Tolkien’s universe has a lot of mysteries and while some of them are unclear, there are some that are solved but need further clarification. One of these mysteries is related to the Undying Lands, the legendary realm inhabited by the Ainur and the Eldar. Closed off for most races in Middle-earth, the realm has become a notoriously common topic of debate among fans, who ponder whether the Undying Lands grant immortality or not and what happens when a mortal goes to the Undying Lands?
As was confirmed by Tolkien in his letters, the Undying Lands do not grant immortality nor do they extend the life of any being that was not already immortal when he entered the Undying Lands.
In the rest of the article, we are going to tell you a bit about the Undying Lands and their role in Tolkien’s Legendarium. After that, we are going to answer the titular question and reveal to you whether those who enter the Undying Lands truly become immortal or not.
What are the Undying Lands?
The Undying Lands are a realm inhabited by the Ainur and Eldar in Tolkien’s Legendarium. The area included the mainland of Aman and the island of Tol Eressëa. The Belegaer Ocean separated the Undying Lands from the western shores of Middle-earth. Only immortals and ring bearers were allowed to live in this kingdom.
Originally, mortals were allowed to trade with those of Valinor in the Undying Lands, but they were prohibited from sailing west out of sight of Númenor. In SA 3319 (during the Second Age), however, Sauron deceived Ar-Pharazôn, the then king of Númenor, by telling him that the ruler of the Undying Lands would obtain immortality. To prevent the king’s invasion, Ilúvatar destroyed Númenor under the ocean and put the Undying Lands forever out of the reach of mortal humans. Elves were still allowed to sail across the sea to the Undying Lands if they wanted to (which most did).
In TA 3021 (during the Third Age), Círdan the Shipwright accompanied Elrond, Galadriel, and Gandalf, the Keepers of the Rings, on a journey to the Undying Lands where they wished to stay. They were also joined by Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, the two hobbits who were among the few mortal beings allowed access to the Undying Lands. Finally, Samwise Gamgee, another hobbit from the Shire, and the dwarf Gimli, along with his great friend Legolas, set out for the Undying Lands.
Do the Undying Lands grant immortality?
Now, we know that the Undying Lands are accessible only to immortal beings and Elves, while mortals are not allowed to enter them unless specifically given permission to do so. This happened at the end of The Return of the King, when the Keepers of the Ring were granted access to the Undying Lands, as a token of gratitude for their service to Middle-earth by killing Sauron. So, given that they were granted access to the lands of the immortals, one would naturally assume that they themselves might become immortal by being there. Is that true? Let us see what Tolkien said about this in his letters:
“‘Alas! there are some wounds that cannot be wholly cured’, said Gandalf — not in Middle-earth. Frodo was sent or allowed to pass over Sea to heal him — if that could be done, before he died. He would have eventually to ‘pass away’: no mortal could, or can, abide for ever on earth, or within Time. So he went both to a purgatory and to a reward, for a while: a period of reflection and peace and a gaining of a truer understanding of his position in littleness and in greatness, spent still in Time amid the natural beauty of ‘Arda Unmarred’, the Earth unspoiled by evil.”– Letter 246
“As for Frodo or other mortals, they could only dwell in Aman for a limited time — whether brief or long. The Valar had neither the power nor the right to confer ‘immortality’ upon them. Their sojourn was a ‘purgatory’, but one of peace and healing and they would eventually pass away (die at their own desire and of free will) to destinations of which the Elves knew nothing.”– Letter 325
So, as we can see, Tolkien himself confirmed, albeit outside of the books, that a mortal could not become immortal. The One Ring prolonged one’s life and – in a sense – it could make a person live forever, but that is not immortality in the sense that we’re referring to here. So, as per Tolkien, the Undying Lands do not grant immortality – immortal beings remain immortal even there, while mortal beings remain mortal. This is evidenced by the fact that all of the mortal characters that went to the Undying Lands actually died at some point, which likewise proves that the Undying Lands do not grant immortality, as these characters would not have died.
Can you come back from the Undying Lands?
Another relevant question is whether characters who enter the Undying Lands can come back from them. Historically, it was possible as mortals often did business with the Valinor in the Undying Lands, but ever since mortals were expelled from there – it has become very difficult to do. The elves that go there during the Third and Fourth Ages seem to go permanently, but there is nothing to suggest that those who enter the Undying Lands could not leave with the explicit permission of the Valar. In fact, we know that the wizards came from the Undying Lands, so there is nothing to suggest that it is, as some people assume, impossible.