On What Even the Wisest Cannot Tell

The Mirror of Galadriel

The Mirror of Galadriel by Alan Lee (Source)

The Mirror of Galadriel by Alan Lee (Source)

I am not going to say its the biggest tease this side of the Misty Mountains, yet Galadriel is not the most forthright Elven-queen to ever walk the forest glades. Frodo approaches the Mirror of Galadriel asking, “What shall we see?” Galadriel responds, “Even the wisest cannot tell.” Frodo looks into the Mirror. When he finishes, immediately Galadriel says, “I know what it is you saw.” Oh do you, Miss Wiser-than-the-Wisest? How many of the things that were, things that are, and things that yet may be do the minds of the great really perceive?

To understand Galadriel’s words, let’s consider them in parts. “I know what it is you saw.” Galadriel recognizes within the mind of Frodo the Eye of Sauron itself, rimmed in flame, a black window into nothingness. Having striven long against it, she grasps it and understands its mind. In this, she therefore can so vividly press the defense of each member of the Fellowship’s mind by advancing a choice between the continuation of the Quest and a real desire to turn aside. With the power of Nenya, one of the Three Elven-rings, she discerns the challenges and temptations that hold the road to Mt. Doom. She knows what the opposition offers.

“Even the wisest cannot tell.” While the great can understand the parts of the story, they do not have control over how it unfolds. Glimmers of the past, present, and future may flicker across the surface of the water, but choice weaves the pieces together. Galadriel has long set her mind upon the Ring of Power, on her reaction to it; yet though one may long prepare to select the better path, ultimately the decision is made in an instant at a time and place we may not foresee. The temptation is set before her, and in marvelous imagery and language we obtain a peak into a heart in turmoil: of a struggle to pass the test. Ultimately, Galadriel rejects the Ring, and in doing so she relinquishes her pride and her desire for control. As such, she can both diminish in her power yet remain fully herself, uncorrupted by the augmentation of the Ring.

“What shall we see?” In the discrete choices that appear before us, we also have a glimpse of the desires that fuel the difficulty of those decisions. We have the simple and heartfelt emotion for those we have lost, those we have left behind, and that which might be at risk of being destroyed: the Gandalfs, Bilbos, and Shires of our life. We have the complex and un-assuagable loves for lands and works that soon may dwindle and fade. And we have the deep and unfathomable longings that seem to permeate all else: a resistance to submission, a ship twinkling in its sailing, a Sea never before seen but immediately known. In the Mirror of Galadriel, in the basin of our own self, we see the things which drive us forward and tempt us to both abandon the road and to keep it.

For though the minds of the great perceive much of the dangers of the world and the evil that infests it, on this even the wisest cannot tell: what choice one makes when placed before one’s greatest temptation. Only in discerning upon such a decision may we, like Galadriel, ultimately pass into the West.


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