Ælfwine of England

The subject on Aelfwine, the seafarer who found the Straight Road and came to Tol Eressea, is definitely the most intricate and complicated matter of all the chroniclers. He is also extraordinary in that he is the only one to belong to historical times.

Aelfwine was an Anglo-Saxon, living in Britain during the 10th century. His name is in Old English, and means "Elf-friend", not a very uncommon name at this time. He was a long way descendant of Earendil, and had, like all of Earendil's descendants, sea-longing in his blood.

There are actually two very distinct versions of the Aelfwine legend. The first sets him in 11th century Wessex, but this version of the story seems to have been very mingled with vocal tradition, since it gives the origin of Warwick as originally built by Elves (who called it Kortirion in memory of Kortirion on Tol Eressea). We hold this as almost definitely impossible for these reasons: Under the First, Second, and Third Age we hear of no city called Kortirion in Middle-earth. At the beginning of the Fourth Age the few remaining Elves were dwindling, and we find it unlikely that any Elves would build a large city at this time. But it is very possible that the story stems from the other version, because the main plot is the same.

All the same, the first version is highly detailed and is therefore worth recounting: Aelfwine lived in Warwick in Luthany (that is England) and was of the kin of "Ing". His father was the minstrel Deor and his mother Eadgifu. While Aelfwine was still very young, Warwick was attacked by Vikings from the north. Deor and Eadgifu were slain, and Aelfwine became a thrall under the Viking Orm.

After many years of service, Aelfwine escaped and managed to get to the west coast of England. There he lived with sailors for many years, until he was grown up. During this time he learned to sail, and often went far out into the ocean. On one of these journeys he saw islands far off in the west, but the wind drove him back to his home.

Knowing there were uncharted islands in the west, he went off with seven companions (of which only Aelfheah, Bior and Gelimer are named). During a stormy night the ship wrecked and the next morning Aelfwine found himself alone on a beach. He had been cast ashore on one of the Harbourless Isles.

He soon found he was alone on the island, except for an "ancient" man who had been wrecked on the island long ago and who called himself the Man of the Sea. Aelfwine spent a long time on the island and learned much from the old man. One morning they found another ship was wrecked on the island - Orm the Viking's ship. None of the Vikings had survived, and Aelfwine and the Man of the Sea set out with the ship.

After a long journey west they came to the solitaire island Eneadur, inhabited by a great seafaring people called Ythlings. On this island Aelfwine found his seven companions alive and well. The Ythlings seemed to know the Man of the Sea, who ordered them to build a new ship for Aelfwine and his companions. At the day of departure, the old man blessed the ship, and then went to a high cliff and dived into the ocean. Aelfwine was grieved of what he thought to be the old man's certain death, but the Ythlings only smiled.

Joined by an Ythling called Bior, the eight companions set out west again. After a very long and weary yourney they passed the Magic Isles, where they lost three members of their crew in a spell of sleep. On a misty day, the air felt full of a strange fragrance, and suddenly the mists drove away and they saw before them the Lonely Isle - Tol Eressea.

But then the wind turned, the mists came back and the vision disappeared. Aelfwine stood long at the rear, and then with a cry he jumped into the ocean as the ship drifted back east.

This version of the legend ends here. This may indicate that it was originally written by one of Aelfwines companions. But it must have become very corrupted through the ages, and is perhaps not at all reliable.

The other version of the story seems more reliable, partly because it has quite many historical references.

Aelfwine was a sailor and a minstrel in the service of king Eadweard's thegn Odda. He was called Widlast ("Fartravelled") and his father was Eadwine, son of Oswine. He was apparently born around 869 A.D.

When Aelfwine was nine years old (878 A.D.), his father sailed off with his ship Earendel and never returned. Because of the attacks of the Danes, Aelfwine's mother (not named) fled with him from Somerset, where they lived, to the West Wales, where she had her kindred.

Having grown up to full manhood and learned the Welsh language and much sea-craft he returned to Somerset to serve the King in the wars. In the service of Odda he sailed many seas and visited both Wales and Ireland many times. On his journeys he always sought tales of the sea, and thus came to hear the Irish legends of Maelduin and Saint Brendan, who both set out to sea, and came to "many islands in succession, where they encountered marvel upon marvel". He heard also of a great land in the west which had been cast down, and the survivors had settled on Ireland and dwindled there. And the successors of these men all had the sea-longing in their blood, so that many sailed off west and never returned. Aelfwine thought he might be one of these descendants.

Around the year 915, in autumn, the Danes attacked Porlock. They were at first driven off and Aelfwine's company managed to capture a Danish "cnearr" (a small ship) at night. Aelfwine's closest friend was Treowine of the Marches. At dawn Aelfwine told Treowine he intended to sail off, perhaps to the country of the legendary king Sheaf in the west. This he had long planned and had prepared a supply of food and water. Treowine agreed to accompany him at least as far as to Ireland. They got two other companions: Ceola of Somerset and Geraint of West Wales. Then they sailed off.

They sailed west and passed Ireland, and after many days the voyagers were exhausted. A "dreamlike death" seemed to come over them, and soon they passed out. The last that is known of the journey is that Treowine saw the world plunge down under them. They had entered the Straight Road.

It is uncertain what happened to Aelfwine's companions after they fainted. Indeed, it is uncertain how many that followed him all the way to where he now came. That Treowine was there is known, because he is mentioned. The others may have left in Ireland or (as one version says) jumped overboard when the ship rose from the surface of the sea.

In any case, when Aelfwine woke up, he found himself lying on a beach and a group of Elves pulling up his ship on the shore. He had come to Tol Eressea. He soon got aquainted with the Noldor that lived on the island, and gained the name Eriol, which means "one who dreams alone" (it has also been interpreted as "iron-cliffs"). He learned the islanders' language, Noldorin, and after a period went inland.

Soon he had come to a village called Tavrobel, where he stayed for a long time. In this village also lived Pengolodh, and Aelfwine learned much from him. Pengolodh told him the Ainulindale, and he was shown the Lhammas, the Quenta Silmarillion, the Golden Book, The Narn I Chin Hurin, and the Annals of Aman and Beleriand. Aelfwine learned much of these works by heart, and translated the Silmarillion, the Annals and the Narn into Old English (mostly after his return to Britain), giving explanations on the many names.

It is not known how long Aelfwine stayed on Tol Eressea, but it can be safely assumed he stayed there for many years. Eventually he returned to Britain, but what there befell him is not known. It is clear, though, that he continued translating the works that he had received or learned, and that Professor Tolkien used much of his works in his translations.

•The History of Midde-earth vol. 9 The Notion Club Papers (part two)
•The History of Midde-earth vol. 2 The History of Eriol or Aelfwine
•The History of Midde-earth vol. 5 The Lost Road
•The History of Midde-earth vol. 1 Appendix
•The History of Midde-earth vol. 10 Ainulindale
•The History of Midde-earth vol. 5 Part two: The Lhammas
•The History of Midde-earth vol. 5 Part two: Quenta Silmarillion
•The History of Midde-earth vol. 4 The Earliest Annals of Valinor
•The History of Midde-earth vol. 11 Aelfwine and Dirhaval
•Beowulf stanza 1 - 58

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