Academic journal article Mythlore

Cordial Dislike: Reinventing the Celestial Ladies of Pearl and Purgatorio in Tolkien's Galadriel

Academic journal article Mythlore

Cordial Dislike: Reinventing the Celestial Ladies of Pearl and Purgatorio in Tolkien's Galadriel

Article excerpt

TOLKIEN'S FAMED 'CORDIAL DISLIKE' FOR ALLEGORY has not prevented a number of readers from debating his engagement with allegorical modes. (1) As a medievalist and a Roman Catholic, Tolkien certainly had a great deal of familiarity with allegorical traditions, and the very fact that he found it necessary to declare that The Lord of the Rings was not allegory suggests that he had given careful thought to the nature of allegorical literature. In comparing medieval allegorical texts with Tolkien's works, one finds first of all a number of correspondences which suggest influence, conscious or unconscious; more interestingly, comparison with medieval allegory can draw out some key differences and help to characterize Tolkien's assertion that The Lord of the Rings is not an allegorical text, at least, not in the same way that some of its medieval influences can be called allegorical. Of the many elements in The Lord of the Rings which may have such resonance with the medieval allegorical tradition, one seems to be at the heart of this tradition: the image of an authoritative female character encountered in an earthly paradise, often alongside an encircling stream and/or a garden enclosure. This lady's closest cognate in The Lord of the Rings is Galadriel, whose interaction with Frodo and his companions echoes that of her medieval counterparts, but who is, unlike the static and abstract female personifications of medieval allegory, a fully realized character with her own development.

It is a testament to the richness of Tolkien's invention that readers have found many and diverse possible analogues for the character of Galadriel. Leslie A. Donovan, for example, looks to Tolkien's well-attested Germanic influences in order to connect Galadriel with the valkyrie tradition, citing her queenly nature, ritual hospitality, associations with light and with sorrow, and physical attributes including golden hair (112-118). Marjorie Burns proposes connections with Celtic goddesses, linking Galadriel particularly with the Morrigan and her English counterpart, Morgan le Fay (106-116). Susan Carter further develops associations with Morgan le Fay as characterized in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, noting the importance of both women's authority-in-absence. Romuald Lakowski relates Galadriel to other fairy-queen figures in medieval works such as Sir Orfeo, as well as Titania in Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream ("Perilously Fair"). Given these similarities with goddesses and supernatural or semi-divine figures, it is not surprising that a much earlier treatment sees Galadriel as embodying the Jungian archetype of the anima (Goselin). Nor, given Tolkien's Catholicism, should we be surprised at Michael W. Maher's attempt to compare Galadriel's character with representations of the Virgin Mary in a medieval litany, even though, as Maher concedes, Tolkien himself was careful to disassociate her from Mary (225).

Each of these connections is well worth considering, but another branch of medieval literature, the Christian dream-vision, seems just as likely, if not more so, to have informed the character of Galadriel as she appears in The Lord of the Rings. Dante's Divine Comedy and the Middle English Pearl, both dream-visions which were well-known to Tolkien, are part of a long and substantial medieval tradition of allegorical literature with prominent female characters. (2) The best-known early manifestations of this genre are Prudentius's Psychomachia, in which female-personified virtues and vices battle each other, and Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy, in which philosophy itself advises the narrator in the form of Lady Philosophy. Later texts in this tradition include The Romance of the Rose, with its similar symbolic personifications and its enclosed garden, and Piers Plowman, also a dream-vision in which the narrator encounters allegorical personifications. The Divine Comedy and Pearl are closely connected with these texts, and, like the Consolation of Philosophy, include central characters of a type which might be labeled "the celestial lady. …

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