Eärendil and Elwing

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Eärendil the Mariner (pronounced [ɛaˈrɛndil]) and his wife Elwing are fictional characters in J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth legendarium. They are depicted in The Silmarillion, as the children of Men and Elves. He is a great seafarer who, on his brow, carried the morning star, a jewel called a Silmaril, across the sky. The jewel had been saved by Elwing from the destruction of the Havens of Sirion. Tolkien took his name from the Old English Earendel, found in the poem Crist, which hailed him as "brightest of angels".

Tolkien character
In-universe information
Aliasesthe Mariner
Tolkien character
In-universe information
AliasesElwing the White
Book(s)The Silmarillion

Eärendil is the subject, too, of the song in The Lord of the Rings sung and supposedly composed by Bilbo in Rivendell, described by Tom Shippey as exemplifying "an elvish streak ... signalled ... by barely-precedented intricacies" of poetry.[1]


Eärendil means 'Lover of the Sea' in Tolkien's invented language of Quenya. However, Tolkien borrowed the name from Old English literature.[2] Tolkien stated that the name came from the Old English name Earendel; he was struck by its "great beauty" c. 1913, which he perceived as "entirely coherent with the normal style of A-S, but euphonic to a peculiar degree in that pleasing but not 'delectable' language.".[T 1] Elwing's name means "Star-spray" in Tolkien's Elvish language Sindarin.[3]

Fictional historyEdit

The half-elven son of Tuor and Idril, daughter of Turgon, Eärendil was raised in Gondolin. When Eärendil was seven years old, he escaped the sacking of Gondolin with his parents. He was almost killed by his mother's treacherous cousin Maeglin, who had betrayed Gondolin, but was saved when his father slew Maeglin. Eärendil and his parents lived afterwards in Arvernien by the mouth of Sirion. Eärendil later became the leader of the people who lived there, and married Elwing the half-elven daughter of Dior and the Sindarin elf-maid Nimloth. Beren and Lúthien are Elwing's paternal grandparents. They had two sons, Elrond and Elros. Elrond would later come to play an important role in Tolkien's most widely known story, The Lord of the Rings.

With the aid of Círdan the Shipwright, Eärendil built a ship, Vingilótë (Quenya for "foam-flower"). He often sailed the seas west of Middle-earth, leaving his wife behind in Arvernien.[4] At this time Elwing had in her possession the Silmaril that Beren had wrested from Morgoth. When the remaining sons of Fëanor heard about this, they attacked Arvernien and killed most of the people living there. Elwing, rather than be captured, threw herself with the Silmaril into the sea. Next, according to The Silmarillion:

For Ulmo bore up Elwing out of the waves, and he gave her the likeness of a great white bird, and upon her breast there shone as a star the Silmaril, as she flew over the water to seek Eärendil her beloved. On a time of night Eärendil at the helm of his ship saw her come towards him, as a white cloud exceeding swift beneath the moon, as a star over the sea moving in strange courses, a pale flame on wings of storm. And it is sung that she fell from the air upon the timbers of Vingilot, in a swoon, nigh unto death for the urgency of her speed, and Eärendil took her to his bosom; but in the morning with marvelling eyes he beheld his wife in her own form beside him with her hair upon his face, and she slept.[T 2]

Hearing of the tragedy that had befallen Arvernien, Eärendil then sought after Valinor, aboard the Vingilot, and he and Elwing found their way there at last. Eärendil thus became the first of all mortals to set foot on Valinor. Eärendil then went before the Valar, and asked them for aid for Men and Elves in Middle-earth, to fight against Morgoth; the Valar accepted his plea.[T 2]

Because Eärendil had undertaken this errand on behalf of Men and Elves, and not for his own sake, Manwë refrained from dealing out the punishment of death that was due. Also, because both Eärendil and Elwing descended from a union of Elves and Men, Manwë granted to them and their sons the gift to choose to which race they would be joined (a gift that was further passed to the children of Elrond, who became known as the Half-elven). Elwing chose to be one of the Elves. Eärendil would have rather been one of the Men; however, for the sake of his wife, he chose to be one of the Elves also. His ship, Vingilot, was placed in the heavens, and he sailed it "even into the starless voids", but he returned at sunrise or sunset, glimmering in the sky.[T 2]

The Valar marched into the north of Middle-earth and attacked the Throne of Morgoth in the War of Wrath. Morgoth set loose a fleet of winged dragons, which drove the Valar back. Eärendil in Vingilot attacked, with Thorondor and his great eagles, and killed Ancalagon the Black, greatest of the dragons. Ancalagon fell on to Thangorodrim and broke its towers. The Valar won the battle, destroying the dragons and the pits of Angband, captured Morgoth, and took the two remaining Silmarils from his crown.[T 2]

Family treeEdit

Half-elven family tree[T 3][T 4]

Melian the MaiaThingol
of the Teleri
House of BëorHouse of HalethHouse of HadorFinwë
of the Noldor
of the Vanyar
of the Teleri
22 Kings
of Númenor and
Lords of Andúnië
21 High Kings
of Arnor
and Arthedain
27 Kings
of Gondor
15 Dúnedain
EldarionUnnamed daughters
Colour key:
Colour Description
     Half-elven who chose the fate of elves
     Half-elven who chose the fate of mortal men

Concept and creationEdit

In 1914, Tolkien wrote a poem The Voyage of Earendel the Evening Star, inspired by the "Crist" poem of Cynewulf.[5] While studying at Oxford, Tolkien developed a constructed language that later became known as Quenya. Already around 1915 he had the idea that this language needed an internal history and was spoken by Elves whom his invented character Eärendil meets during his journeys.[6] The next step in the creation of the underlying mythology was the Lay of Earendel, a work composed of several poems that describes the mariner Earendel and his voyages and how his ship is turned into a star. The mysterious land of Valinor and its Two Trees of gold and silver were first described in this cycle.[7]

The poem was published in The Book of Lost Tales 2.[T 5] Tolkien was also aware of the name's Germanic cognates (Old Norse Aurvandill, Lombardic Auriwandalo), and the question why the Old English rather than the Lombardic or Proto-Germanic form should be taken up in the mythology is alluded to in The Notion Club Papers. The Old Norse together with the Old English evidence point to an astronomical myth, the name referring to a star, or a group of stars; the Old English in particular points to the morning star as the herald of the rising Sun, Christianized to refer to John the Baptist.[2]

Tolkien was particularly inspired by the lines in the Crist:[5][8]

éala éarendel engla beorhtast / ofer middangeard monnum sended
Hail Earendel, brightest of angels, over Middle-earth to men sent

This can be taken as the inspiration not only for the role of Eärendil in Tolkien's work from as early as 1914, but for the term Middle-earth (translating Middangeard) for the inhabitable lands (c.f. Midgard). Accordingly, the medievalists Stuart Lee and Elizabeth Solopova state that Crist was "the catalyst for Tolkien's mythology".[5][8][9]

The first line is paralleled by Frodo Baggins' exclamation in The Two Towers, Aiya Eärendil Elenion Ancalima!, which in Tolkien's invented language of Quenya means, "Hail Eärendil, brightest of stars!" Frodo's exclamation was in reference to the 'Star-glass' he carried, which contained the light of Eärendil's star, the Silmaril.

Tolkien's legend of Eärendil has elements resembling the Mabinogion or the Christian legend of St. Brendan the Navigator.[10] The Tolkien scholar Tibor Tarcsay wrote that Eärendil is based not only on Old English but also Indo-European and universal myths. His ship Vingilot is mentioned in Geoffrey Chaucer's The Merchant's Tale as the name of Wade's ship; Wade is in turn mentioned in the Old English poem Widsith, while Sir Gawain's horse has a name similar to Vingilot, Gryngolet. He notes that Wade has power over the sea and superhuman strength, and that numerous other mythical Indo-European figures share Eärendil's conjunction of water, boat or horse, and herald or star, such as Surya, the sun-god of the Vedas, or Apollo with his horse-drawn chariot which pulls the sun across the sky.[11]

Humphrey Carpenter, in his biography of Tolkien, remarked that Eärendil "was in fact the beginning of Tolkien's own mythology".[5]

Elwing's staying at home waiting for her husband to return from his vain voyages across the ocean echoes the literary motif of the "long-suffering woman". The choice of fate offered by the Valar to Eärendil and Elwing, resulting in both of them becoming immortal Elves, has been interpreted as a move of Tolkien to solve "several untidy plot points in one fell swoop": Being Half-elven, neither of the two would have been allowed to set foot in the land of the Valar, nor was their eventual fate determined since in Tolkien's legendarium Men are mortal, while Elves will live until the world is undone. The metamorphosis of the couple continues as Eärendil's ship is transformed into a flying vessel, so he can continue his journeys in the sky rather than at sea. Still now, Elwing will remain at home, but she is granted a white tower to dwell in.[4]

Elwing's love for Eärendil has been compared to Richard Wagner's opera The Flying Dutchman, where the protagonist is doomed to sail the seas until he finds true love. The opera's heroine Senta casts herself into the sea to die when the Dutchman does not return her love, whereas Elwing is transformed into a bird and is able to fly to Eärendil. A connection may also be made between Elwing and Ino, a figure in Greek mythology. She is a princess of Thebes who leaps into the sea and is transformed into a "white goddess". In the Odyssey, she rescues Odysseus just as Elwing saves Eärendil.[3]

Song of EärendilEdit

The longest poem in The Lord of the Rings is the Song of Eärendil which Bilbo sings, and supposedly composed, at Rivendell.[1] This poem has an extraordinarily complex history, deriving through many versions from his light-hearted poem "Errantry".[T 6] The Song of Eärendil is described by Tom Shippey as exemplifying "an elvish streak .. signalled .. by barely-precedented intricacies" of poetry, an approach derived from the Middle English poem Pearl.[1][12] The song was recorded by The Tolkien Ensemble on their 2005 CD Leaving Rivendell.[13]

In popular cultureEdit

A species of fossil mammal from the Paleocene was named Earendil undomiel by Leigh Van Valen in 1978.[14] The name translates to 'Earendil Evenstar'.



This list identifies each item's location in Tolkien's writings.
  1. ^ Letters, #297, draft, to Mr Rang, August 1967
  2. ^ a b c d The Silmarillion, ch. 24 "Of the Voyage of Eärendil and the War of Wrath"
  3. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1977), Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age": Family Trees I and II: "The house of Finwë and the Noldorin descent of Elrond and Elros", and "The descendants of Olwë and Elwë", ISBN 0-395-25730-1
  4. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1955), The Return of the King, The Lord of the Rings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), Appendix A: Annals of the Kings and Rulers, I The Númenórean Kings, ISBN 0-395-08256-0
  5. ^ The Book of Lost Tales 2, pp. 267–269
  6. ^ The History of Middle-earth, The Treason of Isengard, pp. 84-105


  1. ^ a b c Shippey, Tom (1982). The Road to Middle-Earth. Grafton (HarperCollins). pp. 173–177. ISBN 0261102753.
  2. ^ a b Hostetter, Carl F. (1991). "Over Middle-earth Sent Unto Men: On the Philological Origins of Tolkien's Eärendel Myth". Mythlore. Article 1. 17 (3).CS1 maint: location (link)
  3. ^ a b Day, David (2019). "Elwing (Star-spray) the White". A Dictionary of Sources of Tolkien. Hachette UK. ISBN 9780753734063.
  4. ^ a b Larsen, Kristine (2011). "Sea Birds and Morning Stars: Ceyx, Alcyone, and the Many Metamorphoses of Eärendil and Elwing". In Fisher, Jason (ed.). Tolkien and the Study of His Sources: Critical Essays. McFarland & Company. pp. 69–83. ISBN 978-0-7864-6482-1.
  5. ^ a b c d Carpenter 2000, p. 79.
  6. ^ Solopova, Elizabeth (2009), Languages, Myths and History: An Introduction to the Linguistic and Literary Background of J.R.R. Tolkien's Fiction, New York City: North Landing Books, p.75, ISBN 0-9816607-1-1
  7. ^ Carpenter 2000, p. 84.
  8. ^ a b Lee, Stuart D.; Solopova, Elizabeth (2005). The Keys of Middle-earth: Discovering Medieval Literature Through the Fiction of J. R. R. Tolkien. Palgrave. p. 256. ISBN 978-1403946713.
  9. ^ Garth, J. (2003). Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-earth. Harper-Collins. p. 44. ISBN 978-0007119530.
  10. ^ Stephens, Charles (1994). Shakespeare's Island: Essays on Creativity. Polygon Books. p. 88. ISBN 978-0-74866-139-8.
  11. ^ Tarcsay, Tibor (2015). "'Chaoskampf', Salvation, and Dragons: Archetypes in Tolkien's Earendel". Mythlore. 33 (2 (126)): 139–150. doi:10.2307/26815994.
  12. ^ "Pearl". Pearl. Retrieved 15 January 2020.
  13. ^ The Tolkien Ensemble (2005). Leaving Rivendell. Classico (CD 765).
  14. ^ "†Earendil undomiel Van Valen 1978 (condylarth)". Paleobiology Database. Retrieved 19 September 2012.