- "Those Elves the Calaquendi call the Úmanyar, since they came never to the land of Aman and the Blessed Realm; but the Úmanyar and the Avari alike they call the Moriquendi, Elves of the Darkness, for they never beheld the Light that was before the Sun and Moon."
- ― "Of the Coming of the Elves and the Captivity of Melkor"
When the Vala Oromë came to invite the Elves of Cuiviénen to come live in Valinor, 56 of 144 chose to remain, becoming Avari, while another 26 of 144 stopped along the way, becoming Nandor and Sindar.[note 1] All those Elves who never reached Valinor are "Dark Elves."
In the First Age, the Sindar viewed the term "Moriquendi" as offensive, so the Noldorin Exiles gave the name Úmanyar ("Those not of Aman") to those who started the journey but did not finish it. This specifically included the Sindar and the Laiquendi, and, broadly, also the other Nandor and their Silvan and Galadhrim descendants.
King Thingol was a special exception to these categories: he had been to Valinor as an ambassador of the Elves and saw the Light of the Trees, but he did not complete the Journey. As such he was one of the Úmanyar but not a Dark Elf, and was reckoned among the Calaquendi. Nonetheless, the Sons of Fëanor called Thingol "Dark Elf" as an insult.
- "But now the trees of Nan Elmoth were the tallest and darkest in all Beleriand, and there the sun never came; and there Eöl dwelt, who was named the Dark Elf. [...] There he lived in deep shadow, loving the night and the twilight under the stars."
- ― J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion: Of Maeglin"[note 2]
Other versions of the legendarium
Tolkien said that in his earliest conception, the Dark Elves were "imagined as wandering about, and often ill-disposed towards the 'Light-Elves'". Later he considered an additional use of the term: "sometimes applied to Elves captured by Morgoth and enslaved and then released to do mischief among the Elves." He thought that this latter idea should be taken up for Eöl.
- There were 144 unbegotten Elves who awoke at Cuiviénen. By the time the Great Journey began, an unknown number of generations had passed and their numbers were much increased from the original 144. However, the number 144 continued to represent the entire body of the Elven people and the numbers given to reckon the populations of those who chose to embark on the Journey or not are given as proportions of 144.
- See also J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The War of the Jewels, "The Grey Annals": §316 "There she [Isfin, an early name for Aredhel] came into the enchantments of Ëol the Dark-elf, who abode in the wood and shunned the sun, desiring only the starlight of old."
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The War of the Jewels, "Part Four. Quendi and Eldar"
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion: Of Thingol and Melian"
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Index of Names", entry "Dark Elves"
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The War of the Jewels, "Part Three. The Wanderings of Húrin and Other Writings not forming part of the Quenta Silmarillion: III. Maeglin"
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún, "Appendix A: Origins of the Legend", p. 359
(Quendi · People of the Stars · Firstborn · Elder Kindred)
(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 (Dark Elves · The Unwilling)|
|See also:||Awakening of the Elves · Sundering of the Elves · Great Journey|