On the Importance of Glorfindel

Glorfindel, like Tom Bombadil, Quickbeam, and Prince Imrahil, is one of those characters who didn’t make it into Peter Jackson’s films. I understand why Jackson made this decision. There are already plenty of characters to follow. Adding yet another character–one who only appears in two or three scenes–simply causes confusion for the viewers. It’s just sad because Glorfindel has a lot to offer, perhaps even more than the casual reader of The Lord of the Rings will notice.

The Ring-bearer’s Savior

For those who either haven’t read the books or don’t remember Glorfindel, he’s the Elf who puts Frodo on a horse thus enabling the hobbit to escape the Ringwraiths. In the movies, Arwen fills a similar role (her horse even has the same name as Glorfindel’s horse). The aid Arwen and Glorfindel, respectively, provide to Frodo and his friends is necessary to move the plot forward. Glorfindel, however, provides more to the story–his presence and character adds depth and realism that Arwen doesn’t add to the movies.

In The Fellowship of the Ring (the book), Glorfindel is sent from Rivendell to find Frodo, protect him, and bring him safely to the Last Homely House. Keep in mind how powerful and terrifying the Ringwraiths are. Glorfindel himself said, “There are few even in Rivendell that can ride openly against the Nine; but such as there were, Elrond sent out north, west, and south,” (FotR, 205). “Ride openly” is certainly an appropriate phrase. Not only was Glorfindel riding on the road, making no attempt to hide himself, but he even had bells on his horse (FotR, 204). He had no qualms about announcing his presence to the Ringwraiths. When Frodo crosses the Ford of Bruinen and Elrond and Gandalf command the the flood to come, Glorfindel (and Aragorn, of course) actually force the Ringwraiths into the flood. Gandalf comments, “Caught between fire and water, and seeing an Elf-lord revealed in his wrath, they [the Ringwraiths] were dismayed…” (FotR, 218). Not only does Glorfindel not fear the Nazgûl–they fear him.

The Bane of the Nazgûl

This is further emphasized in Appendix A of The Return of the King. In the Third Age, the Hosts of the West launch an attack. The West gained the upper hand until,

[T]he Witch-king himself appeared, black-robed and black-masked upon a black horse. Fear fell upon all who beheld him… Then the Witch-king laughed and none that heard it ever forgot the horror of that cry. But 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. (RotK, 1026).

Glorfindel was not only able to withstand the Witch-king, but even to strike some measure of fear into the chieftain of the Ringwraiths.

The Passive Warrior

For all of his power, Glorfindel contributes surprisingly little to the War of the Ring. Elrond seems inclined to make him part of the Fellowship, but Gandalf overrules him and allows Merry and Pippin to come instead (FotR, 269). Nor is there any evidence that Glorfindel did anything more during the War of the Ring–at least nothing as important as his rescue of the Ring-bearer. As vital as that action was, it pales in comparison with the accomplishments of the members of the Fellowship, even the humble hobbits.

This underscores one of the primary themes of The Lord of the Rings: the weak succeeding where the strong may not. Elrond summarizes it nicely: “This quest may be attempted by the weak with as much hope as the strong. Yet such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere” (FotR, 262).

From a literary point of view, this is Glorfindel’s most important role. He is one of the most powerful Elves in Middle-earth during the events of The Lord of the Rings. And yet even he can do little more than provide some aid to a group of hobbits who are accomplishing the real work. This does not undermine Glorfindel’s strength or importance. Rather, Glorfindel highlights the glory and potential of the weak.

Photo Credit: Grant Montgomery

  5 comments for “On the Importance of Glorfindel

  1. Jason
    September 14, 2015 at 5:07 pm

    That is a great article indeed!
    I myself have often reflected on the text and the information provided elsewhere by Tolkien for this truly exquisite character. In ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ Glorfindel is a deus ex machina savior for Frodo and his fellows. As the story unfolds after the attack on Weathertop the company is the direst of situations. Aragorn alone does not have the power to stop the Nine, or even confront them openly, as he is only a mortal Man. He does his best to avoid being tracked down as he leads the Hobbits to the Ford, but that’s pretty much all he can accomplish on his own. His objective is a negative one: not to get caught in the open again by the Black Riders.
    On the other hand, Glorfindel’s objective is a positive one: Find Frodo, intercept any (or all) of the Black Riders he meets in his way and lead Frodo to safety.
    Glorfindel has a power against the Shadow of Sauron, far greater than any ordinary Elf, let alone the mightiest Dunedain warrior of the Third Age. He may not be the only Elven Prince on Middle-Earth who has seen the Light of Valinor, but he is definitely one that has confronted the Nine before. That makes him ideal for serving the plot, as a catalyst for Frodo’s narrow escape from the Witch King upon the Ford of Bruinen.
    I personaly doubt that Glorfindel’s timely appearence is merely a strike of good fortune. Just like Tom Bombandil and the Great Eagles, he seems to appear in the darkest moment, when the need is greatest, as if the Valar themselves have somehow intervened. More on this I cannot say, as I am no Tolkien expert myself.
    As for Glorfindel’s part in the rest of the story and the War of the Ring, I seriously disagree with the idea that he remained inactive or passive. During events of the War, Lorien, Rivendell, Erebor, Thranduil’s Kingdom and every other stronghold of the Free Folk where all attacked and besieged.
    Great battles were fought all across the western parts of Middle-Earth, with great loss and sacrifice. I assume that Glorfindel played a vital and active role in repelling the armies of Sauron from Dol Guldur and Angmar. Among other heroes, he can be literary held responsible for the victory of the Elves and the survival of Arwen, during the War of the Ring.
    So in a way, him not being selected as a member of the Fellowship of the Ring, served a greater and more strategic purpose that turned out for the best..

    • Emily
      September 27, 2015 at 7:56 pm

      Glad you enjoyed the post, Jason!

      That’s a great point you make about Glorfindel’s contribution to the War of the Ring. Just like Legolas and Gimli wishing for their kin, it’s easy to forget that the War of the Ring was fought on many fronts, not just in Gondor, Rohan, and Mordor.

  2. Andrew
    May 23, 2016 at 8:14 am

    What an interesting elf! I’ve always wanted more information about Glorfindel and wondered if there are any intended parallels between he and Gandalf. Their fights with balrogs and subsequent “rebirths” seem too similar to just be chance. In your travels have you seen anything that mentions this?

    • Emily
      June 1, 2016 at 10:49 pm

      Hm, that’s a very interesting parallel, Andrew. I haven’t seen any reference, although it’s clear that Glorfindel is closer in power to Gandalf than, say, Legolas.

      I’m not sure if Tolkien intentionally drew that parallel. If I remember correctly, Glorfindel wasn’t necessarily intended to be Glorfindel of Gondolin until later. Interestingly enough, there was also a Legolas in Gondolin…

      • Andrew
        January 17, 2017 at 12:09 pm

        I must have missed this response. Thank you for replying! My Tolkien interest waxes and wanes throughout the year. I’m currently falling deeply back in love with that world. I guess I should use this time to read more about Gondolin!

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