In Norse mythology, a half-elf is the offspring of an elf and a human. Notable examples include the Danish princess Skuld of Hrólf Kraki's saga, and the hero Högni of the Thidrekssaga (his mother was a human queen), and the royal line of Alfheim, which was related to the elves and more beautiful than other people, according to the Þorsteins saga Víkingssonar.
|Country||Norway, Netherlands, England|
In J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth, half-elves are the children of Elves and Men, and can choose either Elvish immortality or the mortal life of Men. The elf-maidens Lúthien and Arwen both chose mortality.
In J. R. R. Tolkien's fictional Middle-earth, the Half-elven (Sindarin singular Peredhel, plural Peredhil, Quenya singular Perelda) are the children of the union of Elves and Men. Of these, the most significant were the products of couplings between the Eldar (the Elves who followed the Call to Valinor) and the Edain (the Men of the Three Houses of early Men who allied themselves with the Eldar in their war against Morgoth).
There were three recorded unions of the Edain and Eldar that generated descendants: They were Idril and Tuor, Lúthien and Beren, Arwen and Aragorn. The first two couples wed during the final part of the First Age of Middle-earth while the third married at the end of the Third Age (some six thousand-five hundred years later). The third couple descended not only from the first two couples, but also from the twin Peredhil, Elros Tar-Minyatur and Elrond, who chose mankind and elvenkind as their respective races—thereby severing their fates and those of their descendants. In Appendix A of The Return of the King, Tolkien notes that by the marriage of Arwen and Aragorn "the long-sundered branches of the Half-elven were reunited and their line was restored". The second union was the only one of the three marriages in which the Elf involved (Idril) did not become mortal; instead Tuor was joined to the Elves. In all known cases, the husband was mortal, while the wife was Elven.
There were two "near" cases of unions between Edain and Eldar: the Elf Finduilas fell in love with the Adan Turin, and the woman Andreth fell in love with the Elf Aegnor (brother of the Elven King Finrod Felagund). In neither case was the union completed; in the former, Finduilas perished after the Sack of Nargothrond; in the latter, Aegnor chose not to marry in time of war.
The First AgeEdit
Two important marriages in the First Age of Middle-earth resulted in the blending of Elvish and mortal blood.
The first of these was between the mortal Beren, of the House of Bëor, and Lúthien, daughter of the Elf Thingol, king of the Sindar, and Melian, a Maia. Beren died in the quest for the Silmaril, and in despair, Lúthien's spirit departed her body and made its way to the halls of Mandos. Mandos allowed them a unique fate, and they were re-bodied as mortals in Middle-earth, where they dwelt until their second deaths.
Their son Dior, heir of the Sindarin kingdom of Doriath and of the Silmaril, was thus one-quarter Elvish by blood and one-quarter Maian (thus half-immortal), and half-human (thus half-mortal). He was killed while still young, when the sons of Fëanor sacked Doriath.
Dior's wife was Nimloth, a Sindarin Elf, and with her he had three children: Elwing, Eluréd and Elurín. Eluréd and Elurín were slain along with Dior—or escaped, never to be heard of again, while Elwing escaped to the Mouths of Sirion.
The second marriage of Men and Elves in the First Age was between Tuor of the House of Hador, another branch of the Edain, and Idril, an Elf, though half Noldorin and half Vanyarin in ancestry. Their son was Eärendil. After the fall of Gondolin, Eärendil also escaped to the Mouths of Sirion, and married Elwing. They had twin sons, Elrond and Elros. Both sons are one sixteenth Maiar, nine sixteenths elven (five thirty-seconds Vanyarin, three thirty-seconds Noldorin, five sixteenths Sindarin) and three eighths human (one quarter of the House of Bëor, one sixteenth of the House of Haleth, and one sixteenth of the House of Hador).
Uniquely, Eärendil and Elwing, together with their sons Elrond and Elros, were granted their choice of fates: to be counted as Elves (free to dwell in the blessed Undying Lands for as long as Arda endures) or to be counted as Human (entitled to the Gift of Men whereby, through death, their spirits are freed to enter the unknown beyond Arda). Should this Choice have not been granted, they, like all other Half-Elves, would have been automatically mortal.[T 1]
Eärendil would rather have chosen the kindred of Men, but Elwing preferred elvenkind. Moreover, having sailed to the Undying Lands with the power of the Silmaril, Eärendil was not permitted to return to mortal lands. Thereafter he was set aloft, to sail forever the heavens in his ship Vingilot, the Silmaril of Beren and Lúthien on the prow. In Middle-earth, he was seen as the evening star, and the light of his Silmaril was captured in the Phial of Galadriel. Elwing built a tower in the Shadowy Seas and often met him on his daily return.
Elros chose to be counted among mortals, and became Tar-Minyatur, the first king of Númenor. He finally took his death (for those kings had the freedom and grace to die at will) at the age of five hundred. The descendants of Elros were not given this choice, but their lifespan was enhanced several times that of ordinary Men. In later times the Númenórean kings, descendants of Elros, regretted their forefather's choice, and this helped lead to the Downfall of Númenor.
Elrond chose to be counted among the Elves, joining the court of Gil-galad until the end of the Second Age. He also founded Rivendell—haven of the Peredhil—in the Second Age. He married the Elf Celebrían, daughter of Celeborn and Galadriel, and sailed into the West at the conclusion of the War of the Ring.
The children of Elrond were also given choice of kindred,[T 2] and therefore Arwen could choose to be counted among the Edain even though her father hoped she would accompany him to Elvenhome in the West.[T 3] But she chose otherwise, marrying Aragorn II Elessar, king of the Reunited Kingdom, and died alone at the age of 2,901 years, grieving the brevity of her mortal happiness. Their son Eldarion and their daughters were not counted as Half-elven, but rather as Dúnedain restored.
It is not stated in Tolkien's books whether Arwen's brothers, Elladan and Elrohir, chose to be of the Edain or Eldar. But their decision, too, was to be manifested by accompanying their father over the sea at the time of his own departure — or not. Yet they are described as remaining at Rivendell, so some readers conclude that they exercised their right to live and die in Middle-earth as Edain.
Line of the Half-elvenEdit
|Half-elven family tree[T 4][T 5]|
It was a tradition in Dol Amroth that Imrazôr the Númenórean had married an Elf and therefore his descendants, the Princes of Dol Amroth, were of Elven descent. Legolas, an Elf of Mirkwood, believed as much upon meeting Prince Imrahil, but the matter is probed no further in The Lord of the Rings. In Tolkien's Unfinished Tales, however, Imrazôr's wife in one account is given as Mithrellas, handmaiden of Nimrodel, a Silvan Elf who resisted the encroachment of the Eldar in her homeland, Lothlórien.
In The Hobbit reference is made to a rumour among Hobbit folk that a Took ancestor of Bilbo Baggins had taken a "fairy" (i.e. Elf) wife, but the allegation is immediately dismissed as a simplistic explanation for the sometimes atypical behaviour of the Took clan.
In The Book of Lost Tales (published in two parts), the young Tolkien originally intended Eärendil, then spelled Earendel, to be the first of the Half-elven. Early versions of The Tale of Beren and Lúthien had Beren as an Elf. The earliest version of the tale of Túrin Turambar had Tamar, the character Tolkien later renamed Brandir, as a Half-elf; Tolkien mentioned this in a way that implied he did not consider Half-elven descent especially remarkable at the time he wrote that story.
The Tolkien scholar Richard C. West notes the resemblance between the half-elves Arwen and Lúthien, and analyses Arwen's understanding of her fateful choice, between love for Aragorn and mortality on the one hand, and her father's wishes and immortality on the other. Others such as Bill Davis analyse Tolkien's exploration of mortality through an elf's choosing to die.
West analyses the scene at the camp on Weathertop where Aragorn recounts to the hobbits in poetry and prose the tale of Beren and Lúthien, with West highlighting Aragorn's words and "pensive mood" as he tells them that Lúthien "chose mortality, and to die from the world, so that she might follow [Beren]" and that "together they passed, long ago, beyond the confines of this world" and that she "alone of the Elf-kindred has died indeed and left the world, and they have lost her whom they most loved". West speculates that Aragorn may be thinking here of the consequences of what will happen should Arwen marry him, and later states that he finds "the lonely death of Arwen the most moving tragedy within [The Lord of the Rings]". A similar conclusion regarding Aragorn's feelings at Weathertop is drawn by the scholar of medieval English literature John M. Bowers in his work on the influence of Geoffrey Chaucer on Tolkien. Bowers, looking at both the Weathertop scene and 'The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen', states that like certain pilgrims in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Aragorn's stories of his ancestors "open a window into his private desires and fears".
The scholar of English literature Anna Vaninskaya studies how Tolkien uses fantasy to examine the issues of love and death, time and immortality. Given that Tolkien's Elves are immortal, they face the question of death from a unique vantage-point. Sarah Workman writes that in the Tale of Aragorn and Arwen, Arwen's mourning of Aragorn serves to overcome what Peter Brooks called (she writes) the "meaningless", interminable nature of immortality. Workman quotes Brooks's statement that "all narration is obituary" and states that it is in that conception that Tolkien valued Arwen's fate: it is Arwen's "mourning gaze that allows for the transmission of Aragorn's memory", or in Tolkien's words which she quotes, "And long there he lay, an image of the splendour of the Kings of Men in glory undimmed".
The Polish scholar of religion in literature and film, Christopher Garbowski, notes that while Tolkien contrasts Elves and Men throughout The Lord of the Rings, he introduces the conceit that an Elf may marry a Man on condition of surrendering her immortality, something that happens exactly twice in Middle-earth, with Lúthien and then with Arwen.[T 6]
The scholar of English literature Catherine Madsen notes the reflection of mortality in the "fading" of Middle-earth from the enormous powers like Morgoth and Elbereth that battled in the First Age. She writes that "Aragorn is a hero and a descendant of heroes, but he is brought up in hiding and given the name of Hope [Estel]; Arwen possesses the beauty of Lúthien, but she is born in the twilight of her people and her title is Evenstar; these two restore the original glories only for a little while, before the world is altered and 'fades into the light of common day'".[a] Rateliff, writing on the theme of the evocation of loss in Tolkien's works, describes the 'Gift of Men' as being "to accept loss and decay as essential parts of the world" and draws parallels with other writings by Tolkien: "The Elves cling to the past and so are swept away with it; in a fallen world, acceptance of the inevitability of death is the only way to pass beyond the world's limitations, for Brendan or Niggle or Arwen."
The medievalist Verlyn Flieger wrote that nobody knows where Men go to when they leave Middle-earth, and that the nearest Tolkien came to dealing with the question was in his essay On Fairy-Stories "where, after speculating that since 'fairy-stories are made by men not by fairies', they must deal with what he called the Great Escape, the escape from death. He went on to the singular assertion that 'the Human-stories of the elves are doubtless full of the Escape from Deathlessness'."[T 7] Flieger suggests that two of the "human stories" of Tolkien's Elves really focus on this kind of escape, the Tale of Beren and Lúthien and the Tale of Aragorn and Arwen, where in both cases a half-elf makes her escape from deathlessness. Shippey comments that "the themes of the Escape from Death, and the Escape from Deathlessness, are vital parts of Tolkien's entire mythology." In a 1968 broadcast on BBC2, Tolkien quoted French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir and described the inevitability of death as the "key-spring of The Lord of the Rings".[b] In their annotated and expanded edition of Tolkien's essay (Tolkien On Fairy-stories), Flieger and textual scholar Douglas A. Anderson provide commentary on 'the Escape from Deathlessness' passage, referencing Tolkien's views in a 1956 letter, that:
The real theme [of The Lord of the Rings] for me is .. Death and Immortality: the mystery of the love of the world in the hearts of a race [Men] 'doomed' to leave and seemingly lose it; the anguish in the hearts of a race [Elves] 'doomed' not to leave it, until its whole evil-aroused story is complete. But if you have now read Vol. III and the story of Aragorn [and Arwen], you will have perceived that.[T 8]
In other contextsEdit
Perhaps the earliest published half-elf is the character Orion in Lord Dunsany's The King of Elfland's Daughter. The concept however gained popularity through its use in the writings of English fantasy author J. R. R. Tolkien. As a result, half-elves have become common in other fantasy writings and role-playing games.
- Madsen is here quoting from William Wordsworth's Ode on Intimations of Immortality, line 76.
- As described by Armstrong (1998) and Lee (2018), Tolkien stated: "human stories [are] always about one thing aren't they? Death: the inevitability of death" and then pulled a newspaper cutting from his pocket and read out the following quote from de Beauvoir's A Very Easy Death (1964): "There is no such thing as a natural death. Nothing that happens to man is ever natural, since his presence calls the whole world into question. All men must die, but for every man his death is an accident, and even if he knows it and consents to it, an unjustifiable violation."
- This list identifies each item's location in Tolkien's writings.
- The latest version of Tolkien's text was in The Lost Road (Book Five of The History of Middle-earth), which stated: "Now all those who have the blood of mortal Men, in whatever part, great or small, are mortal, unless other doom be granted to them; but in this matter the power of doom is given to me. This is my decree: to Earendel and to Elwing and to their sons shall be given leave each to choose freely under which kindred they shall be judged." [The words of Manwe on pages 326-327). Christopher Tolkien further observed (pages 334-335) "It is to be observed that according to the judgement of Manwe Dior Thingol's Heir, son of Beren, was mortal irrespective of the choice of his mother."
- The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, (i) Númenor.
- The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, (v) Aragorn and Arwen.
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1977), Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, ISBN 0-395-25730-1
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1955), The Return of the King, The Lord of the Rings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), Appendix A: Annals of the Kings and Rulers, I The Númenórean Kings, ISBN 0-395-08256-0
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1993). "Part Four. Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth". In Christopher Tolkien (ed.). Morgoth's Ring. Houghton Mifflin. pp. 303–366. ISBN 0-395-68092-1.
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1964). On Fairy-Stories. Tree and Leaf. George Allen & Unwin. p. 59.
- Letters #186
- West, Richard C. (2006). Hammond, Wayne G.; Scull, Christina (eds.). 'Her Choice Was Made and Her Doom Appointed': Tragedy and Divine Comedy in the Tale of Aragorn and Arwen. The Lord of the Rings, 1954-2004 : Scholarship in Honor of Richard E. Blackwelder. Marquette University Press. pp. 317–329. ISBN 0-87462-018-X. OCLC 298788493.
- Davis, Bill (2013). Bassham, Gregory; Bronson, Eric (eds.). Choosing to Die: The Gift of Mortality in Middle-earth. The Lord of the Rings and Philosophy: One Book to Rule Them All. Open Court. pp. 123–136. ISBN 978-0-8126-9806-0.
- Gray, William (2009). J. R. R. Tolkien and the Love of Faery. Fantasy, Myth and the Measure of Truth : Tales of Pullman, Lewis, Tolkien, MacDonald and Hoffmann. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 102. ISBN 978-0-230-00505-1. OCLC 228503211.
- Bowers, John M. (2019). Tolkien's Lost Chaucer. Oxford University Press. pp. 244–245. ISBN 9780198842675.
- Vaninskaya, Anna (2020). J. R. R. Tolkien: More Than Memory. Fantasies of time and death: Dunsany, Eddison, Tolkien. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 153–228. ISBN 978-1-137-51837-8. OCLC 1134852757.
- Workman, Sarah (2014). Female Valour Without Renown: Memory, Mourning and Loss at the Center of Middle-earth. A Quest of Her Own: Essays on the Female Hero in Modern Fantasy. McFarland. pp. 87–88. ISBN 978-1-4766-1763-3.
- Garbowski, Christopher (2006). "Death". In Drout, Michael D. C. (ed.). J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment. Routledge. pp. 119–120. ISBN 1-135-88034-4.
- Madsen, Catherine (2004). Chance, Jane (ed.). 'Light from an Invisible Lamp' | Natural Religion in The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien and the invention of myth : a reader. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky. p. 42. ISBN 0-8131-2301-1. OCLC 54938267.
- Rateliff, John D. (2006). Hammond, Wayne G.; Scull, Christina (eds.). 'And All the Days of Her Life Are Forgotten' | 'The Lord of the Rings' as Mythic Prehistory. The Lord of the Rings, 1954-2004 : Scholarship in Honor of Richard E. Blackwelder. Marquette University Press. pp. 67–100. ISBN 0-87462-018-X. OCLC 298788493.
- Flieger, Verlyn (2005). Interrupted Music: The Making of Tolkien's Mythology. Kent State University Press. p. 46. ISBN 978-0-87338-824-5.
- Shippey, Tom (2005). Isaacs, Neil D.; Zimbardo, Rose A. (eds.). Another road to Middle-earth : Jackson's movie trilogy. Understanding the Lord of the Rings: The Best of Tolkien Criticism. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 242. ISBN 0-618-42253-6.
- Lee, Stuart D. (2018). ""Tolkien in Oxford" (BBC, 1968): A Reconstruction". Tolkien Studies. 15: 115–176. doi:10.1353/tks.2018.0008. ISSN 1547-3155.
- Armstrong, Helen (1998). "There Are Two People in This Marriage". Mallorn. The Tolkien Society. 36: 5–12.
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (2008). Flieger, Verlyn; Anderson, Douglas A. (eds.). Tolkien On Fairy-stories. HarperCollins. p. 119. ISBN 978-0-00-724466-9.
- Langford, David (2002). Complete Critical Assembly: The Collected White Dwarf (And Gm, and Gmi) Sf Review Columns. Wildside Press. p. 154. ISBN 978-1-58715-330-3.
- Rae, Kevin Victor (12 November 2019). "A Guide to Roleplaying Half-Elves". Tribality. Retrieved 27 March 2020.