Can Elves Die In Lord of the Rings And Are They Immortal?


Can Elves Die In Lord of the Rings And Are They Immortal?

It has been said that Elves are immortal in Lord of the Rings, but they also die in the battle, so why is that, and are they really immortal? Those are just some of the questions we will give you an answer in this article.

Elves are immortal, and remain unwearied with age. Also, they can recover from wounds that would be fatal to a Man, but they can be killed in battle. Spirits of dead Elves go to the Halls of Mandos in Valinor.

In Lord of the Rings, three thousand years before the story, Elrond is seen fighting in the war against Sauron. But after three thousand years he is still seen young. So one would guess that elves are immortal.

But in the battle of Helm’s Deep many elves die fighting Saruman’s army. So they can’t be immortal.

So are they mortal or immortal? How can Elrond’s not aging be explained?

Are elves in Lord of the Rings immortal?

According to Tolkien, once an Elf becomes an adult, they stop getting older. They are also less vulnerable to physical damage, but they aren’t immortal. The lives of Elves only endure as the world endures.

Elves could be slain or die of grief (their spirit leaves their body) but were not subject to age or disease. When an Elf dies, his spirit goes to Mandos for his judgment, and after a period of waiting could be reembodied.

According to Wikipedia

Elves are naturally immortal, and remain unwearied with age. In addition to their immortality, Elves can recover from wounds that would normally kill a mortal Man. However, Elves can be slain, or die of grief and weariness.

Spirits of dead Elves go to the Halls of Mandos in Valinor. After a certain period of time and rest that serves as “cleansing”, their spirits are clothed in bodies identical to their old ones. However, they almost never go back to Middle-earth and remain in Valinor instead. An exception was Glorfindel in The Lord of the Rings; as shown in later books, Tolkien decided he was a “reborn” hero from The Silmarillion rather than an individual with the same name. A rare and more unusual example of an Elf coming back from the Halls of Mandos is found in the tale of Beren and Lúthien, as Lúthien was the other Elf to be sent back to Middle-earth – as a mortal, however. Tolkien’s Elvish words for “spirit” and “body” were fëa (plural fëar) and hröa (plural hröar) respectively.

Interesting info from Tolkien Gateway

While the three cycles are not specifically defined, the first cycle is likely childhood and adolescence, which ended at the 100th year, the second is adulthood which could continue for Ages, and the third is for extremely old Elves; Elves did not physically age after they reached maturity, but they did age in a different sense than Men. They became ever more wary of the world and burdened by its sorrows. Elves are naturally immortal; like the Ainur, they are bound to Arda until its End. Elves are immune to all diseases, and they can recover from wounds that would normally kill a mortal Man.

What happens to elves when they die in Lord of the Rings?

It’s…complicated. Fortunately, Tolkien wrote about this extensively in an essay titled “Laws and Customs Among the Eldar”.

To summarize:

  • Their soul gets separated from its body and invited to Aman and the Halls of Mandos
  • If it returns to Mandos, it spends a period of time in a purgatory-like state, before possibly (at the discretion of the Vala Mandos and at their own choice) re-born into a new body
  • If they refuse the summons, they haunt the incarnate world as ghosts

What does “death” mean for Tolkien’s Elves?

It seems a little bit silly to talk about Elvish death in the first place since the Elves are frequently described as immortal, a word which literally means “not susceptible to death.” However, to Tolkien, Elves aren’t really immortal; they’re functionally immortal, but the natural span of their lives is not actually infinite:

[T]he Eldar do indeed grow older, even if slowly: the limit of their lives in the life of Arda, which though long beyond the reckoning of Men is not endless, and ages also.

History of Middle-earth X Morgoth’s Ring Part 3: “The Later Quenta Silmarillion” Chapter 2: “The Second Phase” Laws and Customs Among the Eldar

“Death”, therefore, is the unnatural span of an Elf’s life: Tolkien defines it more precisely as the separation of feä (spirit, or soul) and hroä (body):

Now the Eldar are immortal within Arda according to their right nature. But if a feä (or spirit) indwells in and coheres with a [hroä] (or bodily form) that is not of its own choice but ordained, and is made of the flesh or substance of Arda itself, then the fortune of this union must be vulnerable by the evils that do hurt to Arda.

[…]

If then the [hroä] be destroyed, or so hurt that it ceases to have health, sooner or later it ‘dies’. That is: it becomes painful for the feä to dwell in it, being neither help to life and will nor a delight to use, so that the feä departs from it, and its function being at an end its coherence is unloosed, and it returns again to the general [body] of Arda. Then the feä is, as it were, houseless, and it becomes invisible to bodily eyes (though clearly perceptible by direct awareness to other feär).

History of Middle-earth X Morgoth’s Ring Part 3: “The Later Quenta Silmarillion” Chapter 2: “The Second Phase” Laws and Customs Among the Eldar

What happens to an Elf who dies?

As above, their spirit becomes “unhoused”. That’s when things get interesting:

Those feär, therefore, that in the marring of Arda suffered unnaturally a divorce from their [hroä] remained still in Arda and in Time. But in this state, they were open to the direct instruction and command of the Valar. As soon as they were disbodied they were summoned to leave the places of their life and death and go to the ‘Halls of Waiting’: Mandos, in the realm of the Valar.

If they obeyed this summons different opportunities lay before them. The length of time that they dwelt in Waiting was partly at the will of Námo the Judge, lord of Mandos, partly at their own will. The happiest fortune, [the Elves] deemed, was after the Waiting to be re-born, for so the evil and grief that they had suffered in the curtailment of their natural course might be redressed.

History of Middle-earth X Morgoth’s Ring Part 3: “The Later Quenta Silmarillion” Chapter 2: “The Second Phase” Laws and Customs Among the Eldar

Basically, the houseless Elvish feär is invited to return to Aman. If they do so, they get a period in purgatory and, eventually, if they desire it, reborn in Aman. In exactly one case, an Elf was re-embodied and then returned to Middle-earth; but that’s an exceptional case.

However, not all feär in Mandos are reborn; some of them did not wish to return to life (Míriel, first wife of Finwë, was once one of these), and a small number (Feänor chief among them) did such bad things in life that they were not permitted rebirth. Both of these are quite rare.

Are Elves reborn into their old bodies, or do they get new ones?

Tolkien is unclear on this. In “Laws and Customs”, he suggests that, in the vast majority of cases, Elves are reborn through childbirth, and therefore get new bodies:

A houseless feä that chose or was permitted to return to life re-entered the incarnate world through child-birth. Only thus could it return. For it is plain that the provision of a bodily house for a feä, and the union of feä with [hroä], was committed by Eru to the Children, to be achieved in the act of begetting.

History of Middle-earth X Morgoth’s Ring Part 3: “The Later Quenta Silmarillion” Chapter 2: “The Second Phase” Laws and Customs Among the Eldar

He suggests that it’s possible for an Elf to be reborn into their old body, but it’s rare; the old body would need to be perfectly preserved and undamaged, which is an unlikely occurrence.

However, “Laws and Customs” was not Tolkien’s last word on the subject; Christopher Tolkien discusses his father’s evolving thoughts in an appendix on “Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth”; in particular he reproduces part of a discussion between Manwë and Eru:

Manwë spoke to Eru, saying: ‘Behold! an evil appears in Arda that we did not look for: the First-born Children, whom Thou madest immortal, suffer now severance of spirit and body. Many of the feär of the Elves in Middle-earth are now houseless; and even in Aman there is one. The houseless we summon to Aman, to keep them from the Darkness, and all who hear our voice abide here in waiting. What further is to be done? Is there no means by which their lives may be renewed, to follow the courses which Thou hast designed? And what of the bereaved who mourn those that have gone?’

Eru answered: ‘Let the houseless be re-housed!’

Manwë asked: ‘How shall this be done?’

Eru answered: ‘Let the body that was destroyed be re-made. Or let the naked feä be re-born as a child.

History of Middle-earth X Morgoth’s Ring Part 4: “Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth” Appendix “‘The Converse of Manwë and Eru’ and later conceptions of Elvish reincarnation

According to this version, an Elf may be reborn either in a new body, or their old body may be recreated for them; which one is at the discretion of the Valar (presumably meaning Mandos).

However, Tolkien’s final word was that the Elves were reincarnated either into their original bodies (if it was available) or into exact recreations of their original bodies; Christopher Tolkien devotes a good portion of the appendix describing how Tolkien came to this conclusion, but the final word on the matter comes from a note on “Athrebeth”:

They were given the choice to remain houseless, or (if they wished) to be re-housed in the same form and shape as they had had. Normally they must nonetheless remain in Aman.

History of Middle-earth X Morgoth’s Ring Part 4: “Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth” Appendix “‘The Converse of Manwë and Eru’ and later conceptions of Elvish reincarnation

What about feär that refuse the summons?

Astute readers will note something about one of quotes above (founded here scifi.stackexchange.com):

If they obeyed this summons different opportunities lay before them. […]

History of Middle-earth X Morgoth’s Ring Part 3: “The Later Quenta Silmarillion” Chapter 2: “The Second Phase” Laws and Customs Among the Eldar

As implied, it is entirely possible for a feä to ignore the summons of the Valar, although that reflects rather poorly on the Elf who does so. The result of that choice is also described:

[I]t would seem that in these after-days more and more of the Elves, be they of the Eldalië in origin or be they of other kinds, who linger in Middle-earth now refuse the summons of Mandos, and wander houseless in the world, unwilling to leave it and unwilling to inhabit it, haunting trees or springs or hidden places that once they knew.

History of Middle-earth X Morgoth’s Ring Part 3: “The Later Quenta Silmarillion” Chapter 2: “The Second Phase” Laws and Customs Among the Eldar

These Elves essentially becomes ghosts; some are dangerous, and willing to try to “steal” bodies from the living:

Some say that the Houseless desire bodies, though they are not willing to seek them lawfully by submission to the judgement of Mandos. The wicked among them will take bodies, if they can, unlawfully. The peril of communing with them is, therefore, not only the peril of being deluded by fantasies or lies: there is peril also of destruction. For one of the hungry Houseless, if it is admitted to the friendship of the Living, may seek to eject the feä from its body; and in the contest for mastery the body may be gravely injured, even if it be not wrested from its rightful habitant. Or the Houseless may plead for shelter, and if it is admitted, then will seek to enslave its host and use both his will and his body for its own purposes.

History of Middle-earth X Morgoth’s Ring Part 3: “The Later Quenta Silmarillion” Chapter 2: “The Second Phase” Laws and Customs Among the Eldar

What about Elves who lose the will to live?

In most cases, they simply die of their own volition, and their fate is no different from any other Elf who dies. Elves are able to will themselves to die, and this typically only occurs in Elves who “gave up hope”:

[S]ome feär in grief or weariness gave up hope, and turning away from life relinquished their bodies, even though these might have been healed or were indeed unhurt. Few of these latter desired to be re-born, not at least until they had been long in ‘waiting’; some never returned.

History of Middle-earth X Morgoth’s Ring Part 3: “The Later Quenta Silmarillion” Chapter 2: “The Second Phase” Laws and Customs Among the Eldar

In principle, there’s no reason why an Elf in Middle-earth who had given up hope couldn’t simply take a ship over the Sea, rather than choosing to die, but I’m not aware of any examples off-hand.

The closest we can think of is Celebrían, the wife of Elrond, who left Middle-earth after being captured by Orcs:

In 2509 Celebrían wife of Elrond was journeying to Lórien when she was waylaid in the Redhorn Pass, and her escort being scattered by the sudden assault of the Orcs, she was seized and carried off. She was pursued and rescued by Elladan and Elrohir, but not before she had suffered torment and had received a poisoned wound. She was brought back to Imladris, and though healed in body by Elrond, lost all delight in Middle-earth, and the next year went to the Havens and passed over Sea.

Return of the King Appendix A “Annals of the Kings and Rulers” Part 1: “The Númenórean Kings” (iii) Eriador, Arnor, and the Heirs of Isildur The North-Kingdom and the Dúnedain

It’s not clear that she actually lost the will to live, in the strictest sense, but does indicate that Elves suffering from mental health problems (e.g. depression after being held captive by Orcs) can depart over the Sea for healing, rather than simply giving up life.

How did Arwen lose her immortality?

In the movie, Arwen gives her necklace (Evenstar) to Aragorn, and he says that she cannot give it away. Also, when the elves are leaving Middle-Earth and Arwen decides to stay, her father Lord Elrond touches her and realizes that she is dying, and she says that she has chosen that life, to be mortal.

So, can Arwen really choose to lose her immortality?

For this, we need to go back a lot – ages back – and examine Arwen’s parentage, and the Lay of Leithian, the story of Beren and Lúthien. This is a rather long story (one of the longest in the Silmarillion), and here is a brief summarization:

Way back, before the time of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, in the First Age of Middle Earth, there was an Elven woman, Lúthien, the daughter of Elu Thingol, King of Doriath, and one of the three great lords of the Elves in the very beginning. She fell in love with the human Beren, and despite much tragedy that would put Romeo and Juliet to shame, Beren dies (since he is human), and Lúthien petitions Mandos, the Valar in charge of the fates of all mortals, and she gives away her immortality so that they could live together, for as long as they have. This is the first turning point.

This is a very tragic tale, of course. The Elves were devastated over it, since Lúthien was the fairest and most beautiful maiden to ever live, etc, and once she became human, she was destined to die and pass away, and her beauty seen no more, and so forth. It’s sung as the greatest sacrifice made for love.

Now, from this tragic romance, we have a son of Beren and Lúthien, one Dior Eluchil. He married Nimloth, a Sindarin elf, and had a daughter, Elwing. She married Eärendil, who was also half-elven, with his own tragic backstory linked to the Children of Hurin. They had two sons, Elrond and Elros, who were just children when the First Age ended with a great and terrible war. Then, we come to the second turning point.

The two children, for the bravery of their parents and the suffering they underwent, were given the choice whether to be counted among the Elves or among Men. Elros chose Mankind, became the King of Numenor, and from him were descended all the Kings of Men, down to Gondor. Elrond, however, chose to be an immortal Elf, founded the haven at Rivendell, and had his daughter, Arwen. (Yes, that does mean Arwen and Aragorn are related, but very distantly).

So how does that relate to the question? Well, Arwen is the descendant of many Elves and Humans (and a bit of Maiar, but that is irrelevant) who have fought bravely against Morgoth and Sauron, and were given the choice, due to their mixed parentage and Luthien’s sacrifice, of where to be counted. Arwen simply inherited that with the rest of her respectable ancestry.

What can kill an Elf in Lord of the Rings?

The Elves’ body functions just like ours, they need an input of food and drink, and minimal temperature to sustain life. Viruses and bacteria don’t affect them though, that’s the main difference apart from the absence of an aging process.

They can also be killed by a sword or something similar, they can die of cold and heat, and of weariness. But they will not get sick or become ill, and they do not tire as quickly as Men.

Can Elves die of a broken heart in Lord of the Rings?

Yes. A broken heart is a wound of the spirit and is often referred to as grief in the Legendarium. A spirit can leave the body when an Elf suffers grief in the same way that a fatal wound will cause the spirit to leave the body. This is what we are told about Elves in The Silmarillion…

‘For the Elves die not till tile world dies, unless they are slain or waste in grief (and to both these seeming deaths they are subject); neither does age subdue their strength, unless one grow weary of ten thousand centuries; and dying they are gathered to the halls of Mandos in Valinor, whence they may in time return’

– The Silmarillion – Quenta Silmarillion – The History of the Silmarils – Chapter 1 – Of the Beginning of Days

Suffering grief, the spirit can leave the body, and this is what happened with Lúthien after the death of Beren…

They bore back Beren Camlost son of Barahir upon a bier of branches with Huan the wolfhound at his side; and night fell ere they returned to Menegroth. At the feet of Hírilorn the great beech Lúthien met them walking slow, and some bore torches beside the bier. There she set her arms about Beren, and kissed him bidding him await her beyond the Western Sea; and he looked upon her eyes ere the spirit left him. But the starlight was quenched and darkness had fallen even upon Lúthien Tinúviel. Thus ended the Quest of the Silmaril; but the Lay of Leithian, Release form Bondage does not end.’

– The Silmarillion – Quenta Silmarillion – The History of the Silmarils – Chapter 19 – Of Beren and Lúthien

It can easily be seen from this that Lúthien died of a broken heart. The starlight was quenched and darkness had fallen upon her, darkness from grief. We can move on a few ages of the world until a similar union ends in a similar fashion. Arwen dies of a broken heart when Aragorn dies in the Fourth Age…

‘There at last when the mallorn-leaves were falling, but spring had not yet come, she laid herself to rest upon Cerin Amroth; and there is her green grave, until the world is changed, and all the days of her life are utterly forgotten by men that come after, and elanor and niphredil bloom no more east of the Sea. ‘Here ends this tale, as it has come to us from the South; and with the passing of Evenstar no more is said in this book of the days of old.’

– The Lord of the Rings – Appendix A – Annals of the Kings and Rulers – V – Here Follows a Part of The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen

The spirt of an Elf can become weary through great struggle and through grief. Suffering extreme violence can be healed in body but not in spirit, and suffering the loss of loved ones can not be so easily healed.

In the cases of Luthien and Arwen, the loss of Beren and Aragorn respectively led to great spiritual mourning, grief that would sap their will to live. Something similar happened to the mother of Feanor, Miriel. So much of her will and spirit went into Feanor, that she said she could never carry another child. She then died in the Blessed Realm when attempting to heal herself and rest.

We have to remember that Elves are a combination of the body and the spirit, both can be damaged, and sometimes there are wounds of the spirit that don’t heal in the same way a wound in battle would heal.

Recent Content