In our fourth episode with Elrond, we finally take a deep dive into this Elven wunderkind's insane family connections. We trace Elrond's lineage to major power couples like Beren and Lúthien as well as Tuor and Idril ...and his own daughter's marriage to her more-than-60-times-removed cousin, Aragorn. Who's ready for some Hobbit-level family history?
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Hi. Welcome to the Halfling. I’m your host, Jaron Pak, and this is Episode 13: Elrond’s Crazy Family Tree.
We’ve spent three episodes on Elrond so far, and we still haven’t even come close to the Lord of the Rings content that defines so much of his later career. I hope you’re all starting to understand the motivation I had to create a series on this guy. He may not be obscure, but the bulk of his career sure is. Elrond’s story starts in captivity in the First Age. Then he becomes an Elven wunderkind who become second in command under the High King Gil-galad for the first half of the Second Age. From there, he fights Sauron and establishes Rivendell as a primary stronghold to resist the darkness spreading across the land. He’s given one of the Three Elven Rings and told to defend his new fortress, which he does until the Last Alliance gathers there at the end of the age and they all head off to take down Sauron.
After that war ends in a mostly good way, Elrond settles down, marries his wife, Galadriel and Celeborn’s daughter, Celebrían, and they proceed to have three children, twin sons Elladan and Elrohir, and a daughter, Arwen. While this covers Elrond’s immediate nuclear family, though, last time we ran out of time to dive into the half-elven lord’s more extended family tree — which is where we’ll pick up right today. I have to warn you though, as I went through the research for this episode, it didn’t take long for me to start feeling like there was just too much left to fit all of the rest of Elrond’s story into a single installment of the show. Instead, we’re going to focus on fleshing out the rest of his crazy impressive family connections today, and then next time we’ll wrap up the rest of his story with his also crazy impressive resume of activities that take place throughout the Third Age.
Okay, let’s get started, shall we? Last time we ended with Elrond’s wife, kids, and in-laws officially on the family tree. But with all the talk about nuclear families and in-laws, you may be wondering, what about Elrond’s own parents? Who are they? Remember, all we’ve heard so far is that his dad was out at sea and his mom threw herself into the ocean in despair when their home was victimized by an Elven civil war — you know, the same one that led to Elrond’s childhood capture. Well, part of the reason our hero ends up growing up in captivity is that his parents are Tolkien’s mighty power couple, Eärendil and Elwing. The pair reunite in the midst of the sea (Elwing is literally turned into a bird and is able to fly to her husband’s boat) and once together, they sail to the Blessed Realm, where they convince the angelic Valar and Maiar, along with many of the local Elves, to help save the poor people of Middle-earth from the overpowering might of Morgoth. This leads to a happily ever after scenario for the good guys, at least on a macro scale, but it also means Elrond’s parents end up staying away across the sea.
So, Elrond’s parents go missing early in his life, but they end up doing some world-saving kind of stuff and land on the shortlist for Middle-earth’s greatest heroes. In the larger picture, this all makes sense, but I do feel like I need to point out that this had to be hard for little boy Elrond. I mean, his parents disappear when he’s captured, and he probably thinks they’re dead for quite a long while. Talk about some emotional trauma during some really formative periods of life. Anyway, he clearly survives the experience, and his parents end up both alive and heroes, to boot. And the best part is, the list of Elrond’s famous relatives doesn’t even stop there. Not by a long shot.
Elrond’s maternal grandfather is also a guy named Dior. He’s the son of another of Tolkien’s major power couples, Beren and Lúthien. In this case, the Man, Beren, marries the princess Lúthien, who herself happens to be the daughter of an Elvish king and his Maiar queen who has taken on a physical form. Did I say all that fast? Yes, I know, and the genealogy gets complicated here. But here’s the takeaway. All of these highfaluten nuptials means Elrond’s maternal side of the family has Men, Elves, and even a Maiar. And we can’t even stop there. Elrond’s paternal grandparents are equally important. Their names are Tuor and Idril. Again, in this case, the Man Tuor marries the Elven princess Idril and the pair of love birds have Eärendil, the Man-Elf who ultimately helps to save the world.
All of this means Elrond has a smattering of Elvish, Mannish, and even a dash of Maiar blood in his history. And before you start thinking that this kind of thing happens every day in Middle-earth, it’s actually really rare. In the appendix of “The Return of the King,” Tolkien explains that “There were three unions of the Eldar and the Edain: Lúthien and Beren; Idril and Tuor; Arwen and Aragorn.” Just to clarify, the Eldar are the Elves and the Edain are a specific group of Men. So, when you break it down, the first two of the couples listed are Elrond’s great grandparents and grandparents, respectively, and the last couple are his children. Everywhere you look, he’s surrounded by these super important unions of Elves and Men.
This is why he becomes one of a very select group of people known as the Peredhil or “half-elven.” Don’t ask me why the title leaves the Man and Maiar parts out. Seems unfair to me. Anyway, the simplified name basically implies that its owner is descended from one of the three major unions of Elves and Men. In this case, Elrond is connected to two of those pairs …and his daughter forms half of the third one when she ultimately marries Aragorn.
All of these connections, particularly to the races of Elves and Men, means eventually certain people from those bloodlines are allowed to choose between the fate of Elves and Men. This area of the mythology is difficult to summarize, but in essence, if someone chooses to be an Elf, it appears that their descendants can still give up that choice and opt for mortality. That’s what happens to Arwen when she chooses a mortal life. But get this. The other direction doesn’t work quite the same way — and we need to look at Elrond’s last important family member to get an example of what I’m talking about.
Elrond’s twin brother, Elros, chooses to be a mortal Man instead of an Elf. He goes on to found the kingdom of Númenor and spend over 400 years ruling as its first king. However, none of his descendants appear to have the choice to become an immortal Elf. Instead, they remain quite mortal, to the point where they even attack the Valar in jealousy at their lack of immortality, leading to the destruction of their nation.
So, on the one side we have Arwen, who is allowed to live for thousands of years and then give that immortality up for a mortal life. On the other side we have the descendants of Elrond’s mortal brother, who don’t even get a choice. They’re born mortal and stay mortal, no matter how big of a tantrum they throw about it. See what I mean? It’s hard to summarize. And still really confusing, too.
One last side note that we need to talk about here is the question of Aragorn and Arwen’s family history. If you follow the line of Númenórean kings long enough, you end up with Aragorn. In other words, one of Elros’s descendants is Aragorn. So, yes, when Aragorn marries Arwen, this means he’s technically related to his wife. However, before you roll your eyes and start making gagging noises, let’s put this into perspective by quickly running through how many generations further down the family tree Aragorn is compared to Arwen.
Before he becomes the king at the end of the story, Aragorn is the 16th chieftain of the Dunedain of Arnor. The 1st of these chieftains is the son of the 15th king of the small kingdom of Arthedain. This is a splinter kingdom that appears after Gondor’s sister kingdom of Arnor is destroyed mid-way through the Third Age. The first king of Arthedain is the son of the 10th king of Arnor. Before Arnor, the royal line runs back to Númenor itself, where we find more than 20 more generations. Add all of these numbers up and you get over sixty generations between Elrond’s brother and Aragorn. So, if you think that cousins sixty times removed is inappropriate, go ahead and start throwing up. I won’t stand in your way. All I’ll say is that Tolkien came from a world where British royalty was fine with intermarrying at a much closer rate than sixtieth cousins, so the fact that he would have something remotely like that in his stories kinda makes sense. It’s also worth noting that the last king of Númenor is a villain who forces his first cousin to marry him, and it’s seen as an abomination. It literally says in “The Silmarillion,” “But Pharazôn took her to wife against her will, doing evil in this and evil also in that the laws of Númenor did not permit the marriage, even in the royal house, of those more nearly akin than cousins in the second degree.” All that to say, for those who love to look sideways at the whole Arwen and Aragorn getting hitched thing, Tolkien clearly has some reasonable boundaries with this stuff.
Alllright. So, hopefully, you aren’t completely glazed over with all of the names and family connections at this point. Trust me, the toughest part is over. For those of you who were able to keep up, it’s crazy to run through just how many of Elrond’s family members were so important to Middle-earth’s history. For everyone else, I get it. I really do. It took me a long time to research all of this and put it together in a way that remotely makes sense. As a hopefully helpful recap, here are the takeaways: Elrond is closely connected to all three of the unions of Elves and Men that take place in Tolkien’s writings. This gives him his half-elven status (which includes family connection to Elves, Men, and even a Maiar.) He’s brothers with the founder of Númenor and the son-in-law of the leaders of Lothlorien, too. One of his very distant descendants even becomes the king of a reunited Gondor and Arnor …and marries his own daughter, too. While he does plenty of stuff on his own to earn his reputation as a wise leader and a feared warrior, it makes sense that someone with his kind of pedigree would naturally rise to the top of the power pyramid.
Phew. Okay, do you see why I didn’t want to just shoehorn all of that info in as we went through the story? There’s just so much there to go over. And, I mean, the way Tolkien wrote his stories, you could break down similar levels of complex family history for a lot of other characters, too. But I have to be honest, with all of my years of obsessively studying all of this stuff, I don’t know if there’s a single character in all of Tolkien’s writings that has quite as many high-level connections as Elrond. He’s a crossroads of so many different stories and family trees. It’s pretty cool. It’s also one of those points where I just have to stop and give Tolkien a metaphorical handshake for how well he was able to tie all of these things together.
Now that we’ve got all of that sorted out, though, it’s time to go through the rest of Elrond’s Third Age career. Remember, we traced his early days in the First Age and his war-filled Second Age adventures so far. While Elrond steers more and more into the “wise old Elf” feel as the Third Age plays out, that doesn’t mean he’s uninvolved. On the contrary, he continues to be one of the driving forces behind Middle-earth politics — which seems fitting for one of the two surviving witnesses of Sauron’s initial almost-defeat at the hands of the Last Alliance. It’s almost like Elrond can’t let that episode go. Instead, he stays in the driver’s seat as Sauron prepares to return and the Free Peoples of Middle-earth try to survive long enough to take on the Dark Lord when he appears once again. But we’ll pick up with that part of the action next times.
That’s it for now. Until next time, friends.