Time to discuss the political and historical aspects of Thranduil’s character. First off, let me just say that yes, there is significantly more information regarding these aspects of Thranduil’s life, however no, it is in no way comprehensive, and there is still a lot left out. I will be at least trying to make some estimations and guesses as to how those bits and pieces may be filled in, however.
Like I mentioned yesterday in Part 1, it is possible that Thranduil was actually of nobility in Doriath (that Woodland kingdom in Beleriand during the First Age). Granted, he likely wouldn’t have been of high nobility as his lineage isn’t connected directly to Thingol or Elmo (who is Thingol’s younger brother). However it is definitely within the realm of possibility that he and his father were distant cousins or some such.
Truly, this possibility gains the most merit when, shortly after the beginning of the Second Age dawned, Oropher (Thranduil’s father) led a group of other Sindar Elves from Doriath out of Beleriand and into the Middle-earth that we know of from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. It is not specified how many of the Sindar arrived in Greenwood, however Oropher and Thranduil at least at last came to a great forest populated primarily by Silvan Elves – Woodelves of a “lesser” nobility than the Sindar. There Oropher, Thranduil, and whatever other Sindar Elves remained with them settled. And it was there that the Silvan Elves took Oropher as their King.
So now Thranduil is no longer some lesser noble; Thranduil is a prince of one of the two largest Elven kingdoms in Middle-earth (the other being the land west of the Misty Mountains, which fell under Gil-galad’s rule, who was High King of the Noldor).
Now, after this Thranduil and Oropher and Greenwood kind of drop off of the map for a few millennia. They don’t take part in the War of the Elves and Sauron (lucky them), aren’t caught up in the Ring making (again, lucky them), and as they’re nowhere near to the coast and have a handy dandy mountain range between them and the sea, they don’t even have to deal with the Númenóreans, either the Akallabêth or the survivors. Again, lucky them. Oropher and Thranduil really hit the jackpot in that regard, as they somehow managed to keep themselves out of two of the greatest calamities and most devastating occurrences of the Second Age.
They did not, however, keep themselves out of the third and final major event of the Second Age: The War of the Last Alliance. In 3434 of the Second Age, Oropher led a host of Silvan warriors from Greenwood to Mordor, whereat he stood with Gil-galad and Elendil, and joined his forces to the Alliance’s.
Thranduil was most likely a commander in the Greenwood forces, as he was the crown prince. In fact, it is quite likely that he was something of what Elrond was to Gil-galad: counselor/advisor, commander, leader, and second-in-command of Oropher’s forces. This would mean he would have likely stood in on council meetings, led troops, helped to strategize and coordinate troop movements and battle plans, dealt with the men, and even gave the occasional speech. Although Thranduil is really only mentioned after his father is slain and he becomes the uncrowned king, he still had a very important part to play.
Early in the War, however, Oropher was slain in a hasty charge. The details of the whole matter are rather vague and unclear, however what is known is that, during one of the first charges, Oropher advanced before Gil-galad gave the signal. In doing so, Oropher managed to get both himself and two thirds of his force killed.
After that, Thranduil took charge, and remained the commander of the Greenwood forces for a large part of the War. Like his father he refused to submit completely to Gil-galad’s control, and as such his force suffered heavier casualties. At the end of the Last Alliance, Thranduil led his men home to Greenwood, whereupon he was crowned King.
Enter the Third Age. This is most likely the most traumatic Age for Greenwood, as it is during this time that the Necromancer moves into the abandoned palace/fortress of Amon Lanc (which then came to be known by a different name: Dol Guldur), and Mirkwood overtook the Greenwood. It is also during the Third Age that Smaug comes down and takes up residence in Erebor, which is only a short flight from Mirkwood. And hand in hand with Smaug, of course, came the Battle of Five Armies, in which the forces of Mirkwood under the command of Thranduil fought.
However, let’s take just one of these things at a time. First off, the rise of Mirkwood and the Necromancer. Ironically enough, Thranduil didn’t have a major part in the battle with the Necromancer himself – that fell largely to Gandalf, with the aid primarily of Elrond (contrary to movie canon). However, with the rise of the Necromancer in circa T.A. 1000, darkness began to overtake Greenwood. Orcs infested the forest, as well as great spiders and other manners of foul creatures. Thranduil led his people over the Forest River shortly after the darkening began, creating the stronghold that would remain the Mirkwood Elves’ capital for the remainder of the Third Age. And then Thranduil led a constant battle against the darkness, fighting to eradicate the evil from his land as best as he could.
It was not until T.A. 2941, during the time of the Quest for Erebor that the Necromancer was truly expelled from Dol Guldur. In 2941, likely with Thranduil’s aid, the White Council attacked Dol Guldur and drove the Necromancer forth. Defeated he fled to Mordor, whereat he began to regain his strength once again…and thus Sauron returned to Mordor. However, that served as a victory (although not a permanent one) for Thranduil and his people. On an amusing side note, this battle actually likely took place during the weeks that Thorin and his Company were locked away in Thranduil’s dungeons. Suddenly it makes perfect sense why Thranduil didn’t actually have loads of time to question the Dwarves, as well as why Gandalf didn’t come and save them – they were currently fighting a major battle with the spirit of Sauron on the other side of the kingdom.
This was not, unfortunately, the end of the evil in Mirkwood. During the later years, when Sauron’s strength continued to grow in Mordor, three of the Ringwraiths returned to Dol Guldur and brought darkness once more. From there, the Nazgûl launched attacks upon Lothlórien and Mirkwood all throughout the War of the Ring. It is said that Dol Guldur was cleansed of evil by the Elves of Lothlórien, led by Galadriel, however I find it unlikely that Thranduil had no part in it. That part is open for debate though.
As all of you who have read The Hobbit know, shortly after the White Council expelled the Necromancer from Dol Guldur, Thranduil led a host toward Erebor to claim the treasure (that he erroneously believed was open for the taking). Instead, he found a very tangled nest of politics and claims and counterclaims to said treasure, as well as a mounting force of Orcs that was coming down from the Mountains. Thus began the Battle of Five Armies, in which Thranduil and his host take a part in. The outcome is simple enough: the Dwarves, Elves, and Men defeat the Orcs and Wolves, and Thranduil is gifted the emeralds of Girion. Everyone goes home happy (well, except for those who died…)
Ah yes, and briefly upon the topic of Smaug; the issue with Smaug is that he posed a very real threat to Mirkwood and Thranduil’s people. Truthfully, Mirkwood was not far enough away from Erebor that, had Smaug awoken one day and decided to go on a murdering and burning rampage, the forest would have been safe. Plus, dragons aren’t over-fond of Elves (thanks First Age Elves), and they are obsessed with treasure…and it would not have taken Smaug much thought to recall Glaurung and the treasure troves of Nargothrond (an underground Elven city which closely resembled Menegroth, the capital of Doriath, which it is believed Thranduil’s palace was also fashioned after). Thus Smaug’s coming to Erebor was most likely a worrying time for Thranduil.
A few more things that I feel this essay would be remiss in if I did not at least mention: Mirkwood’s relations with the other Elven realms, and Thranduil’s involvement in the White Council.
Concerning Mirkwood’s relations with other Elven realms, I’m afraid I’m going to have to dredge up the broken record recording of: we don’t actually really know. Compared to the relations that Rivendell, Lothlórien, and Mithlond (the Grey Havens) shared, Mirkwood’s ties were probably fairly weak. Rivendell and Lothlórien were bound by marriage (Elrond, Lord of Rivendell marrying Celebrían, the only daughter of Celeborn and Galadriel will do that), as well as the fact that Elrond and Galadriel both bore Rings of Power and were definitely seated on the White Council. In that way Círdan, lord of the Grey Havens, was also tied to both Rivendell and Lothlórien, for he was also on the White Council, and for a time he bore Narya, the Ring of Fire (although he passed it on to Gandalf). Círdan was also likely very good friends with Elrond, as it is likely that Círdan served as a mentor to Elrond and/or Elros (Elrond’s twin brother) in their youth, further cementing Mithlond’s ties to Rivendell. Added to that the fact that Elrond likely still had a (theoretical) seat of power in Mithlond (crazy politics including the High Kingship and such), and Mithlond and Rivendell were most certainly close.
Which then leaves Mirkwood sort of out of the loop. Not to say that Mirkwood did not have relations with the other Elven realms. In fact, all things told, they probably had fairly good relations, especially with Lothlórien, who was their close neighbor. However, there is little actual textual evidence to suggest just how strong those ties with the other realms were. As was the case with much of Thranduil’s personal life, this segment of Mirkwood politics is left open for the reader/writer’s interpretation.
And lastly for the debate concerning Thranduil on the White Council. Yeah, you probably guessed it: we don’t actually know. There are a few characters that are explicitly stated as being on the White Council: Saruman, Gandalf, Galadriel, Elrond, and Círdan. Other likely candidates were Glorfindel and Celeborn, as well as possibly Radagast. There were also (quite possibly) some few mortal members, although they came and went and the position on the Council was probably passed to the next holder of the leadership position (such as the Chieftain of the Dúnedain). As for Thranduil, I personally believe that he was something of a…side member. The Holy Five (as I call them) were always present during the White Council meetings. It’s my interpretation that the other members came and went, depending on where the Council was being held, what matters were being discussed, and whether or not their inclusion was important. For example, a White Council matter concerning The Dúnedain would likely involve all of the Rivendell members as well as the Dúnedain, whereas a Council concerning a growing threat near Lothlórien would include Lothlórien and Mirkwood members. Granted, there are only four known Councils, however I believe (and here again this is merely my interpretation of the text, and so should not in any way be taken as law) that any great council concerning matters that had far-reaching implications were likely discussed by the White Council.