Friday, May 16, 2014

The Gems of Lothlorien

The realm of Lothlorien is intimately connected with gems and the light of the trees. The most direct connection is, of course, the light of Earendil’s star contained within the phial Galadriel presents to Frodo, but I think we covered the implications of that pretty well when we discussed its role as a link between the First Age and the story of Frodo and Sam (the passage we read from Sam about how the great stories never end lays this out quite clearly) so I will not say much more on it here. The next parallel I noticed is the blending of the silver and gold of Telperion and Laurelin in the bark and winter leaves, respectively, of the mallorn trees. In the same manner as the Silmarils blended the splendor of the Trees, albeit to a far lesser degree, the mallorn of Lorien preserve a subtle memory of the beauty of Valinor of old. The love the inhabitants of Lothlorien show for the trees also mirrors the devotion of the Valar and Eldar to the Two Trees before their fall. More interestingly, the grief at the Tree’s destruction, particularly that of Nienna, may be seen in the solemn knowledge of the elves that, should the ring be destroyed and the forces of light triumph over darkness, the power of the ring of Galadriel will wane and the perfection of Lorien will fade. They face two possibilities, destruction at the hands of the Enemy, or a slow decline, as the imperfections of the world creep into their land, clearly superior but not altogether a happy fate.

As we noted in class, the land itself also recalls a gem in many of its characteristics (I almost said facets but that seems over the top). Lorien is permanent, unchanging, an image of the world of ages gone by, ancient yet ever-young. Just as a gem retains it’s brightness for nigh-eternity, the beauty of Lorien remains for millennia until the passing of Galadriel into the West. It is also a place of rest and healing and we saw in Marbode’s Medical Prose Lapidary the many supposed uses of gems for healing purposes. The members of the Fellowship, some physically injured and all mentally distraught from the death of Gandalf and trials of Moria, recuperate here in the care of the elves. Finally, it is beautiful to look at. The rich greens of the leaves and forest floor between the silver trees, permeated with a shimmering light and bound to the South by the river known as the Silverlode, evokes the image of an emerald stone in a silver setting.

Well, what a coincidence! One of the two important gems we encounter in Lothlorien just so happens to be a green stone set in silver that “flashed like the sun shining through the leaves of spring.” The brooch, given by Galadriel to Aragorn at their parting as a symbol both of his kingship and the eternal love of her granddaughter, Arwen, mirrors the physical nature of the lands surrounding them. Recall, Lorien was where Aragorn and Arwen met for the first time after Aragorn left Rivendell and it was there that they pledged themselves to each other. Clearly the land itself holds deep significance for Aragorn --his demeanor as the Fellowship entered it showed that-- and its embodiment in the brooch Galadriel gives him may serve as a constant reminder. The jewel is also an embodiment of his right of kingship. It appears that he is foretold to be known as King Elessar (Elfstone) because he wears this brooch. Again, referring to Marbode, emerald (although there is no necessary information that this stone is supposed to be an emerald, it is simply referred to as a “great stone of clear green”) is said to “hold the proof of every prophecy, great as you please.” Thus, the fact that Galadriel gives it to him here may be an indication that it is time that he fulfill his destiny and take on the mantle of king.
The other jewel we see in Lorien is the ring of Galadriel: Nenya, Ring of Water, Ring of Adamant. Nenya is supposed to be a band of mithril with a clear stone. It was mentioned in class that adamant was used as a term for diamond, so I think we may safely assume that the clear stone is intended to be one. Like all three elf-rings, Nenya’s power lays specifically in preservation. However, based on its makeup, this attribute seems more explicitly to be its primary use, as opposed to the other rings, which may have had various functions (such as Narya’s ability to inspire hope). Adamant, diamond, is the hardest natural substance. Mithril, the fictional metal mined in Moria, was said to be nearly indestructible. Both may clearly be interpreted as symbols of permanence, already shown to be one of the fundamental aspects of Lorien.

There is one last reference to gems in the passages we read about Lothlorien that I think it might be interesting to consider. When Gimli is asked to name a request, he asks for “a single strand of your [Galadriel’s] hair, which surpasses the gold of the earth as the stars surpass the gems of the mine.” I wanted to bring this up not only because I think it is a wonderfully beautiful image, but because it displays the paradoxical dichotomy and unity between two types of nature. Here, the stars and Galadriel, representative of the celestial and growing aspects of nature, are contrasted to the equally natural beauties of the earth itself, gold and gems. All are part of the same natural order, but they are split between what is usually seen as the delight of the elves and that of the dwarves. Here Gimli, whom I think is entirely genuine here and not simply acting in this way because he considers it the respectful thing to do, proclaims the superiority of the former, even though he is the representative of a race usually associated with the latter. Gimli states that his hope is to preserve Galadriel’s hair in a case of “imperishable crystal,” yet another instance of the lasting quality of gems, but also a symbol of the union of the two races, which he specifically states is his hope. I also found it curious that in Lothlorien, which no dwarf is said to have entered since the days of Durin, rests a ring made of mithril, a distinctly dwarven metal. The rings were forged in Eregion, the place where there was the greatest friendship between elves and dwarves, so perhaps the fact that Galadriel bears such a ring, and the most dwarven of the three, is meant to be a further reference to the reconciliation of the peoples. Given the way in which Gimli later promises to kill anyone who says a word against Galadriel, I think we can say he is truly serious in desiring this.

A final comment: I consider none of these interpretations to be necessarily accurate. They are simply musings with little grounding in textual evidence, but I think that, even if they do not reflect Tolkien’s actual intent, the fact that parallels such as these may be drawn speaks to the cohesiveness and interconnectedness of the work.

Ian Chronis


  1. I think your insight into the parallels and symbolism of Lorien here is very good. I remember thinking about how Lorien could be considered a gem due to its perpetual beauty and wonder, especially with Galadriel, and your thoughts here really reinforce what I was thinking of at that time.
    What strikes me about your discussion is the section about when Galadriel gives Gimli a few strands of her hair, with there being a paradoxical dichotomy. I have never looked at that interaction from that angle and I think that it a great theory, even if there is little textual evidence. I am curious now as to whether Tolkien made this particular interaction symbolic intentionally. We know that Gimli and Legolas become fast friends after Lorien, and that Gimli ultimately goes with Legolas to Valinor in the Fourth Age. Did their journey through Lorien cement their relationship? Was Tolkien attempting to show the unity of two seemingly opposite races (elves and dwarves) when he described Nenya as being made of mithril? These are the questions that come to mind when I look over that section and think about what you said as well. It is very unfortunate that there is little textual evidence, as you said.

    Kevin Peterson

  2. Ian,

    Thanks for the post. I enjoyed it a great deal. I think the symbolism of gems and their beauty, luminousness, and permanence may actually extend even further, to the Elves themselves. As beautiful creatures closer to the Light of Eru who are effectively immortal, they share some of the uncanny, wonderful characteristics of gems—which, as you point out, permeate Lórien, one of their supreme creations.

  3. I think that this connection between the elves and dwarves is so important, and you noted some really interesting points. We spoke in class about how gems are part of nature, and although people (and dwarves and elves) covet them partially for their own work in excavating and/or crafting them, they are indeed just as much a product of the earth as trees or grass. These ties (the ring and Galadriel's hair in crystal) between two unfriendly races with very different preferences are forged by their similar love for the earth, albeit different aspects of it. Yes, Gimli shudders at thought of the woods and Legolas has no desire to be trapped in halls of stone, but perhaps the two are complementary. They can respect and appreciate each other's natural habitats even if they would not want to spend their whole lives there. The elf-dwarf combination of tree and stone is quite like that of the Silmarils: the light of the trees is encased in gems, a ring of a dwarven material is kept by the elves in Lothlorien, and Gimli preserves Galadriel's beautiful elven hair in crystal. The elves and dwarves actually sustain each other through the intertwining of their most loved substances: gems in a forest with an immortal race, tree-light and golden locks maintained in gems even when the sources are destroyed or leave Middle-earth.

    -Laurie Beckoff