For some, the differences between Elrond of The Hobbit and Elrond of Lord of the Rings are jarring. They really do seem like two different people. Of course, in The Hobbit, we don’t get to know him very well, and it’s clear that the Elrond of Lord of the Rings is based upon him, but are they really the same person? Well, yes and no.
In a way, Elrond was not invented for The Hobbit. But then, in a way he was. In a 1964 letter (#257), Tolkien was explaining the lengths he had to go to in order to link together The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. One thing that was comparatively easy was Elrond. In The Hobbit, Tolkien mentioned that Elrond was half-elven. This was, he wrote in the letters, “a fortunate acident, due to the difficulty of constantly inventing good names for new characters.”
When he had to come up with the name of the character who lived in Rivendell, he plucked the name “Elrond” from his previous writings and made him half-elven. He did not link him to any larger mythology, and by all accounts the character Elrond from The Hobbit and the character Elrond from his earlier Silmarillion writings were two different characters. However, the Elrond from Lord of the Rings was both.
So at the time when Tolkien wrote The Hobbit, who was Elrond?
From the very first appearance of Elrond’s name in the early Silmarillion writings, he was the Half-elven son of Earendel. Actually, in the very first, he was part elven, part man and part Valar, but Tolkien quickly abandoned that idea. Anyway, he was a fairly minor character who, in this early instance, had no brother (and wouldn’t until after The Hobbit was drafted. He had elected to remain on Earth when the other Elves returned to the West. And thus he was “bound by him mortal half.”
These early Silmarillion writings were hardly stories, and were called only “The Sketch of the Mythology,” written in 1926 (The Hobbit was started in earnest in 1930). With a few minor details here and there, the basic outline in the Silmarillion-era tales runs true.
And so by the time The Hobbit was first drafted, Elrond’s back story was much like we know it today. But what in The Hobbit shown through from The Silmarillion? Not much, really.
In this early draft, Tolkien first introduces Elrond without saying his name (at first): “The master of the house was an elf-friend – one of those people whose fathers came into the strange stories of the beginning of history and the wars of the Elves and goblins, and the brave men of the North.”
Of course, he was alluding to the early Silmarillion tales, but that’s sort of what he did. He couldn’t help himself. The name itself is sort of thrown in out of the blue. “Elrond knew all about all runes of every kind.” was the opener.
If what Tolkien remembered in 1964 about just plucking a name out of the mythology was true, then here is where it happened. But it did not really happen by accident and not in a void. The Last Homely House, for example, seems to have been based largely off of the Cottage of Lost Play from the Book of Lost Tales writings.
And so it hardly seems possible to take Tolkien at his own word. The name “Elrond” might have been, as he says, “a fortunate accident, due to the difficulty of constantly inventing good names for new characters,” but in all of the notes and writings of The Hobbit nothing is really mentioned or hinted at about a larger story for Elrond.
It’s not until the early drafts of Lord of the Rings when Tolkien has Elrond relate his Silmarillion history as the son of Earendel. So it’s at least possible that the Elrond we meet in The Lord of the Rings is actually a combination of both the Elrond from the early Silmarillion writings and the Elrond form The Hobbit.
This would go a long way to explaining just why the two published versions of Elrond seem so strikingly different – because they were actually different people.
A Few Notes
- The first description of Elrond was also the origin of his house – the “whether you liked food or sleep or work or storytelling” etc. bits.
- I could, of course, be wrong. And more than likely, it’s a strange combination of both.
About the Photo
Now, obviously Rivendell is a very sprawling and lofty place. But in The Hobbit, Tolkien really made it seem like just some inn or motel – nothing really all that special.
- Day 107
- Miles today: 5
- Miles thus far: 535 (82 from Rivendell)
- 385 miles to Lothlórien
- 1,243 miles to Mt. Doom
Today’s stopping place: Book II, Chapter 3. Encamping along the western foothills of the Misty Mountains in a thicket of thornbushes. Fifth night out from Rivendell. December 29-30, 3018TA. (map)