Height of average adult
The Elves, or Firstborn, were the first of Eru's Children to awaken. Born under the stars before the ascension of the Moon and the Sun,they retain a special love for light and an inner spirit endowed with unique gifts.They call themselves the Quendi, or "Speakers", for they were the first to utter words and, even now, no race understands language and song like the Firstborn. Fair and fine featured, brilliant and proud, immortal and strong, tall and agile, they are the most blessed of the Free Peoples. Yet despite their gifts, they are a cursed race—one burdened by the Hand of Fate.
An Overview of Elves
Like the other Free Peoples, such as Men and Dwarves, the Elves have many branches and many figures of note. Their tale is one of long migrations, prideful wars, and grand achievements. It includes many players.
The divisions and sub-divisions of the various Elven kindreds are complex,and at times even convoluted.In this section the basic migrations and divisions will be described ,as well as the actual kindreds as they existed in the Second and Third Ages of Middle-earth
The Awakening of the FirstbornIn the early years of the world, before the Sun and the
Moon first rose, the Elves awoke under the stars on the shores of Cuivienen, a large bay in the inland sea of Helcar in eastern Middle-earth. They lived in the twilight lands, far from the light of Valinor, for many years before one of the Valar—Orome the Huntsman—discovered them. The Valar loved Eru's new born creations and wished to bring them to the light of Aman, the Undying Lands, to save them from Morgoth and the evil that he was already bringing into Middle-earth. Morgoth, the greatest of the Valar who had turned away from his brethren before the beginning of creation, now hated the Elves because they were cherished by the others. He sent out his shadowy servants and captured many of them in the darkness. Unable to create life himself, he tortured and perverted the Elves he imprisoned, and from this corrupt stock bred Orcs.
The First Sundering
It was at the summons of the Valar that the Elves first divided. Initially, they were afraid to leave their home under the stars, but three of their kind journeyed to Valinor with Orome to see for themselves the glory of the Undying Lands.These were Ingwe, Finwe, and Elwe, who later became Kings. When they returned, filled with the light of Aman, many of the Elves heeded their stirring words and followed the Vala Huntsman west.
But not all the Elves wished to leave their native land. Some had come to love the starlight of Middle-earth and chose to stay behind. Those Elves who declined to follow the Valar became known as the Avari (Q."Unwilling"), and they became the lesser East-Elves. They were by far the most plentiful of the Elves and, despite harassment by the Black Enemy, spread through eastern as well as much of southern Middle-earth. Those who followed the summons of the Valar and undertook the Great Journey westward to Aman became known as the Eldar. And yet, still some lingered along the road or turned back, or were lost. But those Elves who completed the long and difficult journey were made greater by their stay in the Undying Lands, and forever after their descendants held the pure light of Aman in their eyes.
The Great Journey
The Eldar were those who made the great journey to live in the blessed land of Aman. There were three kindreds: the Vanyar, Noldor, and Teleri. The Eldar came to the Uttermost West via an unusual mode of transportation: the island Tol Eressea which, moved by the power of the sea-Vala Ulmo, made two trips from Middle-earth to the Undying Lands. The first carried the Vanyar and Noldor; the second carried the Teleri (Q. "Hindmost") who had lingered on the long road and missed the first island voyage. The Teleri themselves did not remain undivided, however.
There were three groups, led by the brothers Olwe and Elwe, and another Teler, Lenwe. When they reached the vales of Anduin, Lenwe and his people turned away from the journey and remained in Middle-earth. They became the Nandor and vanished from the histories for many years. West of the Blue Mountains, Elwe (one of the original ambassadors to the Undying Lands) encountered Melian the Maia and fell into a trance of love. While he was lost, most of his kindred (but not all) went over the sea with Olwe's people.Elwe at last awoke and founded a realm in Beleriand with his Maia wife Melian.As ruler of Doriath he went by the name Elu Thingol (S."King Greycloak"). His people were known as the Sindar. The rest of the Teleri achieved the West; there they dwelt on the isle of Tol Eressea ,in sight of Valinor. The Maia Osse taught them the art of shipbuilding, and they were ever after the greatest shipwrights and sailors in all Arda. They sailed to the coast of Aman where they built the beautiful city and wharves of Alqualonde. The Teleri were considered the fairest singers in all Middle-earth (rivalling the Vanyar) and called themselves the Lindar.The Nandor (Q."Those who turn back"), though
technically of the Teleri and so the Eldar, are an exception, since they never travelled to the Undying Lands and so did not see the light of the Trees. Therefore, they were referred to as Moriquendi (Q."Dark Elves"). Some eventually went on to settle in Ossiriand, but most remained east of the Misty Mountains, spreading through the forested lands there. These later came under the rulership of the Sinda King Thranduil in Mirkwood and Galadriel in Lorien.
Of Tirion and the Vanyar
Fairest of the Eldar, and known as the Fair Elves, the Vanyar were the most beloved by the Valar. They were the first of the three kindreds to set forth on the Great Journey and the first to arrive in the Undying Lands, led by their King, Ingwe. Together with the Noldor, they built and lived for a long time in the fair city of Tirion. Sometime later, however, they moved further westward through the gap in the Pelori (Q."Mountains of Defense"), and there they made their permanent home. Only once did the Vanyar ever depart Valinor: to aid the Ainur in battle against the Black Enemy in the War of Wrath. When the evil Vala was at last defeated, the Fair Elves marched back to their home in victory. There is no record of any Vanya ever again leaving the Blessed Land.
Of Feanor and the NoldorThe Second Kindred of the Calaquendi, both in numbers and order of arrival in Aman, the Noldor were also
called the Deep Elves. Finwe was their King. They were the most skilled of the immortals in crafts and lore, the most fiery of spirit, proud and curious. It was the Noldo Feanor who made the Silmarils and, because of his unwillingness to surrender them, doomed his kindred to a hopeless war against Morgoth to recover the stolen gems, and later to exile from Aman. When the Black Enemy took the Silmarils and fled with them to Endor, the Noldor attempted to pursue him over the water by stealing the great vessels of the Teleri. The Teleri resisted, and the Noldor, in their desperation, slew a great many of the defending shipbuilders to win the boats. Great was the anger of the Valar that Elf would slay Elf. A storm swallowed many of the stolen ships, and the surviving Noldor came to the wastes of Araman only to be met by the Vala Mandos, who doomed them to exile from Aman forever for their hideous crime - the Kinslaying of Alqualonde. The Noldor had seen the light of the Two Trees, but lived out their days in Middle-earth as exiles. It is sadly ironic that Feanor's grandson Celebrimbor was seduced by Morgoth's servant Sauron as Feanor was corrupted by the evil Vala's deceptive words. Twice did the Noldor put all of Middle-earth in peril because of their insatiable desire for knowledge.
Of Doriath and the SindarRuled by Lenwe, the Nandor dwelt many years in the
woods along the Anduin. Some spread to the river's mouths and lived there beside the sea. Others passed by the Ered Nimrais and then came north again, settling in the wide lands of Eriador. These latter Nandor enjoyed peace until the third era of Morgoth's captivity, when at last the fell beasts of the Black Enemy departed their lairs and ravaged the lands. Then, led by Lenwe's son Denethor, the Eriadoran Nandor fled into Beleriand. There they were welcomed by Thingol and his Sindar. The Eriadoran Nandor intermarried with their hosts and ceased to retain a separate cultural identity. Although the Sindar were more noble than the Avari, they were yet Moriquendi, never having reached the shores of Aman. Their homeland was the realm of Doriath in Beleriand, ruled by Thingol and Melian. The Sindar gained great wisdom under the tutelage of Melian the Maia and her husband, who was counted a Calaquende, and so they became known as the Grey Elves. They spoke Sindarin, and originated Runes, or Cirth, for the keeping of records. With the fall of Beleriand, the surviving Sindar migrated eastward, some remaining in Lindon, while others travelled to live with the Noldor in Eregion or east of the Misty Mountains in Lorien and Mirkwood.
Elven NatureBefore delving into the details of Elven physiology, it is
perhaps worthwhile to comment on the sociology of this powerful race, and how they are sometimes erroneously perceived. Though the mists of time may eventually blur understanding of the nature of the Firstborn, it remains clear during this period that they were not simply a collection of ethereal beings who lived in utopian societies where there were no laws, no social structures or other such mundane organizational boundaries. Indeed, it seems that only the Silvan Elves (and to a lesser extent, a number of the Moriquende Teleri) even desired this sort of existence, who in fact generally lived in realms ruled by Sinda or Elda Kings, as was typical of Elven hierarchies. The Sindar dwelt in kingdoms as well, but it was the Noldor more than any other kindred who sought order and design in all facets of their lives. They possessed governments (usually monarchies) and frequently elaborate guilds and brotherhoods. Families tended to rule not only realms but the guilds within them in a dynastic fashion.
Familial and dynastic divisionsThere existed two different hierarchies among the
Elven peoples: that of geographical location, and that of family or kindred. The accompanying chart should help to clarify the distinctions of the divisions. The Calaquendi (Q."Light Elves") travelled to the Undying Lands and witnessed the radiance of Aman, and the light of the Two Trees. Their kindred includes all descendants, for the light permeated the very being of the Firstborn and left with them an internal brilliance which they carried with them forever. Sometimes, a visible aura shone about a Light Elf. The Moriquendi (Q."Dark Elves") never made the journey to Aman, or stopped along the way, failing to achieve their destination. Of the Dark Elves, the Sindar ("Grey Ones") started toward the Undying Lands and travelled as far as the western shores of Middle-earth before halting. They lived in Doriath under King Thingol (Elwe) and the Maia Melian.Thus they achieved greater wisdom and understanding than most Moriquendi, yet did not personally witness the Light as did the Calaquendi. Their essence was neither dark nor light; they were the Elves of Twilight. Paralleling this geographic distinction is that of race. All of the Vanyar, Noldor and Teleri were considered Eldar (Q."People of the Stars") even though some Teler groups did not complete the journey (specifically the Sindar and Nandor). Those Elves who were not Eldar were, by definition, Avari.
LanguageWhen the Firstborn awoke on the shores of Cuivienen,
with them awoke language in Middle-earth. It is the Elves—or,appropriately, the Quendi (Q."Speakers") as they called themselves—who taught all other races and creatures language, each after its fashion. When the Eldar went West, however, they encountered the Valinorean Tongue of Aman, and adopted it for their own. Indeed, this may have occurred as early as the return of Ingwe, Elwe, and Finwe from Aman with Orome the Vala. This became the pure tongue Quenya. The many Silvan tribes still in Middle-earth, though influenced by Quenya initially, diverged and changed with the flows of the world, and the original Elven-speech became fractured and rusticated by myriad dialects. By the Second and Third Ages, the Silvan and Eldarin tongues had become so divergent that the two had no common ground. Where Silvan Elves lived with Sindar or Noldor, they invariably learned Sindarin and used it except when exclusively among their own kind. The Silvan Elves of Lorien, for example, spoke Sindarin, but with an accent, harkening to their Greenwood Silvan origins. The Sindar knew Quenya, but adapted it for their own use, creating a language less formal and more practical for everyday writing and conversation - a language that became known as Sindarin. Thingol banned the use of Quenya among his people after the Kinslaying of Alqualonde, and with the passing of the years even the Noldor came to use Sindarin as their common tongue, reserving Quenya as a formal, ritualistic language.
The Tengwar were the first written letters ever devised, invented by the Noldo poet Rumil of Tirion. The pure version of the Tengwar was known and used only in the Undying Lands. Feanor later adapted and revised this alphabet, and the Feanorean Tengwar attained much more widespread use, both in the Undying Lands and in Middle-earth. Both of these written alphabets were cursive, meaning that they were designed to be joined, written in flowing strokes as with a pen. They were somewhat impractical for engraving, but the Great Smiths in Eregion—and Sauron himself—were up to the task. Sauron's inscription inside the One Ring was engraved in cursive Tengwar. Much later the Sinda Bard Daeron invented the runes called the Certhas Daeron ("Cirth"or"Letters"of Daeron). These were much more angular and suited to stonework. The Dwarves of Moria particularly loved this writingstyle and adopted it as their own.
ReligionReligion in any organized sense was unknown to the
Elves, especially the Eldar, who knew the Valar more as esteemed and revered teachers than actual deities. Virtually all Elves worshiped Eru Iluvatar (Q."The One") as the creator of all things: the earth, the Valar, Elves, and Men (Dwarves, created by Aule, are thought of differently, although they were adopted by Eru). In this way they saw themselves on equal, though perhaps different, standing with all other beings. Worship of Eru was very informal, however, involving no specific temple or other structure more elaborate than an open garden. The Elves worshipped Eru for the beauty of his creation. They celebrated the light of the stars or the sound of falling water, the sweetness of fruit or the luminescence of gems from deep within the earth. With song they rejoiced in the magnificence of Ea, for music was the Essence of Arda. This is not to say that the Elven societies were devoid of ritual. In a world where oaths were not empty promises but calls to the Valar themselves, ritual played an important role. With song and chant the Elves wielded the Essence, weaving spells of great power and subtlety. Within the guilds and other groups, there was a great deal of ceremony, and among the Noldor social formalities were often observed with an impassioned zeal. Elven communities, like any community, required economic support; again, they were not idyllic communities where there was no need for work. Elves gardened, mined, built, cooked, and generally labored even as did mortals in their society. It is true, though, that the Elves had different mental capabilities, and even the most odious labor did not weigh on them at all. Perhaps it was because of their ability to "walk as if in a waking dream" which gave them a reputation of being free of care and responsibility.
Although basically similar in appearance to mortal Men in many ways, Elves had several important, if subtle, differences. As a race, they were taller than most Men (save the high Edain) though tending to be less heavy of build. The males ranged in height from 6' to 6'10", and in weight from 160 to 250 pounds, respectively. The women of the Elves were usually between 5'6" and 6'2", and were also slim. Although to some this race might have appeared fragile, Elves were generally just as strong as any mannish warrior. The Elda lords, in fact, were muscular of build and unquestionably the most physically powerful individuals in Middle-earth. Elves possessed less body hair than humans, and Elven men had no facial hair as a rule (although elven men grew beards when they entered their final cycles of life). Highly resistant to extremes of natural heat and cold, their clothing was worn for decoration, camouflage, or perhaps modesty. With their fine features and perfect, unmarred skin, Elves were invariably more handsome in appearance than their mortal brethren. Their senses were extremely keen, especially sight and hearing. Elves were able to see on a clear starlit night as well as if it were full daylight. In what a Man would have called "pitch blackness", an Elf could still see a few feet.The Quendian ears were only slightly pointed and more leaf-shaped than Human.
Some of the Elves, especially the Eldar, could hear into each other's minds without the necessity of speech, and all Elves could discern sounds that humans could not. Elves did not need sleep to rest their bodies as did Men and Dwarves; instead, for a few hours each night, they entered a sort of trance, a waking dream during which they meditated upon the beauty of Ea or in which they recalled happy times earlier in their long lives. Gimli the Dwarf made this observation as the Fellowship of the Ring left Lorien: "...Elves may see things otherwise. Indeed I have heard that for them memory is more like to the waking world than to a dream. Not so for Dwarves." Perhaps most remarkable was the fact that Elves did not age or grow old, and their bodies were immune to all disease and infection. They were virtually immortal, unless slain in battle. Should an Elf be killed, his or her soul was transported to the Halls of Mandos in Valinor where, after a period of waiting, his/her body was reincarnated and was free to live in the Undying Lands—though forbidden to return to Middle-earth until the end of the world.
Elves healed quickly, and theys howed no scars, although they could not regenerate severely damaged organs or bodyparts. They were born full twelve months after their begetting and could speak, walk, and dance by their first year though bodies matured through a longer adolescence than mortals, at an age between 50 and 100 they were considered fully grown-up.After a long period of youth or young adulthood they entered a second circle of life and appeared as ageless.Only in the depths of their eyes could one perhaps feel a glimmering of the true age of the greater Elves, and only those Elves upon whom the weight of Middle-earth lay heavy. The lesser kindreds, even after thousands of years, looked like beautiful, carefree youths.At high Age Elves finally entered their third life-circle, they became more weary of the world and burdened by its sorrows, looking aged and old (usually in this stage males finally grew beards). The most subtle of all the characteristics of the Elves was the aura that bathed each of the Calaquendi. Those who had seen the light of the Two Trees in Aman carried with them a reflection of that splendor, like an afterglow of that first illumination, now forever darkened through the evil of Morgoth. This aura was not necessarily obvious, but the lesser beings of Middle-earth could sense it - a shimmer dancing on the edge of their vision.
Elves and Men
Although early in history the Wild Elves had been teachers and advisors to Men, only a few Men were considered true Elf-friends throughout history. Many of the Wild Men and Men of Darkness were suspicious, afraid or openly hostile towards the Elves who were known to them as White Furies, White Devils, White Demons and other monikers.
The Elven Kindreds
The Vanyar had golden hair and ivory-coloured, ruddy, gold or silvery skin, with eyes of clear blue or violet. They were the tallest and most beautiful of the Elves, beloved of the Valar. Ingwe was their King, and as such he was King of all the Elves. Their musical skills were unsurpassed, except perhaps by the Lindar (Teleri) who learned the art of song from the Maia Osse. The Vanyar spoke the Vanyarin dialect of Valinorean-Quenya, which was in fact the Elvish version of Valarin, the mental language of the Valar.
In appearance, the Noldor had hair of dark brown to raven-black or more rare copper-red, ivory-coloured, reddish or sometimes dark skin, and dark brown or grey eyes—with one exception: the children of Finwe, King of the Noldor, and Indis of the Vanyar. Their sons, Fingolfin and Finarfin, both possessed hair of gold like their mother, and the trait was passed to their offspring as well. This included, of course, Galadriel (the daughter of Finarfin). The Noldor were a noble and courageous race, who behaved with dignity and heroism, even under their Doom. Most of this kindred were of substantial build. Some of the greatest warriors of the First Age were Noldo lords, some of whom were able to hold their own in single combat with a Valarauko (Balrog), a great demon of Morgoth. Fingolfin was accounted the greatest warrior in all of Endor, surpassing all the other Elves and Men. Another one of the great Noldo warriors was Glorfindel, of the house of Finarfin, who lived in Elrond's House in the Third Age. Below is an excerpt from The Red Book where Gandalf, in Rivendell, is explaining to Frodo what happened at the Ford when the Hobbit briefly put on the One Ring, and Glorfindel stood against the Riders: "'...those who have dwelt in the Blessed Realm live at once in both worlds, and against both the Seen and Unseen they have great power.' 'I thought that I saw a white figure that shone and did not grow dim like the others. Was that Glorfindel then?' 'Yes, you saw him for a moment as he is upon the other side: one of the mighty of the First-born. He is an Elf-lord of a house of princes.'"
The Noldor spoke Noldorin-Quenya amongst themselves and with the Vanyar in Aman, but the vast majority in Middle-earth adopted Sindarin as their everyday tongue, preserving Quenya as muchas possible as a ritual language for specific occasions. Many were also able to communicate in most of the western Umanya-dialects.
The third group of the Calaquendi had silvery white, sandy blond, or light brown hair, fair or darker skin and grey or hazel eyes. In general they were more of a mix of types than the Noldor or Vanyar. They were also a more numerous kindred, with greater opportunity for diversity. The true Falmari, who lived on Eressea, tended to be taller and stronger, with the distinctive High Elven bearing and aura.
Less tall and lordly than the Elda kindreds, the Sindar and Nandor were never the less more noble than the Avari. All tended to be slender, possessing a wiry strength and great agility. Physically they resembled the Falmari, being an offshoot of that group, though they lacked the aura of the Calaquendi, having not seen the Light of Aman. Most, because of their preference for spending extended periods of time outdoors, had darker, lightly tanned skin. Not surprisingly, this group spoke Sindarin almost exclusively.
These were the East-Elves, most rustic of the Kindreds, and most numerous.They were similar in appearance to the Noldor and Umanyar, but slightly lesser in stature, with darker hair (generally chestnut to dark brown or blueish-black, more seldomly also silver-white, sandy blond or copper-red) and dark grey or brown, sometimes also green eyes and often darker complexion. Spread throughout Middle-earth,they spoke their own tongues, amongst themselves, but when living with the higher kindreds invariably adopted Sindarin.
Genealogy of the Quendi
There are two ways to classify the noble Quendi, for their history states that they were twice sundered. The first separation of their people produced the Eldar and Avari: the "People of the Stars" who made the Great Journey toward the Light of Aman, and the "Refusers" who remained in the East of Middle-earth. From the Avari,came the East-Elves of lore, who constitute most of Middle-earth's Elven peoples.
The Eldar produced the three great kindreds of the Vanyar, Noldor, and Teleri, many of whom now reside in the Undying Lands. It was the Eldar who produced the Second Sundering.
Dividing before they left the shores of Middle-earth, the Teleri produced three sub-groups that never emigrated to Aman and never saw the enchanted light of the Valar's Blessed Realm. They, like the Avari, are called Moriquendi, "DarkElves". Their brothers who went west into Aman are called Calaquendi, or "LightElves". The Calaquendi include the Vanyar, Noldor, and Falmari (Teleri) of the Undying Lands—together with the Noldor who returned to Middle-earth—while the Sindar and Avari of Middle-earth are counted as Moriquendi. Thus,as noted, there are two ways to classify the Quendi: (I) the Avari versus the Eldar; and (II) the Moriquendi versus the Calaquendi.The tree illustrates their relationship.
- Quendi or Elves
- Eldar or West-wandering elves
- Tatyarin Eldar
- Teleri (Last Ones) or Nelyarin Eldar
- Falmari or Sea-Elves
- Sindar or Grey-Elves
- Avari , Wild Elves or East-elves
- Hisildi (Avari of Helcarth, Helkanen and Helcar Sael (or Helcarim))
- Tatyarin Avari or Loari
- Hwendi (Avari of Myr and Urd)
- Kwindi (Avari of Ralian and southern Cuivienen)
- Nelyarin Avari or Erlini
- Tatyarin Avari or Loari
- Hisildi (Avari of Helcarth, Helkanen and Helcar Sael (or Helcarim))
- Eldar or West-wandering elves