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"Vanyar" by Janka Latečková
General Information
Other namesPeople of the Stars, Firstborn, Elder Children of Ilúvatar
OriginsFirstborn of the Children of Ilúvatar
LocationsCuiviénen, Tirion, Taniquetil, Formenos, Alqualondë, Tol Eressëa, Doriath, Falas, Hithlum, Ossiriand, Vinyamar, Nargothrond, Gondolin, Edhellond, Mouths of Sirion, Isle of Balar, Lindon, Eldalondë, Eregion, Lothlórien, Rivendell, Mirkwood, Ithilien
RivalriesOrcs, Dwarves
LanguagesVarious Elvish languages, most notably Quenya and Sindarin; Westron
PeopleVanyar, Noldor, Teleri, Sindar, Nandor, Silvan, Falmari, Avari
MembersIngwë, Thingol, Finwë, Fëanor, Fingolfin, Gil-galad, Galadriel, Finrod, Sons of Fëanor, Lúthien, Fingon, Turgon, Idril, Maeglin, Círdan, Celeborn, Celebrimbor
Physical Description
LifespanArda's existence; near immortality
Average heightTall
Hair colorBlond, black, brown, red, and occasionally silver
Skin colorPale, occasionally ruddy
WeaponryTypically swords and bows
GalleryImages of Elves

But the Quendi shall be the fairest of all earthly creatures, and they shall have and shall conceive and bring forth more beauty than all my Children; and they shall have the greater bliss in this world

The Elves (Quendi) 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 labours 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, the noise and splash of water on the stones. 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 espies the first Elves by Anke Eißmann

Though at first the Quendi were afraid of Oromë, the noblest among them saw that he was no dark horseman, as the lies of Melkor claimed. 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, beginning the Battle of the Powers. After a great battle and a siege against 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, they were captivated by the beauty of the elves.

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 Valimar, for they were closest to the Valar of the kindreds.

Exile of the Noldor

Main article: Exile of the Noldor
The Coming of Fingolfin 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 centre of the Sindarin realm, was sacked by Dwarves.

Eärendil and The Battle of Eagles and Dragons by Ted Nasmith


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.


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 for the Undying Lands. Annatar corrupted Celebrimbor, the grandson of Fëanor, to make the Rings of Power, with the Three Rings being created specifically to preserve the Elves against the ravages of time. Annatar was a guise of Sauron who also forged a ring – the One Ring. However the Elves realised 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.

Well into the Fourth Age and the Dominion of Men, most Elves apparently had left the Westlands, with most populations remaining at least in Mirkwood and Lindon. Rivendell and Lothlórien appeared abandoned around the time of King Elessar's and Arwen's death.[1] The Last Ship of the Elves, carrying Cirdan and Celeborn,[2] apparently sailed early in the Fourth Age.[1]

The remaining Elves in Middle-earth eventually faded, as their spirits overwhelmed and consumed their bodies. By 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.[3] Ilúvatar had not revealed the role of the Elves after the End.[4]

Life and customs

Main articles: Elven characteristics, Elven life cycle, and Elven customs

Besides being considered more beautiful than men, Elves were also generally taller. Their hair colour 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 grey or blue.

A child of the Elder Race by Elena Kukanova

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.

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. Unlike Men whose fëar (spirits) left Arda when their bodies died, Elves' fëar were bound to Arda until its ending. If an Elf's hröa (body) died, its fëa would be summoned to the Halls of Mandos, where the Valar could re-embody the Elf in a hröa that was identical to the Elf's previous hröa. However, if an Elf committed evil acts during their lifetime and refused to repent, the Valar could delay the Elf's re-embodiment, impose conditions on it, or refuse it altogether.[5][6] An Elf could refuse the summons to Mandos or choose to remain disembodied,[5][7] but the Elf's houseless fëa would still be unable to leave Arda.

Arts, crafts, powers and magic

Main article: 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 could not explain these effects, so they simply called them 'magic'.

Elf-minstrels had the gift to make visions of the things they sung before their audiences.[8]

Major divisions

All Elves
The Unwilling
The Hindmost
Amanyar Noldor
Noldor of Aman
Exiled Noldor
Sea-elves of Aman
Grey-elves of Beleriand
Followers of Lenwë
Green-elves of Ossiriand
Silvan Elves

When Oromë invited the Elves to Valinor, those who followed him on the Great Journey were called the Eldar,[9]:374 while those who refused were called the Avari.[10] The Eldar were divided into three clans−the Vanyar, the Noldor, and the Teleri.[10] All of the Vanyar and Noldor reached Aman. Two groups of Teleri abandoned the Great Journey: the Nandor, who came to live in the Vale of Anduin,[10] and the Sindar, who remained in Beleriand.[11] The Nandor eventually split into the Laiquendi, who migrated into Beleriand and settled in Ossiriand, and the Silvan Elves, who established realms in Mirkwood and Lothlórien. Those Teleri who completed the Great Journey and settled in Aman were called the Falmari.[10] Those Noldor who later returned to Middle-earth in exile were called the Etyañgoldi.[9]:374


Main article: Elvish
Lore by Donato Giancola

The term quendi refers to all Elves, meaning "speakers", calling themselves so at Cuiviénen before having contact with any other race[9]:372 as they were the first speaking beings. Their ancient language was divided in other languages and dialects after their sundering.

The Elves also invented the Cirth and Tengwar scripts to write them.


Detail of a drawing with Beleg, a rare depiction of an Elf made by Tolkien


Tolkien developed the Elves (and his whole legendarium) to serve as a setting for his languages that he constructed according to his personal sense of beauty. His Elven languages are of special interest to many Tolkien scholars. His most developed are Quenya and Sindarin, along with more obscure dialects for which he invented (at best) a small vocabulary, usually in earlier stages of his creation.

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.[12][13][14] They were influenced by the Elves of Northern European mythologies, especially the god-like and human-sized Ljósálfar of Norse mythology,[15] also appearing in medieval works such as Sir Orfeo, the Welsh Mabinogion, Arthurian romances and the legends of the Tuatha Dé Danann.[16]

Terry Gunnell also claims that the relationship between beautiful ships and the Elves is reminiscent of Njörðr and Skíðblaðni, Freyr's ship.[17]

Celtic influence

Tolkien expressed a dislike in Celtic legends and denied that his legendarium is "Celtic",[18] however it is believed that Celtic Mythology had a great influence on Tolkien's writings on Elves [19][17] and some of the stories Tolkien wrote as their 'legends' are directly influenced by it.[14] 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.[14] 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.[20] The Elves are also called fair folk (based on Welsh Tylwyth teg 'the beautiful kindred' = fairies)[21] 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.[22]


Traditional "Victorian" dancing fairies and elves appear in Tolkien's early poetry,[12] and have influence upon his later works[23] in part due to the influence of a production of J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan in Birmingham in 1910[22] and his familiarity with the work of Catholic mystic poet, Francis Thompson[22] whose work Tolkien had acquired in 1914.[12]

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.[16]

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.[24]

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 Elfen, which might retain the undesirable images.

He rather suggested words such as Alp or Alb, historically the more normal form and true cognate of English elf.[25] Margaret Carroux chose the word Elben (singular Elb) in her translation.


  1. 1.0 1.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, "The Númenorean Kings", "The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen"
  2. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, "Prologue"
  3. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Morgoth's Ring, "Part Three. The Later Quenta Silmarillion: (II) The Second Phase: Laws and Customs among the Eldar"
  4. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion: Of the Beginning of Days"
  5. 5.0 5.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Morgoth's Ring, "Part Four. Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth: Author's Notes on the 'Commentary'", p. 339
  6. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Peoples of Middle-earth, "XIII. Last Writings", pp. 380, 389
  7. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Peoples of Middle-earth, "XI. The Shibboleth of Fëanor", "The case of the Quenya change of Þ to s", p. 334
  8. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, "The Númenorean Kings", "The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen"
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The War of the Jewels, "Part Four. Quendi and Eldar: B. Meanings and use of the various terms applied to the Elves and their varieties in Quenya, Telerin, and Sindarin"
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion: Of the Coming of the Elves and the Captivity of Melkor"
  11. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion: Of Thingol and Melian"
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Book of Lost Tales Part One
  13. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Book of Lost Tales Part Two
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 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
  15. Tom Shippey, The Road to Middle-earth
  16. 16.0 16.1 J.R.R. Tolkien and Douglas A. Anderson (ed.), The Annotated Hobbit, p. 120
  17. 17.0 17.1 Terry Gunnell, "Tívar in a Timeless Land: Tolkien's Elves" conference lecture delivered on 13 September 2002
  18. Humphrey Carpenter, J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, p. 26
  19. John Garth, Tolkien and the Great War, p. 222
  20. Marjorie J. Burns, Perilous Realms: Celtic and Norse in Tolkien's Middle-earth (2005), p. 22
  21. 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"
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 Humphrey Carpenter, J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography
  23. 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
  24. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Book of Lost Tales Part One, "I. The Cottage of Lost Play"
  25. 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 · Falathrim) · Nandor (Green-elves · Silvan Elves)
 Moriquendi:  Úmanyar · Avari (Cuind · Hwenti · Kindi · Kinn-lai · Penni · Windan)
See also:  Awakening of the Elves · Sundering of the Elves · Great Journey