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The place Lord of the Rings elves actually go once they die

The opening of The Fellowship of the Ring finds an elven war-leader ordering his archers to fireside, with arrows aimed so exactly they clip his exquisitely braided hair on their well past. We don’t see Elrond, the lord of Rivendell, for one more hour — and whereas it’s been a number of thousand years, he hasn’t aged a day.

2021 marks The Lord of the Rings motion pictures’ twentieth anniversary, and we could not think about exploring the trilogy in only one story. So every Wednesday all year long, we’ll go there and again once more, analyzing how and why the movies have endured as fashionable classics. That is Polygon’s Yr of the Ring.

Jackson and firm needed to depart many particulars of Tolkien’s mythos unexplained for the Lord of the Rings motion pictures, however the brilliance of the manufacturing is that they by no means let a chance to depict the results of those particulars. We don’t have to be informed that elves dwell a really very long time as a result of Hugo Weaving appears to be like precisely the identical in a multi-millennia flashback.

The elves turn out to be an interesting embodiment of this less-is-more strategy to exposition. Elves can die — Jackson and Co. give outsize weight to elven deaths through the battle of Helm’s Deep, ensuring Aragorn has chunk of a second to honor Haldir’s sacrifice. Elves are unusual — they’re oddly indifferent, even campy of their relations to males, dwarves, and hobbits. Elves keep in mind — the good elf-lord Elrond appears to carry a grudge towards Aragorn for a weak point he witnessed in his distant ancestor, and places up a mighty resistance to Aragorn marrying his daughter.

Jackson’s elves are alien in methods which are troublesome to articulate, however completely compelling nonetheless. They appear detached and useful, clever and overly judgmental. And for many who wish to know extra (and there may be a lot extra), the context for these contrasts — the lore that knowledgeable the dialogue, appearing, even cinematography of the elves of the Lord of the Rings — is all present in Tolkien’s books, typically past the principle trilogy.

See, elves can die, and once they do, they get to go to heaven. They will additionally come again any time they wish to. However the actual key to understanding elven immortality is knowing that elven heaven is a place. Like, on a map.

It’s known as Valinor.

What’s Valinor?

a woman in a white cape stands on a grassy ridge overlooking an elven city in Amazon Studios’ untitled Lord of the Rings TV series

What MAY or MAY NOT be a view of Valinor, in a promotional picture for Amazon’s Lord of the Rings TV sequence.
Picture: Amazon Studios

Within the far west of Center-earth, there’s a continent known as Aman (or a minimum of there was, however we’ll come again to that), that was formed by Center-earth’s gods, the Valar, as the perfect place on the planet for elves.

On the daybreak of time, Center-earth’s supreme creator god, Eru Ilúvatar, created the Valar to be the caretakers of the world, and to form its kind into one that may be good for Ilúvatar’s subsequent creations, Elves. (Males have been additionally within the blueprints for Center-earth, however not for some eons later.) The Valar weren’t highly effective sufficient to show all of Center-earth right into a paradise, so after they made all of the birds, and fish, and animals, and the mountains, and valleys, and rivers, and oceans, and many of the stars … they targeted on crafting an elven homeland within the far west.

And once they discovered the primary elves, they spent a very long time gaining their belief and guiding them to Aman, with some factions of elves selecting to remain behind at varied pinch factors like mountain ranges and ocean shores — leaving a tidy path of various elven cultures for Tolkien to play with through the course of The Silmarillion, his historical past of the pre-Lord of the Rings Center-earth.

On the continent of Aman, the elves and the Valar based a nation known as Valinor. Valinor is Asgard, and it’s Valhalla; it’s Heaven, and it’s, in some methods, Eden. And inside Valinor is the area of Mandos, Center-earth’s god of the afterlife. The Halls of Mandos are a system of nice caverns and underground halls lined with god-woven tapestries depicting all of historical past. When elves die, their spirits journey to the Halls, the place they relaxation for a time as disembodied shades. Most of them are then returned to corporeal kind and rejoin all the opposite elves residing in Valinor.

Haldir in The Two Towers.

Picture: New Line Cinema

Most elves “return to life” with out a lot drama, however Mandos has the ability to disclaim an elf corporeal kind in the event that they have been a very dangerous individual in life. And if an elf lacks the desire to dwell once more — which has occurred a minimum of a couple of occasions — they continue to be as a tragic, disembodied shade within the Halls of Mandos till the tip of time or till they really feel higher, whichever occurs first. Their households and buddies can go to them, however it’s not very enjoyable.

So sure, if an elf is killed in battle, her demise will separate her from any family members she has on Center-earth as her spirit travels to Valinor to be re-embodied. However her elven family and friends know they’ll see her once more ultimately. And “ultimately” just isn’t onerous to attend for if you actually dwell eternally. Any period of time you spend aside from your beloved is, by definition, is a blip on the street of infinity.

Human spirits additionally journey to the Halls of Mandos upon demise, however they don’t get to remain, and no person is aware of the place they go besides Mandos and Ilúvatar himself. Spooky! And really fascinating that Tolkien’s personal mythology is one by which humanity has no assured afterlife of any type.

Many elves traveled to Aman within the early days of Center-earth and made it their dwelling — some elves, like Galadriel, have been merely born and raised in Valinor, the realm of the gods, which is a part of the rationale she’s such a stand-out badass in comparison with the opposite elves in The Lord of the Rings.

However whether or not they’ve been to Valinor earlier than or not, all elves go there once they die, and all elves can depart Valinor and sail to the remainder of Center-earth if they need — although that hasn’t occurred significantly typically in Tolkien’s work, and when it has it’s normally a giant deal.

So you’ll be able to simply … sail to elf heaven?

A boat sails west out of Middle-earth in The Return of the King.

Picture: New Line Cinema

Not anybody. Not anymore. Within the time of the Struggle of the Ring, Center-earth was a globe. However when Eru Ilúvatar created Center-earth, it was flat. What occurred in between begins with an island nation known as Númenor (which is more likely to play a serious function in Amazon’s Lord of the Rings TV sequence).

Hundreds of years earlier than the Struggle of the Ring, the human kingdom of Númenor was based within the ocean between Aman and the remainder of Center-earth, underneath the management of Elrond’s twin brother Elros. See, Elrond and Elros have been descended from such blended parentage — a number of half-elven ancestors and one literal demigod — that the Valar threw up their arms and allowed the twins and their dad and mom to decide on their very own destiny: Immortality or mortality.

Elros was the one member of their household who selected to be human, and he was the primary king of Númenor, from which Aragorn’s household line and the folks of Gondor descended. (This is the reason Aragorn appears to be like so good for an 87 12 months outdated: It’s the ability of elvish blood.) However many generations later, Númenor fell underneath the sway of a black sorcerer who inspired many on the island to spurn the Valar in favor of worshipping a darkish god.

Sure, it was Sauron, again within the days when he might take bodily kind. The Darkish Lord had satisfied the final king of Númenor, Ar-Pharazôn, that if he constructed an armada to invade Valinor he might plunder the secrets and techniques of the gods and win immortality for humanity — an internet of lies and manipulations.

As Ar-Pharazôn’s fleet set foot upon the continent of Aman, the Valar known as on Ilúvatar to cease the invasion, as they have been forbidden from harming his youngsters. And boy did Ilúvatar cease it.

Center-earth’s creator god cracked the plate of the world in two, snapping the continent of Aman off like a Equipment-Kat bar and drowning Ar-Pharazôn’s fleet and the island of Númenor beneath the churning seas. The remaining piece Center-earth was bent right into a sphere, and any people who tried to sail to Valinor once more… nicely, I’ll let Tolkien say it, as he does in The Silmarillion:

People who sailed furthest set however a girdle concerning the Earth and returned weary ultimately to the place of their starting; they usually mentioned: ‘All roads at the moment are bent.’ […] but the [elves] have been permitted nonetheless to depart and to come back to the Historical West […], if they’d. Due to this fact the loremasters of Males mentioned {that a} Straight Highway should nonetheless be, for people who have been permitted to search out it. They usually taught that, whereas the brand new world fell away, the outdated street and the trail of the reminiscence of the West nonetheless went on, because it have been a mighty bridge invisible that handed by means of the air of breath and of flight […] and traversed Ilmen which flesh unaided can not endure […] to Valinor.

“Ilmen” is the elven phrase for the higher ambiance of Center-earth, by means of which the celebs, solar, and moon go. So, because of Sauron, the elven afterlife is technically in house now.

Frodo and Bilbo sailed west with the elves, does that imply they’re immortal?

Tolkien wasn’t actually express about that, however in all probability not. Immortality is a side of the Elven race, not one thing conferred by Valinor itself. It’s in all probability higher to consider Frodo and Bilbo (and Sam and Gilmi)’s invites to board a ship on the Gray Havens because the present of a really, very good retirement in recognition of companies rendered to the security of Center-earth and thus the targets of the Valar.

What do the Gray Havens should do with all of this?

The Gray Havens are in a area of Center-earth known as Lindon. Within the map initially of The Lord of the Rings, it’s a coastal area all the best way on the western facet of the map.

However within the map of Tolkien’s Silmarillion, which largely takes place earlier than the destruction of Númenor, Lindon is a tiny wedge of house past the map’s final jap mountain vary. Ilúvatar’s wrath drowned all the lands that function in The Silmarillion, turning Lindon into beachfront property in a single day — and into the closest ocean shore to Valinor.

So, shortly after that cataclysm, surviving elves in Center-earth — primarily a faction who had originated in Valinor and traveled again to the principle continent hundreds of years earlier than for causes that just about make up the core plotline of The Silmarillion — based the Gray Havens as an ocean port particularly for sending ships over the Straight Highway again to Valinor.

Nonetheless, lots of these elves hung round for a very long time afterwards. At that time, they’d spent lots of time struggling for peace in Center-earth, they usually felt tied to the land and their allies there. However on an immortal’s timescale, nothing lasts eternally besides your individual lifetime. By the period of the Struggle of the Ring, lots of the elves in Center-earth have been beginning to really feel somewhat obsessive about the western sea.

Even Legolas, born in an elven society the place nobody had ever truly been to Valinor, talked about feeling an instinctual calling to journey there in The Return of the King. Nicely, truly, he sang about it, however that’s elves for you:

Gray ship, gray ship, do you hear them calling.
The voices of my those who have gone earlier than me?
I’ll depart, I’ll depart the woods that bore me […]
Lengthy are the waves on the Final Shore falling,
Candy are the voices within the Misplaced Isle calling,
In Eressëa, in Elvenhome that no man can uncover,
The place the leaves fall not: land of my folks for ever!’

Why does Arwen have to surrender her immortality to marry Aragorn?

We’ve lined how Tolkien’s elves are functionally immortal as a result of their souls go to a different nation and get new our bodies. However right here’s the opposite vital factor about them: Tolkien’s elves are monogamous. And I don’t imply culturally. If The Lord of the Rings have been a science fiction setting, we would name it a organic crucial.

Elves mate for all times and don’t remarry. (Excluding actually one elf, one time, and — this seems like hyperbole however it’s a must to belief me — he was additionally the man who made the worst choice in elven historical past.) As soon as an elf engages in reciprocated love with somebody, that’s it. If he can’t be with that individual he’ll lose the desire to dwell, die, and turn out to be a forever-shade within the Halls of Mandos. Elves don’t transfer on.

Elves and people have fallen in love solely a handful of occasions in Center-earth’s historical past, and It’s all the time a giant deal, as a result of all people die. Arwen and Aragorn’s romance was vastly enlarged within the motion pictures from its frankly miniscule presence in Tolkien’s novels, and it makes Elrond seem to be a harsh dad who disapproves of his daughter coming into an interracial relationship.

However elven monogamy gives the context to the best way he cruelly forces Arwen to confront the concept of Aragorn’s eventual demise. If she loves him, he’ll ultimately die, and she’s going to pine for him eternally as a shade within the Halls of Mandos. If she loves him and is separated from him, the very same factor will occur. But when she doesn’t actually love him, there’s nonetheless an opportunity she received’t die.

Elrond, whose twin brother selected mortality, is the uncommon elf who has truly skilled the grief of dropping a member of the family — and he must know if he’s going to lose his daughter, too. Elrond’s insistence that Aragorn seize his kingly future isn’t nearly ensuring his son-in-law can present for his daughter in a fashion worthy of her. It’s as a result of no daughter of his goes to surrender everlasting life in a god-crafted paradise for a sweaty ranger within the woods.

However she may give it up for inheritor to his brother’s legacy and the king of all good Males.

Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings didn’t commit time to unpacking the precise nature of elven immortality, or of elven romance, however that doesn’t imply these particulars have been ignored. Take Arwen and Aragorn’s reunion scene in The Return of the King.

From behind his daughter, Hugo Weaving’s Elrond looks at her with an absolutely devastated expression on his face in The Return of the King.

Picture: New Line Cinema

When you discover Hugo Weaving’s face as Liv Tyler steps away from him and into Viggo Mortensen’s arms, you’ll by no means take a look at anything throughout this second. It’s not the look of a father giving a baby away in marriage, however the look of a father dropping an eternity in paradise along with his daughter.

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