1. A short essay about Celeborn.
'That tall fellow next to Galadriel.' A short essay about Celeborn.
Celeborn. What is it about him that puts people off? Why is it that people write fan fiction pairing Galadriel up with Gandalf, as if he didn't have better things to do, or even Luthien, because she deserves better than the loser she's with? I don't know.
About three months ago, after a lifetime of reading Tolkien's works, I became a Tolkien fan fiction writer. It wasn't due to the films - Fellowship had been out over a year by then and I hadn't felt the need to add anything. It was due largely to me finding fan fiction, settling down to reading it, and then going: 'But where's the stuff about Celeborn?' I was mystified - thousands upon thousands of stories about Legolas, hundreds of thousands about Haldir for God's sake - a bit part border guard - thousands of tales about the most obscure Feanorians. Nothing about Celeborn.
Worse, in chat rooms and preludes to stories and a multitude of websites devoted to Galadriel, people were calling the character 'a waste of space', depicting him (if at all) as a cowering hen-pecked husband, or at the very best, as a bit of an idiot, with a zombie-like calm that seemed to come straight from the film. And really, the less said about his appearance in the theatrical version of the film, the better!
There's little surprise that the movie didn't inspire much Celeborn fiction, but what does bemuse me is why book readers give him such short shrift. He's always been - to me - one of the most interesting of the large cast of supporting players in LotR, and I was really looking forward to reading more fan fiction which would flesh out the background of what seemed to me to be a very unusual elf.
Naturally, following disappointment, I decided I would write it myself. But I now can't find anyone to read it, because of this prevailing assumption that he's just not a worthwhile character. So, for the sake of my friends who are still saying 'Celeborn? Who?' or at best 'Was he the fellow who walked down the steps with Galadriel?' I feel compelled to leap forward and defend the guy.
The first accusation goes 'Well, he's obviously a trophy-husband - a bit of arm candy for Galadriel, who will look good escorting her down the stairs, but isn't up to much else.'
This accusation implies at the very least a fair degree of physical beauty - and that's OK, since Celeborn is indeed beautiful - Tolkien explicitly says so when he introduces the Lord and Lady:
"On two chairs beneath the bole of the tree and canopied by a living bough there sat, side by side, Celeborn and Galadriel...Very tall they were, and the Lady no less tall than the Lord; and they were grave and beautiful."
Admittedly, beauty isn't everything, but it's something. It's certainly - as far as I can see - the only factor involved in turning 'bit part elf' Haldir into one of the most popular new characters of fan fiction. I somehow doubt there would be quite so many Legolas/Mary Sue fictions out there too, if Legolas was not quite so pretty.
Here, sadly, the character has been thwarted by the movie, where both Elrond and Celeborn have (IMO) been seriously let down in the looks department. No offence to either Hugo Weaving or Marton Czokas, but neither of them could exactly be called 'beautiful', and what was with the ghastly iron-grey wig they put on the poor bloke? Then they have him saying his lines in the manner of one newly risen from the dead... I'm not at all surprised the film did nothing for the character's reputation.
(The extended edition was - as in everything - heaps better, and I give full kudos to the actor for managing to get across Celeborn's intensity and practicality in the whole extra 3 lines of dialogue. But by then I think it was too late.)
Back to the point, which was that perhaps fans might have been more forgiving to him if he had been portrayed - as he should have been - by an actor better looking than Legolas. But I don't want to harp on about physical beauty; there are more important issues at stake. Let's look at that quote again, and see what else it's telling us:
"Very tall they were, and the Lady no less tall than the Lord; and they were grave and beautiful. They were clad wholly in white; and the hair of the Lady was of deep gold, and the hair of the Lord Celeborn was of silver long and bright; but no sign of age was upon them, unless it were in the depths of their eyes; for these were keen as lances in the starlight, and yet profound, the wells of deep memory."
I'm not going to go into a discussion of the way Tolkien frequently equates height with power - whether it's the evil puissance of the Witch King, or the rightful authority of Aragorn. I'm pretty certain it's obvious to the most casual reader of 'Lord of the Rings'. But I do have a few words to say about that fabulous silver hair. Like everything else in Tolkien's world, it's not there just to look good.
The golden hair of Galadriel and the silver hair of Celeborn are both signs of some importance. Taking Galadriel's first - she gets the unusual (yes - golden hair is unusual among elves, who are mostly dark) colour by virtue of her Vanyarin blood. Her grandmother was a Vanyar elf. Now the Vanyar are the elves who are closest to the Valar - the gods. So Galadriel's Vanyar hair is a sign of holiness. One might almost say it's a mark of spiritual authority. And this goes well with the rest of her character, which is most active in the realm of the supernatural.
Celeborn's silver hair, by contrast, marks him as a member of the royal family of the elves of Middle Earth. It's a genetic trait borne by the kin of Elu Thingol, who was the first and greatest King of the Sindar elves of Middle Earth (and acknowledged over-lord of the Nandor and Silvan elves). As native nobility, Celeborn's hair is a badge of legitimate rulership; a mark of temporal authority. And this too, I would say, goes well with his character, which is most active in the realm of the material and practical.
If you go back to the passage I quoted above, you'll also notice how Tolkien scrupulously avoids setting one spouse above the other. Wouldn't you say that was a description of two people who were about as equal as you can get? After all, isn't Lothlorien a kind of utopia, the kind of place where you might expect the spiritual and temporal authorities to be working in a literal marriage?
I'd also say that, we're agreed, aren't we, that Galadriel is one of the Elven Wise? How wise would it have been of her to marry a husband who was unworthy of her? Why would she call him 'the Wise' and 'a giver of gifts beyond the power of kings' if he wasn't? Wouldn't that make her either a liar or a foolish doting wife who couldn't see beyond her husband's beauty?
'Well, yes,' you may say, 'I can see that he might have been intended to be her equal. That's the theory. But the minute he opens his mouth the effect is ruined. He calls Gandalf an idiot for going into Moria in the first place. Then he threatens to throw Gimli out, along with the rest of the Fellowship, like any of it was Gimli's fault! Elves aren't supposed to be like that! I thought elves were supposed to be nice'
And that, I think is the whole problem. Celeborn is not 'nice' in the same way Elrond, Gildor and Galadriel are.
Let's look at this a bit closer. On hearing that Gandalf has died, Celeborn says "And if it were possible, one would say that at the last Gandalf fell from wisdom into folly, going needlessly into the net of Moria." At that point we start getting annoyed with him, so that when Galadriel points out that maybe Gandalf had his reasons, our sympathies swing fairly heavily away from him and towards her.
But why? After all Gandalf himself didn't want to go to Moria, he was driven to it because he couldn't find another way. Aragorn repeatedly begs him not to, because Aragorn forsees Gandalf's peril, but they go anyway, and at the end, when Gandalf falls, Aragorn says (respectfully) 'I told you so.' Celeborn's criticism is fair enough. It may not be tactful, but it is apt.
And Gimli! When Celeborn learns that a Balrog, which had been inoffensively sleeping for the past Age of the world, has been woken in Moria, his reaction is to retract his welcome to Gimli. And look, he's managed to insult two members of the Fellowship within about five minutes. Naturally he loses further points with the reader, and Galadriel picks them up by being courteous and smoothing over the incident.
But again, if we move back from our partisan defence of the Fellowship, we can see that Celeborn's reaction is actually quite justified. It was Gimli's family, after all, that went back to Moria and woke up the Balrog. Gimli's family has just done the equivalent of starting the timer on a large atomic bomb just next door to Lorien.
Celeborn, whose immediate concern is for the people of his own realm, and who knows it's only a matter of time before Lorien is attacked from Sauron's strongholds of Dol Guldur and Moria, is naturally a little angry to hear that the dwarves have just handed Sauron the ultimate weapon.
It can't be denied that he also has overwhelming personal reasons not to like or trust any dwarves - though these reasons aren't apparent to anyone who hasn't read the Silmarillion. Anyone who has, will know that Celeborn is originally from Doriath - a realm where elves and dwarves worked side by side for thousands of years. Until, one day, suddenly and (to the elves) inexplicably, the dwarves turned on them, murdered King Elu Thingol and slaughtered the people of Doriath, weakening the country to a point from which it never really recovered.
And I don't want to get into the whole question of the first time the dwarves stirred up the Balrog. An event that indirectly drove Amroth, king of Lorien - very possibly Celeborn and Galadriel's son - to his death in Belfalas.
Suffice it to say that there is a very, very long history of pain, betrayal and loss behind Celeborn's snapping at Gimli. A history that makes it quite clear his welcome to the dwarf (however difficult he finds it) is actually an act of surprising generosity.
Put on top of this the additional stress that the Ring of Power is now in his realm, within the grasp of his notoriously power-hungry wife; the fact that he knows tomorrow he may wake up as the husband of the new Dark Queen of the World, and you'll see that Celeborn is not having a terribly good day.
In response to the news of the death of an old friend; the reappearance of an elf-slaying monster within a days walk of Lorien; and the arrival of something that could possibly damn his wife's immortal soul, Celeborn briefly loses his temper and says a few things which are less than gracious.
And this was the moment when I started to like him.
Even if there had been no justification for what he said (and we've seen that's not the case) there is an element in his reaction to the news of Gandalf's death which speaks of the helpless and hurt anger that comes with bereavement. He was strongly and personally affected and, as he says himself, 'I spoke in the trouble of my heart.'
The fact that he could have such a real emotional reaction to this sudden downpour of bad news said to me that he was not remote from the world as Elrond and Galadriel are. He's not 'fading', with his mind more on Valinor than on Middle Earth. He's not so high and mighty that he's above really caring about things.
Celeborn's flash of anger was - to me - very much like Gandalf when he suggests that Pippin throw himself down the well. And like Gandalf's occasional eruptions of bad temper, it passes very quickly and soon he's back to doing whatever he can to help.
His threat to throw the Fellowship out of his realm, and the gentle way Galadriel persuades him not to, prove a second point. They prove that he is not a 'trophy husband', or a 'consort', but is in fact every bit as much in charge as she is - possibly more so. She cannot command him, or overrule his decision - she has to persuade. He listens to her advice, not because she is his sovereign and he has to, but because she is his wife and he chooses to.
I think that many people interpret Celeborn's rudeness to the company as stupidity in order to avoid the unsettling experience of encountering an angry elf-lord. And it is an unsettling experience because (in The Lord of the Rings at least) we don't expect that kind of behaviour from elves. Elves are nice. You wouldn't have caught Elrond getting cross with his guests, and Galadriel is very quick to smooth things back into the courtly mode we've come to expect from Gildor Inglorion onwards. Celeborn is not reacting like the kind of elf we expect.
And that - I suggest - is because he isn't the same kind of elf we've met before. He isn't like Gildor or Elrond or Galadriel, who are all High Elves. He is a Sindar elf, and we're comparing him with the wrong people. As he says himself, his kinship is with Legolas - and Legolas' father, Thranduil.
If we look at Thranduil ('The Elvenking' in The Hobbit) - you can see the likeness immediately. When Bilbo and 13 dwarves get lost in Mirkwood the elves capture them and Thranduil throws them in the dungeons. Thranduil has his reasons for this and they're good ones. He doesn't stop being a good person because he treats the dwarves with distrust. In the end when Bilbo must choose who to defend when he makes his last stand, he chooses to defend Thranduil, and Tolkien seems to think this is a proof of Bilbo's right-heartedness.
What am I saying? I'm saying that there are elves who are prone to more mercurial emotions, who are 'more dangerous and less wise' than the Noldor, and that Celeborn is one of these. As Sam puts it '...there's Elves and Elves. They're all elvish enough, but they're not all the same.'
To expect Celeborn to be gentle and courtly and faintly regretful is to expect him to behave like a member of a different race. He's not an Exile, yearning to return to Valinor, like Galadriel and Gildor, or a ringbearer, afflicted with the melancholy of Sea-longing, like Elrond. He's a Sindar; fiercer, more changeable, more emotionally involved in Middle Earth; operating in a different mode of elvishness than the other elf-lords in the book.
Whether it's an inferior mode of elvishness is a question probably too big to address in an essay about Celeborn. The immediate reaction would probably be to say 'yes' - he is a member of a lesser race; the Noldor High Elves are superior to the Grey elves, who never went to Valinor. Didn't they make the Silmarils, invent the Tengwar, build all the ancient cities and fight all the ancient wars? Didn't they forge the Elven Rings?
But there's a case to be made for the Sindar being more effective in Middle Earth in the long term. It's through the Sindar that the line of the Kings of Men comes into the world. It's through them that the Silmaril of Earendil escapes the clutches of the Feanorians in order to become the Evenstar. They are guiltless of the kind of atrocities to which the Noldor seem prone. They have not murdered their own kind in kinslaying, nor have they rebelled against the Valar and been cursed for it. And, of the four elven kingdoms still surviving in the third age, there is not one without a ruler of (at least some) Sindar blood.
In fact, given the Curse of Mandos which lies over Galadriel - that all she begins will come to ruin in the end - there's a distinct possibility that it's only Celeborn's mitigating presence which has kept Lorien on the map for so long.
In that - as in many things - Celeborn and Galadriel parallel their more illustrious precursors, Elu Thingol and Melian.
Elu Thingol - Celeborn's great-uncle - is described as the greatest King of Middle Earth. Ruler of the Sindar realm of Doriath. He is great, wise and powerful, but his wife, Melian is more so. She is a Maia of Valinor - a demi goddess - who protects their kingdom with her magic. She is foresighted and prescient, more powerful in the spiritual realm than he is, and she is always giving him advice which he is too stubborn to follow.
He on the other hand is the one who appears to inspire the love of his followers. He's the one with the link back to the people. There would be no Sindar, but for the fact that his people abandoned their journey West in order to search for him when he disappeared.
The parallel is obvious - Galadriel is the goddess-like one, who protects the realm with magic. What's less well known is that she stayed in Middle Earth at all, at the end of the First Age, largely for love of Celeborn, who would not leave. He is the one with the emotional investment in the land and the people of Middle Earth. But for him it's likely there would be no Lorien.
Comparing Celeborn with the other Lords of his own race, rather than with the world-weary Noldor, certainly shows him up in a more favourable light.
Thranduil, faced with a troop of dwarves in obvious need, chucks them straight in the dungeons because he happens to think they look a bit suspicious. Contrast this with Celeborn's behaviour to Gimli and (though the same theme is apparent) Celeborn comes out looking remarkably restrained and moderate.
Elu Thingol, faced with Beren, comes up with a cunning plan to get the annoying Man killed, ignores his wife's forebodings about the plan, and thereby dooms himself and his kingdom. Celeborn, on the other hand, seems to be wise enough to realize that when you have a foresighted, prescient wife, it's a good idea to sometimes take her advice.
Speaking of advice, we might legitimately consider how much advice went the other way. After all, it was when Galadriel was separated from Celeborn (he defending Ost-in-Edhil in Eregion, she visiting Lorien) and he was not there to advise her, that she took the Elven Rings from Celebrimbor. She kept one for herself and sent the others to Gil-Galad. Tolkien says "They did not find the strength to destroy the rings" - rather implying that they should have done.
Who knows what effect destroying the Three would have had. Perhaps the One might have been
diminished, since much of its purpose was to bend the Three to its will. Possessing the Ring changed Galadriel for the worse, it increased her sea-longing and took away her joy in Middle Earth, and no doubt had the same effect on the other two bearers. The decision to take it very much repeats the theme of her departing Valinor against the will of the Valar in order to seek power for herself. No wonder - knowing her history - Celeborn was so stressed about letting the One Ring inside Lorien, where Galadriel could get her hands on it.
After that lengthy diversion into elvish racism and history it might be a good idea to finish back in Lothlorien.
From a longer perspective, and less dazzled by her sheer politeness, can we really say that Galadriel is wiser than Celeborn? What good comes of her prying in the Fellowship's minds? Doesn't Sam say himself that it was due to her testing that Boromir 'first saw clearly what he wanted...he wanted the Enemy's Ring.'
What good comes of the visions Sam and Frodo see in the Mirror - except to nearly break Sam's heart?
And who comes closest to taking the Ring and falling into darkness? It's not Celeborn.
If he does not read the Fellowship's minds as Galadriel does, he certainly seems to read Aragorn's heart and finds a practical way to ease Aragorn's dilemma. Indeed Aragorn appears to be completely over the moon about the gift of boats - he thanked Celeborn many times and was comforted by it. One might almost say that though Celeborn doesn't see the future he sees the present clearly enough and is quickly ready to respond to difficulties other people haven't quite turned their minds to yet.
When the time comes for the Fellowship to depart, Celeborn offers any who might be irresolute the chance to stay in Lorien. An offer of both refuge and the opportunity to do an honourable task (aid in Lorien's defence) which might be easier for any waverers to undertake. The gesture distinctly parallels Aragorn's offer to his troops, for the faint hearted to stay in Ithilien rather than go to Mordor. It's an offer which is designed to strengthen the resolve of those who go forward, while allowing any others to keep their honour. A fine piece of combined military tactics and compassion that won points with me for both characters.
As a woman, I have to say that Celeborn also won major points with me when he rebuked Boromir for thoughtlessly using the expression 'old wives tales'. Not many people are willing to speak up for the wisdom of old women, and in a fandom which seems all too eager to brand Tolkien as sexist, Celeborn is a shining light. If ever there was a man unafraid of powerful women, or a husband willing to share glory with his wife without thinking that this in some way damages his own masculinity, Celeborn is the one.
Galadriel is courteous; a people person, with great gravitas, obvious magic, and the bittersweet aura of a retiring goddess. Celeborn is ascerbic. His words are harsh, but his actions are consistently kind. Like Thranduil, he is still fiercely engaged with the world - as witness the fact that it is these two who lead the only elf-armies who fight in the Wars of the Ring. If he's occasionally angry and tactless it doesn't prevent him from being either wise or great. It just - in my opinion - makes him a more interesting character.
And how fascinating a life he must have lead. In the thick of things for seven thousand years or more, the Sindar prince of a Sindar people, moving in his wife's world of Noldorin politics. Were they a bridge between their two cultures? Or was he looked down on as a 'Dark Elf' by her relatives, and shunned by his own for selling out to the Noldorin invaders? If so, he put up with it for her. She stayed in Middle Earth for him, until at last the fading of Nenya forced her to leave him after seven thousand years together. What a tragic love story must lie behind their parting at the very end of The Lord of the Rings. And what proved stronger in the end - his love for the land or his love for her?
Tolkien doesn't say. "...there is no record of the day when at last he sought the Grey Havens,". Maybe he stayed, as Middle Earth slowly turned into Modern Earth. Maybe he's still here - still dwelling in the Lost Valley of Rivendell, just waiting to be found by the next explorer...or the next fan fiction author.
Tell me that's not an interesting character! Tell me there are no new stories to be told of Celeborn Prince of Doriath, and I ...oh.... oh, I'll just have to go write them myself!
Many thanks to Redha for her great comments, many of which I have freely plundered. (That isn't to say that she agrees with everything I've written. Not by any means ;)
1. The title is taken from something Celeborn says to Haldir in Implacida's story 'Heart and Body':
“Try being the Lord of Lorien some time. And hear all saying ‘Who is that tall fellow beside the Lady Galadriel?’”
Implacida's site is here: http://www.geocities.com/implacida/impweb2.htm
2. For the full story of why the dwarves murdered Elu Thingol and sacked Doriath, see 'The Silmarillion'
3. The suggestion that Amroth was Celeborn and Galadriel's son comes from 'The History of Galadriel and Celeborn' in the 'Unfinished Tales.'
4. "More dangerous and less wise" is from 'The Hobbit' chapter 8 "They differed from the High Elves of the West and were more dangerous and less wise...Still elves they were and remain, and that is Good People."
5. Many thanks to Michael Kellner of Henneth Annun, who was the one to point out that Galadriel's acceptance of Nenya came at a time when she was deprived of Celeborn's advice, and might well have been a lost opportunity to weaken the One Ring.
6. I'm aware that in Tolkien's later writings he changed his mind about an origin in Doriath for Celeborn and made him a Teleri Prince of the High Elves of Aman (with a very embarrassing high elven name) - and that he and Galadriel came to Middle Earth together with the Valar's blessing.. This contradicts, though, everything that's written in both 'The Lord of the Rings' and 'The Silmarillion'.
Perhaps, given the time, Tolkien might have gone back and revised the published works to take into account the new background. If he did so, he might perhaps have altered the way both characters act and react. Given them new personalities, to reflect their new histories. We can't know. So I have chosen to go with the Celeborn and Galadriel of the published works, not of the (what surely must have been in Tolkien's lifetime) author's private notes.
7. For a much better written and less fan-girly defence of Celeborn, you must read 'Celeborn Unplugged' by Michael Martinez, which you can find here: http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/tolkien/96308
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.