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Question on elves and elven-sight

Cirashala
Tol Eressea


Nov 27, 5:25pm

Post #1 of 11 (929 views)
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Question on elves and elven-sight Can't Post

Hello all!

So I heard that elves have this thing called "elven-sight" which allows them to see a potential partner in a mate, correct? What exactly is this phenomenon, and does anyone have a reference to where Tolkien wrote about it and explained it?

Also, on a similar vein, can elves see the heart of a person simply by looking at them (black-hearted or good-hearted)? Do you think elves could sense if a woman was with child (aka sensing another soul/fea within them)?

And how would an elf view the fea of another person (be it elf, man, dwarf, etc)? When Frodo sees Glorfindel after being stabbed, he sees a distinctly different image of him than the others see- the fea almost, rather than the seen version (and in the films, Arwen). Do you think elves see another's fea like that all the time, since they live in both the seen and unseen? Or can wilful ignorance blind them (like what may have happened with Eol and I-forget-her-name)?

I just find it very interesting that elves can see the seen and the unseen, but I do wonder if it's more of a they-actually-see-it deal, or if it's more that they sense it?

And a bit of a fun question- can elves sense gender too, like dogs can? I wonder if they can tell if dwarf-women are in fact women and not men even if they're garbed the same Tongue

My writing and novels:

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You can also find my novel at most major book retailers online (and for those outside the US who prefer a print book, you can find the print version at Book Depository). Search "Amazing Grace Amanda Longpre'" to find it.

Happy reading everyone!


squire
Half-elven


Nov 27, 8:01pm

Post #2 of 11 (879 views)
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I don't remember a lot about this [In reply to] Can't Post

Tolkien discusses Elven sex most explicitly in his late essay, "The Laws and Customs of the Eldar", which appears in History of Middle-earth Vol. X. It was composed in the late 1950s, long after the completion of LotR, but while Tolkien was still struggling with the intractable mass that was the Quenta Silmarillion. I looked just now, and didn't see any indication that Elves can see their potential mate through some kind of 'elven sight' or preternatural sense. He does say that many Elves marry their childhood sweethearts, who they have played with since their early years; and that marriage is forever and indissoluble. Presumably therefore they don't make "mistakes" in choosing their life partners - but there was nothing about how they always manage to get such a thing right!

As for being able to see the 'heart', i.e. the goodness or badness, of another, that is contradicted by almost every story in the Silmarillion, wherein Elves are constantly misconstruing or mistaking the motivations of other Elves. If we think about it, a race that could tell good people from bad at a single glance would have no drama or conflict whatever, leaving them quite out of the storybooks.

Tolkien is hardly clear about what he means by 'the other side', or spirit world, which is referred to several times in different contexts in Lord of the Rings. I don't get the sense that it's a cut-and-dried thing, with the hroa (body) in the mortal world and the fea (soul/spirit) in the immortal world. Among other things, it's suggested that the Ring's invisibility power, like the invisibility of the Ring-wraiths, is due to the ring bearers having transitioned into the parallel world (other side) whereby they are invisible to mortals, at least. Yet they still have bodies, both Frodo and the Nazgul, even if the Nazgul, being completely transitioned, are unable to return to visible form.

It is interesting, if not compelling, that Gandalf seems to be glad that Bilbo does not still have the Ring on when they meet up back at the house after the Party; the implication is that if Bilbo was still invisible, Gandalf would not have been able to see him, and Gandalf, if anyone, should be accounted one who is able to perceive things on the 'other side'. A contrary point to this could be that the scene was written early on, when Tolkien still thought of the Ring as a mere invisibility device, and never modified the dialogue later even when it was clearer that the Ring was the master switch for being translated from the mortal world to the spirit world or wraith world.

I would agree with you that Elves have heightened senses about spiritual matters, but not in ways that would make them dysfunctional in the real world. And of course we know they have just plain more acute vision: the best reference to "elven sight" that I remember is Aragorn complimenting Legolas several times on his ability to see at practically a telescopic range.



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Cirashala
Tol Eressea


Nov 27, 8:13pm

Post #3 of 11 (877 views)
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That is an excellent point [In reply to] Can't Post

I had forgotten about all the misunderstandings of the Sil and the elves Evil
I think Eol and Aredhel (that's her name, right?) were a good example of an elven marriage that was not a good one. I can imagine there were others. Still, being in an unhappy marriage did not give elves the "right", as it were, to divorce, so I think that it is noteworthy that elves are expected to stick with their original marriage partner for life. I also think that generally, this would be the case, but view it as more of a belief system for them- that divorce was such an abominable thought that it was viewed very negatively in elf-dom.

That is true about Gandalf- as a Maia, more explicitly an Istari, he of all of them should be able to discern the spiritual world, and if he did not see that which was in it, then maybe the idea that the elves live in both the seen and unseen is more of a "gut feeling" or awareness than actually being able to SEE it with their eyes?
I agree that elvish hroa do happen to possess very, very good eyes (I believe Beleg was also given a similar compliment on his eyesight?). But I was more wondering about their sight with regards to the unseen.

Is their "unseen" sight more of a feeling- like when an enemy draws near, they get that sense of uneasiness and "feel" the evil drawing near? Or they feel the taint of the One Ring, even if they cannot see it? Legolas seemed to be able to tell that Fangorn was very old (and unless I'm confusing book with film, that it was full of anger and that the trees were alive and sentient). To others it would appear as an ominous forest that coincided with an uneasy feeling about it- much like how one would feel uneasy about a person and then said person was shown to not be a good person and the first person suddenly understands why they were so uneasy.

So is that more of what elves sense? That uneasiness, that "gut feeling", that evil or anger or in a nutshell just that feeling about something?

And that still begs the question- could an elf "sense" another life within an expecting lady? That seems as though it would fall in line with the idea that elves have a "second sense" about them that other races do not.

But then again, that "second sense" seemed to be completely absent of ALL sense in the Sil lol...or at least at times it was. Or it is, in fact, true that some elves are just stupid...lol.

My writing and novels:

My Hobbit Fanfiction

My historical novel print and kindle version

My historical novels ebook version compatible with all ereaders

You can also find my novel at most major book retailers online (and for those outside the US who prefer a print book, you can find the print version at Book Depository). Search "Amazing Grace Amanda Longpre'" to find it.

Happy reading everyone!


FarFromHome
Valinor


Nov 28, 12:11pm

Post #4 of 11 (850 views)
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Or was it just a (typical Tolkien) joke...? [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
It is interesting, if not compelling, that Gandalf seems to be glad that Bilbo does not still have the Ring on when they meet up back at the house after the Party; the implication is that if Bilbo was still invisible, Gandalf would not have been able to see him, and Gandalf, if anyone, should be accounted one who is able to perceive things on the 'other side'.

It could be that Gandalf is just showing his Tolkien-style dry, pedantic sense of humour here - the same kind of word-play that he indulged in with Bilbo at the start of The Hobbit, by deliberately misinterpreting the "begging your pardon" euphemism.

Being "visible" was another well-known bourgeois euphemism in Tolkien's time, or at least in the late-19th, early 20th century world of the Shire. It meant essentially the same as another similar euphemism of the time, "not at home", which Tolkien also plays with. To be "not visible" or "not at home" meant, quite simply, that you were not receiving visitors, in that strangely formal world of social visits that existed at the time. I suspect that Tolkien found that these euphemistic clichés were interesting linguistic examples of a kind of bourgeois social hypocrisy that he enjoyed making a little dry fun of, based as ever on his keen awareness as a philologist of the way the meanings of words are not always what they seem.

So just as he teases Bilbo in The Hobbit by pretending to take "begging your pardon" literally, here he may just be enjoying the cognitive dissonance between Bilbo being "visible" in the sense that he's having to engage with his visitor (Gandalf) while also being literally "visible" because he has taken the Ring off. Whether or not Gandalf would still have been able to see Bilbo as he appears on the "other side" is not necessarily clear from his words here, I don't think. He can surely tell that Bilbo is not wearing the Ring, which he is possibly glad to see as an indication that Bilbo isn't at the stage of being tempted to wear the Ring more than he has to. But that doesn't tell us that Gandalf wouldn't have seen him anyway, as whatever he looks like on the "other side". Gandalf's words are rarely as straightforward as they may appear, it seems to me, and I wouldn't like to take this particular observation of his quite as literally as it needs to be taken in order to prove your point!

(Sorry if I'm just nitpicking a piece of evidence that you yourself describe as "not compelling", but it just strikes me as a very neat example of how easily Tolkien (mis)leads us into seeing hard answers to questions that he has deliberately chosen to leave as fluid and contingent as they can possibly be.)



They went in, and Sam shut the door.
But even as he did so, he heard suddenly,
deep and unstilled,
the sigh and murmur of the Sea upon the shores of Middle-earth.
From the unpublished Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings



squire
Half-elven


Nov 28, 6:39pm

Post #5 of 11 (834 views)
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Very good [In reply to] Can't Post

I can quite imagine the word-play interpretation you bring up, although I myself have unfortunately never come across the phrase in the limited amount of reading I've done that is set in that period's bourgeois British society. I should think, with a little research to find examples in novels or magazines or memoirs, one could write up a pretty little paper for Tolkien Studies bringing this hitherto-unseen angle on Gandalf's line to more general attention among Tolkien scholars.

In the end, I feel it remains absurd to assume that Gandalf can see the Ringbearer when invisible due to the Ring. It goes against the entire tenor of the Ring's invisibility power, both as initially and far more simply written in The Hobbit when neither Gollum, the Elven King, nor Smaug could see Bilbo with his ring on, and also as altered in the second book with the added notion that the Nazgul and Sauron actually can see an otherwise invisible wearer.

It is always a pleasure to see you in the Reading Room, FFH!



squire online:
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FarFromHome
Valinor


Nov 29, 8:23pm

Post #6 of 11 (667 views)
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Thanks [In reply to] Can't Post

(I think!) for the compliment!


Quote
I should think, with a little research to find examples in novels or magazines or memoirs, one could write up a pretty little paper for Tolkien Studies bringing this hitherto-unseen angle on Gandalf's line to more general attention among Tolkien scholars.

So yes, I have to admit that I'm a fully paid-up member of the club my son likes to call Pedants Are We. Crazy

Still, "visible" as "receiving visitors" isn't as obscure as all that. It's in my dictionary, admittedly as the 7th and last definition: "Ready or willing to receive a visitor or visitors". And, judging by Ian McKellen's line reading in the movie scene, I think he probably got the joke too.

I agree, though, that it makes no sense to assume that Gandalf can see Bilbo when he has the Ring on. It's pretty clear in The Hobbit, especially, that he can't, as he's said to be as "astonished" as the rest when Bilbo pops into view. Things are more complicated in LotR when we learn about the "other side" and beings (like Glorfindel) who somehow exist in both. And then there's Tom Bombadil, although that's a whole other can of worms. But in the end, I guess my basic point is just that Tolkien always seems frustratingly capable of leaving himself just a little wiggle room, so that you can rarely pin anything down for certain when it comes to the magic of Middle-earth. And, for my money, that's a feature, not a bug.

They went in, and Sam shut the door.
But even as he did so, he heard suddenly,
deep and unstilled,
the sigh and murmur of the Sea upon the shores of Middle-earth.
From the unpublished Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings



squire
Half-elven


Nov 29, 10:29pm

Post #7 of 11 (658 views)
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Invisible definitions [In reply to] Can't Post

Using your quote, I found you appear to be using the Chambers dictionary, which I guess is a British publication. Certainly I'd never heard of it before, here in the U.S. That book first came out in 1901, and I wonder if the definition we're discussing, "Willing to receive visitors", dates from that period. But I'll take your word for it that, in the UK at least, the usage survives. I doubt it was ever used in America, though I'm open to being shown my error!

Using the highly unreliable web (word searches are not the internet's best mode of use), I could not find any definitions that agreed with Chambers. I was disappointed, but as I said failure to find something proves nothing.

Interestingly, I did find a shot of an Anglo-French translation glossary from about 1800, that suggests that our English use of 'visible' in this sense was a direct lift from the French! In the definition below, the French words and phrases are in plain type, and the English words and phrases are italicized:

Visible, a. visible, manifest. Dites que je ne suis pas visible, say I cannot receive visitors; say I am not at home - New Pocket Dictionary of the French and English languages, by Thomas Nugent (LL. D.), London, 1816. via Google Books.



squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Archive: All the TORn Reading Room Book Discussions (including the 1st BotR Discussion!) and Footerama: "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
Dr. Squire introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary


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FarFromHome
Valinor


Dec 1, 4:34pm

Post #8 of 11 (615 views)
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Nice sleuthing! [In reply to] Can't Post

Yes, I was using the Chambers dictionary. It's fairly old, as you say, but it's a British classic, and the default dictionary still in Britain for many cryptic crossword compilers and solvers. That's partly why it's my first port of call, since I enjoy a bit of cruciverbalism myself! It's a bit old-fashioned, but that's part of its charm - and also why I think it's a pretty good indication of the kind of everyday English* terminology that Tolkien would have probably expected ordinary English readers to pick up on in his own day. (Old as it may be, Chambers is available as an iPhone app, which is what I have. According to the entry in Help, this is the electronic version of the 14th edition, copyright 2014, so the compilers obviously think the "receiving visitors" meaning of "visible" is still useful, presumably at this point just for readers of older literature - or cryptic crossword solvers?)

I wasn't actually arguing that "the usage survives" in the everyday world of modern England, of course - visiting cards and 'at home' days are long gone, probably since WWI. But anyone who reads 19th/early 20th century British literature would know about these social customs, and would probably pick up on the terminology. Maybe more so in my generation, I have to admit, than in the younger generation of Brits who seem to have taken over the country since I left for grad school in the US in 1970! Wink

That's an interesting link you found to French usage. It makes sense to me that 'visible' might have started in France and been brought to England as part of the fashion of genteel social behaviour. If so, considering Tolkien's knowledge of etymology and his distaste for French pretentiousness instead of good plain English, Gandalf's little joke perhaps works even better!



* I'm using 'English' to refer to England as opposed to Britain, as the taste for this kind of rather pedantic knowledge of the language seems to be mostly confined to England (see for example Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg in the current generation, who probably appeal to older Englishmen in particular because they have mastered this very old-fashioned way of showing off how clever you are!)

They went in, and Sam shut the door.
But even as he did so, he heard suddenly,
deep and unstilled,
the sigh and murmur of the Sea upon the shores of Middle-earth.
From the unpublished Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings



Kimi
Forum Admin / Moderator


Dec 7, 12:29am

Post #9 of 11 (437 views)
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A few more examples [In reply to] Can't Post

(courtesy of the OED, which is nicely appropriate when discussing Tolkien and wordplay):

"Of persons: Capable of being seen or visited; accessible to others; now esp., disposed or prepared to be seen or visited, ‘at home’ to visitors. (Cf. French visible.)
1835 E. Bulwer-Lytton Rienzi I. ii. i. 181 A foreign signor is with him—but to you he is of course visible.
1848 Thackeray Vanity Fair lxvii. 620 Jos wasn't up yet; Becky not visible (though she looked at them through the blinds).
1889 F. M. Crawford Sant' Ilario ix He..inquired if he could see the princess. The porter replied that she was not visible, and that the prince had gone out."

(I've had fun with the whole "at home" palaver in my own work, when a delicately raised lady is doing her best to explain the notion to her sister-in-law, a down-to-earth farmer's wife.)

It's always a treat to see your name here, FFH!


The Passing of Mistress Rose
My historical novels

Do we find happiness so often that we should turn it off the box when it happens to sit there?

- A Room With a View


Cirashala
Tol Eressea


Dec 7, 3:03am

Post #10 of 11 (419 views)
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It could be perhaps [In reply to] Can't Post

but we also have the Dead Men of Dunharrow, and it appears that Legolas and Elladan and Elrohir can see the ghosts before the men can?

That still leads to wonder if elves can actually SEE the unseen world, or if they sense it more as a sixth sense?

At all the other replies- that's a great catch about the meaning of the term "visible" in earlier times! Being an American, visible has not, at least for a long time I know, been used in terms of accepting visitors. But then again, my historical novels and research lean more on the everyday folk, so there's not as much formal vernacular amongst them than more upper-class sorts.

(Kimi, I remember the scene you speak of from your books- excellent novels by the way-and found that quite amusing as well :) ).

My writing and novels:

My Hobbit Fanfiction

My historical novel print and kindle version

My historical novels ebook version compatible with all ereaders

You can also find my novel at most major book retailers online (and for those outside the US who prefer a print book, you can find the print version at Book Depository). Search "Amazing Grace Amanda Longpre'" to find it.

Happy reading everyone!


FarFromHome
Valinor


Sun, 2:20pm

Post #11 of 11 (272 views)
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Thanks Kimi! [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks for providing the 'visible' examples from the OED, which as you say is surely the most appropriate source for this kind of thing! I used to have the full OED on CD-ROM, and very useful it was too, but my current computer can't read it. Very frustrating!

I can well believe how strange the whole 'at home' palaver (nice word for it!) would have seemed to a busy working woman such as your character the farmer's wife, since it was such an artificial set of social rules, meant primarily, I suppose, to exclude from a closed social circle those who were "not quite [their] sort". This is what Bilbo suspects of Gandalf at the start of The Hobbit, when Gandalf starts bringing up taboo subjects (such as adventures), and teasing Bilbo about what his little social clichés like "Good morning" and "I beg your pardon" really mean. So I suspect Gandalf of still playing the same gentle trick on Bilbo at the end of The Long-expected Party, as Bilbo indulges in his last social performance in the (mostly!) polite society of the Shire. "I am glad to find you visible." The perfect, polite opening for a social call, and yet uniquely appropriate for Bilbo with his Ring. And because of the Ring, both Gandalf and Bilbo know that this polite surface, the whole 'palaver' of the party, and the gifts, and the speech, hides a much more difficult meaning that Bilbo is now going to have to face up to.

They went in, and Sam shut the door.
But even as he did so, he heard suddenly,
deep and unstilled,
the sigh and murmur of the Sea upon the shores of Middle-earth.
From the unpublished Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings


 
 

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