The Encyclopedia of Arda - an interactive guide to the world of J.R.R. Tolkien
Dates
Born I 503, sailed into the West I 538; immortal
Race
Divisions
Edain (through his father), Noldor (through his mother)
Culture
Titles
Meaning
'Sea-lover'
Pronunciation
e(r)are'ndil
(The '(r)' here is silent. Pronounce the word as if there were an 'r' where '(r)' is shown, but not the 'r' sound itself)

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  • Updated 29 May 2010
  • Updates planned: 1

Eärendil

The Mariner

Encyclopedia of Arda Timeline
Years of the Trees First Age Second Age Third Age Fourth Age and Beyond
"It is a prophecy among us that one day a messenger from Middle-earth will come through the shadows to Valinor, and Manwë will hear, and Mandos relent."
Words of Gwindor
from The Children of Húrin X
Túrin in Nargothrond

Prophecies of Eärendil

Long before his birth, the coming of Eärendil had been foreseen by the Eldar. Voronwë reported a prophecy that one day a messenger would emerge who could make the crossing of the Great Sea into the West, and call on the aid of the Valar. Círdan the Shipwright was said to have had a vision of a white ship that sailed through the airs: a foretelling of Eärendil's vessel Vingilot sent to him by the Valar1 long before that ship was ever built.

Birth and Childhood (I 503 - I 511)

Eärendil was born in the city of Gondolin in the spring of the year I 503, at a time after the Nirnaeth Arnoediad when that city remained a hidden stronghold among the ravaging forces of Morgoth. His parents were Idril, the daughter of King Turgon, and Tuor, a Man who had been sent to Turgon as a messenger of Ulmo. As such he was descended in equal measure from the Eldar and the Edain. In appearance he was said to resemble an Elf more than a Man - his skin was shining white and his eyes a clear blue - but he also inherited the natural strength of his father's people.

Eärendil, 'Devoted to the Sea', was the name chosen by Tuor for his son. Following the customs of the Elves, Idril gave him a name of her own, Ardamírë, meaning the 'Jewel of the World', and both names reveal a foresight of the child's coming role in Arda's history. For the first seven years of his life, Eärendil was raised in the royal courts of Gondolin, learning the noble Quenya of the royal household as his earliest tongue.

Eärendil's life in the courts of Gondolin came to an end at the festival known as the Gates of Summer in the year I 510. While the people of Gondolin awaited the red dawn, a sudden fire burst out against the mountains to the north: Morgoth had found the Hidden City at last. Soon there was battle even among the streets of Gondolin itself, and it is said that Maeglin (who had betrayed the city to Morgoth) attempted to abduct Idril and Eärendil, but Tuor defeated him. Tuor, Idril and the young Eärendil, with a remnant of the Gondolindrim, secretly followed a passage that out into the plain of Tumladen, and thence made their perilous escape through the Encircling Mountains.

The survivors of the Fall of Gondolin made their way southwards along the Vales of Sirion, protected by the power of Ulmo that still ran in that river. Where Sirion met Narog was the Land of Willows, Nan-tathren, and there the remnant of the people of Gondolin stayed for a while. In Nan-tathren Tuor made a song for his son, telling of the meeting with Ulmo at Vinyamar that had sent him to Gondolin, and it is said that this song awoke the longing for the sea in Eärendil.

From Nan-tathren, Tuor and Idril led their people on southwards to the Mouths of Sirion, where a refuge had been founded by Elwing and the other survivors of the Ruin of Doriath. There they settled on the shores of the sea.

At the Mouths of Sirion (I 511 - I 538)

At the Mouths of Sirion, the refugees were befriended by the Elves who dwelt on the nearby Isle of Balar. Círdan the Shipwright was among these, and he took Eärendil as an apprentice for a time, teaching him the arts of shipbuilding and navigation.

In the year I 525, fourteen years after their arrival at the Havens, when Eärendil had reached the age of twenty-two, he wedded Elwing, thus uniting the royal lines of Gondolin and Doriath. At this time, his father and mother chose to depart from Middle-earth. Idril gave her son the Elessar, and then set out with Tuor across the Great Sea in the ship Eärrámë, never to be seen again. After their passing, Eärendil became the lord of the people who dwelt at the Mouths of Sirion and shortly afterwards, in I 532, he became the father to twins: Elrond and Elros.

Though Eärendil had been born and raised in the land-locked and mountain-walled Hidden Kingdom of Gondolin, he had had a love of the Sea since his earliest years, and that Sea-longing had been awoken in full by his father at Nan-tathren. With the aid of his friend Círdan, he set about building a ship of his own, using wood from the birches of Nimbrethil, a forested region that lay to the north of the Mouths of Sirion. He named that ship Vingilot, 'Foam-flower', and aboard it he set out to voyage the Western Sea.

The Voyages of Eärendil

With three companions, Falathar, Erellont and Aerandir, Eärendil set out from Middle-earth to voyage the Great Sea and find a way, if he could, to Valinor in the West. What few records we have of these voyages are probably apocryphal, but according to one source Eärendil encountered, and slew, the monstrous spider Ungoliant.

Long before, the Valar had shrouded their land from seafarers, and Eärendil could find no way past the Enchanted Isles and the Shadowy Seas that barred the way westwards. And so at last he turned back, and sailed towards his home in Middle-earth.

One night, as Eärendil manned Vingilot's helm, he saw a strange sight: a great white bird bearing a light that shone as brightly as a star. The bird landed on the deck of his ship, but in the morning he discovered that the bird was Elwing his wife, bearing a Silmaril. The Sons of Fëanor had attacked the Mouths of Sirion seeking the Jewel, and Elwing had thrown herself into the Sea with it. Ulmo transformed her into the form a white bird, and thus she was able to reach Eärendil out on the ocean.

With his home lost, Eärendil turned his ship once more towards the West. He bound the Silmaril to his brow, and it shone more brightly as Vingilot passed further westward. The great voyage was a long and difficult one (some sources2 suggest that it took up to four years to complete) but at last, through the power of the holy jewel, Eärendil found his way to the coasts of Aman. He left his faithful crew aboard the ship, to avoid any punishment he might incur by setting foot in the Blessed Realm, but Elwing would not remain behind, and followed him ashore.

Leaving Elwing to wander the shore, Eärendil entered the Pass of Light and reached the city of Tirion, but the city was empty of people. At last he turned away from the city and began his journey back to Vingilot, but at that moment he was hailed by a figure on the hill of Túna: Eönwë the herald of Manwë, who summoned Eärendil to stand before the Valar.

The Judgement of the Valar and the War of Wrath

The Valar heard Eärendil's plea, and agreed to send aid to Middle-earth. They also judged Eärendil himself and Elwing his wife. Being descended from both Elves and Men, they were required to choose one of the two kindreds. Elwing elected to be counted among the Firstborn, and Eärendil followed her choice. The same choice was granted to all of their descendants, thus giving rise to the so-called Half-elven in Middle-earth, though neither Eärendil nor Elwing were permitted to set foot again in mortal lands.

Eärendil's companions were returned to Middle-earth, and his vessel Vingilot was carried through Valinor and transformed by the Valar. Aboard his shining ship Eärendil set out into the airs that surrounded Arda with the Silmaril shimmering on his brow. His light was visible even from Middle-earth, and as he voyaged the skies of the distant West he became the Evening Star. When that shining star was first glimpsed from Mortal Lands, those who saw it gave it the name Gil-Estel, the Star of High Hope, as a sign that the Valar remembered their plight.

The hopes raised by the Star were fulfilled. The Valar sent an overwhelming host into Middle-earth under the leadership of Eönwë, a force so great that even Morgoth could not hope withstand its assault. There followed the War of Wrath, a dreadful conflict lasting more than forty years that broke the land itself, but at its end Morgoth was captured by the force of the Valar and thrust into the Void. Eärendil played his part in this victory: sailing through the airs he joined battle with the great Dragon Ancalagon, and slew him.

The Legacy of Eärendil

After the War of Wrath, Eärendil and Elwing remained in the West, but their twin sons Elrond and Elros still lived in Middle-earth. They were also given the choice of their father and mother, whether to be counted among Elves or Men.

Elrond elected to be considered one of the Firstborn, and after the War he remained for a time in Lindon with High King Gil-galad. During the War of the Elves and Sauron he founded a refuge at Imladris, better known as Rivendell, and there he bore the Blue Ring Vilya until the end of the Third Age.

Elros took a different path, choosing to be considered a Man, and he became the lord of the surviving Edain. As a reward for their part in the conflict with Morgoth, these Edain were granted a new land, a Land of Gift across the Great Sea, and Elros became their first King, taking the name Tar-Minyatur. He enjoyed an extraordinary lifespan of five hundred years, and from him sprang the line of Kings of Númenor. Elendil was also a descendant of Elros, and thus the line of Eärendil continued among the Heirs of Isildur and Anárion, down even to Aragorn and his own descendants.

In the Undying Lands, Eärendil lived on, and could still often be seen by those who remained in Middle-earth: the gleaming of the Silmaril on his brow shone in the West as the Evening Star. Some of that light was captured in a phial by Galadriel, and given as a gift to Frodo Baggins as he passed through her land; without the light in that Star-glass, Frodo would not have succeeded in the Quest of Mount Doom. So, Eärendil still had a vital (if indirect) part to play in history, even at the end of the Third Age.


Notes

1

The fact that the Valar could send a vision of Eärendil's ship implies that they knew long before he was born that he would cross the Sea to seek their aid. That's confirmed in volume 12 of The History of Middle-earth, where it's said that Eärendil's survival was 'of vital importance to the designs of the Valar'.

This raises some questions about Eärendil's role: if his journey across the Sea was the fulfilment of a destiny designed by the Valar, then his function as a simple 'messenger' is called into question (because the Valar can hardly have ordained his journey without understanding why he would make it). It seems his role was more symbolic - an act of self-sacrifice and humility on behalf of Elves and Men - that compensated for the rebellious acts of Fëanor and opened the way for the Valar to intervene on behalf of his descendants.

2

According to The Tale of Years in volume 11 of The History of Middle-earth, Elwing escaped the kinslaying at the Mouths of Sirion in the year I 538, but Vingilot did not land in Aman until I 542. These dates are uncertain; they were subject to a great deal of revision, and never in fact published, but in all variations the length of Eärendil's voyage into the West seems consistent at four years in length.

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