|Children of Ilúvatar|
In J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium, Elves are one of the races that inhabit a fictional Earth, often called Middle-earth, and set in the remote past. Unlike Men and Dwarves, Elves are immortal. They appear in The Hobbit and in The Lord of the Rings, but their complex history is described more fully in The Silmarillion. Tolkien had been writing about Elves long before he published The Hobbit. Like many of the other concepts Tolkien introduced in his books, elves have become a staple of fantasy literature both in the West and in Japan.
- 1 Development
- 2 History
- 3 Life cycle
- 4 Names and naming conventions
- 5 Elvish languages
- 6 Adaptations
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 External links
The modern English word elf derives from the Old English word ælf (which has cognates in all other Germanic languages). Numerous types of elves appear in Germanic mythology, the West Germanic concept appears to have come to differ from the Scandinavian notion in the early Middle Ages, and Anglo-Saxon concept diverged even further, possibly under Celtic influence. Tolkien would make it clear in a letter that his Elves differ from those "of the better known lore", referring to Scandinavian mythology.
By 1915 when Tolkien was writing his first elven poems, the words elf, fairy and gnome had many divergent and contradictory associations. Tolkien had been gently warned against using the term 'fairy', which John Garth supposes may have been due to the word becoming increasingly used to indicate homosexuality, although despite this warning Tolkien continued to use it.
By the late 19th century, the term 'fairy' had been taken up as a utopian theme, and was used to critique social and religious values, a tradition which Tolkien along with T. H. White are seen to continue. One of the last of the Victorian Fairy-paintings, The Piper of Dreams by Estella Canziani, sold 250,000 copies and was well known within the trenches of World War I where Tolkien saw active service. Illustrated posters of Robert Louis Stevenson's poem Land of Nod had been sent out by a philanthropist to brighten servicemen's quarters, and Faery was used in other contexts as an image of "Old England" to inspire patriotism.
According to Marjorie Burns, Tolkien eventually chose the term elf over fairy, but still retained some doubts. In his 1939 essay On Fairy-Stories, Tolkien wrote that "English words such as elf have long been influenced by French (from which fay and faërie, fairy are derived); but in later times, through their use in translation, fairy and elf have acquired much of the atmosphere of German, Scandinavian, and Celtic tales, and many characteristics of the huldu-fólk, the daoine-sithe, and the tylwyth-teg."
Traditional Victorian dancing fairies and elves appear in much of Tolkien's early poetry, and have influence upon his later works in part due to the influence of a production of J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan in Birmingham in 1910 and his familiarity with the work of Catholic mystic poet, Francis Thompson which Tolkien had acquired in 1914.
O! I hear the tiny horns
Of enchanted leprechauns
And the padded feet of many gnomes a-coming!— JRR Tolkien
As a philologist, Tolkien's interest in languages led him to invent several languages of his own as a pastime. In considering the nature of who might speak these languages, and what stories they might tell, Tolkien again turned to the concept of elves.
The Book of Lost Tales (c. 1917–1927)
In his The Book of Lost Tales, Tolkien develops a theme that the diminutive fairy-like race of Elves had once been a great and mighty people, and that as Men took over the world, these Elves had "diminished" themselves. This theme was influenced especially by the god-like and human-sized Ljósálfar of Norse mythology, and medieval works such as Sir Orfeo, the Welsh Mabinogion, Arthurian romances and the legends of the Tuatha Dé Danann. Some of the stories Tolkien wrote as elven history have been seen to be directly influenced by Celtic mythology. For example, "Flight of The Noldoli" is based on the Tuatha Dé Danann and Lebor Gabála Érenn, and their migratory nature comes from early Irish/Celtic history. John Garth also sees that with the underground enslavement of the Noldoli to Melkor, Tolkien was essentially rewriting Irish myth regarding the Tuatha Dé Danann into a Christian eschatology.
The name Inwe (in the first draft Ing), given by Tolkien to the eldest of the elves and his clan, is similar to the name found in Norse mythology as that of the god Ingwi-Freyr (and Ingui-Frea in Anglo-Saxon paganism), a god who is gifted the elf world Álfheimr. Terry Gunnell also claims that the relationship between beautiful ships and the Elves is reminiscent of the god Njörðr and the god Freyr's ship Skíðblaðnir. He also retains the usage of the French derived term "fairy" for the same creatures.
The larger Elves are also inspired by Tolkien's personal Catholic theology—as representing the state of Men in Eden who have not yet "fallen", similar to humans but fairer and wiser, with greater spiritual powers, keener senses, and a closer empathy with nature. Tolkien wrote of them: "They are made by man in his own image and likeness; but freed from those limitations which he feels most to press upon him. They are immortal, and their will is directly effective for the achievement of imagination and desire."
In The Book of Lost Tales, Tolkien includes both the more serious "medieval" type of elves such as Fëanor and Turgon alongside the frivolous, Jacobean type of elves such as the Solosimpi and Tinúviel.
Alongside the idea of the greater Elves, Tolkien also developed the idea of children visiting Valinor, the island-homeland of the Elves in their sleep. Elves would also visit children at night and comfort them if they had been chided or were upset. This theme, linking elves with children's dreams and nocturnal travelling was largely abandoned in Tolkien's later writing.
The Hobbit (c. 1930–1937)
Along with Book of Lost Tales, Douglas Anderson shows that in The Hobbit, Tolkien again includes both the more serious 'medieval' type of elves, such as Elrond and the Wood-elf king, and frivolous elves, such as the elvish guards at Rivendell.
The Quenta Silmarillion (c. 1937)
In 1937, having had his manuscript for The Silmarillion rejected by a publisher who disparaged all the "eye-splitting Celtic names" that Tolkien had given his Elves, Tolkien denied the names had a Celtic origin:
Needless to say they are not Celtic! Neither are the tales. I do know Celtic things (many in their original languages Irish and Welsh), and feel for them a certain distaste: largely for their fundamental unreason. They have bright colour, but are like a broken stained glass window reassembled without design. They are in fact "mad" as your reader says — but I don't believe I am.
Dimitra Fimi proposes that these comments are a product of his Anglophilia rather than a commentary on the texts themselves or their actual influence on his writing, and cites evidence to this effect in her essay "'Mad' Elves and 'elusive beauty': some Celtic strands of Tolkien's mythology".
The Lord of the Rings (c. 1937–1949)
According to Tom Shippey, the theme of diminishment from semi-divine Elf to diminutive Fairy resurfaces in The Lord of the Rings in the dialogue of Galadriel. "Yet if you succeed, then our power is diminished, and Lothlórien will fade, and the tides of Time will sweep it away. We must depart into the West, or dwindle to a rustic folk of dell and cave, slowly to forget and to be forgotten."
Writing in 1954, part way through proofreading The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien claimed the Elvish language Sindarin has a character very like British-Welsh "because it seems to fit the rather 'Celtic' type of legends and stories told of its speakers". In the same letter, Tolkien goes on to say that the elves had very little in common with elves or fairies of Europe, and that they really represent men with greater artistic ability, beauty and a longer life span. Tolkien also notes an Elven bloodline was the only real claim to 'nobility' that the Men of Middle-earth can have. Tolkien also wrote that the elves are primarily to blame for many of the ills of Middle-earth in The Lord of the Rings, having independently created the Three Rings in order to stop their domains in mortal-lands from 'fading' and attempting to prevent inevitable change and new growth.
Originally, in Tolkien's writings from the 1910s and 1920s, Ingwë, Finwë and Elwë (their final names) were the eldest of the Elves. By 1959 or 1960, Tolkien wrote a detailed account of the awakening of the Elves, called Cuivienyarna, part of Quendi and Eldar. Ingwë, Finwë and Elwë now became the first ambassadors and the Kings of the Elves. This text only saw print in The War of the Jewels, part of the analytical The History of Middle-earth series, in 1994, but a similar version was included in The Silmarillion in 1977.
According to the earliest account, the first Elves are awakened by Eru Ilúvatar near the bay of Cuiviénen during the Years of the Trees in the First Age. They awake under the starlit sky, as the Sun and Moon have yet to be created. The first Elves to awake are three pairs: Imin ("First") and his wife Iminyë, Tata ("Second") and Tatië, and Enel ("Third") and Enelyë.
Imin, Tata, and Enel and their wives join up and walk through the forests. They come across six, nine, and twelve pairs of Elves, and each "patriarch" claims the pairs as his folk in order. The now sixty Elves dwell by the rivers, and they invent poetry and music in Middle-earth (the continent). Journeying further, they come across eighteen pairs of Elves watching the stars, whom Tata claims as his. These are tall and dark-haired, the fathers of most of the Noldor. The ninety-six Elves now invented many new words. Continuing their journey, they find twenty-four pairs of Elves, singing without language, and Enel adds them to his people. These are the ancestors of most of the Lindar or "singers", later called Teleri. They find no more Elves; Imin's people, the smallest group, are the ancestors of the Vanyar. All in all the Elves number 144. Because all Elves had been found in groups of twelve, twelve becomes their base number and 144 their highest number (for a long time), and none of the later Elvish languages have a common name for a greater number.
The Silmarillion states that Melkor, the Dark Lord, had already captured some wandering Elves, and twisted and mutilated them until they became the Orcs. However, Tolkien ultimately became uncomfortable with this Elvish origin, and devised different theories about the origin of Orcs.
The Valar decided to summon the Elves to Valinor rather than leaving them dwelling in the place where they were first awakened, near the Cuiviénen lake in the eastern extremity of Middle-earth. They sent Oromë, who took Ingwë, Finwë and Elwë as ambassadors to Valinor.
Returning to Middle-earth, Ingwë, Finwë and Elwë convinced a large host to take the Great Journey to Valinor. Not all Elves accepted the summons though, and those who did not became known as the Avari, The Unwilling.
The others were called Eldar, the People of the Stars by Oromë, and they took Ingwë, Finwë and Elwë as their leaders, and became respectively the Vanyar, Noldor and Teleri. On their journey, some of the Teleri feared the Misty Mountains and dared not cross them. They turned back and stayed in the vales of the Anduin, and became the Nandor; these were led by Lenwë.
Oromë led the others over the Misty Mountains and Ered Lindon into Beleriand. There Elwë became lost, and the Teleri stayed behind looking for him. The Vanyar and the Noldor moved onto a floating island that was moved by Ulmo to Valinor.
After years, Ulmo returned to Beleriand to seek out the remaining Teleri. As Elwë had not yet been found, a great part of the Teleri took his brother Olwë as their leader and were ferried to Valinor. Some Teleri stayed behind though, still looking for Elwë, and others stayed on the shores, being called by Ossë. They took Círdan as their leader and became the Falathrim. All Teleri who stayed in Beleriand later became known as the Sindar.
note: Ingwë, Finwë and Elwë are not the same elves as Imin, Tata and Enel
In Valinor, Fëanor, son of Finwë, and the greatest of the Noldor, created the Silmarils in which he stored a part of the light of the Two Trees that were lighting Valinor. After three ages in the Halls of Mandos, Melkor was released, feigning reform. He however spread his evil and started to poison the minds of the Elves against the Valar. Eventually he killed Finwë and stole the Silmarils. Fëanor then named him Morgoth (S. The Black Enemy). Fëanor and his seven sons then swore to take the Silmarils back, and led a large army of the Noldor to Beleriand.
Wars of Beleriand
In Beleriand, Elwë was eventually found, and married Melian the Maia. He became the overlord of Beleriand, naming himself Thingol (S. Grey-cloak). After the First Battle of Beleriand, during the first rising of the Moon, the Noldor arrived in Beleriand. They laid a siege around Morgoth's fortress of Angband, but were eventually defeated. The Elves never regained the upper hand, finally losing the hidden kingdoms Nargothrond, Doriath, and Gondolin near the culmination of the war.
When all was lost and the Elves had been forced to the furthest southern reaches of Beleriand, Eärendil the Mariner, a half-elf from the House of Finwë, sailed to Valinor to ask the Valar for help. Then the Ban of the Noldor was lifted, and the Valar started the War of Wrath, in which Morgoth was finally overcome.
Second and Third Age
After the War of Wrath, the Valar tried to summon the Elves back to Valinor. Many complied, but some stayed. During the Second Age they founded the Realms of Lindon, Eregion and Mirkwood. Sauron, Morgoth’s former servant, made war upon them, but with the aid of the Númenóreans they defeated him.
During the Second and Third Age, they held some protected realms with the aid of the Rings of Power, but after the War of the Ring they waned further, and most Elves left Middle-earth for Valinor. Tolkien's published writings give somewhat contradictory hints as to what happened to the Elves of Middle-earth after the One Ring was destroyed at the end of the Third Age.
After the destruction of the One Ring, the power of the Three Rings of the Elves would also end and the Age of Men would begin. Elves that remained in Middle-earth were doomed to a slow decline until, in the words of Galadriel, they faded and became a "rustic folk of dell and cave," and were greatly diminished from their ancient power and nobility. While the power of the remaining Noldor would be immediately lessened, the "fading" of all Elvenkind was a phenomenon that would play out over hundreds and even thousands of years; until, in fact, our own times, when occasional glimpses of rustic Elves would fuel our folktales and fantasies.
There are many references in The Lord of the Rings to the continued existence of Elves in Middle-earth during the early years of the Fourth Age. Elladan and Elrohir, the sons of Elrond, do not accompany their father when the White Ship bearing the Ring-bearer and the chief Noldorin leaders sails from the Grey Havens to Valinor; they are said to have remained in Lindon for a time. Celeborn is said (in Appendix A) to have added most of southern Mirkwood to the realm of Lórien at the end of the Third Age, but elsewhere Tolkien wrote that Celeborn dwelt for a while in Lindon before at last leaving Middle-earth for Valinor.
Tolkien also wrote that Legolas founded an elf colony in Ithilien during King Elessar's reign in the Fourth Age, and that the elves there assisted in the rebuilding of Gondor. They primarily resided in southern Ithilien, along the shores of the Anduin. After Elessar's death in 120 F.A., Legolas built a ship and sailed to Valinor and, eventually, all of the elves in Ithilien followed him. It is also implied that Elves continued to dwell at the Grey Havens, at least for a certain period. Tolkien states that Sam Gamgee sailed from the Havens decades after Elrond's departure, implying that some Elves might have remained in Mithlond at that time.
In "The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen" that is found in Appendix A, Tolkien depicts a Middle-earth where most Elves have already left. The majority of those who remained lived in Mirkwood, while a much smaller population was in Lindon. Aragorn speaks of the empty garden of Elrond in Rivendell. Most strikingly, after Elessar's voluntary death, Arwen flees to a Lórien that is depicted as wholly abandoned, and gives up her own spirit in its sad and silent confines.
As told in The History of Middle-earth and in Tolkien's Letters, Elves had a different life cycle from Men. Most of the following information strictly refers only to the Eldar, as found in his essay Laws and Customs among the Eldar, found in Morgoth's Ring.
Elves are born about one year from their conception. The day of their conception is celebrated, not the actual birthday itself. Their minds develop more quickly than their bodies; by their first year, they can speak, walk and even dance, and their quicker onset of mental maturity makes young Elves seem, to Men, older than they really are. Physical puberty comes in around their fiftieth to one hundredth year (by age fifty they reach their adult height), and by their first hundred years of life outside the womb all Elves are fully grown. Elven bodies eventually stop aging physically, while human bodies do not. However, elves may still have a subjective feeling of aging, as expressed by Legolas in The Two Towers, who thought he might get younger if he met a living ent.
As it was exemplified with Legolas, elves are satisfied with short and shallow sleep. They usually sleep laying on their back with hands crossed on chest, and eyes open. Elves have an ability to see in darkness and to see rather far. Their hearing is also exceptional. Like humans, they are sensitive to the quality of air.
Sexuality, marriage, and parenthood
Elves marry freely and for love early in life. Monogamy is practiced and adultery is unthinkable; they marry only once (Finwë, first High King of the Noldor, was an exception, as he remarried after his first wife died).
Spouses can choose each other even long before they are married, thus becoming betrothed. The betrothal is subject to parental approval unless the parties are of age and intend to marry soon, at which point the betrothal is announced. They exchange rings and the betrothal lasts at least a year, and is revocable by the return of the rings; however, it is rarely broken. After their formal betrothal, the couple appoint a date, at least a year later, for the wedding.
Only the words exchanged by the bride and groom (including the speaking of the name of Eru Ilúvatar) and the consummation are required for marriage. More formally, the couple's families celebrate the marriage with a feast. The parties give back their betrothal rings and receive others worn on their index fingers. The bride’s mother gives the groom a jewel to wear (Galadriel's gift of the Elfstone to Aragorn reflects this tradition; she is grandmother to his betrothed, Arwen, Arwen's mother Celebrían having left Middle-earth for Valinor after grievous psychological injury after her capture by Orcs and liberation by her sons).
The Elves view the sexual act as extremely special and intimate, for it leads to the conception and birth of children. Extra-marital and premarital sex are unthinkable, adultery is also unheard of and fidelity between spouses is absolute. Yet separation during pregnancy or during the early years of parenthood (caused by war, for example) is so grievous to the couple that they prefer to have children in peaceful times. Living Elves cannot be raped or forced to have sex; before that they will lose the will to endure and go to Mandos.
Elves have few children, as a rule (Fëanor and Nerdanel were an exception, conceiving seven sons), and there are relatively sizeable intervals between each child (but see below for notes on Elvish birth rates in Middle-earth versus in Aman). They are soon preoccupied with other pleasures; their libido wanes and they focus their interests elsewhere, like the arts. Nonetheless, they take great delight in the union of love, and they cherish the days of bearing and raising children as the happiest days of their lives.
There seems to only be one known example of extreme marital strife in Tolkien's mythology, that of Eöl and Aredhel, in which the latter actually left the former without his knowledge, resulting in Eöl ultimately killing her (albeit he was actually trying to kill their son Maeglin). However, this marriage was far from typical of the Elves.
The Elves, particularly the Noldor, preoccupy themselves with various things such as smithwork, sculpture, music and other arts, and of course, what to eat. Males and females can do almost everything equally; however, the females often specialize in the arts of healing while the males go to war. This is because they believe that taking life interferes with the ability to preserve life. However, Elves are not stuck in rigid roles; females can defend themselves at need as well as males, and many males are skilled healers as well, such as Elrond.
Eventually, if they do not die in battle or from some other cause, the Elves of Middle-earth grow weary of it and desire to go to Valinor, where the Valar originally sheltered their kind. Those who wish to leave for the Undying Lands often go by boats provided at the Grey Havens, where Círdan the Shipwright dwells with his folk.
"The third cycle of life", aging, and facial hair
Despite Tolkien's statements in The Hobbit that Elves (and Hobbits) have no beards, Círdan in fact has a beard, which appears to be an anomaly and a simple oversight. However, Tolkien later devised at least three "cycles of life" for Elves around 1960; Círdan had a beard because he was in his third cycle of life. (Mahtan, Nerdanel's father, had a beard in his second cycle of life, a rare phenomenon.) It is unclear what these cycles exactly are, since Tolkien left no notes further explaining this. Apparently, beards were the only sign of further natural physical ageing beyond maturity.
Nevertheless, Tolkien may have ultimately changed his mind about whether Elves had facial hair. As Christopher Tolkien states in Unfinished Tales, his father wrote in December 1972 or later that the Elvish strain in Men, such as Aragorn, was "observable in the beardlessness of those who were so descended", since "it was a characteristic of all Elves to be beardless". This would seemingly contradict the information above.
Elves sometimes appear to age under great stress. Círdan appeared to be aged himself, since he is described as looking old, save for the stars in his eyes; this may be due to all the sorrows he had seen and lived through since the First Age. Also, the people of Gwindor of Nargothrond had trouble recognizing him after his time as a prisoner of Morgoth.
Elves are naturally immortal, and remain unwearied with age. In addition to their immortality, Elves can recover from wounds which would normally kill a mortal Man. However, Elves can be slain, or die of grief and weariness.
Spirits of dead Elves go to the Halls of Mandos in Valinor. After a certain period of time and rest that serves as "cleansing", their spirits are clothed in bodies identical to their old ones. However, they almost never go back to Middle-earth and remain in Valinor instead. An exception was Glorfindel in The Lord of the Rings; as shown in later books, Tolkien decided he was a "reborn" hero from The Silmarillion rather than an individual with the same name. A rare and more unusual example of an Elf coming back from the Halls of Mandos is found in the tale of Beren and Lúthien, as Lúthien was the other Elf to be sent back to Middle-earth – as a mortal, however. Tolkien's Elvish words for "spirit" and "body" were fëa (plural fëar) and hröa (plural hröar) respectively.
Eventually, their immortal spirits will overwhelm and consume their bodies, rendering them "bodiless", whether they opt to go to Valinor or remain in Middle-earth. At the end of the world, all Elves will have become invisible to mortal eyes, except to those to whom they wish to manifest themselves. Tolkien called the Elves of Middle-earth who had undergone this process "Lingerers".
The lives of Elves only endure as the world endures. It is said in the Second Prophecy of Mandos that at the end of time the Elves will join the other Children of Ilúvatar in singing the Second Music of the Ainur. However it is disputable whether the Prophecy is canon, and the published Silmarillion states that only Men shall participate for certain in the Second Music, and that the ultimate fate of the Elves is unknown. However, they do not believe that Eru will abandon them to oblivion.
Names and naming conventions
In The Lord of the Rings Tolkien pretends to be merely the translator of Bilbo and Frodo's memoirs, collectively known as the Red Book of Westmarch. He says that those names and terms in the work (as well in the earlier The Hobbit) that appear in English are meant to be his purported translations from the Common Speech.
Tolkien repeatedly expressed his misgivings concerning the name "elf" and its "associations of a kind that I should particularly desire not to be present [...] e.g. those of Drayton or of A Midsummer Night's Dream", for the purpose of translations stating his preference that "the oldest available form of the name to be used, and leave it to acquire its own associations for readers of my tale". He wanted to avoid the Victorian notions of "fairies" or mischievous imps associated with the word and was aiming at the more elevated notions of beings "supposed to possess formidable magical powers in early Teutonic mythology" (OED viz. the Old English ælf, from Proto-Germanic *albiz).
The Elves are also called the "Firstborn" (Q. Minnónar) or the "Elder Kindred" (as opposed to Men, the Secondborn) as they were "awakened" before Men by Eru Ilúvatar (the creator). The Elves named themselves Quendi ("the Speakers"), in honour of the fact that, when they were created, they were the only living beings able to speak. The Dúnedain called them Nimîr ("the Beautiful"), while their usual name in Sindarin was Eledhrim.
In other writings, part of The History of Middle-earth, Tolkien details Elvish naming conventions. The Quenya word for "name" was essë. An Elf of Valinor was typically given one name (ataressë) at birth by the father. It usually reflected either the name of the father or mother, indicating the person's descent, to which later some distinguishing prefix could be added. As the Elf grew older, they received a second name (amilessë), given by the mother. This name was extremely important and reflected personality, skills, or fate, sometimes being "prophetic".
The epessë or the "after-name" is the third type. It was given later in life, not necessarily by kin, as a title of admiration and honour. In some circumstances, yet another name was chosen by the Elf themselves, called kilmessë meaning "self-name".
The "true names" remained the first two, though an Elf could be referred to by any of these. Mother-names were usually not used by those who did not know the Elf well. In later history and song any of the four could become the one generally used and recognized.
After their Exile to Middle-earth and adoption of Sindarin as the daily speech, most of the Noldor also chose for themselves a name that fitted the style of that language, translating or altering one of their Quenya names.
Several examples include:
- Galadriel is the Sindarin translation of Alatáriel, the Telerin Quenya epessë originally given to her by Celeborn, which means "Maiden Crowned by a Radiant Garland". Her father-name is Artanis (noble woman) and her mother-name is Nerwen (man-maiden).
- Maedhros, the oldest son of Fëanor, was called Russandol (copper-top) by his brothers: He had earned this epessë because of his ruddy hair. His father-name had been Nelyafinwë (Finwë the third: Fëanor's own father-name had been (Curu) Finwë), and his mother-name Maitimo (well-shaped one). Maedhros is a rendering into Sindarin of parts of his mother-name and epessë.
- Finrod is usually referred to as Felagund (hewer of caves), a name the Dwarves had given to him (originally Felakgundu) because of his dwellings at Nargothrond. Finrod adopted the name, and made it a title of honour.
- Círdan (Shipwright) is the epessë of a Telerin Elf who remained in Beleriand, and later Lindon, until the end of the Third Age. His original name was only rarely remembered in traditions as Nōwē, and he was referred to always as Círdan, a title which had been given to him as Lord of the Falas.
Tolkien created many languages for his Elves. His interest was primarily philological, and he said his stories grew out of his languages. Indeed, the languages were the first thing Tolkien ever created for his mythos, starting with what he originally called "Elfin" or "Qenya". This was later spelled Quenya (High-elven) and, along with Sindarin (Grey-elven), is one of the two most complete of Tolkien's constructed languages. In addition to these two Tolkien also created many other (related) Elvish languages.
The 1977 Rankin Bass animated version of The Hobbit, with character designs by Lester Abrams, features Wood Elves as green-skinned warriors with slightly Austrian-German accents. High Elves are shown with pointed ears and beards.
In Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings film series (2001–2003), all of the elves (including Wood Elves) are portrayed as fair, graceful, and wise beings with supernatural abilities like enhanced eyesight. They facially resemble humans with much longer and finer hair and an apparent inner glow. They also have pointed ears and no facial hair.
In Middle-earth Role Playing (Iron Crown Enterprises, 1986), three tribes of elves are presented as player character race options, the Silvan, Sindar and Noldor – each receiving statistic bonuses (ranging from 5 to 15) to all attributes apart from Strength, with the Noldor receiving the highest accumulative bonuses of any racial type in the game. All three tribes are statistically immune to disease (+100% chance of resistance), and must be given "Presence" as the highest randomly generated statistic. Elven characters also receive significant skill bonuses with missile weapons (such as a bow and arrow) and stealth skills (such as hiding).
All three elven tribes (Silvan, Noldor, Sindar) depicted in The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying Game (Decipher, Inc., 2001) have varying (one or two points) statistic bonuses to Bearing, Perception and Nimbleness, with the Noldor also receiving a bonus to Wits and the Sindar to Vitality, giving both of these the highest accumulative bonuses available to Player Characters. The system of skills, feats and flaws further outlines racial and cultural characteristics, bonuses being given to the Noldor in Lore and "Resisting the Shadow", to the Silvan elves for various wood-craft skills, and the Sindar to musical performance. All elves have the ability to enchant objects, and receive bonuses in any test regarding magic.
In The Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game (Games Workshop, 2001), Elves have similar statistics to similarly armed Men, except for much higher scores for their Fighting and Courage attributes. On average, Elven wargear (armour and weapons) give twice the advantage of weapons made by Men.
Some notable Elves include:
- Arwen Undómiel great, great granddaughter of Lúthien, Queen of Gondor in the Fourth Age.
- Beleg most skilled of all the Elves in hunting and tracking.
- Celeborn husband of Galadriel, Lord of Lothlórien in the Second and Third Ages.
- Celebrían daughter of Galadriel and Celeborn, wife of Elrond, mother of Elladan, Elrohir and Arwen.
- Celebrimbor maker of the Rings of Power, Lord of Eregion in the Second Age.
- Círdan Lord of the Grey Havens and one of the oldest Elves in Middle-earth at the end of the Third Age.
- Elrond great grandson of Lúthien, Lord of Imladris through the Third Age.
- Elwing wife of Eärendil.
- Fëanor often referred to as the mightiest of the Noldor, maker of the Silmarils.
- Finarfin King of the Noldor in Aman (after Finwë), father of Finrod and Galadriel.
- Fingolfin greatest warrior of all the Children of Ilúvatar, High-king of the exiled Noldor in the First Age.
- Finrod Felagund King of Nargothrond, son of Finarfin and brother of Galadriel.
- Galadriel the greatest of Elven women, Lady of Lothlórien in the Second and Third Ages.
- Gil-galad High-king of the Noldorin Elves in Exile in the Second Age.
- Glorfindel true savior of Frodo after his close call with morgul blade at Weathertop.
- Idril wife of Tuor and mother of Eärendil.
- Legolas one of Fellowship of the Ring, later Lord of the Elves of Ithilien in the Fourth Age.
- Lúthien enchantress, fairest of all the Children of Ilúvatar.
- Thingol King of Beleriand, tallest of all the Eldar, father of Lúthien.
- Thranduil King of the woodland Elves of Mirkwood, father of Legolas.
- Turgon King of Gondolin in the First Age, son of Fingolfin.
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