The Elf-friends are most known for their devotion and close friendship to the Eldar.
“[The Ring] is a heavy burden. So heavy that none could lay it on another. I do not lay it on you. But if you take it freely, I will say that your choice is right; and though all the mighty Elf-friends of old, Hador, and Húrin, and Túrin, and Beren himself were assembled together, your seat should be among them.” (Elrond to Frodo – FOTR, “Council of Elrond”)
History (before LOTR)
Coming of Men into the West
The first Elf-friends were the Men of the Three Houses of Bëor, Haleth and Hador, and they are referred to as the Edain.
King Felagund was originally believed to be one of the Valar. He would later figure he could read in the minds of Men, who had dealings with the Dark Elves and learned much of their speech. Felagund was able to converse with Bëor, speaking in his language, the language of Bëor.
Then, when Men awoke in Hildórien, the spies of Morgoth were watchful, and the Elves knew nothing at first. However, a darkness lay upon the hearts of Men and the Doom of Mandos was perceived clearly even in the people of the Elf-friends.
There were very few men at the time, but Morgoth grew afraid of the growing power and unity of the Elves and Men.
Later, Felagund learned from Bëor there were many other men of like mind who were also journeying westward.
The Green-elves were troubled by the coming of the Men, and sent messengers to Felagund when they found out that a lord of the Eldar among Sea was with them.
“‘Lord,’ they said, ‘if you have power over these newcomers, bid them return by the ways that they came, or else to go forward. For we desire no strangers in this land to break the peace in which we live. And these folk are hewers of trees and hunters of beasts; therefore we are their unfriends, and if they will not depart we shall afflict them in all ways that we can.’” (Green Elves to Felagund – Silmarillion, “Of the Coming of Men Into the West”)
As a result, Bëor and his people went to Amrod and Amras near the borders of Doriath, leaving Gelion – at the advice of Felagund.
The Men’s first meeting of the Elves
Felagund, friend of Men returned to his own country and Bëor begged to come with him.
Felagund sent messengers as the king of all Noldor, sent messengers to the Men and other Elves, and they went to Estolad in order to see the Edain.
“The Eldar were beyond all other peoples skilled in tongues; and Felagund discovered also that he could read in the minds of Men such thoughts as they wished to reveal in speech, so that their words were easily interpreted. It is said also that these Men had long had dealings with the Dark Elves east of the mountains, and from them had learned much of their speech; and since all the languages of the Quendi were of one origin, the language of Bëor and his folk resembled the Elven-tongue in many words and devices.” (Silmarillion, “Of the Coming of Men into the West”)
The term Elf-friend was also later given to the Númenoreans not estranged with the Eldar during the days of Tar Ancalimon. They were called the Edain in the Sindarin Language of the Elves.
Aided by the Valar, there were three houses of the Elf-friends:
House of Bëor
House of Haleth
House of Marach (Hador)
The Valar offered to remove the Edain from the dangers of Middle-earth, so they brought them the land of Númenor.
It was “neither part of Middle-earth nor of Valinor, for it was sundered from either by a wide sea; yet it was nearer to Valinor.” (Fall of Númenor, “The Edain Reach Númenor”)
The three houses had gained rich rewards, wisdom, and power and life more enduring than other mortals.
The Edain set sail and peace was obtained by the Valar. Soon after, they would be presented the Land of Gift, and a country called Elenna. This marked the beginning of Dúnedain.
Aldarion, Tar-Elendil’s third child and also called Meneldur, was an Elf-friend due to his love for the Sea.
However, one command, the Ban of the Valar, was presented to the Númenoreans. They were forbidden to get to the Undying Lands or sail west into the shores. They were given long lifespans especially when compared to other mortal men.
Elf-friends in LOTR
Bilbo, Frodo, Aragorn and Gimli were named as Elf-friends among those who were living during the War of the Ring.
Bilbo’s and Frodo’s roles as elf-friends were emphasized in The Hobbit and LOTR, referring to their lifestyle choice to befriend the Elves. Bilbo was acknowledged by Thranduil after his journey, and Frodo was acknowledged by Gildor at Crickhollow.
At the end of the journey Bilbo found he had a lot more in common with the Elves and Dwarves than with his fellow hobbits. He seemed sort of weird to many of his hobbit neighbors after returning from the Quest of Erebor.
“It is true that for him after he remained an elf-friend, and had the honor of dwarves, wizards, and all such folk as ever passed that way; but he was no longer quite respectable….I am sorry to say he did not mind. He was quite content and the sound of the kettle in his hearth was ever after more musical than it had been even in the quiet days before the Unexpected Party.” (The Hobbit, “The Last Stage”)
Between the time of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, Bilbo would continue to write poetry and visit the Elves. He would later spend his remaining days after his 111st birthday in Elrond’s home in Rivendell.
Frodo was acknowledged by Gildor in Crickhollow, who had also known Bilbo.
“…I name you Elf-friend, and may the stars shine upon the end of your road! Seldom have we had such delight in strangers, and it is fair to hear words of the Ancient Speech from the lips of other wanderers in the world.” (FOTR, “Three is Company”)
Much like Bilbo, Frodo also had a lot more in common with the Elves than with the hobbits. Gildor notices his connection with the Elves – having picked up the languages.
Frodo would later have a prophetic dream of a tower near the sea at the Grey Havens, though it can also be in my opinion similar to the description of Númenor where a harbor and tower was described.
After this, the hobbits go over to the house of Tom Bombadil and Frodo has a vision of the Blessed Realm. There, Frodo also seemed set apart in that he has a mental bridge between mortal and immortal worlds – and would be noticed by Elrond as such in the Council of Elrond.
Aragorn was described as an Elf-friend of Westernesse. He had a brief mention in Lothlorien, but it is also implied that it is because he was also one of the Dúnedain.
Thus, when asked how many are with Legolas: “‘Eight,’ said Legolas. ‘Myself, four hobbits; and two men, one of whom, Aragorn, is an Elf-friend of the folk of Westernesse.’” (FOTR, Lothlorien)
And lastly –
known for his great friendships with Legolas and Galadriel, Gimli would later be the first and only dwarf to ever sail to the Undying Lands.
“[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.” (LOTR, App. A)