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Thread: Elves in the Fourth Age

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Sepdet originally began this thread with the following post.

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Did they all leave? If not, who didn't?

The Ringbearers left quickly -- Elrond, Galadriel -- and I think the remaining High Elves mostly left in the first few years of the Fourth Age.

Celeborn established a new realm of Lůrien, the southern half of Mirkwood, sharing it with the Woodmen in the middle and Thranduil on the north side. This the ancient friction between Lůrien and the Woodland Realm was healed (after Galadriel left; I'm sure that helped).

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:"Some there are among us who sing that the Shadow will draw back, and peace shall come again. Yet I do not believe that the world about us will ever be as it was of old, or the light of the Sun as it was aforetime. For the Elves, I fear, it will prove at best a truce, in which they may pass to the Sea unhindered and leave Middle-Earth for ever." ~Haldir


Haldir has made up his mind to sail, well aware that Nenya would not hold Lůrien under its spell much longer. It seems from the Tale of Aragorn and Arwen in the Appendix that Lůrien was utterly abandoned by the end of Elessar's reign.

From the foreward of FOTR we hear that Celeborn soon moved to Imladris with Elrond's sons and "some of the High-elven folk" but that when Celeborn left, he took with him "the last living memory of the Elder Days in Middle-Earth." That implies Cirdan went with him, if not before.

And now I see I've missed something, if we take that statement as authoritative (Tolkien occasionally makes blanket statements without considering all the ramifications, just as we do).

I knew that meant all the High-Elves left before Celeborn. But it seems to imply Thranduil also left. I am not 100% sure he was born in Doriath, before his father left it, but I think so. Somehow I thought he'd be immune from the call of the Sea, since he never went near it, and that, ironically, the SIndar who had rejected Valinor and the Exiles would be the last reigning Elvenking on Middle-earth, ruling over a primitive people like the Elves in the earliest days before the sun and moon, until they "forgot and were forgotten". But apparently even Thranduil gave in and went to Valinor, in spite of ancient misgivings. It was still, I suppose, better than living in the world of Men.

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:He suspects, but he does not know - not yet. Do you not see now that your coming to us is as the footstep of Doom? For if you fail, then we are laid bare to the Enemy. Yet if you succeed, then our power is diminished, and Lothlůrien 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 be forgotten. ~ Galadriel


I always imagined she was referring to the Wood-elves and any other of the Teleri who were not willing to forsake Middle-Earth. It is an interesting comment, because she is describing the style of elves, nymphs, fairies, and leprachauns that are rife in Victorian literature, ennobled somewhat by Tolkien's mentor George MacDonald, and which Tolkien himself was writing when he first started his mental journey to Middle-Earth. His earliest writing makes Melian a Faerie Queen, Tiniviel is a little dancing fairy-like creature, and even the Wood-elves of The Hobbit are not as mature as his Eldar in LOTR. Basically Galadriel's prediction is epexegetical to explain why modern legends of elves make them a "rustic folk of dell and cave." Elves will fade, if they stay any longer in the mortal world in the Fourth Age. That is her warning.

Elladan and Elrohir were not of the Elder Days, but younger, and stayed after their father hand gone. No doubt they were not satisfied while any orcs, the tormentors of their mother, were left in the world. But did they stay too long? I thought I had read somewhere that a doom was put on Elrond, that when he left Middle-earth, all his children must then make their choice to go or stay, and if they stayed, they were mortal. Did Elladan and Elrohir choose to commit themselves to Middle-Earth where they were born?

And what of other Elves?

Legolas took some to Ithilien. Did they leave before him? Did any choose to stay and meet the doom Galadriel describes? He evidently outstayed Cirdan, for he built his own ship. Arwen, at the same time, told Elessar on his deathbed that no ship remained to bear her West, whether she wished to renounce the Doom of Men or not. Surely she assumed that because Cirdan was gone, and it had not occurred to her another Shipwright was left in Middle-Earth.

I have always wondered whether it would have been better or worse for her to know Legolas had a means for her, if she had the will.

She went looking for Celeborn. I keep wondering whether she was simply seeking her grandfather, whom she guessed to be the last to leave Middle-Earth, or whether she was hoping to go with him. The ending of the Tale of Arwen and Aragorn is very unclear about whether she repented her choice in the end, but felt she had no choice left.

I still come back to this: did Legolas and Gimli take the last elves in Middle-earth with them? Somehow from the description of their departure I imagined it was just the two of them, alone. Or did some Wood-elves, some of the younger Elves of the Second and Third Age who did not remember Elder Days, choose to dwindle rather than lose what little they had left?


Peredhil replied

They all would have left eventually, this being the main reason why Tolkien abandoned 'The New Shadow', a story set in the fourth age, centred around Gondor. Without the presence of the Elves, there was no real element of Fantasy, rendering the story useless. I only just got up, and don't feel in the mood to research inot your individual questions. Maybe someone else can.
I don't have the time at the moment to comment on all of the questions you raised in your post Sepdet, or to research all the bits I'm not sure about.
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Yet if you succeed, then our power is diminished, and Lothlůrien will fade, and the postThreadIDes 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 be forgotten.
Galadriel is describing here the outcome of the destruction of the Ring, obviously, and the result it will have on the works she has created with her own ring. Galadriel was feeling weary in Middle Earth prior to the forging of the rings. Celebrimbor made the Ellessor for her, which had the power to preserve life/slow time etc (everything bloomed green around it), to help her. She gave this to her daughter when Nenya was given to her, the elven ring having similar, but more potent powers.

Galadriel fears once the ring is destroyed, everything made with Narya will diminish. So what exactly did she create with Narya? The elven rings did not grant their wielders great power or amass them great piles of gold. Their effects were far more subtle. I think they helped to heal and stay off the ravages of time.

The popular conception of elves being immortal and not ageing is actually incorrect. They did age, but in a slower and different fashion to Men. Mandos warned in the Doom of the Noldor...
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And those that endure in Middle Earth and come not to Mandos shall grow weary of the world as with a great burden, and shall wane, and become as shadows of regret before the younger race that cometh after.
Tolkien explains this fate in more detail in Morgoth's Ring...
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As ages passed the dominance of their fea (spirit) ever increased, "consuming" their bodies. The end of this process is their "fading", as Men have called it; for the body becomes at last, as it were, a mere memory held by the fea; and that end has already been achieved in many regions of Middle Earth.
Also in Morgoth's Ring is a piece where Finrod is talking about death to a wise woman when he first discovered Men back in the First Age. Here he describes...
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For know, it is not otherwise with the Quendi themselves: their health and stature is diminished. Already those of us who dwell in Middle Earth, and even we who have returned to it, find that the change of their bodies is swifter than in the beginning.
So, elves do age and their bodies become consumed by the their fea. If this was noticeable by Finrod right back in the First Age, only a few centuries after the Noldor returned to Middle Earth, by the time of the War of the Ring, over 6000 years later, many of the elves still around must be feeling well worn. The surviving conclaves of Elves who had either returned from Valinor, or who like Cirdan and Celeborn were old enough to remember those times, were centered around where the rings had been... The Havens, Rivendell and Lothlorien. I think it was only the rings that were keeping the ravages of time away from these ancient elves. With the passing of the rings they either had to leave Middle Earth or literally fade away.

This fading, Finrod accounted to be part of the shadow of Melkor. As the body was made from the material of the earth, and that material had been tainted by Melkor, their bodies were not as durable as Eru had originally intended them to be.
Well youíve raised some very interesting questions here sepdet, questions that I would like to know the answers to myself. Unfortunately, I donít think I have any definitive answers for you, but I would like to offer my thoughts on a few things you touched on.

First off in regards to whether or not Arwen repented her choice to live a mortal life, I donít think she ever regretted the decision she made to be with Aragorn, but I think until the end, she didnít fully understand the doom of men, and she didnít have an accurate vision of how bitter it was going to be. At the end of the tale of Aragorn and Arwen in the appendices of ROTK she states, ďnot till now have I understood the tale of your people and their fall. As wicked fools I scorned them, but I pity them at last. For if this is indeed, as the Eldar say, the gift of the One to Men, it is bitter to receive.Ē Elrond had a premonition of this much earlier when he told Aragorn, ďAlas my son! I fear that to Arwen the Doom of Men may seem hard at the ending.Ē I think what Tolkien gives us here is a classic case of someone being so blinded by love that in a way, they lose their own ability to see all things clearly. Arwen knew what she was doing, and she was certainly aware of the consequences of her choice, but I think she loved Aragorn so much that she was unable to fully understand what it was going to be like until the end, and then it was too late.

How many times have all of us seen real life examples of this playing out? For example, like when one of your best friends (or you yourself) gets involved in a new relationship, and their just so into the person they are involved with that they canít see the same things that friends, or other people on the outside can see, and itís always never until the end that they finally can see things clearly again. Iím not in any way suggesting that what happened between Aragorn, and Arwen was a bad thing, because I think they had a pure love, it was the real thing. You wonít ever know what real love is until you loved someone youíve had to let go, and Arwen definitely had to let go. Not only of Aragorn to his death in the end, but also of her heritage, her family, and who she was as an Elf. Again, I donít think she regretted her choice because she loved Aragorn that much, but I just donít think she had total comprehension until it was too late.

Itís very interesting to wonder whether or not she would have repented her choice after Aragorn passed. It seems clear to me that at the time of his death, he wanted her to repent her choice, and go to Valinor, but as youíve stated, Arwen was unaware that there was still a possible means for her to take the straight road. In the appendices of ROTK, Tolkien lists the year of 1541 in the fourth age as not only the year of Aragornís death, but also as the year that Legolas built his ship. So again, as youíve pointed out, it would seem that there was a means for her. I think that since she left, and went to Lorien alone immediately after Aragorn died, and since Legolas didnít build his ship until after Aragornís death, that itís entirely possible that as you said, she just didnít know that there was a means for her. Then again, maybe she did know, sadly I donít think any of us ever will, but it seems clear to me that she definitely choose to fade alone. Who knows, it may have been too late for her after Aragorn died to repent no matter what because, when Aragorn dies it says, ďthe light of her eyes was quenched, and it seemed to her people that she had become cold and grey as nightfall in winter that comes without a star.Ē I think Tolkien may have been trying to tell us here that she was past the point of no return if you will, even if she wanted to repent.

One thing is for sure, as Val mentioned from the Doom of the Noldor spoken by Mandos, Iím certain that Arwen died as a shadow of regret upon Cerin Amroth. She didnít regret her choice, but she had to suffer that fate. Iím also quite certain that there were some other Elves that stayed to meet this fate as well. Tolkien makes it clear on page 366 of the Silmarillion that all of the Noldor that remained in Middle Earth left at the end of the third age, and last of all the three ring bearers, so any Elves that were left (with the exception of Cirdan, Celeborn, and a few others) would have definitely been Wood-elves. My gut feeling is that Thranduil did not go to Valinor. With him being as stubborn, and weird as he was, I personally think that he along with some other Wood-elves would have choose to stay, and fade. Elladan, and Elrohir Iím not sure about. Since things tend to happen in cycles, and history repeats itself in Tolkienís world (just like real life), I tend to believe that just as Elrond choose to be counted among the Eldar, and Elros choose to be counted among men, that probably Elladan, and Elrohir did the same thing. Also, I do believe that Legolas, and Gimli took other Elves with them when they left. The first time I read ROTK, I got the same impression that you did, that it was just the two of them alone, but now I get the sense that there was definitely more than just the two of them. Itís the wording that Tolkien uses, ďand with him, it is said, went Gimli the Dwarf.Ē What I get out of this now is, that Tolkien is implying that there were others, but that Gimli was the notable he choose to single out.

One thing I find very fascinating is the fact that when Cirdan gives Gandalf the Ring of Fire, he tells him that, (page 366, the Silmarillion) ďI will dwell by the grey shores, guarding the Havens until the last ship sails.Ē Well if Legolas had the last ship, hmmm?

There is a lot more I would like to say regarding the excellent questions you have raised, but Iíll wait for now. Iím very interested to see how this thread evolves, and to read some other peoples contributions.
Elf Smilie

My friend k on CoE, who has this knack for finding exactly the quotes I can't remember, posted this when I asked the question over there:

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...already she seemed to him, as by men of later days elves are still at times seen: present and yet remote, a living vision of that which has already been left far behind by the flowing streams of time.


That's Galadriel. The "elves are still at times seen" comment is quite curious. There is at least one place in The Hobbit implying Hobbits are still around but no longer seen by Men, and again, Galadriel's prediction that Elves remaining in Middle-Earth will become like Victorian fairies seems to echo the sentiment. But here they sound more an equivalent of the Daone Sidhe, as opposed to lesser Sidhe like the Gurgach. Tolkien surely had such images of the fading elves, drawn both from contemporary and old "elf mythology", in mind, and it's not always consistent if we look too closely.

Also I found this in the Tale of Arwen and Aragorn:

Elrond says, "so long as I abide here, she shall live with the youth of the Eldar, and when I depart, she shall go with me if she chooses," to which Aragorn, having one of his flashes of prophecy, replies, "the years of your abiding run short at last, and the choice must be laid on your children, to part either with you or with Middle-Earth."

Aragorn said "children". Now, his insight could be wrong, but it seems to me illogical that different rules would be laid down for Arwen than for her brothers. In which case they also could only live with "the youth of the Eldar" while their father remained in Middle-Earth, and since they were still there after he left, they also chose mortality.

I have a feeling that we are seeing the effect of an epic story written, rewritten, and adjusted over a long period of time. So much was made of Arwen's choice that I feel it's an oversight nothing was made of her brothers'. The Foreword and Appendix A were very likely written many years apart, and perhaps Tolkien didn't realize the implication.

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I have a feeling that we are seeing the effect of an epic story written, rewritten, and adjusted over a long period of time. So much was made of Arwen's choice that I feel it's an oversight nothing was made of her brothers'. The Foreword and Appendix A were very likely written many years apart, and perhaps Tolkien didn't realize the implication.
I don't think this was an oversight. He, like Niggle, just ran out of time; he couldn't clear up all the loose ends in his life-time. And if he had, we wouldn't be having this wonderful discussion.

My gut feeling, having no textual basis to go on, is that the twins if and when they chose to sail off into the Sunset, would have learned ship-wrighting and built their own vessel in which to do so. It may be however, that one of them was smitten by a fair Telerian Elfmaid and chose to stay in Middle-earth while his brother made the final departure--this story could be the plot of another of your (plural form) fine fanfiction stories.

I don't think the "Last Ship" was necessarily the last ship to sail for Valinor, it was just the last ship built by Cirdan and carrying the last of the Noldor. Of course this is just rationalizing to clear up some loose ends, but it makes the tails more palatable to me. Elf With a Big Grin Smilie

sepdet, I agree with you that it would seem illogical for a different set of rules to be laid down for Arwen than for her brothers, especially since Arwen was only 100 years older than her brothers. I think that had the good professor lived for another five to ten years, we probably would have found out about the choices of Elladan, and Elrohir.

Grondy, I like what you said about the professor not being able to clear up all of the loose ends in his lifetime, and if he had, we wouldnít be able to have such wonderful discussions. So true! My wife, and I were talking the other night about that, and about how itís really a good thing that Tolkien wasnít able to clear up everything for the exact reason you mentioned.

Also, I wanted to add a few things I found the other night in regards to some of the questions that have been raised in this thread. These are from David Dayís, Tolkien The Illustrated Encyclopedia Of Middle Earth, ďAt the end of the Third Age the Keepers of the Rings left Cirdanís havens. Cirdan himself remained there long into the Fourth Age, until the last Elves departed.Ē Hereís a little bit about Elladan, and Elrohir, ďThe brothers appear to have remained in Rivendell long after the departure of Elrond and other Elven nobles, and no tale survives which tells whether they choose to make that final journey on the Elven ships to the Undying Lands.Ē
Elf Smilie
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Legolas took some to Ithilien. Did they leave before him? Did any choose to stay and meet the doom Galadriel describes? He evidently outstayed Cirdan, for he built his own ship.
Just because Legolas built his own ship doesn't mean Cirdan already left. How did he get the knowledge to build a ship. I believe Cirdan must have helped him with his ship building.
I think you are right, Lasgalen Waving Hello Smilie

Up until the time of the WotR, Legolas would not have any idea how to build a ship, much less sail one. He must have learned sometime afterward, possibly from Cirdan or the people of Pelargir (since he set sail from Ithilien). Perhaps his sea-longing drove him to take up the craft.

My personal theory about Cirdan is that he built another ship (or had one left over) and used that. Celeborn and Elladan and Elrohir probably went with him.