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May 28 2012, 8:02am
After taking on board suggestions and comments in my previous posts on this matter, I rewrote my earlier post (And corrected a number of spelling mistakes), and added a few things I didn't put in the first time round.
My ABSOLUTE FINAL version of an Overview of the history of Cirdan the Shipwright and related topics, and the reasons why I consider him to be the greatest individual in Middle Earth’s History .
An Overview of the history of Cirdan the Shipwright and related topics, and the reasons why I consider him to be the greatest individual in Middle Earth’s History .
(I have largely avoided referencing page numbers when quoting Tolkien’s books, referring instead to Chapters and Titles-as page numbers differ from edition to edition)
-An Overview of the History of Cirdan the Shipwright, his personality and actions, and the reasons why I consider him such a great character
-Discussions of his Age, beard and whether he was an Elve of the awakening.
-And who should portray him if the character was ever granted a more prominent role in future screen adaptations.
In this post I thought I’d try something a little different, rather than reviewing or ranting about something, that in many cases I didn’t care about or completely understand I thought I’d share some feelings, and information about something, that for a long time, has been a source of much interest to me.
Ask any group of readers of The Lord Of The Rings who their favourite character is, and you are likely to get enormously varied answers, sure there are favourites- the heroic king in waiting Aragorn, and the snivelling pitiful wretch that is Gollum, but my point is thus, it’s such a vast book many elements go unappreciated or read in different ways by different readers. One such element is the mysterious, barely featured Elve Cirdan the Shipwright (in terms of the Books- In the film trilogy he has less than a minute’s screen time and wasn’t voiced or mentioned by name…and to this day I have no idea who portrayed him).
Appearing just once in the narrative of the Lord of the Rings (though he is sporadically mentioned), he tends to be remembered by readers solely for his beard (see below) an apparent anomaly amongst Elven kind, his one, short appearance often being entirely forgotten. But looking deeper into Middle Earth’s history there is far more to discover to his story, and through these past actions I believe it is entirely credible to rank him as the greatest individual in Middle Earth’s history.
Cirdan is pronounced Kirdan in the Sindarin Tongue, his originally Quenya name being Nowe (long since discarded by the time of The Lord of The Rings - the fact that he had an original Quenya name demonstrates just how old he really was-Even amongst Elves languages evolved slowly), Cirdan came into contact with most, if not all branches of Elven kind, so was probably fluent in more than one dialect- in addition to the common speech.
At first, I’ve got to admit Cirdan was a character who made very little impression on me, during my first reading of The Lord Of The Rings he came across as just one of a stack of random, forgettable background characters, but in the years since (and several re-reads later), and with my discovery of Tolkien’s wider work he’s grown on me enormously, to the point where to me at least, he symbolises the wonder and genius of Middle Earth better than almost anything else Tolkien created.
A fascinating character in trivia terms, but also a shining example of the best qualities of The Eldar race he wasn’t a prominent warrior like Aragorn or Hurin nor a memorable creation like Gollum or Tom Bombadil (his total appearances in Tolkien’s writing probably don’t add up to even a chapter, and admittedly he isn’t as immediately striking as many characters), but I think his backstory and personality more than merits his headlining of a list of the greatest characters (in terms of what was achieved as well as personality), and both stand as perfect testament to Tolkien’s imagination and genius as a writer.
During the first Three Ages of Middle Earth (and into the fourth) Cirdan was a figure who was always there, but was rarely noticed- whether at the centre of bloody battles, or the side-lines of tactical discussions, he always did the right thing and never asked for any reward. He accomplished an astounding amount, considering his relatively sparse appearances in Tolkien’s writing, yet remains for many viewers a mere name, a bit of a mystery or just simply not that memorable. I am now going to shed some light on the enigmatic shipwright, and illustrate why he ranks as both my favourite and greatest of Tolkien’s characters…and hopefully I’ll persuade some of you as well.
Now I will give my reasons, you may not agree, you may find it a silly decision, and I’m sure you’ve got opinions of your own, anyway…
Whilst he may not have been an Elve of the awakening (again see below), he was by the beginning of the Third Age the oldest remaining Teleri Elve (well the oldest we know about anyway) in Middle Earth (And very likely the oldest Elve in general i.e. ANCIENT) and was revered by his entire race.
By the close of The Lord Of The Rings he was noticeably greatly aged (even the older Elves aged very slowly, except during times of great stress or torment- both of which Cirdan had seen in abundance…although several millennia of exhausting boat building …and the corrosive effects of salty sea air may have been contributing factors as well) but exceptionally wise, very tall, and saw ‘more Deeply and Further’ into Middle Earth’s future than any others of his race. Arguably he achieved more than any Elve in History (both directly and indirectly) despite I suspect working largely unnoticed or unknown by the majority of Middle Earth’s residents.
Furthermore he was one of a handful of links between all Four Ages (I find it interesting to think of all the mysterious figures, and events in Middle Earth’s History he may have interacted with-The wondering Maglor, The Blue Wizards, The first Ents …), in terms of age, experiences and knowledge (In Third Age Middle Earth at least) he was probably unmatched (Tom Bombadil, Treebeard, a few other Ents, and possibly some of the wandering Avari excluded). Living through millennia of bloodshed and turmoil he was destined to be the last Elve to set sail from Middle Earth- a legendary enigma, yet a living symbol of the fading of the Elves (imagine having that thought resting on your conscience…).
With the exceptions listed above, he alone had seen Middle Earth both in its spring, in the time before ‘years’ were measured, and in its ‘Winter’ when it fell under Man’s dominion, from the long forgotten shores of Helcar, to the ruinous hell of Mordor and beyond, he could lay claim to seeing more of Middle Earth than almost any of its inhabitants- and at more periods in its history. He stands as a link between the mythical world of the Years of the Trees, and the more familiar pre-history of The Third, he witnessed the tumultuous changes in Middle Earth and Elven Kind first hand and lived through them all, and for these reasons alone he ranks as an intriguing character.
It is worth noting that Elves counted their ‘fading’ from the first rising of the Sun, Cirdan was probably already several (or possibly much, much more- again see below) millennia old when the sun and moon first arose- and unlike Galadriel, Elrond or Celeborn was in Middle Earth when it happened, time flowed ‘faster’ there than in Valinor, so Cirdan was probably more exposed to its effects. He was in origin one of the ‘Grey Elves’ who remained in Middle Earth, so was never enriched by the light and joy of Valinor. From the very beginning he was tied to Middle Earth’s fate, and had to survive by his own wits and the knowledge he gradually built up, despite the lesser status and power he was granted. Not of Royal descent or Warrior Blood he nonetheless accomplished deeds that rival, and in most cases eclipse those of his more famous kin.
“At the Grey Havens dwelt Cirdan the Shipwright and some say he dwells there still, until the Last Ship sets sail into the West. In the days of the Kings most of the High Elves that still lingered in Middle Earth dwelt with Cirdan or in the seaward lands of Lindon. If any now remain they are few…”
(The Lord of The Rings Appendix A)-The Appendixes may have been written in this present form some time during the second century of the Fourth Age or later:
‘Findegil, King’s Writer, finished this work in IV 172’
‘The full tale is stated to have been written by Barahir, grandson of the Steward Faramir, sometime after the passing of the King’
(The Lord of the Rings, Prolgue)
But it was not just his colossal lifespan which drew me to him; mostly it was what he did with it.
During the first Age he survived the journey from Cuivienen (see later), and many of the battles that followed, he sacrificed his greatest desire-to see the undying lands, out of loyalty for Elwe and his further kin.
He was a ‘kinsman’ of Olwe and Elwe (two important figures in Middle Earth’s earliest history) and shared their rare trait of silvery-grey hair. Although their exact relationship was never made clear, to me at least, it seems possible Cirdan was a cousin of some sort (judging by his loyalty, and his seniority/ high standing amongst the Teleri so early in the First Age), and as such he may have been a very distant relative/ ancestor of Galadriel, Elrond and even Aragorn. (This reasoning is pure speculation and largely derived from the charts ‘The House of Finwe and the Noldorin descent of Elrond and Elros’ and ‘The Descendants of Olwe and Elwe’ found at the back of The Silmarillion.).
During the journey Westward, and the long years he spent in Middle Earth, he came into contact with most, if not all branches of Elven kind, not to mention Men, Hobbits and perhaps even Dwarves (he did for many years, live near their settlements in the Blue Mountains after all) and Ents-and made lasting friends and contacts amongst many, his knowledge was extensive, and the way he employed it far-reaching.
In a way he was both the: Eleven Wikipedia- constantly updating and changing as the years progressed a wealth of knowledge trusted by most, and a ‘Tribal Elder’-quieter, older and wiser than the ‘tribes’ leaders, he nonetheless took a backseat and honourably followed his duties to those who had the ‘correct’ claim to leadership- whilst still retaining his own initiative and ideas.
Cirdan selflessly took on the destiny handed to him by the Valar- building the ships for the Eldar and remaining in Middle Earth until the last set sail (he remained the ‘master’ of boat building as long as he dwelt in Middle Earth, the ‘go too’ man for an art little understood by many Elves):
“Nonetheless it is said that for love of his kin and allegiance Cirdan was the leader of those who sought longest for Elwe when he was lost and did not come to the shores to depart from Middle-earth. Thus he forfeited the fulfilment of his greatest desire: to see the Blessed Realm and find again there Olwe and his own nearer kin…”
‘’…Then it is said, he stood forlorn looking out to sea, and it was night, but far away he could see a glimmer of light upon Eressea ere it vanished into the West. Then he cried aloud: ‘I will follow that light, alone if none will come with me, for the ship that I have been building is now almost ready.’ But even as he said this he received in his heart a message, which he knew to come from the Valar, though in his mind it was remembered as a voice speaking in his own tongue. And the voice warned him not to attempt this peril; for his strength and skill would not be able to build any ship able to dare the winds and waves of the Great Sea for many long years yet. ‘Abide now that time, for when it comes then will your work be of utmost worth, and it will be remembered in song for many ages after.’ ‘I Obey,’ Cirdan answered, and then it seemed to him that he saw (in a vision maybe) a shape like a white boat, shining above him, that sailed west through the air, and as it dwindled in the distance it looked like a star of so great a brilliance that it cast a shadow of Cirdan upon the strand where he stood.
As we now perceive, this was a foretelling of the ship which after apprenticeship to Cirdan, and ever with his advice and help, Earendil built, and in which at last he reached the shores of Valinor. From that night onwards Cirdan received a foresight touching all matters of importance, beyond the measure of all other Elves upon Middle Earth”
(The Peoples of Middle Earth, Chapter XIII ‘Last Writings’ Page 386)
-Right at the start of Middle Earth’s existence, he took a decision for its future- unknowing of where it would take him, nor how long it would take to get there, and with no concrete reward in sight…yet through the vast years that followed, he steadfastly continued with said mission, whilst many of his kin sailed away, fell in battle or won renown in ‘greater’ deeds. One of the very few times the Valar and Children of Illuvatar interacted on a ‘man to man’ level in Middle Earth, it came comparatively early on in Elven existence, and seemingly out of the blue, yet Cirdan, unwaveringly, and immediately accepted. The Valar never (well to my knowledge at least) directly thanked or ordered him again, trusting him to succeed with only the sparsest of direct assistance, which he did. It was an exhaustive, generous act, which was frequently matched in later years, and proved clear evidence of the great destiny which lay before him.
Tolkien never wrote of a companion (that’s not to say he didn’t have one) but I think that’s another reason why I identified with him so much-the image of him standing alone (or with a small group of younger helpers) on the shores of Lindon gazing out to sea was never expressively written, but is the image I always return to when I see his name crop up in writing. To me his lonely existence, and probable sacrifice of starting a family (Elves tended to marry, and have children early in life), makes his story even more dramatic, and noble, despite his friendships and relatives gained, and lost over the years, he was a character who very much stood on his own two feet. (On the other hand the fact that he was able to persuade many of the Teleri to search for Elwe for so long, demonstrates that even in the earliest days he was accounted a great and trustworthy leader)
‘Marriage, save for rare ill chances or strange fates, was the natural course of life for all the Eldar’
(Morgoth’s Ring, The Later Quenta Silmarillion II)
Throughout the battles, and tribulations of the First Age he continued to be a figure of great wisdom (refining and teaching the process of boat building to many) and bravery. Despite the differences between the different kindred’s of Elven Kind, he kept his cool, and made no distinctions in his mission, serving and advising them all.
In contrast to Thingol Grey-cloak, who was partial to anger and bursts of violence, Cirdan seemed to be much more reflective and downplayed his position in the Elven Hierarchy, it seems quite likely due to his contacts, he would be amongst the first to hear of the Kinslaying, and rumours of battles away to the north upon the Noldor’s return to Middle Earth. In both instances it seems likely he would have lost relatives, and friends to the Noldor, yet he kept calm and didn’t compromise his friendships, having the wisdom to act immediately on these rumours. As well as conducting passengers on his ships, it seems probable he operated a messenger service as well (In other words, he operated both a Ferry Service and Postal Route- all with free admission) and relayed important news to his kin and allies.
A close friend of Tuor, Finrod and Turgon, he rescued many elves and Edain from the ruins of the Falas (including Elwing and Gil-galad), and helped guard them on the Isle of Balar, it may be an exaggeration to say he was directly responsible for the survival of Elven Kind, but his ships were certainly a large contributing factor-If Earendil hadn’t sailed to Valinor to beg for help from the Valar, Morgoth may well have won the War of the Jewels, Elrond and Elros may never have lived to Adulthood, and Beleriand may have been destroyed far earlier.
Long down Earendil’s line the lineage of the Three High Kings of the Elves (Ingwe, Elwe and Fingwe), and the heritage of the Re-United Kingdom was preserved through the marriage of Arwen and Aragorn (Just think how many generations of each family Line Cirdan had outlived)-at a point in the distant past Cirdan had fostered the creators of both family lines.
Through the decades he assisted in the war against Morgoth in many more greatly varied ways:
“For Melian taught them much that they were eager to learn, and Thingol rewarded them with many fair pearls. These Cirdan gave to him, for they were got in great number in the shallow waters about the Isle of Balar…”
‘…when Thingol came again to Menegroth he learned that the Orc-host in the west was victorious and had diven Cirdan to the rim of the sea.’
(The Silmarillion, Of The Sindar)
‘There dwelt those of the Sindar who still loved ships, and Cirdan the shipbuilder was there lord; but between Cirdan and Finrod there was friendship and alliance, and with the aid of the Noldor the havens of Brithombar and Eglarest were built anew.’
(The Silmarillion, Of Beleriand and its realms)
‘And Cirdan, hearing these dark tales, was troubled; for he was wise, and perceived swiftly that true or false they were put about at this time through malice…Therefore he sent messengers to Thingol to tell all he had heard…’
(The Silmarillion, Of the Noldor in Beleriand)
‘There Fingon was outnumbered; but the ships of Cirdan sailed in great strength up the firth of Drengist, and in the hour of need the Elves of The Falas came upon the host of Morgoth from the west’
(The Silmarillion, Of The Ruin of Beleriand)
‘Many now fled to the Havens and took refuse behind Cirdan’s walls, and the mariners passed up and down the coast and harried the enemy with swift landings’
‘…Then the Havens were laid in ruin, and the tower of Barad Nimras cast down; and the most part of Cirdan’s people were slain or enslaved. But some went aboard ship and escaped by sea…'
‘…This remnant sailed with Cirdan south to the isle of Balar, and they made a refuge for all that could come thither; for they kept a foothold also at the Mouths of Sirion, and there many light and swift ships lay hid in the creeks and waters…’
‘…And when Turgon heard of this he sent again his messengers to Sirion’s mouths, and besought the aid of Cirdan the shipwright. At the bidding of Turgon Cirdan built seven swift ships, and they sailed out into the west; but no tidings of them ever came back to Balar, save of one…’
(The Silmarillion, Of the Fifth Battle)
Earendil was apprenticed to him, and with his help made the successful voyage to Valinor on Vingiliot, yet again Cirdan (unwittingly or otherwise) laid the foundations for Middle Earth’s future. Narrowly escaping the destruction of Beleriand he founded the Grey Havens, which for the next few millennia served as a conduit for those fleeing (and on a few occasions arriving in) Middle Earth- something Cirdan couldn’t and wouldn’t do. During his life Cirdan constantly shifted home, but he never let the disruption affect his mission, he was always on the lookout for Servants of Morgoth or Sauron, and ways in which he could assist in the fight against them.
In the Second Age he was judged of enough Importance to inherit Narya, one of the three Eleven Rings, from Gil-galad (which he concealed successfully for thousands of years), despite not being of the Noldor or noble birth in Valinor. He survived Sauron’s Invasion of Eriador and for the rest of the age remained a friend to Numenor, and Elves fleeing westward.
In the Third Age he fought through The Battle of the Last Alliance (A Seven Year Campaign), right up to the final combat of the slopes of Mount Doom (he had already seen scores of battles) and was a senior Lieutenant in the Elven Army (perhaps even second in command), as told by Elrond’s words in The Fellowship of The Ring:
“I beheld the last combat on the slopes of Orodruin, where Gil-galad died, and Elendil fell, and Narsil broke beneath him…’
“…But few marked what Isildur did. He alone stood by his father in that last mortal contest; and by Gil-galad only Cirdan stood and I. But Isildur would not listen to our counsel…’
(The Fellowship of The Ring-The Council of Elrond)
Later he became owner of the last remaining ‘seeing stone’ of Arnor, and guarded it until it was taken into the west.
“This Stone and its tower were maintained and Guarded by Cirdan and the Elves of Lindon”
(Unfinished Tales-The Palantiri)
As overlord of the Grey Havens, he ranked as one of the most important Elves left in Middle Earth, and had connexions to many of the Noldor residing in Rivendell, and the Sindar in Lorien (e.g. Gildor Inglorion was ranked as one of the most powerful Elves in Rivendell, and he resided near the havens and Cirdan, whilst Celeborn and Galadriel were also members of The White Council), and as such would have been aware of much of Middle Earth’s comings and goings, not to mention having access to much arcane knowledge.
During the war that brought Arnor to its end, he fought against the Witch King’s Army for many years, showcasing an clear understanding of tactics and warfare, and was very likely the commander in chief of the Army (a mixed army of Men, Elves, and (rumoured) Hobbits was under his control, gaining the trust and respect of all three races would have been quite a hard thing to pull off) that overthrow Angmar in the final battle for the north Kingdom. Although the Teleri were not in origin warriors Cirdan survived, (or was lucky enough not to be present at) every single battle fought in Middle Earth, and proved himself to be a very a capable soldier and leader. From Humble beginnings he time and again survived the destruction of great civilisations, but always picked himself up and carried on:
‘Then Cirdan summoned all who who would come to him, from Lindon or Arnor, and when all was ready the host crossed the Lune and marched north to challenge the Witch-King of Angmar. He was now dwelling, it is said, in Fornost, which he had filled with evil folk, usurping the house and rule of the kings. In his pride he did not await the onset of his enemies in his stronghold, but went out to meet them, thinking to sweep them, as others before, into the Lune.
‘But the Host of the West came down on him out of the Hills of Evendim, and there was a great battle on the plain between Nenuial and the North Downs…’
(The Lord Of The Rings Appendix A)
He witnessed the arrival of the Istari (Wizards) (and possibly Glorfindel as well), and was perhaps alone in discovering their true identity (if so it was another secret he successfully kept…who else in Middle Earth could lay claim to having contact with the Valar, The Maia and the lone Elve reincarnated and returned to Middle Earth?):
“Gil-galad before he died gave his ring to Elrond; Cirdan later surrendered his to Mithrandir. For Cirdan saw further and deeper than any other in Middle Earth, and he welcomed Mithrandir at the Grey Havens, knowing whence he came and whither he would return.
‘Take this ring, Master,’ he said ‘for your labours will be heavy; but it will support you in the weariness that you have taken upon yourself. For this is the Ring of Fire, and with it you may rekindle hearts in a world that grows chill. But as for me, my heart is with the Sea, and I will dwell by the grey shores until the last ship sails. I will await you.’”
(The Lord of The Rings, Appendix B)
“‘For,’ he said ‘great labours and perils lie before you, and lest your task prove too great and wearisome, take this Ring for your aid and comfort. It was entrusted to me only to keep secret, and here upon the West-shores it is idle; but I deem that in days ere long to come it should be in nobler hands than mine, that may wield it for the kindling of all hearts to courage.’”
(Unfinished Tales: The Istari)
The Istari were a living embodiment of the blessed existence in Valinor Cirdan had sacrificed, and the lone messengers of the individuals he had devoted his life to serving. Yet he didn’t complain at their arrival, in fact he voluntarily surrendered a great ring, prized by his race.
In several essays and letters Tolkien stated that the 3 Elven rings of power were created to delay the effects of Decay and Time on the Elven bearers, in a ratio of about 1: 100 (For every 100 years that passed in Middle Earth the Elves would only feel the effects of 1 year), Cirdan of course was already pretty old for an Elve when the rings were created (He was probably older when he inherited his, than Elrond was when he departed Middle Earth and lost the power of his) and had endured the whole strife of the first age in the wild lands of Middle Earth, and he had his ring for a shorter period of time.
It is my theory (I have never come across definite conformation) that the surrender of such a ring contributed to his aged appearance- the sudden loss of such a power quickly exposed him to the effects of his great lifespan and all that he had seen (like the visual transformation Bilbo goes through in The Fellowship of The Ring film), but unlike Bilbo he was immortal, and had to live with such effects until the end of the world (I’m guessing the trauma of frequently outliving and parting from hundreds of his friends and living through every battle in Middle Earth’s history were contributing factors as well…). He wasn’t tempted to take back the ring by force, but let Gandalf go on with his duties.
Narya was not openly revealed by Gandalf until the very end, but it certainly seems to be a contributing factor to his success in The Lord of The Rings- he slew a Balrog, and persuaded the mortal armies of Rohan and Gondor to march to the Black Gate against terrible odds- something I personally find a pipe weed smoking ‘Old Man’ may have had a little trouble with. Furthermore Glorfindel and the Istari were Blessed with the ‘Secret Fire’ brought back over sea and knowledge gained from the Valar, yet Cirdan marched into Battle with Sauron and his greatest servant without the aid of either, and came through unscathed.
Through the Third Age he continued to advise and assist in the battle against Sauron, serving as a member of The White Council, providing help and transportation for Elrond and the Rangers of the North. Galdor was sent to the Council of Elrond as his representative, in his minute appearances in the book Galdor comes across as quite a wise Elve whose opinions are taken into account by many present- it serves as a reminder by the esteem he was held in by the ‘good guys’.
His small group of mariners were a great aid to the forces of good at this time, and loyally followed Cirdan through great dangers. As well as his skill with building boats it seems likely that Cirdan would be an accomplished Sailor himself, and he probably mapped and explored much of the North West Coast of Middle Earth- Perhaps even the mysterious island of Himling, and the frozen hell of the Ice Bay of Forochel. With his connexions to the great sailor Numenoreans (they may well have learned boat building from him), he may have even gained knowledge of the mysterious southern and eastern continents Darkland, and The Hitherlands, before their destruction in the Second Age.
As revealed in Legolas the urge to sail over sea, once awakened in Elven kind could never quite be abated, Cirdan must have had a very strong force of willpower to resist such an urge for so long- especially when his main job was helping his fellows fulfil said urge with easily accessible boats. Time and again he always put others first and never asked for any reward.
“What power still remain lies with us, here in Imladris, or with Cirdan at the Havens, or in Lorien…”
(The Fellowship of the Ring-The Council of Elrond)
“When Cirdan heard from Aranath son of Arvedui of the king’s flight to the north, he at once sent a ship to Forochel to seek for him. The ship came there at last after many days, because of contrary winds, and the mariners saw from afar the little fire of drift-wood which the lost men contrived to keep alight. But the winter was long in losing its grip that year; and though it was then March, the ice was only beginning to break, and lay far out from the shore.
‘When the Snowmen saw the ship they were amazed and afraid, for they had seen no such ship on the sea within their memories; but they had become now more friendly, and they drew the king and those that survived of his company out over the ice in their sliding carts, as far as they dared. In this way a boat from the ship was able to reach them…
‘ …Yet the counsel of the Lossoth was good, by chance or by foresight; for the ship had not reached the open sea when a great storm of wind arose and came with blinding snow out of the North; and it drove the ship back upon the ice and plied ice up against it. Even the mariners of Cirdan were helpless, and in the night the ice crushed the hull, and the ship foundered. So perished Arvedui Last-King, and with him the palantiri were buried in the sea…’
(The Lord of The Rings, Appendix A)
He may have made just one personal appearance in the narrative of The Lord of the Rings but I think it sums him up perfectly-
‘As they came to the gates Cirdan the Shipwright came forth to greet them. Very tall he was, and his beard was long, and he was grey and old, save that his eyes were keen as stars; and he looked at them and bowed, and said ‘All is now ready.’
(The Grey Havens)
After all the long years, the task he had been waiting for had at last arrived…yet he appeared quietly and dignified, still completely focused, and he bowed and accepted it as just one more job, before going back to his duties. Never temped or lead astray he remained a loyal servant of the Valar, and a friend to the Children of Illuvatar, through to the end of his (very lengthy) presence in Middle Earth.
Dwelling in the Havens into the Fourth Age (who knows for how long?), he eventually left Middle Earth, probably the very last voyager on the ‘Straight Road’ into the ancient west, taking the last (and certainly most extensive) Elven memory of the Elder Days with him (perhaps he witnessed the straight road ‘collapse’ on itself?). The date of that voyage is uncertain, but the following statements give some strong, but contradictory clues:
‘1462. Death of Mistress Rose, wife of Master Samwise, on Mid-year’s Day. On September 22 Master Samwise rides out from Bag End. He comes to the Tower Hills, and is last seen by Elanor, to whom he gives the Red Book afterwards kept by the Fairbairns. Among them the tradition is handed down from Elanor that Samwise passed the Towers, and went to the Grey Havens, and passed over sea, last of the Ringbearers.’
(The Lord of the Rings, Appendix B)
Given that Cirdan was also a ringbearer it seems probable and quite fitting that the two left together, although it does seem a little unlikely that all other Elves who wanted to, would have abandoned middle Earth in the period of just 60 years since the end of The Third Age- perhaps Cirdan, as his history indicates was something of a special case- his voluntary surrender of the ring to Gandalf may have ‘struck his name from the list’. Sam’s voyage over sea wasn’t confirmed either. In any case this is arguably contradicted by a later statement:
‘There, though Elrond had departed, his sons long remained, together with some of the High-elven folk. It is said that Celeborn went to dwell there after the departure of Galadriel; but there is no record of the day when at last he sought the Grey Havens, and with him went the last living memory of the Elder Days in Middle-Earth’
(The Lord of the Rings, Prologue)
Despite his marriage to Galadriel it seems that Celeborn was in no great hurry to abandon Middle Earth and as this statement makes clear, there was no record of the day when the ‘last living memory of the Elder Days’ left, Cirdan was born in Middle Earth during the Elder Days so must have gone with him- he was to sail on the last ship. The fact that there was no record kept seems a little odd considering the importance and lineage of both, Celeborn was grandfather in Law to Aragorn, and remained in Rivendell during his reign over the reunited Kingdom (Merry apparently visited there more than once- so would have brought back information to Sam), whilst Cirdan was the sole Elven link to Middle Earth in its infancy, during the Fourth Age there was apparently a greatly renewed interest in the history of the Older Ages, and ancient history. One can only speculate this either means: 1) the two must have sailed sometime after Aragorn’s death (perhaps centuries) when such records were no longer kept, and Elven Kind was all but forgotten, 2) no record was kept because they snuck off when no-one was looking 3) They had indeed left with Sam 4) Or it was a simple mistake by Tolkien.
It is confirmed in the Appendices that Legolas built a grey boat and sailed over sea with Gimli following Aragorn’s death, whilst this in no way confirms Cirdan’s absence (There were after all Havens in Gondor, Legolas could have simply built a boat to save the bother of a journey, The Elves of Mirkwood were familiar with boats after all, and with the ‘sea curse’ and death of a good friend to bear in mind Legolas would probably be in a hurry to leave) it does seem a little odd that he wasn’t consulted on such a task (Gimil being the only Dwarve to set sail, would presumably want to do it in style), considering there is no known records of other Elves building their own boats. Cirdan was to sail on the last ship, whilst he was given pretty much free rein by the Valar to set the date of this departure, it seems odd that he wouldn’t pick up or take into account Legolas’s sea urge (considering his wisdom and foresight) before setting sail (it would be a bit of an insult to Gandalf as well to forget his old friend)
For a sizeable amount of time Tolkien intended to end The Lord of The Rings with an epilogue- Seventeen years after the ring bearers departure Sam engaged in a question and answer session with his young daughter Elanor, though abandoned after strong criticism from Tolkien’s friends, it makes for very interesting reading, and provides further answers (albeit not necessarily canon) to Cirdan’s ultimate fate.
‘But I am told they aren’t sailing anymore. The Ring has left the Havens, and those that made up their mind to stay when Master Elrond left are staying. And so they’ll be Elves still for many and many a day…’
(Sauron Defeated, The Epilogue)
This seems to confirm Cirdan left with the Ringbearers- a contradiction to the above discussions. But Tolkien flip-flopped on Celeborn and Galadriel’s history and fates extensively before the publication of the Trilogy, and as the book confirms Celeborn was to sail eventually. In any case this version was overwritten by a later one and further information:
‘Those that stayed behind when when Elrond left are mostly going to stay for good, or for a very long time. But they are becoming more and more difficult to find…’
‘You came at the end of a great age, Elanorelle; but though it’s over, as we say, things don’t really end sharp like that. It’s more like a winter sunset. The High Elves have nearly all gone now with Elrond. But not quite all; and those that didn’t go will wait now for a while. And the others, the ones that belong here, will last even longer…’
(Sauron Defeated, The Epilogue)
Although the epilogue was never used, the fact that Tolkien was interested enough to bother rewriting it after such criticism seems to suggest that the second version was the one intended, it certainly fits in with the hints in the appendices and elsewhere, and strongly suggests Cirdan dwelt in Middle Earth for some time into the Fourth Age.
It is made quite clear elsewhere that the changeover from Elve to Man dominance wasn’t a quick thing- Cirdan didn’t make a distinction between the different Elven Kindred’s so may have kept open the havens until the population of Mirkwood and Lothlorien grew wary of Middle Earth (given most were in origin descended from those who had never seen the two trees, this may have taken a very long time).
In any case, this final voyage whenever it happened was something I think he thoroughly earned.
It is worth noting that Cirdan, and the whole concept of the Havens didn’t even appear in earlier versions of The Silmarillion, subsequent redrafts, and Christopher Tolkien’s edits, gradually increasing Cirdan’s importance in the back story. Although this does somewhat diminish his stature as a massive character, it does demonstrate that Christopher Tolkien felt he was important enough to justify inclusion and explain his backstory.
Admittedly the concept of an elderly ‘door warden’-something Cirdan could be loosely classified as, is a common ingredient in Fantasy Novels. And much of his ‘greatness is only ‘described’, not seen first-hand, his physical description (in a trait shared by many other characters) is only sketchily described, and for more casual readers his impact and mannerisms may not be immediately entertaining or apparent. Further research, and in depth knowledge of Tolkien’s work is definitely needed to truly appreciate him. He may not be ‘great’ in the way Action Hero Boromir or the Self Loathing Gollum are, but in other ways he easily outranks them
And I stand by my views. Treading the fine Balance between fantastical creation, and relatable character, Cirdan was professional, wise, perceptive, selfless, humble, fascinating, lucky, hardworking and brave (and to an extent, mythical), a relatively minor character, who achieved major things….despite being one of the ‘lesser’ elves, and someone largely overlooked by Middle Earth’s residents. True not everything he did was amazing, and some of his actions only accidently had positive effects…but at least they were happy accidents!
Tolkien never resolved his fate, but I like to think of him sunning himself on the shores of Tol Eressea, sipping a cool glass of miruvor, and berating Elven ‘youngsters’ in the process-“You Think you’ve got it hard? Well...you try waiting by yourself for Ten Thousand Years!”
Cirdan The Shipwright certainly wasn’t the most prominent, or exciting character of Tolkien’s, but he is unquestionably my favourite, and I would argue (although there is certainly some stiff competition) ranks as his greatest.
When you’ve got the time re-read his appearances in Tolkien’s work, I can assure you, you will appreciate him a lot more…or at least appreciate why I do.
Now that I have made my feelings about him clear, I thought it would be beneficial to answer (or at least attempt to) three frequently asked (and closely related) questions relating to this mysterious character. But before so I must point out that this section is largely drawn from posthumous writings (often contradictory) of JRR Tolkien’s, and as such my deductions and analysis are more inconclusive, and at points mere guesswork.
Anyway read on:
Why Does Cirdan have a beard? I thought Elves were beardless!
“…Cirdan the Shipwright came forth to greet them. Very tall he was, and his beard was long …”
(The Return of the King, The Grey Havens)
Ah, yes the famous beard. In the near 60 years since The Lord of The Ring’s publication, this throwaway reference to an Elven beard has been the source of surprisingly fierce debate amongst Tolkien fans, viewed alternately as a riddle, oversight or perhaps a private joke by Tolkien (Although many readers imagine Elrond to have a beard- even when none is described), an answer to the question ‘Do Elves Have Beards?’ apparently unavailable. But even more surprisingly there are answers (of a sort) even to this most minor of plot points…
In his 1937 Novel JRR Tolkien states that Elves (and Hobbits) have no beards…hmmm cleared up then?...No. At the time of publication Tolkien had no intention that The Hobbit was to become a part of his invented universe, subsequent events forcing a rewrite to draw it closer to Lord of the Rings. Furthermore Tolkien cancelled out his statement In the prologue to The Lord of The Rings in which he states that some of the Stoor Hobbits ‘grew down on their chin’, whilst ‘down’ hardly constitutes a beard, it does at least serve as evidence that Tolkien wasn’t adverse to rewriting himself.
Far more conclusive Evidence exists…although almost all is in posthumously published work, some written at a very late stage in Tolkien’s life, when even he may have been unsure of all the detail’s he once knew.
Perhaps surprisingly we now turn to Gandalf for answers and the following extracts written in 1954 (Only 6-8 years after the Cirdan passage was written):
“…Mostly he journeyed unwearyingly on foot, leaning on a staff; and so he was called among Men of the North Gandalf, “the Elf of the Wand”. For they deemed him (though in error, as has been said) to be of Elven-kind, since he would at times works wonders among them…”
(Unfinished Tales, The Istari)
Cirdan of Course is very, very (and noticeably) old at The time of The Lord of The Rings, and Gandalf takes on the appearance of an Elderly man in Middle Earth-complete with long beard, so if northern (The Area of Middle Earth most heavily populated by Elves) men could mistake him for an Elve, then is seems perfectly acceptable for them to accept an old Elve with a beard, Gandalf seemed in no hurry to throw off the illusion, and counted himself as a friend of the old Shipwright (perhaps they exchanged combing tactics or shaving creams?).
Elves sometimes appeared to age under great stress or torment (as told Cirdan had seen both in abundance) linking with the above extracts-Cirdan himself is characterised as ‘grey and old’ whilst Gwindor was unrecognisable to the people of Nargothrond after his escape from the dungeons of Morgoth:
“At first his people did not know Gwindor, who went out young and strong, and returned now seeming as one of the aged among mortal Men…”
(The Silmarillion, Of Turin Turambar)
On the other hand elsewhere in Unfinished Tales (The History of Galadriel and Celeborn) it states
“…the Elvish strain in Men, such as Aragorn, was "observable in the beardlessness of those who were so descended", since "it was a characteristic of all Elves to be beardless"
Given that this was written in 1972, just a few short months before Tolkien’s Death, it seems to cancel out the above information once and for all. But Tolkien confessed himself in his last months he frequently forgot details, and mixed up the various drafts of his work, it is possible that he simply wasn’t sure what he was writing, and whether a previously unpublished side note in ‘Unfinished Tales’ should be viewed as Canon is entirely open to debate. Furthermore it could be argued that this only refers to to the bloodline from which Aragorn was directly descended- Cirdan wasn’t a Noldor Elve (although he may have been very distantly connected to Aragorn’s ancestors), and I myself have always pictured Aragorn with a beard.
Elsewhere Tolkien states that Elves did not age physically beyond their 100th year, they aged ‘spiritually’- burdened by the Earth’s sorrows and the events they see, they became ever more ‘weary’ of the physical world of Middle Earth. This again seems to be a contradiction, but Cirdan had seen more ‘sorrows’ than any other Elve described, and had to wait a great deal longer to appease the sea longing in his heart.
True Cirdan’s beard could very well have been an oversight, but given Tolkien’s perfection, and all the writings on Elven Beards it seems very unlikely, - Why would he go to so much trouble cover up a mistake? - Wouldn’t he just rewrite this sentence during the later editions of the trilogy (during which he checked for spelling errors and so forth)? Why would he continuously forget Elves don’t have beards? Of course I should point out that Cirdan’s beard wasn’t the only Elvish beard described:
In the poem the ‘Lay of Leithian’ the Elve Tingfang Gelion is named- his name means ‘star-beard’, and in 2000 the following information came to light, published in a linguistic essay associated with the ‘Shibboleth of Feanor’:
‘Elves did not have beards until they entered their third cycle of life. Nerdanel’s father (Mahtan) was exceptional, being only early in his second’.
Admittedly both of these references are quite obscure, and may be discarded by some readers, but they serve as proof that some Elves had beards, and Tolkien did consider reasons why- even if they aren’t very clear.
No further information is available on these ‘cycles of life’ although a logical conclusion to draw would be: the first cycle deals with childhood and early years, the second dealing with maturity and middle age, with the third being ‘old age’. It may be possible that Tolkien intended the cycles of life all along and only thought to write them down later in his life to cover previous writings, or that he invented them to cover up Cirdan’s physical appearance. Cirdan most likely was entering his third cycle of life, being the oldest remaining Elve in Middle Earth, but as we don’t know whether the other ancient Elves residing in Valinor possessed beards or aged in a similar way, a final judgment on this matter isn’t easy to make.
Cirdan was the time of Tolkien’s death the only aged Elve described in published writings, so it could simply be that Tolkien himself didn’t know what would happen when they reached such an age, but as the essay on Cirdan from Last Writings makes clear he was a character Tolkien himself considered very important and unique in Middle Earth timeline (The essay found in Last Writings was according to Christopher Tolkien written in his father’s last year of life)
In the end the simple fact is Cirdan had a beard described in works published by Tolkien, and therefore whether mistake or intentional it is considered canon by almost all readers. The reason why seemed to be linked with his unique circumstances, age, and the third ‘circle of life’ but what these circles were, and why exactly these beards were grown we will never know for certain. To me it is just one more thing that helps mark Cirdan as such a unique creation.
Was he an Elve of the Awakening?
Was Cirdan one of the very first Elves who were created by the Valar?- not born to Parents but ‘awaking’ on the shores of Cuivienen … possibly is the only answer I can give (although in all likelihood he was at least born there or nearby). Again it all depends on what you view as Tolkien Canon, and whether you consider his later, unpublished works as conclusive evidence.
Judging solely by his physical appearance it certainly seems possible:
‘Whereas the Elves remain until the end of days, and their love of the Earth and all the world is more single and more poignant therefore, and as the years lengthen ever more sorrowful, For the Elves die not till the world dies, unless they are slain or waste in Grief (and to both these seeming deaths they are subject); neither does age subdue their strength unless one grow weary of ten thousand centuries;…’
(The Silmarillion, Of The Beginning of Days)
Cirdan certainly seems both sorrowful and subject to great grief in his life, in a way he matches this statement more than any other Elve described in Tolkien’s writings- he had been in Middle Earth, land of the Elves birth, longer than any other named Elve, and remained there until the end of the ‘Elven Days’. Although he clearly loved Middle Earth, during that time he fought constantly the urge to cross over sea- not to mention the scores of Battles he fought through, this could certainly be classified as an inner grief, and could be an explanation for his aged appearance.
Although he is characterised as ‘grey and old’ his eyes were as ‘keen as stars’- his spirit at least was still wide awake. As precise records of the Valarian years were not kept it is impossible to tell how close to the ‘million years’ Cirdan was, but Elves did Age albeit slowly- so to look so old Cirdan must have been old:
‘For the Eldar do indeed grow older, even if slowly: the limit of their lives is the life of Arda, which though long beyond the reckoning of Men is not endless, and ages also. Moreover their body and spirit are not separated by coherent. As the weight of the years, with all their changes of desire and thoughts, gathers upon the spirit of the Eldar, so do the impulses and moods of their bodies change. This the Eldar mean when they speak of their spirits consuming them…’
(Morgoth’s Ring, The Later Quenta Silmarillion II)
In the Silmarillion, it gives the impression that Elwe, Olwe, Finwe and Ingwe were amongst those Elves to awake- they are right from the start figures of authority amongst the Elves when they are discovered by the shores of Cuivienen, and are sent as ambassadors to Valinor, becoming the High Kings of their separate ‘clans’. It is therefore arguable to deduce from this that Cirdan is one of the very first Elves as well- he is related to Elwe and Olwe after all (although how, and to what degree is never made particularly clear), ranked as a similar authority and seems to be old enough to justify this reasoning, it adds a touch of myth to his status, and links with his special standing amongst Elven kind.
By the same token the fact that he had survived the long years in the far east without being slain or captured seems a little unlikely (perhaps the destiny marked for him by the Valar somehow spared him):
‘Indeed in their earlier days death came more readily for their bodies were then less different from the bodies of Men, and the command of their spirits over their bodies less complete’
(Mogoth’s Ring, The Later Quenta Silmarillion II)
Although this statement could also be taken to suggest Cirdan was one of the oldest Elves-he was aged and bearded like a mortal man after all, and what exactly is meant by ‘command over their spirit’ isn’t clear.
Cuivienen was said to be lost by the time of The Third Age- this could be taken in several ways, it could mean it was destroyed or cut off by the destruction and fighting of the later ages, it was an distant location from a ancient past-so those who were there could have simply forgotten its location with the passage of time (although I highly doubt Elves were susceptible to memory loss) or it could mean that all who knew it were dead or out of contact from Mainstream Eleven Society (Ingwe was certainly born there, and still appears to be alive at the Time of Lord Of The Rings but resides in Valinor)- although Cirdan was likely to be born there at least contradicting this (If he knew the location why wouldn’t he tell of it?)
But with The Publication of the 11th Volume in the History of Middle Earth series-‘The War of The Jewels’ in 1994 an entirely new version of The Elves Awakening came to light, one of much interest that deserves to be quoted in full:
‘While their first bodies were being made from the ‘flesh of Arda’ the Quendi slept ‘in the womb of the Earth’, beneath the green sward, and awoke when they were full-grown. But the First Elves (also called the Unbegotten, or the Eru-begotten) did not all wake together. Eru had so ordained that each should lie beside his or her ‘destined spouse’. But three Elves awoke first of all, and they were elf-men, for elf-men are more strong in body and more eager and adventurous in strange places. These three Elf-fathers are named in the ancient tales Imin, Tata and Enel. They awoke in that orde, but with little time between each; and from them say the Eldar, the words for one, two and three were made: the oldest of all numerals.
Imin, Tata and Enel awoke before their spouses, and the first thing that they saw was the stars, for they woke in the early twilight before dawn. And the next thing they saw was their destined spouses lying asleep on the green sward beside them. Then they were so enamoured of their beauty that their desire for speech was immediately quickened and they began to ‘think of words’ to speak and sing in. And being impatient they could not wait but woke up their spouses. Thus, the Eldar say, the first thing that each elf-woman saw was her spouse, and her love for him was her first love; and her love and reverence for the wonders of Arda came later.
Now after a time, when they had dwelt together a little, and had devised many words, Imin and Iminye, Tata and Tatie, Enel and Enelye walked together, and soon left the green dell of their walking, and they came soon to another larger dell and found there six pairs of Quendi, and the stars were again shining in the morrow-dim and the elf-men were just walking.
Then Imin claimed to be the eldest and to have the right of first choice; and he said; ‘I choose these twelve to be my companions.’ And the elf-men woke their spouses, and when the eighteen Elves had dwelt together a little and had learned many words and devised more, they walked on together, and soon in another even deeper and wider hollow they found nine pairs of Quendi, and the elf-men had just walked in the starlight.
Then Tata claimed the right of second choice, and he said: ‘I choose these eighteen to be companions.’ Then again the elf-men woke their spouses, and they dwelt and spoke together, and devised many new sounds and longer words; and then the thirty-six walked abroad together, until they came to a gorve of birches by a stream, and there they found twelve pairs of Quendi, and the elf-men likewise were just standing up, and looking at the stars through the birch boughs.
Then Enel claimed the right of third choice, and he said: ‘I choose these twenty-four to be my companions.’ Again the elf-men woke their spouses; and for many days the sixty Elves dwelt by the stream, and soon they began to make verse and song to the music of the water.
At length they all set out together again. But Imin noticed that each time they had found more Quendi than before, and he thought to himself: ‘I have found only twelve companions (although I am eldest); I will take a later choice.’ Soon they came to a sweet smelling firwood on a hill-side and there they found eighteen pairs of Quendi, and all were still sleeping. It was still night and clouds were in the sky. But before dawn a wind came, and roused the elf-men, and they awoke and were amazed at the stars; for all the clouds were blown away and the stars were bright from east to west. And for a long time the eighteen new Quendi took no heed of the others, but looked at the lights of Menel. But when at last they turned their eyes back to earth they beheld their spouses and woke them to look at the stars, crying to them elen, elen! And so the stars got their name.
Now Imin said: ‘I will not choose again yet’; and Tata therefore, chose these thirty-six to be his companions; and they were tall and dark-haired and strong like fir-trees, and from them most of the Noldor later were sprung.
And the ninety-six Quendi now spoke together, and the newly-waked devised many new and beautiful words, and many cunning artifices of speech; and they laughed, and danced upon the hill-side, until at last they desired to find more companions. Then they all set out again together, until they came to a lake dark in the twilight; and there was a great cliff about it upon the east-side, and a waterfall came down from the height, and the stars glittered on the foam. But the elf-men were already bathing in the waterfall, and they had waked their spouses. There were twenty-four pairs; but as yet they had no formed speech, though they sang sweetly and their voices echoed in the stone, mingling with the rush of the falls.
But again Imin withheld his choice, thinking ‘next time it will be a great company’. Therefore Enel said: ‘I have the choice and I choose these forty-eight to be my companions.’ And the hundred and forty-four Quendi dwelt long together by the lake, until they all became of one mind and speech, and were glad.
At length Imin said: ‘It is time now that we should go on and seek more companions.’ But most of the others were content. So Imin and Iminye and their twelve companions set out, and they walked long by day and twilight in the country about the lake, near which all the Quendi had awakened- for which reason it is called Cuivienen. But they never found any more companions, for the tale of the first elves was complete.
And so it was that the Quendi ever after reckoned in twelves, and that 144 was for long, their highest number, so that in one of their later tongues was there any common name for a greater number. And so also it came about that the ‘Companions of Imin’ or the Eldest Company (of whom came the Vanyar) were nonetheless only fourteen in all, and the smallest company; and the’ Companions of Tata’ (of whom came the Noldor) were fifty-six in all; but the ‘Companions of Enel’ although the Youngest Company were the largest; from them came the Teleri (or Lindar), and they were in the begging seventy-four in all.
Now the Quendi loved all of Arda that they had seen, and green things that grew and the sun of summer were their delight; but nonetheless they were ever moved most in heart by the Stars, and the hours of twilight in clear weather, at ‘morrow-dim’ and at ‘even-dim’, were the times of their greatest joy. For in those hours in the spring of the year they had first awakened to life in Arda. But the Lindar above all the other Quendi, from their beginning were most in love with water, and sang before they could speak.’
(The War of the Jewels, Quendi and Eldar)
This short, but remarkable essay reveals a lot of previously unknown information, but it was written in the 1960’s, a decade in which Tolkien considered bold new ideas, and completely re-wrote many earlier drafts of The Silmarillion on a whim, abandoning ideas as soon as he thought of them, so arguably it may not be considered as a trustworthy document (You have to Wonder why it wasn’t included in The Silmarillion by the Editors if it were indeed so important). Furthermore there is no further mention of these three Elve Fathers in the published Silmarillion, and at several other points Tolkien states that Finwe, Ingwe, and Olwe were indeed the first 3 to awake.
In a side note Tolkien states that the above tale was written in the style of a ‘fairy-tale’ passed down through the Elvish Generations- and as such must have had a portion of truth behind it, but like all fairy tales evolved and changed over time as details became lost, blended or misinterpreted.
But if it is trustworthy, it pretty much cancels out Cirdan being an Elve of the awakening. Elwe and Olwe aren’t mentioned, and if they were Cirdan would be more or less the same Age as them- so with his increased Wisdom and foresight why wouldn’t he be elected leader? (Unless with his wisdom Cirdan ‘saw’ a reason to refuse Kingship of the Teleri, or he was indeed older than the brothers) It makes it very clear that all the Elves awoke with their spouses; Cirdan is never described as having a spouse- although one certainly may have existed unmentioned or may have fallen early on in the timeline-this could explain his quiet demeanour and hatred for Morgoth (as far as I can remember, with just one exception Elves married just once in their lifetime), Whilst Elwe married Melian…who didn’t awake at Cuivienen.
It is also stated in The Lord of The Rings that Treebeard was ‘the oldest living thing that still walks beneath the sun’ at the time of The Lord of The Rings- given that the Ents were woken up and taught to speak by the Elves this further contradicts the above statement, and seems to prove Treebeard is older…although Tom Bombadil is also referred to as ‘eldest’, (though as a spirit he may not have counted as ‘living’, and Tolkien never did confirm exactly who he was).
On the other hand in some ways the three characters of Cirdan, Treebeard and Tom Bomdadil served a similar purpose in the story, and the characters shared many similarities: they were old, powerful and wise, respected by their entire races (Or in Bombadil’s perhaps the Istari), but largely kept out of sight of the majority of residents. In the Lord of The Rings Bombadil is immune to the power of The One Ring, whilst Cirdan surrenders his, Treebeard having no knowledge (and probably little interest) of rings, and all three served as links to Middle Earth’s earliest days, and acted as physical evidence of how the world had changed in the years since.
The Elves awoke, soon followed by the Ents, whilst Bombadil seems likely to be a Valar or Maia or some sort- the three/ four races were for a long time the only speech capable races in Middle Earth, if all three were considered old for their races it seems plausible that all three entered the world in close proximity (the three are also quite enigmatic, unique characters in the book- another link).
Furthermore, You could argue, if Ingwe, Elwe and Finwe were merely ambassadors of the three original Kings they were probably amongst the oldest and most respected members of the community anyway, to be interested with such a duty- therefore Cirdan may have been as well.
‘For Cirdan saw further and deeper than any other in Middle Earth’
This extract is normally taken to refer just to Cirdan’s wisdom, but could also refer to how many years he spent in Middle Earth (he ‘saw further and deeper’ into the future or past perhaps?)-‘any other’ this includes Glorfindel, the Istari,Treebeard and Tom Bombadil all wise figures, given how closely they were active in the War of The Ring and the fact that many were simply more powerful than Cirdan, it seems a little unlikely that Cirdan would outrank them purely on knowledge. Most of these figures listed were only active, or fading during the years of Sauron’s power, and following his fall many no longer served much or a purpose or were untraceable, this could suggest that Cirdan became the oldest remaining lifeform on Middle Earth.
Tom Bomadil and Treebeard were both claimed to be ‘eldest’ so if the above quote refers to age, Cirdan must have outlived them.
We will never know for certain Tolkien’s thoughts on the matter, Cirdan was such a minor character the answer may have simply slipped his mind.
Even if He wasn’t an Elve of the Awakening he was pretty Old wasn’t he?
Yes (as previously mentioned), indeed he was, although precisely how old is uncertain.
The First Age was said to last at least 500 years, the second 3441, and the Third 3021,Cirdan had lived through all Three, and as Elves come to maturity when they were 100 years Old (he is already a figure of authority when the first age starts), this would make him 6962 Years old at the very least. The precise date of Cirdan’s departure from Middle Earth is uncertain but would likely add a few centuries to the Total.
Now things get interesting, Cirdan was born in the Years of The Trees, at different points in his life Tolkien used two different Figures to covert these years to Standard ones.
In the 1930-40’s Tolkien used a figure of 9.582 ‘solar years’ (our years) to equate to one year of the trees. However in The Lord of The Rings he switches to a figure of 144, furthermore he stated that time ‘flowed more slowly in Valinor’, and the years fluctuated at different points during the years of the trees- and it is not clear from what perspective The Silmarillion was meant to be written.
In The Grey Annals, The War of The Jewels Cirdan is first Mentioned in Year of the Trees 1149- Using the former figure this is roughly 10,403 years before The War of the Ring (somehow seeming a bit too recent), whereas using the latter this is more than 149,000 years before The War of the Ring(a very unlikely figure).
Whilst Cirdan may not have been an Elve of the awakening he was probably born at Cuivienen, or shortly into the journey westward. In the Grey Annals it also states that the Elves awoke in Year of The Trees 1050- around 1000 years earlier using the 1930’s system.
These two figure combined would make Cirdan over 11,000 years old at the very least; whilst many Tolkien Academics have given a figure of around 15,000 (this seems to be the most likely figure). As previously mentioned Cirdan was entering his Third Circle of life- the growing of a beard seemingly the last sign of maturity, this makes this circle seem to be the last (or second to last), The word ‘circle’ gives the impression of a pattern- a uniform length to the circles, but as Elves only take 100 years to mature (probably the first circle) this doesn’t seem that likely. An Elves strength was stated to subdue after Ten Thousand centuries, given Cirdan fought in the Siege of Angmar he doesn’t seem to be quite that old.
In the end his true age is uncertain (being such a humble figure he may have simply hid it out of embarrassment), both systems of dating may have been used at different points during the years of the trees, which Tolkien never came to a final timeline of; but he is certainly far, far older than Galadriel or Celeborn the two next oldest Elves encountered at the time of The War of the Ring. So My final answer is…anywhere from 11,000 to over 900,000 in standard years!
One thing is certain however...he certainly qualified for an O.A.P bus pass!
One last thought…if the role was ever re-cast for a future adaptation of Tolkien’s work, who should portray him?
Although the film rights to The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales and the History of Middle Earth are at present still held by the Tolkien estate, they may be released in the future, and The Lord of The Rings will probably be remade at some point, so it seems possible the shipwright could be due increased screen time. So if he were, who should portray Cirdan?
Any actor portraying the role would have to be quite old, with a weathered face, and eyes which gave a sense of great depth and age (the ‘Cate Blanchett’ effect, despite my gripes with the film trilogy I think PJ nailed Galadriel), the character has always come across to me as quite regal, and quietly authoritative., so a ‘professional’ actor i.e. classically trained or Shakespearean seems to be appropriate, and would give a lot of impact with the somewhat limited screen time, furthermore as an Elve they would need to be physically more imposing giving a sense of ‘magic’, and moving with more grace than other actors. My three top choices are:
1) Leonard Nimroy (AKA Spock)- No, really! I saw this name suggested once on a forum, and ever since it has stuck in my mind. Despite his fame as Spock (another role requiring pointy ears), Nimroy has had a variety of roles over the years and has proven himself to be a credible actor, his physical appearance and age give suit the character (weathered, but very imposing and memorable) whilst his eyes and voice give a tone of great authority and depth. A beard would work well with his features, although he may be too old for the character.
2) Peter O’Toole. A classically trained actor with a great deal of charisma and screen credits, he wouldn’t bring the baggage of Nimroy, and in terms of age suits the role fine. But his eyes are the real draw-despite his age O’Toole even in recent films gave across the feeling of energy and depth in equal measure-his eyes as striking as they were fifty years ago in Lawrence of Arabia, he has experience playing similar flawed characters, and in each role has a different spin on things.
3) Donald Sutherland. OK…not too sure about this one, but he’s a proven performer, old enough, and with the eyes and experience to match…plus it would be interesting to see a Elve with a Canadian accent.
That brings to end, a long, rambling, biased, but hopefully entertaining and informative post about a little understood figure in Middle Earth’s history.
Coming soon! An 8000 word essay on Farmer Maggot…possibly.
How about you? Any favourite characters you feel go unappreciated?
‘As they came to the gates Cirdan the Shipwright came forth to greet them. Very tall he was, and his beard was long, and we was grey and old, save that his eyes were keen as stars; and he looked at them and bowed, and said ‘All is now ready.’