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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
When do Elves stop ageing?
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Solicitr
Lorien

Sep 8 2012, 12:31am

Post #26 of 39 (1164 views)
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Tolkien IIRC wrote [In reply to] Can't Post

...somewhere that Elves, at least in Middle-Earth, did age, but very very veeeery slowly, imperceptibly so. There was even a suggestion of discrete 'ages' or 'phases' of an Elf's life, in the last of which he would grow a beard (in direct contradiction of what T wrote elsewhere).

Cirdan was an Elf of the Great Journey and thus mind-bogglingly old, even compared to Galadriel; the oldest non-Maiarin person in Middle-earth save perhaps the three oldest Ents.


Elthir
Gondor

Sep 8 2012, 12:57am

Post #27 of 39 (1019 views)
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innie or outie [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
...somewhere that Elves, at least in Middle-Earth, did age, but very very veeeery slowly, imperceptibly so. There was even a suggestion of discrete 'ages' or 'phases' of an Elf's life, in the last of which he would grow a beard (in direct contradiction of what T wrote elsewhere).




Hmm, at the moment I don't recall any text that clearly refers to outward ageing, and the note in Vinyar Tengwar about the 'phases' of an Elf's life is rather brief -- it generally refers to when Elves normally grow beards, yes; and granted that's an outward sign too, but as a mortal of twenty years can grow a beard for example...

And Cirdan's arguable great age really doesn't matter if Elves never look old before fading: do Tolkien's Elves age slowly (outwardly) and then fade, or do they simply fade (the hroa becoming invisible) as passages in Morgoth's Ring reveal... they certainly fade, but where is the former idea presented (again outside of Cirdan being the example that argues the idea).


Elizabeth
Valinor


Sep 8 2012, 2:44am

Post #28 of 39 (1252 views)
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Let's face it: Cirdan is an anomaly. [In reply to] Can't Post

Tolkien made him and then was stuck with him, despite his attempts to rationalize it.






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Elizabeth is the TORnsib formerly known as 'erather'


Elthir
Gondor

Sep 8 2012, 3:59am

Post #29 of 39 (1223 views)
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facing Cirdan's face [In reply to] Can't Post

But that's part of what throws me. As far as I know Tolkien did not later attempt to explain Cirdan's seeming old looking visage.

Even when he explained the matter of beards among Elves... well again, as young men can have beards, I'm not sure explaining the beards necessarily attempts to explain the old look 'beneath' the beard, so to speak.


Solicitr
Lorien

Sep 8 2012, 12:20pm

Post #30 of 39 (1132 views)
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Young MEN can have beards [In reply to] Can't Post

But Tolkien repeatedly insisted that Elves were beardless. The note in Vinyar Tengwar (and hence this thread) was retconning; Tolkien was uncharacteristically careless when he stuck a beard on Cirdan, but since it appeared in print T by his self-imposed rules regarded it as a hard datum.


Elthir
Gondor

Sep 8 2012, 2:38pm

Post #31 of 39 (1059 views)
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emphasis more on 'young' men can have beards [In reply to] Can't Post

In other words, a being need not be aged to have a beard (as exhibited in Men), and so I think Elves need not be aged looking if bearded. Or in other, other words, the matter of the beards does not necessarily speak to outward ageing in other ways.


Quote


But Tolkien repeatedly insisted that Elves were beardless. The note in Vinyar Tengwar (and hence this thread) was retconning; Tolkien was uncharacteristically careless when he stuck a beard on Cirdan, but since it appeared in print T by his self-imposed rules regarded it as a hard datum.



Beleg appears to have had a short beard in an early illustration by Tolkien -- although some have argued that this might really be a shadow or something, I assume (!) Hammond and Scull have seen the original artwork, and they note, in seemingly certain terms at least, that Beleg has a short beard in JRR Tolkien Artist and Illustrator.

If I recall correctly, it's actually only the very late note in Unfinished Tales which appears to say that it was a characteristic of all Elves to be beardless -- which contradicts Cirdan, Nerdanel's father (the Vinyar Tengwar note), and possibly earlier ideas, again if one accepts a bearded Beleg.

Of course if we go back far enough to The Book of Lost Tales we can find, for example: 'Know you that the Noldoli grow old astoundingly slow, and yet have I grey hairs in the study of all the tongues of the Valar and of Eldar.'

This is Rumil the door-ward, who here had been a slave under Melko, and was: 'old in appearance and grey of locks, and few of that folk were so; but the other had a weather-worn face and blue eyes of great merriment, and was very slender and small, nor might one say if he were fifty or ten thousand.' JRRT, The Music of The Ainur, The Book of Lost Tales I

Hmm.


(This post was edited by Elthir on Sep 8 2012, 2:47pm)


Solicitr
Lorien

Sep 8 2012, 11:18pm

Post #32 of 39 (958 views)
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Fading [In reply to] Can't Post

Although Tolkien's idea that the Eldar would 'fade' over time is a persistent idea that goes back all the way to the Lost Tales or even the prewar poems, and he never changed his mind much, it never seems to have been reflected in actual narrative; except in certain hints that 'fading' and 'dwindling' had something to do not just with living in mortal lands, but breathing air dominated by mortals, with an implication that the Age of Fading was beginning with the Fourth Age. (Although there is a suggestion that the exiled Noldor had lost some of their 'fire' after only a few centuries in Beleriand).

Certainly it's the case that no Elf encountered in narrative, even the very oldest like Galadriel and Celeborn and Elrond and for that matter Cirdan seem to be in any way filmy or transparent or vaporous.


(This post was edited by Solicitr on Sep 8 2012, 11:19pm)


Elthir
Gondor

Sep 9 2012, 12:59am

Post #33 of 39 (967 views)
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Lingering on this topic a bit [In reply to] Can't Post

Ok but the idea of the Elvish fea consuming the hroa is still present as part of the legendarium in any event, and referred to in relative detail after The Lord of the Rings was published.

We even have the Lingerers (faded Elves) who can reveal their beautiful forms to Men's minds in certain cases, because the Lingerers are not truly 'Houseless' in the same sense as dead Elves who have refused the Summons to Mandos.

And there are references to Elves ageing slowly, but I can't find any references that necessarily speak to outward signs of ageing. For example, from Laws And Customs Among the Eldar:


Quote

'It might be thought that, since the Eldar do not (as Men deem) grow old in body, they may bring forth children at any time in the ages of their lives. But this is not so. For the Eldar do indeed grow older, even if slowly: the limit of their lives is the life of Arda, which though long beyond the reckoning of men is not endless, and ages also. Moreover their body and spirit are not seperated but coherent. As the weight of the years, with all their changes of desire and thought, gathers upon the spirit of the Eldar, so do the impulses and moods of their bodies change. This the Eldar mean when they speak of ther spirits consuming them; and they say that ere Arda ends all the Eldalie on earth will have become as spirits invisible to mortal eyes, unless they will to be seen by some men into whose minds they may enter directly.'

Morgoth's Ring



Does 'But this is not so' refer to growing older in the body? Or to the ability to bring forth children at any time, and what follows is a way in which Elves grow older?

To my mind it might mean: although the Eldar do not appear to age, they age internally, which affects things like having children. Granted there is the bit 'as Men deem' but why do they deem such a thing? They aren't necessarily basing something upon an incorrect observation (the Elves they meet appear not to age), but they could be somewhat incorrect about appearances versus internal changes that are not so obvious.

Impulses and moods change, changes of desire and thought. This seems reinforced by (some sentences later) 'Doubtless they would retain for many ages the power of generation, if the will and desire were not satisfied, but with the excercise of the power the desire soon ceases, and the mind turns to other things.'

This is a way in which an Elf ages I think. I note too that we are here dealing with a 'limit' that takes one to the very end of the world! In theory then, we have thousands of years of youthful looking Elves -- and from the other end of the limit, a number of years in which any Elf who had not sailed to Aman has arguably faded -- so, is there a phase of thousands of years of old looking Elves for example, before they fade to invisible (possibly thousands of years before the Great End as well), or is this a relatively brief phase, if a phase at all?

Anyway, I think Tolkien has taken his early idea an expanded upon it, mixing in the idea of the Morgoth-element. Not that you are saying otherwise, but this idea doesn't have to touch any of the tales to be held true as far as the legendarium is concerned (Laws and Customs still seems an internal document, for example, if not a tale in the sense of the tale of Turin for instance).


(This post was edited by Elthir on Sep 9 2012, 1:08am)


Solicitr
Lorien

Sep 9 2012, 3:07am

Post #34 of 39 (933 views)
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I'd say [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
(Laws and Customs still seems an internal document, for example, if not a tale in the sense of the tale of Turin for instance).


Tolkien apparently intended Laws and Customs and the Athrabeth to be published as Appendices to the Silmarillion, so I would assign them something akin to canonical status, at least in conflict with other documents on the same subjects (not that they're entirely consistent with each other!)

Still I reckon that 'fading,' however the conception altered over the course of Tolkien's life, doesn't appear to be something which was encountered as a contemporary occurrence, but rather an 'ultimate fate' of the Elder Children. I think T was always convinced of his very early concept that *today* such Elves as remain are 'faded' and effectively invisible to Men- there are perhaps hints of this in the Eriol/Aelfwine frame story-- but it doesn't seem to be something which had yet occurred as of the end of the Third Age.

Of course, the Three Rings and the loss of their power might also be connected; weren't the Three conceived in large part "to stave off the weariness of the world" etc? And wasn't Galadriel hinting at this whyen she called Frodo's coming "the footstep of Doom?"


(This post was edited by Solicitr on Sep 9 2012, 3:10am)


Elthir
Gondor

Sep 9 2012, 2:48pm

Post #35 of 39 (937 views)
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I agree but is there a 'wrinkle' in the larger idea [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
Still I reckon that 'fading,' however the conception altered over the course of Tolkien's life, doesn't appear to be something which was encountered as a contemporary occurrence, but rather an 'ultimate fate' of the Elder Children. I think T was alway convinced of his very early concept that *today* such Elves as remain are 'faded' and effectively invisible to Men- there are perhaps hints of this in the Eriol/Aelfwine frame story-- but it doesn't seem to be something which had yet occurred as of the end of the Third Age.




I agree (and the poem The Trees of Kortirion might be interesting here too, although I would have to read it again more carefully to say anything beyond 'might' be interesting in this context) but do Tolkien's Elves fade after they become aged looking for [fill in number] __ years?

Or was this early concept of aged looking Elves (Rumil the door-ward) abandoned, making Ciryatan a true anomoly?


Solicitr
Lorien

Sep 9 2012, 4:31pm

Post #36 of 39 (940 views)
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Two parallel concepts [In reply to] Can't Post

One, fading, which goes back to the beginning (my impression is that the "diminutive fairies" of the Cottage of Lost Play were that size as an aspect of 'fading'), and which Tolkien never really changed in essentials although made more sophisticated and metaphysical over T's lifetime;

And then the really separate question of the 'aging' of the hroa. I don't think Rumil helps much here; the Lost Tales concept was that the Gnome-folk were stunted and twisted and aged from their long thraldom, as opposed to their 'free' cousins the Eldar (and Turgon's folk); we're a long way from the demi-angelic High Elves of Tolkien's mature writings.

It is rather hard here to get a grip on the extent to which Elves appeared "older" or "younger." Elrond's famous description manages to make him "neither old nor young;" but then Elrond may not be typical, either, since he's half-elven. Does Arwen appear "younger" than Galadriel? We don't really know; and even if it were the case that might have something to do with childbearing. Certainly it's the case that Galadriel is still accounted supremely beautiful, to the extent Gimli and Eomer could differ sharply vis a vis Arwen.

One gets the impression (and it is only that) that Elves grew in a relatively short span, short enough to be discernable as change, from birth to maturity; after that it gets really vague except in the case of Cirdan, that stinkin' anomaly. Note that Cirdan isn't just described as bearded, or just grey-haired, but explicitly "old."

I can't figure any way to retcon this into orderly shape except to credit Cirdan's physical aging to the passage of years uncounted beyond those of any other Elf we encounter; whatever measurement one uses for Years of the Trees, Cirdan was already astoundingly old even by the time Feanor burned the ships. Note however that Cirdan doesn't appear to be in any way 'faded.'

I suppose one could speculatively suppose that Sindar etc might age at a faster rate than Elves of Valinor; or alternatively that Galadriel and her Valinorean contemporaries didn't age at all until the Exile.* Perhaps both.

*Which raises the question of Celeborn, and maybe strengthens the argument that he was a Teler of Alqualonde rather than a Sinda.


Elthir
Gondor

Sep 9 2012, 7:47pm

Post #37 of 39 (975 views)
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closing the door on the door-ward [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
(...) I don't think Rumil helps much here; the Lost Tales concept was that the Gnome-folk were stunted and twisted and aged from their long thraldom, as opposed to their 'free' cousins the Eldar (and Turgon's folk); we're a long way from the demi-angelic High Elves of Tolkien's mature writings.



I would generally agree that early concepts could well have been abandoned, but I'm trying to consider even early evidence because it's sometimes hard to know just what Tolkien 'retained' within a new or later context. I myself am not sure if Rumil's look is meant to be due to his hardship under Melko, great age, or both: 'Know you that the Noldoli grow old astoundingly slow, and yet have I grey hairs in the study of all the tongues of the Valar and of Eldar.'

This seems to speak more to age in my opinion. And there's also: 'old in appearance and grey of locks, and few of that folk were so...' Hmm.

Anyway my point would be, if we cannot find any certain evidence of outward ageing in any of the corpus -- simply due to great years I mean -- then it seems (to me) more likely Cirdan might be an anomoly.



Quote
(...) Note that Cirdan isn't just described as bearded, or just grey-haired, but explicitly "old."



I agree he's explicitly described as old, but implied (given the phrasing) that he looks old too.

To split a (grey) hair perhaps Wink



Quote
(...) *Which raises the question of Celeborn, and maybe strengthens the argument that he was a Teler of Alqualonde rather than a Sinda.



Heresy (incidentally)!


Anyway, I realize Cirdan is not even implied to be faded in any way, but if he had been, I think it would have fit easily enough with the ideas found in Morgoth's Ring.


(This post was edited by Elthir on Sep 9 2012, 7:55pm)


malickfan
Gondor

Sep 10 2012, 1:29pm

Post #38 of 39 (1010 views)
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A few more extracts: [In reply to] Can't Post

‘For the Eldar do indeed grow older, even if slowly: the limit of their lives is the life of Arda, which though long beyond the reckoning of Men is not endless, and ages also. Moreover their body and spirit are not separated by coherent. As the weight of the years, with all their changes of desire and thoughts, gathers upon the spirit of the Eldar, so do the impulses and moods of their bodies change. This the Eldar mean when they speak of their spirits consuming them…’
(Morgoth’s Ring, The Later Quenta Silmarillion II)

Whereas the Elves remain until the end of days, and their love of the Earth and all the world is more single and more poignant therefore, and as the years lengthen ever more sorrowful, For the Elves die not till the 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;…’
(The Silmarillion, Of The Beginning of Days)

Some very interesting points rasied here, as mentioned by Mandel I explored the subject of Cirdan's Age in a blog post I wrote (Its very long but you can skip to the appropriate subheadings if you wish to read it: Was he an Elve of the Awakening? Even if He wasn’t an Elve of the Awakening he was pretty Old wasn’t he?) but as with much of the evidence brought forth by others in this discussion I couldn't come to a definite conclusion. Tolkien used several different approaches to this question and its up to you which you think is correct.

‘As they came to the gates Cirdan the Shipwright came forth to greet them. Very tall he was, and his beard was long, and we was grey and old, save that his eyes were keen as stars; and he looked at them and bowed, and said ‘All is now ready.’



Elthir
Gondor

Sep 12 2012, 4:31am

Post #39 of 39 (1207 views)
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Counting the Rings [In reply to] Can't Post

I just noticed that in Dangweth Pengolodh (dated between 1951 and 1959)...


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'Now, verily, a great tree may outlive many a Man, and may remember the seed from which it came ere all the Men that now walk the earth were yet unborn, but the rind upon which you lay your hand, and the leaves which overshadow you, are not as that seed was, nor (...) Immortal, within Ea, are the Eldar, but since even as Men they dwell in forms that come of Ea, they are no more changeless than the great trees, neither in the forms that they inhabit, nor in the things that they desire or achieve by means of those forms. (...)




For your interpretation :)


(This post was edited by Elthir on Sep 12 2012, 4:35am)

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