In the second episode of our series on Elrond, we dive into the hero's Second Age career. From a leader in Lindon to defeat at the hands of Sauron to literally building a new headquarters for himself in the form of Rivendell, it’s during this early phase of his career that Elrond truly establishes himself as a wise, fearless leader of Elves and Men.
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Hi. Welcome to the Halfling. I’m your host, Jaron Pak, and this is episode 11: Elrond and Rivendell.
Last time, we introduced a character that, on the surface, requires no introduction at all. Elrond is a staple of all of Tolkien’s writings. He hosts Bilbo and the Dwarves on their way to the Lonely Mountain. He calls a last-minute council to decide the fate of the One Ring. He becomes Aragorn’s father-in-law. The guy is just all over the place. But, of course, as we dug into the early days of the half-elven counselor, we found that there are actually a lot of things that Elrond does behind the scenes. Unless you’re an avid reader of Tolkien’s supplementary or posthumously published material, most of this information never reaches the surface. Digging it up and cobbling it together creates a much more thorough picture of an Elven hero that is much more than a dude hanging out in Rivendell with some nuggets of wisdom to share.
We’ve already gone over Elrond’s earliest days. He was born at the tail end of the First Age, where he witnessed the dramatic events that led up to the War of Wrath and the defeat of Morgoth. During that time, he was captured — as a six-year-old Elven child, no less — and held as a high-profile prisoner during an Elven civil war. His parents were lost at sea, and he ended up being raised by his captors. Eventually, the specifics of Elrond’s day-to-day life are lost in the apocalyptic end of the age. The region of Beleriand, where he was living, is slowly flooded, and Elrond joins a large migration of Elves, Men, Dwarves, and all sorts of other creatures who head east to escape the calamity. When the chaos stops, the land has been reshaped into the modern Middle-earth map that we’re all used to, and Elrond has landed in an Elven kingdom called Lindon away the upper left-hand corner of that map. In fact, it's the area right to the left of what later becomes the Shire. In that new realm, Elrond becomes super important. In fact, for a while, he’s almost always mentioned right alongside the region’s ruler, the High King Gil-galad. In typical immortal fashion, the story gets really long and quiet here. The pair of wise Elves rule their kingdom for, like, several centuries in peace. Morgoth is gone. The world is done reshaping itself — for now. The Elves are living relatively peaceful lives. All is good.
Then, one day, this guy named Annatar shows up in Lindon, offering to help Elrond and Gil-galad. The pair of leaders are uncomfortable with this stranger. He’s good-looking — like, weirdly good-looking — and he calls himself the “Lord of Gifts.” He’s apparently traveling around offering legitimately valuable gifts of knowledge, wisdom, and craftsmanship to the Elves of Middle-earth — which, who on earth does that? Gil-galad and Elrond feel the same way, and they decide this Annatar guy isn’t trustworthy. They shut the door on him and even send messengers to the nearby Elvish kingdoms warning them to be careful if this solicitous fellow called Annatar shows up offering them gifts.
And, yeah, that’s definitely the right call, because Annatar definitely isn’t legit. In fact, he’s none other than Sauron himself. Now, when I say Sauron, you have to think bigger than a glowing eyeball on a tower or even a ghostly apparition or a dude dressed in black armor. Sauron is a very powerful Maiar — one of the angelic spirits that descend into Middle-earth at its beginning to shape the world. Early on, he’s corrupted by Morgoth and serves as his second in command for ages. I’ll have to do a series on Sauron at some point, too, because his early history is chock-full of crazy stuff. For our purposes here, though, at the end of the First Age, the mantle shifts from the now defeated Morgoth to his lieutenant, Sauron. Of course, the good guys just won a world-shattering victory, and Sauron has practically no resources at disposal, so he books it out of the sinking Beleriand and lays low for a long while. How long? About a thousand years or so, but who’s counting, right?
Then, a millennium into the Second Age, Sauron decides that his prolonged sabbatical is done. He takes a look around and realizes that, after defeating Morgoth, the Valar — remember, those are like the the Maiar but they’re also the angelic guardians of the world — yeah, the Valar, they seem to have just abandoned Middle-earth and headed back to their comfy digs in the Blessed Realm away in the West. And Sauron figures that, hey, if they’re not interested in keeping the peace then, you know, I think I’m going to start, you know, stirring up trouble and stuff. He picks out this lovely plot of land called Mordor to serve as his home base, and he starts quietly building up his power on the fringe of the newly-shaped world. As he does this, though, he realizes that it’s going to take a really long time before he’s ready to take on the kingdoms of Elves away up north (not to mention those upstart Númenóreans away out in the water on their island) and actually succeed. So, he decides to do some good ol’ subterfuge and trickery to grease the wheels for his eventual conquest of the continent.
This is the point where Sauron uses his still-considerable power to clothe himself in a physical body that is really good-looking. In The Silmarillion, it describes him by saying that “his hue was still that of one both fair and wise.” It also says, “Only to Lindon he did not come, for Gil-galad and Elrond doubted him and his fair-seeming, and though they knew not who in truth he was, they would not admit him to that land.”
While Sauron is rejected in Lindon, though, elsewhere the hunky stranger is welcomed with open arms. This makes it a bit awkward when messages from Lindon arrive warning them against this newbie on the block. But Sauron — er, Annatar, sorry about that, is a pretty clever guy, and the messages set off a sort of PR/propaganda war between Gil-galad and Elrond on the one side and Annatar on the other. I’m not kidding. There’s literally a whole chunk of text in The Silmarillion where Annatar kind of innocently is like “I don’t get why they’re so stubborn and hostile toward me. I mean, I’m just trying to help. I guess they’re just more interested in being right than helping others.” In the back and forth, it’s worth pointing out that Elrond receives a direct mention — which shows that he’s on the Dark Lord’s radar. In The Silmarillion, Annatar name drops our hero by saying, “wise in all lore is Master Elrond.” Sure, he’s saying this to make the hero look bad, but still, it implies that even at this early point, Elrond already has a serious reputation as a loremaster and a wise leader.
Anyway, long story short, Annatar seduces a group of Elves and their leader, Celebrimbor — who will also get his own series soon, I hope. These Elves live in a nearby kingdom called Eregion. Now, I know there are a lot of names and geography flying around here, but the area of Eregion is actually an easy one to peg. This is the region that the Fellowship of the Ring passes through before they reach Moria. Remember the old ruin where those crow-like birds spy on them? Yeah, that’s Eregion. At this point, though, the land is filled with life-bringing Elves, and it’s a much more vibrant place. Their leader is huge into crafting — like it’s his thing — and he gets a ton of valuable information from Annatar. In fact, they have such good chemistry that the two dudes join forces and create a bunch of magical rings …yeah, those rings. Not the Ring, though. Not yet. See, after he “helps” the Elves create these nifty rings, Sauron goes and secretly forges his own Ring in Mordor with the goal to dominate and control the wills of the Elves wearing the rings that he helped to make. As soon as this is done, though, Celebrimbor — who really is a talented guy and a good egg, in spite of being duped by Sauron — well, he realizes that he’s been tricked and immediately rejects Sauron. The Dark Lord is furious that Celebrimbor turned on him, and he prepares to attack and claim the rings — including three rings that Celebrimbor made without his help. These, the Elven Lord wisely sends to new protectors, with two of them going to Gil-galad in Lindon.
Alright, I know that’s a lot, and we’ll break that whole event down in more detail in other episodes. For now, suffice it to say, Annatar tricks the Elves of Eregion into making rings. He makes his own Ring to control them. Celebrimbor figures out the plan in time to hide the three Elven Rings before Sauron comes looking for the rest.
Now, once again, timing is important here. Sauron doesn’t attack Celebrimbor like two seconds later. He slowly gathers his forces and attacks the Elves 93 years later. And, of course, when Sauron arrives in the area, our boy, Elrond, is at the center of the action. Two years into the fighting, Sauron attacks Eriador, which, if you’re looking at a map, is basically the big area in the north between Lindon on the coasts in the west and the Misty Mountains away to the east. This is too close for comfort for Gil-galad, and he sends a portion of his soldiers under the command of Elrond to help resist the invaders. By the time Elrond arrives near Sauron’s armies, though, Eregion has been overrun and Sauron has captured the rings (except for the three Elven Rings) and killed Celebrimbor.
With an entire Elven kingdom in ruin and a hostile army nearby, Elrond doesn’t attack. He’s completely outgunned, and he doesn’t stand much of a chance no matter what happens. However, the presence of his organized military force does attract a lot of scattered soldiers and refugees. When Sauron realizes that the three Elven Rings are hidden, he lashes out in fury on the nearest target he can find: Elrond’s little army of fugitives. In Unfinished Tales, it explains the situation by saying that in black anger Sauron, “turned upon the forces of Elrond. Elrond had gathered such few of the Elves of Eregion as had escaped, but he had no force to withstand the onset.”
In this darkest of moments, Tolkien applies his favorite literary device, the eucatastrophe. This is a term coined by Tolkien himself, which, in essence, implies a sudden turn in fortune when certain defeat is turned into sudden victory. The Eagles arriving at the Battle of Five Armies is a eucatastrophe. So are the Rohirrim — and later Aragorn — showing up in the nick of time at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.
In this case, Elrond is saved when a group of Dwarves and Elves show up from out of nowhere and attack Sauron from behind. Where did these life-saving friends come from? Why from Khazad-dûm, of course! See, Eregion is right next to Moria. Remember, the Fellowship decides while they’re in Eregion that they’re going to go seek out the hidden gate. Well, during this time, Khazad-dûm is still in its heyday. It’s full of Dwarves, and they are good friends with many of the Elves, both in Eregion and Lothlorien, on either side of their mountainous kingdom. Well, the elves of Lothlorien also send reinforcements to help fight Sauron. These, along with an army of Dwarves, pour out of Khazad-dûm and catch Sauron’s armies off guard.
Now, I need to clarify that all of this part of the story comes with a big asterisk. The account of Elrond being attacked and saved in Eregion comes in a version of Tolkien’s writings that is included in the book Unfinished Tales. While it was written by Tolkien and officially published as part of the Middle-earth canon, though, the story clearly was still very underdeveloped when Tolkien died. So, there’s a good chance that some of these details would have changed if the Professor had been able to write a final version. That’s often the case with many of these facts, but in this event, the details of this portion of the text are particularly difficult to fit in with other officially published material.
That said, most of the information I just gave you is the only version out there, so it doesn’t conflict with much else. So, we’re going to take it as an official part of the story. Elrond is attacked by Sauron and is saved from destruction when the Dwarves of Khazad-dûm and the Elves of Lothlorien sally out and attack Sauron from behind. Sauron leaves Elrond alone for the time being and turns to attack these new pests — and, truth be told, he’s still way too strong for either group to have a hope of defeating him. After doing their distracting job, the Dwarves and Lothlorien Elves beat a hasty retreat back into Khazad-dûm, where they shut the magic gates and Sauron’s Orcs and Trolls can’t get in. In the meantime, while Elrond isn’t destroyed, he’s definitely still defeated. In Unfinished Tales, it says that “Elrond was able to extricate himself, but he was forced away northwards, and it was at that time [in the year 1697, according to the Tale of Years] that he established a refuge and stronghold at Imladris (Rivendell).”
That’s right. We’ve officially come to the founding of Rivendell itself. It’s hard to believe it when you think of the peaceful Elven escape of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but at its genesis, Rivendell, or Imladris in the Elvish, is actually founded in the middle of a war. Not just that, it becomes a critical focal point in the war effort itself. It continues to attract refugees as Sauron hunts down the scattered Men and Elves in the area. This means, before long, Elrond has a sizeable number of soldiers at his disposal in his new stronghold.
In the rest of the area, though, Sauron is completely victorious in Eriador, and eventually, he comes up against Lindon away on the northwestern coast of the land. Even without Elrond’s cooped up soldiers away in Rivendell, Gil-galad still has the resources to put up a fight — at least for a while. But, just like everywhere else, the situation deteriorates, and it looks like Sauron is going to be completely victorious. And then, lo and behold, another eucatastrophe appears from out of nowhere — the Men of Númenor arrive in Lindon in the nick of time. Gil-galad sent a call for help earlier, and now the overpowered men of the island nation land on the mainland and join forces with Gil-galad. The dynamite combo is far too much for Sauron’s armies. They’re crushed and, as they retreat, the surviving elements suddenly find themselves trapped by another army, led by Elrond out of Rivendell.
This utterly defeats Sauron’s initial attempt to conquer the continent. However, the Dark Lord has most of the Rings of Power, and he heads back to Mordor to plan his next move. In the meantime, Gil-galad calls a council. Interestingly, there’s a footnote in the text that calls this “the first White Council,” but Christopher Tolkein clarifies that this isn’t the same group that gathers during The Hobbit — although it may be where it gets its namesake.
Anyway, this proto-White Council decides that this nifty new stronghold called Rivendell is really helpful. So, they officially make it part of the Elven defense network and Gil-galad puts Elrond in charge, making him his official vice-regent of the area. At this point, he also gives him one of the Three Elvish Rings to help him with the job — but we’ll talk about that in the next episode.
For now, suffice it to say that Elrond is put in charge of guarding Eriador for Gil-galad. He has an Elven Ring and rules from his up-and-coming new fortress of Rivendell. Sauron is defeated and licking his wounds back in Mordor, too. While there’s a lot of damage to clean up, and the kingdom of Eregion is no more, overall, things ended much better than they could have. We’re just halfway through the Second Age, at this point, too. But we also happen to have come to the next big “immortals live really long lives and do things really slowly” gap in Elrond’s story. So, we’re going to leave our hero here, for the moment, building up his first independent command and enjoying his newfound power as one of the premier Elven leaders this side of the Misty Mountains.
Next week, though, we’ll see Sauron make the first of his many comebacks. Elrond will be ready for the challenge, as his new fortress becomes the primary gathering point for the Last Alliance of Elves and Men that is formed to stop the Dark Lord once and for all.
That’s it for now. Until next time, friends.