The Company comes at last to the city of Caras Galadhon, the seat of Celeborn and Galadriel. They come before the elven lord and lady and share the distressing news of Gandalf’s fall in Moria. Galadriel tests each member of the Fellowship in a moment and it’s uncomfortable for all of them — more on that later.
Lothlórien, being a faerie land which doesn’t behave how mortals expect it to, seems to stand out of time and the Fellowship rests for indeterminate days. Frodo and Sam take advantage of the time to recover and address their grief in song and conversation. Aragorn presumably experiences the sting of nostalgia for his time with Arwen and Legolas and Gimli go off together to appreciate the beauty of that place.
Finally, Galadriel approaches Sam and Frodo during on of their walks and takes them to her mirror, in which they have visions of “things that were, and things that are, and things that yet may be.”
The Evil We Carry
As is appropriate for a a brush with faerie, there is a lot of testing that goes on in this chapter. It’s not explicit testing, and I’m not sure anyone could really fail (except, perhaps, Galadriel), but the testing of the Fellowship reveals their own hearts and they’re not happy with what they see.
In this moment of testing, Galadriel seems to offer what each member of the Fellowship most desires but which can only be grasped if they turn aside from the quest. For Sam, it’s to fly back to the Shire and have “a nice little hole with—with a bit of garden of [his] own.” The question put to him is, if he could be magicked there in a flash, would he go? Sam does want to go home, of course, and desires a humble home and garden.
All of them, it seemed, had fared alike: each had felt that he was offered a choice between a shadow full of fear the lay ahead, and something that he greatly desired: clear before his mind it lay, and to get it he had only to turn aside from the road and leave the Quest and the war against Sauron to others.
The temptation even comes with the understanding that the choice to forsake would remain secret. I found it telling that Sam and Boromir (two of my favourite characters) have such contrasting reactions to the experience. When faced with a relief from the burden of the Quest, Sam recognizes his desire for escape to be shameful. In fact, he is the only one to candidly share what he was tempted with. The “bit of garden” for his very own—his escape to a gentle hobbit life—is a good thing that Sam recognizes as dangerous not in spite of, but because of, its very goodness. His honour and love, for humble homes and gardens, not so incidentally, bind him to the Quest, not to mention his dedication to Frodo.
Sam says Galadriel “seemed to be looking inside” and he “felt as if [he] hadn’t got nothing on,” and so Sam shows awareness of the misdirection of his deep desires; his shame is a compass. Boromir, on the other hand, responds to his temptation with haughtiness in place of humility. The great warrior’s self-delusion foreshadows his fall.
’To me it seemed exceedingly strange,’ said Boromir. ‘Maybe it was only a test, and she thought to read our thoughts for her own good purpose; but almost I should have said she was tempting us, and offering what she pretended to have the power to give. It need not be said that I refused to listen. The Men of Minas Tirith are true to their word.’ But what he thought that the Lady had offered him Boromir did not tell.
What word is claiming to uphold but his oath to protect and accompany the Ring-bearer on the Quest? Boromir then again casts suspicion on “this Elvish Lady and her purposes” and Aragon again reproves him. The travel-stained King will sleep in complete peace because he knows there is no evil in The Lady of the Wood or Lothlórien, “unless a man bring it hither himself.”
Boromir sees his temptation as an attack from outside, as the device of a potential foe to be overcome and bested, but Galadriel has done nothing but expose the desires of his own heart. Boromir doesn’t like what he sees and he can’t easily be rid of it.
It’s hard to swing a sword at your own heart.
Next up, the Company departs the faerieland of the elves in Chapter 8: Farewell to Lorien. The Lord and Lady of the wood confer gifts on the party and the fault lines within the Fellowship will soon be tested.