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Minas Tirith Forums » History of Middle-earth » Did Tolkien change his perception of Elves' lifespans? (Page 1)
Author Topic: Did Tolkien change his perception of Elves' lifespans?
Roll of Honor Athene
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I am reading the first Silmarillion from HoMe IV (finally, a version I can read without dying of boredom!) and I noticed that in his original drafts, Tolkien refers to several of the Elves as old when explaining their behaviour. Most noticeably, he says that Turgon had become old and complacent and that is why he refused to go to war against Morgoth as instructed. The implication (the way I read it anyway) is that old Elves behave quite like old Men, set in their ways and more interested in home comforts than war, which doesn't really make sense if they are immortal.

Christopher notes that some of these references to age were later crossed out. Is it possible that Tolkien did originally have a plan to make Elves age like Men? Is says in the same volume that the Elves were quite specifically immortal, unless they were killed in battle or faded through despair of the spirit. So why would they age?

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Roll of Honor Thorin
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I think that the Professor's ideas changed and evolved. But I think that his conception was that Elves did in fact change throughout their existence. Much of this "changing" could be described as an "aging" process, but without the final end to the process Men face (AKA death). Check out this link:The Laws and Customs Among the Eldar. I haven't double-checked the accuracy of the text versus a real live HoME book (I'm at the office), but it seems right.

In the Hobbit, one of the Rivendell elves was described as a "young" fellow. If an elf can be "young," I would expect that another could be "old."

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Alcuin
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quote:

Turgon had become old and complacent and that is why he refused to go to war against Morgoth as instructed.

Tuor was by Ulmo sent to warn Turgon of the impending doom of Gondolin, and he failed to respond appropriately to that, too. This despite the fact that he purposefully left behind in Nevrast armor at Ulmo’s instruction to identify an emissary that the Vala would send him.

quote:

The implication (the way I read it anyway) is that old Elves behave quite like old Men, set in their ways and more interested in home comforts than war, which doesn’t really make sense if they are immortal.

Quite so. In Letter 154 To Naomi Mitchison, 25 September 1954, Tolkien wrote,
quote:

...the Elves are not wholly good or in the right. Not so much because they had flirted with Sauron; as because with or without his assistance they were ‘embalmers’. They wanted to have their cake and eat it: to live in the mortal historical Middle-earth because they had become fond of it ..., and so tried to stop its change and history, stop its growth, keep it as a pleasaunce, even largely a desert, where they could be ‘artists’ – and they were overburdened with sadness and nostalgic regret.

quote:

Christopher notes that some of these references to age were later crossed out.

They reappear. Read on.

quote:

Is it possible that Tolkien did originally have a plan to make Elves age like Men? Is says in the same volume that the Elves were quite specifically immortal, unless they were killed in battle or faded through despair of the spirit. So why would they age?

Tolkien probably intended for Elves to age, but not in the same way as Men. If you’re reading HoME, you will also get to read Morgoth’s Ring for the first time. In the chapter, “The Later Quenta Silmarillion (II)”, there is a section entitled “Laws and Customs among the Eldar.” In this section (esp. pp 212-213), it is revealed that the gestation period of Elvish children is nearly one year (as opposed to 10 moons for Men: 10 * 4 weeks less 1 week), and that they are usually born in Spring. While Elvish children grow much as Men do, Men grow faster, so that by age three, “mortal children begin to outstrip the Elves, hastening on to full stature… Children of Men might reach their full height while Eldar of the same age were still in body like to mortals of no more than seven years. Not until the fiftieth year did the Eldar attain full stature…”

Elves marry for life, which even for Elves is an awfully long time, and they never divorce (I think Fëanor and Nerdanel are almost an exception: they did not divorce, but they certainly parted with bitter words and hard feelings for one another. Another near-exception would be the end of marriage of Eöl and Aredhel: Eöl murdered her. While a number of Eldar refused to follow their spouses into exile in the Flight of the Noldor from Valinor to Middle-earth, these seem to have been decisions made in grief and sorrow, made more out of conscience than from anger or disappointment, and would not count as “bad marriages” or a bad end to a marriage. The most confusing situation regards the love triangle between Finwë, Míriel, and Indis, but that is so complicated that it is probably too far outside the scope of the lifespan of Elves to address here other than to mention it.) All the children in an Elvish marriage were born in short order, at least by the Elves’ perception of time. Tolkien says that
quote:

Doubtless [the Elves] would retain for many ages the power of generation, if the will and desire were not satisfied; but with the exercise of the power the desire soon ceases, and the mind turns to other things.

More interesting is a passage a little before that,
quote:

For the Eldar do indeed grow older, even if slowly: the limit of their lives is the life of Arda, which long beyond the reckoning of Men is not endless, and ages also. … As the weight of the years … 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; and they say ere Arda ends all Eldalië on earth will become as spirits invisible to mortal eyes, unless they will to be seen by some among Men into whose minds they may enter directly.

One of the advantages to Elves of living the in the Uttermost West was that the pace of fading was drastically reduced. (Tolkien notes elsewhere that the Valar also fade as Arda becomes more settled; if you are interested, I will try to find the citation, which is not at hand at the moment.)

You may also recall that Círdan the Shipwright, whom the hobbits meet at the end of “The Grey Havens,” does not look like other Elves. Elvish men, for instance, are described as not having beards; but Círdan is described thusly:
quote:

Very tall he was, and his beard was long, and he was grey and old, save that his eyes were keen as stars…

In Peoples of Middle-earth (the last of the HoME volumes save the index), in the essay “Círdan”, Tolkien says that he had made the Great Journey from Cuiviénen and was the leader of the Teleri who stayed in Beleriand to search for Elwë Thingol, his kinsman. That would make Círdan extraordinarily old even for an Elf in Middle-earth, far older than Galadriel, for instance, and for his entire life (with the possible exception of at least a thousand years he was custodian of Narya, the Ring of Fire), he had been subject to the passage of Time in Middle-earth. I believe I recall reading that there were several stages of Elvish life (five as I recall; but my recollection could be in error), and that in the final stage, Elvish neri (males) grew beards as Men do. I’ll kick about for that citation, too, unless someone else will be good enough to find it (or utterly refute it) first.
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Roll of Honor Athene
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So effectively, Elves were immortal only as regards the lifespan of their world, but as Arda had a sell-by date, so to speak, they were not literally immortal at all.

Very interesting, thank you very much. [] []

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Eluchil
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quote:
I believe I recall reading that there were several stages of Elvish life (five as I recall; but my recollection could be in error), and that in the final stage, Elvish neri (males) grew beards as Men do. I’ll kick about for that citation, too, unless someone else will be good enough to find it (or utterly refute it) first.
Indeed, there is a note in VT 41. But it does not mention 5 cycles but 3 (without mentionning if this is the maximum) :
quote:
A note elsewhere in the papers associated with this essay reads: "Elves did not have beards until they entered their third cycle of life. Nerdanel's father [cf. XII:365-66 n.61] was exceptional, being only early in his second."

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Alcuin
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Yes, thank you. That is the citation. No wonder I couldn’t find it digging though books and indices.
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Nelyafinwë
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Just as a note, there is also an interesting discussion on the lifespans of elves versus men, and their final fates in Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth. Which everyone should read anyway, as in my opinion, it's the most beautiful and moving essay Tolkien ever wrote.
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Roll of Honor Varnafindë
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I second that. []

I find the discussion of their final fate particularly interesting. Here Tolkien introduces the notion that perhaps even the Eldar may become free of the tie to Arda, and that there may be a life after death even for them - in Arda Healed, or Arda Remade.
quote:
For that Arda Healed shall not be Arda Unmarred, but a third thing and a greater, and yet the same.
This is only introduced as a hope - a hope also for the healing of Arda. Estel.
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Eluchil
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Aaaaah, one om my favorites topics []
Well, actually, the Healing of Arda itself is not introduced as a hope, but is a certainty : Arda Sahta being finite and the Valar knowing that a Second Music will happen at the End of Time show that the coming of Arda Envinyanta (Arda Healed) will happen. Estel lies in the fact that nobody knows how it will happen (well, I know, we have the Second Prophecy of Mandos, but Tolkien mentions this is a Núnenórean legend), under which circumstances, when, with who, ... and this is reflected in this beautiful paragraph of Finrod :
quote:
'And then suddenly I beheld as a vision Arda Remade; and there the Eldar completed but not ended could abide in the present for ever, and there walk, maybe, with the Children of Men, their deliverers, and sing to them such songs as, even in the Bliss beyond bliss, should make the green valleys ring and the everlasting mountain-tops to throb like harps.'

Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth.



[ 07-10-2006, 03:54 AM: Message edited by: Eluchil ]

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Mithrennaith
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Ow ...

That was the point were we ended our reading of 'Athrabeth' at Tolkien 2005 in Birmingham - and I read Finrod. Magnificent quote, that!

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Roll of Honor Varnafindë
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It's interesting how Finrod's views change during that discussion, as Andreth gives him new information that he hasn't been aware of. At the beginning he shares the traditional view that the Eldar's life is bound to Arda. But as they're talking, he's realising the possibility that in Arda Healed, maybe all the children of Eru, both the Firstborn and the Followers, may live on together.
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Alcuin
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Varnafindë wrote:
quote:
It's interesting how Finrod's views change during that discussion, as Andreth gives him new information that he hasn't been aware of. At the beginning he shares the traditional view that the Eldar's life is bound to Arda. But as they're talking, he's realising the possibility that in Arda Healed, maybe all the children of Eru, both the Firstborn and the Followers, may live on together.
Finrod’s new hope (estel) in this matter was founded upon the hope (estel) of the Second Kindred, the “Old Hope” or “Great Hope” of Men: that Eru Himself would enter into Arda and repair the Marring.
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Eluchil
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I disagree with both of you : Finrod's hope (it should be spelled Hope, as hope is relating to amdir, while Hope is relating to Estel - Hope beyond hope) is not founded on the one of Men, but is strengthened by it. If needed, I will give quotations tomorrow morning (btw, we're getting far from the topic of this thread. I had no time yet to fully explore the HoMe section, but is there no Athrabeth thread in here ?). Don't forget Finrod is called the Faithfull []

[ 07-11-2006, 04:45 PM: Message edited by: Eluchil ]

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Alcuin
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Amdir? As in, looking up? Yes, please, when you have time, do arrange that argument. I will look again myself. Thanks. And the difference between amdir and estel, if you would, particularly in this case.

[ 07-11-2006, 09:31 PM: Message edited by: Alcuin ]

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Roll of Honor Varnafindë
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quote:
'Have ye then no hope?' said Finrod.

'What is hope?' [Andreth] said. 'An expectation of good, which though uncertain has some foundation in what is known? Then we have none.'

'That is one thing that Men call "hope",' said Finrod. 'Amdir we call it, "looking up". But there is another which is founded deeper. Estel we call it, that is "trust". It is not defeated by the ways of the world, for it does not come from experience, but from our nature and first being. If we are indeed the Eruhin, the Children of the One, then He will not suffer Himself to be deprived of His own, not by any Enemy, not even by ourselves. This is the last foundation of Estel, which we keep even when we contemplate the End: of all His designs the issue must be for His Children's joy.
Athrabeth, HoME 10, part IV

You're right, it's not an entirely new concept for him. And her views strenghtens his belief in that Estel, that there is indeed a place for the Eldar in Arda Remade, because of Mankind.
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Eluchil
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First, on the fact that Finrod - and Elves - already had Estel before the Athrabeth (therefore, "Finrod's hope", as you said, is not founded but strengthened by the Old Hope of the Wise Men) :
quote:
'That is one thing that Men call "hope",' said Finrod. 'Amdir we call it, "looking up". But there is another which is founded deeper. Estel we call it, that is "trust". It is not defeated by the ways of the world, for it does not come from experience, but from our nature and first being. If we are indeed the Eruhin, the Children of the One, then He will not suffer Himself to be deprived of His own, not by any Enemy, not even by ourselves. This is the last foundation of Estel, which we keep even when we contemplate the End: of all His designs the issue must be for His Children's joy. Amdir you have not, you say. Does no Estel at all abide?'
'Maybe,' she said. 'But no! Do you not perceive that it is part of our wound that Estel should falter and its foundations be shaken? Are we the Children of the One? Are we not cast off finally? Or were we ever so? Is not the Nameless the Lord of the World?'
'Say it not even in question!' said Finrod.
'It cannot be unsaid,' answered Andreth, 'if you would understand the despair in which we walk. Or in which most Men walk. Among the Atani, as you call us, or the Seekers as we say: those who left the lands of despair and the Men of darkness and journeyed west in vain hope: it is believed that healing may yet be found, or that there is some way of escape. But is this indeed Estel? Is it not Amdir rather; but without reason: mere flight in a dream from what waking they know: that there is no escape from darkness and death?'
'Mere flight in a dream you say,' answered Finrod. 'In dream many desires are revealed; and desire may be the last flicker of Estel. But you do not mean dream, Andreth. You confound dream and waking with hope and belief, to make the one more doubtful and the other more sure. Are they asleep when they speak of escape and healing?'
'Asleep or awake, they say nothing clearly,' answered Andreth. 'How or when shall healing come? To what manner of being shall those who see that time be re-made? And what of us who before it go out into darkness unhealed? To such questions only those of the "Old Hope" (as they call themselves) have any guess of an answer.'
'Those of the Old Hope?' said Finrod. 'Who are they?'

We can already see that Finrod talks about Estel before knowing about the Old Hope.

Second, Estel and the destiny of Elves beyond the end of Arda Sahta :
quote:
'Now none of us know, though the Valar may know, the future of Arda, or how long it is ordained to endure. But it will not endure for ever. It was made by Eru, but He is not in it. The One only has no limits. Arda, and Eä itself, must therefore be bounded. You see us, the Quendi, still in the first ages of our being, and the end is far off. As maybe among you death may seem to a young man in his strength; save that we have long years of life and thought already behind us. But the end will come. That we all know. And then we must die; we must perish utterly, it seems, for we belong to Arda (in hröa and fëa). And beyond that what? "The going out to no return," as you say; "the uttermost end, the irremediable loss"?
'Our hunter is slow-footed, but he never loses the trail. Beyond the day when he shall blow the mort, we have no certainty, no knowledge. And no one speaks to us of hope.'

We can see that Finrod doesn't completely share the "traditional" view that the Eldar's life is bound to Arda and would end with it. And by the way, I don't think it's the traditional view of the Eldar, or at least not the one of their Wises :
quote:
Therefore in the last resort the Elves were obliged to rest on 'naked estel' (as they said): the trust in Eru, that whatever He designed beyond the End would be recognized by each fëa as wholly satisfying (at the least). Probably it would contain joys unforeseeable. But they remained in the belief that it would remain in intelligible relation with their present nature and desires, proceed from them, and include them.
On Estel and amdir now: both can be translated by "hope", but not the same kind of hope. To distinguish them, Tolkien often (but not always) uses the capital for Estel ("Hope" then).
quote:
'What is hope?' she said. 'An expectation of good, which though uncertain has some foundation in what is known? Then we have none.'
'That is one thing that Men call "hope",' said Finrod. 'Amdir we call it, "looking up". But there is another which is founded deeper. Estel we call it, that is "trust". It is not defeated by the ways of the world, for it does not come from experience, but from our nature and first being. If we are indeed the Eruhin, the Children of the One, then He will not suffer Himself to be deprived of His own, not by any Enemy, not even by ourselves. This is the last foundation of Estel, which we keep even when we contemplate the End: of all His designs the issue must be for His Children's joy.

At this point, we have amdir, an expectation of good, which though uncertain has some foundation in what is known. And then Estel. What is Estel ? It's "trust" and it's "not defeated by the ways of the world".
Further, in the Commentary on the Athrabeth, we can learn more things on that Estel - trust. Trust in who, or in what ?
quote:
Therefore in the last resort the Elves were obliged to rest on 'naked estel' (as they said): the trust in Eru, that whatever He designed beyond the End would be recognized by each fëa as wholly satisfying (at the least).

[...]

More probably, they were not informed by the will or design of Eru, who appears in the Elvish tradition to demand two things from His Children (of either Kindred): belief in Him, and proceeding from that, hope or trust in Him (called by the Eldar estel).

Here whe have it : trust in Eru. Which gives a theological touch to this kind of Hope, and allows us to go further : we know that Tolkien was Christian, and, although I'm not myself Christian, this is of relevance here : Christianity recognised three theological virtues : Faith, Charity, and ... Hope ! And that Hope is also defined by Trust in God.

One could also carry on with Aragorn being also called Estel, then link it with another one of his names, Envinyatar, and then think about the meaning of Arda Envinyanta. Quite a nice picture in the end []

Edit : oops, Varna, I didn't see your post before posting mine []

[ 07-12-2006, 04:58 AM: Message edited by: Eluchil ]

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Roll of Honor Athene
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This is completely fascinating... *hasn't got to this bit yet*

So the Elves' concept of heaven (because that is what we are talking about, no?) includes the same desires that motivated them when they were of Arda?

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Eluchil
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Heaven ? Tolkien does not speak of Heaven, but of Arda Remade, Arda Envinyanta. A kind of Heavenly Arda, perhaps ...

As for desire, yes, in this meaning :
quote:
Desire. The Elves insisted that 'desires', especially such fundamental desires as are here dealt with, were to be taken as indications of the true natures of the Incarnates, and of the direction in which their unmarred fulfilment must lie.

Commentary on the Athrabeth, Author's note 8.


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Roll of Honor Athene
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quote:
whatever He designed beyond the End
Could be interpreted as heaven, in one form or another?
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Roll of Honor Varnafindë
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The Bible (the last two chapters of Revelation) talks about a new Heaven and a new Earth, saying that God will dwell with Men in the Holy City in the new Earth.

If we are to see any parallell with the Bible at all, Arda Remade would be the new Earth part of that picture.

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Roll of Honor Athene
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OK. The afterlife. Post-Apocalyse. Reincarnation. Whatever you want to call it.

E: Actually, maybe I should have just said "the here-after" because that covers all eventualities. []

[ 07-12-2006, 05:36 AM: Message edited by: Athene ]

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Eluchil
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quote:
Post-Apocalyse.
Exactly, the "End", as far as I know, is always used in the Legendarium as refering to the End of Time, and the End of Arda Marred []
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Roll of Honor Athene
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Interesting. [] So there is debate as to exactly which End we are referring.
[] [] []
Keep it up, O Knowledgeable Ones!

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Eluchil
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En of Time and End of Arda Marred are the same thing in fact []
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That's a complex question; it's like reaching the North Pole and then going straight upward (according to Stephen Hawking anyway) []
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