Glorfindel – The two, or one of them
One of the most discussed topics in the Tolkien world is the subject of ‘the two Glorfindels’. Were Glorfindel of Gondolin and Glorfindel of Rivendell the same person?
Glorfindel of Gondolin
Glorfindel of Gondolin was one of the Noldor, of unknown origin. He was the Lord of the House of the Golden Flower, and was slain in the fleeing of the Gondolindrim after the Fall of Gondolin. His name meant ‘golden-haired elf’ and this may have implied that he had Vanyarin blood, and that he may have even been related to the royal line (the Noldor were typically dark haired but the descendants of Indis and Finwë occasionally had golden hair).
He fled Gondolin with Tuor and Idril. When the refugees reached Cirith Thoronath, they were set upon by Orcs and a Balrog. Glorfindel then fought the Balrog, and they both fell to ruin in the abyss, giving Tuor and Idril the opportunity to escape from the fighting with their son, Eärendil. Thorondor bore up Glorfindel’s body out of the abyss, and he was buried in a mound of stones beside the pass. A green turf came to lie there, and yellow flowers bloomed upon it.
Glorfindel of Rivendell
Glorfindel of Rivendell is also of unknown origin, but was also of the Noldorin elves. He fought at the Battle of Fornost and later in life he helped Frodo to reach the Last Homely House.
But were they the same person?
Was Glorfindel of Rivendell the same elf as the earlier Glorfindel, sent back to Middle-earth from the Halls of Waiting?
The History Of Middle Earth (HoME) vol. 12 tells us that at the time of writing LotR, Tolkien did not mean the two characters to be the same person, and that the name of Glorfindel was chosen for the Rivendell elf as it was derived from an ancient legend. This double usage escaped ‘reconsideration’. But it seems Tolkien was not too happy about this and tried to put his error right. From his notes we can derive a story that goes along the lines of Glorfindel of Gondolin’s spirit going to the Halls of Waiting, being re-bodied by the Valar and returning to Middle-earth.
Can we really accept a writer’s notes, which may have just been for personal use, which he may have not even agreed with later, that may never have been meant for publication?, Can we take this as a definitive part of the story? Tolkien was known to write essays (such as “The Problem of Ros”) and then dismiss them for some wrong details, although some aspects were still true.
The “Glorfindel Debate” is a very complicated discussion, which has by no means been resolved. The presence of the “Glorfindel notes” means that many readers believe the theory of the re-embodying of Glorfindel, or at least think that the two Glorfindel’s are related; whilst others firmly maintain that, at the time of writing and in the published work, they were separate people and so they must remain, despite what Tolkien may or may not have decided later.
The decision to believe, or not to believe, is up to you.
– The Lord of the Rings
– The Silmarillion
– The Book of Lost Tales II
– The Peoples of Middle-earth