In the books, it was Glorfindel who saved Frodo from the Nazguls. Obviously, I'm talking about the movies, particularly the reason why Peter Jackson changed this scene from the book. Why did PJ replace Glorfindel with Arwen? Why did Peter Jackson remove Glorfindel from the motion picture trilogy?

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    Because when you pay for Liv Tyler, you don't just have her in one scene, mooning around in the background looking ethereal
    – Valorum
    Commented May 16, 2018 at 19:12
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    This is the problem with making a book into a film. Books are largely written by people looking to fill up extra pages. Films are largely made by people looking to find ways of removing those pointless pages. Often that's accomplished by compositing two essentially identical characters.
    – Valorum
    Commented May 16, 2018 at 19:14
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    What significance was there for Glorfindel being the one to find them in the grand scheme of things? Better to merge two minor characters into one and expand the role, while also adding in a strong female character in addition to the extra hook you get in her and Aragorn's relationship.
    – Mwr247
    Commented May 16, 2018 at 19:16
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    @Mwr247 - Precisely. Tolkien is many things, but he's not much of a writer of female characters.
    – Valorum
    Commented May 16, 2018 at 19:19
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    Because I'm too busy moderating Stack Exchange.
    – Glorfindel
    Commented May 16, 2018 at 19:50

5 Answers 5


Because roles needed consolidation

There are way too many characters in the Lord of the Rings books to properly cover them all in movie form. Just as scenes are often cut for time (most extra details in scenes), plot structure (scouring of the shire), or irrelevance to the core narrative (Tom Bombadil), so too are characters of minor roles often cut or merged (credit to Valorum). This saves time on introducing trivial one-off characters you'll never see again, as well as giving the ones who do end up filling the role more prominence. In the 1978 animated movie for example, they apparently gave the role to Legolas instead.

But why give it to Arwen specifically?

Lord of the Rings doesn't exactly have a whole lot of notable female characters. Galadriel, Arwen, and Eowyn are basically it, and their presence is already scarce. Giving more screen time to these characters, even in small ways, gives them greater relevance to the plot overall, and allows for additional opportunities to introduce and explore side plots (such as her and Aragorn's relationship). Glorfindel doesn't fill any gaps in character relation to the audience, so Arwen was the clear choice.

In a quote from Philippa Boyens, one of the screenplay writers for the trilogy:

Because Galadriel is an incredible force - she's about the power inherent in women - it wasn't necessary to find more for her to do in the film. But Arwen is a vital part of Aragorn's story, and we tried many permutations of how to bring her into it more, drawing a lot on Luthien and Beren [the Elf and mortal man whose tragic love is a prototype for that of Aragorn and Arwen]. But as the story's come on, and Liv has so beautifully inhabited Arwen, she has found her own level.

Source: The 'Lord of the Rings' movies stoke a debate about the author's outdated views of women - New York Daily News

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    Tom Bombadil is "irrelevant" only if, like Peter Jackson, you fundamentally misunderstand the book as an "action movie for young people." (cf. Christopher Tolkien's comments)
    – Shamshiel
    Commented May 16, 2018 at 19:51
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    @Shamshiel "Tom Bombadil is not an important person—to the narrative." - J.R.R.Tolkien. The quote does further say that yes, we was included in the books for a reason. But by Tolkien's own admission he was unimportant to the narrative, and his cutting absolutely makes sense.
    – Mwr247
    Commented May 16, 2018 at 19:59
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    @AndresF. "If you want him, come and claim him!" Commented May 17, 2018 at 8:28
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    "The chasm between the beauty and seriousness of the work, and what it has become, has overwhelmed me. The commercialization has reduced the aesthetic and philosophical impact of the creation to nothing. There is only one solution for me: to turn my head away." is the full quote from CT, counting what I already quoted above.
    – Shamshiel
    Commented May 17, 2018 at 10:33
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    It's worth noting that as well as character considerations, the list of people who could replace Glorfindel was also limited by those who were in/around Rivendell at the time - if you're limiting it to elves who already have parts in the movie, your list of potential characters is essentially only Arwen, Elrond and Legolas.
    – walrus
    Commented May 17, 2018 at 13:02

Tolkien admitted he had a weakness when it came to writing characters who were women. With the exception of Galadriel, who is a central female character, there are no other important female characters in "the Lord of the Rings" or "the Hobbit". Glorfindel is very like Legolas, an elven lord and so I could see why he would be a good candidate for replacement with a female character that needed further development.

By making Arwen more central, and more action based, it evened out this lack of female characters. It also fleshed out the House of Elrond more, as she is his daughter. It also allowed for a longer introduction and allowed us to care more about the love of Aragorn and Arwen.

One of the really beautiful stories in the Silmarillion is "Beren and Luthien" the story of a man and an elf who fall in love. Tolkien actually dedicated this story to his wife. By including Arwen more, for me anyway, it invoked that love story which was very close to Tolkien's heart. It's one of the creative decisions Mr Jackson made that I really approve of.

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    Hi there! :) by any chance, would you have a quote/transcript/etc about Tolkien's admission?
    – Jenayah
    Commented May 17, 2018 at 0:09
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    Unfortunately I can't. Maybe this is just a criticism that others have attributed to his works and not something he admitted to. I apologise for conflating the two. I do believe though that he was writing in the spirit of the chivalric tradition and he had old fashioned ideas. He wrote to his son Michael about the differences between men and women (who he saw as domestic creatures and not action figures) in letter #43 (circa 1941). tolkiengateway.net/wiki/Letter_43 Commented May 17, 2018 at 0:57
  • No problem. Upon reading your link, yeah... Welcome to the 20th century. Anyway, I'll look more into those letters - probably not all 350 of them tonight though :p thanks!
    – Jenayah
    Commented May 17, 2018 at 1:04
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    I don't really disagree with your answer, except that I think it should acknowledge that Éowyn is also a major character.
    – Blackwood
    Commented May 17, 2018 at 3:53
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    no other important female characters in "the Lord of the Rings" -- as Blackwood says: Éowyn Commented May 17, 2018 at 7:47

In his A Vision of Middle-earth: Contemporary views in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, David Goldie refers to Shippey arguing that

Gender politics being substantially different now than at the time of Tolkien's writing, Shippey consigns this incident [replacing Glorfindel with Arwen] in particular to the level of “playing to the gallery”. However in conjunction with the other instances previously mentioned, it seems clear that Arwen's enhanced role is more than simply symbolic. Despite this, the increased presence and participation of the female characters is perhaps even more remarkable with Éowyn.

The previously mentioned instances list other interesting and sometimes subtle changes, re Arwen, to the book material in the script, arguing (in my reading) that the script simply corrects the story in those aspects where it is found wanting. So the why as to replacing Glorfindel with Arwen would be a part of this larger pattern.

In addition, as a purely personal opinion, I think Glorfindel is a difficult character to include in a movie, especially in a cameo appearance. He is arguably a very powerful figure (discussed here) and would require an actor with an eminent screen presence, yet his role would be in fact very small; a clear dilemma, so Glorfindel had to go.

  • play to the gallery : "To act, behave, or perform in such a way as to receive as much approval from an audience or spectators as one can get, especially the lowest common denominator among them." – TFD - So it's a euphemism for 'boobs'? +1
    – Mazura
    Commented May 17, 2018 at 23:12
  • @Mazura Huh. No, I don't think so. (Is far-fetched a word to you?:) As a matter of fact I do not have access to the appendix in the extended edition of Shippey's Middle Earth, but I gather from the linked essay that what he meant was captivating a larger audience (and especially, female audience) by giving more screentime to the romantic line in the plot.
    – anemone
    Commented May 18, 2018 at 7:22

I suspect the main reasons are the ones already covered by other answers: in adapting a complex book to film it's often desirable to simplify things by merging characters, and clearly the makers wanted to boost Arwen's on-screen presence. It's not the only place where they beefed up her role.

But there's another factor here. Of all the changes that were made in the film adaptation, removing Glorfindel is the only one that we know Tolkien would have supported, because he acknowledged Glorfindel should never have been there in the first place.

Per Wiki, cited to The Return of the Shadow:

Christopher Tolkien states that some time after the publication of The Lord of the Rings, his father "gave a great deal of thought to the matter of Glorfindel" in the book, and decided that it was a "somewhat random use" of a name from The Silmarillion that would probably have been changed, had it been noticed sooner.

Why was Glorfindel a bad choice? Because he'd already died several thousand years before LotR. Based on sources like this, my best summary of the backstory:

  • In early material that eventually became part of The Silmarillion, Tolkien wrote about the fall of Gondolin. At this time, Tolkien conceived of Balrogs as fearsome monsters, but not nearly as fearsome as they would later become - think something around the power of a cave troll.
  • In that story, a large force including several Balrogs attacks the city, and an elf named Glorfindel defends fleeing citizens against a Balrog. Eventually he kills the Balrog, but as it falls from the cliff it grabs him and pulls him to his death. (Hmm. Maybe Gandalf should've paid attention to that story.)
  • Several decades later, while writing the early parts of LotR, Tolkien needed an elf to save the hobbits. He recycled the name Glorfindel, possibly intending this character to be a descendant of the Balrog-slayer of Gondolin.
  • Along the way, Tolkien's conception of Balrogs shifted, and they became the demigod-level beings that we're familiar with from Moria.
  • Hence, original-Glorfindel's achievement of slaying a Balrog retroactively became much more heroic and unusual than when Tolkien wrote it.
  • This, in turn, meant that it no longer made sense for LotR-Glorfindel to be a namesake, because his deeds were so impressive that nobody would ever reuse that name.
  • Hence, JRRT decided that LotR-Glorfindel and Silmarillion-Glorfindel had to be one and the same, despite that inconvenient "being very dead" issue.
  • He resolved this by declaring that Glorfindel had been sent back to Middle-Earth by the Valar.

This isn't entirely without precedent. Beren, Luthien, and Gandalf were all allowed to return to Middle-Earth after death. But those stories were planned, and Tolkien did a lot of work to sell them to his readers. In contrast, Glorfindel's resurrection is an ad-hoc and unsatisfying retcon, almost literally deus ex machina. I don't think it's even explained in either LotR or Silmarillion, unless they inserted something in later editions.

So if you're going to change anything at all from the book as published, this is probably the most justifiable change. We have Word Of Author that it was, essentially, a goof.

  • Although this is mildly interesting, only the first paragraph makes any effort to answer the question asked and even then you've offered zero evidence as to why this change was made.
    – Valorum
    Commented May 19, 2018 at 9:57
  • @Valorum The question asks why Glorfindel was replaced. My answer explains why even Tolkien felt that he was a poor choice and should have been replaced with somebody else. I'm new here, so I may well have missed some expectations about how questions should be answered, but I'm having difficulty seeing how that could be interpreted as "no effort to answer the question asked".
    – G_B
    Commented May 19, 2018 at 13:25
  • "a large force including several Balrogs attacks the city" heh, it's a bit more than that. More than one character kills several balrogs singlehandedly in the Fall of Gondolin Commented Oct 27, 2021 at 6:15
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    @DavidRoberts For large values of "several" ;-)
    – G_B
    Commented Oct 27, 2021 at 23:47
  • Glorfindel is a problem only because no two other Elves are recorded sharing a name or nickname. (Makes me wonder what the Elves think of Stewards of Gondor using names of Elves of the First Age.) Obviously there can't be two known as ‘Goldilocks’?! Commented Jan 20, 2022 at 1:54

Different times! When the book was written less than 20 years had passed since women got the vote. When the film was made Britain had already had a female Prime Minister. I don't think there's any other reason. The question is whether or not that justifies the tampering; that's for individuals to decide for themselves.

The other difference was that in the book it was Gandalf who brought down the tidal wave with white horses on the riders, not Arwen. This additional departure from the book seems to support the idea that there was an agenda to beef up a female part.

Regardless of one's stance on poetic license in the interests of adapting to the times, to me it was a great shame how he messed with the story telling. In the book the drama of that scene is one of the most exciting moments in the trilogy imho. Walking along, and then suddenly "Flee! The enemy is upon us!" (from Glorfindel who has picked up the black riders' approach with his super-acute elven senses). The resulting chase is excellent too, with half the riders behind Frodo and the other half bursting from the tree line to his front left in an attempt to cut him off. When Frodo becomes entranced by the witch king and is slipping further into the wraith realm he also sees Glorfindel striding towards the black riders, shining like some kind of avenging angel and fully intending to take them on. Pretty gripping stuff. They should have made Arwen equally bad ass!

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    Can you provide some evidence that this is what Jackson was thinking?
    – Valorum
    Commented May 16, 2018 at 20:13
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    Nope, and good luck finding him quoted as saying so! It would be provocative to the fans to say the least (although I'm happy to be proved wrong). There is evidence that times have changed, however, and that there is a trend towards more strong female roles in film. To make the leap that the same trend is the cause of this character change in this case is conjecture certainly (I did say "I think"), although further evidence supporting this is Arwen doing Gandalf's white horses thing, as stated.
    – user100501
    Commented May 16, 2018 at 20:33
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    Though I personally agree strongly with your critique in your final paragraph, it's an opinion that doesn't answer the question. Try to focus on answering the question that was asked. Commented May 16, 2018 at 23:28
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    Two criticisms. 1) Women were first given the vote in the UK in 1918 and LotR was published in 1954, meaning that there was actually 36 years between the two. I'm not saying that there wasn't a big change in attitudes between 1954 and 2001 but still, y'know, facts. 2) As Eric Lippert says, you're opinions on how awesome you think the scene is in the books aren't at all relevant to the question. Commented May 17, 2018 at 12:40
  • Damn, you're right. I googled "when was lotr written" and 1937 came up. Didnt read the whole description though. Fine on the opinion, I guess I was just making the point that the story change was more impactful than the character one.
    – user100501
    Commented May 17, 2018 at 13:02

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