One of the things that we read and saw in the events of The Lord of the Rings (the books and the movies) is the fact that the Elves left Middle-Earth at the end of the storyline. This allowed Men to dominate Middle-Earth until all of the Elves finally left for the Undying Lands in Valinor. That is why Men were the only Children of Ilúvatar left centuries after the destruction of the One Ring and Sauron’s defeat. But why did the Elves leave Middle-Earth?
The Elves left Middle-Earth because their “light” was already fading after Sauron’s defeat. When the One Ring was destroyed, the rings of the Elves lost their power as well and caused their bodies to weaken steadily. They needed to go to the Undying Lands, where this process would be slowed down.
Many fans who never read the books or understood the entire storyline think that the Elves left Middle-Earth to abandon it and leave the problems of this land to the Men. But the thing is that there’s a very good reason why they needed to leave Middle-Earth, as doing so was the only way for them to preserve their lives. That said, let’s expound on this topic to make it easier to understand.
Why Did The Elves Leave Middle-Earth?
If there is a race that has stood the test of time in the events of The Lord of the Rings, we are talking about the Elves because of the fact that they were made to be immortal. That means that they can live indefinitely and will never truly die, just like the Ainur, who created the Elves in their image. In fact, the Elves are so long-lasting that Galadriel herself is older than the first three ages of Middle-Earth, as she lived before the First Age and promptly left at the end of the Third Age.
Of course, while the Elves may be immortal, one of the things that we read and saw during the events of The Lord of the Rings was the fact that Elves were dwindling in terms of their numbers because they were slowly making their way out of Middle-Earth. We also saw how the Elves tried their best to keep themselves out of the affairs between the Men of Middle-Earth and Sauron’s army.
Then again, we did see some of the Elves taking part in the War of the Ring and contributing to the defeat of Sauron when Frodo and Sam successfully destroyed the One Ring. The destruction of the One Ring ended the Third Age and brought forward the Fourth Age, which is also called the Age of Men. And at the end of the Third Age, most of the Elves, including Galadriel and her husband, left Middle-Earth.
The reason why the Elves left Middle-Earth is something that can be quite complicated to understand for some reason because JRR Tolkien was never too forward with his writing. And the reason why the Elves left Middle-Earth wasn’t explicitly mentioned during the events of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. So, why did the Elves leave Middle-Earth?
It is important to understand the nature of the Elves as immortal beings. While the Elves are immortal, their bodies actually fade steadily through time. Their bodies may fade, but their spirits live on as truly immortal beings. So, if their bodies end up fading through time while their spirits live on, they will be forced to live in Middle-Earth as formless spirits.
During the Second Age, the Elves were becoming more aware of their impending “mortality” as they already knew that their “light was fading.” This was something that we saw during the events of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power when the Elven High King Gil-galad told Elrond that they needed to leave Middle-Earth as soon as possible because the light of the Elves was fading.
But it was also during the Second Age that the Elves were able to find a way to slow down this process of decay. Through the knowledge imparted by the disguised Sauron, the Elves were able to forge the Three Rings of the Elves, which slowed down their decay. In The Rings of Power, the Three Rings had a portion of the light of the Silmarils, and this light was enough to retain the immortality of the Elves as long as one of the Three Rings still had their power.
The problem, however, was that the power of the Three Rings was tied to the power of the One Ring that Sauron forged. Even though Sauron was never able to corrupt the Three Rings of the Elves, its power was still tied to the power of those rings. And that means that the Three Rings lost their power when Frodo and Sam destroyed the One Ring.
The War of the Ring, in fact, was the sign that the Elves needed to leave Middle-Earth regardless of who was going to win. If Sauron won the war, his darkness would consume the light of the Elves. Meanwhile, if the Men won, that would mean that the One Ring would be destroyed and cause the Three Rings to lose their power. That means that, regardless of who won the war, the Elves needed to leave.
Of course, when the One Ring was destroyed and the Age of Men was ushered in, the Elves realized that they needed to leave Middle-Earth as the power of their Rings had already faded. This was something that Galadriel established before she and the other High Elves left Middle-Earth during the ending portion of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. So, in a sense, leaving Middle-Earth was the only choice that the Elves had if they wanted to continue living.
Where Did The Elves Go After Leaving Middle-Earth?
As mentioned, the Elves left Middle-Earth so that they could extend their lifespan and preserve their immortality. They needed to do so because there was no longer anything that preserved their “light” in Middle-Earth after the destruction of the One Ring. So, where did the Elves go when they left Middle-Earth?
The Elves went to the Undying Lands of Valinor, as this was the place where the High Elves came when they were invited by the Valar to those lands thousands of years ago. In fact, this was where most of the High Elves were born before they went to Middle-Earth to wage war on Morgoth during the events of the First Age.
There is a good reason why the Elves left for Valinor, as the Undying Lands had special properties that slowed down the decay of their bodies. This is the reason why most of the Elves that lived in the Undying Lands were able to live longer than the ones that lived in Middle-Earth. For example, Fëanor lived most of his life in Valinor and lived there for around 10,000 years before he died early in the First Age.
Even if the Elves were to lose their physical bodies to decay while living in the Undying Lands, their spirits would be allowed to live truly immortal lives in Valinor. After all, the Valar can always “re-embody” the spirit of the Elves after their bodies die. This was the case for Glorfindel when his body died in the First Age, but his spirit endured as an immortal being. And he was “re-embodied” by the Valar as he returned to life.
In that regard, living in Valinor was the best scenario for the Elves because this was the only way for them to continue living. Had they stayed in Middle-Earth, their bodies would eventually die, and they will be left as spirits that are forced to wander forever.