“Very tall [Galadriel and Celeborn] 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… 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.”
― The Lord of the Rings, “The Mirror of Galadriel”
Galadriel (S, pron. [ɡaˈladri.el]) was a Noldo, one of the Calaquendi, and arguably the most famous and powerful elf of the Third Age. She was one of the bearers of the Three Rings, of Nenya, and with it kept her realm of Lothlórien free of stain.
Life in Aman
When a fourth child was born to Finarfin, prince of the Noldor, and Eärwen, princess of the Teleri, her father named her Artanis, which is 'noble woman'. She was unusually tall and strong as she grew, and so Eärwen’s name for her was Nerwen, 'man-maiden'. Though the source of her hair colour was from her parents, it was said among the Eldar that her hair had captured the light of the Two Trees in Valinor, which resulted a very unique and dazzling colour of gold and silver. According to a legend, this is how Fëanor conceived the idea of capturing the light of the trees inside the Silmarils. Despite her mixed blood, she was identified as a princess of the Noldor, as her father was the third son of Finwë, High King of the Noldor.
During the Darkening of Valinor, she was very independent and visionary. She swore no oaths but the words of Fëanor concerning Middle-earth kindled a desire in her heart, as she was eager to see those wide unguarded lands and rule a realm of her own. During the troubles that followed, even though she participated in the revolt of the Noldor, she fought against Fëanor in defence of her mother's kin in the Kinslaying of Alqualondë. Accounts suggest she travelled among the second group led by Fingolfin, which joined the battle at Alqualondë late and without knowing how it had started. Some of that group had not participated in the killing, although it is not clear who and how many. Dismayed by the prophecy of Mandos, her father Finarfin abandoned the march of the Noldor and returned to Valinor. But Galadriel and her brothers crossed the Helcaraxë in far north and arrived to the northern shores of Hither Lands.
Arrival to Middle-earth
In Beleriand, Galadriel and her eldest brother Finrod Felagund came to Doriath as guests of Elu Thingol, the King of Doriath. It was there she met Celeborn, a kinsman of Thingol, who would become her husband and companion in Middle-earth. When her brother Finrod departed to the Caverns of Narog to establish the stronghold of Nargothrond, Galadriel did not go with him and remained in Doriath with her husband, though she occasionally visited her brother in Nargothrond.
During her days in Doriath, Galadriel became friends with Queen Melian the Maia, and they spoke often to one another about Valinor. Melian was eager to learn the causes of the Exile of the Noldor, but Galadriel would tell her nothing of what occurred after the death of the Trees. Eventually, however, as Melian’s guesses became more shrewd and accurate, Galadriel revealed the tale to her, though still leaving out the Oath of Feanor, the Kinslaying and the burning of the Ships at Losgar. Melian was able to discern some of what was left unsaid, and still more came as rumors to Thingol’s ears. At last, egged on by the accusing words of Thingol, Angrod told all. Galadriel was not expelled from Doriath because of Thingol’s sympathy to the houses of Finarfin and Fingolfin for the wrongs they had suffered. All the same, she went to Nargothrond to live with Finrod for a time. Presumably, she returned to Doriath to live with her husband.
Galadriel did not have any significant role in the general course of events in the War of the Jewels. She and Celeborn survived, or even were not present in the destruction of Nargothrond in F.A. 495 and Doriath in F.A. 503/F.A. 506. It is not unlikely that after the destruction of Doriath they went to the Havens of Sirion along with many survivors of Beleriand (or even with their Telerin kin to the Isle of Balar with Círdan). Thus they even survived the Third Kinslaying, and after that, the War of Wrath.
After the overthrow of Morgoth, a ban was set upon her return to Aman by the Valar, but she was proud and replied that she had no interest in returning.
After the War of Wrath, Galadriel and Celeborn came to Lindon with the other survivors of Beleriand.They ruled over the fiefdom of Harlindon, which was composed mostly of Sindar, under the High King Gil-galad. Eventually the couple moved to a new land called Eregion in far eastwards of Lindon. It was ruled by Celebrimbor, a grandson of Fëanor and distant cousin of Galadriel. They dwelt there for a time and Galadriel was probably present during the crafting of the Rings of Power. Eventually Galadriel and Celeborn made contact with the Nandor of Amdír, who dwelt in a forest realm called Lindórinand (Vale of the Land of Singers) across the Misty Mountains. They crossed the Hithaeglir through Khazad-dûm and relocated to there, becoming great among the Wood-elves.
Celebrimbor and the jewelsmiths of Gwaith-i-Mírdain collaborated with Annatar on the great process of making Rings of Power. By Annatar’s help, the Elves of Eregion created many rings, but both Celebrimbor and Annatar created greater rings of their own in secret. Celebrimbor wrought the Three Rings of the Elves, which were far more powerful than the lesser rings. Annatar, however, wrought the One Ring. When he placed it on his finger, the Elves were aware of his treachery, and took off their rings. Celebrimbor, afraid for his life but even more for the safety of the Three Rings, sent them to two of the Wise: Narya and Vilya for Gil-galad (who eventually gave Narya to Círdan), and Nenya for Galadriel. Very few even of the Eldar knew who hid each of these Rings. Celebrimbor was slain by Sauron not long after, and Eregion was laid waste. But the Three Rings were safe.
At this time, many Noldor of Sindarin speech migrated to the realm of Amdír, escaping from the destruction of Eregion, and Celeborn fortified it against Sauron's attempts to cross the Anduin. Soon thereafter, the White Council (not to be confused with the first White Council of the Third Age) was held in the newly-found realm of Imladris, where Elrond met and fell in love with Celebrían, the daughter that Galadriel and Celeborn had at some time during the Second Age.
In time Amdír, King of Lindórinand, was slain in the Battle of Dagorlad during the War of the Last Alliance. Celeborn may have participated in the war, but the greatest effect it had on the twain was the destruction of Sauron and the loss of the One Ring. Galadriel was now free to use her ring.
When King Amroth son of Amdír perished, Celeborn and Galadriel ruled Lindórinand jointly, and were called the Lord and Lady of Galadhrim. Galadriel planted the mallorn seeds brought with her from Lindon, the only mallorns east of the Sea, and afterwards the realm was called Lórinand (Valley of Gold) and Laurelindórinand (Valley of the Singing Gold), which through some transformations turned into the later name of Lothlórien or Lórien. They established Caras Galadhon, and the realm of Lothlórien was one of light and life. With Nenya, the Ring of Water, Galadriel made the realm of Lórien even greater. With the power of her ring, she protected it from the intrusion of evils throughout the Third Age.It was during their days of power and glory in Lothlórien that Celebrían, their only child, married Elrond, a close friend of Galadriel’s and bearer of Vilya after the death of Gil-galad during the Alliance. Celeborn and Galadriel had three grandchildren by her, one of whom, Arwen, they were especially close to. But Celebrían was waylaid and tortured by Orcs in T.A. 2509, and passed West over the sea.
In T.A. 2463 the White Council was formed. Galadriel, being one of the Wise and the greatest threat to Sauron alive, was one of the members. Celeborn may have been as well, but this is not known for sure. She was a good friend of Gandalf, and recommended that he be made head of the Council. But this distinction fell instead to Saruman, whom she distrusted. Sometime before the Quest for the Lonely Mountain, the White Council began to notice a dark shadow arising in Mirkwood. When Gandalf later discovered it to be Sauron, he urged the council to drive him out. After deliberating, the council acted and Galadriel assisted them in driving Sauron out of Dol Guldur in the year 2941 of the Third Age.
During the War of the Ring, Galadriel met the Fellowship of the Ring in T.A. 3019. She especially was attentive to the Hobbit Frodo Baggins, who was the bearer of the One Ring. She showed him Nenya, and let him gaze into her mirror of seeing. He offered her the One Ring, and despite the extreme temptation, she resisted it successfully. She sent the Fellowship off on their quest furnished with gifts. The two most important gifts she gave were to Aragorn, whom she knew well and liked, and a dwarf named Gimli. To Aragorn she gave the Elfstone, which she and her daughter Celebrían had worn. This jewel was created for her by Celebrimbor in Eregion, in remembrance of the first Elfstone, that was now lost. She was unsure as to what to give Gimli, and asked what he wanted. After complimenting her beauty, he requested a single strand of her hair. Galadriel remembered the posing of a similar question by Fëanor, but had searched Gimli’s heart and knew that his intentions were pure. She rewarded him with three strands, which he was later to put into an imperishable crystal in memory of her.
Not long after the departure of the Fellowship she received the resurrected Gandalf. She reclothed and re-equipped him, giving him a new staff. After Gandalf left, Lothlórien was subjected to three successive attacks by armies coming out of Dol Guldur. By the power of her Ring they were thrice repulsed. Celeborn then led an attack on Dol Guldur itself. Once the dark fortress was in the hands of the Galadhrim, Galadriel came, threw down its walls, and purified it of its evil. It was her last act of power, for the One Ring was destroyed, and the strength of Nenya waned and eventually vanished almost completely.
Return to Valinor
Galadriel was very beautiful, her hair being the most notable feature about her. It reminded the Eldar of the light of the Two Trees. Galadriel, at least in her earlier years, was of a somewhat proud and rebellious nature. She was free-spirited, and during her time in Aman had many dreams of wide unexplored lands. In her early youth, she was very willful and of an 'Amazon' disposition; and bound up her hair as a crown when taking part in athletic feats. Her favorite brother was Finrod, for he, too, shared this vision. She could explore the minds and hearts of others, and her gaze was seeing. It may be because of her unusual beauty and power that she became proud.
But by the Third Age she is also seen to act with wisdom and gentleness. In The Lord of the Rings, she appears very gentle, firm, and wise. She was revered even more than Celeborn by the Galadhrim and all who met her.
Galadriel is a Sindarin name translated by Tolkien as 'glittering garland', 'Maiden crowned with gleaming hair', and 'maiden crowned with a radiant garland'. It has been suggested that Galadriel consists of galad ('light, radiance') + rî ('crown') + iell ('daughter'). Tolkien notes that the element galad had no relation to Sindarin galadh ('tree', or Silvan galad 'tree'), but that such a connexion often was made and her name then was pronounced Galadhriel.
Alatáriel was the Telerin Quenya name given to Galadriel by Celeborn, meaning 'Maiden Crowned with Radiant Garland', which referred to her hair.
At the time of her birth, Finarfin named his only daughter Artanis. Artanis (Q, pron. [ˈartanis], stem Artaniss-) was Galadriel's father-name: it means 'Noble Woman' in Quenya from arta and nís.
Nerwen is the mother-name of the elf Galadriel.
According to the custom of the Elves, her mother, Eärwen, waited a while to give her daughter a name. Due to Artanis's height and her great strength of body and will, Eärwen chose the name Nerwen (Q, pron. [ˈnerwen]), meaning 'man-maiden'. In the end, however, their daughter used neither her father-name nor her mother-name, and instead took the name by which she is known to history: Galadriel.
The name “Galadriel was chosen by Artanis (’noble woman’) to be her Sindarin name, for it was the most beautiful of her names, and, chose as an epessë [after name or ‘nickname’], had been given to her by her lover, Teleporno of the Teleri, whom she wedded later in Beleriand.”
Galadhriel was a name occasionally, and incorrectly, used of Galadriel after she became Lady of Lórien, and meaning 'tree-garland'. As the Lady of the Galadhrim, whose capital was at Caras Galadhon, it is perhaps understandable that her name should have become confused with the Elvish word galadh, meaning 'tree'. Nonetheless, this usage was mistaken — her true name Galadriel actually derived from the word galad ('radiant'), and the false variant Galadhriel was never used in her own country of Lórien.
Other Versions of the Legendarium
There is a bit of befuddlement and confusion in the story of Galadriel, which Tolkien revised multiple times. Some of the points that were revised often are the role of Galadriel in the rebellion of the Noldor, the reason why she remained in Middle-earth, and the time at which she met Celeborn.
In the notes to The Road Goes Ever On and in the published Silmarillion, Galadriel was one of the leaders of the revolt and followed Fëanor into Exile. She couldn't return to Valinor because a ban was set against her, and she met Celeborn in Doriath, who was one of the Sindar. This is the only version of her story that was published by Tolkien during his lifetime.
However, there are two late essays written by Tolkien after The Road Goes Ever On and published in Unfinished Tales that contradict this. In one of them, though Galadriel revolts along with the other Noldor, she's offered the pardon of the Valar, but refuses to return to Aman nonetheless.
In the other, later essay, Galadriel has no participation at all in the rebellion of the Noldor, but sails on her own ship to Middle-earth. She would have been allowed to sail to Middle-earth by the Valar in normal conditions, but since she did it during the disturbance of Valinor, she fell under the Doom of Mandos all the same.
In both essays, she met Celeborn in Aman. He was called in Quenya Teleporno, and was a young Telerin prince, probably the son or grandson of Olwë (which would make him Artanis’s uncle or cousin)*. They eventually fell in love, and he called her in his own Telerin tongue Alatáriel (later Sindarinized as Galadriel and semi-Quenyarized as Altáriel). It's unknown whether Tolkien would have gone ahead with this revision (possibly making a new edition of The Road Goes Ever On), or if he would have felt bound by the published version. This account presents also the difficulty of Celeborn and Galadriel being so closely related (the Eldar did not marry that close).
Another point that was revised, was the time at which Galadriel passed over the mountains of Ered Luin to enter Eriador. In The Fellowship of the Ring, she says that she passed over the mountains before the fall of Nargothrond and Gondolin, yet in Appendix B of The Lord of the Rings it's said that at the beginning of the Second Age she was still dwelling in Lindon, before passing over the mountains. This contradiction in the same work must have been due to a mistake during revision.
Besides this, the earlier version of the story of Amroth given in Unfinished Tales, says that Galadriel and Celeborn had two children, of which one was Amroth.