Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Lady and the Golden Wood

Perilously Fair
Galadriel: Lady of Light or Elf Witch of Terrible Power?

“They say that a sorceress lives in these woods, an elf witch of terrible power. All who look on her fall under her spell.” At least, so says Gimli in Peter Jackson’s adaptation. Though the whole “elf witch” business is a Jacksonion departure from the book, there is no denying that there is something dangerous, and even dark, about the Lady of Light. “Then there is a Lady in the Golden Wood, as the old tales tell…. But if you have her favour, then you are also net-weavers and sorcerers, maybe” (III, ii, 422).  So says Eomer, and so say all men who live in the south. Wormtongue expresses a similar sentiment, “Then it is true… that you are in league with the Sorceress of the Golden Wood? … It is not to be wondered at: webs of deceit were ever woven in Dwimordene” (III, vi, 502). This statement should not be discredited because Wormtongue is the speaker. This is the opinion of all in the southern lands who have heard of Galadriel and Lothlorien. 

Boromir, who as a Gondorian ought to know better, at first does not want to enter Lorien. “[O]f that perilous land we have heard in Gondor, and it is said that few come out who once go in; and of that few none have escaped unscathed” (II, vi, 329). “Say not unscathed, but if you say unchanged, then maybe you will speak the truth…but lore wanes in Gondor, Boromir if in the city of those who once were wise they now speak evil of Lothorien” replies Aragorn (ibid). His distinction between “unscathed” and “unchanged” are hardly comforting, especially given that what happens to Boromir can arguably be traced directly back to Galadriel. 

Later, Faramir does know better, and still he says, “If men have dealings with the Mistress of Magic who dwells in the Golden Wood, then they may look for strange things to follow. For it is perilous for mortal man to walk out of the world of this Sun, and few of old came thence unchanged, ’tis said” (IV, v, 652). He is aware of the distinction between “unscathed” and “unchanged” and still he cries, “What did she say to you, the Lady that dies not? What did she see? What woke in your heart then?” (ibid). 

Sam, as often is the case, hits the nail on the head when he says, “[p]erhaps you could call her perilous, because she’s so strong in herself. You could dash yourself to pieces on her, like a ship, on a rock; or drownd yourself, like a hobbit in a river” (IV, v, 665). However, he then continues by saying, “But neither rock nor river would be to blame” (ibid). Similarly Aragorn says, “only evil need fear it [Lorien], or those who bring some evil with them” (II, vi, 329). Aragorn rebukes Eomer and Gandalf rebukes Wormtongue for their lack of wisdom concerning Lorien and Galadriel, and the wise characters insist that one must bring evil into Lorien to find it there. 

Added to all this, the Rohirrim call Lorien “Dwimordene” which literally means “wood of phantoms”, and not just dreams or illusions either. This is the same ‘dwimor’ in “Dwimmerlaik”, the name Eowyn calls the Witch King, and “Dwimorberg” the Haunted Mountain where lie the Paths of the Dead. If that is not creepy, I don’t know what is. Yet every character, from Gandalf to Sam will rebuke you or challenge you to a duel if you make the wrong assumptions about Galadriel and Lorien. In this, I think, there is as much truth as in the other. Lorien is a place of breathtaking and unstained beauty. It is “[m]ore fair than thoughts of Mortal Men” (III, vi, 503). It is a place where flowers bloom even in the winter, where grass never fades, and where “in the autumn the leaves of the trees fall not, but turn to gold” and do not fall “not till the spring comes… and then the boughs are laden with yellow flowers; and the floor of the wood is golden, and golden is the roof, and its pillars are silver” (II, vi, 326). The waters in the land “bring… sleep and forgetfulness” (II, vi, 330) and not the sleep of the Forest River of The Hobbit, but the kind that washes all weariness away (ibid). 

The message could not be plainer. Lorien, and more specifically Galadriel, is perilous to mortals. However, and I cannot stress this enough, Galadriel is beautiful. Lorien is beautiful. They are fair beyond the ken of mortal men. Gandalf must speak in poetry to speak of her; Sam says that he cannot even hope to describe her, that his gift of verse cannot convey her beauty. The Lady and the Wood are heartbreakingly beautiful, and more than a little creepy. Indeed, as so many say, they are perilously fair.

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