Uniformly at Random

Galadriel and Shelob

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In Perilous Realms, Marjorie Burns makes an interesting point concerning the Galadriel/Shelob pairing.  She first notes that Tolkien’s characters often come in contrasting pairs: Gandalf/Saruman, Theoden/Denethor, Frodo/Gollum, etc.  She suggests that Galadriel/Shelob represents another such pairing.  Furthermore, Frodo’s confrontation with Shelob can be viewed as actually being a confrontation between Galadriel and Shelob, with Galadriel’s phial being in some sense her proxy.  Furthermore, since the light of the phial comes originally from one of the Silmarils, a connection is made to the earlier tale of the theft of the Silmarils by Morgoth and Ungoliant, the spider ancestress of Shelob.

It is not until The Lord of The Rings that Tolkien allows his lady-and-the-spider drama to unfold, and even then he fulfils the drama only symbolically. In this, however, Tolkien’s instincts are correct. For one, by replacing Galadriel with a symbol of her power, Tolkien greatly increases the significance of the confrontation with Shelob. Galadriel’s phial, in the words of Christopher Tolkien, is a ‘huge power, a veritable star in the darkness’ (IX, 13), and its history extends well beyond the boundaries of Middle-earth and well beyond the time period or characters we meet in The Lord of The Rings. The phial that holds Shelob at bay contains the light of the Silmaril that adorned Eärendil’s ship before Elbereth placed it in the sky as a star; and the light that came from this remaining Silmaril came first from the Two Trees of Valinor, the trees that Ungoliant destroyed by drinking up their light.  The story of Galadriel’s phial thus stretches from the days of creation to the end of the Third Age, adding not only far greater meaning to the confrontation with Shelob but bringing together forces from the highest level of Valinor to the hobbits of Middle-earth.


Written by uncudh

December 20, 2008 at 8:51 pm

Posted in literature

Tagged with ,

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