In class we discussed at length the role that love plays throughout Middle Earth in its various forms. However, every example of love that was discussed in class involved mortals. It was brought up that perhaps mortals are able to love more passionately or even love at all due to their finite existences when compared to immortals, who are often not mentioned within the story as having a spouse (Gandalf, Saruman, Sauron) or whose relationship with their spouse is not explored very thoroughly, either due to departure to the Grey Havens (Elrond’s wife) or due to narrative momentum (Galadriel and Celeborn, Tom Bombadil and Goldberry) Galadriel’s husband in particular is interesting in that, almost every reader of Lord of the Rings and the Silmarillion can barely remember what he was there for, but Tolkien takes the pains to describe him as Galadriel’s equal and distaff counterpart in every way. By taking a closer look at Galadriel’s “great love” with her husband, Celeborn, perhaps we can gain a greater understanding of how immortal relationships work and thrive in Middle Earth.
Galadriel and her husband are portrayed very interestingly within both the Lord of the Rings and the Silmarillion. They are treated as equals in almost every way. One of the first things Tolkien notes about the pair when introducing them in Lord of the Rings is their similar extreme height. In the Silmarillion, they are often introduced as “wedded to the Lady Galadriel” or “with Galadriel [Celeborn’s] wife” in an alternating fashion. They are consistently referred to as co-rulers of Lothlorien, and although Celeborn is often forgotten by Lord of the Rings readers, as Galadriel takes center stage in the following events of the story, he is actually introduced first, both in the Lord of the Rings proper, and in the list of Eldalie who remained in Middle-earth in the Silmarillion, “Celeborn of Doriath, with Galadriel his wife”.
While Galadriel and Celeborn are introduced and referred to as equals throughout the story, they are also presented as visually and narratively symmetric and opposite. While Galadriel is known for her deep gold hair, to the point that Gimli asks her for a strand, Lord Celeborn’s hair is described as “silver long and bright” (LotR, bk2 ch7). Celeborn is the one who recognizes and greets aloud every member of the Fellowship, while Galadriel “said no word but looked long upon [Frodo’s] face”. Even their hall is described as a mix of both the Lord and the Lady, as, “The chamber was filled with a sof light; its walls were green and silver and its roof gold”. Finally, while Galadriel is the Lady of the “Golden Wood”, Celeborn’s name literally means “silver tree” (combining “celeb”, silver and “orne”, tree) or “silver-tall’ (‘orn’ or ‘orna, tall). This level of symmetry and complement is not as overtly seen in the mortal relationships in the Lord of the Rings. While we have the Elf/Dwarf or Elf/Human and Tree/Jewel symmetry in relationships like Legolas and Gimli and Aragorn and Arwen, there is not so much literal mirroring as with Galadriel and Celeborn, which serves to elevate their characters from the romance of the mortal relationships to something far more mythical, evoking the sun/moon symmetry between pantheons of gods found in other mythologies.
It is interesting to note that there are actually two entities in Middle Earth named Celeborn, the ‘Tree of Silver’, a seedling of the tree Galathilion and the ancestor of the White Trees of Numenor and Gondor, and Galadriel’s husband and co-ruler of Lothlorien. This may connect to Galadriel’s love of trees and her role as the Lady of the Wood. In the Silmarillion, it’s mentioned that a seedling of Celeborn was brought by the Firstborn as a gift to Numenor, later flourishing into fragrant white groves of trees, growing into the White Trees of Numenor. Celeborn the literal ‘Tree of Silver’ not only mirrors Celeborn, Galadriel’s husband’s, noted silver hair, but also his role as a ‘ruler’ over generations of white trees throughout Middle Earth, as the progenitor of all the famous White Trees, as the Silver Tree to Galadriel’s Golden Wood.
Indeed, many of the loves of the more powerful immortal characters seem to connect to a deeper character motif for the character themselves. It’s mentioned in the Silmarillion that Morgoth, when Luthien dances to distract Morgoth, that Morgoth, “conceived in his thought an evil lust, and a design more dark than any that had yet come into his hard since he fled from Valinor” In another version of Tolkien’s legendarium, in which he tries to reconceive Middle Earth as a round world and rewrite the story of the sun, he mentions, “Melkor could not ‘beget’, or have any spouse (though he attempted to ravish Arien, this was to destroy and ‘distain’ her, not to beget fiery offspring)” (History of Middle Earth vol. 10). This attack results in the loss of Arien, which leads to a wandering, guide-less sun in Middle Earth, creating deserts where it wandered too close and forever blackens Morgoth, causing him to shun the light. These examples of Melkor’s ‘loves’ connect to his character motif of corruption and evil, as he twists the pure love that other characters in Middle Earth champion into a dark lust that is used to subjugate and humiliate other characters.
It’s worth examining the fact that despite the Silmarillion describing the relationship between Galadriel and Celeborn as a “great love”, their love has nowhere near the drama or romance of mortal loves like Aragorn and Arwen. In the Lord of the Rings, they are not described touching a single time throughout the scenes they are in, simply operating side-by-side. Whereas, Arwen’s despair at Aragorn passing away is described:
But Arwen went forth from the House, and the light of her eyes was quenched, and it seemed to her people that she had become cold and grey as nightfall in winter that comes without a star. Then she said farewell to Eldarion, and to her daughters, and to all whom she had loved; and she went out from the city of Minas Tirith and passed away to the land of Lórien, and dwelt there alone under the fading trees until winter came. Galadriel had passed away and Celeborn also was gone, and the land was silent.
This level of despair and emotion is not at all present between Galadriel and Celeborn, because as Galadriel passes to the Grey Havens with Gandalf and Frodo, Celeborn stays behind for quite a while, growing weary of his lands and moving to Rivendell to live with his grandsons, the sons of Elrond. He is mentioned in the prologue to be the very last one with living memory of the Elder Days in Middle earth to depart to the Grey Havens. There is no mention of a similar despair or grief as Celeborn is left behind. There isn’t even a clear record of when he leaves for the Grey Havens to join Galadriel, or why he chose to stay behind for a time. Maybe the reason why the immortal relationships in Middle Earth are treated with such lack of passion when compared to the mortal ones is due to the mortality we discussed in class. Because the immortal characters are able to be safe in the knowledge that they can always rejoin each other in the Grey Havens and have spent an eternity in each other’s company, their reactions to each other and their parting end up being less dramatic when compared to Aragorn and Arwen. They also seem to represent more mythological roles in their relationships, reflecting motifs and symbols key to their characterizations, much like the relationships between gods in Greek or Norse mythology.