A foil is a storytelling device that uses similar and yet contrasting characters to convey ideas or help readers understand a character’s nature better. Tolkien’s writings have many foils such as Melkor to Manwe, Smeagol to Frodo, Saruman to Gandalf, etc. By getting to know the foil, you learn about the other individual and can better appreciate and understand his or her actions. Here’s one foil that’s less obvious and certainly more nuanced than the ones mentioned above: Feanor to Galadriel.
The two are remarkably similar in both greatness, strengths, faults, and arc.
“Galadriel was the greatest of the Noldor, except Fëanor maybe, though she was wiser than he, and her wisdom increased with the long years.”
There are key differences between them of course, such as Galadriel avoiding the folly of oath-making. She did leave the land of the Gods and thus fall under the curse of the Noldor, but she went because like Feanor, her pride kept her from asking pardon, but unlike Feanor, she was not oath bound and therefore rationalized it would be better to press on to establish her own realm and to oppose him:
“Her pride was unwilling to return, a defeated suppliant for pardon; but now she burned with desire to follow Fëanor with her anger to whatever lands he might come, and to thwart him in all ways that she could.”
However, her chances to oppose him were short-lived since Feanor was slain by so many Balrogs in his fury to take on the Morgoth by himself.
Even though she was not oath bound, Galadriel was under the Ban and therefore in need of some form of redemption, which we finally see in the Fellowship’s visit to Lothlorien in the 3rd Age.
Offered the One Ring freely by Frodo, Galadriel could have accepted the gift and set aright the world as she saw fit by using force of will focused and augmented by the Ring. She could have achieved exactly what Feanor claimed he was seeking to achieve when he convinced the Noldor to set out from the land of the Gods.
“Long he spoke, and ever he urged the Noldor to follow him and by their own prowess to win freedom and great realms in the lands of the East, before it was too late”
This would be the ultimate opposition to Feanor, achieving his goal and making it her own. But she of course declined and received pardon to go West as a result.
Galadriel, Feanor, & the Light of the Trees
When we think of who or what preserved the light of the Two Trees, most only think of Feanor and his silmarils. But in fact, it was Galadriel who gave him the idea of preserving the light in the first place. In Unfinished Tales we read:
“Even among the Eldar she was accounted beautiful, and her hair was held a marvel unmatched. It was golden like the hair of her father and of her foremother Indis, but richer and more radiant, for its gold was touched by some memory of the starlike silver of her mother; and the Eldar said that the light of the Two Trees, Laurelin and Telperion, had been snared in her tresses. Many thought that this saying first gave to Fëanor the thought of imprisoning and blending the light of the Trees that later took shape in his hands as the Silmarils.“
This suggests that Galadriel achieved w her hair what Feanor later achieved with his silmarils. And interestingly, her hair became a point of contention between them.
“For Faenor beheld the hair of Galdriel with wonder and delight. He begged three times for a tress, but Galadriel would not give him even one hair. These two kinfolk, the greatest of the Eldar of Valinor, were unfriends forever.”
Feanor asks 3x, and is denied even a single strand. While Galadriel bested Feanor initially by being the first to preserve the light of the Trees outside of themselves, it is Feanor who later improves on Galadriel’s effort to preserve the light by going a step further. He encases the light in stone or crystal — something to preserve the light against enemies or even his own death. This was of course a wonderful thing since the light of the Silmarils will eventually play a critical role in returning Arda to an Unmarred state.
I think Galadriel likewise intended to preserve the light she had captured for some future benefit but she either lacked the skill to do as Feanor had done, or for some other reason (maybe even vanity?) chose to keep the light within her hair.
Gimli: Silmaril Craftsman
The backstory of Galadriel’s hair adds very important context to Gimli’s desire to own a single strand of her hair. He doesn’t technically ask for this gift, but Galadriel commanded him to state his desire so that he wouldn’t be the only member of the Fellowship to leave Lothlorien without a gift. He humbly states that *if* he were to ask for a gift, it would be a single strand of her hair. The listening elves murmur at this, knowing the backstory with Feanor, but Galadriel, rather than reproving him, states she had never been made such a request with such courtesy. From this we can surmise that Feanor’s request came from a place lacking in courtesy.
Galadriel asks Gimli what he would do with such a gift:
“Treasure it, Lady,” he answered, “in memory of your words to me at our first meeting. And if ever I return to the smithies of my home, it shall be set in imperishable crystal to be an heirloom to my house, and a pledge of good will between the Mountain and the Wood until the end of days.”
Galadriel rewards Gimli’s earnest desire with not one, but three strands of her hair. One could surmise she was just being generous, but why three rather than one, or ten for that matter? Because Gimli promised to encase “it” in imperishable crystal. By her gift, Galadriel is expressing that she wishes him to encase each piece and thus make three of the promised objects rather than just one.
I suspect the “imperishable crystal” is actually mithril since Gimli tells us it can be “polished like glass”.
Assuming the strands she gave him indeed had the Light of the Trees and were subsequently encased in imperishable crystal, it seems a very small stretch to say these are actually 3 new silmarils. The question is, why is this even necessary? Why would Galadriel not just continue to preserve the Light in her hair? I personally doubt this is Galadriel’s attempt to steal Feanor’s thunder and use Gimli as a tool to match Feanor’s craftsmanship. This is the repentant Galadriel who has just declined the One Ring and is living by hope and faith rather than trusting in her own strength to bring about the world she wishes to see restored. I think she instead recognizes the serendipity of declining the Ring only to then be offered the chance to preserve the Light of the Trees in an “imperishable” fashion and “until the end of days”. Those are both key aspects of the Silmarils themselves as they also are imperishable and yet will be unleashed at the end of days.
Was this effort merely a backup plan of Galadriel’s in case the oath of Feanor and his sons could never be fully done away with so that the world could instead be renewed using what she and Gimli created? Somehow I doubt it because I suppose she knew that Arda would remain marred until Feanor’s silmarils were returned to the Powers and that would never happen until the oaths were done away with.
I suspect it has something to do with the dwarves and their role in rebuilding Arda at the end of days, which is perhaps why Galadriel took Gimli up on his offer, knowing that he was bound by his statement regarding the end of days. From the Silmarillion we read regarding the dwarves role at the end of the world:
“Then [the dwarves] part shall be to serve Aulë and to aid him in the remaking of Arda after the Last Battle.”
Perhaps Galadriel gifted this light to Gimli so that the dwarves would have silmarils of their own to contribute to the restoration of Arda and that doing so would aid in the preservation of the “goodwill” Gimli refers to between elves and dwarves so that never again the two peoples would have cause to quarrel.
Eru had prophesied to Aule that there would be strife between his original children and the adopted dwarves
…and often strife shall arise between thine and mine, the children of my adoption and the children of my choice
I suppose with this gift and joint effort between Galadriel and Gimli we see a path to the ending forever of that strife.
But I suspect there is something deeper here that I can’t quite identify. Knowing how central a role Feanor’s Silmarils play in Arda’s marring and healing, it’s hard to overstate the potential significance of three additional silmarils than originally thought.
I suppose one could argue that Galadriel’s efforts are lesser in some way and therefore not on par with Feanor’s silmarils, but given the lore we have, I struggle to accept that idea.
If she, like Feanor, preserved the light of the Trees and likewise encased that light in an imperishable fashion, it’s hardly different from what Feanor accomplished and therefore I must assume these creations are also silmarils and will play a key role in Arda’s Unmarring.
I suspect that role will be significant.
One Final Question
If the Elves have such Light to contribute to Arda’s Healing, and the Dwarves as well, is there also such Light for the house of Man to contribute as well? Maybe there doesn’t have to be but it would seem important for each group to have contributions of similar significance.