Sundering of the Elves

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In J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium, the Elves or Quendi are a sundered (divided) people. They awoke at Cuiviénen on the continent of Middle-earth, where they were divided into three tribes: Minyar (the Firsts), Tatyar (the Seconds) and Nelyar (the Thirds). After some time, they were summoned by Oromë to live with the Valar in Valinor, on Aman. That summoning and the Great Journey that followed split the Elves into two main groups (and many minor ones), which were never fully reunited.


The Elves awoke at Cuiviénen, a bay on the eastern side of the Sea of Helcar, on the continent of Middle-earth, where they were divided into three tribes: Minyar (the Firsts), Tatyar (the Seconds) and Nelyar (the Thirds). After some time, they were summoned by the Vala Oromë, the huntsman, to live with him and the other Valar in Valinor, on Aman.

The Eldar are those who accepted the summons. Their name, literally Star People, was given to them by Oromë, in their own language, Primitive Quendian.[1][2]

The Avari are those who refused the summons.[2] Half of the Avari came from the largest tribe, the Nelyar, but most of the Nelyar went on the journey.[T 1]

Sundering of the Eldar[edit]

Arda in the First Age. The Elves awoke at Cuiviénen, on the Sea of Helcar (right) in Middle-earth, and many of them (green titles for kindreds) migrated (arrows) westwards to Valinor in Aman, though some stopped in Beleriand (top), and others returned to Beleriand later. Those who obeyed the summons to Aman were known as the Eldar; the rest, the Avari or refusers. Those who saw the blessed land of Aman were called Calaquendi, Elves of Light; those who did not were called the Moriquendi, Elves of Darkness. Locations are diagrammatic.

The Eldar migrated westwards across the north of Middle-earth, dividing into three groups. All the Minyar became the Vanyar, meaning the Fair Elves, with golden-blond hair.[2] Half of the Tatyar became the Noldor or Deep Elves, with deep knowledge of crafts and skills. More than half of the Nelyar became the Teleri (Those who come last) or, as they referred to themselves, the Lindar or Singers. They stayed on the east of Aman, in Tol Eressëa.[2]


Those of the Teleri who reached Beleriand by the Great Sea but chose not to cross to Valinor were later called the Sindar (Grey Elves). They stayed in the west of Middle-earth and were ruled by Thingol.[2]

Many of the Teleri (Sindar) chose to remain behind in order to look for their lord Thingol (Elwë), who disappeared near the end of the journey. These later inhabited Doriath and were named the Iathrim or People of the Girdle, for the magical 'Girdle of Melian' that surrounded and protected the kingdom.

Those of the Teleri (Sindar) who came to the shores of the Great Sea of Belegaer but decided to stay there or arrived too late to be ferried were called the Falathrim (People of the Shore). They were ruled by Cirdan the Shipwright.[2]

Those of the Teleri (Sindar) who chose to remain behind and populated the lands to the north-west of Beleriand were called the Mithrim or Grey People, giving their name to the region and the great lake there. Most of them later merged with the Noldor who returned to Middle-earth, especially those of Gondolin.[T 2]

Those of the Teleri who reached Aman were called Amanyar Teleri; they were also called the Falmari, the People of the Waves, expert with ships and the sea.


Those of the Teleri who refused to cross the Misty Mountains and stayed in the valley of Anduin were called the Nandor (Those [Elves] who turn back).[2]

Those of the Nandor who later entered Beleriand were called the Laiquendi (Green Elves or Green People, so named because their attire was often green.)[3] "Laiquendi" was the term in Quenya, while the Sindarin version was "Laegrim". They settled in Ossiriand, an eastern region of Beleriand, and were famous for their singing. Hearing of the peaceful territories of King Thingol, Denethor, son of Lenwë, collected as many of his scattered people as he could and finally ventured westward over the Ered Luin, where he was accepted by the King as ancient kindred (King Elu Thingol being in fact Elwë, brother of Olwë) and were given Ossiriand to reside in. Although some instances Green-elves of Ossiriand did participate in the battles and strife concerning Morgoth (the First Battle of Beleriand for example), they were for the most part a simple, peaceful, and reclusive people.

The Nandor who stayed around Anduin became known as the Tawarwaith, living in Mirkwood; they were also called Silvan or Wood Elves. They were joined there by those Avari who eventually decided to move to the West.


The Vanyar were the fairest and most noble of the High Elves; their name means "the Fair", as they have golden hair. Their small clan was founded by Imin, the first Elf to awaken at Cuiviénen, with his wife Iminyë and their twelve companions: they broadly correspond to the Minyar. Ingwë was the Vanya Elf to travel with the Vala Oromë to Valinor, and became their king. The Vanyar spoke a dialect of Quenya called Vanyarin. Since they stayed in Valinor, they played no part in the wars in Beleriand, except for the War of Wrath that brought an end to the region.[T 3]

Light and Dark Elves[edit]

The Vanyar, the Noldor, and those of the Teleri who reached Valinor are called the Calaquendi (Elves of Light) because they saw the light of the Two Trees of Valinor. In Quenya, the language of the Noldor in Valinor, all other Elves were called the Moriquendi (Elves of Darkness) in recognition of the fact that they did not see (and did not desire) the Light of Valinor, but later the Sindar were counted among neither of these groups. Instead, Moriquendi was used for all other Elves except Noldor, Vanyar, and Sindar.[4] The Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey notes that the Sundering allowed Tolkien to explain the existence of Norse mythology's Dökkálfar and Ljósálfar, Light and Dark Elves. The Light Elves lived in Alfheim ("Elfhome") and correspond to his Calaquendi. The Dark Elves, who lived underground in Svartalfheim ("Black Elfhome"), Tolkien "rehabilitates" as his Moriquendi.[5]

Noldorin Exiles[edit]

Sketch Map of Beleriand, home of most of the Elves of Middle-earth in the First Age

Most of the Noldor returned with Fëanor to Beleriand in Middle-earth before the raising of the Sun. Fëanor however sailed in haste in ships stolen from the (Telerin) Falmari, leaving behind his half-brother Fingolfin's Noldor who also wanted to return. Fingolfin was forced to make the perilous journey on foot via the Helcaraxe, the Grinding Ice of the far north, creating further hostility. These groups of Noldor became known as the Exiles. In Beleriand they became divided by the place of dwelling, namely Hithlum, Gondolin, Dorthonion, Nargothrond and the March of Maedhros.[T 4][T 5]

Merging of Noldor and Sindar[edit]

After the War of Wrath the greater part of the surviving Noldor and Sindar (mostly mingled into a single people) returned into the West to dwell in Tol Eressëa. Many remained in Middle-earth throughout the Second and Third Ages, entering the realms of Lothlórien and Mirkwood of the Wood Elves or establishing the kingdoms of Lindon, Eregion, Lothlórien and Rivendell.[T 3]

Havens or seaports[edit]

Because the Eldar's seaports on the shores of Middle-earth connected them with the blessed lands of Valinor, these "havens" were important places in their world. Those on Middle-earth were:

  • Brithombar and Eglarest, the Havens of the Falas in Beleriand, destroyed at the end of the First Age
  • Edhellond, in southern Gondor
  • Mithlond, the Grey Havens of Eriador
  • Harlond and Forlond, the havens of Lindon, all that was left of Beleriand

Those on other shores were:

  • Alqualondë, the Swanhaven of the Teleri of Valinor
  • Eldalondë, a haven of Númenor, the island destroyed at the end of the Second Age
  • Avallónë, the haven of the island of Tol Eressëa, which the Vala Ulmo had pushed backwards and forwards to carry the Elves to Aman. The name may have been intended to echo the Arthurian island of Avalon.[6]

Sundering of the Avari[edit]

After the Separation the Avari became divided even more than the Eldar, though little of their history became known to the Elves and Men of the West of Middle-earth, and they barely feature in the legendarium.[2] At least six kindreds existed, and they continued to call themselves 'Quendi',[a] considering those who went away, the Eldar, as deserters. Some of these tribes later journeyed westward, intermingling with the Nandor in Rhovanion, and a few even reached Beleriand, though usually remaining on unfriendly terms with the Sindar.


Diagram of the Sundering of the Elves, showing Tolkien's overlapping classifications

Matthew Dickerson, writing in the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia, notes the "very complicated changes, with shifting meanings assigned to the same names" as Tolkien worked on his conception of the elves and their divisions and migrations. All the same, he notes, Tolkien kept to a consistent scheme. He states that the sundering of the elves allowed Tolkien, a professional philologist, to develop two languages, distinct but related, Quenya for the Eldar and Sindarin for the Sindar, citing Tolkien's own statement that the stories were made to create a world for the languages, not the reverse.[2]

Shippey suggests that the "real root" of The Silmarillion lay in the linguistic relationship, complete with sound-changes and differences of semantics, between the two languages of the divided elves. He adds that the elves are separated not by colour, despite names like light and dark, but by their history, including their migrations.[5]

The Tolkien scholar Verlyn Flieger states that in the Lhammas and "The Etymologies" Tolkien used the Indo-European type of proto-languages with branches and sub-branches of language families while inventing his various languages of Middle-earth. This "concept of increasing separation" is analogous to the progressive decline and fall in Middle-earth from its initial perfection, of which the Sundering of the Elves is a major element.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ This name evolved into different forms in the language of each kindred: Kindi, Cuind, Hwenti, Windan, Kinn-lai and Penni.[T 6]



This list identifies each item's location in Tolkien's writings.
  1. ^ The War of the Jewels: Quendi and Eldar, p. 381, "The proportions, out of 144, that when the March began became Avari or Eldar were approximately: Minyar 14: Avari 0, Eldar 14; Tatyar 56: Avari 28, Eldar 28; Nelyar 74: Avari 28, Eldar 46: Amanyar Teleri 20, Sindar and Nandor 26." (Nandor 8 - p. 412) It can be seen that the Avari are made up of a proportion of 28 Tatyar and 28 Nelyar.
  2. ^ The Silmarillion, ch. 24 "Of the Voyage of Eärendil and the War of Wrath"
  3. ^ a b The Silmarillion, ch. 24 "Of the Voyage of Eärendil and the War of Wrath"
  4. ^ The Silmarillion, ch. 13 "Of the Return of the Noldor"
  5. ^ The Silmarillion, ch. 14 "Of Beleriand and its Realms"
  6. ^ Quendi and Eldar, p. 410


  1. ^ Tyler, J. E. A. (1980). The New Tolkien Companion. Avon Books. p. 166. ISBN 978-0-380-46904-8.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Dickerson, Matthew (2013) [2007]. "Elves: Kindreds and Migrations". In Drout, Michael D. C. (ed.). J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia. Routledge. pp. 152–154. ISBN 978-0-415-86511-1.
  3. ^ Foster, Robert (1971), The Complete Guide to Middle-earth, New York: Del Rey, ISBN 0-345-32436-6
  4. ^ Fimi, Dimitra (2008). Tolkien, Race and Cultural History: From Fairies to Hobbits. Palgrave. p. 158. ISBN 978-0-230-21951-9.
  5. ^ a b Shippey, Tom (2001). J. R. R. Tolkien: Author of the Century. HarperCollins. pp. 228–231. ISBN 978-0261-10401-3.
  6. ^ Hammond, Wayne G.; Scull, Christina (2005). The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion. HarperCollins. p. 677. ISBN 978-0-00-720907-1.
  7. ^ Flieger, Verlyn (2002). Splintered Light: Logos and Language in Tolkien's World (revised ed.). Kent State University Press. p. 71. ISBN 978-0873387446.