But what is Catholic imagination about Mary? To fully appreciate similarities in Tolkien's female characters and the Blessed Virgin Mary, it is worth considering what Catholicism thinks of her.
The early Church understood Mary's place to be special and more than just a human vessel in which God came to his people [see here for the Church Fathers]. The Church believes that Mary was consecrated and set aside by the Lord for this special task. She was preserved from sin and kept immaculate by a special grace so that the Lord, the Holy of Holies could become flesh in and from her. This special grace is the salvation offered to her by her Son Jesus, but in advance. Remember God is out of space and time.
Mary did nothing to merit this predilection but it was graced to her like every other grace any one of us receives. She was born in the natural way but at her conception the Lord placed 'enmity between her and the devil' [Gen 3:15]. This is called the Immaculate Conception and has resulted in the most Sublime or Exalted creature God has created, Mary. This is different from the Incarnation, which is Begotten God taking flesh and becoming Man, the God-Man, i.e. Jesus.
At the Annunciation when the angel came to Mary announcing that she would become pregnant from the Holy Spirit with the Son of God, she said yes to God and co-operated with the grace offered to her that would fulfil that plan of salvation. Mary still had her free-will even though she was without sin, this is why it is scandalous and astonishing that God's plan of Salvation would hinge upon the free will of one his creatures. [read more here].
She is the mother of Jesus, and mother of his physical body [he took flesh from her]; and in a spiritual way, she is the Mother of the Body of Christ, the Church; hence she is the spiritual mother of all of us.
Just as Jesus is the Second Adam, righting his wrong, Mary is the Second Eve, saying yes to God and righting Eve's no. Mary's role didn't just end after she gave birth to Jesus but continued through to His crucifixion and still continues today. This is because she has played and is still playing an important role in the Restoration &
Salvation of Mankind. She is the Mother of Church and is referred to as the Mediatrix of All Graces. This is because the Source of All Grace, Jesus, has come through her.
It is interesting to note that 'Eve' means Mother of All ; and Mary is the Mother of All in the New Covenant sealed in Christ's blood. Because she is the Second Eve, she received a grace that meant her existence started in the same condition as the First Eve; i.e. she was without original sin and had unbroken union with God. [read more on Mary here].
In the book of Genesis, God promises a Redeemer right after the Fall of Man, when he says to the serpent, 'I will put enmity between you and the woman, between her offspring and your offspring.' [Gen 3:15]. This is seen as a direct precursor to the Jesus and Mary relationship, where both will be kept sinless and fulfil God's plan for the salvation and restoration of the world.
Because she is the Second Eve, Mary is often referred to and written as the woman in the scriptures e.g.
• Woman is her name because she is taken out of man. [Gen 2:23].
• I will put enmity between you and the woman. [Gen 3:15].
• 'Woman this is your son, son this is your mother.' [John 19:26-27].
She has a particular place in the Throne room of God and can intercede [pray] for all of us before the Lord.
So where is all this in the Lord of the Rings. It's not all there but there are hints and similar reflections in the woman characters.
Galadriel is the most obvious woman who is linked to Marian themes.
Galadriel is a queenly figure of the Elves [though not exactly a queen], with great wisdom and foresight. The descriptions of Galadriel given in the Lord of the Rings are:
"Very tall they were, and the Lady no less tall than the Lord; and they were grave and beautiful. They were clad wholly in white; and the hair of the Lady was of deep gold, and the hair of the Lord Celeborn was of silver long and bright; but no sign of age was upon them, unless it were in the depths of their eyes; for these were keen as lances in the starlight, and yet profound, the wells of deep memory." [LotR p.345]
"...and behind him stood Galadriel, tall and white; a circlet of golden flowers was in her hair, and in her hand she held a harp, and she sang..." [LotR p.363]
"Beautiful she is, sir! Lovely! Sometimes like a great tree in flower, sometimes like a white daffadowndilly, small and slender like. Hard as diamonds, soft as moonlight. Warm as sunlight, cold as frost in the stars." [LotR p.664]
"But Galadriel sat upon a white palfrey and was robed all in glimmering white, like clouds about the moon; for she herself seemed to shine with a soft light. On her finger was Nenya, the ring wrought of mithril that bore a single white stone flickering like a frosty star." [LotR p. 1005]
"Frodo took the phial, and for a moment it shone between them, he saw her standing like a queen, great and beautiful..." [LotR p.367]
She is immortal and her name in Quenyan [Elvish] means, "Lady of Light." [arda]
Her beauty is of great renown and her wisdom places her among the Wise of Middle-earth. She has long been a prominent foe of Sauron and like Gandalf understands the times in which she lives.
She tests the hearts of the Fellowship when they enter Lorien, searching to understand their motives and desires and lead them into deeper truth.
It is interesting to note that Lothlorien is described to be "without stain" in the Lord of the Rings [something that is dealt with in First and Last Things] and Tolkien himself mentions that Galadriel was "unstained, she had committed no evil deeds." [Letters p.341 & p.431 ]
This is also mentioned by Aragorn when speaking to Boromir;
"Speak no evil of the Lady Galadriel! You know not what you say. There is in her and in this land, no evil." [LotR p.349]
This is in-line with the Immaculate Conception of Mary [Immaculate means unstained]. In fact the whole vision of Lothlorien and Galadriel is almost like a beatific vision of the Immaculate World to come.
Through her gentleness and kindness, Galadriel brings about a change of heart in Gimli the Dwarf towards the Elves as he falls in love with her. Gimli's first encounter with Galadriel is powerful for him,
"And the dwarf, hearing the names given in his own ancient tongue, looked up and met her eyes; and it seemed to him that he looked into the heart of an enemy and saw there love and understanding. Wonder came into his face, and then he smiled in answer."
He is overcome by her beauty and gentleness; and regarding the strand of hair that he requests, he says he will;
"...treasure it, Lady, in memory of your words to me at our first meeting." [LotR p.367]
Gimli is stricken by her beauty and love at their first meeting.
"Henceforth, I will call nothing fair unless it be her gift to me." [LotR p.369]
He is referring to the three strands of her hair she bequeathed to him. Her beauty, understanding and gentleness helps in his conversion and reconciliation with the Elves as a whole. This aspect of Galadriel is very Marian. Many of the great Saints of the Church have written of such encounters with the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Again through her gentleness and love Frodo opens up to her and offers the One Ring to her keeping. With this offer she undergoes a temptation of sorts but rises to the challenge and remains merely Galadriel,
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