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Dear Readers, welcome, as always.

In this posting, we want to begin to consider a pair of contrasting gestures in The Lord of the Rings, where they may come from, and how they may mirror each other.

We begin with Galadriel in The Fellowship of the Ring, Book II, Chapter 7, “The Mirror of Galadriel”.

In this scene, she has offered Frodo and Sam the chance to look into what appears to be a small pool of enchanted water, where she tells Frodo “You may learn something, and whether what you see be fair or evil, that may be profitable, and yet it may not. Seeing is both good and perilous.”


Sam goes first and endures a nightmarish depiction of the future of the Shire—although Galadriel warns him that it is perhaps potential, not fated future.

Frodo has, in turn, an even worse experience: the eye of Sauron himself appears and Frodo can feel that it is trying to discover the Ring.   It is something of which Galadriel herself is well aware, but she comforts Frodo, saying, “…I perceive the Dark Lord and know his mind, or all of his mind that concerns the Elves. And he gropes ever to see me and my thought. But the door is still closed!”

To emphasize this, “She lifted up her white arms, and spread out her hands towards the East in a gesture of rejection and denial.”


To modern people, like us, trying to visualize what Galadriel is doing , this might seem a very “theatrical” gesture. The closest we could find in our image bank of Galadriel actually doing it wasn’t more than a suggestion.



And, in fact, the image we’ve chosen (obviously not Galadriel!) to depict this comes from a book published in 1898, with the intriguing title, The Popular Entertainer and Self-Instructor in Elocution.

This brings us back to a time in history when public speaking was a polished art and men (primarily—although the women’s rights movement from the mid-19th century had its speakers, as well) practiced stylized gestures to help them convey their meaning in lecture halls, theatres, and open spaces. Older public statues sometimes capture such a speaker in mid-gesture—as in this of the British intellectual and politician, Edmund Burke, in Bristol.


Such combinations of gesture and speech are derived from a tradition which stretches all the way back to the last century BC/first century AD in the works of the Roman orators/writers Cicero


And Quintilian.


These men described the art of public speaking, and Quintilian, in particular, discusses the use of gesture to expand and underline the spoken text emotionally. This tradition was continued from the Renaissance and beyond initially in translations of the two into local languages, but then in expansions of their ideas. Such gestures were also found useful for the young popular theatre and continued to form part of an actor’s training into the twentieth century. Here, for instance, is the 18th-century actor, David Garrick, in a role for which he was famous, Hamlet. And you’ll notice that same gesture of rejection: arms extended, hands spread.


(This is not, by the way, the same gesture we see depicted on the Argonath. That seems to us more to convey the message: Stop! You have reached the boundary of Gondor—go no farther!

argonath hildebrandt.jpg

This is the Hildebrandt twins rather mild version. A fiercer one would be that from the film.)


To us, such gestures may seem very overdone, if not downright silly—as in this from the 1925 film of The Phantom of the Opera.


And it is probably film itself which has changed our view. Originally, these gestures were developed to extend a speaker’s ability to convey thought and feeling in a public space—a big place where there was no elaborate sound system with microphones and speakers to help.


In a big, noisy place like an Elizabethan theatre, such an extension would have proved just as useful.


And, until artificial vocal magnification was invented in the 20th century, it would have continued to help.



Film began as an offshoot of the stage—after all, what other model was there for actors? Film was much more intimate than the stage, however, even before sound films arrived at the very end of the 1920s. The heavy make-up and big, stylized gestures brought over from earlier drama must have seemed even more exaggerated, in time, to audiences, and everything was gradually scaled down. What Tolkien saw as a young man,


however, having been born in 1893, would have been the product of that earlier time—a time all the way back to the Romans—and thus, when he wants to depict strong emotion, he clearly uses what would have been more appropriate for an older time, just as he uses older language, borrowed from people like William Morris and Tennyson, when he wants to add a certain weight to the words.

In our second posting, we want to continue our exploration with what we feel to be an opposing gesture—and the final gesture—of Saruman.


Thanks, as always, for reading.