Typically when we think of Elves, we think of rather whimsical, diminutive figures, usually looking something like a lawn gnome, or singer-song-writer Paul Williams. If we don’t think of them as looking like something silly, we may think of the elves in the Tim Allen Santa Clause movies, young-looking, almost like children or teen-agers. When it comes to what they do, we may think of them as mischief makers, shoe-makers, toy makers, and even cookie makers.
If we think of their dwellings, our first thought is the North Pole at Santa’s workshop, its exact look varying based on the film or story. They may very even bake cookies in a tree, which as we learn in the movie Elf, is not very safe. Very rarely do we think of them as being anything majestic or regal. We see them as workers, not warriors. However, upon reading or viewing The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, one gets a wildly different depiction of this race of mythical beings.
Tolkien largely drew from the Norse mythology in regard to his elves. In the old Myths, the elves were as tall, if not taller than humans. However over time as human society became more civilized, the elves grew shorter and shorter. By the time of William Shakespeare they were reduced to being tiny little guys, almost like fairies. Finally they were merged with the tomte, little imp like spirits from Scandinavian folklore to complete the image of Santa’s little helper. Tolkien wanted to change that.
Certainly, when Bilbo, Gandalf and the dwarves first meet the elves there is a certain whimsical aspect to them, as they sing a little ditty, teasing Bilbo and his companions. However, Corey Olson reminds us that,
“There is, of course, another side of elves, they are more than just merry singers who take delight in the natural world. They are also an ancient people with a long and tragic history, and if we do emerge from their singing by the river still thinking them silly and empty headed, the snatches that Tolkien reveals of their history should help to counteract that… The eves may be “merry folk” whose song and conversation are full of fancy but we are also told to connect them with the high and lofty “high elves of the West “ and their merriment is make remarkable by the majesty and sorrow of their history.”
David Colbert notes that,
“They are like highly refined humans. They are intelligent and sensitive. And over the years have acquired great knowledge. Just as in old legends they are superior to humans.”
In that world they are immortal, tall warriors, at least a head taller than the average human. They are in excellent physical shape, and move in a very graceful manner, almost like dancers. They are creatures surrounded by mystery and wonder, and except for the dwarves, everyone wants to meet them. There is some whimsy to them, but they also have a wisdom and maturity that comes with their many years of life. These elves also have separate people groups and live in their own kingdoms.
Deep within the gourge of the River Bruin, and hidden by the shadows of the misty Mountains of Middle-earth, lies a place of tranquility known as Imladris, or as it is more commonly known, “Rivendell”. The last safe house on many a journey, it is a place of rest, relaxation, and rejuvenation. No fancy health spa in our world can compare to this gem of Middle-earth. Because of the skills of the elves it is hidden, and its natural settings protect it from the forces of evil.
Tolkien describes this home of Rivendell as:
“They stayed long in that good house, fourteen days at least, and they found it hard to leave. Bilbo would have gladly stopped there forever and ever…. [the] house was perfect, whether you liked food or sleep or story-telling or singing (or reading), or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all. Evil things did not come into the secret valley of Rivendell.”
The master of this house is an elf-lord named Elrond. His description alone commands respect. Tolkien tells us that
“He (Elrond) was as noble and as fair in face as an elf-lord, as strong as a warrior, as wise as a wizard, as venerable as a king of dwarves, and as kind as summer. “
Actor Hugo Weaving who played the elf-lord Elrond said,
“Elrond is a fount of knowledge and wisdom; he knows a great deal about the history of the Ring and understands not just what has happened but what might happen…There is, therefore, a sadness about Elrond….”
Along with Gandalf, the elf-lord Elrond features heavily in Tolkien’s mythology. He was also one of the three elves to possess one of the Elven Rings of Power. Elrond’s ring is Vilya, the Ring of Sapphire. While its exact powers are unknown, it does appear to have some powers over some elements, as in The Lord of the Rings book, it was Elrond who sent the torrent down the River to sweep away the Ring Wraiths that were perusing Frodo, with an assist from Gandalf in adding the stylistic flourishes of the horses.
Though he does not send characters on a quest, he is revered as one of the wisest and most powerful beings on Middle-earth. Because of his great wisdom and experience, he is one of the first individuals the heroes must consult on their quest. To Tolkien,
“Elrond symbolizes throughout the ancient wisdom, and his House represents Lore-the preservation of all tradition concerning the good, wise, and beautiful. It is not a scene of action, but reflection. Thus it is a place visited on the way to all deeds, or ‘adventures’. It may prove to be on the direct road (as in The Hobbit); but it may be necessary to go there from an unexpected course. So necessarily in The Lord of the Rings. Having escaped to Elrond from the imminent pursuit of present evil, the hero departs in a wholly new direction: to go and face it at its source.”
Following their escape from the trolls, Gandalf and the dwarf Thorin find themselves in possession of two swords that bear upon them a strange inscription. Elrond, who is a master when it comes to deciphering ancient runes, or letters, reveals to them that the swords were elven blades, Glamdring the Foe-hammer and Orcrist the Goblin Cleaver. The Goblins had most likely stolen them in a raid and they were part of their plunder, which later fell to the trolls. These swords, like Bilbo’s dagger that he would later name Sting, would turn Blue any time Orcs and Goblins were present.
They are also in need of Elrond’s help in reading the map that Thorin had in his possession. The narrator reminds us that even though Elrond did not care much for dwarves due to a long-standing feud between the race of elves and the race of dwarves, but he loathed dragons even more. The dragon Smaug had done great harm to the town of Dale, and he wanted it restored and the dragon defeated. On the return journey, Bilbo and Gandalf again stopped in Rivendell to rest.
For Bilbo, it is just merely one of many stops along the way, like a rest area or a hotel we stop at during a road-trip. However, in Lord of the Rings, it is his house that Frodo and his companions, Samwise, Merry and Pippin must get to, and not for leisure or information, but a place of refuge and safety. Initially Frodo intends to take the Ring only to Rivendell where The Council of Elrond will not only decided what must be done with it, but who will be the one to return the One Ring to the Fires of Mount Doom. However, with Frodo suffering from a wound given to him by the Ring Wraiths it becomes necessary for him to get to Rivendell to be saved from the poison of their swords.
He is even told that had he not arrived in Rivendell when he did, he would have been beyond all help. While he is there, the tranquility of Rivendell allows him time to rest from one stage of his journey before heading out on the next. It is also at that point a neutral territory where the free peoples of Middle-earth, elves, Hobbits, men of Gondor, and dwarves are all welcome, and as such makes a fitting location for the Council.
Further, Elrond has a stake in the fate of the One Ring. Like Gandalf, Elrond is part of the White Council, and has a vested interest in the defeat of evil from Middle-earth. During the events of The Hobbit, they are occupied with trying to drive Sauron, called the Necromancer in The Hobbit from his stronghold near Mirkwood to thereby stall the return of the Dark Lord. Of any one of the heroes of Middle-earth, Elrond is one of the two who truly knows firsthand the dangers of Sauron and how necessary it is for the Dark Lord to be defeated.
Many centuries before the events of The Hobbit, and even before Gandalf appeared in Middle-earth, a younger Elrond had been part of the Last Alliance of Men and Elves wherein they fought against the Dark Lord Sauron. Elrond watched as Isildur, the King of Gondor, struck the Dark Lord, cutting of his arm and recovered the One Ring of Power. Elrond urged Isildur to destroy the One Ring, knowing full well that Sauron had poured his entire wrath, his malice, and his power into the Ring.
Sauron had tied his whole life into the Ring and to destroy it, would destroy him once and for all. However The Ring had a will of its own, and it took a foothold in Isildur and he claimed it for himself. The Ring was lost for all time, and Sauron never fully defeated. The Dark Lord had retreated into the darkest parts of Middle-earth in order to recover and in time strike again.
This was something he could not allow. If Sauron were to truly rise again, and if he was able to recover the One Ring, it would be the end for everything on Middle-earth. There would be no place in that world, not even Rivendell that could be safe from the Dark Lord’s wrath. This is one of the many reasons elves in Middle-earth are not the goofy jovial figures we typically think of. Their time is drawing to a close and the world they loved is falling into decay.
In The Silmarillion we discover that because of this, the Elves actually envy humans because of something they call “The Gift of Illuvatar”, that is ironically, death. The humans can die, leave the world and go to be with Illuvatar, whereas the lives of elves go on forever and ever, unless they are killed in battle ( they are immortal, not invulnerable). This means they watch while their world gets worse and worse, and while those humans and other races they may have grown to love grow old and die. Between watching their world decay and seeing old friends die, the elves can actually die from a “broken heart” due to the intense grief that they feel.
Further, Elrond and all his children are actually Half-elven. They were the children of the man Beren and the elf-maiden Luthien. Their tale is a long one, filled with sadness and grief, due to Beren’s own mortality and Luthien’s choice to be with him and forsake her immortal life. According to Tolkien,
“The half-elven have a power of ( irrevocable) choice, which may be delayed but not permanently, which kin’s fate they will share. Elros ( Elrond’s twin brother), chose to be a King and a ‘longaevus’ but mortal, so all his descendants are mortal, and of a specially noble race… Elrond chose to be among the Elves. His children-with a renewed Elvish strain, since their mother was Celebrian daughter of Galadriel – to make their choices.”
Elrond’s twin brother chose a mortal life as a man, and became the first king of Neumenor, and from him came that fabled blood-line of Gondor that Aragorn was from. Elrond, in the meantime, established Rivendell. Later, with his wife, they had three children, among them was his daughter, Arwen the Evenstar. It is through Arwen that Elrond becomes the instigator of another hero’s quest, though not that of Frodo and Bilbo.
That hero is Aragorn: Son of Arathorn, better known as the Ranger Strider. Aragorn was of the royal bloodline and the throne of Gondor sat empty following his father’s death. Aragorn’s mother took him to live in Rivendell to keep him safe. It was while he was in Rivendell as a young man that he first saw the beautiful Arwen.
Much to Elrond’s sadness, Arwen fell in love with Aragorn. Arwen the most beautiful being in the world, and even Aragorn’s mother told him his aim was high, as without Elrond’s blessing he could not marry her. Such a blessing could not come easy, as to do so would mean that Arwen would have to forsake a mortal life.
As such, he told him,
“My son, years come when hope will fade, and beyond them little is clear to me. And now shadows lie between us. Maybe, it has been appointed so, that by my loss the kingship of men may be restored. Therefore, though I love you, I say to you: Arwen Undomiel shall not diminish her life’s grace for less cause. She shall not be the bride of any man less than the king of both Gondor and Arnor. To me then even our victory can bring only sorrow and parting-but to you hope of joy for a while.”
To some it may look like Elrond is nothing but an overly concerned Father of the Bride. However, his statement is not a disapproval of Aragorn, nor is his reactions like those of a father trying to stop his daughter from being happy. They are the words and reactions of someone who has lived a long time, and experienced great pain. For him, to give up his beloved daughter would be like giving up his own heart. It is something that cannot be done idly. If Aragorn is to marry his daughter, he has to be a man worthy of the sacrifice that it would entail.
With Aragorn, Elrond, and his house are not just a place of safety and refuge, as his mother took him there for safety as a child, nor is it just a place for wisdom. But in many ways Rivendell is like a refiner’s fire for him. It is Elrond, along with Gandalf, that helps shape and challenge Aragorn to being the King he is destined to be. It is Elrond who challenges him to put aside the trappings of the Ranger, reclaim his birthright, and take up the sword Anduril, Flame of the West which was forged from the shards of Narsil, the sword that cut the hand from Sauron.
What Elrond helps each of these heroes find is essential for “recovery.” Be it recovering knowledge, or recovering a birthright, each hero recovers something. In his essay “On Fairie Stories” Tolkien wrote,
“But the true road of escape from such weariness is not to be found in the wilfully awkward, clumsy, or misshapen, not in making all things dark or unremittingly violent; nor in the mixing of colours on through subtlety to drabness, and the fantastical complication of shapes to the point of silliness and on towards delirium. Before we reach such states we need recovery….Recovery (which includes return and renewal of health) is a ….regaining of a clear view. I do not say “seeing things as they are” and involve myself with the philosophers, though I might venture to say “seeing things as we are (or were) meant to see them”—as things apart from ourselves. We need, in any case, to clean our windows; so that the things seen clearly may be freed from the drab blur of triteness or familiarity—from possessiveness.
The Map to Erebor, the One Ring, and the sword Narsil, are all things that need to be seen as they were meant to be. The timid Hobbits, the mere Ranger all need their appearances stripped away and to be seen as they were meant to be. Elrond, in all his wisdom lays all these things bear and helps shape them to who they are all meant to be. The Shire folk are the ones to rise up to combat the darkness and the Ranger form the North is to rule on the vacant throne of Gondor in the new coming world. They can’t become these things if they remain unaltered.
Elrond does all of this to give hope to the good peoples of Middle-earth. The Hobbits and Aragorn inspire many of the other races of Middle-earth, who have fallen into apathy, to fight in the war against Sauron. If indeed their time must soon come, then by his guidance they will learn to fend against the Dark Lord. Be it through his place on the Council of the Wise, giving the heroes much-needed information, healing them, providing them with a place of rest and refuge, or even challenging them to become who they are meant to be, Elrond helps guide Middle-earth out of the Third Age and into the Fourth Age.
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This blog is not authorized, endorsed, approved or prepared by any persons involved in the creation or ownership of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The Views and opinions expressed in this blog are strictly those of the author and do not in any way reflect the views or ownership of the JRR Tolkien Estate, the Saul Zaentz Company, Houghton Mifflin Books, Warner Brothers Studios, MGM/UA, AOL-Time-Warner Inc., New Line Cinema, Peter Jackson or any other persons or parties involved in the creation or ownership of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings films and books.