|Who is Elrond?|
In handbooks or reference books about Tolkien and his work and as well in the WorldWideWeb you can find many articles, essays, overviews or simply some brief characterizations about the characters in Tolkien’s books to give the readers some more background information and round up the imagination of Middle-Earth and its inhabitants. But during my examination of this topic I found out that hardly anyone takes care of critically investigating or even naming their source of information. This often means that for example dates for Tolkien’s characters are mentioned that will not stand up to close examination; statements by Tolkien himself are considered as facts without examining from which creative period of his work or from which texts they originate: first of all there are two major works, authorized by Tolkien himself, the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings; further texts that have been edited after Tolkien’s death by his son Christopher Tolkien as the Simarillion, and his letters as well should be taken into consideration very carefully. In addition there is the History of Middle-Earth (HoMe), edited by Christopher Tolkien that gives an extensive overview of the creation of the mythology and the Lord of the Rings.
Fact is that Tolkien never really finished his mythology and therefore we often find several different compositions of the same topic. Not all of his tales have reached a final version to be published and many of his characters have different backgrounds and histories in these tales.
In this article I want to concentrate on the character of Elrond only, even if the development of this character does not show the same problems as many others do, but I consider him as one of the most interesting characters in Tolkien’s work with his descent reaching far into the mythological past and an almost tragic life.
Elrond, the lord of Rivendell, as he is already presented to us in the Hobbit of 1937 is one of those characters whose fate is closely interwoven with both peoples, men and elves, the children of Ilúvatar. The Lord of the Rings ends with the Fourth Age when the last elves leave Middle-Earth to live in the far West. With them is Elrond who has played a major role in the Second and Third Age. The development of this character was subject of several changes during the writing process of Tolkien until he became the person we meet in the Lord of the Rings. The history of his family, his descent and especially his choice to which of the fates – human or elvish – he wants to be counted have their meanings and consequences for the complete works of Tolkien.
But firstly I only intend to gather information about the development of the character of Elrond without further interpretation which might be worth another article. This article should be considered as a help for further studies or even as a pool of ideas for fan-fiction authors.
Who is Elrond?
The main source for a characterization of Elrond is the Lord of the Rings and the appendices where Elrond the Halfelven is introduced as lord of Imladris (Rivendell), Master Elrond, Elrond Peredhil. From the time tables in the appendices we learn about the Second and Third Age and the main dates for Elrond’s life. Furthermore there are several hints or even tales about him in the Appendices and the novel itself.
I would like to begin with a summary of the impression that is given in the Hobbit – even if this novel had been written at a time when Tolkien had not yet thought of a continuation of the story. Though it was revised several times after its first publishing the Hobbit cannot be a reliable reference for any aspect in the Lord of the Rings, but the short characterization of Elrond will hardly change in the later Lord of the Rings.
When Bilbo Baggins, on his way to Erebor comes to Rivendell, this hidden valley is described to him as “the Last Homely House” – the last refuge of the elves in Middle-Earth. Its inhabitants are said to have elves and the old heroes of the north as ancestors:
Elrond is immortal and when Bilbo visits him for the first time he is already so old that as an eyewitness he is able to tell about events that are known to the visitors as ancient legends only. And Elrond alone is able to explain the mysterious runes on their swords and the map of the dwarves. Bilbo and his companions leave Rivendell only reluctantly because
A further reflection of Elrond’s person and history is not given in the Hobbit.
In the Lord of the Rings, published since 1954, which was intended to be a continuation of the Hobbit, Tolkien tried to work out further coherences between his mythology about his world, Arda, and the Hobbit.
For Elrond it means that his far-reaching family history and his fate are now specified but in the novel itself background information are given in hints and summarizing tales only; in the Appendices to the last book of the Lord of the Rings, published in 1955, and finally in the Silmarillion, published 1977, the stories concerning Elrond and his ancestors are extended.
The first time Elrond is described in the Lord of the Rings, “Many Meetings”, we see him through the eyes of Frodo:
Bilbo gives further hints about Elrond in his song of Earendil, Elrond’s father, and there are several short remarks about the absence of Elrond’s sons, Elladan and Elrohir. When Elrond himself gives an account of the events of the Second Age, we get a more detailed impression of him: he does not only mention his parents and there descent but his position as herald of the former High-King Gil-galad during the Battle of Dagorlad in the Last Alliance. But only in the Appendices we read about Elrond’s status as half-elven and the fates of his children, especially that of Arwen, his daughter.
In the Tale of Years in Appendix B historical dates and personal dates of Elrond and his family are listed and further information are given to which I will come back later.
I. Elrond – the name
The languages Tolkien created have been alterated very often during his writing process and Christopher Tolkien states that it is hardly possible to exactly date those alterations. Tolkien did not intend to create an extensive vocabulary but the development of stems and basic syllables for deriving and deducing further words.
The more progress Tolkien made in his mythology and the more he changed it – rewriting it or writing it anew – he as well alterated the entries in the Etymologies (cf. HoMe V) as shift of meaning or script. With some chosen examples Christopher Tolkien concludes that the Etymologies may be dated to the same period as the Quenta Silmarillion – 1937/38 – with later additions of names taken from the Lord of the Rings.
The name ‘Elrond’ consists of the syllables el and rond that are axplained in the Etymologies as follows:
In a letter to Rhona Beare from 1958 Tolkien gives a slightly different explanation for the names of the brothers Elrond and Elros:
The relation of the names to the stars remains but this explanation would imply that both children had had different names (i.e. ‘mother-names’ given to a child by his mother and not necessarily known by others; cf. HoMe X, Laws and Customs among the Eldar) before they had been found. But to no time is mentioned that the sons of Feanor knew about such names – and Tolkien did never again use this explanation.
This quotation is found very often in several online-encyclopedias as the only explanation of the names. But what is very often not considered is that Rhona Beare was an enthusiastic reader and writing to Tolkien and asking a lot of questions to the Lord of the Rings. One of them said:
In his answer Tolkien gives an overview on the languages and explains the syllables as quoted from the Etymologies. In no other of his texts Tolkien ever mentions the explanation of names he gives to Rhona Beare again, but until his death he never gave up his working on names and their meanings.
In his essay Quendi and Eldar of 1959/60 the meaning of el remains connected to the stars in Quenya, Telerin and Sindarin; for rond he states for Quenya and Sindarin “a vaulted or arched roof, as seen from below (and usually not visible from outside)“ (HoMe XI, p. 414). In the Shibboleth of Feanor (HoMe XII) and in the essay The Problem of ROS (HoMe XII) he relates the names Elrond and Elros to that of their mother Elwing and her memories of the halls of Menegroth with their roofs decorated with gems and silver as she had seen it in Valinor.
In a much later letter from 1972 to Meriel Thurston Tolkien again translates the name Elrond as “the vault of stars”. This suggests that the meaning of the syllable rond as the place where the children had been found was not further traced by Tolkien. The final translation of the name as “Star dome” is not least the connection between the mythology and the Lord of the Rings with the character Elrond as link from the age of his parents to the following age. Furthermore I see a difference between his again and again reflected writing process concerning his mythology and letters to fans as Rhona Beare who want to know as many details as possible. Tolkien was very well aware of the enthusiasm of his readers and often enough tried to respond to it, but it is important to consider those information as quoted above carefully as especially this one is never mentioned again.
In the later Annals of Beleriand (between 1930 and 1937, HoMe V) Elrond is given the epithet “Beringol”. This name does not occur again in later texts, but in the Etymologies we find for the syllable PER the entry “Peringol = Half-elf”. In the Quenta Silmarillion, presumably written at the same time as the Annals of Beleriand, those elves who did not go into the western lands with the other elven people were called ‘Pereldar’ (half-elven); they went south and were not counted to the Eldar. In the Appendices of the Lord of the Rings Elrond and Elros are called “Peredhil”, but with a completely different background of meaning: the partly human/mortal blood in this lineage.
II. Elros – the brother
In the Sketch of the Mythology (1926-30, HoMe IV) and as well in the earlier version of the Annals of Beleriand of the same period Elrond appears the first time; here he is the only son of Elwing and Earendil. Because of the origin of his parents Elrond is of elven blood as well as of human blood. When the sons of Feanor attack the settlements at the Mouths of Sirion, the child Elrond is left behind by his parents (Earendil is out on the sea, Elwing casts herself into the water) and is rescued by Maidros.
A revised and enhanced version of this text from 1930 Tolkien called The Quenta (Quenta Noldorinwa) and in the changed second version of it Elros appears the first time as the brother of Elrond. A reason for the invention of this new character may be seen in the growing complexity of the mythology and in Tolkien’s interest in the discrepancy of mortality and immortality. He still had not thoroughly worked out the fate of the half-elvens – mortal or immortal – but during the parallel composition of the Númenór-legend Tolkien came back to it repeatedly.
In the Quenta both children are rescued after the attack not by Maidros but by his brother Maglor. Maglor appears less ruthless and smug, as he was “sick and weary with the burden of the dreadful oath” (HoMe IV, pp. 153/155). The children are then raised by Maglor “[…] and he cherished them, and love grew after between them, as little might be thought […]” (HoMe IV, pp. 151ff).
In the text The Fall of Númenór (HoMe V), written in 1937/38, the story is set much later than the occurences at the Mouths of Sirion and Elrond is mentioned as counsellor of King Amroth who ruled over the remaining parts of former Beleriand and who was in later texts substituted by Elendil. Here as well Elrond is the only child of Elwing and Earendil and there is no hint of a founder king of the Númenóreans. Only when Tolkien had written the legend of Númenór in rough sketches, he added Elros as the brother of Elrond in the Quenta – so these stories were composed at the same time and caused mutual changes.
Regarding the commentary of Christopher Tolkien Elrond may indeed be taken as a leader of elves who faught in alliance with Amroth against Thû and defeated him – the last support of the elves to men in the mortal world.
A revision of the text follows quickly and shows Elrond as the founder king of Númenór who was elected by the Valar and elves because of his descent, and so a special grace was given to this folk.
In further versions of the Númenór-texts Gil-galad finally becomes King over the elves still remaining in Middle-Earth, and Elrond is substituted by Elros as founder king – the story is worked out in the Quenta Silmarillion at the end of the 1930es. Some notes of Tolkien himself refer to his simultaneous work on The Lord of the Rings which was to take many more years, and at that moment it was not decided, if Elrond would go to Númenór together with his brother or not (HoMe V, p. 34)
When Elros first appears in the Quenta, the brothers being twins is not yet decided, but in the later Annals of Beleriand a note of Tolkien speaks of the “twin brethren Elrond and Elros” (HoMe V, p. 152). The order of the names Tolkien at least changed intentionally to “Elros and Elrond” – so it may be taken as fact that Elros is the firstborn of the twins.
In adding Elros as the brother of Elrond with the same family background but another decision about his fate – elvish or human – Tolkein tried to solve the problem of the halfelven-lines and to round up the story that precedes the story of The Lord of the Rings. Important for these developments is the choice of Elros and Elrond to which fate they want to be counted.
III. Choice Elf – Man
In the Sketch of the Mythology the possible choice of Elrond for either his elvish or human descent is mentioned the first time: when the elves go back to Valinor, Elrond “bound by his mortal half (...)[decides] to stay on earth“ (HoMe IV, p. 38). His connection to mankind seems to dominate and the meaning of his choice is important for men: because of him the elven blood remains in mankind “and is seen yet in valour and in beauty and in poetry“. (HoMe IV, p. 38)
It is remarkable here that there seems to be a connection between the choice of fate and the choice for the place of living: through his mortal half Elrond is bound to Middle-Earth while the immortal elves sail to Aman, the Undying Lands. In The Lord of the Rings Elrond elects the fate of the elves and with it immortality, but (for the moment) he remains in Middle-Earth.
In the first version of the Quenta this possibility of choice has a further and strange meaning:
When the Valar come to Middle-Earth and Beleriand is destroyed, Fionwe gathers the remaining elves to go with him to Valinor. And this offer is extended to the descendants of the mortal men Hador and Beor who have stayed truthful to the elves but of whom only Elrond is left.
It is not clear if this offer is meant for the direct descendants of Hador and Beor because only in this line there had been halfelvens und Elrond was the last of them. Or if it might be an offer to other descendants of these two to end their mortal days in Valinor.
In the revised version of the Quenta this reason for the choice does not occur again but a first hint is given, that together with Elrond there are many other elves remaining in Middle-Earth:
Yet not all would forsake the Outer Lands where they had long suffered and long dwelt; and some lingered many an age in the West and North, and especially in the western isles and the lands of Leithien. And among these were Maglor as has been told; and with him Elrond the Half-elfin (…) (HoMe IV, p. 162)
Elros as the brother does not appear yet and at last Elrond lives among men again and establishes “the seed divine of Valinor” in the people of men.
In the second version of the Númenor-legend Tolkien again describes the lineage of Elrond who is elected by Valar and elves to be king of Númenor and states:
So the gift of mortality to mankind cannot be given back and remains valid for all further descendants which means it is hereditary. Immortality here seems to be a basic principle and can only be changed by Ilúvatar himself with the gift of mortality which is not possible vice versa. Once achieved mortality is irreversible: though Elrond’s descent includes elves, Maiar and men (the only mortal beings here), human mortality seems to have more weight than immortality. In this text Tolkien does not mention a voluntary choice of Elrond but Valar and elves decide his fate as he is bound to mortality.
But still the idea of a possible choice and a decision between mortality and immortality remains inconsistent: Earendil and Elwing as halfelves are not bound to mortality and Tuor who is human, goes with his elvish wife Idril to Valinor, into the Undying Lands where only elves and Valar live.
In the further versions of the Númenor-texts and the Quenta Silmarillion Elrond is finally replaced by Elros and now the subject of the choice can be much better picked out as a central theme.
In HoMe IX there is a third version of the Fall of Númenor, probably written in the early forties, with another information to the choice of Elrond:
This sentence stands in contrary to the information in Appendix A of the Lord of the Rings where the choice of the brethren was irrevocable. According to Christopher Tolkien’s notes this sentence does not occur again later. The choice of Elrond is taken over literally in the Akallabêth (its last version may be dated around 1958) but without the above cited addition.
When Tolkien was finishing his Lord of the Rings in the early 1950s he fell back again on his manuscript of the Quenta Silmarillion of the 1930s. In the last version of this text “Elrond Halfelven” finally decides – “as was grantet to him” – (HoMe V, p. 332) to be counted among the Eldar while Elros decides to be counted among men.
During his work on The Lord of the Rings the earlier changes concerning Elrond are mostly completed. In the early phase of the work Elrond (similar to his presentation in the Hobbit) already appears as the wise Lord of Rivendell, mighty, advising, with healing skills and a deep knowledge of the historical events and their relations to each other.
The fact that Tolkien lets Elrond and Elros take a different choice seems to result from the ongoing work on the Lord of the Rings and the necessity to conlcude the strands of the former age: both are halfelven and unite in themselves the same parts of men and elves. With the addition of Elros and his role as founder king this unit is split up and the inheritance of two peoples is given to two men. And this division is reunited in the marriage between Aragorn, a descendant of Elros, and Arwen, the daughter of Elrond. Their descendants are considered as men – and mortal.
The dates concerning Elrond and Elros for the Second and Third Age may be taken from the Appendices in The Lord of the Rings (I refer to the personal dates of Elrond only). These dates have been changed repeatedly until they became final in the Appendices.
The First Age is listed in the Tale of Years in HoMe XI (an exact dating of this text is difficult as Tolkien was working on them at the same time as he was writing on the mythology and the Lord of the Rings. A draft of the Tales can be dated to 1951/52 but has undergone further changes given in brackets.)
I did take great care in avoiding mistakes but whenever you find any please do not hesitate to contact me either on my homepage www.elenarda.de or via eMail StephanieDorer@web.de . I am always greatful for any comments, reviews, criticisms.
Copyright Stephanie Dorer, June, 2004
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit or there and Back again, ill. Alan Lee, Houghton Mifflin/New York 1997 (Ho)
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, ill. Alan Lee, Houghton Mifflin/New York 1993 (LotR)
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion, Ed. C. Tolkien, HarperCollins/London 1999 (S)
The History of Middle-Earth, Ed. C. Tolkien: (HoMe)
Volume VI: The Shaping of Middle-Earth, HarperCollines/London 2002
Volume V: The Lost Road and other Writings, HarperCollines/London 2002
Volume VI: The Return of the Shadow, HarperCollines/London 2002
Volume VII: The Treason of Isengard, HarperCollines/London 2002
Volume VIII: The War of the Ring, HarperCollines/London 2002
Volume IX: Sauron Defeated, HarperCollines/London 2002
Volume X: Morgoth’s Ring, HarperCollins/London 2002
Volume XI: The War of the Jewels, HarperCollines/London 2002
Volume XII: The Peoples of Middle-Earth, HarperCollines/London 2002
Tom Shippey, J.R.R. Tolkien – Autor des Jahrhunderts, Tr.. Wolfgang Krege, Klett-Cotta/Stuttgart 2002
The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Ed. H. Carpenter/C. Tolkien, HarperCollins/London 1995 (Letters)
 Noldorin was the language of the Noldor in exile, coming from Valinor; Ilkorin is the ‚Beleriandic’. For more information cf. The Lhammas and Etymologies in HoMe V.
 For the sake of simplicity I use the spelling ‚Earendil’ as given in the Silmarillion, not the older form ‘Earendel’.
 Cf. Tom Shippey, p. 320f.