#ThereAndBackAgain Readalong

Thranduil, the Elven-King Who Might Have Come from the First Age

The Hobbit — Ch 9 Barrels Out of Bond — Tolkien’s legendarium tried to intrude The Hobbit many times. The Elven-King might have been another breach.

Feb 4 · 5 min read

In a sense, it may look like this chapter is a repetition of the episode of the Spiders. It is quite similar in structure: the Dwarves get caught, Bilbo escapes, and eventually, he is the one who finds a solution and saves all his friends. Plotwise, it’s the same structure for both episodes.

But theme-wise it is a step forward in Bilbo’s journey.

The Spiders episode, which happens in the darkness of Mirkwood, is intimate. What happens there happens for Bilbo’s sole benefit, in a sense. He’s the one who feels different after he can face, fight and win the Spiders. He is the only one who perceives the change inside himself. Which, of course, is an essential step in his personal journey.

In the episode of the caves of the Elves, Bilbo may do similar things in terms of plot, but he acts now as part of a community. The Dwarves know that he is there, that he is trying to help them and they accept his help. At this point, they almost expect that Bilbo will act as Gandalf did: that he will guide them out of danger,

In this way, I think, the change that happened inside Bilbo manifests outside of him and is received and accepted in the outside world.

As for the rest, I’m fascinated with the diversity of the Elves. They go from silly to menacing to silly again. A great departure from the Elves in the Silmarillion — though Elrond and Thranduil certainly belong to that world.

But in a way I think that in the treatment of the elves we see more clearly the dual nature of The Hobbit: we find here the fairytale Elves, alongside the complex personalities of Tolkien’s own elves.

Thranduil the Elven-King of Mirkwood

Another place where Tolkien’s legendarium and his children’s story collied but also meet is Thrunduil, who’s never named here and is only called the Elven-King.

Like he did with Elrond, who was transported into this independent story from the legendarium, it appears in notes that Tolkien was considering using another character from the Silmarillion as the king of Woodland Realm: Thingol, the King of Doriath.

In the legendarium, Thingol died in the First Age, the last act of a Great Story, that of Beren and Lúthien. And it can well be said that it was greed that undone him.

After Beren surrendered to him the Silmaril he and Lúthien took from the very crown of Melkor, Thingol decided to keep it (against his wive’s counsel) and asked the Dwarves to cast it on a necklace of gold. The Dwarves accepted because of the kingly price Thingol said he was prepared to pay, but when the work was done, he refused to pay.

The Dwarves then rebelled against him and killed him.

This is one of the reasons behind the great untrust between Elves and Dwarves, who have, of course, very different views on the matter.

Thingol’s greed is a comprehensive motive of this character. Like the Eleven-King, he is a wise and compassionate king — he shows it many times — but he is very sensitive to wealthiness. In the Silmarillion, it is often pointed out how Thingol was maybe the less wealthy of the Elven Kings, at least materially, though it can be argued that — being Melian’s husband and Lúthien’s father — he was really quite rich in a different way.

In the end, Tolkien decided against this idea and afterwards he gave a different name to the King of Mirkwood. Still, many of Thingol’s attributes remained Thranduil’s.

The fact that Thingol had died thousands of years before isn’t a contradiction. After all, when Tolkien wrote it, The Hobbit was not supposed to be part of the legendarium. Tolkien was using characters and ideas from it as a joke, a handy way to used backstory.

But even considering the internal laws of Middle-earth, Thingol might indeed have lived in the Third Age. Because Elves are bound to Middle-earth, they never truly die. They go to the Halls of Mandos to wait for the fulfilment of the Valar’s vision. And because their spirit never leaves Middle-earth, they may sometimes return. Reincarnate into Middle-earth.

This is actually what happened to Glorfindel, the Elf warrior who helps Aragorn and the Hobbits near the Ford of Bruinnen. Glorfindel died in the First Age, fighting a Balrog on the mountains surrounding Gongolin after the city fell. Among the refugees he was protecting there was little Eärendil, Elrond’s father. It is said that Glorfindel chose to reincarnate so to help Elrond in one of the direst time for Middle-earth.

Although they are often considered perfect, Tolkien’s Elves are everything but. They are subject to flaws and hard feeling, and often they make mistakes, even very large ones.

Thingol and Thranduil are a perfect example of this.

Sarah Zama is a Tolkien nerd and proud of it. She read The Hobbit the first time as a teenager and was a Tolkien fan years before Peter Jackson’s trilogy ever hit the theatres. She’s always been involved with Tolkien groups, both online and in person. In 2004, she founded a Tolkien group in her city, Verona (Italy), which is still meeting and divulging the Professor’s work. In 2017, she started reading Tolkien’s work with a group of other nerdy readers, one chapter a day. They are still on the road together.

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Written by

Author of historical fantasy novels set in the 1920s | Dieselpunk | 1920s social history blogger | Hopeless Tolkien nerd https://theoldshelter.com/

Middle-earth Literary Gazette

Exploring Tolkien’s Middle-earth. The places and characters. The stories. Searching for their deeper meaning.


Written by

Author of historical fantasy novels set in the 1920s | Dieselpunk | 1920s social history blogger | Hopeless Tolkien nerd https://theoldshelter.com/

Middle-earth Literary Gazette

Exploring Tolkien’s Middle-earth. The places and characters. The stories. Searching for their deeper meaning.

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