As we wrap up our time with Glorfindel, we check out all of the things that kept the Elf-lord busy during the Third Age of Middle-earth history. From confronting the Witch-king to helping Frodo destroy the Ring, Glorfindel gets a lot done during the twilight of his venerable career.
If you're interested in supporting the show, you can do so at buymeacoffee.com/thehalfling. Many thanks!!Support the show
Hi. Welcome to The Halfling. I’m your host, Jaron Pak, and you’re listening to Episode 3: Glorfindel’s Third Age Adventures.
In the last few weeks, we’ve slowly picked apart and then reassembled the epic career of the Elf-lord Glorfindel. Just to recap what we’ve covered so far, good ol’ Glorfy starts his early life during the Years of the Trees. From there, the warrior follows his king into exile as the First Age begins. At the end of that age, Glorfindel dies in fiery combat with a Balrog, saving a bunch of refugees in the process.
After his death, Glorfindel’s body is broken, and his spirit goes to the Halls of Mandos, where it’s purged, recuperates, and is eventually given a new corporeal form. This reincarnation process is unique in the sense that Glorfindel is stronger when he returns. He’s also one of the only exiled Elves allowed to have a new body due to his noble deeds. Once back in the flesh, Glorfindel spends some time in the Blessed Realm before he is sent back to Middle-earth to act as an agent of the angelic guardians of Middle-earth called the Valar. This puts him in the same camp as the five wizards that are packed up into fragile old-man bodies and shipped off to Middle-earth over the next few thousand years, as well. In other words, Glorfindel is sent to help the Free Peoples of the World resist the menace of a resurgent Sauron who has recently forged the One Ring and begun to push for world domination. While Glorfindel arrives during the Second Age, Tolkien writes very little about his deeds during that time, only making it clear that he meant to eventually beef up the character’s role as a hero during the early wars with Sauron — a task that he tragically never got around to.
Okay. That’s where we left things off last week. At this point, Glorfindel’s source material shifts into the Third Age. That age starts right after the One Ring is cut from Sauron’s hand. This provides a long chunk of peace as the world licks its wounds and tries to recover from the Dark Lord’s first run at power.
While Glorfindel is around during this peaceful era, the next time we hear about him directly is nearly two thousand years into the age. At this point, Sauron is building up power as the Necromancer in Mirkwood. The Dark Lord isn’t operating openly, but his servant, the Witch-king of Angmar, is brazenly causing havoc in northern Middle-earth. The Lord of the Nazgûl seems unstoppable until he runs into a multi-pronged coalition of his enemies. The whole story culminates in a huge conflict called the Battle of Fornost. In it, an army of Elves led by their lord Cirdan is helped by a huge relief force sent from Gondor, and together the good guys kick the Black Captain’s butt.
Again, a lot of exposition here, but suffice it to say that 2,000 years into the Third Age, the Witch-king almost defeats the good guys, but at the last possible second, they unite and crush his armies.
As the Chief of the Nine retreats with what’s left of his forces, a cavalry division of Gondorians catches him on one side and at that same moment another group of horsemen — or more accurately horse-elves — ride out of Rivendell, and together they utterly destroy what’s left of their enemies. In the appendix for The Return of the King, it breaks down the drama, explaining that the catastrophe is so bad that the Witch-king doesn’t have a single man or orc left to command on that side of the Misty Mountains. Dramatic? Yes. Freaking awesome? Absolutely.
The thing that makes this little episode even better, though, comes from the person who leads the cavalry of Rivendell — an Elf-Lord by the name of Glorfindel. That’s right, Glorfindel is operating out of Rivendell at this point, and his arrival ensures that the Witch-king’s bid for power is completely snuffed out. But the hero does more than just that.
Before the battle ends, a little moment plays out between the leaders of the armies of Men and Elves and the Witch-king himself. As his army melts into the dust, the Lord of the Nazgûl suddenly appears out of nowhere in black robes on a black horse. Furious at his defeat, he charges straight at his greatest enemy, the heir to the Gondorian throne named Eärnur. The terror of the king causes the man’s horse to panic and run away, even though its rider wants to stay and resist the Black Captain. At this point, who should show up on the scene but Glorfindel himself. In the appendix to The Return of the King, it says that “Glorfindel rode up then on his white horse, and in the midst of his laughter the Witch-king turned to flight and passed into the shadows.” After this awesome display of spiritual dominance, Glorfindel stops the heir of Gondor from chasing after the villain in search of vengeance. It’s at this point that he utters an interesting little prophecy, saying, “Do not pursue him! He will not return to this land. Far off yet is his doom, and not by the hand of man will he fall.” That’s right. Glorfindel is the prescient character who foresees Éowyn’s epic duel with the Black Rider over a thousand years later.
As a quick side note before we move on, I love the way Tolkien wraps up Eärnur’s spat with the Witch-king. After being embarrassed by his enemy, the victorious Gondorian captain returns home and seventy long years later he’s crowned King of Gondor. Even after all this time, though, the king rankles over his past embarrassment. It also just so happens that, at this point, the Witch-king has taken over the nearby city of Minas Ithil, the fortress that he still occupies during The Lord of the Rings story. The black-clad villain issues a challenge to the new king, mocking his past failures and taunting him to fight him one-on-one. At first, Eärnur is restrained, but several years later the mocking challenge is repeated, and the king rides off in a fury to the fortress of his enemies. Not surprisingly, he doesn’t come back — who didn’t see that one coming, right? He also happens to have no children, which means he leaves the throne vacant. Talk about negligence of duty. This is what sets up the “kingless Gondor” scenario that drags on for the better part of a thousand years before a fella by the name of Aragorn — who’s related through another branch of the royal family — shows up to take his rightful place on the throne. Pretty neat how it all comes together, huh?
Anyway, back to Glorfindel. After his prophetic words, the Elf lays low again for a long while. Chances are he’s still busy helping his wise companions, like Elrond and Gandalf, as they labored to resist the rising menace of the Dark Lord. But we really have no idea what he’s doing, since Tolkien doesn’t give us any details.
The next time we see Glorfindel is during The Fellowship of the Ring book. While many people are probably familiar with this part of the story, I’m going to run through it for anyone who’s only watched the movie adaptations.
Glorfindel’s story picks up when Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin, and Aragorn are trying to get from Weathertop to Rivendell. With Frodo’s knife wound causing issues, the group begins to feel that their task is hopeless. At one point, they hear the sound of an approaching horse, and, assuming it's a Black Rider, they try to hide. However, as the animal approaches, they notice that it doesn’t sound menacing. Its hooves are described as making a light clippety-clip sound and the beast’s equipment also creates a faint ring, as if from small, tinkling bells. The rider, of course, is Glorfindel. The Elf-Lord is aware of the companions before he even physically sees them — because, of course, he’s able to do that — and he immediately sets about helping them to finish the perilous stage of their journey.
As he helps, Glorfindel informs them that Elrond sent him, along with others, out from Rivendell several days earlier to search for the Ringbearer. He encounters three Black Riders during the search, but they run away from the powerful hero, who chases them for a while. He then finds Frodo and company’s trail and tracks them down. Glorfindel knows Aragorn already, and the two are overjoyed to see each other. I also love to point out that Glorfindel’s spiritual presence is so powerful that as he checks out Frodo’s cursed wound, the mere touch of his fingers causes Frodo to feel less chilled and in pain.
Once united with his quarry, Glorfindel escorts the group to the Ford of Rivendell. He lets Frodo ride on his horse and he gives everyone a clear, tasteless liquor that helps them stay focused and invigorated. When they reach the ford, the Black Riders spring their trap, but Glorfindel orders his horse to ride ahead and get Frodo safely across the river. He knows that if the Riders attempt to cross, it’ll set off a flood — sorry, Arwen fans, no spell casting words are used in the moment. But don’t worry, we get even better proof of the Elf’s spiritual strength in just a second. In preparation for the coming deluge, Glorfindel and Aragorn quickly start a fire. Then, when the flood arrives, they charge out with burning sticks and attack the Riders that are still on their side of the river. In The Fellowship of the Ring, it explains that the attack is more spiritual than physical. Frodo says that “I thought that I saw a white figure that shone and did not grow dim like the others. Was that Glorfindel then?” In response, Gandalf says that “Yes, you saw him for a moment as he is upon the other side: one of the mighty of the First-born. He is an Elf-lord of a house of princes.” Right before this interaction, Gandalf also explains that Glorfindel is one of the Elven-wise, adding that these are, “lords of the Eldar from beyond the furthest seas. They do not fear the Ringwraiths, for those who have dwelt in the Blessed Realm live at once in both worlds, and against both the Seen and the Unseen they have great power.”
After his epic rescue mission, Glorfindel attends the council of Elrond, where he adds his two cents in a couple of important moments. First, he talks about the enigmatic Tom Bombadil. Glorfindel shoots down the idea of sending the Ring to him for safekeeping since it would only postpone the time before Sauron would inevitably find it. He also helps break down the options that the group has to dispose of the Ring, outlining the fact that they can’t destroy the Ring easily and the best course of action would be to throw it into the depths of the Sea. While his counsel isn’t taken, he is clearly shown as a respected member of Rivendell with deep wisdom and hidden knowledge.
After the Council, Glorfindel only comes up two more times. First, he’s mentioned when Elrond and Gandalf are choosing the members of the Fellowship of the Ring. During the selection process, they discuss the option of bringing Glorfindel — which, sign me up for that version of the story, pretty please — but ultimately they decide that his overpowered status wouldn’t be of any use on the secret mission. Last, but not least, Glorfindel is mentioned as part of the group of Elves that arrive in Gondor to witness the marriage of Arwen and Aragorn.
And that’s it. For real this time. No more reincarnations or epic missions. We don’t even hear what or where Glorfindel’s story ends. Chances are, at some point, he ends up sailing into the West, back to the Blessed Realm, where he lives out the rest of his immortal days in peace.
When you cobble together all of the pieces of Glorfindel’s two-part story, you get an incredible narrative that stretches across thousands of years. From dueling balrogs to helping wizards, scaring Nazgûl to saving Frodo, Glorfindel is a mover and a shaker throughout Middle-earth’s long history. In fact, there are few characters that are so intimately involved at so many different points in the legendarium.
While it's understandable in a practical sense, the fact that Glorfindel was unceremoniously axed from both cinematic adaptations of The Fellowship of the Ring has left an itch unscratched for countless Tolkien fans. The question is, will Amazon’s show finally give this Elven-wise lord, warrior, counselor, and hero his cinematic due? Only time will tell.
That’s it for now. Until next time, friends.