Things that PJ got wrong: Galadriel

When I watched The Fellowship of the Ring for the first time, in an Italian movie theater, there was a single scene that made clear that Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth was not mine (or Tolkien’s, if I may). It was Galadriel’s monologue. I could close my eyes to Tom Bombadil’s absence, to the changes to the main characters, to the added combat scenes, but I could not accept the fundamental misunderstanding of one of climatic episodes in the novel.

Here, the changes to the original monologue are not the issue. In fact, unusually enough, Blanchett’s lines are pretty close to the original, if a little simplified. They are acted, though, in a fundamentally misguided way.

Here is a clip from the extended edition of the movie:

In the movie, the whole point of the scene seems to be that Galadriel wants to scare the shit out of poor Frodo. This because, you know, she is powerful, right? and dangerous and so on. So she screams like a damned witch and changes into a monstrous shadowy creature, until she “passes the test”. Then she breathes a sigh of relief and enjoys some post-orgasmic relax.

Is this the best way to represent Galadriel? Not really. Let us read the original paragraphs from the book:

‘You are wise and fearless and fair, Lady Galadriel,’ said Frodo. ‘I will give you the One Ring, if you ask for it. It is too great a matter for me.’
Galadriel laughed with a sudden clear laugh. ‘Wise the Lady Galadriel may be,’ she said, ‘yet here she has met her match in courtesy. Gently are you revenged for my testing of your heart at our first meeting. You begin to see with a keen eye. I do not deny that my heart has greatly desired to ask what you offer. For many long years I had pondered what I might do, should the Great Ring come into my hands, and behold! it was brought within my grasp. The evil that was devised long ago works on in many ways, whether Sauron himself stands or falls. Would not that have been a noble deed to set to the credit of his Ring, if I had taken it by force or fear from my guest?
‘And now at last it comes. You will give me the Ring freely! In
place of the Dark Lord you will set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the earth. All shall love me and despair!’
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.’

The book says clearly that Galadriel “laughed”. And it is not your villainous, Skeletor-style laugh: it is loud and clear. She is amused. In her monologue, she is fantasizing. She is tempted, perhaps, but only abstractly. Like other wise characters in the book, when offered the ring she refuses without the slightest doubt. She indulges a bit in the mere contemplation of what she could do with it, and in doing that she tells a lot about herself: she has always longed for Majesty. Gandalf, in a strictly analogous scene, spent quite a few words on how he would be tempted to use the ring for good deeds, and exactly for this reason he must not have it. At a lesser, more mundane level, compare Boromir and Faramir. The latter says that he would not touch the ring if he found it in the middle of the road (Poor kid! Another character badly distorted by Jackson’s adaptation). Is all this so boring? Perhaps. But one thing is clear: Galadriel cannot be taken to be viscerally tempted by Frodo’s offer. This would contradict both her characterization in the novel and Tolkien’s moral geography.

The monologue is also the thing in which Bakshi’s treatment outclasses Jackson’s in the most dramatic way. If you just Google the title, you might happen to be able to watch it. If so, go at min 74 and you will find the monologue. Forget about the questionable character design, and never mind the fact that the voice actress does not hold a candle to Cate Blanchett. The point is: Bakshi got it right. Make what you want of it.

I leave you with this little curiosity, which some of you might not know:

Yes, the lyrics have precious little to do with the character. But that is no mortal sin, apparently.


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