Many readers have a tendency to skip over the poems, but I really hope you didn’t pass by The Lay of Nimrodel. Maybe it’s not the epic we’d want, but it’s a lovely peek into the legends of the Silvan Elves when they lived in Lothlorien. When Tolkien wrote this poem, he probably knew little more than us about either Nimrodel or Amroth, but later in his life, he added a bit of lore.
When first starting the early draft of this chapter, probably in 1944, he left the space for the poem blank. Working out the poem was laborious. He even struggled with her name. First she was Linglorel, then Inglorel, then Nimladel, Nimlorel, and Nimlothel, before finally settling upon Nimrodel. Amroth’s name wasn’t quite as difficult to come to from Ammalas to Amaldor to its final form.
Anyway, the poem in the first draft ended up being pretty close to the version that he published. It’s unclear whether it was actually unfinished because it was part of the story or because he simply couldn’t finish it. Even the ending of the story, as told by Legolas, was pretty much the same.
Obviously, the story given in LotR was not the final version. In 1969, Tolkien went back to it and added a bit of detail.
Nimrodel was a Silvan Elf, but lived separately from them near a waterfall (where the Fellowship stopped for the night). She, like many of the other Silvan Elves, didn’t care much for the Elves who came from the West. She refused to speak the Sindarin tongue, and would only use the old Silvan speech, even when it fell out of favor with her brethren.
Sometime in the early Second Age, Thranduil left Lothlorien, but Nimrodel stayed. That is, until the Dwarves in Moria awakened the Balrog, and Orcs came into the land. In the year 1981 of the Third Age, she fled to the south as the Dwarves fled from Moria. But Amroth followed her.
Amroth was either the son of Galadriel and Celeborn or the son of Amdir, Lord of Lothlorien until the Battle of the Dagorlad (at the end of the Second Age). Whichever, he left everything and chased after her, catching her as she was contemplating whether or not to enter the Fangorn Forest.
She vowed to marry him if he could bring her to a land of peace. But there was no longer any chance for peace in Middle-earth, so they decided to sail to the West, striking out for the Grey Havens. While passing through Gondor, they became separated. Amroth ended up in the Gray Havens, still searching for her.
There was a ship about to leave – apparently the “last” ship (though it obviously wasn’t the last ship) – and those on board called for him to join them. He wanted to wait for Nimrodel, but they really wanted to leave. The Elves stuck around for a few months until the weather turned bad.
A storm swept in and sent the ship to sea with everyone, including Amroth, on board. He woke up, saw what was happening, yelled “Nimrodel!” and jumped overboard to swim back to the shore. Nobody ever saw him again.
Nobody ever saw Nimrodel again, either, and it’s a shame that her story is basically gobbled up by Amroth’s. However, it seems as if the general thought is that Amroth basically died (somehow – it didn’t matter) in the obvious way. Since Nimrodel’s disappearance was more of a mystery, various stories cropped up concerning her.
One such tale said that after becoming separated from Amroth, she got lost in the White Mountains, just northeast of Gondor. There, she found the River Gilrain that reminded her of her river near Lothlorien.
“Her heart was lightened, and she sat by a mere, seeing the stars reflected in its dim waters, and listening to the waterfalls by which the river went again on its journey down to the sea. There she fell into a deep sleep of weariness, and so long she slept that she did not come down into Belfalas until Amroth’s ship had been blown out to sea….”
This mostly seems to be the story known to Legolas, though his is a bit more folky, telling of how the wind in the spring is her voice.
Though this retelling dated from late in his life (around 1969), Tolkien changed it even a bit more. In the Lord of the Rings, Legolas says that when she lived outside of Lothlorien, she built a house up in the trees because that was the custom there. In the later version, it is wondered that “Maybe it was from her that Amroth took the idea of living in a high flet.” Though Amroth was Sindarin in descent, wrote Tolkien, “he lived after the manner of the Silvan Elves and house in the tall trees of a great green mound, ever after called Cerin Amroth. This he did because of his love for Nimrodel.”
In later essays, Tolkien hints that Nimrodel didn’t flee from Lothlorien alone, but had companions, one of whom was Mithrellas. Her companion got separated from her and ran into Imrazôr of Gondor, the first Lord of Dol Amroth (a Man), whom she married, thus their children were Half-Elves. (Weird, huh?)
And thus fizzles out the story of Nimrodel.
A Few Notes
- When writing this part of the chapter, Tolkien coined the phrase ‘Common Speech,’ and used it ever since.
- Of the names Nimrodel and Amroth, Tolkien was unclear how they fit into his languages. They “cannot be fully explained from Sindarin, though fitting it in form.” In an early draft of Appendix F, he claimed that it was Lemberin, an early term for Avarin, which means that her name was derived from the Elves that refused to go West on the “Great Journey” soon after their awakening in Middle-earth.
- He didn’t name her this, but I’d prefer the name Nimlothel, personally.
- Wednesday and Friday’s posts will be about the writing history of the Balrogs. When did they first appear? What were they life? Did they ride around on snake-worms made of fire? Find the hell out!
About the Photo
Where now she wanders none can tell,
In sunlight or in shade;
For lost of yore was Nimrodel
And in the mountains strayed.
It’s so rare that I take pictures of people, but when I do, they’re from far away. This is of Sarah in Bryce Canyon. Sometimes I lag behind, and when I look up, she’s nearly gone. I assume this is how Amroth got separated from Nimrodel. He was probably putzing around doing this or that, looked up and she was gone.
And fair she was and free!
- Day 173
- Miles today: 5
- Miles thus far: 854 (400 from Rivendell)
- 37 miles to Lothlórien
- 925 miles to Mt. Doom
Book II, Chapter 6, Lothlorien. Entering the woods of Lothlorien. January 15, 3019 TA. (map)