After Lúthien, Eärendil and Elwing stand as the most important of the half-Elven. I decided to discuss them in the same blog post because, really, it’s nearly impossible to separate them. They’re in step with each other for nearly every part of their lives (except for Eärendil’s adventures on the sea, but that’s a completely different story–several stories, actually).
They would have met as children near the mouths of the river Sirion. They were both royal survivors of destroyed civilizations. In fact, they were the remnants of the only civilizations left in Beleriand. One can imagine that the community formed from the exiles of Doriath and of Gondolin would have been extremely tight-knit, both because of their shared sorrow and out of physical necessity.
This must have been particularly true of the lords of the exiles. There were few, if any, who survived the fall of Doriath. In the earliest versions of the fall of Doriath, Elwing was rescued by her nurse and/or faithful servants. While this detail disappeared from the later versions (including that in the published Silmarillion), it’s never contradicted. Since Elwing’s mother, Nimloth, sadly did not survive the attack, it makes sense that Elwing would have been saved by Elves of her household. Extrapolating from that thought, it makes sense that most of the “noble” Elves would have fallen defending Dior and the gates of Menegroth (of the few nobles who remained: Beleg had been dead for years and Mablung died when the Dwarves stole the Nauglamir; there were never really any other lords of Doriath named). It’s quite possible that Elwing was the only survivor of Doriath who wasn’t middle- or serving-class. (Of course, I know little about the class structure of Elven culture; I plan to research it, though.) Because of this situation, it makes sense for Tuor and Idril to almost adopt Elwing as their daughter. Even if the relationship wasn’t that close, it makes a lot of sense that Elwing and Eärendil would have been drawn to each other and eventually gotten married.
Their marriage is profoundly important in the history of Middle-earth. They united the two strains of half-Elven blood as well as the remaining ruling families of both the Noldor and the Sindar (not to mention the mortal houses of Bëor and Hador). In addition, Elwing’s possession of the Silmaril turned out to be vital to Eärendil’s quest to seek the aid of the Valar on behalf of Men and Elves. Without the power of the Silmaril, Eärendil would have never made it through the Shadowy Seas to Valinor. It’s quite possible that Morgoth would have continued to rule all of Middle-earth until the end of time. It’s no exaggeration to say that Eärendil was instrumental in saving the world–and that he couldn’t have done it without Elwing.
United by Choice
This brings us to the choice given to Eärendil and Elwing. Manwë decreed that they had a free choice between their kindreds: to be either counted among either Elves or Men. According to the Silmarillion,
Then Eärendil said the Elwing: ‘Choose thou, for now I am weary of the world.’ And Elwing chose to be judged among the Firstborn Children of Ilúvatar, because of Lúthien; and for her sake Eärendil chose alike, though his heart was rather with the kindred of Men and the people of his father (Silmarillion, 249-50)
It’s an interesting passage. What does it mean that Elwing chose to be an Elf “for the sake of Lúthien?” Did she intend to take Lúthien’s place? She must have thought of her father when she made this choice. He seemed to consider himself one of the Eldar, even when he may not have had a very good reason for doing so. Perhaps this thought was so ingrained in Elwing, even as a very young child, that should couldn’t help but make this choice (not that it was a bad one). Was Dior, and by extension Elwing, almost ashamed of being half-mortal? While Beren’s deeds certain redeemed him in the eyes of Thingol, the people of Doriath weren’t exactly friendly to men (and Túrin, Morwen, and Húrin probably didn’t help the situation much).
Eärendil has the opposite emotions; he is definitely drawn toward mortality and “the people of his father.” This is particularly interesting because there are some who believe that Tuor was actually counted among Elves instead of Men (Silmarillion, 245). In fact, Tuor had very little contact with his own people. He was raised by Sindar, lived on his own for several year, and lived in Gondolin and later Sirion. The only time in his live when Tuor actually lived among men was when he was enslaved by Easterlings–not exactly the best way to experience mortals. However, if Eärendil believed his father to be mortal (and there was no reason for Eärendil to believe otherwise), it would make sense that he would desire to be reunited with his father. Turning away from this desire was apparently a profound sacrifice on his part, but one that he was willing to make for Elwing.
A Light in Dark Places
Eärendil’s choice has far-reaching consequences. He literally becomes a beacon of hope to Middle-earth when the Valar hallow his ship and allow him to ascend into the sky with the Silmaril–the last of the light that existed before the sun and the moon. Not only does he stand as a challenge to Morgoth, but millennia later he continues to bring hope to Men and Elves. Galadriel captures his light in a phial, which she gives to Frodo. This phial was vital to Sam’s defeat of Shelob. Eärendil’s light not only defied Morgoth but also the “pet” of Sauron and, by extension, Sauron himself.
While Eärendil and Elwing aren’t typically the first characters you think of when you consider the Half-Elven, they are arguably the most important. Their actions and choices are instrumental to saving the world and defying evil time and time again. In fact, Eärendil impacts every inhabitant of Arda because he shines so brightly in the night sky. No other individual–Vala, Maia, Elf, Man, or Hobbit–can claim that right.
This is part of an in-depth series on the half-Elven:
The Choice of the Half-Elven
Half-Elven Part II: The Choice of Lúthien
Half-Elven Part III: Those Denied the Choice
Half-Elven Part IV: The Union
Half-Elven Part V: The Children of Choice
Half-Elven Part VI: The Last Ones
Half-Elven Part VII: Concluding Thoughts on Mortality
Photo Credit: Ryan Jacques