From Gondolin to Trollshaws: Glamdring, Orcrist and Sting

sting

© Warner Bros. & MGM Studios

Three Elven swords were forged in Gondolin during the First Age, and presumably lost after the fall of this city as recounted in The Silmarillion. Glamdring, Orcrist and Sting make their proper appearance in The Hobbit in the lair of the three trolls, some 6,462 years later and just under 1,900 miles away from their original place of forging.

How and when could these swords have been carried such a long distance through three ages of wars, plunder and cataclysmic events?

The following is mere speculation after an analysis of the scant facts presented to us. It is by no means meant to be a definitive answer (indeed, there are still missing links), but it is hoped that here is presented an open argument which may hopefully lead to further discussions and opinions from others.

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Let’s start by assuming all three swords were always transported together. This saves us some extra complications. Second, there are other possible routes the swords could have been taken through before ending up as troll plunder in The Hobbit; however, what is presented here is just one possibility.

Middle-earth journey map.jpg

The Silmarillion makes no direct mention of these swords, but we know these were present in the city of Gondolin via a quote from The Hobbit.

They were made in Gondolin for the goblin-wars.

The Hobbit; Chapter 3, ‘A Short Rest’

“Goblin-wars” is undoubtedly a shadowy reference to the Wars of Beleriand, particularly between the Elves and the Orcs. In order for us to try to come up with a concrete result as to the mysterious re-appearance of the swords, we must start from the beginning and weigh the best possibilities at each stage.

1. Gondolin

Gondolin was an Elven stronghold during the First Age between the years 116 and 591. We can safely assume that all three swords were forged here during this time and utilised by the King and his servants (during the Nirnaeth Arnoediad and the eventual fall of Gondolin itself).

2. Mouths of Sirion

They must have come from a dragon’s hoard or goblin plunder, for dragons and goblins destroyed that city many ages ago.

The Hobbit; Chapter 3, ‘A Short Rest’

So says Elrond to Gandalf and the Dwarves in Rivendell when they produce the swords to him. However, this is problematic.

After the fall of Gondolin, the mystery begins. There are two possibilities as to the fate of the swords: either they were taken by orcs as plunder or they were secured by the exiled Elves who fled the city and made their way to the Mouths of Sirion, on the southwestern coasts of Beleriand.

We must remember that Gondolin fell some years before the catacylsmic events of the War of Wrath which brought about the destruction of all the lands of Beleriand and the end of the First Age. For the swords to have survived into the Third Age, they would have had to be carried over into Middle-earth. But for what purpose would the orcs do such a thing, given that they were on the winning side and had no reason to flee eastwards for the time being?

The second option is more likely. Tuor, father of Eärendil, escapes the sack of Gondolin with his family to the Mouths of Sirion and joins the exiles from Doriath. The swords might have made their way there, bestowed with honour as heirlooms of one of the mightiest Elven strongholds.

3. Lindon

As nephew to King Turgon of Gondolin, Erenion Gil-galad became King of the Noldor. Following the War of Wrath, he established his kingdom in Lindon, northwest of Middle-earth. It is here possible that the swords of Gondolin were passed on to Gil-galad*, by Eärendil before his voyage, and found themselves bestowed safely from the destruction of Beleriand.

4. Arnor

Presumably, when Gil-galad departed with his army to join the Last Alliance, in S.A. 3430, the swords were left in Lindon for the next 2,000 years before the final conflict with the Witch-king and the end of the Kingdom of Angmar.

Following Gil-galad’s death, Círdan took over the governance of Lindon till the end of the War of the Ring.

Círdan is an interesting character reaching far back to the earliest chapters in The Silmarillion. We know little about him, but he is a significant character who outlives many of his equally powerful Elf companions. He foresees many things and, at one time, is custodian of one of the three Rings of Power before giving it to Gandalf.

The swords would have passed into his keeping until the Battle of Fornost took place in T.A. 1975, between the forces of the Witch-king and those of the Dúnedain, Rivendell and Elves from Lindon. Whether Círdan took part in this battle cannot be confirmed, and neither can the presence of the swords.

There is no reason why Glamdring, Orcrist (and Sting) would be present at the Battle of Fornost, unless they were being wielded by high-ranking warriors from the Lindon army.

It is here that our chain of reasoning becomes severed beyond repair, but the presence of Elves from Lindon so close to the Ettenmoors, to which a defeated Witch-king finally escapes too before making his way to Mordor, might be indicative.

5. Ettenmoors

This is somewhat a tricky link between the different stages, as it can go both ways. We know from the swords being discovered in the trolls’ lair that they must have brought them with them into Trollshaws.

There is a quote in The Hobbit that in-directly helps to explain this. Gandalf recounts his run-in with two Elves from Rivendell:

It was they who told me that three of them [trolls] had come down from the mountains and settled in the woods not far from the road;

The Hobbit; Chapter 2, ‘Roast Mutton’

The “mountains” may refer to either the Misty Mountains or the Ettenmoors. The latter is a mountainous range that branches off from the former. Rivendell Elves making reference to trolls coming down from the mountains may very well be referring to the Misty Mountains.

However, in The Fellowship of the Ring, the Ettenmoors are referred to as the “troll-fells” and it is not hard to imagine trolls living in this area. It is also the place were the Witch-king fled to following his defeat at the Battle of Fornost.

7. Trollshaws

With the presence of Trolls in the Ettenmoors, it is no wonder that Bilbo and the Dwarves came across three of these creatures carrying their spoils and plunder from the place they had originally come from.

You’ve et a village and a half between yer, since we come down from the mountains.

The Hobbit; Chapter 2, ‘Roast Mutton’

This is what William, one of the trolls, says to the other two: veteran plunderers who have undoubtedly been looting and scavenging their way down until settling in the forest at Trollshaws, were the swords soon found themselves at the hands of new owners.**

Thoughts, ideas? Let us know in the comments below!

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*My theory supposes that Gil-galad received the swords from the Exiles of Gondolin, particularly Eärendil. Why they were not passed on to Elrond or Elros (Turgon being both their great-grandfather) is a mystery. Elrond himself seems surprised at the swords’ reappearance in The Hobbit.
**Whether the acquisition of the swords by the three trolls in The Hobbit was a recent one or not cannot be verified, but the evidence that they had recently plundered a village may point to the possibility that the trolls had found the swords shortly before the Dwarves did.
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4 thoughts on “From Gondolin to Trollshaws: Glamdring, Orcrist and Sting

  1. Here are my two cents. The swords must have traveled as a set, it’s unlikely that a collection of such rare weapons would somehow be assembled by the trolls. The swords were at a usable condition, that means either magic or recent acquisition – hard to imagine trolls taking care of them. Could it be that the troll cave is some ancient burrow or a crypt where these weapons sat well preserved and trolls just piled loot around them? As a troll I wouldn’t be inclined to build anything if there are ready-made holes in the area.

    There is mention of other loot, gold in particular. What use is gold for the trolls? These guys appear to be simply after food and good times. This is why I think it is likely they utilized some ancient construction as their den, and it happened that swords and other items were originally buried there. Crypt or a tower with deep basement (and ancient relics buried there) by the road sound realistic.

  2. A thought: if Cirdan had them at any time why would Elrond not know this and why would he speculate that Dragons or Goblins took them? It seems that Elrond reasons that they were lost at Gondolin when it was destroyed. As a lore master of the elves, and especially as the swords have a family relationship to him, why would he make that assessment unless Gondolin was the last known location (to the elves) of these swords?

    A counter argument to Elrond’s assessment might be: why would goblins want them (see the reaction of the Goblin king to them as an example). However, maybe goblins would not mind them if they had them, as goblins love bullying one another and these swords may give a tribe substantial bully power over another. Perhaps, this is what happened: Goblins took them (sneakily) and bullied other goblins. Bigger goblins heard about it and grabbed them. Some wiser, bigger orcs did the same and fled to a safer place only for a dragon to say “gotcha!”. Poor dragon gets killed by a man (maybe the dragon was Scatha – hehe). Trolls raid unprotected dragon hoard and eventually come down from the mountains.

    PS: The above information has not been gleaned from an unpublished letter by JRRT and should not be treated as canon! 😉

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