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Sanctuary and Shelter in The House of Elrond
Happy October the Twenty-Fourth to all who observe
You are in the house of Elrond. And it is ten o'clock in the morning, on October the twenty-fourth, if you want to know
After being pursued by Black Riders, receiving a wound that that cannot be wholly cured by a stab from the Witch-king’s Morgul-blade, and narrowly escaping across the Bruinen River while the Black Riders are swept away in a miraculous flood, Frodo wakes in a strange room to find Gandalf at his bedside. It is ten o’clock on October the twenty-fourth and he is in Rivendell, the House of Elrond.
In The Hobbit, Gandalf describes Elrond’s home to Bilbo and the rest of Thorin’s company as “the Last Homely House.”1 Tolkien expands on what this means a few pages later:
“[Elrond’s] house was perfect, whether you liked food, or sleep, or work, or story-telling, or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all. Evil things did not come into that valley.”2
In The Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkien quotes this description from The Hobbit of Rivendell as a perfect house but adds that “Merely to be there was a cure for weariness, fear, and sadness.”3
Who is the lord of this great and blessed house? What kind of figure could create such a kingdom, even in the fantastical world of Middle-earth?
The Lord of Rivendell was Elrond Half-elven, who (fittingly considering his heritage) was “mighty among both Elves and Men.”4
It is no coincidence that Elrond could create such a healing, perfect, homely house. For studying his personal history reveals that he has seemingly created the kind of community and refuge that he himself found that he needed and that he knew others would too.
As Frodo observes Elrond for the first time when he wakes, Tolkien describes the Elf-lord for the reader: “The face of Elrond was ageless, neither old nor young, though in it was written the memory of many things both glad and sorrowful.”5
It is this mixture of joy and sorrow in his life that I find so interesting, especially considering how it all contributes towards shaping Elrond and contributing towards the character of his realm, Imladris.
Elrond’s parents were the legendary Eärendil and Elwing, both half-elven themselves. Eärendil sailed to Valinor to entreat the Valar to come to the aid of Elves and Men and fight Morgoth. The Valar agree, but after the battle Eärendil and his ship are transformed into a star sailing through the heavens with a Silmaril on the prow.
Though his parents were legendary, their fates took them from Elrond when he was young. At the age of six, Elrond was effectively orphaned, for his mother flung herself into the sea with the final surviving Silmaril when the Sons of Fëanor attacked in an attempt to retake it and fulfill the oath they swore. At first prisoners of the Sons of Fëanor, Elrond and his twin brother Elros were raised by one of them, Maglor.
Given the choice to be counted either as Elves or Men because of their half-elven heritage, Elrond chose the life of the Eldar and Elros chose the life of the Edain. So though he became the first king of Númenor and lived a long life as far as the race of Men counted it, Elros still dies.
Elrond eventually finds love, marrying Celebrían, daughter of Celeborn and Galadriel. The have children—Elladan, Elrohir and Arwen—but tragedy strikes again as Celebrían is captured and then tortured by orcs. Though she is rescued and Elrond applies his considerable talents of healing to her, she never fully recovers and ends up sailing away to the West.
Left by his parents and his brother, Elrond finds himself left once again by his wife.
Elrond also loses countless friends and companions in the struggle against Sauron. Celebrimbor, Gil-galad, Elendil, and many more fall in the fight against the Dark Lord.
And the losses during his life have not ended. For the tale of Arwen and Aragorn means that he will be separated from his beloved daughter as well.
Any one of these tragedies by themselves would be devastating. Together, they threaten to overcome and embitter even the strongest of souls.
But Elrond not only survives these tragedies and these griefs. He overcomes them.
When Eregion is destroyed and Celebrimbor slain, Elrond founds Rivendell as a refuge for the survivors. Forever after it is a place of strength against Sauron and shelter for the Free Peoples of Middle-earth.
Out of tragedy Elrond creates a haven for those who are weary, afraid, and sorrowful. In the face of this life of loss after loss, sorrow following sorrow, and pain piled upon pain, Elrond does not despair. No, he remains not just “fair in face as an elf-lord, as strong as a warrior, as wise as a wizard, [and] as venerable as a king of dwarves,” but somehow also remains “kind as summer.”6 Wounded, he becomes a healer. Through great loss, he establishes a shelter for those who themselves have suffered loss and are grieving.
It is no wonder that Bilbo finds during his first visit in The Hobbit that he would have gladly stopped in Rivendell for ever and ever—and indeed returns there after his eleventy-first birthday. “Merely to be there was a cure for weariness, fear, and sadness.”
So if and when you face hardship, do not despair. Remember the great Lord of Rivendell and his Homely House. Perhaps you too can channel some of your sorrow into caring for the hurts of others, welcoming others who have faced loss. May you remain “kind as summer” no matter what you face.
There is another Lord who faced great suffering and loss and whose house is a refuge and cure for weariness, fear, and sadness. He has not just survived tragedy, but has conquered it. And this Lord would welcome you into his home if you would but ask.
All typos are totally on purpose. Links may be affiliate.
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, 44.
Tolkien, The Hobbit, 49.
Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, 225.
Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, 227.
Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, 227.
Tolkien, The Hobbit, 49.