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In J. R. R. Tolkien's fictional universe of Middle-earth, the Half-elven (Sindarin singular Peredhel, plural Peredhil, Quenya singular Perelda) are the children of the union of Elves and Men. Of these, the most significant were the products of couplings between the Eldar (the Elves who followed the Call to Valinor) and the Edain (the Men of the Three Houses of early Men who allied themselves with the Eldar in their war against Morgoth).
There were three recorded unions of the Edain and Eldar that generated descendants: They were Idril and Tuor, Lúthien and Beren, Arwen and Aragorn. The first two couples wed during the final part of the First Age of Middle-earth while the third married at the end of the Third Age (some six thousand-five hundred years later). The third couple descended not only from the first two couples, but also from the twin Peredhil, Elros Tar-Minyatur (32–442) and Elrond, who chose mankind and elvenkind as their respective races—thereby severing their fates and those of their descendants. In Appendix A of The Return of the King, Tolkien notes that by the marriage of Arwen and Aragorn "the long-sundered branches of the Half-elven were reunited and their line was restored". The second union was the only one of the three marriages in which the Elf involved (Idril) did not become mortal; instead Tuor was joined to the Elves. In all known cases, the husband was mortal, while the wife was Elven.
There were two "near" cases of unions between Edain and Eldar: the Elf Finduilas fell in love with the Adan Turin, and the woman Andreth fell in love with the Elf Aegnor (brother of the Elven King Finrod Felagund). In neither case was the union completed; in the former, Finduilas perished after the Sack of Nargothrond; in the latter, Aegnor chose not to marry in time of war.
The First Age
Two important marriages in the First Age of Middle-earth resulted in the blending of Elvish and mortal blood.
The first of these was between the mortal Beren, of the House of Bëor, and Lúthien, daughter of the Elf Thingol, king of the Sindar, and Melian, a Maia. Beren died in the quest for the Silmaril, and in despair, Lúthien's spirit departed her body and made its way to the halls of Mandos. Mandos allowed them a unique fate, and they were re-bodied as mortals in Middle-earth, where they dwelt until their second deaths.
Their son Dior, heir of the Sindarin kingdom of Doriath and of the Silmaril, was thus one-quarter Elvish by blood and one-quarter Maian (thus half-immortal), and half-human (thus half-mortal). He was killed while still young, when the sons of Fëanor sacked Doriath.
Dior's wife was Nimloth, a Sindarin Elf, and with her he had three children: Elwing, Eluréd and Elurín. Eluréd and Elurín were slain along with Dior—or escaped, never to be heard of again, while Elwing escaped to the Mouths of Sirion.
The second marriage of Men and Elves in the First Age was between Tuor of the House of Hador, another branch of the Edain, and Idril, an Elf, though half Noldorin and half Vanyarin in ancestry. Their son was Eärendil. After the fall of Gondolin, Eärendil also escaped to the Mouths of Sirion, and married Elwing. They had twin sons, Elrond and Elros. Both sons are one sixteenth Maiar, nine sixteenths elven (five thirty-seconds Vanyarin, three thirty-seconds Noldorin, five sixteenths Sindarin) and three eighths human (one quarter of the House of Bëor, one sixteenth of the House of Haleth, and one sixteenth of the House of Hador).
Uniquely, Eärendil and Elwing, together with their sons Elrond and Elros, were granted their choice of fates: to be counted as Elves (free to dwell in the blessed Undying Lands for as long as Arda endures) or to be counted as Human (entitled to the Gift of Men whereby, through death, their spirits are freed to enter the unknown beyond Arda). Should this Choice have not been granted, they, like all other Half-Elves, would have been automatically mortal.
Eärendil would rather have chosen the kindred of Men, but Elwing preferred elvenkind. Moreover, having sailed to the Undying Lands with the power of the Silmaril, Eärendil was not permitted to return to mortal lands. Thereafter he was set aloft, to sail forever the heavens in his ship Vingilot, the Silmaril of Beren and Lúthien on the prow. In Middle-earth, he was seen as the evening star, and the light of his Silmaril was captured in the Phial of Galadriel. Elwing built a tower in the Shadowy Seas and often met him on his daily return.
Elros chose to be counted among mortals, and became Tar-Minyatur, the first king of Númenor. He finally took his death (for those kings had the freedom and grace to die at will) at the age of five hundred. The descendants of Elros were not given this choice, but their lifespan was enhanced several times that of ordinary Men. In later times the Númenórean kings, descendants of Elros, regretted their forefather's choice, and this helped lead to the Downfall of Númenor.
Elrond chose to be counted among the Elves, joining the court of Gil-galad until the end of the Second Age. He also founded Rivendell—haven of the Peredhil—in the Second Age. He married the Elf Celebrían, daughter of Celeborn and Galadriel, and sailed into the West at the conclusion of the War of the Ring.
The children of Elrond were also given choice of kindred, and therefore Arwen could choose to be counted among the Edain even though her father hoped she would accompany him to Elvenhome in the West. But she chose otherwise, marrying Aragorn II Elessar, king of the Reunited Kingdom, and died alone at the age of 2,901 years, grieving the brevity of her mortal happiness. Their son Eldarion and their daughters were not counted as Half-elven, but rather as Dúnedain restored.
It is not stated in Tolkien's books whether Arwen's brothers, Elladan and Elrohir, chose to be of the Edain or Eldar. But their decision, too, was to be manifested by accompanying their father over the sea at the time of his own departure — or not. Yet they are described as remaining at Rivendell, so some readers conclude that they exercised their right to live and die in Middle-earth as Edain.
Line of the Half-elven
|Half-elven family tree|
It was a tradition in Dol Amroth that Imrazôr the Númenórean had married an Elf and therefore his descendants, the Princes of Dol Amroth, were of Elven descent. Legolas, an Elf of Mirkwood, believed as much upon meeting Prince Imrahil, but the matter is probed no further in The Lord of the Rings. In Tolkien's Unfinished Tales, however, Imrazôr's wife in one account is given as Mithrellas, handmaiden of Nimrodel, a Silvan Elf who resisted the encroachment of the Eldar in her homeland, Lothlórien.
In The Hobbit reference is made to a rumour among Hobbit folk that a Took ancestor of Bilbo Baggins had taken a "fairy" (i.e. Elf) wife, but the allegation is immediately dismissed as a simplistic explanation for the sometimes atypical behaviour of the Took clan.
In The Book of Lost Tales (published in two parts), the young Tolkien originally intended Eärendil, then spelled Earendel, to be the first of the Half-elven. Early versions of The Tale of Beren and Lúthien had Beren as an Elf. The earliest version of the tale of Túrin Turambar had Tamar, the character Tolkien later renamed Brandir, as a Half-elf; Tolkien mentioned this in a way that implied he did not consider Half-elven descent especially remarkable at the time he wrote that story.
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1977), Christopher Tolkien, ed., The Silmarillion, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, ISBN 0-395-25730-1
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1984), Christopher Tolkien, ed., The Book of Lost Tales, 1, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, ISBN 0-395-35439-0
- .The latest version of the text directly written by JRRT was in The Lost Road (Book Five of HoME), and made it explicit that "Now all those who have the blood of mortal Men, in whatever part, great or small, are mortal, unless other doom be granted to them; but in this matter the power of doom is given to me. This is my decree: to Earendel and to Elwing and to their sons shall be given leave each to choose freely under which kindred they shall be judged." [The words of Manwe on pages 326-327). Christopher Tolkien further observed (pages 334-335) 'It is to be observed that according to the judgement of Manwe Dior Thingol's Heir, son of Beren, was mortal irrespective of the choice of his mother.'
- "Half-elven". Tolkien Gateway.