news culture From Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings to the Rings of Power, the series: Are Elves really immortal?
Whatever one might think of the new Lord of the Rings-inspired series, its highly publicized and well-watched launch on Amazon Prime Video has had the merit of bringing Tolkien’s work back to the forefront. Not only its most famous stories but all of its mythology, essential to understand the particularities of this universe which fascinates us so much!
The launch of the series Rings of Power made a very wide audience want to explore Tolkien’s world through works other than The Hobbit Where The Lord of the Rings. And although The Silmarillion is undoubtedly the most essential work of all to deepen your knowledge around the genesis of Tolkien’s world, you really have to glean from all of the author’s stories if you want to better understand the laws that govern this universe. Among the most interesting questions about the peoples of Arda, there is this question that regularly comes up on the table: are the Elves really immortal?
- The Firstborn, immortal beings?
- Death to the Elves!
- Do elves really die?
- The refusal of immortality
The Firstborn, immortal beings?
There are indeed many things that can mislead us on this subject, the doubt being maintained by the fact that the question is actually more complex than it seems. In The Silmarillion and in Tolkien’s other tales (such as The Book of Lost Tales Where Unfinished Tales and Legends), Elves are often cited as beings dedicated to immortality, in direct opposition to “mortal” Men who woke up later, along with the rays of the sun. It should not be forgotten that the Elves are the eldest of the Children of Ilúvatar, the Firstborn among all peoples after the creation of the world. In the prologue of the series The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of PowerGaladriel says that in these times of peace:
We had no word for death because we thought our joys would never end. We thought our light would never go out.
And yet, the Elves are not eternal and end up disappearing sooner or later. The way in which many of them perish is even clearly explained by Tolkien throughout his works. It should already be understood that, in addition to their exceptional longevity, Elves are not susceptible to the same afflictions as Men and that their disappearance can only occur in very specific circumstances.
Death to the Elves!
But then, how can the Firstborn die? The real danger for Elves is to receive a wound serious enough not to recover.. If they are able to recover from wounds that would kill a Man, they can still be struck down and killed in battle. Many are the heroes of Elvish birth who have breathed their last on the battlefields which opposed them to the darkspawn sent by Morgoth and his servant Sauron over the Ages of Middle-earth.
And what about those Elves who were tortured and corrupted by Morgoth to the point of becoming those who are called Orcs ? Because it is indeed the version given by Tolkien in The Silmarillioneven if the author does not expand sufficiently on this point which nevertheless raises many questions.
However, there is another mortal danger for the elders of the Children of Ilúvatar. Tolkien indeed points out that Elves can sometimes be afflicted with such deep melancholy or such insurmountable sadness that they end up “dying of grief” and see their spirit led to the caves of Mandos…
Do elves really die?
This is where we can ask ourselves whether we really need to speak of “death”. When the spirit of an Elf is sent to the caverns of Mandos, it is purified and enters a cycle of reincarnation. It will eventually access a totally immaterial form. and will become invisible to mortal eyes.
But under no circumstances can Elves die of old age or disease. They have virtually no effect on them. The Elves are also particularly struck by the great fragility of other peoples, and in particular “Mortal Men doomed to death”, sensitive to so many evils that cannot affect the life of an Elf. Their life cycle being different from that of humans, the Elves simply stop aging after a good hundred years and travel to the Undying Lands in the west, forbidden to other peoples. It is said that the Elves who live in Middle-earth sooner or later end up being drawn to the realm of Valinor and set sail from the Gray Havens never to return.
The refusal of immortality
Elves spared grief or fatal injury eventually sail west to reach the shores of Valinor, Undying Lands of the Blessed Realm of Aman. We understand better, from there, to what extent Galadriel’s (temporary) refusal to reach Valinor in the series Rings of Power may seem unthinkable to Elves, starting with High King Gil-galad but also Elrond.
The case of Elrond is all the more interesting because as a Half-Elf, he had the right to choose between the fate of Elves and that of Men. And if he chooses immortality, his brother Elros preferred instead to renounce it, becoming the first king of Númenor under the name of Tar-Minyatur alongside the Edain (those among Men who had fought the armies of Morgoth during the First Age). The isle of Númenor was offered to them as a reward by the Valar and it is from Elros that the line of Númenorean kings descends.
The examples of Elves having refused immortality remain in any case very rare in Tolkien’s work. The legends speak of Luthien Tinuviel, who agreed to become mortal to bring Beren back to life by singing a song so beautiful and sad that it managed to move Mandos. A destiny that will also choose to follow Arwen Undomielthe daughter of Elrond, who also sacrificed her immortality for love of Aragorn.