Glorfindel, like Tom Bombadil, Quickbeam, and Prince Imrahil, is one of those characters that didn’t make it into the Peter Jackson 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–just causes confusion for the viewers. I get it. 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 who are chasing him. In the movies, Arwen fills a similar role (her horse even has the same name as Glorfindel’s horse). The aid both Arwen and Glorfindel, respectively, provide to Frodo and his friends is necessary for moving 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 and certainly one of the most active 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