Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Blessed Virgin Mary and Elbereth Gilthoniel in Lord of the Rings

Woman with a crown reading a book
Picture credit: "Retable de l'Agneau mystique (3)" by Jan van Eyck (circa 1390–1441) - Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.


Today is the birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  And today I shall talk about a female figure in the Lord of the Rings that reminds us of the Blessed Virgin Mary: Elbereth Gilthoniel.

A. Song of the Elves

When Sam Gamgee was fighting the giant spider Shelob (related post: Janet Napoles and Shelob the Great), he held up the phial of Galadriel and cried the name of Elbereth:
'Galadriel!' he said faintly, and then he heard voices far off but clear: the crying of the Elves as they walked under the stars in the beloved shadows of the shire, and the music of the Elves as it came through his sleep in the Hall of Fire in the house of Elrond. 
Gilthoniel A Elbereth! 
And then his tongue was loosed and his voice cried in a language which he did not know: 
A Elbereth Gilthoniel
o menel palan-diriel
le nallon si di'nguruthos!
A tiro nin, Fanuilos! 
(The Choices of Master Samwise, LotR, p. 729)
These Elvish words are the last stanza of a longer song of the High Elves that Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin heard as they left the borders of the Shire:
Snow-white! Snow-white! O Lady clear!
O Queen beyond the Western Seas!
O Light to us that wander here
Amid the world of woven trees! 
Gilthoniel! O Elbereth!
Clear are thy eyes and bright thy breath!
Snow-white!  Snow-white! We sing to thee
In a far land beyond the Sea. 
O stars that in the Sunless Year
With shining hand by her were sown,
In windy fields now bright and clear
We see your silver blossom blown! 
O Elbereth! Gilthoniel!
We still remember, we who dwell
In this far land beneath the trees,
Thy starlight on the Western Seas. 
(Three is Company, LotR, p. 79) 
Note that even though the words are Elvish, they somehow manage to understand them because that is the character of the language itself--"the sound blending with the melody seemed to shape itself in their thought into words they only partly understood" (Three is Company, LotR, p. 79)

We shall leave the exegesis of the song for another post, but it suffices to say a few things. First, "Snow-white! O Lady clear!" reminds us of Mary Conceived without Sin.  Second, "O Light to us that wander here amid the world of woven trees...in a far land beyond the sea" is the exile of the Elves which reminds us of our own exile from Paradise because of the sin of our First Parents: "To you do we cry poor banished children of Eve.  To you do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears."  And third, "Thy starlight on the Western Seas" serves as the guide of Elves to their homeland in Valinor, in the same way as Mary leads us to heaven: "Mother of Christ, Mother of Christ,....when the journey is over, O stand on the shore, and show him at last to me."

B. Who is Elbereth Gilthoniel?

To answer this question, we have to go back to the Beginning of Time by reading the Silmarillion.  Elbereth is one of the Ainur who knows parts of the Great Song of Eru the One, also known as Iluvatar, and with this knowledge she helped the other Ainur sang Arda (Earth) to existence, in order to prepare a habitation for the Children of Illuvatar--the Elves and Men.  Elbereth was one of the Ainur who took abode on Earth::
But this condition Illuvatar made, or it is the necessity of their love that their power should thenceforward be contained and bounded in the World, to be within it for ever, until it is complete, so that they are its life and it is theirs.  And therefore they are named the Valar, the Powers of the World
Elbereth aided Manwë  the brother of Melkor in the mind of Illuvatar, and his rival in the fashioning of the Earth, for Melkor wishes to make it his kingdom.  Sauron the Great, the Lord of the Rings, is only one of the Ainur who became Melkor's servant.  Here is what Silmarillion says about Manwë and Elbereth, also known as Varda:
With Manwë dwells Varda, Lady of the Stars, who knows all the regions of Eä.  Too great is her beauty to be declared in the words of Men or of Elves; for the light of Iluvatar lives still in her face.  In light is her power and her joy.  Out of the deeps of Eä she came to the aid of Manwë; for Melkor she knew from before the making of the Music and rejected him, and he hated her, and feared her more than all others who Eru made.  Manwë and Varda are seldom parted, and they remain in Valinor.  Their halls are above the everlasting snow, upon Oiolossë, the uttermost tower of Taniquetil, tallest of all the mountains upon Earth.  When Manwë there ascends his throne and looks forth, if Varda is beside him, he sees further than all other eyes, through mist, and through darkness, and over the leagues of the sea.  And if Manwë is with her, Varda hears more clearly than all other ears the sound of voices that cry from east to west, from the hills and the valleys, and from the dark places that Melkor has made upon Earth.  Of all the Great Ones who dwell in this world the Elves hold Varda most in reverence and love.  Elbereth they name her, and they call upon her name out of the shadows of Middle-earth, and uplift it in song at the rising of the stars.
Of course, there is no one is to one correspondence between Manwë and Christ and that of Elbereth and Mary, but let us focus on some similarities.  Melkor may be likened to Satan, the Prince of Darkness.  The creature he fears most is Mary, because She was conceived without Original Sin.  It is the humility of Mary in accepting to be the Mother of Christ that became the downfall of Satan and the antithesis to his pride: Satan do not wish to serve God and convinced Eve, the First Woman, to disobey God which led to the Fall of Man. Through Mary's humility, Satan's kingdom on earth crumbles.  As Our Lady of Fatima said, "In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph."

Indeed, the closeness of the hearts of Manwë and Elbereth reminds us of the closeness of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  Christ is the King of Kings and Mary is the Queen of Heaven and Earth.  To help people understand their closeness, Pope Paul VI moved the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary to the Saturday after the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  As the Responsorial Psalm in the Liturgy for the Feast of the Assumption states:
The Queen stands at your right hand arrayed in gold.
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