Tolkien Gateway


Revision as of 18:15, 2 March 2014 by (Talk)
"Who told you, and who sent you?" — Gandalf
This article or section needs more/new/more-detailed sources to conform to a higher standard and to provide proof for claims made.
BFME2 - Glorfindel.jpg
General Information
MembersIngwë, Thingol, Finwë, Fëanor, Fingolfin, Gil-galad, Galadriel
Physical Description
LifespanArda's existence
DistinctionsNearly immortal, inventors of writing and other arts
GalleryImages of Elves

The Elves (Eldar) were the first of the races of the Children of Ilúvatar, known also as the Firstborn for that reason. The Elves are distinguished from the other two races, the Men and the Dwarves, especially by the fact of their near immortality.




Main article: Awakening of the Elves
The Dawn of the Firstborn Elves, by Ted Nasmith.
About the same time that Varda, Queen of the Valier, ended her labors in creating the Stars, the Elves awoke beside the lake Cuiviénen. The first things they saw were the stars, and henceforth they adored them. The first sound they heard was the flowing of water, and henceforth they loved water as well.

They made speech then, and called themselves the Quendi. Melkor was the first to be aware of them, and he caused evil spirits to go about among them. When one or a small group wandered abroad, they would often vanish. It is believed that Melkor may have created Orcs with the elves he captured.

Oromë, the Huntsman of the Valar, happened upon them when he heard their singing far-off. He was amazed to see them, and called them the Eldar, "People of the Stars".


Main article: Sundering of the Elves
Oromë spies the first Elves, drawn by Anke Eißmann.
Though at first the Quendi were afraid of Oromë, the noblest among them saw that he was no dark horseman such as the lies of Melkor spread among them said. He had the light of Aman in his eyes and face, and they were drawn to him.

After spending a while among the Quendi, Oromë returned to Valinor and took council with the other Valar and Valier. At the counsel of Ilúvatar, Manwë, King of the Valar, decided that they must go to war against Melkor to protect the Quendi from him. After a great battle and Siege of Utumno, which reshaped the earth itself, Melkor was bound and cast into the prison of Mandos. Then the Valar, pleased with the outcome, summoned the Elves to Valinor, seeking fellowship with them.

At Oromë's urging, many of the Elves (especially the kindreds of Ingwë, Finwë, and Elwë) agreed. But others, henceforth called the Avari, declared that they preferred starlight and the wide spaces of Middle-earth. So the Elves were first sundered. During the journey to Belegaer, gradually the number of the Elves began to lessen as various groups dropped away. Some of the Teleri (kindred of Elwë) refused to cross the Misty Mountains, and settled in Anduin under the leadership of Lenwë, to be called later the Nandor. Elwë then went missing, and in dismay the rest of the Teleri remained behind, while the Noldor (kindred of Finwë) and Vanyar (kindred of Ingwë) used an island as a ship, and found at last Aman and Valinor.

After several years, Oromë returned to search for the Teleri. Some, under Olwë, relented and followed. Others remained to continue to search for Elwë. Still others, under Círdan, remained because in that time they had become devoted to Ossë and the Sea. Those Teleri that chose to remain were called the Sindar. Elwë, who had fallen asleep due to his enchantment with Melian, returned to claim lordship and establish them in Doriath. The Noldor and some of the Teleri, however, built the great cities of Tirion and Alqualondë (respectively) in Aman. The Vanyar dwelt in Valmar, for they were closest to the Valar of the kindreds.

Exile of the Noldor

Main article: Exile of the Noldor
The Coming of Fingolfin, as drawn by Jenny Dolfen.
Melkor, having been released on the promise of good behavior, spread lies about the Valar among the Noldor. Fëanor, the eldest son of Finwë and one of the greatest Elves to have ever lived, hated Melkor more than all the other Noldor, but was paradoxically one of the most influenced by his lies. He forged weapons, and his greatest works, the Silmarils, captured the light of the Two Trees – and his own heart. After Melkor stole the Silmarils and killed Finwë, Fëanor stirred the Noldor to open disobedience to the Valar. In an epic journey filled with treachery, death, and deceit, the Noldor entered in to Exile, crossing over into Beleriand.

Battles of Beleriand

Main article: Battles of Beleriand
There were five great battles fought in Beleriand. The First Battle was the result of an attack by Melkor on Círdan and Elwë (now known as Thingol). Though the Elves managed to resist the attack successfully, this left Melkor essentially with full reign of Beleriand. Upon the sudden and unanticipated Return of the Noldor, the tables were reversed in the Dagor-nuin-Giliath. The third battle (“Dagor Aglareb”) occurred when Melkor tried unsuccessfully to destroy the Elves, breaking forth from Angband. This only resulted in the vigilant Siege of Angband. Morgoth was more successful in the next battle, Dagor Bragollach, which ended in the deaths of many Elven princes, among them Fingolfin, High King of the Noldor. The siege was broken. Several decades later, Maedhros, eldest son of Fëanor, counterattacked in the Nirnaeth Arnoediad. Although at first very successful, the tide turned against the Elves, and ended in the destruction of Hithlum. It was not half a century later that Gondolin, the last real stronghold of the Noldor, was destroyed. Doriath, the center of the Sindarin realm, was sacked by Dwarves.
Eärendil - The Battle of Eagles and Dragons, by Ted Nasmith.

Salvation of the Elves

Main article: War of Wrath

With the near destruction of the Elves, the last survivors were at the Mouths of Sirion and Balar and were led by Gil-galad and Círdan. Among them was Eärendil, the son of Tuor and Idril. Eärendil made a miraculous voyage to Valinor to beg the pardon of the Valar. His request was granted. The Valar came across the Sea to Middle-earth, and in the War of Wrath thrust Morgoth into the Void and purged Beleriand. They offered to let the Elves return with them to Valinor; some accepted, but many others, under Gil-galad, chose to remain.

Decline of the Elves

Celebrimbor, by Angus McBride.
Though Morgoth was gone to trouble the world no longer, Sauron, his greatest servant, was still there, and he made war on the remaining Elves who chose not to depart Middle-earth throughout the Second and Third Ages.

During this time the Elves realized how Men were rising to take their place, and Sauron exploited their longing. Annatar corrupted Celebrimbor, the grandson of Fëanor, to wright the Rings of Power, especially the Three Rings to preserve the Elves. Annatar was a guise of Sauron who also forged a ring – the One Ring. However the Elves realized the deception and defied Sauron, who then waged War against them. In the following centuries Elves continued to heed the invitation of the Valar, desire the Sea and depart for the Undying Lands. Realms such as Dol Amroth were deserted and gave their place to Men.

It was not until the end of the Third Age that the One Ring was destroyed, marring the Three Rings at the same time. In the years that followed the last of the Elves departed across the Sea to Valinor, their mission against Sauron complete, never to return.

Eventually, their immortal spirits will overwhelm and consume their bodies, rendering them "bodiless", whether they opt to go to Valinor or remain in Middle-earth. At the end of the world, all Elves will have become invisible to mortal eyes, known as Lingerers, except to those to whom they wish to manifest themselves.

Life and Customs of the Elves

Main articles: Elven Characteristics, Elven Life cycle and Elven Customs

Besides being considered more beautiful than men, Elves were also generally taller. Their hair color varied; but the basic rules were that the Noldor generally had dark hair (brown or black), the Vanyar golden, and the Teleri silver or dark. Their eyes are usually described as gray. Their most distinguishing characteristic from the Mortal races was the fact that they were invulnerable to age or disease; unless they were killed by sword or sorrow they would live to the end of the world.

Their lives were counted to begin at conception rather than birth, and though their minds sharpened much earlier in life than in the race of Men, their bodies grew more slowly. They were considered fully-grown at about a century. They married usually only once in their lives, and their children were often few and far-between.

Arts, Crafts, Powers and Magic

Other races often spoke of 'Elf magic', or of objects made by Elves as if they contained enchantments. It is unclear how accurate it is to call Elvish arts and crafts 'magic' or 'enchanted'. Elves themselves only used these words when attempting to simplify or clarify how elvish-made things seemed to have a special quality that no other races were able to achieve. Powerful Elves seemed to have control over nature and the elements, their clothes seemed to shine with their own light, their blades seemed to never lose their sharpness. Less educated folks couldn't explain these effects, so they simply called them 'magic'. However, each race had their own special abilities that seemed incomprehensible to others. Hobbits had a seemingly supernatural ability to hide when they wished to remain unseen. [1] Dwarves were unmatched in the art of mining and building halls underground. Wizards had such wisdom and knowledge of the world and all things in it that they appeared to have mystical powers. To each of these races, what they did had nothing to do with magic, it was just how they did things. It may have been so too with Elves. Whether there was any kind of mystical energy involved in the things Elves made can never be proved or disproved. [2]


Main article: Elvish
Lore, by Donato Giancola.
Because Tolkien developed the Elves almost for his languages, those he developed are of special interest to many Tolkien scholars. His primary languages are Quenya and Sindarin, but these have many variants and dialects as is seen in the table below. They were generally written in the Cirth and Tengwar scripts.


Germanic influence

In The Book of Lost Tales, a diminutive fairy-like race of elves had once been a great and mighty people who had "diminished" as Men took over the world.[3][4][5] themselves influenced by the Elves of Northern European mythologies, especially the god-like and human-sized Ljósálfar of Norse mythology,[6] also appearing in medieval works such as Sir Orfeo, the Welsh Mabinogion, Arthurian romances and the legends of the Tuatha Dé Danann.[7]

Terry Gunnell also claims that the relationship between beautiful ships and the Elves is reminiscent of Njörðr and Skíðblaðni, Freyr's ship.[8]

Celtic influence

Tolkien expressed a dislike in Celtic legends and denied that his legendarium is "Celtic",[9] however it is believed that Celtic Mythology had a great influence on Tolkien's writings on Elves [10][8] and some of the stories Tolkien wrote as their 'legends' are directly influenced by it.[5] For example, the Noldor are based on the Tuatha Dé Danann in the Lebor Gabála Érenn, and their migratory nature comes from early Irish/Celtic history.[5] John Garth has also referenced the Tuatha Dé Danann in suggesting Tolkien was essentially rewriting Irish fairy traditions.

Tolkien also retains the usage of the Celtic and popular term 'fairy' for the same creatures.[11] The Elves are also called fair folk (based on Welsh Tylwyth teg 'the beautiful kindred' = fairies)[12] although they are unrelated to fairies.


The larger Elves are also inspired by Tolkien's Christian theology — as representing the state of Men in Eden who have not yet "fallen" — similar to humans but fairer and wiser, with greater spiritual powers, keener senses, and a closer empathy with nature, freed from human limitations, immortal, with wills directly effective for the achievement of imagination and desire.[13]


Traditional "Victorian" dancing fairies and elves appear in Tolkien's early poetry,[3] and have influence upon his later works[14] in part due to the influence of a production of J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan in Birmingham in 1910[13] and his familiarity with the work of Catholic mystic poet, Francis Thompson[13] whose work Tolkien had acquired in 1914.[3]

In The Book of Lost Tales Tolkien includes both the more serious 'medieval' type of elves such as Fëanor and Turgon alongside the frivolous, "Jacobean-era" type of elves such as the Solosimpi and Tinúviel.[7]

Tolkien also developed the idea of children visiting Valinor in their sleep. Elves would also visit and comfort chided or upset children at night. This theme was largely abandoned.[15]

However after the publication of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien repeatedly expressed his misgivings concerning the undesirable associations of the name "elf" like those of A Midsummer Night's Dream, the Victorian notions of fairies or mischievous imps, the imaginations of Michael Drayton or the fanciful beings with butterfly wings.

He proposed that in translations the "oldest available form of the name" be used for more elevated notions of beings "supposed to possess formidable magical powers in early Teutonic mythology" (OED viz. the Old English ælf, from Proto-Germanic *albo-z). Tolkien warned against associations to the debased English notion of elfin and suggested that Germans would not translate his Elves as Elf, elfen, words which might retain the undesirable images.

He rather suggested words such as Alp, Alb, historically the more normal form and true cognate of English elf.[16]

See Also


  1. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, "Prologue", "Concerning Hobbits"
  2. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 131, (undated, written late 1951)
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Book of Lost Tales Part One
  4. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Book of Lost Tales Part Two
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Dimitra Fimi, "Mad" Elves and "elusive beauty": some Celtic strands of Tolkien's mythology in Folklore, vol. 117, iss. 2, August 2006, pp. 156–170
  6. Tom Shippey, The Road to Middle-earth
  7. 7.0 7.1 J.R.R. Tolkien and Douglas A. Anderson (ed.), The Annotated Hobbit, p. 120
  8. 8.0 8.1 Terry Gunnell, "Tívar in a Timeless Land: Tolkien's Elves" conference lecture delivered on 13 September 2002
  9. Humphrey Carpenter, J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, p. 26
  10. John Garth, Tolkien and the Great War, p. 222
  11. Marjorie J. Burns, Perilous Realms: Celtic and Norse in Tolkien's Middle-earth, p. 22
  12. J.R.R. Tolkien, "Nomenclature of The Lord of the Rings" in Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull (eds), The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion, p. 757 cf. "Fair folk"
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Humphrey Carpenter, J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography
  14. Dimitra Fimi, "Come sing ye light fairy things tripping so gay: Victorian Fairies and the Early Work of J. R. R. Tolkien". Working With English: Medieval and Modern Language, Literature and Drama. Retrieved 11/01/08
  15. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Book of Lost Tales Part One, "The Cottage of Lost Play"
  16. J.R.R. Tolkien, "Nomenclature of The Lord of the Rings" in Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull (eds), The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion, p. 756, s.v. "Elven-smiths".
(Quendi · People of the Stars · Firstborn · Elder Kindred)
Three Kindreds:
(Eldar · Eldalië · Edhil)
 Vanyar (Fair-elves · Minyar) · Noldor (Deep-elves · Tatyar) · Teleri (Lindar · Nelyar)
(High-elves · Amanyar)
 Vanyar · Noldor · Falmari
Úmanyar:  Sindar (Grey-elves · Eglath) · Nandor (Green-elves · Silvan Elves)
 Moriquendi:  Úmanyar · Avari (Dark Elves · The Unwilling)
See Also:  Awakening of the Elves · Sundering of the Elves · Great Journey