This is the only time you will see me use proper capitalization.
Elvenking of the Woodland Realm; a vigilant and prudent ruler of a deteriorating race for over three thousand years. He made a few choices in The Hobbit, made a few decisions that suddenly seem be looked down upon by hundreds of readers.
I don’t know why this happens. Either people are woobifying the dwarves and labeling anyone who acts against them as an egotistical and deprecating tyrant—or they’re just not reading the books carefully enough.
Regardless, I feel like it needs to be discussed.
Follow me, children, and let’s talk about Thranduil.
WARNING: this post contains massive Hobbit book spoilers below, including character deaths.
If you wish to remain unspoiled, please do not ready any further.
As with any narrative, we should probably start at the beginning.
Thranduil was born somewhere at the end of the First Age, making him well over three thousand years old. He was the only child of Oropher, a dauntless and noble Sindarian King of the Silvan Elves.
Oropher was killed in the Last Alliance of Elves and Men—a battle we’re all quite familiar with because it was shown at the beginning of the Fellowship of the Ring.
Oropher died along with a large number of elves and men, but Thranduil survived and was able to lead the remainder of his people back to Mirkwood once Sauron was defeated.
As the only heir of Oropher, Thranduil became the King of the Woodland Realm.
Jumping ahead to the Third Age, Sauron makes his big return to Middle Earth. He inhabits the southern part of Mirkwood (known as Greenwood at the time) and the fortress of Dol Guldur was built. The shadow that Sauron brought with him forced Thranduil and his people to relocate to the northern part of the realm to fortify and protect themselves. From this point on, the forest was known as Mirkwood.
You have to think about this for a minute. Mirkwood had essentially become haunted. Giant spiders and other dark creatures such as orcs were a constant threat to Thranduil and his people. It’s mentioned that the shadow of Sauron caused the Mirkwood elves to become “diminished and wary”. It was a dangerous place for Thranduil and his people to be living but it was also their home, and if we’ve learned anything from history it’s that people will do foolish and brave things when it comes to protecting their land.
And so Thranduil became cautious, as would any king. His people were in constant danger and they could no longer live as freely as they once did. Obviously they took this with a grain of salt, as in the Hobbit they are partying freely outdoors without much of a care to any danger. But the fact remains that there are giant fucking spiders on the loose. (*EDIT: Someone pointed out that Thranduil might throw parties to lift the spirits of his people since they were living in such dark times. This is a really good point and I think it’s a very likely situation.)
I feel like I should also mention that Thranduil does not have a ring of power. Only three rings were given to the elves, and Thranduil was not one of them. Galadriel has one and she uses it to protect Lothlorien and its borders. If Thranduil were to actually have one of the rings, I’m sure he would use it in the same way.
Anyways, we’re starting to approach the events of The Hobbit and the capture of the dwarves. Before I can discuss any of that, I should first tackle the subject of why elves and dwarves are so ferocious and indifferent toward each other—and why Thranduil himself might have a personal reason to dislike them.
Back when Oropher was still alive (and before he founded Mirkwood), he and Thranduil both lived and served under the reign of Thingol, the King of Doriath. Thingol had a favorable relationship with the dwarves at this time. He would hire them to build caverns and create jewelry and in return Thingol would compensate them for their work. The dwarves created a necklace called the Nauglamir and it was really fancy and one of their greatest creations.
Thingol had an obsession with the Silmaril and asked the dwarves to place one of them within the Nauglamir. The dwarves agreed and completed the task, but were completely overwhelmed with its beauty—they became greedy and wanted it for themselves in return for all the work they had done. Thingol refused and sent them away without any payment at all. The dwarves returned and killed Thingol out of resentment.
This is probably the first event that set off the constant suspicion and mistrust that existed between elves and dwarves. Considering that Oropher and Thranduil were present at the time, it can be assumed that they might have held a grudge against the dwarves who slew their king.
And now for the events within The Hobbit book.
There is mention of Thranduil’s love and lust for treasure. His desire for wealth was probably an alternative for not having a ring of power or any means of serious protection for his borders. It is likely that he counted on riches in order to maintain his kingdom and to keep it thriving.
If the elf-king had a weakness it was for treasure, especially for silver and white gems; and though his hoard was rich, he was ever eager for more, since he had not yet as great a treasure as other elf-lords of old. His people neither mined nor worked metals or jewels, nor did they bother much with trade or with tilling the earth.
So you can imagine his reaction when he heard about a group of dwarves stomping through his forest. From his own past experience, Thranduil knew of the dwarves and their greed. As far as he was concerned, Thorin and Company could have been on a quest to rob him of his treasure and send his kingdom into poverty.
Thorin was captured first and brought in for questioning. Thorin answered all of Thranduil’s questions, but refused to answer the most important one:
"But what brought you into the forest at all?" asked the king angrily.
At that Thorin shut his mouth and would not say another word.
"Very well!" said the king. "Take him away and keep him safe, until he feels inclined to tell the truth, even if he waits a hundred years."
At this point, most readers seem to want to write Thranduil off as a dwarf-hating oppressor who has no compassion for lesser beings. But the fact remains that Thorin and the dwarves were trespassing (albeit unknowingly) and refused to explain their intentions. Thranduil locking them up does not make him a bully, it makes him a cautious king—one who is only looking to protect his people from what he perceives as a potential threat to the kingdom.
Despite all of this, Thranduil does make sure that Thorin is taken care of.
They gave him food and drink, plenty of both, if not very fine; for Wood-elves were not goblins, and were reasonably well-behaved even to their worst enemies, when they captured them. The giant spiders were the only living things that they had no mercy upon.
And when the rest of the dwarves are brought in:
The prisoners were brought before [Thranduil]; and though he looked grimly at them, he told his men to unbind them, for they were ragged and weary.
This shows that Thranduil does have some compassion in him, even for those he views as the enemy. He is not cruel or unjust.
But it makes matters worse that the other twelve dwarves also refuse to offer an explanation, and were being rather rude about it.
Long and searchingly he questioned the dwarves about their doings, and where they were going to, and where they were coming from; but he got little more news out of them than out of Thorin. They were surly and angry and did not even pretend to be polite.
"What have we done, O king?" said Balin, who was the eldest left. "Is it a crime to be lost in the forest, to be hungry and thirsty, to be trapped by spiders? Are the spiders your tame beasts or your pets, if killing them makes you angry?”
Such a question of course made the king angrier than ever, and he answered: “It is a crime to wander in my realm without leave […] After all the disturbance you made I have a right to know what brings you here, and if you will not tell me now, I will keep you all in prison until you have learned some sense and manners!”
A little harsh? Perhaps.
Unwarranted? Absolutely not.
If Thranduil were to let the dwarves go after all that commotion, he would be a very poor king. He had no idea why these dwarves were in his lands, nor did he know why they were being so secretive about it—but the obvious conclusion (from Thranduil’s POV) is that they meant him harm, and if that were indeed the case, he would need to act accordingly.
Also, I think Balin pissed him off by claiming that the spiders were the elves’s pets. It said earlier the elves hated spiders more than anything, so Thranduil probably took that as a personal insult.
As we all know, the dwarves are then able to escape with the help of Bilbo Baggins. Later, Thranduil learns of the death of Smaug the dragon and sets out for the Lonely Mountain to retrieve the hoarded treasure. It’s pretty likely that Thranduil has no idea that Thorin and the dwarves were already claiming the treasure, because they had refused to tell him earlier where they were headed.
Thranduil plans on heading straight for Erebor but when he and his army come across Lake-town, Bard the Bowman asks Thranduil for assistance and Thranduil accepts. So he and his entire army of elves stop to assist in rebuilding homes and providing food for the recently-destroyed Lake-town. I don’t think those are the actions of a selfish Elvenking. It shows that perhaps there are more important things to him other than treasure, and that he is willing to help those in need—after simply being asked.
Afterward, Thranduil and the Lake-town forces join together and continue onward to the Lonely Mountain. When they arrive, they are shocked that the dwarves are still alive after Smaug’s attacks—which goes on to suggest that Thranduil might have thought the treasure was open for grabs, and that he would be able to obtain it without any trouble (which is proven later when Thranduil is reluctant to go to war over it).
Bard the Bowman demands for a portion of the treasure in order to compensate for the damages Smaug inflicted on Lake-town, but Thorin refuses. All hell breaks loose, and basically everyone is about to go to war with each other.
But then Bilbo (bless his little hobbit soul) decides he’s going to fix this by giving Thranduil and Bard the Arkenstone as a bargaining chip, and Thranduil is impressed.
The Elvenking looked at Bilbo with a new wonder. “Bilbo Baggins!” he said. “You are more worthy to wear the armour of elf-princes than many that have looked more comely in it. But I wonder if Thorin Oakenshield will see it so. I have more knowledge of dwarves than you have perhaps. I advise you to remain with us, and here you shall be honoured and thrice welcome.”
Thranduil’s comment, “I have more knowledge of dwarves than you have perhaps” might allude back to the incident with Thingol which, again, gives Thranduil partial reason to feel some resentment towards the dwarves.
I should also mention that Thranduil was the only one who was hesitant to go to war over something as trivial as treasure:
But the Elvenking said: “Long will I tarry, ere I begin this war for gold. The dwarves cannot pass us, unless we will, or do anything that we cannot mark. Let us hope still for something that will bring reconciliation. Our advantage in numbers will be enough, if in the end it must come to unhappy blows.”
A king that doesn’t want to go to war is a king that we can all appreciate, I think. This is him being cautious and unwilling to spill blood over a matter that can easily be avoided.
Everything gets turned around, though, when at the very last moment an army of goblins and orcs take the opportunity to attack the dwarves and elves all at once. Thranduil and Thorin decide to join forces and fend off the onslaught, because the goblins pose a greater threat. This battle is called the Battle of Five Armies, and you’ve probably heard everyone on Tumblr crying about it by now, so you should be familiar with what happens.
During the battle, however, Bilbo decides that he wants to stand alongside Thranduil and the elves because, no fucking joke, he wants to keep Thranduil safe. If you don’t trust my own judgment about Thranduil’s character, you should at least be able to trust Bilbo’s.
On all this Bilbo looked with misery. He had taken his stand on Ravenhill among the Elves—partly because there was more chance of escape from that point, and partly (with the more Tookish part of his mind) because if he was going to be in a last desperate stand, he preferred on the whole to defend the Elvenking.
If a little tiny hobbit feels the need to keep Thranduil safe, I’m sure we can assume that he’s not a bad person.
After all this transpires, Thorin has been killed along with Fili and Kili.
On Thorin’s tomb, Thranduil lays Orcrist (Thorin’s sword, the one Thranduil had previously taken from him) out of lament and respect for the dwarf.
This is further proof that Thranduil does not mindlessly hate dwarves just because they are dwarves. He is wary of dwarves, as are all elves, and will initially believe that they are greedy and selfish—but at the end of the day, if a dwarf is deemed worthy of his praise, Thranduil will give it without a second thought.
Thranduil then escorts Bilbo and Gandalf to safety and gives Bilbo the title of “elf-friend”, which is an honorary title rather than an official one (on a more sub-conscious level it would seem). I’m pretty sure the elves don’t give just anyone this title, so this shows that Thranduil has great respect for Bilbo and everything this little hobbit has accomplished.
And that’s pretty much the end of the Hobbit book as far as Thranduil is concerned. But we’re not done yet, because Thranduil still has things to do, people to see, armies to defeat, etc.
He returns home to Mirkwood where he and his people continue to be wary of the spiders and orcs in their forests.
Several years later (a while before Frodo leaves The Shire), Aragorn captures Gollum and takes him to Thranduil to be held captive. Thranduil agrees, and they keep Gollum guarded night and day.
Gollum eventually escapes, and Thranduil sends his son Legolas to Rivendell to tell Elrond of this news:
"Alas! Alas!" cried Legolas […] "Smeagol, who is now called Gollum, has escaped."
"Escaped?" cried Aragorn. "That is ill news indeed. We shall all rue it bitterly, I fear. How came the folk of Thranduil to fail their trust?”
"Not through lack of watchfulness," said Legolas; "but perhaps through over-kindliness”
Basically, the elves of Mirkwood refused to lock Gollum away in their dungeons because they thought it wouldn’t do the poor creature any good. They (along with Gandalf) had hope that Gollum could be cured, and decided that locking him in a dark cell would make him feel worse.
(At this point, Gloin jumps to his feet and practically yells at Legolas: “your dad locked US in the dungeons!!!1” and Gandalf basically says “shut the fuck up that was a misunderstanding sit your ass down”.)
The Mirkwood elves had led Gollum around through the woods, letting him get fresh air and climb trees and stuff. They were always careful to keep an eye on him though. But one day, a party of orcs attacked the elves and caught them off guard and among all the chaos, Gollum escaped.
All of this alludes back to what was said in the Hobbit:
[…] for Wood-elves were not goblins, and were reasonably well-behaved even to their worst enemies, when they captured them. The giant spiders were the only living things that they had no mercy upon.
Thranduil and his elves are known for being overly-compassionate and reasonable to their enemies. They did not treat Gollum poorly (they gave him privileges, in fact) and therefore he escaped. You can call the Mirkwood elves cruel all you want, but that is obviously not the case. If anything, they’re too nice.
Sometime later during the War of the Ring, Mirkwood was suddenly under attack from Dol Guldur. The battle lasted for ages and much of the forest was set on fire, but Thranduil and his people were victorious in the end, having once again defeated an army of Sauron (badass much?).
In the meantime, Celeborn and Galadriel are wreaking havoc on Dol Guldur and Thranduil meets them for the first time. Thranduil helps to clear out all the orcs and for the first time in a few hundred years, Sauron’s forces are driven out of Mirkwood.
The shadow is lifted, and Dol Guldur is destroyed. Thranduil and Celeborn rename the area Eryn Lasgalen (Wood of Greenleaves) and they divide it between themselves—so that Thranduil receives the northern part of Mirkwood and Celeborn receives the southern part. I’m sure they became great bros in the process.
After all that, Mirkwood is a peaceful kingdom once again and Thranduil and his people are no longer under constant threat.
Meanwhile the One Ring has been destroyed and with Thranduil’s blessing, Legolas goes off and starts an elf colony in Ithilien and helps rebuild the forests there. Legolas’s friendship with Gimli makes Thranduil less judgmental about dwarves—once again proving that Thranduil really doesn’t care about race as long as the person isn’t being an ass to him.
Thranduil’s philosophy is essentially: “If you’re nice to me, I’ll be nice to you. But even if you’re rude to me I’m not gonna be an jerk because I wasn’t raised in a fucking barn.”
In conclusion, it is forever a mystery to me as to why people constantly seem to judge Thranduil and think of him as a dick. He proved himself plenty of times to be a nice guy. The only thing he did wrong was locking the dwarves away—but that was a completely necessary act on his part. Even Gandalf knew it was a misunderstanding.
Thranduil is cautious. He does not hate dwarves, he is wary of them. There is a huge difference. You can’t label someone as a racist when there is no evidence to support it.
And as for what happened at the beginning of the Hobbit film (which many people are griping about, surprisingly), I’m not sure I see what the big deal is. In the film it is clearly stated that Thranduil refused to risk the lives of his men over a lost cause.
This is a perfectly justifiable decision if you take three seconds to think about it. Remember the Battle of Helm’s Deep in the second movie? Remember all those elves who showed up to fight against the orcs? Remember how all of them died except for Legolas?
Think about that, and then tell me what in the hell you expected Thranduil and his men to do against a fucking dragon. Were they going to attack the damn thing and get themselves killed just to prove their loyalty to the dwarves? I don’t think so. That might have been the noble thing to do in theory, but it’s idiotic and useless. No good king in his right mind will needlessly sacrifice all of his men just to say, “Hey! Look what I did! I tried to save your ass! You owe me, buddy!”
Thranduil is a good guy. He hasn’t done anything wrong. I think people might be hostile towards him because we’re seeing the Hobbit movie from a dwarf perspective—Thorin ranting and raving about how the elves are terrible creatures, with Gandalf casually shaking his head and pinching the bridge of his nose in the background. It’s not Thorin’s fault, of course. He has his own concrete opinions about elves and what they’ve done throughout the course of history, but that is beside the point.
I should also add that I am in no way shaking my finger at all the Thranduil jokes out there. God knows I’ve participated in it and if we were to suddenly stop I’m not sure what I would do with myself. Jokes are fun, drawing Thranduil in dresses is fun, painting him as a neglectful father is fun (and very sad). There’s nothing wrong with any of that.
All I’m saying is that we shouldn’t take it so literally. We can talk and laugh about Thranduil’s mad partying skills and his dwarf racism all we want, but at the end of the day he’s actually a great guy (and also likely a really great father—you don’t spend 1,000 years raising a child without creating a strong bond with it).
And speaking of Legolas, there is absolutely no mention of Thranduil’s wife anywhere in the books. We have no idea what happened to her, but the popular theory is that she died (it’s likely that it was an Elrond/Celebrian situation and that she sailed west, but we’ll never know for sure). Assuming this is true, it means that Thranduil raised little Legolas on his own without any help from a proper mother figure. I’d say he did a hell of a job, wouldn’t you?
So lay off the poor guy. Give him a break. He’s just a king who likes partying (how very Charles II of him) and has a load of shit to deal with. It’s not his fault a bunch of dwarves came stomping through his forest and then lied straight to his face.
If you guys can feel sympathy towards Loki Laufeyson, I think you can spare a little room in your heart for the Elvenking.
I’M SORRY THAT I’M AN ILLITERATE MESS.
THANKS FOR READING, KIDS.