Okay, hello. Welcome to October 11, 3018 of the Third Age. Or should I say Ai na vedui! Mae govannen! That’s right, today’s the freakin’ day we meet freakin’ Glorfindel. We’ll get into just who he was in a sec, but first, let’s check on the Hobbits.
Where Are the Hobbits?
On the evening of October 11, still off-roading and led by Strider, they turned northeast toward the Last Bridge, which crossed the Hoarwell. This was their fifth day out from Weathertop.
Whatever, Let’s Talk About Glorfindel’s Day!
What kind of day was the dreamy Glorfindel having? Well, since it’s awesome being Glorfindel, it’s safe to say that his day was equally awesome. Let’s see.
When Frodo saw the Elves just after leaving Hobbiton, he told them about his quest and about the Nazgûl. Through crafty, Elvish means, word got back to Rivendell. There, Elrond sent out a company of Elves to help them along. This company was led by Glorfindel the Elf-lord. They left Rivendell on October 9.
On this day, he reached the Last Bridge, called the Bridge of Mitheithel, to the Elves. He left a jewel, a “token,” as he called it.
He saw three Nazgûl near the bridge, and upon seeing him, they took off. He chased them westward. Soon after, he saw two others and they fled south. Unable to catch them, and really more concerned about Frodo than the Riders, he began to search for the Hobbits.
So Who Was Glorfindel?
The Tolkien Estate just published The Fall of Gondolin, which collected all the variations of the Gondolin story into one volume. Keen-eyed readers might notice the name “Glorfindel” crop up now and then. Was this the same fellow?
The answer to that a fuzzy “sometimes.” This obviously requires some explanation.
Nailing down Tolkien’s intentions is sometimes a bit squirrely, so let’s see if we can figure this out.
Tolkien first wrote about a character named “Glorfindel” around 1916 as part of the early Book of Lost Tales. He continued to do so through the poetic Lays from the 1920s. The same is true for the 1930 Quenta Noldorinwa. Even after writing The Hobbit, the Quenta Silmarillion of 1937 has “Glorfindel” filling the same basic role.
So when Tolkien penned the “Council of Elrond” chapter for Lord of the Rings a year later, his use of “Glorfindel” must have been a simple continuation of the First Age’s Glorfindel, right?
Well, no. Glorfindel died fighting the Balrog, Gothmog. It was “a very grievous thing,” we’re told. This demise was part of the Gondolin story from the very beginning.
That clears it up, right? The Lord of the Rings Glorfindel can’t be the Silmarillion Glorfindel because the Silmarillion Glorfindel is dead!
Except Tolkien’s first notes right before introducing Glorfindel to the LotR story were: “Glorfindel tells of his ancestry in Gondolin.”
Okay, so it’s clear that they were the same character then? Could Tolkien clear this up for us?
No. Well, not quite.
In an essay he wrote in 1972, Tolkien mused that the use of the name “Glorfindel” in Lord of the Rings might have been “one of the cases of somewhat random use of the names found in the older legends.” He claimed that its use “escaped reconsideration in the final published form of The Lord of the Rings. This was, however, due to a language issue and not necessarily a character issue (though that seems to have been there too). It seems like if he had his choice, he would have changed the name “Glorfindel” something else, though the character would have remained the same.
Tolkien did re-use names, especially before nailing down a final draft. A good example of this is Elrond from The Hobbit. That character was not originally meant to be Elrond from The Silmarillion. It was only later, after Tolkien smooshed the three stories together, that Elrond became both.
From Tolkien’s notes, however, it seems like the LotR‘s Glorfindel was originally supposed to be the Glorfindel – the one who was killed while fighting Gothmog. But how could this be?
Tolkien Ret-Cons the Crap Out Of This
In 1972 Tolkien finally tried to figure out which Glorfindel was which. If they were indeed the same person, Tolkien admitted that “difficulty is presented by the things recorded of Glorfindel in The Lord of the Rings.”
That’s putting it mildly.
Tolkien quickly put to rest the idea that LotR Glorfindel was simply named in honor of the clearly dead Silmarillion Glorfindel – basically, Elves don’t do that.
Now, here Tolkien had a fine way to leave himself an out. If he had simply said, “Glorfindel of Rivendell was named in honor of Glorfindel of Gondolin,” nobody would have cared even a little bit.
But that’s not how Tolkien did things.
Rather than that simple solution, Tolkien jumped through hoops to connect the two.
Glorfindel, along with all of the Ñoldor, were banned from entering Valinor due to rebelling against the authority of Manwë. “They could not return in bodily form to the Blessed Realm,” wrote Tolkien.
But, he rationalized, since Manwë authored the curse Manwë could also make an exception to the curse. You can practically see the lightbulb appear over old Toller’s grey head.
He continued with the justification. First, it was clear from both the Silmarillion and LotR that Glorfindel was “of high and noble spirit.” And that though he left Valinor with Turgon (and was thusly banned), he only did so reluctantly and because he was related by blood to Turgon. Also, he had no part in the kinslaying (he wasn’t even mentioned during it, so at least Tolkien didn’t have to scratch that bit out).
Adding to this, Tolkien reminded himself that Glorfindel died while saving a while slew of people.
As soon as Glorfindel died, he was sent to Mandos to purge his guilt from the rebellion. With that out of the way, Manwë, breaking with tradition, restored him bodily and he was allowed to live in the Blessed Realm.
There, he hung out with the other Elves and became tight with the Maiar, especially as a follower of Olórin (aka, Gandalf, who had apparently already visited Middle-earth… it’s a whole thing).
Glorfindel’s return to Middle-earth came around the year 1600 of the Second Age to aid Elrond and Gil-galad in the war against Sauron.
In two days we’ll all meet up at the Last Bridge!