Friday, May 23, 2014

The Immortal Elves - A Similar Alien

I noticed that Galadrial and Celeborn didn't really come up in our discussion and neither did the Elessar. In the discussion, we seemed to unite Elves separate from Men but, they are similar to Men in their own way. It's worth noting that Tolkien named Galadrial second in greatness only to Fëanor and surpassing him in wisdom. She also was still “Beautiful and terrible as the Morning and Night” (LOTR bk 2) as she defied Fëanor and the Valar and kept going after suffering greatly. Tolkien uses the word “Pride” (Unfinished Tales) to describe Galadrial quite a lot. She rejected the pardon of the Valar for fighting Morgoth and she had a desire to rule a realm in Middle-Earth. In fact, she seems to be the only elf in the Lord of the Rings that considers taking the Ring, which is more often the failing of Men, such as Boromir. Now, she didn't claim it, but she admits that she very much wants to. She even admits to considering taking it by force, under the justification of the good deeds she could so with such power. She stated “In place of a Dark Lord, you will set up a Queen...All shall love me and despair!” in comparison to Boromir's “The Ring would give me power of Command. How I would drive the hosts of Mordor, and all men would flock to my banner!” (LOTR bk 2) They are slightly different dreams of power, but both amount to the same: 'Think of all I could accomplish with the Ring!' It is telling that Tolkien included Elves that would be tempted by this, despite their general separation from Men. That said, Galadrial turned the Ring down and was (apparently?) immediately redeemed by the Valar so she could return west.

There are other examples of Elves behaving more like Men. One only has to look at the story of Amroth, king of Lórien, who came before Galadrial and Celeborn. His father died fighting Sauron during the Great Alliance, and he inherited the Kingdom of Lórien. But just as quickly, it seems he did not have to mentality for governance, as he fell in love with a Silvan elf (he himself was Sindarin) Nimrodel, who was reluctant to live in Lórien with a Sindarin. She said “we shall be wedded when you bring me to a land of peace” (Unfinished Tales) and immediately Amroth “vowed to...leave his people, even in their time of need”. He dumped his Kingdom and ran away west to Gondor to prepare a ship. And Nimrodel never showed up. A storm blew the ship he was on from the coast where he was waiting and he jumped overboard trying to get back to land. He was never seen again. Such an act of rashness is not unheard of (for example, Fingolfin dueling Morgoth), but is unusually human in itself. It's an extreme that is rarely registered by the immortal, who tend to behave (as we said in class) more like mentors and (especially in the case of Galadrial) temper their actions with wisdom and consideration. The fact is that except where is came to Nimrodel, he was apparently a wise a good ruler: “he was valiant and wise, and his little kingdom was yet prosperous and beautiful.” (Unfinished Tales) Indeed, love was his ruin, and he charged blindly into it, dooming himself just as effectively as Fingolfin's charge to Morgoth. Galadrial moved quickly to occupy the power vacuum, as the Orcs would otherwise overrun it. The people were already fleeing when she and Celeborn set up their permanent home in Lórien. However, she again resisted the temptation of pride and did not declare herself Queen, just a guardian of the kingdom, similar to the Stewardship set up in Gondor. As a side note, an female elf did show up in Gondor and married the first Lord of Dol Amroth and had a kid before disappearing completely. Another man marrying an elf woman, although this time there wasn't the requisite quest involved (or it's not mentioned). Perhaps this is why she left? Perhaps it's because she was Silvan and not Sindarin?

The end of the Lord of the Rings depicts a world where Man has supplanted Elf, but it's interesting to note how complete the transition is. I refer to the Elessar and the power it holds. We discussed the symbolism of gems in class a while ago, but it seems to have come up again. This is somewhat strange as Tolkien appears to have written 2 tales about the Elessar. I say strange because it seems he didn't have a clear history of it and was found as an apparent draft, with no real editorial. Both agree that there was an original Elessar made by Enerdhil the jewel-smith in Goldolin. He gave it to Idril who gave it to Eärendil who took it with him on his voyage across the sea. Then it either comes back or Enerdhil makes a new one. The details are not terribly important. What matters is that the stone heals and causes growth of beautiful plants, and it ended up in the hands of Aragorn, who used it as his kingly title: Elessar Telcontar. It was either given to him directly by Galadrial or passed down from Galadrial to Celebrían to Arwen as an heirloom and then Arwen gave it to Aragorn. This seems to be an acknowledgement of the dominance of Men as Galadrial, the greatest, most powerful elf in Middle-earth, recedes into the west and all the immortal folk follow her (slowly and over a great time). It does bring the argument of the differences of Elves and Men back towards the idea that the elves are almost alien and with the rise of Men, they feel the need to withdraw. It is amazing that the elves accepted this, given their fairly human behavior before. Galadrial was extremely proud and sought power, but was wise enough to know which might corrupt her, but is that the take of all elves? Are the immortal elves really just going to go? Between the entirety of The Silmarillion and the other texts, I cannot believe that some elves would not choose to resist this change and remain in Middle-earth, having read about them fighting and dying for their homes countless times. But perhaps that is what makes them different and alien. Their certainty of an immortal land of peace would be appealing, I feel, to some humans. Not all, but some. Perhaps they simply were content to be remembered in legend. Maybe this is the point of the Elessar? To leave a record behind? Something tangible? In any case, there are a lot of questions about the immortal elves that I fear cannot be answered.



  1. Dear JSH,
    Thanks for your post comparing the characters of men and elves. As Lewis and other sources depict, elves were often seen as mischievous and strange. I find it interested how you point out how ‘human’ is the behavior and actions of the elves.
    Could we not go further, though? You say that intemperate, rash actions are uncharacteristic of elves, who “who tend to behave (as we said in class) more like mentors and (especially in the case of Galadrial) temper their actions with wisdom and consideration.” Wise and careful mentorship is one depiction of elves in and out of Tolkien. But do you think it is the dominant tendency in the Silmarillion, with which you are familiar? Couldn’t your point go further and say that elves and men typically behave similarly, with rashness, &c.?
    If this is so, we come more acutely to an older question: What differentiates the elvish character from men? Is it just longer life? Does Finrod reveal anything about the differentiating character of elves?

  2. When thinking about the difference in tendencies towards "rash behavior" in elves and men, I tend to dwell on/get stuck in "the effect of living forever" vs "innate differences between species". For example: If an elf was to live a lifespan comparable to a human's, how would that affect their tendency towards rash action? Or the other way around, what if a human were to live forever? It always seemed to me that if you knew you would have to live with and be affected by your decisions for several thousand years, you might put more consideration into them, regardless of any innate elvish or mannish characteristics. It might be interesting to look into the early Numenoreans, who might approximate "man-with-long-life." They were generally described as being wise and mentors to the other "wild" men of Middle-Earth, if I remember correctly, perhaps similar to the way you described the mentor relationship between elves and men. The similarity tends to bring me back towards the brotherhood between men and elves, along the lines of "they're not so different after all," and about the joys of reuniting the branches of the family that Tolkien seems to derive from his elf-man marriages.