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Cuss or Champion?
Even beyond the scope of The Hobbit we are dropped clues here and there that attest to Thranduilís good character, and others that at least provide good reason for such faults as he has. I make no claim that Thranduil is a perfect saint, but he is certainly no devil.
In an initial comparison, readers of The Silmarillion will note that the abode of EŲl, admittedly a questionable character, was not an inviting place:
"But now the trees of Nan Elmoth were the tallest and darkest in all Beleriand, and there the sun never came; and there EŲl dwelt, who was named the Dark Elf. . . . There he lived in deep shadow, loving the night and the twilight under the stars." (Of Maeglin, The Silmarillion)
Apparently, the atmosphere of an Elfís realm reflects the general disposition of its ruler. In stark contrast:
"Now of old the name of that forest was Greenwood the Great, and its wide halls and aisles were the haunt of many beasts and of birds of bright song; and there was the realm of King Thranduil under the oak and the beech. . . . Then the name of the forest was changed and Mirkwood it was called, for the nightshade lay deep there, and few dared to pass through, save only in the north where Thranduilís people still held the evil at bay." (Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age, The Silmarillion)
Thranduil did not entertain the evil darkness, he opposed it. "The dark things that were driven out in the year of the Dragonís fall have returned in greater numbers, and Mirkwood is again an evil place, save where our realm is maintained." (Legolas, The Council of Elrond, FotR, LotR, emphasis mine)
Besides that, letís compare households now, perhaps more relevant and to-the-point:
Of EŲl: "There were his smithy, and his dim halls, and such servants as he had, silent and secret as their master." (Of Maeglin, The Silmarillion)
Of Thranduil: "Inside the passages were lit with red torch-light, and the elf-guards sang as they marched along the twisting, crossing, and echoing paths. These were not like those of the goblin-cities; they were smaller, less deep underground, and filled with cleaner air." (Chapter IX, The Hobbit)
I think the contrast speaks eloquently for itself.
The resurgence of the dark powers was not unexpected to Thranduil, and even during the long peace in the first years of his reign after his fatherís death, he knew they were still in for more than they had bargained for:
"But there was in Thranduilís heart a still deeper shadow. He had seen the horror of Mordor and could not forget it. If ever he looked south its memory dimmed the light of the Sun, and though he knew that it was now broken and deserted and under the vigilance of the Kings of Men, fear spoke in his heart that it was not conquered forever: it would rise again." (Unfinished Tales)
In this, I think he can hardly be blamed for keeping a tight watch on the traffic through his realm; one in his position cannot afford to take chances with anyone, and it was said of Thorin that "they believed him to be an enemy."
And though Oropher his father "resented the intrusions of Celeborn and Galadriel into Lůrien," (Unfinished Tales), and deliberately moved north to be rid of them, when the War of the Ring had been won, Thranduil seemed to bear no such ill-will toward Celeborn his kinsman: "And on the day of the New Year of the Elves, Celeborn and Thranduil met in the midst of the forest; and they renamed Mirkwood Eryn Lasgalen, The Wood of Greenleaves. Thranduil took all the northern region as far as the mountains that rise in the forest for his realm; and Celeborn took all the southern wood below the Narrows, and named it East Lůrien; all the wide forest between was given to the Beornings and the Woodmen." (Appendix B, RotK, LotR)
Not only did Thranduil share the spoils equitably with him, but he freely welcomed Celeborn into the neighborhood, into the very region that had once been Oropherís. No grudges borne here.
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