In our last episode with Elrond, we walk with the half-Elven lord through the rest of the Third Age. We see him wield an Elven Ring, tussle with the Witch-king of Angmar, join the White Council, help Bilbo, and get really involved in the War of the Ring ...all before he signs off on his 6,000-plus Middle-earth career by heading overseas into the West.
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Hi. Welcome to the Halfling. I’m your host, Jaron Pak, and this is Episode 14: Elrond the Wise.
We’ve spent most of the last couple of episodes breaking down Elrond’s extremely complex family tree. Before that, we traced his story through his youth in the First Age and on through his war-time years in the Second Age. I’m not going to summarize the whole thing in detail again — check out the beginning of the last episode if you want a more thorough rundown of what we covered so far — but suffice it to say that Elrond fought Sauron and founded Rivendell before joining the Last Alliance to overthrow the Dark Lord at the end of the Second Age. Then, he got married and had his twin boys and a girl as the Third Age got going. Oh yeah, at one point he’s also given an Elven Ring. We’ve mentioned that a few times now, but we haven’t gone into detail about just how important that little factoid is. So we’ll start there today.
The Three Elven Rings of power are interesting factors in Tolkien’s stories. On the one hand, they’re clearly really powerful and important. For instance, he makes it pretty clear that Galadriel’s ring is a large part of why Lothlorien is such a thriving Elven haven, even though it’s so close to Mordor. When Sauron makes the One Ring during the Second Age, he’s also desperate to get control of the Three Elven Rings, in particular, and is furious when the Elf Lords are able to hide them from him. This is partly because those three rings also happen to be the only Rings of Power that Sauron doesn’t help make in one way or another. All of the Rings for Men and Dwarves — and obviously his own Ring — are heavily influenced by his domineering spirit. But the three Elven Rings are made without him, and they remain pure.
In fact, it says in “Unfinished Tales” that the Elven Rings are made “with a different power and purpose.” Now, they’re still created at least with the knowledge that Sauron gives the Elves, so they can still fall under the domination of the One Ring, but the author goes to great lengths to clarify that they’re unique, special, and unsullied by evil. On top of that, they’re high-profile targets when Sauron comes ring-hunting in the middle of the Second Age, and when he doesn’t find them, he guesses the truth, that they’ve been sent to secret guardians. Now, being a clever guy, the Dark Lord assumes that this must mean Gil-galad and Galadriel, and sure enough the book says that Galadriel gets the White Ring, Nenya, which she uses to keep Lothlorien strong and beautiful. The other two rings, the Rings of Air and of Fire, are given to Gil-galad, the High Elven King in Lindon. While there are different versions of what Gil-galad does with these two rings as well as when he chooses to pass them along to new owners, we can pretty certainly trace one of them, at lesat. A bit later in the text we hear that when it’s decided to keep Rivendell up and running, Gil-galad gives the Ring of Air to our favorite half-Elvish hero, Elrond.
So, what is this ring? First of all, the Ring of Air has several different names. It also goes by Vilya, the Blue Ring, and the Ring of Sapphire. In “The Return of the King,” we see Elrond openly wearing this ring when Frodo and Bilbo meet him on their collective way to the Grey Havens at the end of the book. The Ring is described as a gold circle with a great blue stone. It’s also referred to as the “mightiest of the Three.”
While this is a nifty description, though, it still doesn’t answer the question of what it does — and I’m going to have to confess right now that, while I’m going to try to answer that question, the truth is, it isn’t going to be very satisfactory. This isn’t like the One Ring. Even though the way it works is still very vague, there are at least some specific attributes about that Ring that you can point out. It makes you invisible — or brings you into the spiritual world, however you want to put it. It also helps you understand different languages and can extend a mortal life.
When it comes to the Three Elven Rings, though, they aren’t wielded like weapons. Instead, they’re cryptically used to ward off decay, to heal, and to bring understanding. At the Council of Elrond, Elrond himself explains that the Three Rings aren’t idle, adding that “But they were not made as weapons of war or conquest: that is not their power. Those who made them did not desire strength or domination or hoarded wealth, but understanding, making, and healing, to preserve all things unstained.” He also says that the Elves have accomplished these things with their Rings to a certain degree, but that it’s clearly come at a cost.
In a letter that Tolkien writes to a fan in April of 1954, the author also points out that the Three Rings “were precisely endowed with the power of preservation, not of birth.” He also says that, while they were unsullied by Sauron, they were created thanks to his instruction and teaching, which is why ultimately they could be controlled by the One Ring if Sauron were to recover it.
Anway, all of this to say that Elrond’s possession of not just one of the Three, but the mightiest of the Three Rings, while it doesn’t give him specific powers, definitely is a really big deal. And you can see the results of that power in Rivendell itself, which remains a haven for weary travelers, is known as the Last Homely House, and gains a reputation as a center of wisdom and safety for centuries and even millennia of Middle-earth history.
I wanted to break all of that down because it helps to understand what Elrond is up to while Sauron is gathering his strength and preparing for his comeback tour. Sure, the half-Elven lord doesn’t do a ton of obvious stuff for the first half of the Third Age. But his Elven stronghold, propped up by the power of one of the Three Elven Rings — which he can use while the One Ring is lost, remember — that home remains a central point of political power.
Okay, so Elrond rules from Rivendell for the first half of the Third Age, and for the most part, things go pretty swimmingly. He’s got his new family, his ring, and his growing reputation as the local wiseman. Or at least wise half-man. Anyway, it isn’t until around 1,400 years into the Third Age that the next serious threat rolls around. Around that time, the Witch-king, that is, the leader of the Ringwraiths, sets up a kingdom called Angmar in northern Middle-earth and wages war on the entire region. Rivendell is besieged around this time, and while it doesn’t fall, there is a lot of devastation and death in the local area. However, it says in the Appendix of “The Return of the King” that after its initial success, the forces of Angmar are slowed down for a while “by the Elvenfolk coming from Lindon; and from Rivendell, for Elrond brought help over the Mountains out of Lórien.” So, Elrond and Rivendell don’t just play crucial roles here. Elrond literally gets help from his in-laws to beat off the attack. Talk about asking your parents for help. Eventually — as in, several hundred years later, again — Angmar is destroyed, and Elrond’s soldiery, led by the awesome Glorfindel, help trap their enemies in the final battle, ensuring that none of the Witch-king’s forces escape to tell the tale. Rivendell doesn’t come under a serious attack again all the way until “The Lord of the Rings” story plays out.
And yes, that’ means we’ve finally reached the point where we’re going to begin overlapping with the Elrond that we know from “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” stories. Since this part of his tale is more well-known, I’m going to move a bit quicker as we wrap this thing up. A bit after the tussle with the Witch-king, Elrond serves in yet another crucial role on yet another executive board of critical importance. I’m talking about the White Council. Also known as the Council of the Wise, this is a group of individuals that is as hazy as it is impressive. We know from various points when it’s talked about that the White Council includes Saruman, Gandalf, Galadriel, Elrond, and Círdan. However, it appears that others may have been on the executive board, as well. In “The Silmarillion,” it says that “in that time was first made the Council of the Wise that is called the White Council, and therein were Elrond and Galadriel and Círdan, and other lords of the Eldar, and with them were Mithrandir and Curunír.” Mithrandir and Curunír are the Elvish names for Gandalf and Saruman, respectively. So, while we only get to know the main names, it’s pretty clear that the reference to “other lords of the Eldar” means other people are invited into this inner circle, too.
While its specific membership is uncertain, the reason for this elite council of the wise is very clear. “The Silmarillion” tells us that the council is “in the Third Age formed to oppose Sauron.” In the book “The Peoples of Middle-earth,” J.R.R. Tolkien's son, Christopher Tolkien, also records that this council "is formed to unite and direct the forces of the West, in resistance to the shadow." And it tries to do just that, though with mixed success. When it’s formed, Saruman is appointed as the leader of the group — which isn’t a great start — and while Elrond doesn’t headline too much of its activity, he does help whenever the group meets — which isn’t too often.
As a quick aside, there’s a note in “Unfinished Tales,” where Christopher Tolkien explains that this council appears to be an echo of the gathering long before that we’ve already talked about when it’s decided to keep Rivendell up and running. The group that meets to make that decision, which includes both Elrond and Gil-galad, is referred to as both “the Council” and “the first White Council.” However, there isn’t a direct connection between that and the later, more official “White Council” which Elrond formally joins as a member.
Anyway, the official Third Age version of the group is created just a few centuries before “The Lord of the Rings.” Its members primarily keep an eye on the Necromancer in Mirkwood, and their activities culminate in an attack on that villain during the events of “The Hobbit.” While Sauron flees, it turns out to just be a fake, as he already had made plans to move to Mordor anyway. After that, the White Council fades from importance, particularly thanks to the treachery of Saruman.
Of course, just before that last hurrah of the White Council, Elrond also famously hosts a group of 13 Dwarves, a wizard, and a Hobbit on their way to the Lonely Mountain. And let’s not forget that, along with some classic Elvish hospitality, the half-Elven counselor also helps find the moon letters on the map that helps the quest end in success.
After quietly having a huge impact on “The Hobbit” narrative, Elrond proceeds to do the same for “The Lord of the Rings.” As the War of the Ring heats up, Elrond’s home is Frodo’s first end goal. Throughout the Hobbit’s travels through the Shire, the Old Forest, Bree, and beyond, all Frodo is trying to do is get to Rivendell and the safety of Elrond’s Ring-protected home — even if no one knows that Elrond officially has an Elven Ring at that point.
After barely dodging Black Riders thanks to the help of Glorfindel (not Arwen — see our first series of episodes for that one) Elrond heals Frodo of his knife wound and then hosts an impromptu council to decide the fate of the One Ring. I like to point this out, because in Peter Jackson’s films, the council is shown as a very deliberate event — even though it’s ridiculous to think messengers could ride out to invite people and the attendees could respond to the invitation in that short of a time. No. In “The Fellowship of the Ring” book, Elrond describes the attendance of the council as they discuss the fate of the One Ring this way, “That is the purpose for which you are called hither. Called, I say, though I have not called you to me, strangers from distant lands. You have come and are here met, in this very nick of time, by chance as it may seem. Yet it is not so. Believe rather that it is so ordered that we, who sit here, and none others, must now find counsel for the peril of the world.”
So, Elrond serves as the catalyst for a council that he never formally calls. He oversees the proceedings, helps fill in the backstory of the Ring, and ultimately steers the discussion toward the inevitable decision to try to destroy Sauron’s overpowered bauble. After this, Elrond is a primary person who helps choose the members of the Fellowship of the Ring, too. In fact, he seriously considers sending someone like Glorfindel before the wizard talks him into sending Merry and Pippin, instead. To top it all off, before the Fellowship heads out, Elrond sends scouts and messengers ahead of them. They confirm that the Black Riders are scattered and they even arrive in Lothlorien ahead of the group and help fill in Galadriel and Celeborn regarding the situation.
And, at this point, we’re really getting close to the end of Elrond’s story. Most of his activities impact “The Lord of the Rings” through his children from here forward. Sure, technically in the movies, Elrond personally delivers the sword Andúril to Aragorn, but this never happens in the books. While this is wrong, though, he does keep the shards of the sword safe until the exiled king is ready to reforge them — which, in the books, happens just before the Fellowship departs from Rivendell.
A bit later, in “The Return of the King,” Elrond’s sons arrive with a group of the Dunedain. They bring a prophetic word from their father, which goes, “The days are short. If thou art in haste, remember the Paths of the Dead.” So, yeah, Elrond is one of the primary drivers behind Aragorn’s decision to take that deadly yet necessary road.
Finally, after all of the drama is complete, Elrond heads to Gondor, where he witnesses the union of his daughter, Arwen, with the new king, Aragorn. He’s happy to see the success of the Free Peoples of the west after all of these millennia fighting Sauron. However, I feel for the guy for a couple of different reasons.
First, he knows that his time in Middle-earth is about to end. His Elven Ring is also useless after the One Ring is destroyed, too. Worst of all, though, is his separation from Arwen. Remember, his wife has been gone for five hundred years, by this point, and Arwen has been the primary female figure in his life ever since. When she marries Aragorn and the father and daughter need to part ways, it’s a really tough time for our hero. In “The Return of the King,” it briefly mentions the parting, which takes place in Rohan as Elrond and others head back toward Rivendell. In the book, she says goodbye to her brothers. Then it adds this heartwrenching bit, “None saw her last meeting with Elrond her father, for they went up into the hills and there spoke long together, and bitter was their parting that should endure beyond the ends of the world.”
After this really tough goodbye, Elrond returns to Rivendell for a short time, but his heart is feeling the calling of the sea away to the West, and he decides to wrap up his more than 6,000-year career in Middle-earth. His sons stay behind in Rivendell, along with Celeborn, but Elrond joins the other Elven Ring keepers — Galadriel and Gandalf — as well as two bearers of the One Ring — Bilbo and Frodo — and sails off to the Blessed Realm away in the West of Middle-earth. Interestingly, this event happens 3021 years into the Third Age, and in the Appendix to “The Return of the King,” it’s one of the last recorded events before the Fourth Age begins. Seriously, it literally reads, “Frodo and Bilbo depart over Sea with the Three Keepers. The end of the Third Age.”
And that’s it. While Elrond doesn’t die, that’s all we get to know about his life. And, man, oh man, we’ve come a long way with this guy. After more than two entire ages, the half-elven lord departs from Middle-earth and heads toward a well-earned rest in the West. I’ve been wrestling with how to wrap up such a disjointed and scattered yet absolutely essential part of the Middle-earth story. I mean, think about it. We saw Elrond rise from captivity to become one of the premiere leaders in Middle-earth. He helps take down Sauron not once but twice, is a keeper of an Elven Ring, and is the genealogical crossroads for practically all of Tolkien’s most famous families. I think the best summary for this ageless hero comes in “The Fellowship of the Ring” at a feast before the Council of Elrond. In the text, it describes our hero this way, “The face of Elrond was ageless, neither old nor young, though in it was written the memory of many things both glad and sorrowful. His hair was dark as the shadows of twilight, and upon it was set a circlet of silver; his eyes were grey as a clear evening, and in them was a light like the light of stars. Venerable he seemed as a king crowned with many winters, and yet hale as a tried warrior in the fulness of his strength. He was the Lord of Rivendell and mighty among both Elves and Men.”
That’s it for now. Until next time, friends.