The Sunday Salon: Eärendil and Elwing

I promise not every Valentine’s post is going to be about straight couples from Tolkien, okay? It’s just that this couple in particular has captured my imagination recently. Anyway, my usual Valentine’s festivities are ready to go; this year’s inappropriate Valentine’s are Star Wars: The Phantom Menace-themed. (Alas, Darth Maul does not feature on any of them. He does feature on a box of chocolates, however!)

The Star

Eärendil will be known to casual fans of The Lord of the Rings as the elf they named Galadriel’s phial after. He’s also Elrond’s father and Arwen’s grandfather, just to situate you. (And a super-distant grandfather to Aragorn. The more you know…) In the early days of Middle-Earth, Eärendil was a great explorer of the seas, with the aid of Círdan the Shipwright. His life is full of great deeds—the slaying of Ancalagon the dragon, being the first mortal to set foot in Valinor (the land of the gods), and founding Aragorn’s line (which is kind of important). But perhaps Eärendil’s greatest accomplishment is tied with the story of his wife, Elwing.

The Seagull

Seagull landing

Elwing was the daughter of the King of Doriath—at least, until the sons of Fëanor, seeking one of the jewels known as the Silmarils, laid waste to it. Elwing, who had inherited the gem, fled. At the end of her flight, she met and wed Eärendil, as well as bearing him the twins Elrond and Elros. As Eärendil set about his sea travels, Elwing looked after the homestead and, of course, the Silmaril. When the sons of Fëanor made another attack in his absence, she threw herself into the ocean to drown herself and the gem forever—only to find herself a bird heading toward her husband’s ship, passing into myth…

Between the Sea and the Sky

What captivates me about this couple is pretty simple—it’s this passage.

Thus Maedhros and Maglor gained not the jewel; but it was not lost. 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 course, 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. (297)

The Silmarillion is full of moments like this—moments of great beauty amidst great darkness. But the image of Eärendil waking to find his wife’s familiar hair strewn across his face, the delicate, dark lace falling and rising with their combined breath, as Elwing enjoys an unexpected respite has just captured my imagination as few other passages have. They’re also, among the fairly well-documented history of Middle-Earth, subjects of myth—after their illustrious involvement in the war against Morgoth (Sauron’s boss, for those playing at home), Eärendil (with the Silmaril) becomes a star designed to symbolize hope, and Elwing is able to become a bird at will. (A lot of people think she turns into a swan; I prefer a seagull, especially considering its associations and connotations in Middle-Earth.) There’s also the fact that the two, as half-elves, were given the opportunity to choose whether or not to be Men or Elves. (This is why Arwen is able to make this choice in The Lord of the Rings.) And Eärendil loves, respects, and trusts his wife so much that he lets her choose their fates, even though they’re ultimately quite independent of each other. In the context of Arwen’s choice to be mortal to stay with Aragorn, I find Elwing’s completely opposite choice fascinating.

And another reason they’ve been sticking in my mental craw is the following song, which not only communicates the early days of Middle-Earth, but Elwing’s vitality, faith, and fate. Mythical, epic couples in fantasy can also be trusting, equal, and independent. So here’s to you, Eärendil and Elwing. Perhaps I’ll be a bird one day, if I’m good enough…

It’s been a regular week of classes—I managed to finish The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, as well as peruse Batwoman: Elegy. I’m not sure what I’ll pick up next, but I’m feeling either Catching Fire (the nonfiction book) or The Two Princesses of Bamarre. Hmm.

MacMillian is giving away four EVE Online battleships until the fourteenth. Tor/Forge is giving away David Weber’s Safehold series until March 9th; you have to sign up for their newsletter. The Baen Free Library is full of free downloads, including The Shadow of the Lion and On Basilisk Station. Night Shade Books is offering Butcher Bird and Grey as free downloads at the moment. Vertigo Comics is offering free downloads of the first issue of several series, including Fables, The Unwritten, and Y: The Last Man. (And you will go download The Unwritten.) Small Beer Press offers several of their books as free downloads, including Kelly Link’s Magic for Beginners. If I’ve missed your giveaway or freebie, drop me a line!

Who are your favorite literary couple?

  • Tolkien, J. R. R. The Silmarillion. Ballantine Books: New York, 2001.

4 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: Eärendil and Elwing

  1. My favorite literary couple also comes from fantasy, though one much more modern than Tolkien. The literary couple I like most is Vin and Elend from the Mistborn novels. They are wonderful counter-balances to each other, yet their beliefs and core ideals coincide in a perfectly healthy way. They aren’t perfect for each other, which two of the subplots of The Well of Ascension illustrate, but they do complete each other more and more as time goes on.

    In a culture of mass media that thrives on love triangles, Brandon Sanderson uses Vin and Elend to give readers a rich and complex pair of characters whose real feelings aren’t whims that dance with the plot.

  2. Benedick and Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing. Elizabeth and Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. Oh, the Vimeses from Terry Pratchett because they’re so sensible and lovely. You can see a pattern here. . .

  3. Pingback: The Sunday Salon: Genre Fiction and Feelings « The Literary Omnivore

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