Tuesday, January 25, 2011


#16 in the series, "J.R.R. Tolkien--Smut Peddler!"

"Vagina." Given what we know about that Tolkien fella and his devilish hidden agenda, that was a no-brainer, wasn't it?

OK, so the sheath that Galadriel gives Aragorn is magical. (Aren't they all?) "The sword that is drawn from this sheath shall not be broken or stained even in de- feat," she says. We should hope not--ouch! But precisely whose "sheath" is the Elf-queen offering? Not her own, certainly. A clue to the identity of this Mysterious Lady lies in the other gift Aragorn receives. For the future king of Gondor is the only member of the Fellowship to receive more than one gift, and his rank isn't the reason. But enough of these sexual speculations--let's have some real fun and talk Elvish.

In Quenya, Galadriel's native language, there is a complex of words associating youth, femininity, sexuality, and the color green. Here they are, quoted from the "Etymologies," an essay on Elvish word-origins published in volume 5 of "The History of Middle-earth," The Lost Road: 

To get technical for a moment: all of these words begin with a letter of the Elvish alphabet (vilya, tengwa #24) that was originally pronounced "w" but which in the Third Age was pronounced "v" at the beginning of words. It was still a "w" after a consonant: note the Elvish spelling of the word "Arwen." The typeface used here is "Tengwar Annatar" designed by Johan Winge, and is in my view the most elegant and legible of Elvish typefonts. It is one of many such; Elvish typography is sufficiently sophisticated that there is a standard keyboard layout, and there is a proposal before the International Standards Organization to make Tengwar a Unicode character set. I have supplied the translation "virgin" for vene as it is implied in the source. By "blended with" Tolkien meant that the words ven and vende derived from different forms in proto-Elvish (reconstructed roots *GWEN and *WEN) but are felt to be related words by "modern" speakers--one of whom, we may assume, is Galadriel.

Miss April from the Tolkien Desk Calendar, 1980
Armed with a knowledge of Elf-speech, we can see Ara- gorn's second gift in a new light. It's a rock--a green rock. Specifically, it's the "Elessar," a sacred jewel with healing powers. The Elf-queen has foreseen that this stone should come to Aragorn at this time, for "Elessar" is "the name foretold for you." Or so she says. The stone itself--or rather, its color--says some- thing more. Linked with the sheath and the various ideas connected with green, the Elessar lets Aragorn know he has just received a third gift, the most valuable the Lady of Lorien has to give. Though Aragorn denies it--"it is not yours to give me, even if you would"--Galadriel is the eldest remaining member of her clan, and her opinion on a certain matter pertaining to her clan's youngest member should carry considerable weight. To put this more bluntly, Galadriel has a moral (if not strictly legal) right to control Aragorn's access to the one thing he wants above all else: Arwen. Or rather: Arwen's venya venesse.

Pinky by the Brothers Hildebrandt
By providing Aragorn with not one but two symbols of Arwen's sexuality, Galadriel blesses the union of the two lovers and signals her approval. The mes- sage is not lost on the scene's other speaker of Quenya, for Aragorn immediately draws the connection: "For the gifts that you have given me I thank you, O Lady of Lorien, of whom were sprung Celebrian and Arwen Evenstar. What praise could I say more?" The stone itself actually belongs to Arwen, who got it from her mother and she from hers; Arwen has entrusted it to Galadriel to give to her beloved should he pass through her realm. It is not just the Elessar itself but the women it came from and the blessing it symbolizes that evokes Aragorn's outpouring of gratitude. We know he needs Arwen, but he needs Galadriel, too. For Aragorn, like so many characters in the Lord of the Rings--and like its author--is an orphan, and the Lady of Lorien is the nearest thing he has to a mother.

Once again we see that a close reading of Tolkien's work--including obscure texts typically assumed (by, say, The New York Times Book Review) to be of interest only to geeks--reveals that the tweedy Sweet Old Dear of back-cover photographs is more than he seems. You don't have to play it backwards, and it won't screw up your turntable, yet "playing" the text of the Lord of the Rings the right way reveals messages far more interesting (and useful) than "I bury Paul." And if vaginas and virgins aren't sweaty enough for you, there's still what Galadriel does to that poor hobbit. . . .

to be continued

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