leaf background (c) freefoto.com

As the interest in the Elfking Thranduil grows, I find it harder and harder to avoid answering questions about him, his son, his wife, his bad temper, his history, and his underground realm.

Many of our readers have only become familiar with Mirkwood and its subjects from our fan fics or stories like them. Mal and I realize, with a sigh of resignation, that not everyone is going to read The Hobbit, or The Lord of the Rings trilogy, let alone the Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, or all twelve volumes of The History of Middle-earth.

But, there is so much more to our glittery-eyed monarch than just his sexy adorableness! And I for one would like to share some of his history with you, and answer some of the most frequently asked questions with what facts I could find.

The Official Mirkwood Adventures FAQ page

By Mary (ably assisted by Malinorne)

All of the factual answers (A) below come from reliable sources, and links are provided below for your own further research. On some of the subjects I do have my own opinion, which will be clearly set apart from the facts.

Clicking one of the underlined questions below will take you directly to the answer to that question, but you can also just scroll down and read the full FAQ.

Q: Besides Legolas, how many children does King Thranduil have?

Q: Who is Legolas's mother, was she a Wood-elf, was she married to Thranduil, and was she the Queen of Mirkwood?

Q: What about those spiders?

Q: Is Thranduil a Sindar elf, a Silvan elf or a Wood-elf, and what is the difference, if any?

Q: When, why, how did Oropher and Thranduil come to the Greenwood forest?

Q: How old is Thranduil?

Q: What does the name Thranduil mean?

Q: Is Legolas's last name Greenleaf or Thranduilion?

Q: Is Thranduil villainous or evil?

Q: Does Thranduil hate humans?

Q: So why was Thranduil so worried about those Dwarves?

Q: Does Thranduil have a seneschal? (Treasurer? Concubine?)

Q: What does Thranduil's underground palace home look like?

Q: Thranduil did not possess a Ring of Power, so how did he and his realm survive?

Q: What is the Elvish name for Mirkwood?

Bibliography and links to other resources


Q: Besides Legolas, how many children does King Thranduil have?

A: According to all the Tolkien literature, appendices, and letters, Thranduil had no other children named besides Legolas.

BUT: Tolkien never states emphatically that Legolas was Thranduil's 'only' child. So theoretically Thranduil may have had other children.

Please be aware that any brothers or sisters of Legolas that you may have read about were created by the fan fic writers, and not by JRR Tolkien.

I have nothing against Legolas having brothers and sisters.


Q: Who is Legolas's mother, was she a Wood-elf, was she married to Thranduil, and was she the Queen of Mirkwood?

A: There is no mention in any Tolkien literature of either the name of Legolas's mother or of what kindred she belonged to. Next, according to available resources, when Elves have sex with each other, they are considered to be married. That means Thranduil must have been 'married' to her according to their customs and laws.

Thaladir wants me to refer you to JRR's essay on the subject of elven family life; "Of laws and customs among the Eldar" (HOME X, 'Morgoth's Ring', also see link section at bottom of page)

BUT: That does not necessarily mean she was the Queen of Mirkwood, as she could have either been killed or sailed west before the death of Oropher, Thranduil's father. I assume that if Mirkwood had a Queen at the time of 'The Hobbit', then Bilbo would have noticed it and mentioned her. This leads me to believe that Mirkwood had no Queen in the halls during that time.

There is always a chance she was off visiting relatives, which would explain Thranduil's grouchy mood with the starving Dwarves, but I find that highly unlikely because I want to believe otherwise.

I think that to leave our handsome Elfking in the first place seems incomprehensible enough, but I doubt that a Queen would leave her subjects, no matter how much she hated the spiders. My personal opinion is she that left before Thranduil became King but after he had migrated into The Great Greenwood.

Now, I wish I could say that she sailed west, possibly with the Teleri who answered the call of the Valar. Then the fact that the Elfking did not fade and die would speak volumes about the stability of their marriage. However, if that was true, then Legolas would have had to have been born before his Grandfather moved them over the Misty Mountains.

Legolas is not mentioned by name as one of those who left Lindon, and in the Fellowship of the Ring, he declares that he has "never" visited, or had no knowledge about, some of the places that Oropher and Thranduil would have traveled through, or actually stayed a while in, along their way. So that indicates he was probably not born before Oropher became King of the Wood-elves.

I have nothing against Legolas having a wonderful, nurturing mother at some point in his life. There is no reason to believe that she was not a Wood-elf.


Q: What about those spiders?

Eeek! Don't make me think about them! But, I do not think they were very scary to the Wood-elves, who could hit a bird's eye in the dark with their arrows. The Elves felt comfortable enough to have drinking parties outdoors in the Mirkwood Forest in the middle of the night, so the spiders were either not a threat to them, or were perhaps not prevalent in the direct vicinity of the Elfking's halls with it's enchanted river. However, here is the factual lowdown:

A: When Sauron built and inhabited the tower of Dol Guldur, his evil influence slowly grew and spread throughout the Great Greenwood. The forest became inhabited by all sorts of ghastly creatures during this time, including those giant talking spiders! The name Greenwood the Great was changed to Mirkwood. Lothlorien, across the Anduin River, was protected by Galadriel's ring.

Here are some more interesting Mirkwood spider facts:

The spiders that Bilbo and the Dwarves encountered in the Mirkwood forest were all from Mordor and were descendents of Shelob, the same spider that Frodo and Sam fought with. She was herself the descendent of Ungoliant, a great spider-shaped monster who destroyed the Two Trees of Valinor before escaping to Middle-earth.

Bilbo named his sword 'Sting' after using it to fight the spiders of Mirkwood.

I have absolutely no other opinions about the spiders except to shudder.


Q: Is Thranduil a Sindar elf, a Silvan elf or a Wood-elf, and what is the difference, if any?

A: Thranduil was most certainly not a Wood-elf. Silvan elf is just another term for Wood-elf. (Silvan Elves were divided into two groups, the Galadhrim of Lothlorien and the Mirkwood Wood-elves.)

Thranduil was a Sinda whose father, Oropher, was among those of the Teleri Elves who chose not to return to Valinor. Instead, he remained in Middle-earth to serve King Elwe (better known as Thingol, meaning "Greycloak") in Doriath. (More about him later.)

After Thingol's death, and the Fall of Beleriand, the Sindar Elves migrated into different areas of Middle-earth. Some of the regions they entered were already inhabited by the Silvan Elves, who had not gone to Valinor either. When Oropher crossed the Anduin River into the southern part of the Greenwood, the leaderless Wood-elves, who were already living there, were in such awe of him that they chose him to be their king.

At some point after Sauron set up residence in the tower of Dol Guldur, the southern Wood-elves moved into the northeastern edge of what was by then called Mirkwood, and there built the underground cavern realm. Whether Oropher or Thranduil was King at the time of the initial construction of the halls is never made clear.

BUT: I believe that there is always the chance that Legolas was part Sinda and part Wood-elf since we have no idea who his mother was. However, I also think that Legolas's mother may have belonged to the Teleri who did sail back to Valinor with the rest of the exiles.


Q: When, why, how did Oropher and Thranduil come to the Greenwood forest?

A: After the fall of Beleriand, the surviving Elves, including Thranduil's father Oropher, and his kinsman, Celeborn, lived at the western edge of Middle-earth, on the sea coast, in a region called Lindon. Gil-galad was King of the Elves there at the time. The Noldor Elves felt bothered that the Sindar Elves were not more grateful for the help they were given fighting off the orcs during the Battle of Beleriand. Relations were strained.

At some point in the Second Age, Oropher and Celeborn got tired of the political strife and left Lindon. Together they traveled east over the Misty Mountains and down into the great forested region of Rhovanion. Celeborn settled on the west side of the Anduin River with the Galadhrim in Lothlorien, and Oropher on the east side with the Wood-elves in the Greenwood.

Before crossing the Anduin and migrating to the southern part of The Great Greenwood, both Oropher and Thranduil reportedly lived among the Galadhrim with Celeborn and Galadriel for a while. Again, political strife, and mistrust of Galadriel (a Noldo), seems to have driven the kinsmen, Oropher and Celeborn apart. They were estranged for an Age, which is indicated by Legolas's telling the Fellowship that he had never visited Lorien. And it was a lot closer than Rivendell.

My personal opinion is that these particular Elves, Celeborn and Oropher, were way too powerful in their own rights to be 'led' by any other, let alone one another, after Beleriand fell. Some texts suggest that Oropher, or Thranduil, was trying to duplicate the former glory of The Thousand Caves in Doriath, Thingol's underground fortress, when they built the underground caverns of Mirkwood. It almost seems like these Elves never got over the loss of Beleriand.


Q: How old is Thranduil?

A: Tolkien does not give us a birth date for Thranduil. Thranduil is named among the Sindar who traveled eastward from Lindon. This would mean he was born sometime before the year 1000 in the Second Age.

I have no opinion on how old the Elfking could be. No, wait a minute, I do have an opinion! If it is true that Thranduil was the chief architect of his cavern realm, then he must have had some memory of the original First Age Thousand Caves in Doriath that his were supposedly based on. He could have been an elfling at the time, but he must have been alive.


Q: What does the name Thranduil mean?

A: Tolkien never explains what the name Thranduil translates into.

BUT: People who study the Elvish language have LOTS of differing theories. Below are three separate translations of the name Thranduil from three different sources: (links given for each)

From The Encyclopedia of Arda :

"Tolkien's reticence on the meaning of Thranduil's name needn't prevent us from indulging in a little guesswork. One reasonable possibility for the name's source would be tharanduil, a combination of elements that means 'beyond the long river'. Though this is no more than speculation, Thranduil's history of travelling eastward from Lindon and ruling a kingdom across the Great River Anduin lends it some credibility."

From The Thain's Book:

"The meaning of Thranduil is not given. One possible interpretation is "across the Great River." The element thar means "across, beyond." The element anda means "long" and duin or duil means "river." These elements are also combined in the name of the Great River Anduin."

From A Tolkien Dictionary:

"Slender and dark (shadow?); the name might be influenced by the Silvan dialect; (...) *thara tall and slender (...); in Silvan -il could be a conjunctive suffix [and] (...); NDUL- dark, dusky [Etym; either 'dark-complected', or 'shadow' due to the forest shade]; the last elements could also relate to TUY- Spring, sprout, Q tuile spring-time - 'Slender sprout',"

(If you know of any other translations, let us know!)


Q: Is Legolas's last name Greenleaf or Thranduilion?

A: Legolas's last name is Thranduilion, if you want to call it a last name. It is more a designation which means "Legolas son of Thranduil". The Elvish word legolas means green leaf.

BUT: I like to think that the name 'greenleaf' is a term of endearment, like a nick-name such as 'grasshopper' or 'kitten', and may not have actually been Legolas's true name at all.

(Mal most certainly doesn't agree with my nick-name theory... she rather thinks it may be a Silvan-style name. But there was also a respectable elf in Gondolin called Legolas...)


Q: Is Thranduil villainous or evil?

A: Thranduil does not have a villainous or evil reputation in Tolkien literature.

BUT: There are a lot of fan fic stories with our noble King being presented as sadistic, brutal, or at the very least unmannerly.

Mostly I think this has to do with Bilbo's description of how the Elfking treated the Dwarves who were lost in his forest as related in the book 'The Hobbit'. In the story, the lost and hungry Dwarves are captured by the Elves and brought before Thranduil for questioning. After refusing to give adequate answers about where they are going to and why they are traveling through his realm without asking permission, they were all put into separate prison cells in the lowest depths of the Mirkwood halls until ready to talk.

The fact that Mirkwood seems to be the "Elf-Prison Realm" of Middle-earth does not help. Thranduil appears to be the only Elflord who has a dungeon-like area with prison cells. I think that fact alone gives some people the impression that the Elfking must be severe or harsh in nature to feel the need to imprison anyone within his halls.

Thranduil did not treat the Dwarves cruelly, however, no matter how much one would want to stretch the definition of the word. The Elfking immediately orders their hands unbound when they are brought before him and also orders that they be fed well when they are put in their cells. Bilbo does not relate any harsh treatment beyond the Dwarves not being allowed to see or speak with one another.

Even Gollum was not treated cruelly when he was taken to Thranduil and turned over into his keeping in those famous dungeons. In fact he was able to escape the Wood-elves because of their acts of kindness toward him.


Q: Does Thranduil hate humans?

A: Thranduil not only does not hate humans, he was unlike the Lorien Elves who would not let anyone past their borders. The Elfking did allow humans from the Long Lake area to travel on his road for trade purposes. At one point in 'The Hobbit', the Town Master laments the high toll that Thranduil demands. It was not as if mortals could never enter Mirkwood.

Even the Dwarves with Bilbo would not have been imprisoned if they had admitted what they were up to when they tried to cross through the forest unnoticed. The only reason they kept their quest a secret is they were afraid that the Elfking would demand a share in the anticipated treasure.

And that treasure that the Dwarves and Bilbo were after, in Smaug's cave, reportedly consisted of many precious and valuable things that had been stolen from everyone, including the Elves. For that reason, Thranduil felt he had a right to a share of whatever was there when he finally learned the reason the Dwarves were in such a hurry to get through his forest.

Mirkwood Elves traveled to the Long Lake Town frequently, and partied with the people there. When the Dwarves came to town, after escaping from Thranduil's dungeons, the Elves were at a feast that is interrupted by Thorin Oakenshield, and are upset to see their monarch's prisoners walking about freely. But they do not start a fight about it.

When Thranduil and his army finally set out for the Lonely Mountain to confront the Dwarves, they are delayed along the way by the awful plight of the survivors of Smaug's destruction of the Long Lake Town. The Elfking interrupts his hunt for the Dwarves and offers his assistance to the homeless people.


Q: So why was Thranduil so worried about those Dwarves?

A: There were always uneasy feelings among Dwarves and Elves for various reasons. But with this particular Elfking, there was real animosity. Like I said before, Oropher, Thranduil's father, did not join the migration to Valinor. Instead he lived and served in Doriath during the reign of Elwe Singollo, better known as Elu Thingol, who is described as the greatest King of the Eldar of Middle-earth during the First Age. Thingol's daughter was the beautiful Luthien Tinuviel.

Thingol was slain by Dwarves who were after one of the Silmarils, which he had in his possession.

Tolkien also tells us that at some point in Mirkwood's past, before Thranduil imprisoned them in 'The Hobbit', Dwarves were hired by him to shape his precious metals and stones (into what is never said.). There was a dispute over payment. Without a Ring of Power to protect his realm, the Elfking relied on his treasure to feed his people and felt overprotective of it, especially when Dwarves were around. He had a natural distrust of their lust for treasure.

If he had been alive when the Dwarves murdered Thingol, he may have bitter memories of that time as well.

I think Thranduil had the right to ask and learn the business of the Dwarves while they were within his borders. Of course, the Dwarves were lost and not deliberately trespassing, but without a Ring of Power to protect his realm from the dark forces and influences from Dol Guldur and Mordor, Thranduil could not take any chances with strangers of any race.


Q: Does Thranduil have a seneschal? (Treasurer? Concubine?)

A: In the book 'The Hobbit', there are only two official job titles given to Elves in Mirkwood. The Elfking's butler, named Galion, and the chief of the guards, who is not named. The presence of a seneschal, a treasurer, a librarian, or any other more useful member of a royal household, such as a concubine, or a bridge, is never mentioned.

BUT: As a fan fic writer, I think he deserves all of the above!


Q: What does Thranduil's underground palace home look like?

A: No one can do this better than Tolkien. Here are his descriptions of the Elfking's realm, both inside and out, from 'The Hobbit'.

A passage from the chapter titled: "Of Flies and Spiders"

"In a great cave some miles within the edge of Mirkwood on its eastern side there lived at this time their greatest king. Before his huge doors of stone a river ran out of the heights of the forest and flowed on and out into the marshes at the feet of the high wooded lands. This great cave, from which countless smaller ones opened out on every side, wound far underground and had many passages and wide halls; but it was lighter and more wholesome than any goblin-dwelling, and neither so deep nor so dangerous. In fact the subjects of the king mostly lived and hunted in the open woods, and had houses or huts on the ground and in the branches. The beeches were their favorite trees. The king's cave was his palace, and the strong place of his treasure, and the fortress of his people against their enemies.

It was also the dungeon of his prisoners. So to the cave they dragged Thorin -- not too gently, for they did not love dwarves, and thought he was an enemy. In ancient days they had had wars with some of the dwarves, whom they accused of stealing their treasure. It is only fair to say that the dwarves gave a different account, and said that they only took what was their due, for the Elfking had bargained with them to shape his raw gold and silver, and had afterwards refused to give them their pay. 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."

A drawing of Mirkwood Forest by JRR Tolkien.

Here is one of JRR Tolkien's drawings of the Mirkwood Gates

From the chapter titled: "Barrels Out of Bounds"

"This was the bridge that led across the river to the king's doors. The water flowed dark and swift and strong beneath; and at the far end were gates before the mouth of a huge cave that ran into the side of a steep slope covered with trees. There the great beeches came right down to the bank, till their feet were in the stream.

Across the bridge the elves thrust their prisoners, but Bilbo hesitated in the rear. He did not at all like the look of the cavern-mouth, and he only made up his mind not to desert his friends just in time to scuttle over at the heels of the last elves, before the great gates of the king closed behind them with a clang.

Inside the passages were lit with red torch-light, and the elf-guards sang as they marched along the twisting, crossing, and echoing paths. These were not like those of the goblin-cities; they were smaller, less deep underground, and filled with a cleaner air. In a great hall with pillars hewn out of the living stone sat the Elvenking on a chair of carven wood. On his head was a crown of berries and red leaves, for the autumn was come again. In the spring he wore a crown of woodland flowers. In his hand he held a carven staff of oak."

Here is a fun "tour" of Mirkwood.

More beautiful Mirkwood-inspired art by a variety of artists can be found here.


Q: Thranduil did not possess a Ring of Power, so how did he and his realm survive?

A: Well, for one thing, he had a magic river! Here is the description of it from The Encyclopedia of Arda:

Enchanted River: The black river of northern Mirkwood

"The dark river that rose in the Mountains of Mirkwood, and flowed northwards in a great loop to meet the Forest River under the canopy of the trees of Mirkwood. Its water was black, and carried a curse that gave the river its name - any person coming into contact with its enchanted water immediately fell into a long, deep sleep."

Then there was his treasure. There is mention of Thranduil's love of, or lust for, treasure sprinkled throughout Tolkien-lore. The Elfking's need for material wealth is almost always presented as an alternative to the possession of a Ring of Power, and yet it is never explained just how.

The mere hoarding of wealth could not protect Mirkwood. But it could feed, clothe, and provide suitable comforts for his subjects, like plenty of feasts that seem to be the norm. This way they did not need to clear any of the forestland for agriculture or livestock.

Mostly, however, I believe the Elfking used his wits, which Tolkien describes as shrewd, and whatever 'grace' he possessed as an Elflord who was descended from mighty Elves, to keep his realm protected. He also had obviously loyal and loving subjects, both elf and bird, who were happy to help him keep the northeastern region of Mirkwood as safe as possible through the Dark Years.

And he had those magic gates. They supposedly had no key; they operated by the will of Thranduil, and nothing could get past them without his consent. There was no other way in to the Mirkwood Halls.


Q: What is the Elvish name for Mirkwood?

A: Taur-e-Ndaedelos, which means Forest of Great Fear.

Mirkwood was renamed Eryn Lasgalen, which means "Wood of Greenleaves", when Celeborn and Thranduil finally made peace, formed an alliance, and decided to share the great forest between them, after the One Ring was destroyed and the Dark Lord was overthrown.

Have more questions or comments? Send them to thaladir@yahoo.com


Bibliography:

Except for my personal opinions, all of the facts given above are of course available in Tolkien's great books: The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and The Silmarillion. JRR Tolkien's son, Christopher Tolkien, has also published The Unfinished Tales, as well as a twelve-volume set of his father's private notes and unfinished works titled The History of Middle Earth. Mal and I recommend all of these books to you.

But, if you just want to be able to do some further research online into Mirkwood, Thranduil, Legolas, or the Wood-elves, here are some of the best places to start:

The Council of Elrond, the encyclopedia entries Elw and Thranduil.

Here is a great site, Annals of Arda

What Tolkien wrote on the topic of elven family lifeLaws and Customs among the Eldar

Map of Mirkwood

Thror's map from The Hobbit

A great map of Middle-earth

Another great map

Various information sources:

http://www.middleearthelves.com/history/elvenraces.html

http://www.middleearthelves.com/elvesofmiddleearth/#Mirkwood

http://www.quicksilver899.com/Tolkien/Tolkien_Dictionary.html

http://www.iment.com/maida/tv/lordoftherings/mirkwood.htm

http://www.meosource.co.uk/maps/locations/mirkwood.php

http://www.tuckborough.net/elves.html

For more detailed info about Legolas: http://www.tuckborough.net/legolas.html

My all time favorite source, The Encyclopedia of Arda: http://www.glyphweb.com/arda/default.htm



Like what you read? Have suggestions for us? Please send a note to thaladir@yahoo.com! Thank you!


Updated: January 15, 2007

This site is in no way affiliated with the Tolkien Estate.
No money is being made and no copyright infringement is intended.


"Long live Thranduil, great Elf-king of Greenwood!"