Galadriel is the most beautiful and most powerful Elf woman in J.R.R. Tolkien’s work. She is known as the Lady of Lothlorien and the Lady of Light, who rarely goes into battle herself, but her might, grace, and love are awe-inspiring and play a vital role in the victory of good over evil. So, who is Galadriel based on? What was Tolkien’s inspiration to create such a character?
Tolkien drew inspiration for his characters in numerous places, but the biggest inspiration for Galadriel was his Catholic faith and upbringing. Namely, Our Lady, Virgin Mary, who, to quote Tolkien himself, gave him his understanding of “beauty in majesty and simplicity.”
There are numerous clues that point to Mary being the inspiration for Galadriel – apart from Tolkien’s words themselves. Also, you can find other characters that were inspired by Christian Saints and figures. But, apart from Catholicism, mythology, and other influences, Tolkien drew a lot of inspiration from his wife, Edith Bratt. Let’s dive a bit deeper into the subject.
Who And What Inspired Tolkien To Create Galadriel?
As I already mentioned, J.R.R. Tolkien sought inspiration in numerous places. The biggest influence on his writing was his Christian faith. In 1953, he wrote a letter to a friend, saying The Lord of the Rings was “fundamentally Catholic and Religious work, unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.”
Other influences came from German, Norse, Greek, Roman, and even Egyptian Mythology while also drawing inspiration from Arthurian legends and similar works, mostly revolving around the Middle Age. However, another major influence on Tolkien – especially his female characters – was his wife, Edith Bratt.
Edith Bratt was J.R.R. Tolkien’s wife, portrayed by Lily Collins in the 2019 biography film Tolkien. Edith was a strong, vibrant, smart woman who always fought for what she believed in. Now, Tolkien’s female characters hardly ever go to war out on the battlefield, but their strength and power are more than shown in his worth.
As Collins, who portrayed Edith Bratt in the film, told Entertainment Weekly:
“Edith was a very strong-willed woman. She didn’t go off to war, but she fought for what she believed in. Similarly, a lot of [Tolkien’s] women are very strong-willed and capable of physical combat, but their main strengths are their wits, their intellect, and their ability to stand firm amongst the turmoil.”
That’s exactly what we see in Galadriel – at least most of the time. She prefers to stay away from the battle in the forests of Lothlorien, where she is the Queen and the Lady of Light. However, she uses all her wits, power, and strength to help Frodo and the Fellowship, either by giving them gifts, pieces of advice, or even simply ensuring they sleep peacefully at night.
Galadriel protects her lands with the power of Nenya – the Ring of Water. Water can be gentle, healing, and calm, and all of life depends on it. However, it can also be mighty and destructive, much like the Great Flood in the story of Noah’s Arc.
That’s what Galadriel is, and Tolkien’s wife, Edith, was: gentle, beautiful, and kind, but also strong-willed, witty, and always standing up for what is right.
Christian Virgin Mary
Galadriel is not the only Tolkien character inspired by Saint Mary, the Mother of Jesus. There are strong indications that Arwen, the daughter of Elrond, and Eowyn, the shield maiden of Rohan, are also inspired by the Catholic Mary.
Galadriel draws parallels with Mary as Queen, Arwen as Mary the Mother, and Eowyn as Mary the Woman of the Apocalypse, who was prophesied to crush the Serpent’s head (much like Eowyn went into battle and decapitated the Witch-king of Angmar). We will, of course, focus on Galadriel in this particular hypothesis.
Tolkien himself once wrote that Mary gave him his “understanding of beauty in majesty and simplicity.” That’s what Galadriel is – awe-inspiring, gracious, beautiful, majestic, and kind. Even Gimli the Dwarf is enamored once he lays his eyes on the Lady of Lothlorien. However, there’s more that connects Mary and Galadriel.
First of all, Tolkien’s portrayal of Elves in their power and beauty can be interpreted as an allegory for divine grace and beauty. You can hardly find an Elf in Tolkien’s work that isn’t described as fair, beautiful, and gracious.
Some even see them as “fallen angels,” who are one step below the “angelic” Maiar and two steps below the Valar, or the gods of Valinor, the creators of the world. They are fallen, as they refused to participate in the war against Melkor, so they were cast out of Valinor but got to keep their gifts, such as their immortality.
Galadriel, on top of that, is known as the most powerful, most beautiful Elf woman ever. Much like Saint Mary, Galadriel is kind, gentle, gracious, bathed in light, and her mere presence fills you with peace, awe, and the overwhelming feeling of love.
Her appearance and personality is not the only thing that resembles Our Lady, Saint Mary. As Mary is often referred to as Our Lady, so is Galadriel, often referred to as The Lady, Lady of Light, and Lady of Lothlorien.
Additionally, Galadriel bestowed gifts upon the Fellowship, much like Mary did for the faithful. Those gifts aren’t just objects, though, as they have a deeper purpose and deeper meaning.
For instance, Galadriel gave the Hobbits the cloaks she had made herself to “aide in keeping out the sight of unfriendly eyes.” As you know, it saved Frodo and Sam when they tumbled down the hill in front of the Black Gate. Two of Sauron’s soldiers came to investigate as Frodo and Sam covered up with the cloak – they appeared as a rock to the soldiers and were saved.
Similarly, Mary gifted a scapular to Saint Simon of Stock. It’s a cloth worn around the neck, and Our Lady told Simon that whoever wears the scapular and has lived a holy life will be protected from the devil’s sight. A pretty obvious parallel, don’t you think?
There’s also the Phial of Galadriel, which contained the light of the star of Earendil, which she gave Frodo to be his light “in dark places when all other lights go out.” It was not just literal light – it was symbolic to help Frodo past the darkest times and the toughest moments in his journey.
There’s more to it, but you get the gist. Tolkien sought inspiration for Galadriel’s character from his wife – but mainly from his Catholic faith and Our Lady, Virgin Mary.
While the Cate Blanchett version of Galadriel does not really engage in combat, we will see a change of narrative with the new, younger version of the character in The Rings of Power, portrayed by Morfydd Clark, as we see Galadriel in full armor and battle gear, wielding a sword.
Other Theories About Galadriel’s Origins
Apart from what we already claimed, there are authors who analyzed Tolkien’s work and his character even deeper and came out with their own theories – namely, the inspiration behind Lady Galadriel.
For instance, Tom Shippey, in his 1982 book The Road to Middle-earth, suggests that Lady Galadriel was a reconstruction of the Old English elf, or Tolkien’s attempt to recreate the elf from the Old English words.
For instance, “ælfscyne” means “elf-beautiful” while “ælfsogoða” means lunacy, implying that an elf is beautiful and powerful but very dangerous if you get too close.
Another take, coming from the same author in the same book, claims that Tolkien created Elves as angelic beings, inspired by the Christian Middle English attitude. Shippey views elves as “fallen angels,” but not in a sense like Lucifer – or Melkor, for that matter.
In his view, Galadriel and the Elves aren’t fallen, per se, but they still are expelled from Valinor (Tolkien’s equivalent of Heaven), just like Melkor was, who is, indeed, fallen.
Another author, Marjorie Burns, in her 2005 book called Perilous Realms: Celtic and Norse in Tolkien’s Middle-earth, compares Galadriel to Ayesha. Ayesha was a heroine from an 1887 novel called She: A History of Adventure, which Tolkien said was of great influence on him.
Burns sees both Galadriel and Ayesha as Arthurian figures – both immortal, with beautiful, awe-inspiring long hair, wiser than any man, living in an isolated realm, with the power to heal, protect, preserve, etc.
There’s also Mac Fenwick’s theory from 1996 in his book “Breastplates of Silk: Homeric Women in The Lord of the Rings,” where he sees Galadriel as a Homeric benefactor and compares her to Circe and Calypso.
They help Odysseus on his journey, much like Galadriel helps Frodo on his, by bestowing gifts, advice, and help. They also have evil, monstrous counterparts, too. As Galadriel is the Lady of Light, Fenwick sees Shelob, the giant spider of darkness, as her counterpart.
The same goes for Circe and Calypso, whose evil counterparts were the Sirens Scylla and Charybdis, that destroyed Odysseus’s ship.