Tolkien Gateway

Glorfindel

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Revision as of 19:20, 28 October 2007

BFME2 - Glorfindel.jpg
Glorfindel of the Golden Flower
Noldo
Biographical Information
TitlesChief of the House of the Golden Flower
BirthSometime during the Years of the Trees, Aman. Returned to Middle-earth c. S.A. 1600
DeathF.A. 510; may have sailed West during the Fourth Age (aged 6000+)
Family
ParentageProbably Noldorin/Vanyarin mix
SpouseUnknown, if any
Physical Description
GenderMale
Hair colorLong Golden

Glorfindel was one of the mightiest elves of Middle-earth, and one of the most famous of the minor characters in the legendarium. He was distinctive because of his return to Middle-earth after death, acting as an emissary of the Valar, on a similar mission to the Istari who were to come several thousand years later.

Contents

History

Early History

Glorfindel was born in Valinor sometime during the Years of the Trees. His parentage is unknown; due to his apparent nobility and a note that he was kin of Turgon it is possible that he was the son of one of Finwë’s daughters, Findis or Irimë. This would account for his distinctive golden hair as well, as Indis their mother was a Vanya. It would also make Glorfindel the possible uncle of Voronwë (who may have been the grandson of Irimë), the only surviving mariner who sought Valinor. Nevertheless, his parentage is and always will be a matter of speculation, unless new manuscripts turn up, as Tolkien never explored that matter very deeply.

He was of the host of Turgon, who was one of the most determined and unrepentant followers of Fëanor. Nevertheless Glorfindel himself was reluctant; only for his allegiance and kinship with Turgon did he go, and had no part in the Kinslaying of Alqualondë.

Gondolin

After the Exile of the Noldor Glorfindel’s history is obscure. As a great follower of Turgon he was appointed chief of the House of the Golden Flower, one of the Twelve Houses of Gondolin. He was dearly loved by all the Gondolindrim, and went about in a mantle embroidered in threads of gold, diapered with celandine “as a field in spring”. His vambraces were damascened with "cunning gold".

Glorfindel and Ecthelion by Jenny Dolfen
He witnessed the coming of Tuor and later the Fall of Gondolin. During the ensuing battle in the streets, Glorfindel chose (or was ordered to) hold the Great Market from the advancing orcs. He attempted to flank them, taking their enemies by surprise, but was himself ambushed and surrounded. Cut off, the House of the Golden Flower fought on fiercely for hours, until a fire-breathing dragon came and leveled their ranks. Glorfindel with some of the strongest of his followers cut his way out, but the survivors of that battle were very few. Even then they were pursued and might have been killed, but the House of the Harp arrived in time, ambushing their pursuers, after rebelling from their treacherous leader Salgant. The Golden Flower arrived at the Square of the King, one of the last of the Houses to be driven in.

As many of the lords had fallen, Ecthelion was wounded, Galdor was engaged, and Egalmoth had not yet arrived, Glorfindel joined Tuor in leading the defense of the King’s Square. When Egalmoth arrived, bringing with him many women and children, he took over Glorfindel’s job in going from place to place, strengthening the defenses. Glorfindel presumably threw himself once more into the thick of the fight. But even he could not prevent a dragon from coming down from the Alley of Roses, breaking through their lines. The dragon was accompanied by orcs and balrogs, among them Gothmog. Even Tuor was thrown down, but Ecthelion sacrificed himself to kill Gothmog and buy the Gondolindrim a little more time. When the Gondolindrim fled southward, and Turgon King was slain, Glorfindel held the rear manfully, losing many more of his House in the process. After they had escaped Gondolin via Idril's Secret Way, and passed through the Cirith Thoronath, Glorfindel again held the rear with the largest number of the unwounded.

Glorfindel and the Balrog Above Gondolin by Ted Nasmith
It was at that time that a balrog and a contingent of orcs ambushed their company. Glorfindel there accomplished his greatest deed, for he saved the lives of Tuor, Idril, and all the company when he defied the balrog. They fought long. According to The Fall of Gondolin Glorfindel stabbed it in the belly, but as the balrog fell it reached out and grabbed his long golden hair, pulling him back down over the edge of the cliff. He perished in the fall, but his body was borne up by Thorondor, and buried him with a mound of stones in the pass. On that mound grew yellow flowers (possibly celandine), despite its remote location.

Re-embodiment and Return

Glorfindel’s spirit passed to the Halls of Mandos, where he waited with the spirits of the other Noldor who had defied the Valar and so could not be re-embodied until the War of Wrath. But because of Glorfindel’s noble actions in life, his reluctance at the Exile, and his furthering of the purposes of the Valar by saving Tuor and Idril, he was re-embodied after only a short time. He had redeemed himself, and was purged of any guilt. Not only did his sacrifice get him an early pardon, it earned him great powers, so that he was almost an equal to the faithful Eldar.

Glorfindel spent several hundred years in Valinor, during which time he became a friend and follower of the Maia Olórin. Eventually, Manwë sent him across the sea to Middle-earth, possibly as early as Second Age 1200, but more likely in 1600 with the Blue Wizards. If the latter date, he arrived just after the One Ring had been forged, Barad-dûr built, and Celebrimbor dead or soon to be so. While the Blue Wizards were sent to the east, Glorfindel’s mission was to aid Gil-galad and Elrond in the struggle against Sauron. He played a prominent behind-the-scenes role in the war in Eriador and the other struggles of the Second Age and Third Age. His part, though great, was mostly overlooked by the histories, because his immense, angelic power was not usually displayed openly.

Third Age

Glorfindel by John Howe
Glorfindel greeted his friend Olórin (to be known as Gandalf) in Mithlond in 1000 of the Third Age, who was on a similar mission to his own. As the great Elves of Middle-earth fell one by one, only Galadriel, Celeborn, Elrond, and Círdan were left of the Wise. Glorfindel took a more active role, leading the Elven forces in the Battle of Fornost. Upon the humiliation of Eärnur before the Witch-king, Glorfindel bade him not pursue, and prophesied that the wraith would not fall by the hand of man.

His next appearance in the histories was during the pre-War of the Ring struggles, after the One Ring had been brought into the light once more. He was one of the elves dispatched from Rivendell by Elrond to search for the Ring-bearer. Elrond had chosen him partially because Glorfindel did not fear the Ringwraiths, as he had great presence in both the Seen and Unseen worlds. While on his perilous mission the Ringwraiths avoided him; he met five of them, and they fled at his presence. It was Glorfindel indeed who accomplished his mission and found the Ringbearer, Frodo Baggins, and his friend Aragorn with him. Glorfindel put Frodo on his horse, Asfaloth, and upon the approach of the Ringwraiths ordered him to go on. The white horse bore Frodo to safety across the Ford of Bruinen, but Frodo, in a rash act of attempted heroism, turned around at the other side and defied the Nine. Glorfindel, expecting the flood that protected Rivendell to come down and smite the riders, revealed his power to the Riders, and drove them (willingly or not) into the River, where they were swept away by the ensuing waters.

After this adventure, he helped bear Frodo to Rivendell, where the wounded Ringbearer was tended to. Glorfindel attended the Council of Elrond, playing an active role in the conversation, speaking prophetically of Tom Bombadil and other matters with authority. Glorfindel stood beside Elrond and Gandalf as the backbone of the Council, laying out clearly their options. At first Glorfindel suggested that the Ring would be safe in the depths of the Sea, but the far-sighted Gandalf noted the change of landscapes, and the unforeseen possibilities that could bring the Ring forth once more in a hundred or even a thousand years in the future. In a hasty note Tolkien suggested that Glorfindel could tell of his ancestry in Gondolin, but this idea was disbanded. Glorfindel was briefly considered as a member of the Fellowship of the Ring, but as his friend Gandalf said, his power would be of little use against the might of Mordor, on a mission of secrecy.

During the War of the Ring nothing is said of Glorfindel. Doubtless he played as strong a role as he had in previous campaigns. It is possible that he went to Lothlórien and fought actively in the war of Rhovanion, perhaps even aiding Celeborn in the Fall of Dol Guldur. Whatever his role, his next mention in the texts is the Wedding of Elessar, to which he came from the north with Galadriel and Elrond. After that no more is said of him. Like Olórin, his task in Middle-earth was done, and the age of the Elves was over. He probably passed West, perhaps with the bearers of the Three Rings and the One Ring. Or he may have remained for a time in Middle-earth to oversee the cleanup after the war. It may even be speculated that he waited for the Blue Wizards, who were active in the east against Sauron, and departed with them even as he came.

Earlier Versions of the Legendarium

Glorfindel was originally planned to be part of the Fellowship of the Ring, in a way taking the place of Legolas. Tolkien proposed three dates as to his return to Middle-earth: T.A. 1000, with Gandalf, S.A. 1200 and the years following, or S.A. 1600. He dropped the first one after some thought, and though he declared the second possible, he favored the last as the most probable.

Attributes

Glorfindel was an elf of great beauty, power, wisdom, and moral courage. He was clearly loved by the people of Gondolin, who mourned his passing greatly. He acted most courageously during the Fall, his House being among those that suffered the greatest losses, and eventually giving his own life for the safety of Tuor and Idril, accomplishing the designs of the Valar, though it was said that he "would have defended them even had they been fugitives of any rank". He was repentant of the rebellion of the Noldor, and took no part in the Kinslaying. His acts in the Third Age also show great presence and authority, as does the very fact that he was sent as an emissary of the Valar.


Controversy

Some have questioned whether Glorfindel of Gondolin and Glorfindel of Rivendell were the same. Tolkien may simply have borrowed a name from his earlier legendarium, something he was known to do. The Peoples of Middle-earth, published posthumously, cast some light on this issue. Among the Last Writings published in that volume, there are two long essays, Glorfindel I and Glorfindel II. These were written later in life by Tolkien, and directly addressed whether the two Glorfindels were the same person. Both essays clearly indicated that they were the same person, and included a detailed discussion of 're-embodiment' in Tolkien's mythology.

". . . At any rate what at first sight may seem the simplest solution must be abandoned: sc. that we have merely a reduplication of names, and that Glorfindel of Gondolin and Glorfindel of Rivendell were different persons. This repetition of so striking a name, though possible, would not be credible… Also it may be found that acceptance of the identity of Glorfindel of old and of the Third Age will actually explain what is said of him and improve the story. . ."
Last Writings, Glorfindel II
". . . After his purging of any guilt that he had incurred in the rebellion, he was released from Mandos, and Manwë restored him… We may then best suppose that Glorfindel returned during the Second Age, before the ‘shadow’ fell on Númenor. . ."
― Ibid.

As Tolkien's legendarium was an evolving work that he constantly updated and revised, there will always be some question of 'final intent.' Some may note that the above-quoted essays were private and not ever published, and thus should not be taken as decisive. Nevertheless the editors of the Tolkien Gateway believe that these essays, combined with Tolkien's published novels, clearly establish that Glorfindel of Gondolin and Glorfindel of Rivendell were the same person.

Portrayal in Adaptations

Glorfindel as portrayed by the Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game
Glorfindel’s role in The Lord of the Rings is consistently replaced by another character in adaptations, presumably to limit the already large number of characters. In Ralph Bakshi's The Lord of the Rings, he was replaced by Legolas, while in Peter Jackson’s adaptation he was replaced even more controversially by Arwen, although an elf extra at Elessar’s coronation, played by Jarl Benzon, was later identified as Glorfindel in film promotional materials. In the franchise following the film, namely the video game The Battle for Middle-earth II, Glorfindel is portrayed as a silver-haired hero fighting in the north.

Glorfindel is one of the most popular elven characters for fanfiction. He is often portrayed as a fiery, light-hearted elf of great power, a friend of Ecthelion and Tuor. He is also a favored character in the slash area of fanfiction, something roundly criticized by purists.