Who Was the Original Owner of Orcrist?
By DanielLB and DarkJackal
After some speculating on TheOneRing.net forums about the history of Orcrist, forum member DanielLB wrote a brief summary of the candidates for the original owner of the sword. I’ve made some slight edits and additions, but the majority are his words:
Beginning with the history of both Glamdring and Orcrist: We know that these swords, which the goblins named Beater and Biter respectively, were “mates” as stated in Fellowship of the Ring. Elrond reveals their origin in The Hobbit:
“These are not troll-make. They are old swords, very old swords of the High Elves of the West, my kin. They were made in Gondolin for the Goblin-wars. They must have come from a dragon’s hoard or goblin plunder, for dragons and goblins destroyed that city many ages ago. This, Thorin, the runes name Orcrist, the Goblin-cleaver in the ancient tongue of Gondolin; it was a famous blade. This, Gandalf, was Glamdring, Foe-hammer that the king of Gondolin once wore. Keep them well!”
The most prominent individuals of Gondolin in the First Age at the time of the Goblin-wars included:
King Turgon (The House of the King) – wielded Glamdring
Assuming Turgon did not carry two large blades, the “mate” of Glamdring was likely borne by another high ranking lord of Gondolin. Therefore, Orcrist could have been in the possession of one of the other ten Leaders of the Houses of Gondolin.
[Note: Some may equate “mate” with “twin”, but there is nothing in the text to prove the two swords looked exactly alike. Alternatively, it could be interpreted that they were created either by the same smith, or by different smiths, but around the same time, or simply that they stayed in close proximity to each other over the centuries. The goblins of the Third Age had an unpleasant tale or two about Beater and Biter, but unless their collective memory goes back all the way to the First Age, we can assume the swords were in use together more recently.]
Glorfindel (House of the Golden Flower)
During the Battle of Gondolin, Glorfindel was pulled into an abyss far outside the walls of the city by a balrog, but only after he had mortally stabbed the creature. His body was recovered and laid to rest by the eagle Thorondor, but unless the eagle also recovered his weapon (and not buried it with him), we may assume it was lost.
Salgant (House of the Harp)
He was the leader of the House of musicians. Salgant died in the Fall of Gondolin, but is known more for his treachery than his valor, and it is unlikely he wielded Orcrist.
“Behind them came the host of the Harp … They were dight with tassels of silver and tassels of gold, and a harp of silver shone in their blazonry upon a field of black.” (Book of Lost Tales II)
Although there are other leaders of the Houses who fought bravely at the Battle of Gondolin, if we assume their weapon of choice (that which Tolkien made a note of) was the only one they bore, then we can quickly rule out a number of the candidates:
Duilin (House of the Swallow) – an archer
“And many other kindreds were there, the folk of the Swallow and the Heavenly Arch, and from these folk came the greatest number and the best of the bowmen …Their lord was Duilin.” (Book of Lost Tales II)
Galdor (House of the Tree) – used clubs and slings
“There were those of the Tree…They fought with iron stubbed-clubs or with slings…and their lord Galdor…” (Book of Lost Tales II)
Rog (House of the Hammer) – maces, axes and hammers
“They fought with great maces like hammers, and their shields were heavy, for their arms were very strong…Now their leader was Rog.” (Book of Lost Tales II)
Tuor (House of the White Wing) – an axe
“Tuor carried an axe rather than a sword and that he named it in the speech of the people of Gondolin Dramborleg.” (Unfinished Tales)
Maeglin (House of the Mole)
His father, Eöl, forged the sword Anguirel, which Maeglin stole. We can therefore assume that he wielded this sword.
Penlod (House of the Pillar and House of the Tower of the Snow)
Penlod fought and died defending Gondolin, yet no specific deeds of valor were recorded. If Orcrist had an important history, then one would expect some hint as to how it was used in the battle. Being the leader of a lesser house of Gondolin also suggests that he would not have wielded such an important weapon.
Thus assuming that Turgon, Glorfindel, Salgant, Duilin, Galdor, Rog, Tuor, Maeglin, and Penlod did not wield Orcrist, then only Egalmoth and Ecthelion remain.
Egalmoth (House of the Heavenly Arch) – a curved sword and a bow
“And his sword was bent – now none else of the Noldi bore curved swords – yet he trusted rather to the bow, and shot therewith further than any among the host.” (Book of Lost Tales II)
While a curved sword fits the description of the film-Orcrist, this was not necessarily Tolkien’s intention. [Peter Jackson’s elves use curved weapons to a great extent in LOTR, but this discussion is focused on what the original text reveals.] Also, Egalmoth survives the Fall of Gondolin, so it would be quite possible his sword would go with him. This leaves only one more as the likely owner.
Ecthelion (House of the Fountain) – protector of the King
“Ecthelion was their lord…and swords very long and bright and pale did they wield…” (Book of Lost Tales II)
In “The Fall of Gondolin”, it is stated that Ecthelion led a charge that resulted in the deaths of thousands of orcs, which made his name a terror to their race – the fact that the orcs were angry upon finding that Thorin wielded Orcrist may be an echo of this carnage.
It was also Ecthelion who fought and killed Gothmog, the mightiest captain of Morgoth. If he wielded Orcrist, then it means this sword took part in the slaying of a great balrog, much like Glamdring did with Durin’s Bane (though it should be remembered that it was not by Ecthelion’s sword that he killed the balrog, but by his spiked helm, which he thrust into the creature before himself dying).
Though it remains unrecorded how Glamdring and Orcrist survived the destruction of Beleriand, only to appear in a troll hoard 6,000 years later, some theories include removal by a band of orcs, or by a dragon such as Scatha, before the end of the First Age.