The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 267-269
After all the scouts have returned from their brave journeys Elrond gathers the hobbits together with Gandalf and Aragorn. First he confirms that the brave offer that Frodo made at the Council still holds good and, having been assured that it does, goes on to choose companions to accompany him. He knows the power of symbol and in his choosing gives priority to this over any other consideration. “The Company of the Ring shall be Nine; and the Nine Walkers shall be set against the Nine Riders that are evil.”
One might compare other fictional choosing of companies that are set against evil with Tolkien’s work and Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai or John Sturges’ Magnificent Seven come to mind. The symbolism of number is present in all and the presence of deeply flawed members in each company is of the greatest significance in each story including Tolkien’s. Only one person is chosen explicitly for the Company of the Ring because of their valour, and that is Boromir, and he is chosen, not by Elrond, but by Aragorn. Elrond remains silent on this matter and so does Gandalf.
The choosing of the Company has another symbolism apart from that of number. Apart from the Ring-bearer and his faithful companion, Elrond chooses representatives of the “Free Peoples of the World; Elves, Dwarves and Men”. He does not choose hobbits even though he respects Frodo’s heroic choice and recognises that Sam cannot be separated from. He knows that a power greater than his has chosen the hobbit. As Gandalf puts it Frodo was meant to have the Ring. He knows too that Aragorn’s destiny is bound up with the Quest of the Ring and that he cannot stand in the way of that destiny. Gimli is the obvious choice for the Dwarves. He is the son of Glóin who is one of the great ones of his people.
But what of Legolas? Why is he chosen for the Elves?
When I first read The Lord of the Rings in my teens I simply accepted Elrond’s choice at its face value. As far as I was concerned, Elves were Elves and that was that. I cannot help but think that in Peter Jackson’s films Legolas is an elf in those terms. All Elves in these films have something of the super hero about them and Jackson never quite escapes from a hierarchy of the heroic. Legolas is such a figure in these films. But why does Tolkien choose the son of Thranduil from the Woodland Realm in Mirkwood to “be for the Elves”?
In The Silmarillion we learn that all the Elves awoke under starlight by the shores of Cuiviénen “in the east of Middle-earth and northward”. We learn too that the Valar summoned the Elves to Valinor, thinking that Middle-earth, the place of conflict with Melkor, the Dark Lord of whom Sauron was but a servant, was too dangerous for the Children of Ilúvatar to dwell there. And we learn that some who set out for Valinor “became lost upon the long road, or turned aside” and these were known to their fellows as The Moriquendi or “Elves of Darkness” because they never saw the light of Valinor that shone before the Moon and the Sun.
Gandalf mentions Glorfindel to Elrond as Elrond chooses the Company, but not to compare him to Legolas. “Even if you chose for us… Glorfindel, he could not storm the Dark Tower, nor open the road to the Fire by the power that is in him”. It is to Merry and Pippin that Gandalf compares him. Glorfindel is one of the great heroes of Tolkien’s legendarium but Elrond chooses Legolas and not him. In comparing Glorfindel to humble hobbits Gandalf is taking the principle that Elrond has already realised, that Frodo’s errand cannot be aided by power. Elrond chooses Legolas precisely because he comes from the least significant of all the Eldar not because he is a great hero but, as with all of the Company, he will grow into a hero because of the task to which he has been called.