Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Tolkien and the Elvish Muse

...themselves they named the Quendi, whom we call Elves; but Orome named them in their own tongue Eldar, people of the stars, and that name has since been borne by all that followed him upon the western road.. In the beginning they were stronger and greater than they have since become; but not more fair, for though the beauty of the Quendi in the days of their youth was beyond all other beauty that Iluvatar has caused to be, it has not perished...                                                        - The Silmarillion, J. R. R. Tolkien
Elf Fantastic by John Howe
Whosoever rejoices in the exploration of fantastic and beautiful "secondary worlds" will surely appreciate any "extra" information to add further depth to their immersion. At least, such is the case with me. After recent and delightfully immersive experience watching the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy on one day, and two days later watching The Hobbit (both times dressed in elf-attire) I avidly sought out Tolkien's other volumes on Middle Earth - revisiting the Silmarillion and reading Morgoth's Ring for the first time. 

This picture makes me think of the maiar, or lesser-spirits of Arda - many of whom were helpers of Yavanna, goddess of all living things, and were wondrous in beauty .

Perhaps I had previously been too young to appreciate them properly, but I was struck, as never before, by the wondrous richness of Tolkien's world, and the incredible mythological tapestry he created upon which to weave his tales. For to the lover of myth and great legends like those of King Arthur, the Mahabharata and the Odyssey, the Silmarillion is infinitely fascinating, dealing with the Music of the Ainur and the creation of Arda in the Valaquenta, and in the Quenta Silmarillion the epic exploits of the Elves before the Third Age.  

Morgoth's Ring, cover art John Howe

Morgoth's Ring is composed mainly of notes and various drafts for the Silmarillion: interesting as it reveals the workings of Tolkien's mind and the process of "secondary" creation. But most intriguing of all is the essay "Laws and Customs among the Eldar", which reveals much about the nature and behaviour of the Elves, including marriage customs, naming traditions and the relation of the soul (fea) to the body (hroa). 

Luthien's Lament before Mandos, in the halls of the dead

The immortality of the Elves lies in their fea being "bound" to Arda (the world) until the End of Days, but their bodies can be slain, albeit with difficulty. The souls do not depart the world, but travel to the Hall of Mandos (lord of the Dead) in Valinor - the place to which the Elves depart at the end of The Lord of the Rings. There they are "corrected, instructed, strengthened or comforted, according to their needs or deserts" by the Valar, the gods who reside in Arda, before being reborn in an identical body and enjoying a second childhood sweetened by the intelligence and memory of the first life. After their rebirth however, most Elves do not return to Middle Earth, but stay forevermore in the West, in blessed Valinor.

The Grey Havens, by John Howe

Of the Elves who do not die, and who do not take the white ships into the West - Tolkien writes most poignantly. These are the Lingerers - whose souls, as they remain for long Ages of the world, gradually consume their bodies, until "the body becomes at last a mere memory held by the fea". After the passing of their kindred, these last elves of Middle Earth become invisible to mortal eyes...


"[The Lingerers] do not seek converse with Men at all, save maybe rarely, either for the doing of some good, or because they believe in a Man's spirit some love of things ancient and fair. Then they may reveal to him their forms (through his mind working outwardly, maybe), and he will behold them in their beauty. Of such he may have no fear, though he may feel awe of them... For the hearts of true Men uprise in joy to behold the true likenesses of the First-born, their elder kindred; and this joy no evil can counterfeit."

What is this? For those of us who mourned the passing of the Elves from Middle Earth, or feel sorrow at the loss of magic from the world - Tolkien provides relief. For those of us who feel the beauty of the Elves like shining stars in the heart, and long for them - for us who feel "love of things ancient and fair" - an inspirational fancy. In his creation, the Elves are the muses of art, poetry, music and writing - thus in our mortal makings we reveal their forms... 

I feel the mythic truth of this. I see the high, ethereal beauty of the Elves in art...

In sculpture...

...and in architecture...

I hear their voices in music...

Enya - Aldebaran

Libera - Jubilate Deo

In Nature and in fantasy I feel their presence.

Ancient Voices, by Rob Alexander

In all beauty around me are evidence of the Lingerers. Thus the worlds of Middle Earth and our own world are brought, beautifully, together. 


  1. Tolkien's quote about the Lingerers seems to me to perfectly describe the feeling of having what we of this world call the Fae, Fairies, or "Good Folk" in our presence with altruistic intent. Would that all could enjoy that feeling...

  2. Oh, what an elvish post :))
    Breathtaking pictures, some of them I know but the rest I see for the first time (thanks Eru for your blog! :D). I am delighted with all of them but that one with small waterfall and colourful water is absolutely wonderful.
    Music of Enya as an example of elvish music is obvious :) but it's good to explore something new. Thanks to you I could listen to Libera. Very pretty, nostalgic and a little angelic - reminds me of elvish children (hmm..."elflings"?).

    Thank you for this post! :)

    Best wishes.