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Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Why Did the Elves Leave Middle-earth?

Why Did the Elves Leave Middle-earth?

Q: Why Did the Elves Leave Middle-earth?
ANSWER: The Elves were compelled to leave Middle-earth by a
spiritual summons of the Valar, calling them to their ultimate destinies within Time and Space. In The Silmarillion J.R.R. Tolkien explains how the Valar — the Guardians of the World — felt that the long-lived Elves would be better off living near the Valar (and their followers the Maiar) in the Blessed Realm (Aman), far from the mortal lands where Men (and Dwarves) were destined to build their civilizations and live out their lives.

The Valar knew there would be strife between the Elder Children (the Elves) and the Younger Children (Men) and Adopted Children (Dwarves) of Iluvatar. But they also feared that the Elves would be preyed upon by Melkor and his servants. When the Valar learned that the Elves had awakened in the far eastern reaches of Middle-earth they launched a war against Melkor and took him prisoner.

With Melkor imprisoned in Valinor, the Valar sent emissaries to the Elves, inviting them to go live in Valinor, where they would be protected and share in the daily lives of the Valar and Maiar. The invitation, according to Tolkien, was selfish to a certain extent but it was also non-compulsory to begin with. Those Elves who chose to accept the invitation were eventually named the Eldar and those who rejected the invitation were called the Avari (the Unwilling).

Although “immortal” in body the Elves could die by various causes. According to an essay published in Morgoth’s Ring the spirits of those Elves who died in Middle-earth were summoned to Valinor, where they could reflect on their life experiences and perhaps eventually be restored to physical life, but only in Valinor. The Elvish spirits had the right to refuse the summons, but doing so meant they could not be restored to life. Tolkien deemed this to be a perilous decision, especially in the years when Melkor was dwelling in Middle-earth. Melkor would enslave the Elvish spirits that refused the summons and force them to do his bidding. Tolkien does not specify what Melkor did with these spirits.

Many ages later, after the Valar defeated Melkor in a second great war to free Middle-earth from his tyranny, the Valar sent their emissaries throughout Middle-earth to summon the Elves to Valinor again. This time the invitation seems to have been compulsory to the extent that all Elves were bestowed with a deeply buried desire to seek out the Blessed Realm should the desire awaken within them. That desire might awaken for any number of reasons. The most important reason appears to be the doom of fading.

The concept of fading is not well understood or fully agreed upon by Tolkien’s readers. In one of his thoughtful essays Tolkien stipulated that a faded Elf became a disembodied spirit, equivalent to a ghost or poltergeist. These faded Elves might have nothing to do with the world of the living, or they might become dangerous entities, especially for mortal men. Hence, the Elves were instilled with an overwhelming compulsion or desire to sail over Sea to the Blessed Realm, where they could be restored and sustained by the Valar in their physical bodies.

Death was thus very much a part of the destiny of the Elves who remained in Middle-earth. It was a true physical death of the body but not a death by withering or aging such as mortal Men and Dwarves experienced. Whereas Men’s spirits were said to leave the world completely and “seek elsewhere”, Elves’ spirits would remain in the world until the end of Time, after which they had no knowledge of what would happen to them.

Just as Men feared death Elves feared fading. However, unlike Men the Elves had the option of forestalling or avoiding fading completely if they simply passed over Sea to the Blessed Realm.

The Noldor of Eregion believed they could delay that inevitable choice for all Elves if they could find a way to preserve Middle-earth, to delay the effects of Time. When Sauron learned of this desire he taught the Gwaith-i-Mirdain, the Jewel-smiths of Eregion, how to create the Rings of Power. The Rings were constructed to hold back the force of Time, thus preserving Middle-earth and the Eldar (according to one note, Tolkien estimated the Elves felt the
effects of Time in Middle-earth at a rate of 1% while the Rings functioned). This act was a second rebellion for the Noldor because it controverted the natural laws set down by Iluvatar. And by doing so the Noldor unwittingly exposed themselves to Sauron such that he was able to forge the One Ring to enslave them.

The subsequent conflict between Sauron and the Elves forced many Elves to flee their homes. A large portion of those Elves lost all joy in Middle-earth and sailed over Sea. They did so mostly to escape from Sauron but also because they felt immense regret for the harm they had done to Middle-earth and its peoples. The Elves of the Second Age may not have been as aware of the Rings of Power as the Elves of the Third Age but by the end of the Third Age many of the Elves were determined to leave Middle-earth soon.

When Sauron arose and declared himself in the year 2951 an exodus of Elves from Middle-earth soon followed. In “The Shadow of the Past”, the second chapter of The Fellowship of the Ring, the narrative mentions that many Elves pass through the Shire on their way to the havens, never to return to Middle-earth again. Only a small number of Eldar and a larger number of Silvan Elves remained in Middle-earth by the time the War of the Ring began.

However, with the destruction of the One Ring all the other Rings of Power failed. The full weight of the thousands of years then fell upon the Eldar, especially the keepers of the Rings of Power (Elrond, Cirdan, and Galadriel) and many of their companions. These Elves were threatened with rapid aging and possible fading. They had become “weary” of the world and were on the verge of “burning out”. Hence, they had no choice but to leave Middle-earth forever and seek out the Blessed Realm, where they could be healed and restored.

When people attempt to answer the question “Why do the Elves leave Middle-earth”, they rarely look at the larger story. There are many times when Elves flee Middle-earth. New generations are born among those who remain but the Elves eventually all have to leave Middle-earth or fade.

By Michael Martinez

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