In yesterday’s post, I covered how and why Tolkien introduced Elvish reincarnation into Middle-earth. Today, we’ll see how it pertains to Glorfindel.
As far as Glorfindel was concerned, his case would be handled by Manwë as he was remade rather than reborn. But this wouldn’t be addressed by Tolkien until late 1973/early 1973. This was one of the last things he wrote about before his death. Finally, he was ready to make the decision about whether the two Glorfindels were actually one. And of course, he couldn’t just write one thing about, but two.
In the first essay, it’s surmised that “an Elf who had once known Middle-earth and had fought in the long wars against Melkor would be an eminently suitable companion for Gandalf.” He then supposed that Glorfindel came to Middle-earth with Gandalf around year 1000 of the Third Age. This would, he went on, explain “how the Witch-king flies from him” during the Battle of Fornost (and thus at the Last Bridge).
Taking into account the “Converse of Manwë and Eru,” Tolkien supposed that after a bit of atonement, Glorfindel remained in the Blessed Realm, living among the Elves who had never rebelled. Through the Second Age and 1,000 years of the Third Age, it was “probable that he had in Valinor [the Blessed Realm] already become a friend and follower of Olorin [Gandalf prior to coming into Middle-earth].”
But in the second essay, he placed Glorfindel’s coming to Middle-earth in the Second Age, and possibly aboard a Numenorean ship. Tolkien deals with more of the material issues of the problem, such as linguistics and the possible fact that the use of Glorfindel’s named was “one of the cases of the somewhat random use of names found in the older legends, now referred to as The Silmarillion, which escaped reconsideration in the final published form of The Lord of the Rings. This is unfortunate, since the name is now difficult to fit into Sindarin, and cannot possibly be Quenyarin.”
Overlooking the idea that the name might have been used accidentally (or at least went accidentally unchanged), Tolkien writes not as a narrator of a story, but as himself trying to figure it all out.
First, he abandons “what at first sight may seem the simplest solution,” that it was just a accidental duplication of names. “This repetition of so striking a name, though possible, would not be credible.” Fair enough, though even at this late stage, nobody had any idea that Glorfindel existed outside of the Lord of the Rings. Tolkien could have made it a duplication and who might have been the wiser?
Dipping back into the narrative, Tolkien continued:
“Their death – by any injury to their bodies so severe that it could not be healed – and the disembodiment of their spirits was an ‘unnatural’ and grievous matter. It was therefore the duty of the Valar, by command of the One [Illuvatar], to restore them to incarnate life, if they desired it. But this ‘restoration’ could be delayed by Manew, if the fëa [soul] while alive had done evil deeds and refused to repent them, or still harbourred any malice against any other person among the living.”
Because Glorfindel had rebelled against the Valar, he was technically banned from the Blessed Realm (like Galadriel). Tolkien didn’t ignore this while writing Lord of the Rings as the formal Ban of the Valar did not exist until after the book was written. When Tolkien created the ban, he also created another obstacle over which he had to stumble to make both Glorfindels the same person.
But he reasoned that since Manwë enacted the ban, he could also make exceptions. Glorfindel would be one. Besides, Glorfindel wasn’t that bad of a guy the first time around. And didn’t he sacrifice his life saving the fugitives of Gondolin from the Balrog?
And so, after his death, Glorfindel went to Manwë in the Halls of Mandos and was purged of any wrong-doing from the rebellion. Now pure again, he was allowed to live in the Blessed Realm. There, he was “almost an equal” to the Maiar. Though he was incarnate, his self-sacrifice had “greatly enhanced” his spiritual power. There, as was stated in the other essay, Glorfindel befriended the Maia named Olorin (Gandalf).
Tolkien went on to say that actually, he didn’t think that Gandalf and Glorfindel came to Middle-earth together. Also, it had to be before the end of the Second Age, since after the Drowning of Numenor, the Blessed Realm was “removed from the circles of the World.” But he also conceded that Eru and Manwë could have made an exception. Either way, he figured it was around the years 1200 of the Second Age, over 3,200 years earlier than he pegged it in his first essay.
And so up to the time of his death, Tolkien was still working out the details of characters he created well over five decades before. If he had lived another fifty years, it’s hardly likely he would have come any closer to finishing them. That is, unless the Silmarillion was finally published.
In a 1938 letter to his publisher, written just as he was starting to write the first draft of what would become the Lord of the Rings, Tolkien says: “My mind on the ‘story’ side is really preoccupied with the ‘pure’ fairy stories or mythologies of the Silmarillion, into which even Mr. Baggins got dragged against my will, and I do not think I shall be able to move much outside it – unless it is finished (and perhaps published) – which has a releasing effect.”
If it had been published, the entire legendarium might have been something else entirely. But though it might have been different, it’s hard to believe that it would have been better.
A Few Notes
- I wish I could just reprint the segments about Glorfindel. But if you want to read them, they’re contained in the last book of the History of Middle-Earth Series, called The Peoples of Middle-Earth. You need this.
- Originally, I was going to have this be one long, 2,000 word post. But no thanks. Personally, when reading blog posts that go longer than 1,000 words, I start to mentally wander off (unless there’s a narrative of some kind).
About the Photo
I’m not really sure. Any suggestions?
- Day 88
- Miles today: 5
- Miles thus far: 436
- 23 miles to Rivendell
- 1,343 miles to Mt. Doom
Today’s stopping place: Book I, Chapter 12. Still cruising the East Road with Glorfindel. (map)