. The reminder to use it always comes as a thought to Sam, as if an impulse from outside or some higher authority. Those thoughts pop up suddenly in his mind as tiny clues from somewhere, and in many instances they are connected with Elves in one way or another: either their images, or their singing. Another thing that is prominent is that whenever the Hobbits use the phial with courage and vigour, they utter Elvish exclamations without intending to do so and sometimes not even understanding what the words mean.  In their dire peril Frodo and Sam call to Elbereth, to whom Elves always call in need, and to Eärendil, who became the hope of Elves and Men at the very end of the First Age.

Proving a great help and a source of hope and courage in the part of the road that was exceptionally dark, the phial of Galadriel became a faithful companion to Frodo and Sam in many difficulties. It took the two Hobbits through the perils which they would not have overcome without it. The only place where the light of the phial did not shine was at the Cracks of Doom in the very heart of Mordor, where all powers were subdued by the evil influence of Sauron. However, the mere fact that the light of Eärendil’s star reached such an important place in Sauron’s realm meant the same thing for him as it did ages ago for his master Morgoth: the light of Eärendil became the sign of the impending doom for him just as it did for Morgoth at the end of the First Age.

Even though subdued, the phial was saved from the ruin of Orodruin, and when Frodo took the ship to sail West as a final farewell to Middle-earth “the light of the glass of Galadriel that Frodo bore glimmered and was lost” (Return of the King, p. 377).


Further reading:

Eala Earendel

Let it shine

On Estel


Works consulted:

  1. J. R. R. Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2001.
  2. J. R. R. Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2001.
  3. J. R. R. Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2001.
  4. J. R. R. Tolkien – The Silmarillion (edited by Christopher Tolkien); HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 1999.


Featured image: Pixabay

3 thoughts on “The unfailing light.

  1. Thank you for reposting this, Olga. It is always good to read and re-read your work. The thought that I had not really had before was that sense in which the light of the silmaril that Eärendil bore wished to honour to Sam. It is a beautiful thought and one that I will certainly ponder.

    1. Thank you, Stephen!
      This moment seemed important, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the light responds to Sam’s growing hope and courage.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.