In The Hobbit, the Elvenking rules the Wood-elves (the people Tolkien would later call the Sindar) who live in the northwest “forest-eaves” of Mirkwood. They capture Thorin when he interrupts their all-night feast, and the remaining Dwarves after their escape from the Spiders. The Elvenking is described as distrustful of Dwarves, based on ancient trouble between their peoples, and as having “a weakness for treasure, especially for silver and white gems”. He also wields powerful magic. After the Dwarves escape his dungeons and the king learns of their plans for the Lonely Mountain, he rightly guesses they will try to burgle the treasure. Upon Smaug’s death, the Elvenking leads an army to claim the presumably unguarded hoard, but stops first to aid the people of Lake-town when he learns how desperate they are. With Men led by Bard, his Elves besiege the Thorin in the Lonely Mountain, though he is reluctant to actually engage the Dwarves in battle. His people fight valiantly against the Goblins in the Battle of Five Armies. After the battle, the Elvenking lays Thorin’s sword on his tomb. Bard gives him an emerald necklace, Bilbo gives him a pearl necklace, and he names Bilbo an “Elf-friend”.
In LOTR, the Elvenking is given a name, “Thranduil”, and is said to have moved to the Greenwood (later called Mirkwood) from Lindon in the first millennium of the Second Age, where his people are Silvan elves (that is, Sindar elves that abandoned their journey west in the First Age, before reaching Beleriand). Unfinished Tales adds that Thranduil’s father, Oropher, ruled the Greenwood elves until his death as part of the Last Alliance at the Battle of Dagorlad at the end of the Second Age. Thranduil took part in that battle and is said to be haunted by memories of Mordor. Oropher and Thranduil’s realm moved slowly north during the Second and Third Ages, retreating first from the incursion of Galadriel and Celeborn into Lórien, and then from the growing power of Dol Guldur in the south of Mirkwood.
- “Take him away and keep him safe, until he feels inclined to tell the truth, even if he waits a hundred years.” (About Thorin)
- “But I expect they will all come to a bad end, and serve them right!” (About the Dwarves)
- “You are more worthy to wear the armour of elf-princes than many that have looked more comely in it.” (To Bilbo)
- “Long will I tarry, ere I begin this war for gold.” (To Bard)
- “May you ever appear where you are most needed and least expected!” (To Gandalf)
- “May your shadow never grow less (or stealing would be too easy)!” (To Bilbo)