And so now we start the Council of Elrond. I’ve been excited for and dreading this, so I’ll probably ease on into it rather than dive head first.
The council doesn’t exactly come out of nowhere. Aragorn alluded to it on the way to Rivendell, and Sam told Bilbo and Frodo about it the night before.
The chapter itself is ridiculously long, clocking in at 15,000 or so words. Literally nothing happens – there is only talking. Seven of the twelve characters who have something to say, we’ve never even heard of before.
If the Rivendell chapters completely change the tone of the story, The Council of Elrond is why and how. And that it changes everything must lead us back to why and how Tolkien created it (told you I was easing in).
When Tolkien arrived in Rivendell, he had no real idea where to go (or at least how to get there). Strider, for example, was named Trotter and was a hobbit. He had no great lineage and nothing seemed all that spectacular about him.
Tolkien began writing The Lord of the Rings in December 1937. It wasn’t until August of 1939 that he came to this point. In the very first drafts of the Rivendell chapters, the council was mostly just Elrond giving a bit of Silmarillion back story and going on about the Necromancer. In his second attempt, he hardly got far enough into Rivendell to reach the place where the Council might be.
There, Tolkien stopped to assess his next move and make notes about what to change in the story thus far. I won’t go into the specific differences at this point – remember, we’re easing – but the changes made are pretty significant once Tolkien decided that some council must be held.
But when Tolkien wrote in the margins: “?? Trotter had better not be a hobbit – but a Ranger, remainder of Western Men, as originally planned,” everything changed. He did not, at first, simply make Trotter a Man. That came a touch later.
The published Council of Elrond was attended by:
Elves: Elrond, Erestor, Glorfindel, Galdor, and Legolas
Men: Aragorn and Boromir
Dwarves: Gloin and Gimli
Hobbits: Bilbo, Frodo and Sam
And, of course, Gandalf
The original draft, however, featured:
Elves: Elrond, Glorfindel, “a strange elf (a messenger from the Wood-elves, proto-Legolas)”
Dwarves: Gloin and Burin (son of Balin, later called Frar before becoming Gimli)
Hobbits: Trotter (proto-Strider, here named Peregrin Boffin), Frodo, Merry, Folco (proto-Pippin), and Odo (no equivalent, but traveled with Gandalf)
And, of course, Gandalf
Rather than give a verbatim accounting of what was said at the council, Tolkien wrote: “It would take long to tell of all that was spoken in that council under the fair trees of Rivendell.” He wrote two drafts of this, and both stopped at that point.
Tolkien then went about changing things again. First, he moved the Council from “a high glade among the trees on the valley-side far above the house” to “behind closed doors.” Additionally, it was here that he decided: “Ring must be destroyed.” He also jotted notes such as: “Odo must be cut out.”
Sometimes, when Tolkien would write notes, he would do so in the voice of the character speaking. For instance, he has Gandalf warning: “‘Beware! of the Giant Treebeard, who haunts the Forest between the River and the South Mts.’ Fangorn?”
The only real bits of the Council itself that came about from these notes concerned the Rings of Power and how many the Elves and Dwarves still held. (The Elves still had three, and “Some of the seven” given to the Dwarves remain, but they don’t see to have any idea where they are.)
Throughout the writing of Lord of the Rings, Tolkien did his best to not contradict The Hobbit – no small task. In a note about the Dwarves’ rings, he wrote: “No! This won’t do – otherwise the dwarves would have been more suspicious of Bilbo.”
The Council of Elrond Chapter went through five different drafts after he finally was able to write the first. Eventually, he wrote enough material to piece together what became the final published version of the chapter. It probably took a year to get to the fifth draft, though, of course, he didn’t write it continuously, and took a fairly long break sometime that year.
And we’ll now take a short break and dig into the Council of Elrond!
A Few Notes
- Trotter was not “originally planned” to be a Numenorean, but a hobbit. By “originally planned,” Tolkien was probably talking in a more recent sort of way.
- You better believe it that we’ll be coming back to this “Giant Treebeard” fellow who haunts the Fangorn Forest.
About the Photo
I think this is actually a gymnasium at an old army base in Seattle (Fort Lawton). I’m not sure why I think that the Council of Elrond should have been held here, but if it had been, Elrond would totally have worn sweatpants.
- Day 115
- Miles today: 5
- Miles thus far: 576 (122 from Rivendell)
- 345 miles to Lothlórien
- 1,203 miles to Mt. Doom
Today’s stopping place in the narrative: Book II, Chapter 3. Marching south along the western foothills of the Misty Mountains. Seventh night out from Rivendell. Yule 2 – Jan 1, 3019 TA. (map)