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Q: I had a couple of questions regarding Elves. Sorry if they're a bit long. In The Silmarillion, Tolkien establishes that Elves fall into two general categories–the three houses of Elves that had been brought initially to Valinor (of whom only the Noldor returned) and the "Moriquendi," I think was Tolkien's term; the Elves that had never seen the light of the Trees. The Wars of the First Age with Morgoth were waged by Elves of both groups (Thingol's folk, the Grey Elves of the coastlands, and the Green Elves who dwelt in eastern Beleriand, all of whom were Moriquendi; and the returning Noldor). At the end of The War of Wrath, a great many returned to Valinor.

First Question–Did only Noldor return to Valinor, or did some of the Grey and Green Elves of Beleriand that survived the War also return with them?

Second, more important question–I presume that Thranduil's Wood Elves and many of the folk of Lórien were Moriquendi, descended from the Green Elves of Beleriand or from Elves that never came west in the First Age. I presume that the Grey Elves of the Havens were descended from the Grey Elves of coastlands of Beleriand (also Moriquendi). Could these Elves go to Valinor at the end of the Third Age as the last of the Noldor (Galadriel, Elrond, etc.) did? Or does the fact that they had never been there before, as the Noldor had, mean that they were prevented? I always assumed that that was the reason why Círdan and Celeborn did not accompany Galadriel at the end of the books. And also why Legolas built his own ship, rather than go to the Havens.

This might also relate to other questions I've seen regarding whether or not Legolas was the same Legolas that fought in Gondolin–that Legolas was one of Turgon's folk, a Noldor, and Legolas in the Fellowship was, as a Wood Elf, presumably not a Noldor. Could this also be why Legolas lacked the mysterious power we see Glorfindel exercise at the ford–Glorfindel was a Noldor Lord, and Legolas was a Moriquendi?


A: Tolkien’s terminology for the divisions of the Elves is at times complex, and it depends upon what people is using which term, for an understanding. For instance, ‘Wood Elves’ seem to be a term in the Common Speech, but it doesn’t seem to have a correlation with any of the more specific elvish terms, which depend upon whether or not the journey to Valinor was even begun or at length achieved. Christopher Tolkien’s chart from The Silmarillion (see p. 309) helps show how some of these categories are defined, and how they overlap.

To try to answer your questions, I don’t see any reason that would prevent Grey Elves or Green Elves from journeying to Valinor after the wars of the First Age. It seems that Círdan, Celeborn, and Legolas did not depart from Middle-earth at the end of the War of the Ring because they had not yet tired of it, and wished to stay, for a while at least.

Glorfindel is a different story, of course. I presume you mean the ‘other’ Glorfindel of the First Age (of Turgon’s folk in Gondolin, who slew a Balrog at the cost of his own life), compared with the Glorfindel of the Third Age. Tolkien himself wrestled with this question, and he seems to have decided that they were one and the same–after Glorfindel was killed by the Balrog, his spirit went to the Halls of Mandos, where Mandos restored him, and he long remained in Valinor. Glorfindel evidently returned to Middle-earth in the Second Age. Have a look at the very interesting sections on Glorfindel in The Peoples of Middle-earth (1996), pp. 377-84.


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Q: Tom Bombadil said of the brooch he found in the Barrow, "Fair was she who long ago wore this on her shoulder. Goldberry shall wear it now, and we shall not forget her." Who is she?

–Wraith and Sync

also, same question, different source…

After Tom Bombadil rescues the boys from the Barrow Wights, he takes a few objects from the Barrow, including a brooch for Goldberry:

He looked long at it, as if stirred by some memory, shaking his head, and saying at last: 'Here is a pretty toy for Tom and his lady! Fair was she who long ago wore this on her shoulder. Goldberry shall wear it now, and we shall not forget her.'

Anyone know or suspect the identity of the prior owner of the brooch? Did Tolkien ever give a hint?


A: In all of my research I have not discovered a definitive answer to this (although I’m sure someone out there has). My entish instincts tell me the brooch originally belonged to a woman from Cardolan. Perhaps she was a noblewoman or even the spouse of the last prince of Cardolan, in whose mound it is suggested that Frodo was held captive. Appendix A in The Return of the King has more on this in the section ‘The North-kingdom and the Dúnedain.’

Of course, as with all things relating to Tom Bombadil, our dear Professor seems to delight in confounding us with mysterious allusions. Here at the Green Books we get more questions about Bombadil and his many attendant enigmas than any other subject! So I have to fall back on the words of Tolkien himself:

I don’t think Tom needs philosophizing about, and is not improved by it. … And even in a mythical Age there must be some enigmas, as there always are. Tom Bombadil is one (intentionally).


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Q: From The Hobbit, Chapter 18, "The Return Journey":

"In what way have I earned such a gift, O hobbit?" said the king.

"Well, er, I thought, don't you know," said Bilbo rather confused, "that, er, some little return should be made for your, er, hospitality. I mean even a burglar has his feelings. I have drunk much of your wine and eaten much of your bread."

"I will take your gift, O Bilbo the Magnificent!" said the king gravely. "And I name you Elf-friend and blessed. May your shadow never grow less (or stealing would be too easy)! Farewell!"

I don't know about you guys, but I think that last line seems to imply that Thranduil knew about Bilbo's Ring (It is made clear that you do have a visible shadow even when wearing the Ring). Presumably, Legolas would know then too. I always thought that the existence of the Ring was a closely guarded secret between Bilbo, Frodo, Gandalf, and the Dwarves. Perhaps you could clarify a little for me? Thanks, I love your site!


A: It is possible here that the Elvenking was presuming or merely guessing. But the Ring in The Hobbit doesn’t seem to have been nearly the secret it became for Frodo in The Lord of the Rings. So it is possible that the Elvenking did know of it, though whether he would have passed the knowledge of it on to his son, Legolas, is uncertain.


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Q: Somewhere in LOTR somebody (possibly Gandalf) states that "Sauron is but a servant." (I've tried looking for the exact reference but no success). Now, I know Sauron was originally the servant of Morgoth but by this time Morgoth had been destroyed and Sauron apparently served no master, so who is Gandalf referring to when he makes that statement?

–Paul McLachlan

A: The exact quote is found in The Return of the King, in ‘The Last Debate.’ Gandalf speaks to the assembled Captains of the West, saying:

Other evils there are that may come; for Sauron is himself but a servant or emissary.

And yes, Gandalf is specifically talking about Morgoth, the original Dark Lord. Further, Morgoth had never been destroyed. I highly doubt it was within the power of the Valar to totally annihilate Morgoth, he being a true Valar in his own right. Rather, Manwë passed judgment on Morgoth and thrust him beyond the Doors of Night, where he waits to this day. The particulars of Morgoth’s imprisonment can be found in my previous Q&A article from last May by clicking here.


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Q: Hi. In The Silmarillion when Fëanor is asked to give the Silmarils to the Valar in the Ring of Doom, and he said:

"…and if I must break them, I shall break my heart, and I shall be slain; first of all the Eldar in Aman."

"Not the first," said Mandos, but they did not understand his word…

Nor do I! Help me with this one.


A: The meaning of the words of Mandos can be found a few paragraphs later, for it is revealed that while this council had been taking place, Melkor had been to the house of Fëanor, and "there he slew Finwë King of the Noldor before his doors, and spilled the first blood in the Blessed Realm." Thus Finwë was already the first slain of all the Eldar in Aman.


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Q: Ar-Pharazôn humbled Sauron and carted him back to Númenor as a prisoner where Sauron quickly influenced Ar-Pharazôn and convinced him to practice human sacrifice, etc. Whatever happened to the One Ring during this time? Did Sauron leave it in Middle-earth? If not, why didn't the greedy and corrupt Ar-Pharazôn take it and add it to the force of his armada against the Valar? Also, do not forget Sauron was caught in the downfall (after that he never had a fair shape again) of Númenor and he returned to Middle-earth in spirit form. How did he bring the Ring back with him?

–Noah Allison

A: At first I assumed that Sauron never took the Ring with him to Númenor. I soon learned that was wrong. It may seem odd but when Sauron took his little trip to Númenor, the King and the other Númenoreans knew nothing about the One Ring; and Tolkien tells us that it was integral to Sauron’s plan (of course!).

Ar-Pharazôn never knew about it owing to the fact that Númenor had long been estranged from the Elves; and of course the Elves had kept their Ringmaking secret, as Tolkien explains. If you seek to understand how a defeated spirit could keep his physical Ring and carry it with him over the vast seas, you’re not the first! The Professor himself answered this query way back in 1958, when another curious reader was also puzzled. Several associates pointed me to the Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, where we learn more in Letter 211:

Though reduced to a ‘spirit of hatred borne on a dark wind,’ I do not think one need boggle at this spirit carrying off the One Ring, upon which his power of dominating minds now largely depended.

In Tolkien’s mind it was perfectly acceptable that Sauron would survive along with his Ring. The way he clarifies his work in Letters is enlightening through and through. I can’t recommend it enough.


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Q: Tolkien, in the Unfinished Tales, toys with the identity of Gandalf. We are told he is Olórin the Maiar, but he also offers the idea that he is Manwë, cloaked and secret. Does Tolkien expound on this more anywhere else? Keep up the good work!

–Brian Wood

A: Outside of The Lord of the Rings, there are a handful of very interesting sources on the Istari. The most significant, of course, is the section in Unfinished Tales entitled "The Istari," which is made up of some short sections written by Tolkien, assembled together and commented upon by his son Christopher.

The section in which Tolkien discusses the idea that Gandalf might be Manwë is very interesting, but it needs to be looked at for its subtleties, for Tolkien refers to some beliefs in Middle-earth about Gandalf being Manwë. Here is the relevant quotation:

Who was ‘Gandalf’? It is said that in later days (when again a shadow of evil arose in the Kingdom) it was believed by many of the ‘Faithful’ of that time that ‘Gandalf’ was the last appearance of Manwë himself, before his final withdrawal to the watchtower of Taniquetil. (That Gandalf said that his name ‘in the West’ had been Olórin was, according to this belief, the adoption of an incognito, a mere by-name.) I do not (of course) know the truth of the matter, and if I did it would be a mistake to be more explicit than Gandalf was. But I think it was not so. (Unfinished Tales, p. 395)

There are a few texts mentioned in Unfinished Tales that Christopher Tolkien describes as uninterpretable. However, in The Peoples of Middle-earth, he states that "with longer scrutiny I have been largely able to make [them] out." See pages 384-5 for these texts. There are also quite a few comments made by Tolkien in the volume of his Letters (see the new edition, with the expanded index, under Wizards).


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Q: My question is this: did it in any way benefit the Elves to help the humans defeat Sauron? It seems to me that since the destruction of the One Ring would only serve to bring about the end of their own way of life in Middle-earth they would have been much better off just fleeing to Valinor and forgetting the whole mess. I realize that that wouldn't have been very heroic, neither would it have made for a good story, but the fact remains that the Elves always had an "out" whereas the other races did not.

–Beau McAllister

A: You have touched upon what is, to my mind, the great irony that Tolkien wove within his story. Something must be said about why the Elves were so willful in lingering in Middle-earth, but I’ll get to that in a moment. Of course they were concerned about the Three Rings fading, and the cessation of all their protective and healing works, and it put them in a difficult place. However their main duty was to counter the threat of the Shadow (either in the form of Morgoth or Sauron). There was no question they would assist the other Free Peoples in some fashion during the War of the Ring, though asserting victory would ultimately be an end to their time of habitation in Middle-earth. As Saruman so derisively put it:

You have doomed yourselves, and you know it. And it will afford me some comfort as I wander to think that you pulled down your own house when you destroyed mine.

But they did not always have an "out" as you have suggested. If the Elves were to completely abandon Middle-earth and Sauron then won the War (and his erstwhile Ring) what would be the next likely progression of events? Firstly, the dominion of Sauron would rise to such insurmountable strength that all of Arda would be enslaved or destroyed. Secondly, with no hindrance to his advance Sauron would find a way to assault Valinor and ultimately fulfill the original designs of his Master. Just because Valinor was removed from the world does not mean that it was beyond Sauron’s arts to descend upon it. So it was equally needful for the Elves to participate in the War as it was for any other race.

Now back to the other point about the Delaying of Elves. In The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien you can learn much about their pursuit of ‘timelessness’ and why Tolkien considered it a dynamic failing in their character. See especially Letters 131 and 208 where he states:

Their temptation is different: towards a fainéant melancholy, burdened with Memory, leading to an attempt to halt Time.

It is quite revealing stuff to learn that the High Elves’ most compassionate efforts to preserve beauty in Middle-earth was indeed an attempt to recreate their own private Valinor! If this thematic examination interests you, be sure to acquire a copy of Letters.


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Questions 08/00
Quick navigation for questions asked this month.
 • Could the Moriquendi return to Valinor?
 • Tom and the mystery brooch
 • Did Thranduil know of the Ring?
 • Sauron is but a servant
 • First of the Eldar slain
 • Did the Ring sink in Númenor?
 • Is Gandalf really Manwë?
 • Could the Elves abandon Middle-earth?


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