The elves in Tolkien's stories are not like elves in many other stories. Forget images of Santas helpers. Tolkien's elves are based more on the elves of ancient mythology. They are taller and more slender than humans. Elves are described as generally being wiser and more attractive than humans. The increased wisdom may in part be due to their long lives. They also have more of a talent in areas such as singing and other crafts. Some of their crafts are considered by other races to be magic. Elves were not prone to disease and did not grow old. They could die through accident or injury but not through what we would refer to as natural causes.
Some elves, such as the Noldor and many of the Sindar lived in great cities. Others such as the Laiquendi prefered to live in forests.
History of the Elves
Elves first awoke in Cuiviénen in the far east of Middle Earth. As they looked up they saw the stars in the sky and their people loved the stars ever after. They soon developed speech and called themselves the Quendi (those that speak with voices).
Unfortunately, Melkor became aware of their existence before the Valar did. Some elves who wandered too far alone disappeared. It is told that those elves were captured and tortured by Melkor. They were twisted into shapes of evil and in this way, Melkor created the race of orcs, in mockery of elves.
Finally, the Vala Oromë discovered the elves as he was hunting. At first they feared him but after he had stayed with them for a while, and befriended them, he returned to the Valar in the west. The Valar discussed what to do and they eventually decided to attack Melkor to make sure that he couldn't harm the elves any more. After a great battle, Melkor was defeated by the Valar and captured by Tulkas.
The Valar then summoned the elves to join them in Valinor to the west. First, three ambassadors went with Oromë to Valinor and afterward returned to convinced the other elves to follow. These three elves were Ingwë, Finwë and Elwë. Some elves chose to follow but some stayed behind. The ones that stayed in the east came to be known as the Avari (the unwilling) and it was a long time before the two groups of elves met again.
The first group left, led by Ingwë. These went directly to Valinor and never returned to Middle Earth. This group were known as the Vanyar (fair elves) and lived with the Valar from that time onwards.
The next group left with Finwë and were known as the Noldor. They also arrived in Valinor, though not all of them stayed there.
The largest group, led by Elwë, came last and took the longest in their journey. They were known as the Teleri. When the Teleri reached the western shores of Middle Earth, some were unwilling to cross and remained. These became known as the Sindar. The rest were drawn across the sea on an island by Ulmo and settled in the east of Valinor. They loved the sea and became great ship builders. Some of them also stopped earlier in their journey before crossing the Misty Mountains and became known as the Nandor elves.
Elves and Humans
The elves were the first people of Middle Earth and lived for a long time before humans appeared in Middle Earth. The biggest difference between the two races was that elves were immortal and never grew old, though they could still be killed by accident or injury. When elves grew weary of life in Middle Earth they sometimes set sail for the undying lands in the west. Humans were mortal and lived for a comparatively short time before dying. Some humans were enemies with elves while others were close friends.
The Groups of Elves
This name is given to all of the elves who never followed the summons of the Valar and stayed in the east of Middle Earth.
This name was given to all of the elves who followed the summons of the Valar, though not all of them made it all the way to Valinor.
Some of the Nandor elves who stayed to the east of the Misty Mountains, later decided to move west in to Beleriend. They became known as the Laiquendi, or Green elves, and settled in Ossiriand.
Elves of the darkness. This name is given to all the elves who never saw the light of Valinor. They included the Sindar, Nandor and Avari elves.
Those who turn back. The Nandor elves were among the third group of elves to leave for Valinor, though they stayed east of the Misty Mountains. Some of them later moved west and became known as the Laiquendi.
The second group of elves to go to Valinor. Their leader was Finwë. Some of them later rebelled against the Valar lead by Feanor the son of Finwë and returned to Middle Earth.
Some of the third group of elves to leave for Valinor reached the western shores of Middle Earth and decided to stay in Beleriend. They became known as the Sindar and were the main group of elves in the west of Middle Earth. They were ruled by King Thingol from his halls in Doriath.
The woodland elves of Middle Earth in places such as Mirkwood forest were sometimes referred to as Silvan elves. These were mostly Nandor elves who stayed east of the Misty Mountains instead of going west to Valinor.
The third group of elves to set out for Valinor. Their leader was Elwë. Some of them arrived in Valinor while some of them stopped and settled along the way. Elwë later fell in love with Melian, one of the Maiar and married her. He became Thingol, King of Doriath and stayed in Beleriand with the Sindar elves. He was the only one of the Sindar elves who had been to Valinor.
The Úmanyar were the elves who set out for Valinor but didn't go all the way there. They included the Sindar and Nandor elves.
The first group of elves to go to Valinor. Their leader was Ingwë.
Rebellion of the Noldor
When the Noldor elves were living in Valinor, Melkor was also living there as a captive of the Valar. In time Melkor was pardoned by the Valar, though he was still not allowed to leave them. Since Manwë was free of evil, he could not understand evil and he believed that Melkor had indeed turned from it. Not all of the Valar believed Melkor though. Ulmo and Tulkas weren't deceived by Melkor though they followed the will of Manwë.
Melkor pretended to help the elves, though in his heart he hated them and blamed them as the reason for his capture & humiliation. Most of all he hated Feanor son of Finwë, the greatest of all the elves.
Feanor was skilled in making jewels and the most famous of all his creations were the three Silmarils. Melkor lusted after the Silmarils and there came a time when he killed Finwë, stole the Silmarils and then fled. Feanor and his sons were furious and swore an oath to pursue Melkor until the Silmarils were again in their possession. Feanor also named Melkor, Morgoth which name he was known by afterwards. They persuaded a large group of the Noldor to follow them and they departed for Middle Earth. This began the wars of the elves and Morgoth in Middle Earth as told in The Silmarillion.
When the Noldor returned to Middle Earth, they found that their language was different from the language of the elves in Beleriand. There was some strife between the two groups. The language of the elves of Beleriand (Sindarin) was the main language among elves while the language of the Noldor (Quenya) was mostly used as a language of lore.
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