When one considers J.R.R. Tolkien’s sources for ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and its accompanying mythology, one must not neglect to examine Tolkien’s Catholic faith. Tolkien’s mother Mabel converted to Catholicism when he was eight years old, and she then brought her sons up in that faith until she died four years later. Tolkien and his younger brother were then given into the care of a priest named Father Francis Morgan, who became a considerable influence on the author.
Tolkien’s Catholic faith was a very important aspect of his life. While the Lord of the Rings trilogy is not an overtly religious story, Tolkien’s Catholic faith can readily be seen upon reading it. Indeed, in a letter to a friend in 1953, Tolkien wrote, that ‘The Lord of the Rings’ was “…fundamentally [a] Catholic and Religious work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.” One example of Catholicism in the Lord of the Rings is Galadriel and how she relates to Mary, Mother of God.
Tolkien once wrote that Mary gave him his understanding of “beauty in majesty and simplicity.” To understand how the creation of Galadriel was influenced by Mary, one must first know something about how Catholics view Mary. As the Mother of Jesus, Mary is a very important figure in Catholicism. With a special Grace from God, she was born without sin and lived and died without ever sinning. Catholics hold her in special reverence, though they do not worship her, and regard her as “the Mother of the Church,” among other names. Mary is “Our Lady.” Sam uses a similar name when he repeatedly calls Galadriel “the Lady.” In many ways, Galadriel exemplifies Mary’s qualities.
First, Mary is often portrayed in much the same way as Galadriel: ethereal, bathed in light, gentle, beautiful, and inspiring. Each is viewed as a “queen”: Mary as Queen of the Catholic Church and Galadriel as the Lady of Lothlorien. Much as Galadriel is held in reverence by the Elves and the other inhabitants of Middle-earth, Mary is beloved by Catholics. Many in the history of the Catholic Church have been converted and reconciled through Mary’s grace and gentleness. In the same way, Gimli, a Dwarf, a race that does not get along with the Elves, has a change of heart after meeting Galadriel. Tolkien wrote:
“And the dwarf . . . looked up and met her eyes; and it seemed to him that he looked into the heart of an enemy and saw there love and understanding. Wonder came into his face and he smiled in answer” (LOTR).
Gimli is thereafter known as Gimli Elf-Friend. The light of Galadriel inspires grace, just as Mary does.
Another example of the parallels between Mary and Galadriel is their bestowing of gifts. As the Fellowship prepares to leave Lothlorien, to continue their journey, Galadriel gives the members special Elven gifts, especially the cloaks. These gifts continually help the travelers on their mission to rid Middle-earth of the evil corrupting it. The gift of the cloaks, which would “aide in keeping out the sight of unfriendly eyes” and were “made by the Lady”, is similar to a gift Mary made to Saint Simon of Stock. According to Catholic legend, Mary gave the saint a scapular, a cloth worn around the neck, which she and some angels had made. Mary told St. Simon that anyone who lived a holy life, wearing the scapular, would be protected from the devil’s sight. Both Mary and Galadriel give gifts which protect the recipients from evil.
Finally, Mary and Galadriel inspire hope for the faithful. Catholics look to Mary as they would to their own mothers, for guidance, encouragement, and blessings. The members of the Fellowship treat Galadriel similarly. When in Mordor, Sam prayerfully says:
“If only the Lady could see or hear us, I’d say to her: ‘Your Ladyship, all we want is light and water; just clean water and plain daylight, better than jewels, begging your pardon.’”
Frodo and Sam are then indeed granted these things, which revive them enough to be able to continue their arduous journey.
Mary’s grace helps Catholics be at peace, just as Galadriel’s does when she tells the weary travelers:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled . . . Tonight you shall sleep in peace.”
Her gift of the phial is a light “in dark places, when all other lights go out”, just as Mary’s love is to Catholics. These gifts of Mary and Galadriel are not mere symbolic, but tangible and readily felt by those who believe.
Galadriel’s role in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is similar to the role of Jesus’ mother Mary in the Catholic Church. Both are awe-inspiring as Ladies who bring about changes of heart. Both provide gifts and grace to those in need. And both inspire hope in the hearts of their followers that they may continue on their journey. Tolkien’s strong belief in his Catholic faith inspired him to write his beliefs into his masterpiece. One might even say, as he did, that his faith in Mary moved him to write the books that have been an inspiration to many.