Elves (Middle-earth)

The Elves (always pluralized as such, never "Elfs") are one of the races that appear in the work of J. R. R. Tolkien. Their complex history is described in full only in The Silmarillion, and it is mentioned tangentially in The Lord of the Rings. Elves were the first inhabitants of Middle-earth who were able to speak. They are sometimes called the Firstborn or the Elder Kindred (as opposed to Men, the Second Ones). The Elves named themselves Quendi ("the Speakers"), in honor of the fact that, when they were created, they were the only living things able to speak. (This name is no accident — Tolkien was a linguist.) Oromë was the first who called them the Eldar ("Star People") because they were born under the stars, but the name is generally considered to exclude the Avari.

Elves are described as the fairest and wisest of all creatures in Middle-earth, lovers of art (particularly songs, which they sing in beautiful voices). Many Elves are also stronger than Men and have far sharper senses. The Ñoldorin Elves in particular possess skills and knowledge which to Men appear to be "magic." Their memories and dreams are as vivid as real life. Their most notable feature is that they are immortal and do not age and catch disease. However, they can be slain. If this happens their spirits go to the Halls of Mandos in Valinor. After a certain period of time (probably insipred by the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory), they are re-embodied, and stay in Valinor forevermore. An exception to this was Glorfindel.

Tolkien's Elves were a representation of what human beings might have become, had they not committed the original sin. They were mostly morally just, as no Elves willingly joined Morgoth or Sauron, the Enemies, although they could be deceived. But exceptions exist like that of Maeglin, who betrayed Gondolin to save his life and for the love of Idril, his cousin. Further, the invulnerability to diseases were granted to them and that they could recover from wounds which would normally kill a mortal Man. However this also made the Elves less flexible in terms of adjusting to an otherwise fallen, ever-changing world.

It should be noted that Tolkien's Elves differ greatly from elves of older folklore, as well as most modern fantasy elves. His Elves were very much human, if Unfallen. (A reference to the Fall of Man.)

Aside from being equal or greater in stature to Men, the now clichéd special affinity with forests and bows is largely an accident, resulting from the fact that the most prominent Elven character in The Lord of the Rings, Legolas, is a Wood-elven archer. The trip to Lórien furthers the perception that most Elves live in trees and carry bows, while we learn from Tolkien's other writings that his Elves were just as likely to live in caves (Nargothrond) or mountain fortresses (Gondolin), and the Ñoldor are more often known for their mighty swords.

In addition, there are no explicit references to "pointy ears" in The Lord of the Rings or The Silmarillion. We know that Tolkien's Elves did, in fact, have pointed ears only because of Tolkien's letters and a passage in the Etymologies (published in The Lost Road and Other Writings, corrected in Vinyar Tengwar issue 45), where Tolkien states that, "the Quendian [Elvish] ears were more pointed and leaf-shaped than Human." However, practical considerations, including a number of occasions where Men are mistaken for Elves, suggest that the points must have been subtle, quite different from the large ears of Elfquest or the extremely long, narrow elf-ears in some anime such as Record of the Lodoss War.

Another oversimplification is the notion that all Elves were blonde: in fact most of the Elves in Middle-earth during the period of The Lord of the Rings were probably dark-haired. Lúthien Tinúviel and her remote descendant Arwen Undómiel, described as the most fair of all Elves, were both dark haired. In general the Vanyar Elves were blonde, and the other Elves (including Ñoldor, Sindar, and Avari) had dark or even black hair. This is however a great oversimplification: the younger Ñoldorin princes and their descendants (such as Galadriel) had blonde hair on account of Finwë's second wife Indis of the Vanyar. Even the sons of Fëanor, the eldest Ñoldorin prince, were not all dark-haired: at least Maedhros and the twins Amrod and Amras had red hair, from their mother Nerdanel. Additionally a silver hair colour existed in the royal house of the Sindar, with Thingol, Círdan, and Celeborn all described as having silver hair. Galadriel displayed an extremely rare hair colour nowhere else observed: "silver-golden" hair, said to be dazzlingly beautiful ("blending the light of the Two Trees, Telperion and Laurelin"), which may have been a result of her unusual mixed Noldor-Vanyar-Teleri heritage.

The stories of the First Age deal mostly with the Elves, especially those who did not heed the call of the Valar and stayed behind in the various kingdoms of Beleriand, and those who later returned, as Men only appear in the later stories. Elves are here in their youth, and are powerful enough to actually challenge Melkor, a being of angelic might. After the end of the First Age, the Elves of Middle-earth are still powerful enough to hold off Sauron, and create Rings of Power which can actually slow the effects of time. However, by the Third Age (the time of The Lord of the Rings), their importance in affairs of the world is diminishing, and only a few of them are left in the refuges of Rivendell, Lothlórien, and Mirkwood. Many of them can be seen walking west, towards the Grey Havens, to leave Middle-earth forever. Therefore few of them are to remain in Middle-earth after the end of the Third Age, after the One Ring was destroyed.

Some important Elves:


See also: Awakening of the Elves, Sundering of the Elves, Elvish languagefr:Elfe

it:Elfi (Terra di Mezzo) no:Alv (Midgard) pl:Elf (Śródziemie) sl:Vilini fi:Haltia (Arda) ru:Эльфы (Средиземье)


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