The term elf-friend is used a number of times in the Lord of the Rings. First, when Frodo and the Hobbits leave the Shire, they encounter Gildor who says the following to Frodo:

I name you Elf-friend; and may the stars shine upon the end of your road.

Then later, when the Hobbits arrive at Bombadils house, Goldberry says this to Frodo:

I had not heard that the folk of the Shire were so sweet tongued. But I see you are an elf-friend; the light in your eyes and the ring in your voice tells it.

So what exactly does it mean to be an elf-friend? Clearly it means to be friends with the elves in general, but I was wondering if anything specific is meant by it. The way Gildor speaks to Frodo it is as if he is granting him a knighthood to him or something similar, and yet when Goldberry speaks, it sugeests that Frodo has (subtly) been physically or mentally changed in some manner. Is there some element of magical charm involved? Do any of Tolkiens other works go into more detail on the matter?

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    Means they got yo' back!
    – Möoz
    Commented Apr 17, 2014 at 2:45
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    It reminds me of the phrase from Better Call Saul: A friend of the Cartel. Probably different benefits and responsibilities, some overlap.
    – releseabe
    Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 14:00
  • Was Sauron an elf-frenemy? Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 14:12

4 Answers 4


Given all the evidence (and lack thereof) from the books, I'd suggest it's an honorary title. If it does have an effect on the person in question, it would be at a subconcious level. Maybe they walked a bit taller, a bit more self-confident, knowing that an Elf has considered them special enough to name them Elf-friend. Goldberry is a special case, with powers unknown, so what she can and can't detect is tricky to determine an answer from.

We do see a number of characters named Elf-friend, as if it had specific significance, Frodo as you noted, but also Aragorn in the Fellowship of the Ring:

'Eight,' said Legolas. 'Myself, four hobbits; and two men, one of whom, Aragorn, is an Elf-friend of the folk of Westernesse.'

And Gimli in the Appendix A:

[Gimli] was named Elf-friend because of the great love that grew between him and Legolas, son of King Thranduil, and because of his reverence for the Lady Galadriel.

Anardil, Meneldur's son, was also mentioned as the greatest of Elf-friends in The Mariner's Wife in Unfinished Tales:

Ereinion Gil-galad son of Fingon to Tar-Meneldur of the line of Eärendil, greeting: the Valar keep you and may no shadow fall upon the Isle of Kings. Long I have owed you thanks, for you have so many times sent to me your son Anardil Aldarion: the greatest Elf-friend that now is among Men, as I deem.

It's also used numerous times in the Silmarillion, first to indicate the original Men and then later the "true" Numenoreans who did not fall under the thrall of Sauron, as detailed in the glossary:

Elf-friends The Men of the Three Houses of Bëor, Haleth, and Hador, the Edain. In the Akallabêth and in Of the Rings of Power used of those Númenóreans who were not estranged from the Eldar; see Elendili.

Elf-friend was presumably not just a once-off bestowal by Gildor then. Its original meaning was literally "one of a race or class who is a friend of the Elves", i.e. the first Men or Elendil's Numenorians. Over time it appears to have become more restricted and logically so, as Men and Elves no longer had the close contacts that they once maintained. It may have still applied to the Dunedain of the North, given they still maintained a relationship with the Elves, and Aragorn's naming as such may have been because he was a Dunedain rather than describing him specifically but that is my own speculation.

That aside, it also has obviously been extended depending on the circumstances of an individual, i.e. Frodo and Gimli. None of the other works go into more detail on how it applies at the individual level, but given it was originally applied to whole classes of Men it seems unlikely that some charm or such is directly applied - especially in Tolkien where magic is not a day-to-day act.

  • It's also used in The Hobbit. Bilbo is an elf-friend: ‘I will take your gift, O Bilbo the Magnificent!' said the king gravely. ‘And I name you elf-friend and blessed. Commented Jan 19 at 15:53

The idea of the elf-friend as it relates to the legend of Númenor was shaped by the idea of time-travel (of all things).

After discussing that there were no good books, C.S.Lewis and J.R.R.Tolkien decided to write their own. Lewis wrote on space-travel (Out of the Silent Planet) while Tolkien wrote on time-travel (The Lost Road).

In the introduction to The Lost Road, Tolkien's son includes a letter his father wrote, which includes the following about the Númenor/Atlantis story:

The thread was to be the occurrence time and again in human families (like Durin among the Dwarves) of a father and son called by names that could be interpreted as Bliss-friend and Elf-friend. These no longer understood are found in the end to refer to the Atlantid-Númenórean situation and mean 'one loyal to the Valar, content with the bliss and prosperity within the limits prescribed' and 'one loyal to friendship with the High-elves'.

He goes on to list father-son pairings with this pattern travelling back in time to the Fall of Númenor, when these two were the leaders of the last loyal party.

I am tempted to doubt that Frodo is an elf-friend in that sense of the word though. That distinction would likely be better applied to Aragorn.


It's word with a lot of special meaning to Tolkien, though we don't we ever get a very clear definition.

Elf-friend was a name or title full of meaning for Tolkien. In Nomenclature [of The Lord of the Rings] he explains that ‘it was suggested by Ælfwine, the English form of an old Germanic name (represented for instance in the Lombardic Alboin), though its analysable meaning was probably not recognized or thought significant by the many recorded bearers of the name Ælfwine in Old English’. In his ‘Silmarillion’ writings an Anglo-Saxon named Ælfwine was to witness or record much of the history of the Elves, and several of the component parts of the mythology are attributed to him as writer or transmitter. Verlyn Flieger has said of the term Elf-friend in The Lord of the Rings that readers of that work first meet it

early in the story, in an exchange that at first reading seems of little significance. Responding to Frodo’s Elvish greeting ... the Elf Gildor replies. ‘Hail, Elf-friend!’ At this point in the story it seems to be simply polite elf-hobbit talk. Even when in a later, more serious moment Gildor says to Frodo, ‘I name you Elf-friend,’ this still seems largely a formal rather than a substantive locution.... With every repetition, however, the meaning deepens, and when in the house of Tom Bombadil, Gold-berry says to Frodo, ‘I see you are an Elf-friend; the light in your eyes and the ring in your voice tells it’..., we begin to realize that more than politeness is involved; Elf-friend is some kind of special identity. This is confirmed when, still later, the Elf Legolas introduces Aragorn to Haldir of Lorien as ‘an Elf-friend of the folk of Westernesse’....
However, it is only at the Council of Elrond that we discover that the phrase has a history beyond the immediate present. Formally accepting his offer to carry the Ring to Mount Doom, Elrond Halfelven tells Frodo, ‘Though all the mighty Elf-friends of old, Hador and Hurin, and Turin, and Beren himself were assembled together, your seat should be among them’.... What seemed at first a polite form of address, later a complimentary epithet, can here be seen as the sign of election to a special company. [‘In the Footsteps of Ælfwine’, Tolkien’s Legendarium: Essays on The History of Middle-earth (2000), pp. 183-4]

Hammond & Scull, The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion - Book I, Chapter 3


While no magic is involved, being named Elf-friend feels very much like a blessing. Yet, while the Eldar may not be able to recognize it on sight, Goldberry can see the trace of such blessings because she is not a woman but a Power of Arda. Exactly what Power she and Tom are, of course, is forever unexplained.

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    Hi, welcome to SF&F. Do you have a quote for the suggestion that Goldberry can see that someone is an Elf-friend?
    – DavidW
    Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 14:22
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    @davidw "I had not heard that the folk of the Shire were so sweet tongued. But I see you are an elf-friend; the light in your eyes and the ring in your voice tells it." Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 15:03
  • My point is that you need to edit that into your answer.
    – DavidW
    Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 15:05
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    My point is that it was in the original comment I replied to. Source is implied by the nature of the thread. Please read all comments. Commented Oct 12, 2022 at 21:50

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