Of the many Ringbearers in Tolkien’s legendarium, only one got hold of a Ring of Power right after it was forged and kept hold of it for millennia, until the destruction of the One Ruling ring rendered them all pretty much useless. This Ringbearer was one of only two characters to appear in all six of Peter Jackson’s movies, and will be one of the leading characters in Amazon Prime’s upcoming series The Rings of Power: Galadriel.
So, how did she manage it?
She’s an Elf, So Has a Very Long Lifespan
The first and most obvious reason Galadriel gets to hang on to her Ring – Nenya, the Ring of Water – from beginning (i.e. its forging) to end (the destruction of the One Ring) is that she lives long enough to do so. Elves in Tolkien’s world are functionally immortal; they can die of an illness or injury, but they don’t age, and there aren’t all that many illnesses they they’re vulnerable to.
The only Ringbearers more long-lived than the Elves are Sauron himself, who of course lost his Ring to Isildur, and Gandalf, but he wasn’t on Middle Earth when the Rings were forged, and was given his later. Both are Maia, powerful spirits a bit like angels. Or demons, in Sauron’s case.
So part of Galadriel’s Ring-bearing success is down to the fact she had the natural advantage of a very long life. But there were quite a few other Ringbearers who could have hung on to their Rings in a similar way, and didn’t manage it.
Bearers of the One Ring experienced unnatural long life as long as they bore it, and even for some time afterwards; who knows how long Gollum would have lived if he hadn’t taken a tumble into the Cracks of Doom? But none of them were able to hang on to the thing, as it kept abandoning them as soon as it saw a chance to get back to its Master. Even Frodo lost it for a while when Sam took it from him, thinking he had been killed by Shelob.
It could be argued that the Nine Ringwraiths also held on to the their Rings very effectively for the whole of their very long lives. However, the Nazgûl were first seen out and about in Second Age 2251 in Tolkien’s timeline (which will compressed for The Rings of Power), whereas the Rings were forged around 1500, so they were given them some time after they were forged. Besides, if the Ring gives you long life by completely destroying your physical body all together, we’re really not sure it counts.
Even shorter-lived species who passed their Rings on down the generations lost them in the end. Durin III and his descendants did the best, holding on to a Ring of Power all the way up until Third Age 2845, when Thorin Oakenshield’s father Thráin had his taken by Sauron. But they just couldn’t quite hold on to it until the destruction of the One – a series of events Thorin actually set in motion by taking Bilbo Baggins across the Misty Mountains, leading to the discovery of the One Ring.
She Managed to Stay Alive
Of course, there were two other Elven Ringbearers; Gil-galad, who was given Vilya, the Ring of Air, and Círdan, who was given Narya, the Ring of Fire. However, neither of these hung on to their Ring as long as Galadriel did, and certainly not until the destruction of the One Ring.
It’s only fair to acknowledge that the only thing that stopped Gil-galad from hanging on to his Ring was an unfortunate case of death; more specifically, he came down with a severe case of Being Killed By Sauron. Luckily, he was obviously a bit worried that this might happen and so he gave his Ring to Elrond before the battle. The battle that Elrond was also in. Either Elrond was either much better at hiding at the back, or they got lucky there.
The other original Elven Ringbearer, Círdan the Shipwright, is one of only three to actually give up their Ring voluntarily when not in immediate danger of death or, indeed, actually dead (the other two are Bilbo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee). In some versions Gil-galad gives him Narya a little while after its forging, but Gil-galad hangs on to Vilya, so that doesn’t count.
Círdan gives his Ring to Gandalf, telling him, “this is the Ring of Fire, and with it you may rekindle hearts in a world that grows chill. But as for me, my heart is with the Sea, and I will dwell by the grey shores until the last ship sails. I will await you.” Or, in other words, ‘I’m just gonna sit here by the seaside and chill while the rest of you save the world from Sauron, so you’d better take this Ring as you’ll need it more than me.’
Galadriel, on the other hand, is proactive. After the One Ring is lost, she uses Nenya to keep Lothlórien as a safe haven. When the Fellowship of the Ring turn up and tell her that Gandalf “fell into shadow” in Moria, she sends Gwaihir the giant Eagle off to look for him, and bring him back to Lothlórien for healing. She gives Frodo the Phial that saves him in Mordor, and she sends messengers to tell the Grey Company of Rangers to come and help Aragorn. Granted, she uses messengers quite a lot, but only because she needs to stay in Lothlórien in order to maintain it. Once the One Ring is destroyed, she’s off!
She’s a Badass
You wouldn’t know it from the main text of The Lord of the Rings, but Galadriel could seriously kick some backsides when the occasion called for it. Buried in the Appendices (Appendix B, to be precise) is the note that, while the Fellowship were busy fighting at Minas Tirith or sneaking into Mordor, Lothlórien was also under attack. It was protected largely by the power of Galadriel’s Ring, but both Galadriel and Celeborn also fought to defend their land. Then, when Sauron was defeated, Celeborn led an army to conquer Dol Guldur (Sauron’s tower), and, Tolkien tells us, “Galadriel threw down its walls and laid bare its pits, and the forest was cleansed”. She was using Nenya, of course, but that still sounds pretty badass to us.
In fact, Galadriel has a history of badass fighting buried in notes and Appendices and Indices and even alternative versions of the story. She was, according to The Silmarillion, “one of the leaders of the Noldorian rebellion against the Valar”, a rebellion of her kinsfolk against the Powers of Arda (gods, more or less) aimed at getting the Silmarils (powerful magic jewels) back from Morgoth (an evil Valar). Her exact role in this revolt is a bit muddled, as Tolkien kept changing his mind and revising the story, but in every version she’s a badass; in Unfinished Tales, while she stops being a leader of the revolt, he says instead that she “fought heroically in defence of Alqualondë against the assault of the Noldor”.
People Were Scared of Her
Even without knowing about her battle prowess, it’s clear from what most of the human characters in The Lord of the Rings say about her that Galadriel has developed a fearsome reputation as a terrifying witch.
Boromir calls Lothlórien a “perilous land” and says that “few come out who once go in; and of that few none have escaped unscathed”. Faramir calls her the “Mistress of Magic” and says that “it is perilous for mortal man to walk out of the world of this Sun, and few of old came thence unchanged”.
When Éomer finds out that that Aragron, Legolas and Gimli have received gifts from the Lady of Lothlórien, he says, “Few escape her nets, they say… if you have her favour, then you also are net-weavers and sorcerers, maybe”. Wormtongue calls her the “Sorceress of the Golden Wood”, which is perhaps where a lot of these rumours come from, since he is a servant of Saruman, and Saruman and Galadriel did not always get on all that well.
She’s Not Easily Fooled
Aragorn tells Pippin that only Gandalf, Elrond and Galadriel (not coincidentally, the three Ringbearers of the Elven Rings) could resist the power of the Voice of Saruman when he turns on the charm. Galadriel actually foresaw that Saruman would make a bad choice for leader of the White Council, more than 500 years before he betrayed them; her choice was Gandalf.
But Galadriel’s ability to see through evil goes back much further than that, all the way back to the forging of the Rings of Power in the first place. Celebrimbor, who forged the Three Elven Rings, realised too late that Annatar, the Lord of Gifts, was actually Sauron and had an ulterior motive for getting the Elven smiths to make Rings of Power. He forged the Three Elven Rings separately, but because Sauron had taught him the methods, they were still subject to the One Ring. Galadriel, on the other hand, distrusted Annatar from the start. Presumably this has something to do with her ability to read a person’s mind by staring at them, which makes the Fellowship of the Ring so uncomfortable when they first meet her.
Hardly Anyone Knew She Had It
Of course, there was one other factor that helped Galadriel in later years. Like Gandalf and Elrond, two other Ringbearers who managed to hang on to their Rings for a long time, she made sure most people didn’t know she had it in the first place. As soon as the Elven Ringbearers of the Second Age, Galadriel, Gil-galad, and Círdan, perceived that Sauron had put on the One Ring and could feel and control them, they took theirs off and didn’t use them again until Sauron had lost the One.
Later, Galadriel only reveals the Ring to Frodo when the Fellowship come to stay – Sam can’t see it, and when Frodo mentions it to Aragorn, he is firmly told that it mustn’t be mentioned outside Lothlórien, not even to Aragorn (a longtime friend of Galadriel and her grand-daughter Arwen’s fiancée). People know there is magic in the woods, but not what sort of magic it is, and anyone who is not an Elf doesn’t remember the forging of the Rings.
And so, unlike Thráin, Galadriel is not hunted down and captured by Sauron (though we’d have liked to see him try, to be fair), and the Nazgûl do not come knocking at the doors of Lothlórien on Gollum’s advice, as they come to the Shire looking for a hobbit called Baggins. In the end, if you really want to hang on to something and make sure nobody can nick it from you, it helps a lot if no one actually knows you have it.
Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power starts on Amazon’s Prime Video on September 2nd