Visions of Beauty: Lothlorien and the Power of Beauty

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Here we gain a glimpse of the clear perception of reality that comes with goodness and the power of character that is produced.  She knows the mind of evil and yet is strong enough to keep that mind at bay.  The combination of goodness, power, and beauty is further revealed in a moment of disclosure as Frodo offers her the Ring.  Here she is tempted with great evil power that would eventually destroy what goodness lay in her.

She lifted up her hand and from the ring that she wore there issued a great light that illumined her alone and left all else dark.  She stood before Frodo seeming now tall beyond measurement, and beautiful beyond enduring, terrible and worshipful.  Then she let her hand fall, and the light faded, and suddenly she laughed again, and lo! She was shrunken: a slender, elf-woman, clad in simple white, whose gentle voice was soft and sad.  “I pass the test,” she said.  “I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.”[37]

Conclusion: Toward a Moral Vision of Beauty

The three concepts of play, symbol, and festival examined earlier in the paper provide a beginning point in understanding the way in which art in particular and the experience of beauty can be interpreted.  The previous discussion of one important episode in The Fellowship of the Ring illustrates how these concepts can be useful.  But Gadamer’s hermeneutical phenomenology fails to fully grasp the inner quality of great art in general and, at best, only alludes to an understanding of beauty that will provide a way of re-uniting the now severed connection of beauty, power, and goodness.

Tolkien’s richer vision of beauty extends the meaning captured by play, symbol, and festival.  Not all of the five aspects of play emphasized by Gadamer can be found in the experience of the Fellowship in Lothlorien.  However, when all of the company agree [?] to wear the blindfolds, Gimli avoids being the “spoil-sport.”  Boromir’s reaction to the Lady reveals the extent to which his individual agenda is threatening the cohesion and mission of the Fellowship.  The dynamic movement of the action in the text also points to the comprehensive character of Tolkien’s sub-creation (in Gadamer’s terms the closed world of the playing field). The “audience” consists of many groups, both within the novel and without, including the roving “eye” of Sauron, the various groups within Middle Earth whose destinies will be shaped by the extent to which the fellowship is true to its calling, and the reader whose life is enriched by the vision of beauty, goodness, and power contained within this work of art.

The interplay of symbols of light, the sacramental nature of the gifts – especially lembas,[38] and the Eden-like beauty of the realm of the Elves all point to the concept and interpretive power of symbol.

The ceremonial character of the pilgrimage of the fellowship into Lothlorien is consistent with the nature of festival or ritual.  The blindfolds, the step-by-step progression to the city of Celeborn and Galadriel, the experience of “fulfilled” time, the inter-play of song and dialogue and rest all express the ritual character of this portion of their pilgrimage. Yet, there seems to be something more in this passage which illumines Tolkien’s vision of beauty.

Galadriel serves as the embodiment of the unifying element, perhaps implicitly present, but undeveloped in Gadamer’s treatment.  She faces great temptation.  She passes the “test.”  Test, here, is to be understood as referring to the kind of challenge that discloses the nature of one’s moral character.  It is a trial designed to determine if one is genuine and true.  The ultimate context of this term is the Biblical understanding that God tests (dokimos see James 1:12) the character of those who seek to follow Him.  Such testing serves to force out that which is not genuine in our characters and prepare us for trials and challenges that lie ahead.  Here Galadriel meets the ultimate test and passes the trial.  Her character is revealed.  The importance of this event for our study can not be overstated.  Genuine Beauty as indicated by the etymology of the Greek word kalon means both goodness and beauty.  There is, in fact, a solemnity in the experience of Beauty that challenges the ordinary, that alters our experience of time, that provides embodiment of that which provides “bridges” to the eternal.

The journey that heeds the call of beauty is indeed “perilous.”  Such a pilgrimage will change us.  It is the way which, eventually, will bring us into confrontation with goodness and will bind us in troth by its power. Galadriel enshrouded in light “beautiful beyond enduring, terrible and worshipful” can serve as an icon of beauty by which we can

learn to see the world as beauty, [learn] the measure of a love that receives all things not to hold onto, not ‘for me,’ but as beautiful in their own splendor; and in learning the measure of charity, which lets what is be in its otherness, one’s vision of the world becomes open to its beauty, and is deepened toward the infinity of beauty that comprises it.[39]