Our proto-fellowship meets Glorfindel, an elf with a possibly interesting past. He cannot promise safe passage to Rivendell, but seems friendly enough.
Thoughts on the Passage – Book I, Chapter 12 (p209-11, 50th Anniv. Ed.)
We’re now entering into one of the more unassumingly strange parts of the book. This isn’t a Bombadill sort of wackiness or anything, but there’s something more going on here. Over the next week or so, we’ll take a closer look at this Glorfindel fellow across the legendarium. But first, let’s see what he’s up to in the “Flight to the Ford” chapter.
The hobbits hear Glorfindel’s horse, and become understandably worried that it was one of the Black Riders’. But the way Tolkien describes the hoof beats was so dissimilar to those of the Nazgul, that it’s clear from the start that this is something different. There’s nothing at all harsh about it: “They were going fast, with a light clippety-clippety-clip.” There were jingling bells and “trotting feet.” I don’t believe he ever described the Ringwraiths’ horses as trotting (and certainly not as a “clippety-clip”).
As soon as he saw the rider, Strider smiled and ran over to him. They exchanged an Elfish greeting (meaning “Hail at last, Dunadan! Well met!” This was hardly a social call, and the two had a quick and urgent conversation.
We discover that Glorfindel was sent from Rivendell to find Frodo. While Strider says simply that he “dwells in the house of Elrond,” the narrator tells us that he is an Elf-lord, though we have no real idea what that might mean. Clearly, however, he’s an important Elf with a serious mission.
The Elves we’ve met thus far have, for the most part, been either silly (like the “O! tra-la-la-lally” Elves from The Hobbit) or dickish (like the Elf King from The Hobbit or Gildor’s bunch). There’s also Elrond, whom we’ve met in The Hobbit, but he seemed more like a gentleman than anything else. And while he was certainly helpful, it was almost flippantly so.
But here was Glorfindel, already seeming a breed apart. He told a small bit of his back story over the past nine days, and we learn why the Last Bridge was unheld by the Nazgul. He came to the bridge, but “they withdrew and I pursued them.”
Now this is something! Maybe he was just being humble, but was it only because of Glorfindel’s arrival that the Nazgul fled?
Anyway, Glorfindel was fairly certain that the Road Frodo must travel, and specifically the Ford of Bruinin that he must cross to get to Rivendell, would be barred by the Nazgul. To make matters worse, he was just as certain that some of their number were behind them.
While Glorfindel was explaining all of this, dusk was falling. With this dimming, Frodo’s wound worsened and he felt cold. The Nazgul’s power is heighten not only at night, but by fear. And now he was getting a heave dose of both.
Sam demanded that Frodo rest for the night, but that couldn’t happen. And once Strider explained the nature of the wound and showed Glorfindel the hilt of the Morgul-weapon, the Elf said that “there are evil things written on this hilt,” though they could probably not be seen with the eyes of Men. “Keep it, Aragorn, till we reach the house of Elrond! But be wary, and handle it as little as you may!”
Aragorn? Dunadan? We’re getting quite a few names for this Strider character. Didn’t he hint before that he was an heir of Elendil? What did that even mean? Anyway…
For Frodo’s wound, Glorfindel could do only a little. He took a close look at it and pressed upon it with his fingers. Though he gave it a “grave” look, the cold in Frodo’s side and arm lessened and the pain was easier to take. Even the dusk seemed to be less dark. “He saw his friends’ faces more clearly again, and a measure of new hope and strength returned.”
This was great and all, but Glorfindel now insisted that Frodo ride his horse – he’d even adjust the stirrups for him. “He will bear you away with a speed that even the black steeds of the enemy cannot rival!”
“‘No, he will not!’ said Frodo. ‘I shall not ride him, if I am to be carried off to Rivendell or anywhere else, leaving my friends behind in danger.'”
This was certainly sweet and noble of Frodo, but Glorfindel assured him that his friends, Strider and even Glorfindel himself would be perfectly safe once Frodo was away from them. “The pursuit would follow you and leave us in peace, I think.” And though true, we can see that even Glorfindel could be kind of dickish.
Frodo acquiesced, though he stuck with the group. They would walk another fifteen miles before they’d make camp for the night. All told, Strider and the hobbits tramped thirty-four miles that day, their 12th from Weathertop and 25th from Hobbiton.
A Few Notes
- There is a whole lot of back story to Glorfindel, but when Fellowship of the Ring was first published, this was all readers knew about him. Once Return of the King was released, they knew (if they read “Gondor and the Heirs of Anarion” in Appendix A) that he won the Battle of Fornost in 1975 of the Third Age (it’s now 3018).
- Oh but there’s even more, and we’ll delve into that soon enough.
- Tomorrow, however, we’ll catch you up on what Glorfindel’s been doing for the past nine days and how it related to the Strider and the hobbits.
About the Photo
Oh I have no real idea why I chose this photo to accompany the introduction of Glorfindel. Maybe he electrified them? He certainly brightened Strider’s eyes.
- Day 83
- Miles today: 5
- Miles thus far: 411
- 48 miles to Rivendell
- 1,368 miles to Mt. Doom
Today’s stopping place: Book I, Chapter 12. Ohh, just walking the East Road with Glorfindel. (map)