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Question about elves and immortality

Cirashala
Valinor


Mar 11 2021, 4:38am

Post #1 of 16 (1706 views)
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Question about elves and immortality Can't Post

I saw an argument online recently that stated that, since elves have words for cold, vomit, nausea, sickness, etc, then perhaps elves did actually get sick. They just simply got better after being miserable for a bit (much like how humans do with the common cold- a few days of misery, then ok).

What are your thoughts on that? What are the limitations of elven bodies that make them more or less similar to humans? Do they actually get sick/get infection/etc? Did Tolkien ever mention anything about elves and sickness?

We know they don't die from old age, but can die with severe injury to vital organs. We know they need sleep, because Legolas is described sleeping during the orc chase after Amon Hen- once, while walking open-eyed (I wonder if this is similar to daydreaming, as I can certainly zone out myself when I want to, and feel a bit better afterward mentally, AND be very unaware of my surroundings- though I bet he is still aware enough to react quickly at need), and once again after meeting Gandalf the White, lying down with eyes open and "blending living night and waking dream, as is the way with elves". I do believe Voronwe also slept when he and Tuor were trying to reach Gondolin. I do wonder though if elves ALWAYS sleep with eyes open, or if they do shut them sometimes.

We also know, or at least, have pretty good evidence, that elves can freeze to death (Voronwe's comment about "the snow-sleep"). We also know they can burn to death (a la Gil-Galad Unsure). And we know they can be poisoned (Aredhel).

We know they have more powerful fea/spirits than mortals, which is why they can do many things deemed "magical", though aren't magic per se, just abilities they have due to their connection with Arda that Eru/Illuvatar gave them. We also know that they grow very slowly from infancy to adulthood, but that they also gain mastery of their bodies far faster than mortals, and can sing and dance by the time they're only 1 year old.

We know they have good memory (can you imagine, living thousands of years but never remembering past the latest five hundred???). We know they have a different concept of time- can be very fast, but can also not be in a rush to get something done if it's not pressing.

We also know they seem to have a "way with good beasts" and that Arod (or was it Hasufel?) was tame underneath Legolas and it shocked the Rohirrim. But it does make me wonder if elves are able to tame ALL animals, or just those who are not a threat (wonder if predators like bears, boars, and wolves would be able to be tamed, for example, or if they are even able to affect wargs at all).

I would also assume that they are in need of the same bodily needs as humans, as they are similar enough that they can produce fertile offspring together. So I would assume that they need to "visit the privy" like humans, and that they may even sweat and smell (when they sweat) like humans after hard exertion (I imagine Legolas was more than a little aromatic after the Battle of Helm's Deep! Though perhaps the surviving Men smelled worse, who knows?). They also clearly have need of sustenance, as they eat and drink as well.

We know they have superior reflexes (perhaps if trained, more so), and far superior vision and hearing than mortals (barring permanent damage to the eye or ears due to a severe injury). They can be much more agile, and, if trained, are very capable fighters- if not excellent ones (I don't imagine an elf who is no more than a loremaster or baker would be able to best a trained mortal Man in combat if they've never trained in weaponry themselves, despite their agelessness...but a capable elf who has had at least some training would probably defeat a well-trained man, or at least give him a major run for his money. A well-trained elf against a well-trained Man would defeat the Man pretty quickly- unless that man is Aragorn or Turin or of that caliber, and then the elf would take longer, but I think still win in the end. Remember, Turin handily defeated Saeros, who was a musician, not a trained warrior (IIRC) but the likes of Maedhros would put Turin to the test, and Fingolfin would handily defeat him).

We also know elves can heal from wounds that would prove mortal to Men...BUT can still die if vital organs are badly hit. So they do have a good healing system...and decent immune system I think.


Still...that comment got me to thinking about all the ways an elf might be compared to a Man in terms of biological capabilities, and especially illness. As well as any other capabilities they have that either exceed those of Men (I'm talking all elves, not just warriors), or that they SHARE with Men.

What are your thoughts? Do you think elves can get sick, etc? Or are they ONLY subject to death by violence or severe accident?

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(This post was edited by Cirashala on Mar 11 2021, 4:51am)


GreenHillFox
The Shire


Mar 11 2021, 10:10am

Post #2 of 16 (1660 views)
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About the Great Plague [In reply to] Can't Post

In this context I looked for some references of elves having been affected by the Great Plague, but only men and hobbits are known to have suffered losses. Elves are not mentioned, nor are dwarves.

If elves cannot be sick, then it is not very logical that Elrond was described as an elf with exceptional medical skills, is it?

I have the impression that JRRT never elaborated on this.


Cirashala
Valinor


Mar 11 2021, 4:30pm

Post #3 of 16 (1646 views)
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Exactly! [In reply to] Can't Post

I was wondering that about Elrond myself. I'd assumed originally that he was excellent at healing WOUNDS and drawing out poison, but I agree. It seems as though there's more to his skill than that.

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Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Mar 11 2021, 10:03pm

Post #4 of 16 (1637 views)
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Elves and Disease [In reply to] Can't Post

My own understanding is that Elves are immune to all natural disease. They were only indirectly affected by the Great Plague. Similarly, Dwarves seemed to be extremely resistant to disease, if not actually immune.

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Na Vedui
Rohan


Mar 11 2021, 11:11pm

Post #5 of 16 (1632 views)
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Elves ... [In reply to] Can't Post

- in The Hobbit, at any rate, can be affected by alcohol enough to have to sleep it off! That might imply that they could also be poisoned, perhaps.


VoronwŰ_the_Faithful
Valinor

Mar 12 2021, 2:29am

Post #6 of 16 (1626 views)
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"Slain or waste in grief" [In reply to] Can't Post

The classic statement on this, which appears in the published Silmarillion in the last paragraph of Chapter 1 of the Quenta, but which is actually taken from the last version of the Ainulindale that Tolkien wrote is: "For the Elves die not till tile world dies, unless they are slain or waste in grief (and to both these seeming deaths they are subject); neither does age subdue their strength, unless one grow weary of ten thousand centuries; and dying they are gathered to the halls of Mandos in Valinor, whence they may in time return."

What exactly "waste in grief" means is not completely clear, but the classic example is Miriel. And it is important to emphasize that the important word in this passage is "seeming". The Elves don't in any case die in the same way that Men do; they do not leave the circles of the world.

'But very bright were the stars upon the margin of the world, when at times the clouds about the West were drawn aside.'

The Hall of Fire


Cirashala
Valinor


Mar 12 2021, 3:10am

Post #7 of 16 (1617 views)
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In the Silmarillion [In reply to] Can't Post

Eol throws a poisoned spear at his son, Maeglin. But his wife, Aredhel, jumps in front of it and it strikes her in the shoulder.

So she ended up dying, but a shoulder strike is NOT a mortal wound...so it is either said outright, or implied, by Tolkien that it was the poison that killed her. (And Eol got the death penalty from Thingol, and that's not surprising, considering Aredhel was his sister).

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Cirashala
Valinor


Mar 12 2021, 3:12am

Post #8 of 16 (1617 views)
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I didn't mean to imply [In reply to] Can't Post

that they would die from acute illness (I know they won't)...I was just wondering if they suffered from it at all. Kind of like how a human can get the common cold and recover, but would have a few days of misery before doing so.

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CMackintosh
Bree

Mar 12 2021, 9:42am

Post #9 of 16 (1588 views)
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Gwindor son of Guilin [In reply to] Can't Post

To quote:

Quote
Grieving Beleg looked upon him; for Gwindor was now but a bent and fearful shadow of his former shape and mood, when in the Nirnaeth Arnoediad that lord of Nargothrond rode with rash courage to the very doors of Angband, and there was taken.

and later:

Quote
At first his own people did not know Gwindor, who went out young and strong, and returned now seeming as one of the aged among mortal Men, because of his torments and his labours;

Well, we know from the Narn i Chin Hurin and "Of Turin Turambar" in the Silmarillion, that Elves can be mistreated to the extent that they appear aged and infirm.
As far as being wasted by illness, I've always suspected that this was the cause of Elenwe's death:

Quote
And heand his host wandered long in misery, but their valour and endurance grew with hardship; for they were a mighty people, the elder children undying of Eru Il˙vatar, but new-come from the Blessed Realm, and not yet weary with the weariness of Earth. The fire of their hearts was young, and led by Fingolfin and his sons, and by Finrod and Galadriel, they dared to pass into the bitterest North; and finding no other way they endured at last the terror of the HelcaraxŰ and the cruel hills of ice. Few of the deeds of the Noldor thereafter surpassed that desperate crossing in hardihood or woe. There ElenwŰ the wife of Turgon was lost, and many others perished also; and it was with a lessened host that Fingolfin set foot at last upon the Outer Lands. Small love for FŰanor or his sons had those that marched at last behind him, and blew their trumpets in Middle-earth at the first rising of the Moon.

From "Of The Flight Of The Noldor". Tolkien doesn't say how, but given the context is "hardihood", I've always understood that the the stress of crossing the Helcaraxe undermined Elenwe's health and so she died.


(This post was edited by CMackintosh on Mar 12 2021, 9:44am)


Elthir
Grey Havens


Mar 13 2021, 4:43pm

Post #10 of 16 (1526 views)
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age and sickness [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
I saw an argument online recently that stated that, since elves have words for cold, vomit, nausea, sickness, etc, then perhaps elves did actually get sick.


In author's note five to the Commentary on the Athrabeth, JRRT noted that the Elves

" . . . were not subject to diseases"


They can of course, still have words to describe sickness, even for plants, for example.



In Reply To
We also know that they grow very slowly from infancy to adulthood, but that they also gain mastery of their bodies far faster than mortals, and can sing and dance by the time they're only 1 year old.


There are a few external versions concerning Elven ageing. One in which it took and elf-child 50, or for some, 100 years, to grow to adulthood for example.

Another one in which -- at least in their beginning in Middle-earth (but also in Aman), it took about 144 years for an Elf-child to grow to be a man or woman.

And yet another in which Elves grew at about the same rate as Men, until a given point (see Unfinished Tales where Elven growth is compared to the Numenoreans).


This third idea appears to be Tolkien's "last" concept (as in latest known anyway), and was published in Vinyar Tengwar -- although maybe Carl Hostetter's new book has more to add on the matter.


(This post was edited by Elthir on Mar 13 2021, 4:53pm)


Cirashala
Valinor


Mar 13 2021, 5:29pm

Post #11 of 16 (1515 views)
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Question about elves and animals [In reply to] Can't Post

I know this kinda jumps around a little, but you are very knowledgeable about Tolkien's notes, etc.

What do you think of elves and animals? We know Legolas instantly tamed a spirited horse, much to the shock of the Rohirrim (who, no doubt, intended to embarrass Legolas and Gimli for their "rude" words by giving them a horse that was likely to buck them off), and it is mentioned (paraphrasing, as I don't have the book with me) "as was the elvish way with all good beasts".

So...does this mean elves can tame any animal instantly? Even predatory animals? Or just animals that weren't wargs, giant spiders, and such? I am quite curious if Tolkien ever mentioned specifics, other than this particular statement in the book regarding Legolas and Arod?

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Happy reading everyone!


Elthir
Grey Havens


Mar 14 2021, 4:00pm

Post #12 of 16 (1456 views)
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good beasts and sleeping elves [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm sorry Cirashala, but at the moment I can't recall a story-external note from Tolkien where he goes into any detail about this Elvish way with good beasts.

Which I'm guessing would include dogs Smile

I'm also guessing that an Elf facing an angry slash hungry bear or an angry slash hungry [regular] wolf -- when either protecting their young or when very very hungry let's say -- would need more to stop them than this Elvish "way" however . . . which is a quite different scenario from a restless, fiery horse obviously.

This is with respect to "instant" taming anyway, as there are various circumstances in which even humans can "tame" wild beasts in some measure.


[I'd like to add that of the "three" age scenarios I listed above, the 144 and the 50 (or 100) might possibly be part of the same idea -- since in Middle-earth (but not in Aman), the time it took for and Elf-child to become an adult could diminish over the years. This is just a guess too, although based on a bit of detail which I won't go into.]

Anyway, that doesn't mean there isn't such a beastly text, but again I don't recall one at the moment.

Concerning elvish sleep: in a letter dated 1965 Tolkien wrote to a Mr. Britten that:


Quote
"it is plain that Elves do "sleep", but not in our mode, having a different relation to what we call "dreaming". Nothing very definite is said about it a) because except at a length destructive of narrative it would be difficult to describe a different mode of consciousness, and b) for reasons that you so rightly observe: something must be left not fully explained, and only suggested."


Source: The Lord of the Rings, A Reader's Companion


(This post was edited by Elthir on Mar 14 2021, 4:05pm)


Cirashala
Valinor


Mar 14 2021, 6:08pm

Post #13 of 16 (1443 views)
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That was very helpful! [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks, Elthir! Smile

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!


Elthir
Grey Havens


Mar 14 2021, 10:51pm

Post #14 of 16 (1430 views)
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fierce chipmunks [In reply to] Can't Post

By the way, I didn't mean to imply that bears and wolves are not good beasts . . . but I couldn't have a good chipmunk attacking my imagined Elf in the scenario above . . .

. . . well I could have, but it didn't have the same zing Wink


Cirashala
Valinor


Mar 14 2021, 11:16pm

Post #15 of 16 (1429 views)
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Killer chipmunks!!! [In reply to] Can't Post

Well, they would be difficult to catch as the crazed critter scurried all over the newbie patrolman's body really fast and in hard to reach places, and it would be HIGHLY amusing (for observers, not the poor elf Wink) should it clamp down on the elf's face (maybe his hair and ears? Or nose?) and cover his eyes, while deafening him with its angry chitter, causing the poor guy to stumble all over the tree roots (while cursing profusely at his friends for not helping because they're too busy laughing so hard that tears come out of their eyes) as he desperately tries to get that pesky little turd off him...who finally liberates itself from his hair and scampers away, still loudly scolding him as it looks back for one last glare.

Serves him right for stupidly sticking his hand in the chipmunk's nest! LaughLaughLaugh Would be fun to explain THAT bite on the nose to the healers! Angelic


I can see such an attack being one that the young elf patrol would NEVER live down! His buddies sure would never let him forget it! ROFL Sly

...aaaannnndddd that's how Legolas developed such quick reflexes CoolEvil

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.

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Felagund
Lorien


Mar 19 2021, 9:45pm

Post #16 of 16 (1191 views)
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Celegorm & Glorfindel [In reply to] Can't Post

This post made me think of Celegorm who, although pretty much the opposite of nice Mr Legolas, is described in The Silmarillion as having "great knowledge of birds and beasts, and all their tongues...". As one of the great hunters of Beleriand, he was also presumably a consumate horseman.

His special affinity with animals is, however, described as being on account of his early association with the house of OromŰ, and so doesn't strike me as fundamentally to do with his 'Elvishness'. Beren, for example, was also "the friend of birds and beasts, and they aided him, and did not betray him..." - but he had none of the gifts of the Eldar or the benefit of the tutelage of OromŰ.

You're right though: Tolkien, in describing Legolas' actions, does make a general comment about the way Elves interact with "good beasts". Comparing this interaction with that between Glorfindel and his horse, Asfaloth provides slightly more context, as well as a bit of contradiction. Legolas specifically requests the saddle and reins to be removed from his horse, Arod whereas Glorfindel refers to shortening the stirrups for Frodo's benefit. So, maybe Legolas' preference for riding without gear is just that: personal preference. However, where Legolas and Glorfindel are the same is that both the steeds in question respond to their spoken commands.

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