Tolkien Encyclopedia > Elves > Glorfindel > The Tale of the Two Glorfindels

The Tale of the Two Glorfindels

By Irmo-(Valar)
June 25, 2001

The article by Maglor-(V) on Glorfindel gives us a nice summary of the matter at hand, in which he states a clear and well argumented view. My article gives some additonal information, using a primary source: JRR Tolkien himself!

My thanks to Ecthelion-(V), who brought up the thrilling matter of the two Glorfindels once more at our meeting of June 24th 2001. And also thanks to Eonwe-(Valar) who quite adequately proved false my initial arguments that the two Glorfindels being the same was in my opinion highly improbable. They forced me to look into this matter more deeply. Somewhere in the back of my mind was the fact that I read more about this interesting problem in The History of Middle-earth (HME), but what - and where - I had forgotten.

I have now dug it up, and it is in the concluding Volume 12 of HME – titled The Peoples of Middle-earth and it is published there under Part 2, Last Writings. Here we have in fact an article in which JRRT addresses the problem of the two Glorfindels quite explicitly!!

Of this article, which JRR Tolkien wrote about a year before his death – so in 1972 – there are two similar versions. For those of you who don’t have access to the (complete) HME, I will now give some extensive citations from the most recent and accomplished of these two articles of JRRT, interluded with some remarks of my own.

This name is in fact derived from the earliest work on the mythology: The Fall of Gondolin, composed in 1916-1917, in which the Elvish language that ultimately became that of the type called Sindarin was in a primitive and unorganised form, and its relation with the High-elven type (itself very primitive) was still haphazard. It was intended to mean ‘Golden-tressed’, and was the name given to the heroic ‘Gnome’ (Noldo), a chieftain of Gondolin, who in the pass of Cristhorn (‘Eaglecleft’) fought with a Balrog [>Demon], whom he slew at the cost of his own life.

Its use in The Lord of the Rings is one of the cases of the somewhat random use of the names found in the older legends, now referred to as The Silmarillion, which escaped consideration 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. Also in the now organized mythology, difficulty is presented by the things recorded of Glorfindel in The Lord of the Rings, if Glorfindel of Gondolin is supposed to be the same person as Glorfindel of Rivendell

"Unfortunate" that it "escaped consideration". Would another name for the high-elven lord, friend of Elrond at Rivendell, have been chosen, if there had been clear realization that the name was referring to an Elf who had passed to the halls of Mandos in the 1st Era?

The article continues:

As for the former: he was slain in the Fall of Gondolin at the end of the First Age, and if a chieftain of that city must have been a Noldo, one of the elven-lords in the host of King Turukáno (Turgon); at any rate when The Fall of Gondolin was written he was certainly thought to be so. But the Noldor in Beleriand were exiles from Valinor, having rebelled against the authority of Manwë supreme head of the Valar, and Turgon was one of the most determined and unrepentant supporters of Fëanor's rebellion.

There is no escape from this. Gondolin is in The Silmarillion said to have been built and occupied by a people of almost entirely Noldorin origin. It might be possible, though inconsistent, to suppose that Glorfindel was a prince of Sindarin origin who had joined the host of Turgon, but this would entirely contradict what is said of Glorfindel in Rivendell in The Lord of the Rings: most notably in The Fellowship of the Ring , p. 235, where he is said to have been one of the ‘lords of the Eldar from beyond the furthest seas.. who have dwelt in the Blessed Realm.’ The Sindar have never left Middle-earth.

This difficulty, far more serious than the linguistic one, may be considered first.

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.

There it is: a major decison. JRRT was determined and committed to Glorfindel 1 and Glorfindel 2 being one and the same elf. Christopher T. comments here: "It would indeed have been open to him to change the name of Glorfindel of Gondolin, who had appeared in no published writing, but he did not mention this possibility." Remember that The Silmarillion was only published after Tolkien’s death in 1973, so that nothing about Glorfindel of Gondolin was unalterable.

From this major decision the article undertakes to explain the fact that – despite an "unfortunate overlook" and a seemingly unescapable series of difficulties – the two Glorfindels still have to be considered as one and the same. In doing so, Tolkien then creates questions that are even bigger than the issue itself, at least in my opinion.

JRRT asserts that, after the battle of Gondolin, Glorfindel would have gone to the halls of Mandos. There, his spirit could have been released into the Blessed Realm by the grace of Manwë. However:

Now Glorfindel of Gondolin was one of the exiled Noldor, rebels against the authority of Manwë, and they were all under a ban imposed by him: they could not return in bodily form to the Blessed Realm. Manwë however, was not bound by his own ordinances, and being still the supreme ruler of the Kingdom of Arda could set them aside, when he saw fit.

Sic!! This constitutes in my opinion a very serious discontinuity from a central theme in The Silmarillion: that the Valar, including Manwë, are as much subject to their own rules as the children of Illuvatar, and maybe even more so. For instance, the Doom of the Noldor was – once spoken - binding to each of the Valar, not to be easily set aside. We have often shared as a common opinion, that the coming of Eärendil – the fulfilment of the prophecy - was a necessary condition for the Valar to be able to help Beleriand against Morgoth. Without that coming the Valar would not have been able to interfere. What then, would make Glorfindel such a special case, as to cause such a highly untypical act of majestic overrule by Manwë?

JRRT continues here by supposing that Glorfindel took no part in the kinslaying of Alqualondë, and that by saving the flight of Tuor and Idril from Gondolin he greatly helped the realization of the long-term designs of the Valar.

For this, Glorfindel was pardoned out of Mandos to walk freely into the Blessed realm. But how (and when) then did he end up in Middle-earth?

JRRT explains this by the fact that in Valinor, Glorfindel would have become a close follower and friend of the Maia Olorin. To the Maiar:

He had now become almost an equal, for though he was an incarnate (to whom a bodily form not made or chosen by himself was necessary) his spiritual power had been greatly enhanced by his self-sacrifice.

Tolkien then turns to the question: When did Glorfindel return to Middle-earth? He pondered the possibility that Glorfindel journeyed with Olorin – who then became Gandalf -, but rejected this idea, since that would have been too much of a disobedience to the ordinance of Eru. For after the tragic end of the Second Age, the Blessed Realm had been removed from the Circles of the World, and no living embodied creature was allowed to return from Valinor to Middle-earth. Olorin was a different case of course, both at his first journey and even after he was slain by the Balrog of Moria. For his spirit was veritably Maiar.

So JRRT suggests that Glorfindel came to Middle-earth as early as the years 1200-1600 of the Second Age, in order to help Elrond against the rising shadow of Sauron.

What to make of all this? First, it shows how deeply committed JRRT was to finding answers to this type of questions, even at the wane of his lifetime. Second it shows once more, that the work of Tolkien consists of many different phases and faces. Here we have a tale from his youth – the Fall of Gondolin -, connected to his Maior Opus – The Lord of the Rings – and the connection is discussed fifty-five years later! Third, we do not have to consider this article as the final answer. Tolkien changed his mind continuously in the course of developing his creative effort. Take also into consideration the fact that Tolkien usually wrote – completely – from memory. He took down notes, which he used but never bothered to look at again. And as he said himself on occasions, at the end of his lifetime his memory was not what it used to be.

I think that in the end he would have judged the difficulties discussed above as too big to simply let be.

He would either have created a story-line which indeed tells us in a credible way how Glorfindel was pardoned by Manwë to be sent to Middle-earth in the 2nd age on a mission like that of Gandalf in the 3rd age (and Huan in the 1st), thus making Glorfindel a very central figurehead in the History of Middle-earth. Or he would have changed his mind and would have changed the name of the Lieutenant of the Golden Flower in Gondolin (for of course The Lord of The Rings, whose Glorfindel-reincarnation actually caused all these problems, was already published).

In the end, Tolkien could have chosen not to let Glorfindel die against the balrog. But this would have created big questions also. How is it – at all - that Glorfindel and Ecthelion, who were lieutenants in the army of Gondolin, were able to slay Balrogs – even Gothmog himself -, while greater ones like Fëanor, Fingon and much later Gandalf could not or hardly defeat these demons? But that is another discussion altogether.

In my opinion, the tale of the two Glorfindels is best explained by JRRT when he wrote:

Its use in the Lord of The Rings is one of the cases of the somewhat random use of the names found in the older legends, now referred to as the Silmarillion.

When JRRT worked on The Lord of the Rings, the tales of the First Ages were left aside and put down. It was only many years later when The Lord of the Rings was by and large written, that he turned himself to the question of how to bring this work into consistency with his efforts that were left behind in 1937, many of which were only found back by his son after his death in 1973. This effort of restoring constistency – largely from memory – was incredibly successful, given the enormousness of the task. But in the end he was not allowed to complete it.


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