In this biweekly series, we’re exploring the evolution of both major and minor figures in Tolkien’s legendarium, tracing the transformations of these characters through drafts and early manuscripts through to the finished work. This installment looks at Elrond Half-elven, the Lord of Rivendell and a behind-the-scenes player in many of Middle-earth’s most significant tales.
Elrond is one of those characters who just seems to have a finger in every pie. He’s the son of Eärendil, one of Middle-earth’s icons, and is thus the descendant of a Maia (Melian) and a number of legendary figures, including Beren and Lúthien. He’s ruled Imladris for many lifetimes of men; he married the daughter of Galadriel, the most powerful Eldar of the Third Age; he played foster-parent to the majority of the heirs of Elendil; his brother founded the Númenorean line; and his daughter marries the returning king of Gondor and Arnor. On the other hand, however, Elrond never lands the starring role. He’s there as a sort of sidenote in The Hobbit: a rest station along the way, a font of wisdom and guidance for a ragtag fellowship with great expectations and very little sense. Even in The Lord of the Rings he lingers on the fringes of the tale, playing gracious host and learned moderator, but largely acting behind the scenes. When telling the stories of the Last Alliance, his own presence is cast as almost incidental: he is Gil-galad’s herald and poet—his assistant, as it were. The grief, joys, trials, and triumphs of Elrond are always seen from a distance, or darkly, as through a veil.
At first glance, this might suggest that Elrond simply doesn’t cut it as a person of interest—that he’s flat, filler, a mere foil for characters whose tales and lives, in the long run, matter more. But, as might be expected given the existence of this article, that’s not the case. At least, it’s not entirely the case. Let me explain.