October 11, 3018 – Glorfindel and the Bridge (to the Silmarillion)

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.

Glorfindel’s Redemption

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.

Tolkien went on to pen an essay concerning Elvish Reincarnation, I wrote about this here and here a long time ago.

What’s Next?

In two days we’ll all meet up at the Last Bridge!

Camera: Imperial Savoy (c1960s)
Film: Ilford HP3 (x-12/1960)

The Answer to Life, the Universe, and We Have No Idea (Silmarillion Slow Cooker, p42)

If you were looking for the biggest difference, contention and problem between Elves and Men, look no farther than death and lack thereof. In the two closing paragraphs of Chapter One in the Silmarillion proper, we’ll take a necessarily short look at Men and Elves. We’ll also see how Tolkien’s conception of death for his characters evolved over time. But first, we’ll get a peek at what the Elves thought of Men.

You Can’t Spell Melkor without Me!
During the Music, after Melkor tried to stir up discord, Ilúvatar told him that even if he tried to alter the music, he still “shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined.” And when it came to Men, Ilúvatar had something strikingly similar to say about them not using their gifts in harmony. He said that they would “find that all that they do redounds at the end only to the glory of my work.”

To the Elves, this equated Men with Melkor in a pretty serious way. Even though Ilúvatar was somewhat reassuring, they still saw Men as “a grief to Manwë, who knows most the mind of Ilúvatar.” They wouldn’t have said, of course, that Men were a grief to Ilúvatar, but instead took the passive-aggressive approach. Because when your deity tells you it’s cool, it’s probably best to assume you know better. Elves can be dicks in all sorts of ways.

As we’ll see later, Elves had a huge problem with Dwarves. And as we’re seeing now, they have a huge problem with Men. Very often, they have a huge problem with each other, as well. Elves see to have a huge problem with everything. Sure, they’re all sorts of wonderful, but they’re also wonderfully bitchy drama queens.

This specific bit of bitchiness was originally attributed by Tolkien to the Ainur in the early, 1919 draft of the story. (BoLT 1, p59) In the mid-1930s, when Tolkien revised the “Music of the Ainur” of the Lost Tales, he changed it from the Ainur to the Elves. (Lost Road, p163, 165) Otherwise, it’s surprising how incredibly close the 1919 version is to the final 1951 text published in the Silmarillion.

You Lucky Bastards! Best Gift Ever! *coughcough*
The last paragraph of Chapter One is chalked full of nuggety morsels of information. Let’s take them one by one.

  1. Men only live on Earth a short time. When they die, the Elves have no idea where they go. This death is a gift because it just is (apparently).
  2. We’re not told why or how death is a gift to Men. We’re not even told who came up with that little gem. Ilúvatar was keeping this Man thing pretty close to this ethereal vest. All he would say was that “Men shall join in the Second Music of the Ainur,” indicating by omission that the Elves may not. If anything, that is the gift, not death, but maybe the Elves didn’t really want to focus upon that little mystery. At time wears on, even the Ainur are supposed to envy death, or so say the Elves writing this bit. This all sound pretty disingenuous.

  3. The Elves do not have a natural death, but can be killed by being slain or by grief.
  4. Curiously, we never see any examples of Elves dying by grief. There are slews slain by all sorts of salacious means (including poison), but never by grief. As we go on in this story, I’ll take a close look at each mentioned death of the Elves.

  5. When Elves die, they go to the Halls of Mandos. They can return sometimes.
  6. Well this is pretty loaded. The Halls of Mandos aren’t ‘in heaven’, but in Valinor. We have a handful of examples of Elves returning from the Halls – being reincarnated like Glorfindel.

    This wasn’t always Tolkien’s conception, however. In the 1919 version, the Elves didn’t go anywhere, but were “reborn in their children, so that their number minishes not, nor grows.” (BoLT 1, p59) Once dead, the Elves in Tolkien’s early tales simply started over as their own children. This is another bonkers idea that was changed and then changed back before being changed again.

Camera: Holga 120N Film: FujiChrome Provia 100

Camera: Holga 120N
Film: FujiChrome Provia 100

Don’t Fëar the Reaper
In the very first draft of the Ainulindalë, Tolkien had the dead Elves go to the halls of Mandos, stating that only some of the Elves would be reborn as their children. The next draft, which came shortly thereafter, changed it back to the original nuttiness. (Lost Road, p166, 163) This idea was carried through the writing of both The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, and even into the third draft of the Ainulindalë from 1948, which again stated that “often they return and are reborn in their children.” (Morgoth’s Ring, p21)

Surprisingly, this was held as true in 1951’s final draft as well, which is where Christopher Tolkien derived the text for this portion of the chapter. But, as you’ll notice, that’s not what’s printed. Instead, we read that “they may return in time.” If Tolkien wrote that they would be reborn in their children, why did Christopher change this?

Tolkien himself changed this concept, but never went back into the Ainulindalë to revise it. In 1958, when rewriting what would become that last of the Quenta drafts, he penned a chapter called “Of the Laws and Customs Among the Eldar….” It covered things like death and marriage.

Pertaining to rebirth, it had quite a bit to say. Each new elf-child was given a new soul (called fëa), which was “not akin to the fëar [plural of fëa, souls] of their parents (save in belonging to the same order and nature); and this fëa either did not exist before birth, or is the fëa of one that is re-born.” Re-birth, however, was rare, and the Elves even doubted at times that it existed. (Morgoth’s Ring, p220-221)

This is really more in depth than I wished to go, but if you have access to Morgoth’s Ring, read it for yourself. It’s pretty amazing. Anyway, with this greatly changed, Christopher Tolkien was justified in changing the source text to the very uncertain “they may return in time.”

Careless Memories
Though Christopher Tolkien was justified in the aforementioned change, I really don’t get the omission of a short but crucial sentence: “Memory is our burden.” (Morgoth’s Ring, p37)

If you’ll remember, before it was edited by Christopher Tolkien, most of his father’s writing was originally held within the framing that an Elf (Pengoloð) was teaching the Silmarillion to an Englishman (Ælfwine). Pengoloð momentarily broke off from the narrative, and spoke directly to Ælfwine, telling him that “Memory is our burden.” The jarring change from third person to first and back to third again might have been too much for Christopher. But couldn’t he have somehow amended it?

This short sentence gives us a clear understanding of why being deathless is such a pain in the ass. The memories are too much. The gift, then, might be that due to their short life, Men don’t have this problem. Their memories only stretch for a century on average (a bit longer or shorter here and there). The Elves, on the other hand, may last as long as the World. By the end, the entire history of their people might be bound up in their minds. This is no small thing. And yet, this was omitted and we’re left to not even consider this concept.


Some Note:

  • I really meant to get into the “Athrabeth Finrod Ah Andreth” also in Morgoth’s Ring, but didn’t have the time. In it, Finrod and the learned women, Andreth (a human) debate the whole death is a gift business. Seriously, why don’t you have a copy of Morgoth’s Ring?

Pages & Text

  • Page 42
  • Chapter: Of the Beginning of Days, Paragraphs 23-24
  • Starting with:
    “But Ilúvatar knew that men…”
  • Ending with:
    “…and Melkor has not discovered it.”

To Be the Deathless that Returned (More than You Ever Wanted to Know about Dwarvish Reincarnation)

This relatively long passage details the Fellowship’s steps into the 21st Hall of the North End, in the Mines of Moria. It’s here where Gandalf becomes more sure of the way. Tired, they decide to camp in a corner of the hall. Gimli recites the “World Was Young” poem, they learn about Mithril, and finally go to sleep.

You can really tell that something is building. It’s clear that they are nearly out of Moria. Gandalf: “At last we are coming to the habitable parts, and I guess that we are not far now from the eastern side.”

This all seemed pretty hopeful, but Gandalf warned them that it was not quite over yet. Tolkien described the darkness of the hall as “hollow and immense, and they were oppressed by the loneliness and vastness of the dolven halls and endlessly branching stairs and passages.”

As they were about to sleep, Sam got a bit talkative, and Gimli told the story of Moria’s founding by Durin the Deathless via poem. The post I made on Monday basically echoes this story. However, the last stanza of the poem delves into a bit of Dwarvish lore.

But still the sunken stars appear
In dark and windless Mirrormere;
There lies his crown in water deep,
Till Durin wakes again from sleep.

Though pretty much everyone knew that Durin the Deathless actually died, the Dwarves believed otherwise. In “Durin’s Folk,” we learn that Durin the Deathless died before the end of the First Age. But it’s hinted that the Dwarves might believe that he was reincarnated.

“It came to pass that in the middle of the Third Age Durin was again its king, being the sixth of that name.”

In a draft of “Durin’s Folk,” Tolkien went into a bit more detail. He explained that after Durin the Deathless’ death, an heir was born into that family line “so like until his Forefather that he received the name of Durin, being held indeed by the Dwarves to be the Deathless that returned. This went on until the last Durin was killed by the Balrog.

This seems rather implausible since a new Durin would have to be born before the old Durin died. At the time of the draft, Tolkien also composed a family tree, which showed seven generations passing between Durin the Deathless and Durin III (who was later replaced by Durin VI in the final draft). So basically, the reincarnation of Durin would come roughly ever other generation. In subsequent renderings, the generations between Durin the Deathless and the final Durin went from seven to twelve to “many.”

In an essay that’s been entitled “Of Dwarves and Men,” Tolkien explored this even further. While mostly it discusses their language and relation to Men and Elves, it also goes a bit into their philosophy.

Tolkien seemed then to back away from the reincarnation idea (or rather, to have the Dwarves back away from it). He explained that the name Durin was “they name they gave to the prime ancestor of the Longbeards and by which he was known to Elves and Men.” It was, he wrote “simply a word for ‘king’ in the language of the Men of the North of the Second Age.” Of all the names used by the Dwarves in the Elder Days, this was the only one that survived, though all were from “a long ‘dead’ Mannish language.”

It’s weird to see Tolkien head in this direction. When he first came up with the names for the Dwarves while writing The Hobbit they were simply nicked from the Old Norse poem ‘Völuspá’. Now, it seems, he’s linking them back to the Norse – “a long ‘dead’ Mannish language.” In a note, Christopher Tolkien posits that the name Durin wasn’t “the ‘real’ Mannish name of the Father of the Longbeards,” but rather “is a name derived from Old Norse, and thus a ‘translation’.”

And then, toward the very end of his life, Tolkien again returned to this idea of Dwarvish reincarnation. That the Dwarves held the belief that Durin was reincarnated at least six time was clear, but he stated plainly that it was a “false notion.” It was, he wrote, “in some ways connected with the various strange ideas which both Elves and Men had concerning the Dwarves, which were indeed largely derived by them from the Dwarves themselves.”

This enters into the strange quandary of just who wrote the tales recorded as the Lord of the Rings and the Silmarillion. The former was certainly by Men (Hobbits, mostly), though derived partially from Elvish knowledge. The latter was completely Elvish book (though Bilbo might have been the translator). With either, Dwarvish input was nil. It was because of this lack that assumptions were made and misunderstanding occurred.

“For the Dwarves asserted that the spirits of the Seven Fathers of their races were from time to time reborn in their kindreds. This was notably the case in the race of the Longbeards whose ultimate forefather was called Durin, a name which was taken at intervals by one of his descendants, but by no others but those in a direct line of descent from Durin I.”

The Dwarves did not believe that Durin VI, who was killed by the Balrog (Durin’s Bane), would be the last. They prophesied that in the line of Dain Ironfoot, Durin VII would appear one day. It was he who would be the last. So detailed was this philosophy, that the Dwarves held that the Durins all “retained memory of their former lives as Kings, as real, and yet naturally as incomplete, as if they had been consecutive years of life in one person.” Even more strange was the idea that their memories were “clearer and fuller of the far-off days.”

This essay seems to have been written from the Elvish point of view. It laments that just how this Dwarvish reincarnation came to pass “the Elves did not know; nor would the Dwarves tell them much more on the matter.” What information they had was obtained by Legolas through Gimli – so take that as it may come.

However, this information was corroborated by Noldor, who claimed to have learned it from Aule himself. They gave even more details. This was a gift from Aule “that the spirit of each of the Fathers (such as Durin) should, at the end of the long span of life allotted to Dwarves, fall asleep, but then lie in a tomb of his own body, at rest, and there its weariness and any hurts that had befallen it should be amended. Then after long years he should arise and take up his kingship again.”

Tolkien mused that Dwarvish flesh decayed much more slowly then Man flesh. Also, that this reincarnation/reawakening would only happen “when by some chance or other the reigning king had no son. So Durin became a sort of substitute king. Strange stuff, here.


A Few Notes

  • If you had any questions about the Dwarves during the Second and Third Ages, and how they got along with Men, you should find yourself a copy of The Peoples of Middle-Earth by Christopher Tolkien. That’s where the “Of Dwarves and Men” essay is published. Also, it’s just an amazing book – one of my favorites in the History of Middle-Earth series.
  • The essay “Of Dwarves and Men” was probably written around October 1969. It originally contained one of my favorite sections later published in Unfinished Tales: “The Druedain.” It’s where the wonderful story “The Faithful Stone” had its origin.
  • I’m not exactly sure how the Dwarves didn’t notice that the new Durin wasn’t just the old body of the old Durin. I mean, supposedly someone had to give birth to the new Durin. None of this really makes sense though. But by the time of the LotR, this was all nearly-forgotten legends.

About the Photo
This is the first digital photo that I’ve used in the 170ish posts of the blog. It’s a railroad snowshed at Stevens Pass in the Washington’s Cascade Mountains. In 1909, there was an incredibly horrific avalanche that killed 96 people. After that, they built this. It’s now part of a hiking trail and really easy to get to. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do it this year, so I had to use a digital image taken in 2009. Still, this really reminds me of the Hall in Moria.

“…a vast roof far above their heads upheld by many mighty pillars hewn of stone.”

  • Day 169
  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 834 (380 from Rivendell)
  • 57 miles to Lothlórien
  • 945 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s place in the narrative begins with: They had marched as far…. and ends with …glimmered faint and distantly. Book II, Chapter 3. Inside the Mines of Moria! 22nd day out of Rivendell. January 14, 3019 TA. (map)

Let the Houseless be Re-housed! (Part II) – Tolkien Deals with Glorfindel’s Reincarnation

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).
Camera: Ansco Color Clipper Film: Kodak Portra 400NC (expired 01/2003)

Camera: Ansco Color Clipper
Film: Kodak Portra 400NC (expired 01/2003)

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)

Let the Houseless be Re-housed! (Part I) – Tolkien Deals with Glorfindel’s Reincarnation

Since Strider and the hobbits are in a bit of a rushy montage, let’s see what Tolkien had to say about whether the Glorfindel of the Silmarillion was the same Glorfindel from the Lord of the Rings.

As I’ve covered before, Glorfindel the Elf-lord played a prominent roll in the Fall of Gondolin story, which was written a few decades prior to Lord of the Rings. In it, Glorfindel dies. Yet, without explanation, here he is again in our narrative. But is this the same guy?

Something that’s incredibly important to keep in mind is the fact that though Tolkien wrote much of the Silmarillion martial early on, it was never finished. His son, Christopher, published it several years after his death. This means that when Fellowship of the Ring was first published in 1954, it was also the first time the character of Glorfindel was published.

It should also be remembered that Tolkien swapped names like bubble gum cards. So isn’t it possible that these are two different guys with the same name? Is it beyond the realm of reason that Tolkien simply plucked a name and a few attributes from his early drafts? Wouldn’t that be easier to believe than having to create a whole new mythology that somehow included reincarnation? Absolutely yes. It would have been so much more simple. But also keep in mind that Tolkien rarely took the easy way out.

Our first clue in this matter actually comes from a note that Tolkien jotted down in the margins of the first draft of his Council of Elrond Chapter. He was then considering sending Glorfindel with the Fellowship, and wrote: “Glorfindel tells of his ancestry in Gondolin.” This should seal it, though it really somehow doesn’t.

While it appears to have been clear to him from the start that both Glorfindels were actually the same fellow, what is less clear is how he planned on making that work. This margin note was written in 1938, before Gandalf’s fight with the Balrog and subsequent reincarnation. So was Tolkien willing to make that jump at so early a stage?

He was, it seems, but wasn’t (at least at first) very comfortable with the idea. In the situation with Gandalf and the Balrog, Tolkien admitted in a 1954 letter that it was “cheating” to have him return from the dead. Nevertheless, it allowed him to think more on the subject of Gandalf reappearance – something he could avoid in the case of Glorfindel.

Tolkien explained that Gandalf actually had a physical body in both incarnations, “capable of pain, and weariness, and of afflicting the spirit with physical fear, and of being ‘killed’, though supported by the angelic spirit they might endure long, and only show slowly the wearing of care and labour.” This is great for Gandalf, but it doesn’t really explain Glorfindel, an Elf.

Fortunately for Tolkien, he didn’t have to explain it. Nobody knew anything about the Silmarillion‘s Glorfindel because the Silmarillion didn’t exist in a published or even final form. Hell, if Tolkien had wanted to, he could have changed the ending of the Fall of Gondolin so that Glorfindel survived the bout with the Balrog. And though it might have been the easiest way, it ultimately was not the path he chose.

After he finished writing Lord of the Rings, Tolkien returned almost immediately to his beloved Silmarillion stories. In 1950, for example, he began rewriting the Lay of Lathien. A year later, he wrote portions of the Tale of Tuor and the Ainulindale. He would continue such writings until the time of his death in 1973.

But he didn’t just add to and change the stories. He also wrote essays and fictional conversations in attempts to suss out the details of his legendarium. In 1959, four years after the publication of Return of the King, Tolkien wrote Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth, “The Debate of Finrod and Andreth.” As conceived, this was a conversation between Finrod the Elf-king and a mortal woman named Andreth. It’s pretty mind-blowing. In it, they talk about the differences between Elves and Men, especially focusing upon death, immortality, and spiritual matters. (This appears in Morgoth’s Ring.)

In this writing, Glorfindel is not mentioned, but the concept of Elvish reincarnation is. In “Note 3” Tolkien writes: “In Elvish tradition their re-incarnation was a special permission granted by Eru to Manwë….” And then, in “The Converse of Manwë and Eru,” which was a somewhat separate writing that appears to have been a note about Note 3 (goodness, Tollers!), he goes into still more detail.

Manwë was the King of the Valar and Eru was Illuvatar (“God”). Manwë complained that many of the souls (called fëar [soul, plural]) of the Elves were “houseless,” meaning without bodies (called hröar). “Is there no means by which their lives may be renewed, to follow the courses which Thou hast designed [meaning immortal]?” asked Manwë.

Eru answered: ‘Let the houseless be re-housed!’
Manwë asked: ‘How shall this be done?’
Eru answered: ‘Let the body that was destroyed be re-made. Or let the naked fëa [soul, singular] be re-born as a child.’

Manwë was a bit hesitant to dabble in such things, but Eru assured him it would be fine, but gave a stipulation. The Valar (like Manwë) could remake the body, but it had to be exactly like the old one. However,if the soul wished to be reborn, they would have to see Eru about that personally and he would deal with them on a case-by-case basis.

Tune in tomorrow for Part Two and see how this all pertains to Glorfindel!

A Few Notes

  • Much of Tolkien’s writings about reincarnation within Middle-earth were spurred on by the story of Miriel, which I didn’t really mention since her story was conceived after both versions of Glorfiendel were in existence. Since both Miriel and Glorfindel were Elves, it should all fit.
  • Tolkien took great pains to make sure readers understood that Gandalf’s reincarnation was not at all the same thing as the Christian resurrection. Middle-earth ≠ Bible.
  • With that, I really don’t like to refer to Gandalf as an angel or even say that Illuvatar is God. Tolkien seemed careful enough to avoid such references, and I go even further. But I’m super seriously not going to argue about this.
  • In the 1954 letter where Tolkien calls Gandalf “angelic,” he explains: “that he was an incarnate ‘angel’ – strictly an ἄγγελος: that is, with the other Istari, wizards, ‘those who know,’ an emissary from the Lords of the West, sent to Middle-earth as the great crisis of Sauron loomed on the horizon.” So, you know, an “angel” in that sense. I will also not be arguing about this.
Camera: Polaroid Automatic 100  Film: Fuji FP-100C (reclaimed negative)

Camera: Polaroid Automatic 100
Film: Fuji FP-100C (reclaimed negative)

About the Photo
Why did I pick the “Who stuffed that white owl” photo? I’m pretty sure that’s obvious. The answer is, of course Manwë and Eru. Or just Eru if it’s a baby white owl.

  • Day 87
  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 431
  • 28 miles to Rivendell
  • 1,348 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place: Book I, Chapter 12. Still cruising the East Road with Glorfindel. (map)