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.
5 thoughts on “Legolas Shall Be For the Elves. Why Does Elrond Choose the Son of Thranduil for The Honour of Being a Companion of the Ring-bearer?”
Yes, I hadn’t thought of that. I might add also, from a story perspective, Tolkien may have thought it would be easier for the reader to relate to one of the Moriquendi than a High Elf, considering his words on “stories primarily concerned with Elves”.
Although when he published The Lord of the Rings (and when I first read it in the 60s) only he and one or two others had ever heard of the Moriquendi although we knew of Thranduil and his kingdom through The Hobbit My own personal thought is that this is an example of Tolkien knowing what was going on long before his readers. He knew how Legolas would have been regarded in Rivendell.
Please tell me what Tolkien said about stories primarily concerned with Elves. That is new to me.
Yes, it is interesting how much more information and explanation there is about Tolkien’s legendarium which was unknown then. There is a little explanation of the difference in The Hobbit, but not much.
Right, sorry about that. He said in his essay “On Fairy Stories” the following:
“Stories that are actually concerned primarily with “fairies,” that is with creatures that might also in modern English be called “elves,” are relatively rare, and as a rule not very interesting. Most good “fairy-stories” are about the adventures of men in the Perilous Realm or upon its shadowy marches. Naturally so; for if elves are true, and really exist independently of our tales about them, then this also is certainly true: elves are not primarily concerned with us, nor we with them. Our fates are sundered, and our paths seldom meet. Even upon the borders of Faërie we encounter them only at some chance crossing of the ways.”
I think the same could be said of hobbits, who, in some ways, feel more human than Men. Now, Tolkien did, of course, write a surprising number of tales, specifically in the First Age, primarily concerned with Elves for someone who said that. Still, from the perspective of The Lord of the Rings and the late Third Age, the Elves who had seen the light of Valinor were high and powerful indeed. The Lord of the Rings isn’t meant as a history to the extent the Silmarillion is, after all, although it is an epic novel. I don’t think Elves really think the same way as we do at all, including Legolas, but I think it would be easier for us to relate to one who is not quite as high. People such as Glorfindel, for instance, is half in the realm of the Unseen, if I remember correctly. So I think a lesser Elf, such as Legolas, would probably be easier for us to understand. That would be my guess, anyway.
Thank you so much for the quotation from Tolkien’s famous essay. His own world allows a much greater intercourse between our world and Faerie than we see in the old myths but it is perilous nonetheless, especially in the case of Lothlorian.
I agree that Legolas is closer to us than Glorfindel. He is more rooted in our world as you say. This is a very personal desire but I would love to have spent more time in the company of one who knew Gondolin. But I doubt if Gimli could ever have made friends with him as he does with Legolas.
Yes, that would certainly have been interesting. As it is, the most ancient person we have is Gandalf and wizards don’t usually tell their history. Of course, we spend a fair bit of time with Treebeard.
If I may say so, in the Silmarillion Tolkien doesn’t always follow his rules on fairy-stories. Many of the earlier ones are primarily concerned with Elves. There are also many serious tragedies. One really big one which comes to mind is the story of Túrin Turambar. I don’t think he viewed it as a fairy-story as he did The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings so much as a history or a mythology.