The Textual History of Gil-galad – Of him the harpers sadly sing

by Oct 29, 2003Critical Viewpoints

The Lost Road and other writings :: The Fall of Númenor

    And it is said that in Beleriand there rose a king, who was of Númenórean race, and he was named Elendil, that is Elf-friend. And he took counsel with the Elves that remained in Middle-earth (and these abode then mostly in Beleriand); and he made a league with Gil-galad the Elf-king who was descended from Fëanor. And their armies were joined, and passed the mountains and came into inner lands far from the Sea. And they came at least even to Mordor the Black Country, where Sauron, that is in the Gnomish tongue named Thû, had rebuilt his fortresses. And they encompassed the stronghold, until Thû came forth in person, and Elendil and Gil-galad wrestled with him; and both were slain. But Thû was thrown down, and his bodily shape destroyed, and his servants were dispelled, and the host of Beleriand destroyed his dwelling; but Thû’s spirit fled far away, and was hidden in waste places, and took no shape again for many ages.

Thus Gil-galad entered into the writings of J. R. R. Tolkien in the Second Version of The Fall of Númenor written in the late 1930s before he took on the sequel to The Hobbit. In this writing also appeared for the first time the name of Mordor and also the first shreds of the Last Alliance. The roles of the various characters were very much in flux at this stage. For in this passage’s origins Elrond starts off in Gil-galad’s role as leader of the elves, but then becomes the first King of Númenor. Then Elros is introduced, replacing Elrond as that first king, but Elrond does not retake Gil-galad’s role instead being down-graded, as it were, to a herald.

The first written origin of this story was in a character who was called Agaldor, and later was renamed Amroth. In the original outline he is described thus:

    Agaldor chieftan of a people who live upon the N.W. margin of the Western Sea.

This was written seperately from the rest, as if it were a false start. The outline continued on to hold this passage:

    The [?longing] of the Númenóreans. Their longing for life on earth. Their ship burials, and their great tombs. Some evil and some good. Many of the good sit upon the west shore. These also seek out the fading elves. How [struck out at time of writing: Agaldor] Amroth wrestled with Thû and drove him to the center of the Earth and the Iron-forest.

This is most certainly the first idea that Sauron was destroyed at the end of the Second Age, and later arose and built Dol Guldur within the forest of Greenwood the Great, here called the Iron-forest. Then Tolkien began writing the First Version of the Númenorean story, and in this the role of Amroth rakes on further shape:

    And it is said that Amroth was King of Beleriand; and he took council with Elrond son of Eärendel, and with such Elves as remained in the West; and they passed the mountains and came into inner lands far from the sea, and they assailed the fortress of Thû. And Amroth wrestled with Thû and was slain; but Thû was brought to his knees, and his servants were dispelled; and the peoples of Beleriand destroyed his dwellings, and drove him forth, and he fled into a dark forest and hid himself.

So here we see how Elrond was a Lord of the Elves, a precursor of Gil-galad, here in council with Amroth, the precursor of Elendil who alone wrestled with Sauron. As was said above, Elrond became a mere herald, and Gil-galad first appeared as the Elf-king, but was descended from Fëanor. This is interesting in that it makes one wonder what Gil-galad’s parentage would have been, obviously through a Son of Fëanor. It is also interesting to note that the name Lindon has not yet appeared, and the North-western part of Middle-earth is here still referred to as Beleriand, showing us that in its origins, the destruction of Beleriand was not as large as it later came to be. For though Beleriand had been ‘changed and broken’, is is spoken of as ‘that land’, and it was peopled by Men and Elves able to form an alliance against Thû. It seems, therefore, that at the time of the Downfall of Númenor, further destruction of Beleriand at the time was not yet conceived, as was done later.

The further development of the Fall of Númenor brings forth, finally, the name of Lindon and the later conception that Beleriand was indeed completely destroyed

    for the sea covered all that was left save some of the mountains that remained as islands, even up to the feet of Eredlindon. But that land where Lúthien had dwelt remained, and was called Lindon. A gulf of the Sea came through it, and a gap was made in the Mountains through which the River Lhûn flowed out. But in the land that was left north and south of the gulf the Elves remained, and Gil-galad son of Felagund son of Finrod was their king.

Here Gil-galad’s ancestry takes another turn, and he now slides into the line of Finarfin, who at the time was called Finrod, through his son Felagund. Here first appears the Gulf of Lhûn and the gap in the Blue Mountains. In this same passage, Elendil comes forth with Valandil from the Drowning of Númenor, the first textual evidence that Elendil was a survivor of this, where it says that Elendil had aforetime loved the Eldar of Eressëa and so befriended those Elves who dwelt with Gil-galad in Lindon. Here first appears the precursor of Gondor, for Valandil sailed up the Great River Anduin and established another realm far to the south. Then the story continues with Sauron of Mordor, and the Last Alliance and the assembly of the Elves in Imladris and the marching east of their hosts.

However, I think that this last passage may have been written after or during The Lord of the Rings, because as you will read, there are drafts of the story therein where Gil-galad is still a descendant of Fëanor and the name of Elendil is still unclear in some spaces.

The only other mention of Gil-galad at this time, before the writing of The Lord of the Rings, can be found in the Etymologies where an example of the use of the prefix KAL-, is written:

    N calad light (cf. Gilgalad)

Gil-galad indeed appeared in small places as Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings. The first place he is mentioned seems to be in a draft where Trotter (the precursor of Strider) is found leading Frodo and his friends to Weathertop:

    Before long they reached the feet of the hills; and there they found, for the first time since they left the Road, a track plain to see. This they took, turning and following it south-west. It led them up and down, following a line of country that contrived to keep them hidden as often and as long as possible from view, either from the hill-tops above, or from the flats to the West. It dived into dells, and hugged steep banks, and found crossings over the streams, and ways round the bogs that these made in hollow places. Where it crossed a flatter and more open space it often had lines of large boulders on either side, screening the marchers almost like a hedge.

    ‘I wonder who made this path, and what for?’ said Frodo, as they passed along one of these avenues, where the stones were unusually large and closely set. ‘I am not sure I quite like it – it has a, well, rather barrow-wightish look? Is there any barrow on Weathertop?’

    ‘No!’ said Trotter. ‘There is no barrow on Weathertop nor on any of these hills. The Men of the West did not live here. I do not know who made this path, nor how long ago, but it was made to provide a way to Weathertop that could be defended. It is told by some that Gilgalad and Valandil [later > Elendil] made a fort and strong place here in the Ancient Days, when they marched East.’

    ‘Who was Gilgalad?’ asked Frodo; but Trotter did not answer, and seemed to be lost in thought.

Continuously, in the next chapter, Trotter does break down and tell them more of Gil-galad, this time they are in the dell of Weathertop, where Trotter is telling them tales to keep their minds from fear:

    ‘Tell us of Gil-galad!’ said Frodo – ‘you spoke that name not long ago, and it is still ringing in my ears. Who was he?’

    ‘Don’t you know!’ said Trotter. ‘Gil-galad was the last of the great Elf-kings: Gil-galad is Starlight in their tongue. He overthrew the Enemy, but he himself perished. But I will not tell that tale now; though you will hear it, I think, in Rivendell, when we get there. Elrond should tell it, for he knows it well. …’

Here seems to be the first evidence of the definition of Gil-galad’s name meaning ‘Starlight’ in the Elven tongue. Continuing on into the story, Trotter again has a short conversation with Bingo, the precursor of Frodo, when they arrive in the lands just west of Rivendell, where Trotter talks about a group of evil men who lived there, who were destroyed by Elendil and Gil-galad, when they went to war against Sauron. This shows the journey of the Last Alliance from Lindon to Imladris, and that there was indeed fighting even on the way, and not just when the Alliance arrived near Mordor. Later on, after Bingo is chased to the Fords of Rivendell by the Black Riders, he mentions the names of Elbereth and Lúthien, but in the pencilled text visible beneath the ink, Bingo took the names of Gil-galad and Elendil together with these, but of course these did not enter into the final draft of the story.

So here we see that in the drafting of The Lord of the Rings during the journey of Trotter and the Hobbits between Bree and Rivendell, he instructs and teaches the Hobbits of the history of those lands, much of which came from the time of the Last Alliance, so that Tolkien uses much of the story he had recently written of the Fall of Númenor, and took them even further into their final forms. But as Trotter had told the Hobbits, when they arrived in Rivendell, Tolkien decided that Elrond would tell a bit of the story of Gil-galad, an echo of some things that were already written, and this did not appear in the final draft:

    ‘Now in the dark days of Sauron the Magician [first written Necromancer, then Necromancer written again above Magician] had been very powerful in the Great Lands, and nearly all living things had served him out of fear. And he pursued the Elves that lived on this side of the Sundering Sea with especial hatred, for they did not serve him, although they were afraid. And there were some men that were friends of the Elves, though not many in the darkest of days.’

    ‘And how,’ said Bingo, ‘did his overthrow come about [> was his power made less]?’

    ‘It was in this way,’ said Elrond. ‘The lands and islands in the North-west of the Great Lands of the Old World were called long ago Beleriand. Here the Elves of the West had dwelt for a long while until [> during] the wars with the Power of darkness, in which the power was defeated but the land destroyed. Sauron alone of his chief servants escaped. But still after the Elves had mostly departed [> Although most of the Elves returned] again into the West, there were many Elves and Elf-friends that dwelt [> still dwelt in after days] in that region. And thither came many of the Great Men of old out of the Far West Island which was called by the Elves Númenor (but by some Avallon) [> out of the land of Westernesse (that they called Númenor)]; for Sauron had destroyed their island [> land], and they were exiles and hated him. There was a king in Beleriand of Númenorean race and he was called Elendil, that is Elf-friend. And he made alliance with the Elf-king of those lands, whose name was Gilgalad (Starlight), a descendent of Fëanor the renowned. I remember well their council – for it reminded me of the great days of the ancient war, so many fair princes and captains were there, yet not so many or so fair as once had been.’

    ‘You remember?’ said Bingo, looking astonished at Elrond. ‘But I thought this tale was of days very long ago.’

    ‘So it is,’ said Elrond laughing. ‘But my memory reaches back a long way [> to long ago]. My father was Eärendel who was born in Gondolin seven years before it fell, and my mother was Elwing daughter of Lúthien daughter of King Thingol of Doriath, and I have seen many ages in the West of the world. I was at the council I speak, for I was the minstrel and counsellor of Gilgalad. The armies of Elves and Men were joined once more, and we marched eastward, and crossed the Misty Mountains, and passed into the inner lands far from the memory of the Sea. And we became weary, and sickness was heavy on us, made by the spells of Sauron – for we had come at last to Mordor, the Black Country, where Sauron had rebuilt his fortress. It is on part of that dreary land that the Forest of Mirkwood now stands, and it derives its darkness and dread from the ancient evil [added: of the soil]. Sauron could not drive us away, for the power of the Elves was in those days still very great, though waning; and we besieged his stronghold for 7 [> 10] years. And at last Sauron came out in person, and wrestled with Gilgalad, and Elendil came to his rescue, and both were mortally wounded; but Sauron was thrown down, and his bodily shape was destroyed. His servants were dispelled and the host of Beleriand broke his stronghold and razed it to the ground. Gilgalad and Elendil died. But Sauron’s evil spirit fled away and was hidden for a long while in waste places. yet after an age he took shape again, and has long troubled the northern world [added: but his power is less than of old].

This is the first version of the story wherein Elrond had become the herald of Gil-galad, for previously he had been made into the first King of Númenor, and so now his younger brother Elros has come into the text. This text was the basis for Elrond’s story in the finalized draft during the Council of Elrond chapter of Book II.

On a side note to the relevence of Gil-galad in this passage, there is a very interesting piece of information here in that Elrond describes Mordor as containing within it the Forest of Mirkwood. At this time the map that we have now of Middle-earth did not exist, and Mordor is always described as being in the East. Therefore it may be here argued that at the writing of The Hobbit, the Necromancer’s Tower in Southern Mirkwood, later named Dol Guldur, may have actually been, in Tolkien’s mind at this time and draft, the same tower as the Dark Tower of Mordor. Back in the first version of the Fall of Númenor, Thû fled again and reappeared in the Iron Forest. At the end of The Hobbit in its then form (before it was revised), it is told that the white wizards ‘had at last driven the Necromancer from his dark hold in the south of Mirkwood’, but it is not said if it was destroyed. It certainly cannot be assumed that Tolkien had yet conceived of the mountain-defended land of Mordor far away in the South-east. But this argument may not be plausible, for Tolkien had already written in the chapter ‘Ancient History’ that the Necromancer ‘had flown from Mirkwood [i.e. after his expulsion by the white wizards] only to reoccupy his ancient stronghold in the South, near the midst of the world in those days, in the Land of Mordor; and it was rumoured that the Black Tower had been raised anew.’

Back to the main topic, the Last Alliance story took an other turn when Tolkien sat down to make some alterations to his story, and questioned some of what he had written. He now pondered the origins of Bilbo’s Ring, where it came from, and why the Dark Lord would desire it so. Then he jotted this note down:

    Bilbo’s ring proved to be the one missing Ring – all others had come back to Mordor: but this one had been lost. Make it taken from the Lord himself when Gilgalad wrestled with him, and taken by a flying Elf. It was more powerful than all the other rings. Why did the Dark Lord desire it so?

In the ‘foreword’ Gollum’s Ring had fallen ‘from the hand of an elf as he swam across a river; and it betrayed him, for he was flying from pursuit in the old wars, and he became visible to his enemies, and the goblins slew him.’ This is where the story of Isildur began; but now the Elf has it from Gil-galad, who took it from the Dark Lord, after their fight. At this point there had been no mention of Narsil or the loss of Sauron’s finger, so we have no explanation of how Gil-galad took the ring, but this was, nevertheless, the original conception of Sauron’s loss of the One Ring.

Later, when Tolkien rewrote ‘Ancient History’ we see Gandalf crediting Gilgalad with accomplishing the banishment of the Ring-wraiths:

    ‘Ring-wraiths!’ exclaimed Bingo. ‘What are they?’

    ‘We will not speak of them now,’ said Gandalf. ‘Let us not speak of horrible things without need. They belong to the ancient days, and let us hope that they will never again arise. At least Gilgalad accomplished that.’

Gandalf then continues on to tell Bingo Baggins the tale of the Fall of Sauron and he describes Gil-galad as ‘the one who bereft the Dark Lord of the One Ring,’ and tells of his allegiance with Orendil King of the Island, and how Sauron came forth and wrestled with Gil-galad and Orendil, and was overthrown. he then tells of how Isildor son of Orendil cut the One Ring from the finger of Sauron and took it for his own. Here we can see that the second version of the Fall of Númenor, discussed at the beginning of this essay, probably was not yet written, because the name of Elendil had not yet taken its final form at this point. But it is seen in the typescript that Tolkien first wrote:

    ‘but ere he fell Gilgalad cut the One Ring from the hand finger of Sauron, and gave it to Ithildor that stood by, but Ithildor took it for his own.’

This was changed at that time to the story related above and the spelling Ithildor was changed to Isildor. Later on, Tolkien instead wrote in Valandil as the King of the Island, which he then changed to Elendil, and Isildor was respelled Isildur, so the text of the second Fall of Númenor story comes closer to this. Later on in his further revision of the tale to Weathertop and Rivendell, Trotter again denies Merry, this time, the story of Gil-galad, but tells them that the possessor of the Ring should be asked, after which Frodo (now changed from Bingo) related them what Gandalf had already told him.

After Tolkien decided to continue on after Book I was somewhat in a finished state for that period of time, Tolkien made a query to himself on whether Elrond should tell more of Gil-galad during the Rivendell part of the story, but nothing further was made on this query, and the version of the story at this time contains most of the same information as it had acquired at this time. But during this, the Fourth Phase of the story, entered in Sam’s song of Gil-galad which even appears in the final draft of The Lord of the Rings. At this point Sam says that he found it in a book of Bilbo’s when he was a lad, to which Frodo responds that he knew of that book, but thought that none of it was true. But, like in the final version, Trotter informs them of the songs origin as part of a longer Lay which was made in Rivendell.

    Gil-galad was an Elven-king.
    Of him the harpers sadly sing:
    the last whose realm was fair and free
    between the Mountains and the Sea.

    His sword was long, his lance was keen,
    his shining helm afar was seen;
    the countless stars of heaven’s field
    were mirrored in his silver shield.

    But long ago he rode away,
    and where he dwelleth none can say;
    for into darkness fell his star
    in Mordor where the shadows are.

Now came the addition of Anarion, brother of Isildur, Osgiliath, and the appearance of Narsil, the sword that was broken. At this time also Gil-galad’s removal from the House of Fëanor to the House of Finrod, as the son of Inglor Felagund now takes place, bringing it, finally, into harmony with the second version of The Fall of Númenor, which appears at the beginning of this essay. Here also come in more details on the fall of Beleriand and the nature of the lands after the Drowning of Númenor, such as the Bay of Belfalas and the story of Elrond during the Council of Elrond appears now with the new aspects added in, bringing it much closer to the version of the story that was published. Gil-galad is also again mentioned when Tolkien began writing of the Rohirrim in the Golden Hall of Meduseld, because at first, Tolkien didn’t conceive of so many years going by between the Fall of Gil-galad and what later became the War of the Ring, so that in the first writings, Eorl came from the North to the great battle in which Gil-galad and Elendil were slain and Elendil took the Ring. But of course by the time the story was published, many more years passed in between the time of Elendil and the Ride of Eorl. Gil-galad also appears in the Tale of Years in the Appendices.

When The Lord of the Rings was finally finished and published, it had been fifteen years since Tolkien first wrote the name Gil-galad. Now it was the mid 1950s, and Tolkien turned back to his writings of the Elder Days. Thus when he picked up again those tales, he began writing The Grey Annals which told of the First Age in Beleriand, and Gil-galad is briefly referred to at one point, after the Fall of Fingolfin by the hand of Morgoth:


    Then in great sorrow Fingon took the lordship of the house of Fingolfin and the kingdom of the Noldor. But his young son Findor Gilgalad he sent to the havens.

This is an interestingly early first name of Gil-galad, before the change to Ereinion, because it is obviously only a change of Finrod, even though he is written here as the son of Fingon, and grandson of Fingolfin, rather than as the son of Finrod Felagund. This parentage through Fingon is what was used in the Silmarillion, although Tolkien did again change this parentage, which unfortunately has driven most people to believe this parentage, and not even know of the later, ‘true’ parentage which was later adopted.

In a the Later Quenta Silmarillion can be seen that his parentage through Felagund did survive in some form for a while, in this note which comes into the story of Nargothrond:

    But fearing now that all strong places were doomed to fall at last before the might of Morgoth, he sent away his wife Meril to her own folk in Eglorest, and with her went her son, yet an elvenchild, and Gilgalad Starlight he was called for the brightness of his eye.

Felagund’s wife Meril has not been named before, and is obviously a big change from his love story with Amárië of the Vanyar. It is said that Meril’s people were of Eglorest, so that she may have been some relation of Círdan, which makes for an interesting ancestry of Gil-galad in this version. It is interesting here to note that Meril was the name of the Elf in The Book of Lost Tales who was of the Vanyar, and was indeed related to Ingwë, and she there lived in the Land of the Elms, and there told Eriol some of the lore which was commonly know of the Elder Days. Another note on the subject appeared during the story of Beren and Lúthien, when Felagund was preparing to leave his people, where he left the crown of Nargothrond to Orodreth:

    But foreseeing evil he commanded Orodreth to send away his son Gilgalad, and wife.

However, this was struck out, and somewhat further on in the tale in the same version is a third hasty note, without direction for insertion but evidently referring to the passage in which Orodreth expelled Celegorn and Curufin from Nargothrond:

    But the Lady — wife of Inglor forsook the folk of Nargothrond and went with her son Gilgalad to the Havens of the Falas.

A blank space is here left for the name of Felagund’s wife. It is unknown when these notes were made, and they do not coincide with the other things which were written at this time, for in the Grey Annals there is a passage concerning the coming of Galadriel to Nargothrond for the last feast celebrating the hall’s completion in the year 102:

    … but foresight came upon Felagund as she spoke, and he said: ‘An oath I too shall swear and must be free to fulfill it and go into darkness. Nor shall anything of all my realm endure that a son should inherit.’

    But it is said that not until that hour had such cold thoughts ruled him, for indeed she whom he had loved was Amárië of the Vanyar, and she was not permitted to go with him into exile.

Amárië of course appears also in the Grey Annals after the death of Felagund, where it is said that Felagund dwells in Valinor with her. Later evidence will make it certain that these notes and the Quenta Silmarillion manuscript represent a rejected idea for the incorporation of Gil-galad into the traditions of the Elder Days, and had been abandoned. Christopher Tolkien himself, who edited the Silmarillion, says that he adopted Gil-galad’s parentage through Fingon after much hesitation, which was not in fact by any means the last of his father’s speculations on this question.

Gil-galad indeed came into Tolkien’s writing of the Akallabêth, which is the story of the Downfall of Númenor, and in Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age, both in which are heard echoes of what appears in The Lord of the Rings on the subject of Gil-galad, with few differences.

Gil-galad came also into smaller tales, like that of Aldarion, the fifth king of Númenor, and the History of Celeborn and Galadriel. But in a later work of Tolkien’s called The Shibboleth of Fëanor, we learn of the truest and latest conception of Gil-galad’s parentage.

    Finrod left his wife in Valinor and had no children in exile. Angrod’s son was Artaresto, who was beloved by Finrod and escaped when Angrod was slain, and dwelt with Finrod. Finrod made him his ‘steward’ and he succeeded him in Nargothrond. His Sindarin name was Rodreth (altered to Orodreth because of his love of the mountains). His children were Finduilas and Artanáro = Rodnor later called Gil-galad. (Their mother was a Sindarin lady of the North. She called her son Gil-galad). Rodnor Gil-galad escaped and eventually came to Sirion’s Mouth and was King of the Noldor there.

The only other change from this passage is that Artaresto, the name of Orodreth, was changed to Artaher, Sindarin Arothir, and thus Gil-galad is ‘the son of Arothir, nephew of Finrod’.

This was Tolkien’s last word on the subject although it must be mentioned that in Gil-galad’s letter to Tar-Meneldur, in the story of Aldarion and Erendis, Ereinion Gil-galad was originally written ‘Finellach Gil-galad of the House of Finarfin’ (where Finellach was changed from Finhenlach, and that from Finlachen). Ereinion was the name by which he was most remembered in legend, and it means ‘scion of kings’.


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Found in Home 5 Reading Room 5 Critical Viewpoints 5 The Textual History of Gil-galad – Of him the harpers sadly sing

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