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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
Elves and immortality

uncle Iorlas
Rivendell


Jun 9, 7:56pm

Post #1 of 21 (3005 views)
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Elves and immortality Can't Post

I've lately been thinking a lot about the lived experience of elves, and what it is to live in a world where some people age and some people do not. What is this like? Do elves reach adulthood in the first twenty or so years of lives that are then changeless for tens of thousands of years? Do they begin to forget the details after a while? Do they ever get sick? Do female elves have beards? And so on.


Elthir
Grey Havens

Jun 9, 9:55pm

Post #2 of 21 (2950 views)
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my short answers [In reply to] Can't Post

"Do elves reach adulthood in the first twenty or so years of lives that are then changeless for tens of thousands of years?"

Basically yes to the first part, but Elves are not changeless.

"Do they begin to forget the details after a while?"

Elves have amazing memories.

"Do they ever get sick?"

No (generally speaking here).

"Do female elves have beards?"

No.

"And so on."

Yes.


(This post was edited by Elthir on Jun 9, 10:00pm)


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Jun 9, 10:52pm

Post #3 of 21 (2938 views)
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The Immortal Lives of Elves [In reply to] Can't Post

Elves by their nature tend to take the long view. A casual hobby can consume them for decades only to be replaced by other interests. Mannish (and even dwarvish) lives are ephemeral by comparison and many Elves do not seem to fully grasp what it is to be mortal.

Elves do not easily scar (though they will not grow back lost limbs), nor are they subject to natural illness.To see how life has affected an Elf, look to the eyes that seem neither (or both) old and young. Elves retain their memories of the past by entering into a meditative state that can substitute for normal sleep. In this state they relive the past while retaining an awareness of the present. Legolas uses this technique during his time as a member of the Fellowship.

Extremely long-lived male Elves seemingly can grow beards after many thousands of years of life. Círdan of the Grey Havens is the only cited example of this. I presume that this does not apply to Elf-women. Angelic

"I may be on the side of the angels, but do not think for one second that I am one of them." - Sherlock


uncle Iorlas
Rivendell


Jun 10, 3:29am

Post #4 of 21 (2910 views)
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citations on any of this? [In reply to] Can't Post

I also had that imagery in my head about Cirdan but I can't remember why. Also Thranduil but that's about an old illustration from the 80s and I had come round to being pretty sure he intended beardlessness for them. But in any event I don't remember anything about their healing from scars. I suppose even a real-world human would do that given Elvish longevity, though.


All right, here's another one. We're told that Elrond and Elros had a choice to make because of their complex pedigree, but do we ever hear when and how they were given this choice, by whom, how long they had to think it over, and in what way they were to make their answer? Always seemed like a potentially fascinating chapter of things but always rendered as the merest footnote.


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Jun 10, 4:40am

Post #5 of 21 (2900 views)
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Because I said so (just joking!). [In reply to] Can't Post

The Return of the King, "The Grey Havens":


Quote
As they came to the gates Círdan the Shipwright came forth to greet them, Very tall he was, and his beard was long, and he was grey and old, save that his eyes were keen as stars...


The rest comes from diverse sources, some of them from secondary canon such as Tolkien's essay on the traditions and customs of the Eldar. I have read that but, alas, I do not own a copy of it. I recall that it is reproduced in one of the HOME volumes that I do not possess.

As to the choices of Elrond and Elros, look to the last couple of pages of "Of the Voyage of Eärendil" at the end of the Quenta Silmarillion:


Quote
In Middle-earth dwelt also Gil-galad the High King, and with him was Elrond Half-elven, who chose, as was granted to him, to be numbered among the Eldar; but Elros his brother chose to abide with Men. And from these brethren alone has come among Men the blood of the Firstborn and a strain of the spirits divine that were before Arda; for they were the sons of Elwing, Dior's daughter, Lúthien's son, child of Thingol and Melian; and Eärendil their father was the son of Idril Celebrindal, Turgon's daughter of Gondolin.


For a bit more detail, search near the beginning of the "Akallabêth".

"I may be on the side of the angels, but do not think for one second that I am one of them." - Sherlock


InTheChair
Lorien

Jun 10, 3:03pm

Post #6 of 21 (2839 views)
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What's that illustration with a bearded Thranduil? [In reply to] Can't Post

Might be interesting to see.


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Jun 10, 3:08pm

Post #7 of 21 (2828 views)
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Bearded Thranduil [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm not sure I've ever seen an image of Thranduil with a beard, but I can't say the same for Elrond.



On the other hand, the Elvenking did sport this look once:



"I may be on the side of the angels, but do not think for one second that I am one of them." - Sherlock

(This post was edited by Otaku-sempai on Jun 10, 3:11pm)


noWizardme
Valinor


Jun 10, 4:34pm

Post #8 of 21 (2825 views)
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Tolkien side-stepped some interesting gender-relations consequences [In reply to] Can't Post

Elf society as we see it is similar to that of medieval mortals, with better arts and crafts. Whether that is how an in-practice immortal society might end up is arguable.

In the medieval world, mortality from childbirth was usually high, as was infant mortality. This lead (I think) to societies where women married young and bore children early and often, and (I suspect) that had a lot of consequences for the roles of men and women in medieval societies. This might be different for elves. Like kids? There might be little practical limit to how many you might have - a spacing on one per several decades or even centuries might be perfectly feasible if they are expensive or a lot of work. Want a career before, during or after a family? Plenty of time to go adventuring or making or something else for a few thousand years before, between or after raising kids.

I think that, Tolkien elves aren't necessarily ones for big families (if they were, there might be a whole lot of elves around!) I don't know whether Tolkien offered any 'official' explanation (and nor was he obliged to, given that he was writing fantasy, not a scientific thought-experiment). I suppose one could fan-explain this in various ways - indifference to reproduction, low fertility (or being fertile only for a short period in one's life), enormously long elvish childhoods meaning that childcare lasts much longer etc.

~~~~~~
Where's that old read-through discussion?
A wonderful list of links to previous chapters in the 2014-2016 LOTR read-through (and to previous read-throughs) is curated by our very own 'squire' here http://users.bestweb.net/...-SixthDiscussion.htm


noWizardme
Valinor


Jun 10, 4:42pm

Post #9 of 21 (2820 views)
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...and the jokes [In reply to] Can't Post

You've been saving up a truly hilarious pun for centuries, waiting for exactly the best moment. But then nobody gets it, because of the great vowel shift.

You fail to reassure your mortal husband that what he's going through (in his nineties) is 'just a phase'.

~~~~~~
Where's that old read-through discussion?
A wonderful list of links to previous chapters in the 2014-2016 LOTR read-through (and to previous read-throughs) is curated by our very own 'squire' here http://users.bestweb.net/...-SixthDiscussion.htm


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Jun 10, 5:15pm

Post #10 of 21 (2811 views)
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Elven Maturity Rates [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
I think that, Tolkien elves aren't necessarily ones for big families (if they were, there might be a whole lot of elves around!) I don't know whether Tolkien offered any 'official' explanation (and nor was he obliged to, given that he was writing fantasy, not a scientific thought-experiment). I suppose one could fan-explain this in various ways - indifference to reproduction, low fertility (or being fertile only for a short period in one's life), enormously long elvish childhoods meaning that childcare lasts much longer etc.


I don't think that Tolkien was entirely consistent about this, but I do not recall that Elven childhoods were generally described as terribly long. Tolkien's essay "Of the Laws and Customs Among the Eldar" does suggest that it took an Elf between fifty and one hundred years to reach physical maturity. It also notes that the period from conception to birth was almost exactly one year. HOwever, I seem to recall other texts suggesting a rate of maturity closer to that of Men. The essay also states that Elves tended to wed soon after their fiftieth year and seldom had more than a few children.

I don't have the HOME volume Morgoth's Ring but Tolkien's essay can be found using Google (I'm not sure whether posting a link here would be appropriate).

"I may be on the side of the angels, but do not think for one second that I am one of them." - Sherlock


Elthir
Grey Havens

Jun 10, 6:30pm

Post #11 of 21 (2799 views)
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my longer answer about Elven maturation [In reply to] Can't Post

The idea in Laws And Customs Of The Eldar (50, or for some 100 years) has already been referred to, but to add (and confuse?) here is, as far as I know today, Tolkien's latest statement about Elvish growth to maturity

Note 1: "C.E. ? netthi. C.E. tth> Q., T. (...) nette meant 'girl approaching the adult' (in her 'teens': the growth of Elvish children after birth was little if at all slower than that of the children of Men). The Common Eldarin stem (wen-ed) (...) 'maiden' applied to all stages up to the fully adult (until marriage)."
JRRT Vinyar Tengwar 47, from texts generally dated 1967-70

Compare to ("they" are the Númenóreans): "Thus (as the Eldar) they grew at much the same rate as other Men, but when they had achieved 'full growth' then they aged, or 'wore out', very much more slowly." Note 1, The Line of Elros, Unfinished Tales

And read below the line at your own peril
___________________________

"On Earth while an elf-child did but grow to be a man or a woman, in some 3000 years, forests would rise and fall, and all the face of the land would change, while birds and flowers innumerable would be born and die in loar upon loar under the wheeling Sun." JRRT Morgoth's Ring Text XI

I took this quote (Text XI is also called Aman in Morgoth's Ring) as a variant of the much shorter maturity rate of 50 (for some 100) given in Laws and Customs (also MR).

However, someone pointed out that the far longer rate might reflect an earlier (internally earlier) maturity rate for Elves, and that in Middle-earth, the rate became swifter. Before the section I quoted, in the same text, it is also said: "Nonetheless the Eldar 'aged' at the same speed in Aman as they had done in their beginning upon Middle-earth"

I hadn't put very much emphasis on the part "in their beginning", since later on in Aman and Mortal Men it was said that the Valar could not alter the speed of growth of the Children (relative to the whole life of Arda). However Christopher Tolkien noted in his commentary on Text XI:

"I realized that it stands in fact in very close relationship to the manuscript of Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth,..." and in that text Finrod notes:

"This I can well believe,' said Finrod: 'That your bodies suffer in some measure the malice of Melkor. For you live in Arda Marred, as do we, and all the matter of Arda is tainted by him, before ye or we came forth and drew our hroar and their sustenance therefrom: all save only Aman before he came there. For know it is not otherwise with the Quendi themselves: their health and stature is diminished. Already those of us who dwell in Middle-earth, and even we who have returned to it, find that the change* [*the word change was an emendation to the typescript B (only); the manuscript has growth -- footnote by CJRT] of their bodies is swifter than in the beginning. And that, I judge, must forebode that they will prove less strong to last than they were designed to be, though this may not be clearly revealed for many long years." Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth (and see Author's note 7 on the Commentary)

This work is generally dated to about the same time (late 1950s) as Laws And Customs too -- noting that the manuscript of the debate is said to be: "very similar in style and appearance to that of Laws and Customs among the Eldar."

I wonder then, despite the rather notable (!) change from a general 3000 years to 50, if these texts were not actually supposed to meld together on this point, and that the Elvish growth to maturity was (at least according to these examples) supposed to have become swifter over time, due to Arda Marred.

Or something.

Or maybe Tolkien, in the end, just went with something easier, like my first quote in the longish post!

Or something Wink


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Jun 10, 7:00pm

Post #12 of 21 (2787 views)
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Elvish Growth [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
The idea in Laws And Customs Of The Eldar (50, or for some 100 years) has already been referred to, but to add (and confuse?) here is, as far as I know today, Tolkien's latest statement about Elvish growth to maturity

Note 1: "C.E. ? netthi. C.E. tth> Q., T. (...) nette meant 'girl approaching the adult' (in her 'teens': the growth of Elvish children after birth was little if at all slower than that of the children of Men). The Common Eldarin stem (wen-ed) (...) 'maiden' applied to all stages up to the fully adult (until marriage)."
JRRT Vinyar Tengwar 47, from texts generally dated 1967-70

Compare to ("they" are the Númenóreans): "Thus (as the Eldar) they grew at much the same rate as other Men, but when they had achieved 'full growth' then they aged, or 'wore out', very much more slowly." Note 1, The Line of Elros, Unfinished Tales


This seems to be what I was remembering as contradicting "Laws and Customs". The other figure of 3000 years is hard to make much sense of. After all, the Elves awoke long after Arda was marred by Melkor and they were already part of Middle-earth at the time. It does seem to parallel the alleged lifespan of Mankind in the antediluvian age, before the biblical flood. Is this a coincidence or might it be intentional? In any case, I find this 3000 year figure a bit dubious.

"I may be on the side of the angels, but do not think for one second that I am one of them." - Sherlock


uncle Iorlas
Rivendell


Jun 11, 4:28am

Post #13 of 21 (2758 views)
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now this is all fascinating [In reply to] Can't Post

I haven't caught up with all the scholarly dredgings, so I didn't realize how much material there would be on the subject.

What the 3000 year figure immediately suggests to me is that it might have been fixed with Arwen in mind, since she is just approaching that age when she meets Aragorn (and is doomed to undergo a human-style mortality about ten minutes later in elf years).


Elthir
Grey Havens

Jun 11, 5:06am

Post #14 of 21 (2753 views)
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three thousand [In reply to] Can't Post

If indulging the three thousand for a moment...

I interpret that it remained constant in Aman, if not in Middle-earth. If so, Tolkien, in a sense, makes it somewhat "easy" to keep the maturity rate in mind for the purposes of the story in Aman.

You count 20-ish Valian Years just like you would count 20-ish Sun Years for mortals.

In other words, an Elf that's 20 Valian Years old is almost 3,000 years old, and the number 20 will seem like a normal enough human period, by comparison. The fuller context of the Aman quote and the "3,000 quote" includes the ratio 1 VY = 144 Sun Years.


That said, I'm not sure the change to "1 Valian Year equals 144 Sun Years" works for every date in the existing Annals (Aman and Grey) -- with respect to the dates as already written with the much lesser ratio in mind -- for instance, with respect to the flight of the Noldor.

In any case, the Elvish Long Year in Middle-earth is 144 Sun Years, so this might seem interesting considering when Arwen Half-elven married. If I recall correctly, I think Tolkien even altered her birth year with respect to at least one draft version of Appendix B.

Though he didn't say why, if I recall correctly Smile


(This post was edited by Elthir on Jun 11, 5:17am)


uncle Iorlas
Rivendell


Jun 11, 5:34pm

Post #15 of 21 (2679 views)
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incidentally [In reply to] Can't Post

I love this. I have never had a long-planned joke ruined by a vowel shift, but I've lost some due to public tragedy or unexpected movie sequels, so I can still feel for the poor blokes.


noWizardme
Valinor


Jun 11, 6:12pm

Post #16 of 21 (2664 views)
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I guess you’d also drive yourself nuts... [In reply to] Can't Post

...trying to remember those song lyrics, or who scored the goal: things from 3000 years ago.

~~~~~~
Where's that old read-through discussion?
A wonderful list of links to previous chapters in the 2014-2016 LOTR read-through (and to previous read-throughs) is curated by our very own 'squire' here http://users.bestweb.net/...-SixthDiscussion.htm


noWizardme
Valinor


Jun 11, 6:14pm

Post #17 of 21 (2667 views)
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Otherwise... [In reply to] Can't Post

...it would mean about 500 years of puberty. Tolkien would surely not be so cruel.

~~~~~~
Where's that old read-through discussion?
A wonderful list of links to previous chapters in the 2014-2016 LOTR read-through (and to previous read-throughs) is curated by our very own 'squire' here http://users.bestweb.net/...-SixthDiscussion.htm


CuriousG
Half-elven


Jun 11, 7:33pm

Post #18 of 21 (2653 views)
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On the bright side, [In reply to] Can't Post

500 years of puberty means you get to be moody all you want, eat all you want, and live off your parents all you want without getting a job. Where do I sign up?


Plurmo
Rohan

Jun 11, 10:15pm

Post #19 of 21 (2635 views)
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We learned that none of the Ainur were forced to enter Arda. [In reply to] Can't Post

Some chose to enter, some not. Some, like Tulkas, were late commers.

The spirit is from outside Arda, and seemingly there were few elven spirits desiring to enter Arda much later than the awakening at Cuivienen.

As for mortal-kind spirits, there may be more willing, though the mechanistic view that "the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people" implying that these odds make us exceptionally fortunate to exist, deny the possibility that we could be from the few who chose to do, and were so allowed.


noWizardme
Valinor


Jun 12, 6:44am

Post #20 of 21 (2604 views)
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I was imagining it from the POV of the parents... :) [In reply to] Can't Post

Besides, Not sure I’d want to be adolescent again: it gets better, young elves!

~~~~~~
Where's that old read-through discussion?
A wonderful list of links to previous chapters in the 2014-2016 LOTR read-through (and to previous read-throughs) is curated by our very own 'squire' here http://users.bestweb.net/...-SixthDiscussion.htm


Hamfast Gamgee
Grey Havens

Jun 17, 10:24pm

Post #21 of 21 (2393 views)
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One trouble with living forever [In reply to] Can't Post

Is that forever is a mighty long time as one singer once said.

 
 

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