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This article is about the food. For the journal of Unquendor, see Lembas.
Lembas by John Howe

Lembas, translated as waybread in the Common Speech, was a special food made by the Elves.


[edit] History

The origin and making of lembas is only known by the short text Of Lembas written by Pengolodh. Lembas was made first by Yavanna from special corn that grew in Aman, and Oromë gave it to the Elves of the Great Journey. For this reason, it was an Elven custom that only women should make lembas; they were called Yavannildi who knew the secret of its recipe. Also, the custom requested that only an Elven Queen should keep and distribute the lembas, for this reason she was called also massánië or besain.[1]

The Light of Valinor by Elena Kukanova

Only on rare occasions was it given to non-Elves, because it was believed that mortals who ate it would become wary of their mortality and would desire to live among the Elves.[1]

The corn itself was an enduring plant that needed but a little sunlight to ripen and could be sown at any season and then sprouted and grew swiftly. Yet it was prone to north winds, while Morgoth dwelt there. The Eldar grew it in guarded lands and sunlit glades. The ears were harvested without scythe or sickle but each one was gathered by hands and the white stalks were drawn from the earth and used to weave baskets in which the grain was stored.[1]

Melian, as the queen of Doriath, was one who held this recipe from Yavanna. By giving lembas to Beleg for Túrin,[2] she showed great favor because never before lembas was given to a Man and seldom it was again. Later it was passed to Galadriel and other Elves.

The Galadhrim had a large store of lembas in Lothlórien. Galadriel gave some of it to the Fellowship of the Ring upon their departure.[3] Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee subsisted on it through the majority of their journey from there into Mordor.

The tradition of farming the Western Corn and the making of Waybread was lost for ever in Middle-earth after the departure of Galadriel and the death of Arwen.[4]

[edit] Description

The cakes were very nutritious, stayed fresh for months when wrapped in leaves, and were used for sustenance on long journeys. Lembas had a brownish colour on the outside and a cream colour on the inside.

According to Gimli, it was similar to Cram, although one of the Elves of Lothlórien commented that it was more pleasant, and more strengthening than any food by Men.[3]

Like other products of the Elves, it was offensive to evil creatures; Gollum refused outright to eat of it.[5] When Frodo was captured by Orcs in Mordor, the Orcs hated the look of the lembas even more than Gollum.[6]

[edit] Etymology

Lembas is Sindarin and derived from Old Sindarin lenn-mbass which means "journey-bread". As a rough translation of this term it was also often called "Waybread".[1] This word came in turn from Primitive Elvish le(n)dembassē, literally meaning "bread taken on leaving home (for a long journey)", which in Quenya was lerembas.[7] However, the proper Quenya term for lembas was coimas which means "life-bread".[1]

[edit] Inspiration

The lembas has been compared with the Eucharist, even as being the most explicit symbol of Christianity in The Lord of the Rings.[8] Tolkien himself mentions that the lembas are one of the few details from which can be deduced he is a Catholic writer.[9] He acknowledged the religious significance of the lembas in his answer to Forrest J. Ackerman, who had called lembas as a 'food concentrate' in a possible adaptation of The Lord of the Rings.[10] Like "lembas," "viaticum," a term for the Eucharist, means "provision for a journey."

The name "Waybread" resembles in a way the Old English name for the herb plantain, which was wegbrade.[11]

[edit] Portrayal in adaptations

2001-03: The Lord of the Rings (film series):

The redundant term "lembas bread" is occasionally used as the gift of lembas at Lothlórien is not included in the theatrical release of The Fellowship of the Ring. The term "lembas bread" was probably chosen in order to immediately identify the substance to filmgoers at the beginning of The Two Towers.
Lembas, Elvish waybread. One small bite is enough to fill the stomach of a grown man.
Legolas, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, "Farewell to Lórien (scene)"


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Peoples of Middle-earth, "XV. Of Lembas", pp. 403-404
  2. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion: Of Túrin Turambar"
  3. 3.0 3.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "Farewell to Lórien"
  4. J.R.R. Tolkien, Carl F. Hostetter (ed.), The Nature of Middle-earth, "Part Three. The World, its Lands, and its Inhabitants: IV. The Making of Lembas", "Text 2", p. 296
  5. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, "The Passage of the Marshes"
  6. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, "The Tower of Cirith Ungol"
  7. J.R.R. Tolkien, "Words, Phrases and Passages in Various Tongues in The Lord of the Rings: Eldarin Roots and Stems", in Parma Eldalamberon XVII (edited by Christopher Gilson), pp. 51-52
  8. Bradley J. Birzer, J.R.R. Tolkien's Sanctifying Myth, "Chapter 3: The Created Order", p. 63
  9. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 213, (dated 25 October 1958), p. 288
  10. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 210, (undated, written June 1958), pp. 274-275
  11. "Tolkien Society Anglo-Saxon Study Pack 2" dated 22 May 2006, The Tolkien Society (accessed 22 May 2022)