1. The Glorfindel Factsheet (Along With Some Speculation)
Who Is Glorfindel?
1. Lord of the house of the Golden Flower in Gondolin, one of Turgon's captains. Peripheral character in The Silmarillion.
2. An Elf lord living in Rivendell at the time of FoTR, who is sent out by Elrond to find Frodo and the other hobbits and protect them en route to Rivendell. Peripheral character in The Lord of the Rings. He is known to have lived in Valinor.
The most detailed physical description is from the feast at the Last Homely House in Rivendell: "Glorfindel was tall and straight; his hair was of shining gold, his face fair and young and fearless and full of joy; his eyes were bright and keen, and his voice like music; on his brow sat wisdom, and in his hand was strength."
FoTR, Book 2, Ch 1, Many Meetings
The Question: One or Two Glorfindels?
There is a great deal of controversy as to whether there were two different Glorfindels -one who died during the fall of Gondolin, and one who lived in Rivendell; or one Glorfindel who died and was reincarnated and allowed to return to Middle Earth. When LoTR was written it was not defined as to whether this was another elf with the same name, or the same elf. Tolkien later decided that it was the same elf in order to keep things as consistent as possible. Not everyone accepts Tolkien's later notes as canon. (I do, as IMHO, one Glorfindel makes a better story. Besides, he could have changed the name of the elf in the as yet unpublished Silmarillion, but he never did.) This decision is documented in HoME Vol 12, The Peoples of Middle Earth, Ch 13, Last Writings
What Does His Name Mean?
Golden hair or golden tresses
Etymology - spinde (deduced word)-tress or braid of hair, sphinde (old Noldorin) lock of hair, finde (Quenya), findel (Noldorin) Finnel (Sindarin).
glor, glaur gold (Noldorin), laure (Quenya)
(It is noted that laure is more properly from the light of the golden tree, Laurelin.It is not the metal) One can translate the name as "golden locks" or, as in Samwise's daughter Glorfinniel, "Goldilocks".
The Lost Road, Etymologies
Who Are His Ancestors and Relatives?
This is another mystery. Since golden hair is uncommon in elves outside certain families, where did Glorfindel get his hair? He lived in Gondolin, which would make him Noldorin, or possibly Sindarin. Tolkien clearly refers to Glorfindel in The Book of Lost Tales 2 as "that fair one of the Noldoli." He is not listed in the family tree of Finarfin, of whom Tolkien said "Alone among the Noldorin princes he and his descendants had golden hair." Since the Vanyar had golden hair, the best possibility is that he is the descendant of a Noldo and Vanya marriage back in Tirion.
Aerlinnel from this list contributed the interesting speculation that he could be a descendent of Finwë's daughter Lalwen. Lalwen, also called Lalwendë, her mother-name; also Írimë or Írien, is Finwë's second daughter with Indis, and she went with her brother Fingolfin into exile. This would fit with Gandalf's description of Glorfindel as "an elf-lord of a house of princes." It also would not contradict Tolkien's statement about "alone among princes," since princesses are not mentioned. Finally, it makes sense of why Glorfindel might follow Turgon and have a prominent place in his court.
Is He in The Fellowship of The Ring Movie?
No. Arwen stole his part, and his horse. And she had the audacity to put a bit and bridle on the horse.
Tolkien made a point of changing the bit and bridle in early editions to a decorated headstall in later editions as the elves did not use bits and bridles.
Shield: The House of the Golden Flower
"There stood the house of the Golden Flower who bared a rayed sun upon their shield, and their chief Glorfindel bare a mantle so broidered in threads of gold that it was diapered with Celadine as a field in spring; and his arms were damascened with cunning gold." From The Book of Lost Tales 2, The Fall of Gondolin
A reconstruction of the shield can be found at Emblems and Heraldry
What Part Did Glorfindel Play in the Council of Elrond?
Glorfindel is one of wiser voices at the council; obviously less so than Elrond or Gandalf, but superior to Erestor or Galdor. He speaks against sending the ring to Bombadil, and points out the only choices; "to send it over the Sea, or to destroy it". Glorfindel then suggests casting it into the deeps, a suggestion Gandalf rejects.
Timeline (assuming one Glorfindel):
Time of the Trees: Glorfindel lived in Tirion upon Tuna and followed Turgon when the Noldor left; but he did not take part in the kinslaying of Aqualondë. He is assumed to have entered Middle Earth by crossing the Helcaraxë with the host of Fingolfin.
First Age: He was a Lord of Turgon's court in Gondolin, and one of his captains.
326 - Aredhel, Turgon's sister, asks to travel from Gondolin, and he appoints three lords to accompany her. At one point Tolkien considered naming the three lords, and Glorfindel was one of the three.
From The Book of Lost Tales 2, The Fall of Gondolin
471- Battle of Unnumbered Tears.
510 -Died at the Fall of Gondolin, then went to the Halls of Mandos. It is unknown when he would have been reincarnated and sent to Valinor.
1200-1600 Somewhere during these years Glorfindel returned to Middle Earth. It was suggested by JRRT in "The Peoples of Middle Earth", Vol 12 of HoME, Last Writings, that he returned in order to help Gil-Galad and Elrond against the rising shadow of Sauron; and that he traveled from Valinor in a Numenorean ship.
3441 Battle of the Last Alliance -In Last Writings Christopher Tolkien quotes his father's note that "though not yet mentioned in the annals recording Sauron's defeat he played a notable and heroic part in the war."
1975 - Battle of Fornost.
3018 - Ring Quest.
Oct 9 Leaves Rivendell to find Frodo.
Oct 11 Drives the Riders off the bridge of Mitheithel.
Oct 18 Finds the hobbits and Strider.
Oct 20 Crosses the Fords of Bruinen.
Oct 24 Present at the feast at Rivendell.
Oct 25 Council of Elrond.
Other dates can be extrapolated from the movements of Arwen and Elrond: leaving Rivendell for Lorien, arriving in Lorien, etc., since it is stated that Glorfindel travels to Gondor with them.
May 1 Elrond and Arwen (and Glorfindel) set out from Rivendell.
May 20 Elrond, Arwen and escorting group arrives in Lórien.
May 27 Elrond, Arwen and group leave Lórien.
June 14 Elladan and Elrohir meet Elrond, Arwen and group, and bring them to Edoras.
June 16 Entire group sets out from Edoras for Gondor.
1 Lithe (the first of 3 days inserted in the Shire calender between June and July) Group arrives at Gondor.
What Makes Him Interesting?
Glorfindel is an unusual character, especially if you follow the one Glorfindel theory. He is the only known elf reincarnated and allowed to return to Middle Earth. He has an air of tragedy and mystery from his death in Gondolin, but is described by Tolkien in LoTR as "full of joy". He is heroic and attractive, and said to be "best beloved of the Gondothlim." His power was greater than that of most elves in Middle Earth.
What Power Does He Have? And Why?
Tolkien wrote that after his reincarnation Glorfindel dwelt in Valinor "and regained the primitive innocence and grace of the eldar" and also that "his spiritual power had been greatly enhanced by his self-sacrifice". Tolkien describes him as "almost an equal" of the Maiar, and writes that while in Valinor "he became a follower, and a friend, of Olorin (Gandalf.)"
HoME Vol 12, The Peoples of Middle Earth, Ch 13, Last Writings
Some comments from FoTR:
"To Frodo it appeared that a white light was shining through the form and raiment of the rider, as if through a thin veil."
Book 1, Ch 12, Flight to the Ford.
Gandalf said "And here in Rivendell there live still some of his chief foes: the Elven-wise, 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."
"I thought I saw a white figure that shone and did not grow dim like that others. Was that Glorfindel then?"
Yes, you saw him for a moment as is upon the other side: one of the mighty of the Firstborn. He is an Elf-lord of a house of princes."
Book 2, Ch 1, Many Meetings.
He has some power against the ringwraiths, as when he came across 3 wraiths on the bridge of Mitheithel while searching for Frodo, he pursues them and they flee from him. Earlier in the Third Age, during the Battle of Fornost, the Witch-king flees from him.
When Aragorn shows him the Morgul knife, he is able to see "evil things written on this hilt, though maybe your eyes cannot see them."
Afterwards Glorfindel searches Frodo's wound with his fingers, and the chill lessens and the pain abates somewhat. He acknowledges "the wounds of this weapon are beyond my skill to heal", so we know Elrond is a more powerful healer, but Glorfindel is still able to bring Frodo some comfort that Aragorn cannot.
What Battles Did He Fight and What Part Did He Play in Them?
Battle of Unnumbered Tears, Nirnaeth Arnoediad FA 471
When Turgon was retreating toward the pass of Sirion, "his captains, Ecthelion and Glorfindel, guarded his flanks to the right and left, so that none of the enemy should pass them by."
Fall of Gondolin, FA 510
During the march out of Gondolin the group was attacked on the Eagles' Cleft. There Glorfindel fought a balrog, thereby allowing Idril and Tuor to escape with their son, Earendil. "Then dreadful was their plight, and hardly would they have been saved by the valour of yellow-haired Glorfindel, chief of the House of the Golden Flower of Gondolin, had not Thorondor come timely to their aid.
Many are the songs that have been sung of the duel of Glorfindel with the Balrog upon a pinnacle of rock in that high place; and both fell to ruin in the abyss." This is from The Silmarillion, Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin
The version in Lost Tales 2 is much more detailed. The Balrog leaps over Glorfindel's rearguard and attacks "the women and the sick in front", whereupon Glorfindel leaps on him and there is a blow by blow account of the fight. Tolkien is also more detailed here about how beloved Glorfindel was, how admirable his fight with the Balrog, and how much the elves mourned him. It is also mentioned of the elves that "Because of their love, despite the haste and their fear of the advent of new foes, Tuor let raise a great stone-cairn over Glorfindel just there beyond the perilous way by the precipice of Eagle-stream, and Thorndor has let not yet any harm come thereto, but yellow flowers have fared thither and blow ever now about that mound in those unkindly places; but the folk of the Golden Flower wept at its building and might not dry their tears."
In this version, Tolkien also included a yearly memorial among the folk who eventually went to Sirion, "But they who arose from the grasses of the Land of the Willows in years after and fared away to sea, when spring set celandine in the meads and they had held sad festival in memorial of Glorfindel…"
The Book of Lost Tales 2, The Fall of Gondolin
Battle of the Last Alliance, SA 3441
There is only the brief mention in HoME Vol 12 that Glorfindel had a part in this battle. As an experienced commander living in Rivendell, it is likely he was one of the captains under Gil-Galad.
Battle of Fornost TA 1975
Cirdan led a force from Lindon, and Earnur led the calvary of Gondor. As the Witch-king was retreating toward Angmar "a force under Glorfindel the Elf-lord came out of Rivendell" and between the three groups, the host of Angmar was destroyed. At that point the Witch-king himself appeared, and Earnur's horse swerved and ran. Glorfindel then rode up and the Witch-king turned to flight before the sight of him. When Earnur mastered his horse and returned to the field, Glorfindel made the prophecy "Far off yet is his doom, and not by the hand of man will he fall."
Glorfindel could have fought in other battles of the First Age as well:
Dagor Aglareb, The Glorious Battle FA 75
Dagor Bragollach, The Battle of Sudden Flame FA 455
Battle of Tumhalad, The last battle of the warriors of Nargothrond FA 495
However, it is unlikely that Glorfindel, as one of Turgon's lords, would fight in these battles without Turgon. It is known that Turgon did not fight in Dagor Bragollach. The most likely would have been Dagor Aglareb, The Glorious Battle, since Turgon's father, Fingolfin, was very prominent in that battle.
What Happened to Glorfindel in the Fourth Age?
We are not told. When Elrond and Galadriel depart from the Grey Havens "With them went many Elves of the High Kindred who would no longer stay in Middle-earth;" Perhaps Glorfindel was one of them.
History of Middle Earth series,
Vol 2 The Book of Lost Tales 2
Vol 5 The Lost Road
Vol 12 The Peoples of Middle-earth
RoTK Appendix A
The speculation about Lalwen, contributed by Aerlinnel, is based on the "The Shibboleth of Feanor" chapter of 'The Peoples of Middle Earth' in the HoME series.
I also highly recommend the essay The Wars of the Glorfindels by Michael Martinez
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