BobMoCo Middle-earth Glossary

Mortality and the Nature of Elves and Men

Elves  ~  Half-Elves  ~  Men  ~  Hobbits  ~  Dwarves  ~
Elves do not die unless killed, nor do they fall ill. If injured they heal quickly. They live in Middle-earth until tired of it (which may be thousands of years), then travel by sea to join their kin with the Valar. All Elves in Middle-earth have an instinctive yearning for the sea, because it is the route to Aman, the home of the Valar. It is called by many names: the Undying Lands, the Blessed Realm, Eldamar, Elvenhome.

The spirits of those who are killed also stay in the Circles of the World, in separate Halls in the Undying Lands. (They may, on rare occasions, be 'reborn' in the same body-forms in which they died and return to Middle-earth - Glorfindel is an example). There they remain until the Dagor Dagorath - the Final Battle between the forces of Good and Evil. The nature of life in Elvenhome remains a mystery to Men who cannot conceive what it is like to accept ageless immortality as normal. The conclusion that Elves are "trapped" in the world would be false.

By the Third Age the Elves are the Wise of the world, partly because they have been able to observe and learn for much longer, partly due to the teaching of the Valar brought by Noldorin Elves who returned from Aman, and partly because it is now in their nature to talk and think rather than act on impulse. This was not always so. The Silmarillion's account of earlier Ages shows some were once as hasty as any Man, sometimes with dire consequences.

In the Third Age they are more prudent, there are far fewer of them left in Middle-earth, and under their leaders - Elrond and Galadriel - they usually only act in response to a threat. Elves are the conservators of Middle-earth, attempting to preserve the order of things, an outlook which reflects the influence in their past of contacts with the Valar. The Valar were largely responsible for creating the details of the world and understandably resent drastic changes which undo their labours. Since the cause has almost always been Melkor/Morgoth or his lieutenant, Sauron, the Eldar and Valar have been fighting Evil and such changes since before the Moon & Sun arose at the beginning of the First Age.

The role of the Elves as conservators is outlined by Elrond when he explains that, although the Elven Rings are very powerful, they were not created as weapons of war or conquest, but as instruments of understanding and healing "to preserve all things unstained". Galadriel's final act is to use the power of the ring she wears to rid Mirkwood of malign influence so it can grow back again as Eryn Lasgalen - the Wood of Greenleaves.

The High-Elves left in Middle-earth have a purpose which keeps them from simply sailing away to Aman. They are aware that the place of Elves, the First-born, will be taken by Men, the Second-born. The First and Second Ages had determined which of them would be the last of the High-Elves, and therefore who would be handing over mastery of Middle-earth to the After-comers. Influenced perhaps by the Elven Rings, they are concerned to leave Middle-earth in a state of peace and in safe hands, and under the leadership of Elrond and Galadriel they discreetly pursue this aim.

In The Lord of The Rings Elves are mostly recorded as seen by outsiders in times of danger. This might give the impression that they are a pretty serious race, which would be wrong. We only get glimpses of them in their natural, relaxed state such as when the Hobbits encounter Gildor's Wandering Company on leaving The Shire, or at Caras Galadhon in Lórien. Bilbo saw more of their frivolity on his great adventure.
Elves who are the sons or daughters of Elf-Man marriages are Half-Elven. Earendil Half-Elven (Peredhil) was the son of Tuor, a Man, and Idril, an Elf. Although he married an Elf (Elwing), their sons Elrond & Elros were deemed Half-Elven. The Half-Elven are given the choice of becoming mortal Men or undying Elves. Elrond chose to remain Elven, while his brother Elros opted for mortality. Although part non-Elven, Elrond's offspring are considered Elves until or unless they opt for mortality.

When a female Elf marries a Man she becomes mortal but will still outlive her spouse. Arwen's union with Aragorn is only the third well-known Elf-Man marriage. The first (Idril & Tuor) ended happily for the Eldar. The second, Luthien's romantic marriage to Beren, was part of legend and more tragic, hence the references to it and Elrond's concern about the outcome of Arwen's passion. Other Elf-Man marriages did occur, but were less publicised in lore; the Elven blood in the Princes of Dol Amroth is an example. As Legolas notes, Imrahil's family are descended from Numenoreans who settled in Gondor, and Silvan Elves who did not sail West. There are, however, no recorded instances of unions between male Elves and female Men.
In Elven terms, Men live short lives and are frail, weak creatures prone to illness. They have little time to ponder and understand, and behave in a manner seen as "hasty" by Elves as well as Ents. They do not share the Elves' view of how the world should be ordered, partly because they have not individually had centuries within which to observe the harmonies between and beauty of all things which was so important to the Creators, and partly because they have all been influenced in some measure by the evil spell of Morgoth.

Death is the Gift of Men. The spirits of Men - for whom death is inevitable - leave the world and are not confined like the Elves. Death became regarded as the Doom of Men when they started envying Elves, without realising that the nature of Men makes them unsuited to never-ending "retirement". Hence the reference to the Nine Rings being "for Mortal Men doomed to die". *

For Men longevity and physical stature are dependant upon nobility. There are two types of Men in Middle-earth in the Third Age - the common people and the descendents of the Numenoreans. Ordinary Men (ie Easterlings and Southrons, Dunlendings and Men of Bree, the Men of Dale and the Rohirrim) are of ordinary build and live ordinary lifetimes. The few remaining Men of noble descent (the Dunedain / Men of The West, some of whose blood is mixed with that of the Elves and Maiar), are taller and live longer. Many of Aragorn's ancestors lived well over three hundred years, but as their 'nobility' waned and their line 'failed', so their lives became shorter and they became less tall. The ancestors of the Dunedain flourished in the First Age when they lived alongside Elves, and in the Second Age while they still kept friendship with the Elves.
* The word Doom occurs frequently in tales of Middle-earth. It means Fate, and is not necessarily unpleasant.
Hobbits also live short lives and are frail creatures compared to Elves. Short stature and hairy feet apart, their physical characteristics are similar to those of ordinary Men. Like ordinary Men they live slightly longer in Middle-earth than we might consider normal. (However, at 111 Bilbo has reached a great age by Hobbit standards). Where their spirits go on death is unknown. Their outlook on life is far more relaxed than that of Men, and their attitudes to change and destruction are more akin to those of the Elves, at least in part because evil has not paid them much attention.
Dwarves normally live a long time, and are a very hardy race, created to be delvers and workers of stone and metal. They are mortal, too. What happens when they die is unclear, but their spirits are believed to remain within the world, in the care of the Valar. Having been created by one of the Valar for a specific place in the world, their view of life is different to everyone else's. They have rarely been friendly for long with the Elves. Being neither hunters nor farmers, how they find provender for great feasts in their mountain halls is unexplained!
Elves  ~  Half-Elves  ~  Men  ~  Hobbits  ~  Dwarves  ~

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