19th-century tombs, Cicero, Galadriel, Gandalf, Grey Havens, Hildebrandts, Istari, Mourning, Queen Victoria, Quintilian, Saruman, Scouring of the Shire, The Lord of the Rings, The Mirror of Galadriel, Theatrical gesture, Tolkien, Valar
Welcome, as always, dear readers.
In our last, we commenced a small examination of gesture in The Lord of the Rings, relating specifically to Galadriel and Saruman. We began with Galadriel
and her rejection of Sauron. JRRT describes it in this way: “She lifted up her white arms, and spread out her hands towards the East in a gesture of rejection and denial.” In that post, we said that her gesture seemed theatrical, almost melodramatic, and we suggested that JRRT had been influenced by what we imagined he had seen on stage and on screen late in the 19th and into the 20th centuries, a time when such broad gestures were still considered the best way to convey strong emotion. This mode was, we proposed, ultimately based upon the writings of two ancient Romans, Cicero and Quintilian, who lived between the years 100BC and 100AD. In their day and up to the 20th century, the only magnification available to allow speakers to be heard over crowds was the human voice. Thus, a range of gestures emphatic enough to be seen and clear enough to be understood at a distance was an important component of effective speaking and such gestures were adopted and adapted by actors and used and reused for many centuries to come.
Because none of the illustrations based upon “The Mirror of Galadriel” depicts this gesture, we used a photograph from an 1898 book on public speaking to provide the sense of what we believe we were meant to see.
In our last, we also suggested that Galadriel’s gesture was linked to one of Saruman’s—in fact, his last gesture on Middle Earth, as far as we know.
In sudden resentment at the contemptuous treatment consistently dealt him by Saruman, Grima Wormtongue has drawn a hidden knife and cut the wizard’s throat.
“To the dismay of those that stood by, about the body of Saruman a grey mist gathered, and rising slowly to a great height like smoke from a fire, as a pale shrouded figure it loomed over the Hill. For a moment it wavered, looking to the West; but out of the West came a cold wind, and it bent away, and with a sigh dissolved into nothing.” The Lord of the Rings, Book 6, Chapter viii.
Saruman had been one of the Istari, as Tolkien describes them all in describing Gandalf:
“There are naturally no precise modern terms to say what he was. I wd. venture to say that he was an incarnate ‘angel’—strictly an angelos: that is, with the other Istari, wizards, ‘those who know’, an emissary from the Lords of the West, sent to Middle-earth, as the great crisis of Sauron loomed on the horizon. By ‘incarnate’ I mean they were embodied in physical bodies capable of pain, and weariness, and of afflicting the spirit with physical fear, and of being ‘killed’, though supported by the angelic spirit they might endure long, and only show slowly the wearing of care and labour.” Letter to Robert Murray, S.J. (draft), 4 November, 1954.
Saruman, then, as another of the Istari, can be killed—and is, but what then? In his battle with the Balrog, it appears that Gandalf has met his end. He returns, however, suggesting that his physical body might be capable of the repair which Galadriel administers in Lorien. As JRRT says in the same letter, “He was sent by a mere prudent plan of the angelic Valar or governors; but Authority had taken up this plan and enlarged it, at the moment of its failure.”—that is, Gandalf’s apparent death.
As Gandalf puts it, “I was the enemy of Sauron”, and, with Sauron defeated, apparently conclusively, Gandalf is allowed to return to the West, to do or be what, is never explained. It is a privilege, clearly, since it is granted only to High Elves and, with special dispensation, to Bilbo and Frodo.
This brings us back to Saruman’s gesture: “For a moment it wavered, looking to the West; but out of the West came a cold wind, and it bent away, and with a sigh dissolved into nothing.”
In a way, what we see here is actually a lack of gesture—it is a wavering, with a sense of hope, perhaps? Almost as if Saruman is appealing for pardon? As in the case, of Galadriel, we have no artist’s depiction of this, but we’ve used the clue of “a pale shrouded figure”, as well as that wavering, to imagine that this is someone in mourning and so we can offer several figures from later 19th-century tombs as a possible image.
It’s interesting that these all are female, as if this is one of the expected jobs of 19th-century women, to be the Mourners in Chief. We suppose that, since Queen Victoria mourned for her husband Albert from his death in 1861 to her own death in 1901, this shouldn’t be surprising, but we are planning a later posting about mourning in The Lord of the Rings which will examine the subject within certain western traditions in more depth.
In the meantime, we return to Galadriel to match these two gestures. Saruman had failed because he had accepted the East and the deceptive words of Sauron. His fate, then, is to be met with a cold wind and to dissolve, with a sigh, into nothing, rejected by the West from which he had been sent, several thousand years before. Galadriel, on the other hand, by protecting her people and rejecting Sauron, had been accepted back into the West and the last we see of her is aboard a ship at the Grey Havens, bound for her reward.
Thanks for reading, as always.
We couldn’t resist this final image: the Hildebrandts with the painting.
For all of the wonderful paintings he and his brother have given us, may Tim Hildebrandt (1939-2006) have been given a safe passage to the West, as well.