Celeborn – the wisest and most obscure of elves
The tale of Celeborn, and his wife Galadriel, is one of the most inconsistent of Tolkien’s histories, with a number of radically different versions being proposed over the years. His earliest idea was that Celeborn was a Nandorian elf, and that he met Galadriel in Lórien, his own land. A remnant of this idea can still be seen in “The Lord of the Rings” when Galadriel states that “he [Celeborn] has dwelt in the West since the days of dawn, and I have dwelt with him years uncounted; for ere the fall of Nargothrond or Gondolin ere I passed over the mountains.”
A later version is given in Appendix B of “The Lord of the Rings”. There, at the start of the Second Age, “In Lindon south of the Lune dwelt for a time Celeborn, kinsman of Thingol.” This idea is also seen in the notes to “The Road Goes Ever On”, where it is said that Galadriel “passed over the Mountains of Eredluin with her husband Celeborn (one of the Sindar) and went to Eregion.”
A further version is given in “The Silmarillion”, where there is mention of a first meeting between Celeborn and Galadriel in his kinsfolk’s city of Doriath. Celeborn dislike for Dwarves of any race started soon after this, as he never forgave them for their part in the destruction of Doriath.
In one of Tolkien’s last ever writings, a final version of the story of Celeborn and Galadriel was laid down. In that, the two met in Alqualondë, when Galadriel was staying there with kinsfolk. The two of them then built a boat and sailed to Middle-earth completely separately from the elves of Fëanor’s rebellion.
“Concerning Galadriel and Celeborn”
Two late essays containing detailed, but differing, versions of the story were written by Tolkien. The first of these is “Concerning Galadriel and Celeborn”, a manuscript first published in “Unfinished Tales”.
After meeting in the City of Swans, Galadriel and Celeborn built a ship in Alqualondë’s harbour, and planned to sail to Middle-earth. They were about to seek leave from the Valar for their plans when Fëanor’s rebellion started. The two had nothing to do with the rebellion, and indeed, were active in the defence of Alquelondë. Thus, this story reconciled, to some extent, Galadriel’s earlier participation in the rebellion of Fëanor with her later exalted position in Middle-earth. Celeborn’s ship was saved from the Noldor, and horrified by the kinslaying, the two immediately set sail into the darkness without waiting for Manwë’s permission to leave. They reached Middle-earth before Fëanor, and were welcomed at the havens by Círdan. In the years after, they did not join in the war against Morgoth, which they considered a hopeless cause without the aid of the Valar. Their counsel was instead to withdraw from Beleriand and concentrate on creating a power base in the east. This idea was summarily rejected by the other elves.
When they later received permission from the Valar to return into the West, they refused it, partly because Celeborn would not leave Middle-earth, but partly due to Galadriel’s pride. They departed over the Ered Lindon into Eriador before the end of the First Age, with many Noldor, Grey-elves and Green-elves in their wake. For a while they dwelt in the region around Lake Neniual (Evendim), and Celeborn and Galadriel came to be seen as the Lord and Lady of the Eldar in Eriador. In this version of the story, Amroth was their son, and he was born at some time around this stage of their lives.
In about SA700, they moved eastwards and established the Noldorin realm of Eregion. Fifty years later, they started the construction of Ost-in-Edhil.
When Sauron’s power had grown stronger, in the second millennium of the Second Age, he managed to turn the Gwaith-i-Mírdain against the Lord and Lady, and the elven smiths rebelled, aiming to seize power for themselves in Eregion. Galadriel then left Eregion, passing through Khazad-dûm to Lórien, taking with her Amroth and Celebrían (birth date and place unknown). Celeborn would not enter the dwarven caves, and he remained behind in Eregion, disregarded by Celebrimbor, the leader of the Gwaith-i-Mírdain.
After the Second Age wars with Sauron, Galadriel left Lórien to Amroth, and passed through Moria again with Celebrían. She went to Imladris, where she (rather surprisingly) found Celeborn. They dwelt there for a long time, but at some point they left Rivendell to dwell in the little-inhabited lands between the mouth of the Gwathló and Ethir Anduin. There they dwelt for a time in Belfalas, in the place that was later called Dol Amroth.
“Amroth and Nimrodel”
The second of Tolkien’s later essays concerning Celeborn and Galadriel was “Amroth and Nimrodel”, again first published in “Unfinished Tales”. In this, Celeborn spent some time fortifying Lórien in the middle of the Second Age before he joined Galadriel in Lindon. In the last years of the Second Age, the pair journeyed back to Lórien twice. In the Third Age, they then stayed awhile with Amroth, learning all news and rumours of the Shadow in Mirkwood. Galadriel and Celeborn undertook long journeys to Gondor, Mirkwood and even the borders of Mordor, before passing over the mountains to Imladris, where their daughter lived with Elrond. After the disaster in Moria (TA1980) and the drowning of Amroth, Galadriel and Celeborn returned to Lórien, and were welcomed by the people. They then dwelt there through the rest of the Third Age, guardians of the realm.
This account is different from “Concerning Galadriel and Celeborn” in many ways. Amroth was not Celeborn and Galadriel’s son, and was King of Lórien. Celeborn was found in Lórien during the Second Age, when in the previous version, he did not reach Lórien until the Third Age. The main implication of this version is that Celeborn led refugees from Eregion to Lórien, while Galadriel joined Gil-galad in Lindon.
The Lord and Lady of Lórien
In “The Lord of the Rings”, Celeborn and Galadriel are seen as the powerful Lord and Lady of Lórien.
As the Lord of Lórien, it is Celeborn who greets the Fellowship on their arrival in the Golden Wood. Celeborn was then introduced to the Fellowship by his wife as the wisest of elves. It is clear, however, that Galadriel is still seen by Tolkien as the “powerhouse” of the partnership.
The Lord and Lady of the Golden Wood lived in the mightiest of the mallorn trees, a tree with bark shining like grey silk and huge limbs with shadowy clouds of leaves. Their house was placed on a wide talan, and it was so large that it would have almost served for a Hall of Men. The main chamber was of oval shape, and the main trunk of the mallorn grew through the centre of it. The chamber was filled with a soft light, and its walls were green and silver, and its roof was of gold. Two chairs were placed side-by-side next to the tree, sheltered by a living mallorn branch.
Celeborn and Galadriel were of the same height, and both clad in white. His hair was silver, long and shining. There was no sign of age upon either of them, except maybe in the depth of their eyes, “for these were keen as lances in the starlight, and yet profound, the wells of deep memory.” (FotR, The Mirror of Galadriel)
Celeborn in particular had feared for the Fellowship on their journey through Moria: “We long have feared that under Caradhras a terror slept. But had I known that the Dwarves had stirred up this evil in Moria again, I would have forbidden you to pass the northern borders, you and all that went with you.” (FotR, The Mirror of Galadriel)
Celeborn appears remote and aloof to the Fellowship – but then I think that he would be. To the wisest and oldest of elf-kind in Middle-earth, in a time when the Elves were diminishing in the world of man, even the momentous events of the Ring must seem almost insignificant.
It was also Celeborn that bade farewell to the Company from Lórien – giving them advice about their onward journey, and furnishing them with boats to traverse the Anduin. The Lord and Lady then came to say their last goodbyes to the Company on the Silverlode. Celeborn sat in the midst of their swan ship, with Galadriel standing behind him, tall and white, a circlet of golden flowers in her hair. In her hands she held a harp, and she sang to the Fellowship. Then Celeborn invited the Fellowship to a parting feast, and gave them yet more travelling advice.
What race of elf was Celeborn?
In Tolkien’s final story, Celeborn was a Telerin Elf of Aman – a very different race from his earlier incarnations as a Sindar and a Nandor. In “Disaster of the Gladden Fields” in the “Unfinished Tales”, Celeborn is described as a ‘Linda of Valinor’, i.e. one of the Teleri, whose own name for themselves was the Lindar, the “Singers”.
In nearly every version, Celeborn was the son or grandson of Elwë and Olwë’s brother Elmo. Elmo’s son was most often named Galadhon, and he then had two sons – Celeborn and Galathil. Galathil was then the father of Nimloth, who married Dior and was the mother of Elwing. In this version, he was related to Galadriel, the grand-daughter of Olwë, but only distantly.
The names of Celeborn
Celeborn’s High Elven name was Teleporno, a name used frequently in early stories, but not used anywhere in “The Silmarillion” or “The Lord of the Rings”.
The name Celeborn was first devised to mean “Silver Tree”, being also the name of the Tree of Tol Eressëa descended from Telperion. The ancient stem of the Elvish word for silver was kyelep – becoming celeb in Sindarin, telep- or telpe in Telerin and tyelep – or tyelpe in Quenya. In Tolkien’s latest philological writings, however, the meaning of his name was changed, with the –orn deriving from the ancient adjectival form orna (“uprising, tall”) rather than orne (“tree”). That Celeborn was tall was indeed mentioned in the discussion of Númenórean Linear Measures in “Unfinished Tales”.
Conclusion – Celeborn: the wisest of elves
The transformation of Celeborn from Galadriel’s silent sidekick in the first and second ages to the wisest elf in Middle-earth in the late third age may seem somewhat unrealistic. But I don’t believe that it is at all unrealistic. Celeborn was always in the background, watching and listening. He saw pretty much the whole history of Middle-earth unfurl before him. He fought against the power of Morgoth and Sauron, lived in many of the most important centres of elven life in Middle-earth, and had the respect of the whole of the elven race. This sounds to me like one wise elf.
“For the Lord of the Galadhrim is accounted the wisest of the Elves in Middle-earth, and a giver of gifts beyond the power of kings. He has dwelt in the West since the days of dawn, and I have dwelt with him years uncounted; for ere the fall of Nargothrond or Gondolin I passed over the mountains, and together through ages of the world we have fought the long defeat.” (Galadriel, FotR, The Mirror of Galadriel)
“The Lord of the Rings”, “Unfinished Tales”