Alfirin was an Elvish name for the flower Men called simbelmynë (they also used the name uilos for the same flower). The name comes from its habit of growing thickly on the tombs of Men: it was found among the Kings' mounds in the Barrowfield of Edoras, and also on the Tomb of Elendil. Tolkien provided a description of "an immortelle, but not dry and papery: simply a beautiful bell-like flower, running through many colours, but soft and gentle." The white variety seems to have been most common.
Alfirin is a Sindarin name, said to mean "not dying". While first said to consist of alph ("swan") + irin (unglossed), Tolkien amended the compound to consist of al- ("not") + fĭrin ("mortal"; see also Quenya firin).
Other versions of the legendarium
In his comments in Unfinished Tales, Christopher Tolkien points out that Legolas' description of "golden bells ... of mallos and alfirin", is not quite in harmony with other descriptions, and he suggests that this particular use of the name may refer to a different flower altogether. [note 1] Alternatively, the golden flowers of Lebennin might simply be a differently-coloured variety of the white alfirin commonly seen on Men's tombs.[note 2]
- In addition to Christopher Tolkien's comment, J.R.R. Tolkien himself occurs to list alfirin (and mallos) separately from the symbelmynë in J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 187, (undated, written April 1956) – thus perhaps implicitly implying a different nature.
- The Elvish name and Tolkien's comparison with an "immortelle" may remind the Amaranth, of similar etymological meaning (from Old Greek ἀμάρανθος, "not withering"). The Amaranth was known for not withering (see for instance Pliny's Natural History) and was also associated with the Underworld and the Elysian Fields (see for instance John Milton, Paradise Lost, III, 353). Legolas' song mentioning the golden alfirin evokes the fields of Lebennin devastated by war, as found by the characters just after leaving the Paths of the Dead. Alain Lefèvre studied these possible connections in "Asphodèles et amarantes — Champs élyséens de mallos et d'alfirin" (French), in Tolkien, le façonnement d'un monde, vol. 1, 2011, pp. 63-84.
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "Cirion and Eorl and the Friendship of Gondor and Rohan", Note 38
- J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 312, (dated 16 November 1969)
- J.R.R. Tolkien, "Words, Phrases and Passages in Various Tongues in The Lord of the Rings", in Parma Eldalamberon XVII (edited by Christopher Gilson), pp. 100-1