Symbolism of the Elves: From Galadriel to Legolas

NOV / DEC 2012: BY CHARITY BISHOP

elf

One of the most fascinating races in Middle-earth are the Elves. They’re Tolkien’s favorite, and he spent many years creating their culture, history, and languages. His love of the Elves speaks of his deeper love for Creation and God. By creating myth in Middle-earth, he borrowed from and honored his faith.

Tolkien’s Elves are compassionate creatures embodied with fierce allegiances, the protectors of Middle-earth and the keepers of the Wood. Highly in tune with nature, they have very acute senses, are able to walk on any surface without leaving a mark, sense danger before it happens, and can see over great distances.

There’s a lot of symbolism interwoven into The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, and The Hobbit if you know where and how to look for it. But before we delve deeper into what Tolkien may have intended with his parallels, it’s important for the reader to remember that Tolkien wasn’t an allegorical writer. He had a distaste for the obvious; allegories in his mind related more to the happenings of the world than “real truths,” as he called the tales of Christ and the Church. He did not intend for his story to be a literal allegorical representation of his faith, but it did influence much of his work, particularly in the creation of the Elves.

Tolkien wrote Middle-earth as a history of Earth that includes the Fall of Man, the Two Trees, and other myths that coincide with the Bible. As a lover of Truth, I see many clever parallels between the Elves and Adam and Eve (also Immortals) in Tolkien’s work. In the translation to the big screen, the director unknowingly reinforces this through uses of light and dialogue.

Earth was sinless, so there was no death. Adam, like the Elf, was immortal and would grow more wise and beautiful with age. He and Eve were aware of animals and able to speak to and command them—for God sent them to rule over the earth. Elves can command nature and hear voices lesser ears can’t perceive. Like Adam and Eve, the Elves are the Firstborn of Middle-earth; the first creatures created by a divine hand to protect and guard Middle-earth. They have “true immortality”; they gain by the length of time and become more real in time. This was also God’s intention for Man; he was made in God’s image and would become more like Him in time.

Tolkien embodies the Elves with symbolism, and certain of them are blatant in their religious parallels.

Galadriel is the Mary of Middle-earth. She wears a Ring of Power (Holiness), intercedes for Frodo in his bleak hour (Intervention), and offers him salvation from death through the Phial (Light, Christ). Her husband, Celeborn, is reminiscent of Joseph. He protects her (as Joseph watched over Mary) but surrenders to her wisdom.

Elrond embodies God the Father. He’s not tempted by the Ring (Sin); he trusts it to Frodo (a Christ figure) to save others from its evil. Elrond offers choices; he doesn’t force obedience, even though it’s within his power to do so. Elrond re-forges Andúril (Salvation from Death) so Aragorn can enter the Paths of the Dead and redeem the Lost (death and resurrection). His daughter Arwen (the Church) is later entrusted to Aragorn (Christ).

Haldir as the Guardian of Lothlórien is like elders in the Church. He protects his people from evil and intercedes when needed. His loyalty is to Galadriel (Mary) but he responds to the call of Elrond (God) in defending Helm’s Deep and Men (the Lost).

Arwen represents Christ. In spite of the pain it causes her, she chooses to forsake her immortal life out of love for another. She gives Aragorn the Evenstar (Salvation) so he will live, and the Grace of the Valar to Frodo, who isn’t a Firstborn and has no right to experience it (Christ interceding for us, to give us access to God and Heaven). Out of love for her, Aragorn becomes a better man, which shows the progression of a life aware of and submissive to the influence of Christ.

Legolas references the salvation of Gentiles and their acceptance into the Church. Though he is not eager to accept Gimli, once Gimli is receptive to the grace of Galadriel (Mary—salvation through Christ), the two are as brothers. Eventually, they sail to Valinor (Heaven). This shows salvation through Christ, our acceptance into the divine Family, and that all believers will share the same eternal fate.

Tolkien’s books are rich, delightful tales made even more so by a believer’s grasp of the wonders of God. After all, he is the God “of humans, and of angels, and of Elves.” ■

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Charity Bishop would dearly love to spend all her free time mulling over, theorizing, and philosophizing on the vast spiritual / moral lessons of cinema and Victorian literature, but alas, she must make a living, so her days are spent doing editorial work. She devotes her free time to babysitting her bipolar cat, writing books, blogging, and searching for spiritual truth in all aspects of life… when she isn’t editing Femnista!

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