Elrond is a staple of Middle-earth. He makes appearances in The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and many of Tolkien's other writings. For all his impact, though, what do we actually know about this half-elven counselor? In this first episode, we start to unravel just who Elrond is ...and things definitely don't start off on the right foot.
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Hi. Welcome to the Halfling. I’m your host, Jaron Pak, and this is episode 10: Elrond, Half-Elven.
Before we get started, I want to apologize for the delay in getting this episode up. Right after taking a week off with the show for the holidays, my family got sick with the flu. My turn to fall ill came on New Year's Eve and I ushered in 2022 in a feverish state of mind. I got better before the next Sunday, but my voice was shot — in fact, I’ll go ahead and say sorry now, guys, since it still isn’t fully back for this episode. Anyway, naturally, that meant there wasn’t an episode for this past Sunday. I’m feeling much better, though, and my goal is to get back on track in the next few days.
Alright, all that aside, I’m really excited to get back to the show. I had fun with the holiday episode, and it was great to count down 2021 with a series on Shelob. As I got ready to start this next series, though, I actually was having some second thoughts. I wasn’t sure how I felt about how I had already committed to doing a deep dive on Elrond. I mean, I want to cover off-beat characters that could really impact Amazon’s 2nd Age show. I want to dig into the nitty-gritty details. Aaaand there isn’t much that screams mainstream Middle-earth more than Elrond of Rivendell.
But as I got to thinking about it, I started to get more excited. Now, just for the record, I’m not about to make the case that Elrond is an “offbeat” character. Quite the opposite. Everyone knows about the Elven leader and counselor. He’s intimately involved in The Lord of the Rings and he even shows up for some significant stuff in The Hobbit. He’s one of the few characters that make an appearance in both books and is covered in The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales, too. He’s everywhere …if you look for him.
But for all of the steady appearances, when you break it down, we don’t really know much about Elrond himself. Sure, he’s a strong, bold leader that isn’t afraid to make decisions and influence events. He helps keep the plot moving forward. But let me ask you this: who is Elrond? Like, who is this guy? Where did he come from? Did you know that in the index to The Silmarillion, it says that the name Elrond means “Star-dome?” Did you know that Elrond wields one of the Three Elven Rings of Power? Did you know that he has an angelic ancestor? A twin brother? That he grows up in captivity?
Now, cobbling together Elrond’s story isn’t easy. I’ll tell you right now, there isn’t a single spot or section of Tolkien’s writings where you can just go look this stuff up. It’s scattered all over the place. Like Isildur, Elrond is a character that, while obviously important, is very difficult to wrap your head around. In the main story, his actions and the fact that he’s respected are obvious. But we don’t get a lot of details about Elrond’s backstory, interests, past experiences, or much else at all really. At least, we don’t get a lot of that stuff all in one spot. When you gather everything together, though, you actually end up with a pretty epic story. In a nutshell, Elrond’s Middle-earth-bound life spans three ages of the world and primarily consists of a running set of conflicts that focus around Sauron. The Elf-Man acts as both a servant and a master to those around him. He fights and counsels, attacks and defends. As you read through the story of Middle-earth, it feels like the guy is just everywhere doing everything.
Before I get too far ahead of myself, though, we should back up and start at the beginning. I know that isn’t the only place to start, but for a story as disjointed as this one, I think it’ll be helpful to spend this first episode going through Elrond’s early story one step at a time. That way we have a firm grasp of what he’s going through and what his motivations are when he runs into Sauron for the first time.
Elrond arrives on God’s green Middle-earth late in the First Age of Middle-earth history. He’s born in the westerly edge of the Middle-earth continent, in an area called Beleriand. This is a region that we’ve talked about before. It’s the primary stage for the entire First Age where a ton of epic battles and legendary activities taking place. Shortly after Elrond’s birth (shortly for Elves at least), the entire area sinks beneath the waves, forcing the local inhabitants, including Elrond, to relocate. Before that happens, though, Elrond goes through quite the ordeal.
To properly set the stage, let’s paint a word picture of the situation when Elrond’s born, okay? Fair warning, though, it’s not a pretty one. Not at all. In fact, it’s one of the lowest points in all of Tolkien’s writings. When Elrond is born, the first Dark Lord, Morgoth, has all but conquered the Elves and Men that resist him. He’s at his zenith of power, and his armies are spreading across the lands. They’ve destroyed most of the Elven kingdoms that were his primary resistance, and his ultimate victory seems unstoppable.
Baby Elrond is born into a community of Elven refugees who are living about as far west on the continent as you can go. They’re literally dwelling on the shores of the land, hoping for a miracle from the Blessed Realm away to the West or some other unknown direction. To make matters worse, there’s an Elven civil war that also kicks off a few years after Elrond comes into the world. This is an ancient feud that has been going on for centuries, and it’s primarily fought over the three jewels called the Silmarils. It’s way too complicated and political to detail here, but suffice it to say that, early on, a group of Elven lords swear a terrible oath to recover these jewels — no matter what. At the time, Morgoth has them, but their promise to recapture the gems includes fighting anyone else who might possess them. And around the time of our story, word gets out that Elrond’s mom has been given one of these jewels, and some of the Elves, tragically driven by their oath, come a-knockin.
The timing of this event is important. See, most of the time when you’re talking about Elves, if something happens “early” or “late” in their lives, it doesn’t really matter much. After all, they’re immortal. Once they’re full grown, an event happening at a specific time doesn’t make much of a difference.
In this case, though, we’re talking about something that happens while Elrond is still young — very young. Elrond and his twin brother Elros are just six years old when the civil war destroys their home. Their parents, who we’ll hear more about in a second, are a very important power couple in Tolkien’s writings, and that makes their twin sons important targets during the attack. If they had been older Elves, they would have probably been killed outright. Even at this extremely young age, Elrond’s parents assume that their twins will likely be killed if they’re captured.
And, sure enough, during the fallout from the fighting, the young boys are captured by an Elvish king called Maglor. Maglor is one of the Elves who originally took the oath to recapture the Silmarils. At this point, his unwise words have forced him to do a bunch of really uncool things, and he’s flat out exhausted by the devastating toll that the Silmarils have wreaked on the Elvish community. Nevertheless, driven by his word, Maglor attacks the Elves dwelling on the seashore in the hopes of reclaiming a Silmaril, and during that time, he comes across these two young Elves.
Now, I know this is a lot of details, but bear with me for one more mine. The one other thing we need to go over before we kick off Elrond’s story in earnest, is where Elrond’s parents are when he’s caught. When Maglor arrives looking for a Simaril, Elrond’s dad is out at sea, and during the chaos of the attack, Elrond’s mother takes the Silmaril and leaps into the nearby water in desperation. This ends up being really important. See, Elrond’s parents are Tolkien’s famous power couple, Eärendil and Elwing, and the two end up reconnecting and helping to deliver all of Middle-earth from Morgoth’s clutches by sailing to the Blessed Realm to ask for help. We’ll go over Elrond’s really impressive family connections more thoroughly at a later point. To help us stay on track for now, though, all we need to know is that Elrond’s Elven community is destroyed by an attack from other Elves, his dad is somewhere off at sea when the attack happens, and his mother apparently perishes by leaping into the sea with the Silmaril.
It’s at this very low point that something finally goes in Elrond’s favor. In The Silmarillion, it briefly explains what happens when Maglor discovers the politically important children of Eärendil and Elwing. It says, “For Maglor took pity upon Elros and Elrond, and he cherished them, and love grew after between them, as little might be thought; but Maglor’s heart was sick and weary with the burden of the dreadful oath.” So, yeah, the Elven monster turns over a new leaf and actually builds a bond with the boys.
In a letter that Tolkien wrote in October of 1958, we get one more minor note about the circumstances of Elrond’s youthful capture. It explains that Elrond and Elros aren’t shown mercy the moment they’re found. On the contrary, their enemies know that they’re the children of some important people, and they’re left in the woods like Romulus and Remus from ancient Roman history. The letter says “The infants were not slain, but left like ‘babes in the wood’, in a cave with a fall of water over the entrance. There they were found: Elrond within the cave, and Elros dabbling in the water.”
Now, I want to pause for a second and talk about the use of the words “infants” and “babes” here. I mean, didn’t we just say that Elrond was a six-year-old when he’s captured? Yes we did. At least, that’s the official timeline from The Silmarillion. And, unfortunately, I couldn’t find a specific explanation between the six year old account and the infants referenced in the letter. Chances are Tolkien never got around to clarifying this out-of-the-way area of his story, anyway. Even so, the truth is, six years isn’t very long for an Elf to live. My guess is that if he’d been asked about the apparent discrepancy, the master storyteller would have simply explained that, sure they were six years old. That’s still the infant stage for an immortal being.
Unexplained details aside, the bigger point here is that Elrond and his brother are left to rot in the woods. Then, at the last second, Maglor, the very person who orchestrated their ruin, takes pity on them and saves their lives. With their parents off saving the world, he takes them in and raises them, and they even eventually grow fond of one another. This restores a sense of structure to Elrond’s life — which is a good thing. Remember, the world is still crumbling all around him. Having the blessing and protection of an Elven lord is helpful if you’re trying to survive the apocalyptic end of an age.
Now, the next chunk of Elrond’s life — I guess we would call it his “youth” — is pretty hazy. If you look for the hints, though, you can piece the disjointed story together enough to figure out the rough idea of how the first century or so goes. A few years after Elrond’s captivity, a half-a-century-long conflict kicks off called the War of Wrath. This is that apocalyptic, age-ending event that I mentioned a few minutes ago. It drags on for half a century and ends with the bloody defeat of Morgoth. The Dark Lord is locked away and the good guys win. Everyone’s happy, right?
Except, yeah, the War of Wrath also leads to one of Tolkien’s favorite activities: terraforming. The author loves to have events lead to the changing of the physical world. Think about it. Númenor literally sunk beneath the waves not too many episodes back. The Blessed Realm used to be reachable by boat …until the earth was changed and only the Elves could find it. These events take place on the regular in Middle-earth, and after the War of Wrath we get one of the biggest of them all — the entire western chunk of Middle-earth, called Beleriand, sinks into the sea. If you’re looking at the famous Lord of the Rings map, with Mordor in the bottom right hand corner and the Misty Mountains running like a spine up the middle, this would be a huge section of land that would replace the ocean along the left side of the map. Yeah, when Elrond is young, this area is above sea level, but after Morgoth’s defeat it slowly sinks into the waves.
Now, this doesn’t happen overnight, and the people living in Beleriand have some time to migrate elsewhere. Some of the Elves head to the Blessed Realm, but others, along with the mortals in the region, pack up and head east. As the world settles into its new Middle-earth shape that we all know and love, a ton of people — good and bad — come flooding eastward, and yes, pun intended. As you might guess, Elrond is amongst this group. The next time we hear of him, he’s headed to the north, where he joins a powerful group of Elves in a new kingdom called Lindon — which should be an important area in Amazon’s show, by the way. It was even directly mentioned in the show’s brief synopsis.
Now, the Elves in Lindon work to build a new kingdom around this time, but they’re not new to the area. The Silmarillion explains that Lindon is an old Elvish name for the region, and there are still many Elves that are living there because they aren’t ready to forsake Middle-earth and head across the seas. This group is led by an old buddy of ours, the very important Elvish king Gil-galad. For those of you who remember from the Isildur series, Gil-galad will play an important role in the Last Alliance. He dies fighting Sauron and is one of the few good guys who confronts the Dark Lord when Isildur cuts the Ring from his hand.
At this point, though, Gil-galad isn’t prepping for any epic last stands. He’s simply serving as a wise ruler of Lindon. His kingdom is growing quickly, too, as exiles migrate there from the slowly sinking lands to the west. At some point during this tumultuous time, Elrond appears on the scene. And he doesn’t just show up and move into a rinky dink apartment somewhere and disappear into quiet anonymity. His important parents, royal upbringing, and countless legendary ancestors — which, again, we’ll cover in detail in a later episode — set him up for a high-profile position. Naturally, he rises toward the top of the power pyramid. In fact, in The Silmarillion it explains the situation in Lindon by saying, “many of the Eldar still dwelt there, lingering, unwilling yet to forsake Beleriand where they had fought and laboured long. Gil-galad son of Fingon was their king, and with him was Elrond Half-elven, son of Eärendil the Mariner and brother of Elros first king of Númenor.”
This also happens to be the beginning of the Second Age. So, to recap, as the First Age is literally washed away and the Second Age dawns, a young, flourishing Elrond finds himself in an important position in the rapidly growing kingdom of Lindon. At this point, as is so often the case with these immortal Elven lifespans, we run into a long, quiet gap in Elrond’s life. From what I can tell, our hero spends several centuries quietly helping Lindon to prosper. Morgoth is gone and, while there are still many evils in the world, Sauron hasn’t shown up yet.
And it’s here that we’re going to leave Elrond for the time being, happily ordering the daily business of a new Elvish kingdom as the Second Age kicks off. It’s nice to see him happy, especially after such a rough start to life. When we pick up the story again next time, though, things aren’t going to stay quiet for long. Less than half way through the Second Age, Elrond will run into a nice guy named Annatar …a fellow that will change the course of his life, for better or worse, for the rest of his Middle-earth dwelling days.
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Alright, that’s it for now. Until next time, friends.