Tolkien hates me now, doesn’t he.

‘And what gift would a Dwarf ask of the Elves?’ said Galadriel, turning to Gimli.     

  ‘None, Lady,’ answered Gimli. ‘It is enough for me to have seen the Lady of the Galadhrim, and to have heard her gentle words.’

     […] Yet surely, Gimli son of Glóin, you desire something that I could give? Name it, I bid you! You shall not be the only guest without a gift.’

     ‘There is nothing, Lady Galadriel,’ said Gimli, bowing low and stammering. ‘Nothing unless it might be – unless it is permitted to ask, nay, to name a single strand of your hair, which surpasses the gold of the earth as the stars surpass the gems of the mine. I do not ask for such a gift. But you commanded me to name my desire.[…]

     ‘And how shall I refuse, since I commanded him to speak? But tell me, what would you do with such a gift?’

     ‘Treasure it, Lady,’ he answered, ‘in memory of your words to me at our first meeting. And if I ever return to the smithies of my home, it shall be set in imperishable crystal to be a heirloom of my house, and a pledge of good will between the Mountain and the Wood until the end of days.’

This incident is Gimli singlehandedly curing the millennia-old feud between Dwarves and Elves and being more awesome in forty seconds than Legolas was in his entire life. That is not the important part.

Another thing the important part isn’t is that, since Gimli did make it back to the smithies of his home, there is now a hair (well, three actually) from Galadriel’s head that he set in imperishable crystal to be passed down throughout the Future.

The important part is that what do we do with hair? Clones! Some time in the distant future of the Fourth Age, someone clever could clone Galadriel. (Tolkien guessed that we might be at the end of the Fifth Age, or maybe into the Seventh. It was never supposed to actually fit with real history, but someone asked.)

This would mean that the Elves might not stay extinct in Middle-Earth! It’s a Really Big Deal.

In Tolkien’s universe, it’s pretty much assumed that ancient foregoers are basically more intrinsically awesome than their descendants. And everyone knows it. Aragorn is so much better than every other human partly because he has the blood of Numenor that happened to turn out almost 100%. Back when Numenor was around, Aragorn would have been more like “average.” Faramir has the same thing: in his case “the blood of Westernesse runs nearly pure.” His brother is less awesome because he doesn’t have nearly as much of that blood (Tolkien didn’t care much about how genetics works.) Anyway, the point is that people Back Then had some kind of inherited quality that was gradually lost over the course of those three Ages. This diminishment is a major theme of Tolkien’s work and blah blah literary criticism blah, but the point is that clones.

Galadriel is from the First Age. She is from so far back that her grandfather was never actually born: he (Finwe) was simply created. Galadriel didn’t just know the world’s mythic history, she remembered it. She is one of those legendary forerunners; she was one of the legendary forerunners even back in Frodo’s time. She is probably the single best person from the War of the Ring to clone. Lucky we have her hair.

But wait, I’m sure you’re saying, just because the clone is genetically identical doesn’t mean she’d be as awesome as Galadriel was. Sure, she’d be taller, stronger, more beautiful, maybe smarter than most other Elves (let alone humans), but all the wisdom and authority and stuff are all from experience. And who knows how magic works with heredity. It would be like if you cloned King Arthur. The new guy is genetically Uther’s son and maybe he’s a pretty cool guy, but you’d be an idiot to put him in control of England just because of that. (Merlin agrees with me on that point; he’s a big proponent of nurture over nature.) In the case of Galadriel, you are extremely right.

Galadriel is one of the Elves of Light. Without going into too much detail, that means she saw the light of the Two Trees before they were destroyed and replaced with the Sun and Moon. (I told you she was old.) Elves who have seen that are basically better in every way than Elves who decided not to go or Elves who were born too late. The clone would not have seen the Trees and would therefore be less impressive than Galadriel herself.

Or would she? Another obscure detail about the Elves is that when they die they spend a little while (up to but no more than the remainder of the world) in something like Limbo, and they have the option to reincarnate as themselves. (Except Feanor. He’s serving a serious time-out right now.) The new body is always recognizable as being identical once it reaches adulthood, and all memory comes back. So when we clone Galadriel, it’s possible that the fea (the spirit) would, if Galadriel happened to be dead at the time, end up here. If that happens, you basically hit the jackpot. She wouldn’t just be someone similar, she’d be Galadriel herself, complete with memory, history, and magic. This would be like if you cloned King Arthur and the clone turned out to actually be King Arthur, if King Arthur had won the War of the Ring, had once been on speaking terms with the gods, and had superpowers.

How likely is that? Not very. Galadriel is more or less immortal, and while she might have died by accident at some point during or after the Fourth Age, she probably didn’t. Elves are tough. And even if she did, she might have just decided to be reborn. So her fea is unlikely to be hanging around bodiless at any given time.

If the clone does turn out to be Galadriel herself, she wouldn’t want to stay here for long. She’ll go back to her own world (which used to be part of this one, back when it was flat, but now only Elves can sail back…long story). Maybe she’ll let someone try to follow her boat, just to see what happens. Now that could be interesting.

But that won’t happen, because Galadriel’s fea is otherwise occupied and won’t be dropping by. Instead, you’ll just end up with a nearly immortal superhuman. Boring.

If you noticed that the hairs in question were cut off rather than pulled out and therefore have no follicle and no genetic material and the entire premise is impossible, then you win a lot of nerd points. And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for you meddling smart people.


3 thoughts on “Tolkien hates me now, doesn’t he.

  1. Montague

    Actually, it would probably be worthless anyhow; The elves don’t belong on human earth anymore. Remember what Tolkien says about the Hobbits in the intro to LOTR? It’s more a temporal matter than merely Genetic, for example, Luthien is more powerful than Galadriel.

    And it’s rather orcish anyhow. Also, how would you expect that a clone would have the same soul as the original? And sine Lorien as well as herself are in the undying lands, her soul would not leave back to earth.

    Says the Tolkien Inquisitor 😛

    1. comparativelysuperlative Post author

      You’re completely right. It’s highly unlikely that the same soul would turn up. (Even if she is somehow dead at the time and chooses to be reborn precisely then, I don’t know of any really strong reason why she *should* pick this body in particular.) I wouldn’t say worthless, though, because any Elf at all would be very interesting. Still immortal and better at everything. I’d imagine the world would be pretty interesting to her, too.

      (Quibble: Lorien isn’t in the Undying Lands unless you’re getting it confused with the gardens named after of the Vala of the same name. The forest in Middle Earth just got deserted and gradually became normal. So you’re still right that it holds no attraction for her now even if she could find it.)

      Of course the Elves think of the dwindling as temporal rather than genetic. Those almost always go in the same direction after all*, and they’re more familiar with time than genetics. I honestly just assumed it was genetic and didn’t think about it nearly as much as I should have; I assumed it was “Elvish magic is leaving Middle-Earth with the Elves” and not “magic, including the Elves’, is gradually getting weaker.” I guess it’s the difference between the power being intrinsic to them and being something else they draw on, and I’m pretty sure it’s the first one.
      *On second thought, you may be right. Elrond is more powerful than Arwen, even though she counts fewer generation back to Finwe. So don’t count on the superpowers part, I guess.
      (I don’t take Luthien as an argument, though, because she was half demigoddess.)

      As for orcish, well, yes. So is going to the moon, and so is your computer. Tolkien neatly portrayed any advanced technology as orcish by giving it only to the bad guys, but I’m not going to avoid it just because of that.

      1. Montague

        I mean the after-life kind of Lorien. I do believe that’s where the souls do go to, though admittedly I have not re-read Tolkien for a while.

        I am of the opinion that the magic it not entirely intrinsic to them. The idea of decay, after all, originated far before Mendelian genetics. Also, I believe Tolkien states that the Elves are tied to Middle Earth itself in a different way than Humans are (from some discourse on the Gift of Men). So, since the land itself does not genetically decay, it is probably Magic half-life decay (though of course it is not actually radioactive or something).

        You’re right, Luthien does not count. I stand embarassed and corrected.

        Orcery is more like hubris than technology per se. Certainly Tolkien knows his history and theology. It is ugliness and pride, not the power of technology in and of itself, which I think he does not love. It is meaningless mechanization and not craftsmanship that is vile and orcish. The Noldor were not evil for being excellent smiths! Technology is very closely allied to the idea of power. I also guess that the evil association of gunpowder is more Miltonian influence than a particular and inflexibly dogmatic “all tech is evil.”

        To make a random (actually, oddly enough, not so random) connection, Hayao Miyazaki does not love war or polluting mechanization, but he loves aircraft. More on this if needed. I can send you a paper on him and Tolkien by May.

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