JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings both feature the fictional character of Elrond the Half-Elven. He is a wise Elf-lord who lives in a hidden valley called Rivendell on the west side of the Misty Mountains. Elrond's house is huge and is known as the 'Last Homely House'. In The Lord of the Rings, we learn that Elrond is thousands of years old, and is considered the ruler of all the Elves1 in the valley. He is also a skilled doctor, curing Frodo of an evil wound.
So who is Elrond, how did he get to live so long and why is he called 'Half-Elven'? This Entry will present the facts as given in Tolkien's published works, as well as some extra information Tolkien left in unfinished drafts and letters, which were later published by his son, Christopher Tolkien.
What did Elrond look like?
Before delving into Elrond's history, let's start by getting a good picture of what he looked like. Most people's idea of Elrond will be based on his depiction in Peter Jackson's 'Lord of the Rings' films. In these, he is played by Hugo Weaving, who is not renowned for his physical beauty. The books describe Elrond differently. In The Hobbit he played only a small, though important, role in that he found the secret message in the map. There is only one sentence describing him:
He was as noble and as fair in face as an elf-lord, as strong as a warrior, as wise as a wizard, as venerable as a king of dwarves, and as kind as summer.
In The Lord of the Rings, we learn a little more:
The face of Elrond was ageless, neither old nor young, though in it was written the memory of many things both glad and sorrowful. His hair was as dark as the shadows of twilight, and upon it was set a circlet of silver; his eyes were grey as a clear evening, and in them was a light like the light of stars. Venerable he seemed as a king crowned with many winters, and yet hale, as a tried warrior in the fulness of his strength.
Other on-screen depictions include:
Bass and Rankin's animated The Hobbit in which Elrond is bearded and weird.
Elrond and his brother Elros were born at the end of the First Age, about 6,500 years before the events of The Hobbit. Their father was Eärendil the Mariner (the Eär at the start of his name has two syllables and rhymes with 'They are') and their mother was Elwing. Middle Earth was in turmoil at the time; the great enemy and lord of darkness, Morgoth, had conquered most of it with his troops of orcs and balrogs. A small band of Elves had fled to a place by the sea where they hoped to escape from the orcs.
Not only was there war between the forces of evil and the Elves, but there was also a bitter dispute among the Elves over ownership of three glowing jewels, the Silmarils. These had been created by an Elf named Fëanor, but were stolen by Morgoth. Fëanor and his seven sons had sworn that they would stop at nothing to get them back, so when one of the Silmarils came into the possession of Eärendil and Elwing, the sons of Fëanor led a raid on the refugees by the sea, in which many Elves on both sides were killed. Eärendil and Elwing had already fled across the sea, never to return to Middle Earth. They took the Silmaril with them, so the sons of Fëanor didn't get what they wanted. The two remaining sons of Fëanor, Maedhros and Maglor repented of their evil actions and took the two boys into their house as their own children.
Soon after this, there was a great war known as the War of Wrath. The Valar, the Powers of the West, were god-like beings of Tolkien's world very similar to the Christian idea of Archangels or the ancient Greek gods. Morgoth himself was a renegade Vala. The rest of the Valar finally decided that Morgoth had done too much harm in the world. They went to war against him. Morgoth was defeated and his armies overthrown. After the war, many of the Elves left Middle Earth and went across the sea to the west to live in the land of the Valar.
Elrond and Elros's Curious Ancestry
The Valar also decided at this time to sort out the status of the four people known as 'Half-Elven'. To understand this, it is necessary to delve into the differences between Elves and Men, and to explain the curious ancestry of Elrond and Elros.
Elves are immortal. They live forever, and even if they are killed, their spirits return to the land of the Valar where they are re-incarnated and come back to live in this world again (although Tolkien was never very specific about how this happened or gave any examples of Elves who had done so).
Men2, on the other hand, are mortal: they die after a few brief years, a century at most. What happens to their spirits after that no one knows.
Because of this difference, it was never considered appropriate for an Elf to marry a Man. Only three times in the history of Middle Earth was this known to happen, and Elrond and Elros were descended from two of these Elf/Man pairings.
Elwë, the King of Doriath, was an Elf who married Melian the Maia. A Maia (plural 'Maiar') is an elemental spirit who takes on a human-like form. They are similar to the angels of Christianity. Notable Maiar in the stories include Sauron the Dark Lord, the wizards Gandalf, Saruman and Radagast, and the Balrog of Moria. It is also fairly certain but never explicitly stated that Tom Bombadil and his wife Goldberry, who appear in the first volume of The Lord of the Rings, were Maiar. The Maiar are immortal like the Elves, and had some magical powers. Melian seems to have been an unimportant Maia whose main role in life was to help the plants grow: the same sort of character as Bombadil's wife, Goldberry.
Elwë and Melian had only one child, a daughter called Luthien. She was supposedly the most beautiful person to ever live in the world. Luthien was considered to be an Elf, but she was really half a Maia. Luthien fell in love with a Man, Beren. They had many adventures together, but Elves are immortal, while Men become old and die. When Beren died, Luthien was left inconsolable, and she wasted away and died herself of grief.
Beren and Luthien's son was called Dior. He married an Elf called Nimloth, and their child was Elwing. Dior was killed when the sons of Fëanor attacked the refugees living by the sea. Elwing was the mother of Elrond and Elros.
Idril was an Elf, and the daughter of the King of Gondolin, the hidden city that resisted Morgoth's orcs for many centuries by nobody knowing of its existence. Tuor was a Man who found his way to the hidden city and married the king's daughter. Unfortunately, the city was discovered soon after this by Morgoth and was destroyed, but Tuor and Idril escaped. Their son was Eärendil, father of Elrond and Elros.
So Earendil, Elwing and their sons were of mixed parentage. Earendil was half Man, half Elf. Elwing was more complicated - five eighths Elf, one quarter Man and one eighth Maia. These four were the 'Half-Elven' (Elwing's father Dior had also been half-elven, but he had been killed by this time). It was not clear what would happen to the Half-Elven. Would they live forever, staying bound to Middle Earth, or would they die and go on to some other place?
The Valar were extremely powerful and had the ability to settle such issues. They decided that the Half-Elven themselves should be allowed to choose their own fate. They could be Man or Elf but not both.
Eärendil told Elwing to choose for both of them: he would go along with her decision. Elwing chose that they should be Elves. Since they never returned to Middle Earth, they didn't enter into the stories again, although legend had it that what we call the planet Venus is in fact Eärendil's ship sailing the skies with the Silmaril to light the way.
Elrond chose to be an Elf. This meant that he would live forever. Even if his body died, his spirit would be reincarnated and he would come back to the world, to stay within it until it ended. Elrond also decided not to go with the other Elves to the land of the Valar, but to remain in Middle Earth, where the remaining Elves were setting up a new kingdom called Lindon to the west of the Blue Mountains, ruled over by High King Gil-galad.
Elros chose to be a man. This meant that he would live for a while and then die. His spirit would depart from the world. What would happen next nobody knew, not even the Valar themselves. Because of his half-elven heritage, Elros was granted a long life, longer than any other man. He lived for 500 years and stayed hale and hearty to the end. But at the end of that time, before he became feeble and lost his wits, he lay down and the life departed from him.
Elrond in the Second Age
Tolkien's published books tell little of the Second Age. The Men who had fought in the war against Morgoth were rewarded by the Valar. They were given an island in the middle of the ocean, called Numenor, and Elros was made the first king of Numenor, taking the royal title of Tar Minyatur. The Numenorians, because of their contact with the Elves, became the most advanced and civilised men in the world.
Meanwhile, Elrond lived in Lindon under the rule of Gil-galad. Since Elrond was the heir to the kingdoms of Doriath and Gondolin, which had both been utterly destroyed in the wars, he was considered an important person, and was clearly Gil-galad's right-hand Elf, for we are told that when the evil Maia Sauron first made himself known in Middle Earth, he did not go to Lindon, because Gil-galad and Elrond mistrusted him.
Some Elves set up another kingdom, just west of the Misty Mountains at the gates of the great Dwarf city of Khazad-dûm. They called this land Eregion, meaning 'Land of Holly'. The Elves of Eregion became very skilled in crafts. Sauron at that time could adopt any form he pleased. He appeared to the Elves of Eregion in a fair form, and worked with them. He taught them many skills, and under his tutelage, they made the rings of power. But Sauron had a secret plan to ensnare and dominate the Elves. He forged the One Ring so that it would control the other rings and their wearers. But the Elves became aware of the plan and took off the rings. With his plan revealed, Sauron abandoned all pretence and sent an army of orcs from Mordor to attack Eregion and to seize the rings.
Gil-galad sent Elrond in charge of an army to defend Eregion against Sauron's attack, but it was too little and too late. By the time Elrond got there, the country had been destroyed. He retreated north with the refugees from Eregion. Rather than going back to Lindon, Elrond decided to settle beside the Misty Mountains and set up the refuge of Imladris, which later was known as Rivendell, in a deep and hidden valley. Elrond lived in Rivendell as the ruler of this group of Elves for the rest of the Second and Third Ages.
The Numenorians on their island in the ocean eventually came in contact with Sauron as well, and in the subsequent events, Numenor was destroyed. The island sank beneath the sea and most of the inhabitants were killed. A small number of them fled to Middle Earth, led by Elendil, and there they set up the kingdoms of Arnor in the Northwest, and Gondor in the South. Elendil was a direct descendent of Elros. As a result, Elrond had a particular attachment to the kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor, since their kings were direct descendants of his brother.
At the end of the Second Age, Sauron attacked Gondor. Elendil, leading the Men of Arnor and Gondor, and Gil-galad and Elrond, leading the Elves of Lindon and Rivendell, formed a giant army known as the Last Alliance of Elves and Men. They fought against Sauron on the Battle Plain in front of Mordor, and defeated Sauron's armies. They then besieged Sauron's dark tower and eventually he came out to fight them. Elendil and Gil-galad were both killed in the fight, but Elendil's son Isildur dealt Sauron a deadly blow. Sauron appeared to die, but his spirit left his body (he being a Maia) and fled, not returning for many thousands of years. Isildur took the One Ring from Sauron's body. Elrond saw him do it, and advised him to destroy it by throwing it into the nearby volcano. But Isildur was already under the spell of the Ring, and took it with him on his return journey to the North where his family were. He was waylaid by orcs along the way and the Ring was lost.
Elrond in the Third Age
Elrond returned to Rivendell. Never again did he lead any army - the time for the Elves to confront their enemies face-on in battle were past. He became a Master of Lore; his role became a giver of advice rather than a doer of deeds. Around this time, he married Celebrían, the daughter of Galadriel. (Celebrían's name is pronounced with a hard 'c': kel-eb-ree-an). They lived happily together for more than two thousand years of the Third Age. They had three children: the twin sons, Elladan and Elrohir, and a daughter, Arwen.
The Rings of Power had almost all been taken by Sauron when his orcs overran Eregion, but the three most powerful of them were kept by the Elves, and one was given secretly to Elrond. It was a gold ring with a great blue stone, and was called Vilya, the Ring of Air. As long as the One Ring was lost, Elrond could use his ring's power, and it is presumably because of this that Rivendell was never conquered when all around it perished.
The Kingdom of Arnor was not very successful. It gradually split into smaller kingdoms. The last king of Arnor was Eärendur. After him, the descendants of Elendil (and thus of Elrond's brother Elros) continued to rule the lesser kingdom of Arthedain. When that kingdom fell, they became chieftains and eventually the group known to themselves as Dúnedain (Men of the West) but to everyone else as Rangers. Through all this, the descendants of Elros were always welcome in Elrond's house.
About four centuries before the events of The Hobbit, Celebrían was travelling from Rivendell across the mountains to visit her mother in Lorien. In a mountain pass, she was captured by orcs. She was tortured and received a poisonous wound. Although Elrond was able to cure her physical wounds, she could never again find any joy in life, so she left Middle Earth and sailed west to the land of the Valar, never to return. Elrond did not follow her at that time but continued to live in Rivendell.
About eight years before Bilbo Baggins and the Dwarves went on their momentous journey to defeat the dragon and reclaim the Kingdom under the Mountain, the leader of the Rangers was killed. His son was only two years old. The Ranger's wife brought the child to Rivendell and Elrond took him in and raised him as his own - this was Aragorn. Elrond called him Estel (Hope) and throughout his childhood told him nothing of his ancestry.
Elrond, Aragorn and Arwen
Aragorn was brought up in Elrond's household. He was the many-greats-grandson of Elrond's brother. Aragorn would have been only ten when Bilbo and the Dwarves passed through Rivendell. He's not mentioned in The Hobbit, though.
When Aragorn was 20, Elrond told him who he was, the heir of Isildur and therefore heir to the Kingdom of Arnor and arguably Gondor too. Then Aragorn met Arwen, who had not been around Rivendell for many years. He fell in love with her, but she was rather amused by this - he was only barely into his adulthood, while she was already thousands of years old, and of a noble house.
When Aragorn was 49, he met Arwen again, this time in Lorien. He had matured a lot in the intervening years, and she was impressed. She returned his love, and they agreed to be married, even though this would mean that she would have to give up her long life and die when Aragorn died.
Elrond disapproved of this match. He had already lost his wife, but would meet up with her again eventually when he decided to leave Middle Earth and go West. The parting from Arwen, on the other hand, would be final. And although Aragorn was from a good family, he was little more than a vagabond and not at all suitable to marry the daughter of one of the most important Elves in the world. So he told Aragorn that he would only consent to the marriage when Aragorn had become King of both Gondor and Arnor.
Elrond's main role in The Lord of the Rings was to hold a council in which everybody figured out what was going on. He didn't fight in the War of the Ring, but at one point he sent his sons Elladan and Elrohir to bring a message to Aragorn, pointing out a dangerous but potentially rewarding way of winning the war - the Paths of the Dead.
After the War of the Ring, Aragorn was indeed crowned King of both Gondor and Arnor, and married Arwen. Elrond left Rivendell for the second last time, and travelled south to Gondor for the wedding, after which he said goodbye forever to his daughter.
With the destruction of the One Ring at the end of the War, Elrond's ring Vilya also lost its power. Times were changing, new kingdoms of Men were being set up, while the Elves were living on their memory of past times. Elrond decided the time had come to leave Middle Earth.
He left Rivendell for the last time and took a ship from the Grey Havens into the West. With him on that journey went Galadriel, Gandalf, Frodo and Bilbo.