The Half-Elven and their Ancestry

During the First Age, there were three sets of marriages in which the blood of the Eldar became mingled with the blood of both Men and Maiar. These are:

- the marriage of Thingol and Melian (introduction of Maiar blood, and not discussed here)
- the marriage of Lúthien and Beren (introduction of Human blood)
- the marriage of Idril and Tuor (introduction of Human blood)

Why are these marriages so important? Because the lineages they produce lead to the Peredhil – Half-Elven – Eärendil and Elwing; Elrond and Elros; Elladan, Elrohir and Arwen.

This essay then goes through the Peredhil lineages, starting with Lúthien and Beren and ending with Arwen; discussing their heritage and their choices.

The Peredhel Family Tree

Lúthien and Beren

Lúthien Tinuviel was the only child of Melian the Maia and Elu Thingol, the Sindar King of Doriath. She fell in love with Beren, a mortal of the First House of the Edain.

Just before Beren died, Lúthien bade his soul to wait in the Halls of Mandos until she joined him there.

“But the spirit of Lúthien fell down into darkness, and at the last it fled, and her body lay like a flower that is suddenly cut off and lies for a while unwithered on the grass. … But Lúthien came to the halls of Mandos … and she knelt before Mandos and sang to him.” (“The Silmarillion”, Of Beren and Lúthien)

Mandos was moved to pity, and he went to Manwë, who sought counsel in his innermost thoughts, where the will of Ilúvatar was revealed. He then gave several choices to Lúthien:

“Because of her labours and her sorrow, she should be released from Mandos, and go to Valimar, there to dwell until the world’s end among the Valar, forgetting all the griefs that her life had known. Thither Beren could not come. … But the other choice was this: that she might return to Middle-earth, and take with her Beren, there to dwell again, but without certitude of life or joy. Then she would become mortal, and subject to a second death, even as he; and ere long she would leave the world for ever, and her beauty become only a memory in song.” (“The Silmarillion”, Of Beren and Lúthien)

That she truly became mortal was made clear:

“This doom she chose, forsaking the Blessed Ream, and putting aside all claim to kinship with those that dwell there … the fates of Beren and Lúthien might be joined, and their paths lead together beyond the confines of the world.” (“The Silmarillion”, Of Beren and Lúthien)

“In the primary story of Lúthien and Beren, Lúthien is allowed as an absolute exception to divest herself of ‘immortality’ and become ‘mortal’ -but when Beren is slain by the Wolf-warden of the Gates of Hell, Lúthien obtains a brief respite in which they both return to Middle-earth ‘alive’- though not mingling with other people: a kind of Orpheus-legend in reverse, but one of Pity not of Inexorability.” (Letters #153)

Only mortals could leave the confines of the world.

Beren and Lúthien then journeyed through the north of the world, and “they took up again their mortal form in Doriath”. Though that Lúthien was somehow something more than just a human seems to still be intended: “Lúthien went to Menegroth and healed the winter of Thingol with the touch of her hand.” (“The Silmarillion”, Of the Fifth Battle: Nirnaeth Arnoediad) They then went forth to Tol Galen, where Dior was born.

Dior

With Dior come the first series of complications. Was he a man or an elf? Mortal or immortal? Genetically, he was half-man, a quarter elf and a quarter Maiar. So simply from this, one could suggest that he should be mortal. But he still had elven blood. Is there a percentage of elven blood that is needed to make someone an elf? Or is the matter less scientific than that?

So what did Tolkien say about Dior?

“he appeared as the fairest of all the children of the world, of threefold race: of the Edain, and of the Eldar, and of the Maiar of the Blessed Realm.” (“The Silmarillion”, Of the Ruin of Doriath)

He also seems to have vacillated about Dior’s status through different drafts of The Silmarillion.

“Dior son of Beren and Tinúviel appears in the Tale of the Nauglafring, but there Beren is an Elf, and Dior is not Half-elven.” (BoLT 2, The Fall of Gondolin)

In early drafts of The Silmarillion, Dior is also known as half-elven, for example:

“Dior Halfelven weds Lindis of Ossiriand” (The War of the Jewels, The Wanderings of Húrin)

“Dior their son, it is said, spoke both tongues: his father’s, and his mother’s, the Sindarin of Doriath. For he said: “I am the first of the Peredhil (Half-elven); but I am also the heir of King Elwë, the Eluchil.”" (The Peoples of Middle-earth, The Problem of Ros)

Pro-mortality

- Lúthien was mortal when she lived in Tol Galen. So was Beren. Therefore, their son should be mortal
- Dior has 50% mortal blood, only 25% elven blood.
- Thingol’s Heir – would a 39 year old elf be old enough to reign? Being the son of Lúthien, scion of Thingol and Melian the Maia, the Elves of Doriath would -for the most part- have no problem accepting his leadership.
- “It is to be observed that according to the judgment of Manwë Dior, Thingol’s Heir, son of Beren, was mortal respective of the choice of his mother.” (The Lost Road, Quenta Silmarillion)

Pro-immortality

- About the fall of Doriath “and so befell the second slaying of Elf by Elf” (“The Silmarillion”, Of the Ruin of Doriath) But I think this is generic – not necessarily referring to Dior.
- Thingol’s Heir – would a mortal really reign in Doriath?
- Marriage to Nimloth. Why marry an elf when a mortal knows he is condemning both of them to sorrow? (but because he was half-elven, what would that do to his longevity?)
- Not mentioned in the 3 elf/mortal marriages.

A big part of the problem with Dior is that the judgement of Manwë concerning half-elven did not occur until after Dior’s death. This judgement was stated to apply specifically to Eärendil and his sons. However, when Christopher Tolkien adapted the paragraph in question for the published Silmarillion, he chose to omit the line that “all those who have the blood of mortal Men, in whatever part, great or small, are mortal, unless other doom be granted to them”. I get the feeling that while Tolkien wanted Dior to be seen as an elf, actually he knew he had to be mortal.

And why does it matter? It matters principally not because of Dior himself, but what inheritance he handed down to his daughter Elwing, who then married another half-elven, and upon whom the Valar laid the Choice.

Elwing

Elwing was officially 5/8 Sindarin elf, 1/8 Maia and 2/8 mortal, but everything about her makes it seem as if she was elvenkind. Her name meant “star-spray”, and she was born on a starry night – the time of the day special to elves.

The Valar also seem to have considered her at least partly elvish. When she travelled to the Blessed Realm with her husband, she was allowed to walk on their shores, even though only Eärendil was “officially” invited. Of course, this was partly due to the fact Eärendil was there, but if she had been considered fully mortal, I can’t imagine that the Valar would tolerate her presence. Furthermore, in the War of Wrath, the Teleri were unwilling to go to war, but they “hearkened to Elwing, who was the daughter of Dior Eluchíl and come of their own kindred”.

Eärendil

Eärendil was half mortal and half Noldor (the son of Tuor and Idril) and was the first to be called “Half-elven” by Tolkien. He was portrayed as more of a Man than his wife, at least until they sailed to Valinor. But he was also the first to be named “Half-elven”, and he did have some distinctly elven traits –particularly a strong sea-longing:

“In the spring of the year after was born in Gondolin Eärendil Half-elven, the son of Tuor and Idril Celebrindal … Of surpassing beauty was Eärendil, for a light was in his face as the light of heaven, and he had the beauty and the wisdom of the Eldar and the strength and hardihood of the Men of old; and the Sea spoke ever in his ear and heart, even as with Tuor his father.” (“The Silmarillion”, Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin)

“[In Nan-tathren] the sea-longing woke in his [Tuor's] heart, and in his son’s also” (“The Silmarillion”, Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin)

“He rideth now with Voronwë upon the winds of the firmament nor comes ever further back than Kôr, else would he die like other Men, so much of the mortal is in him.” (BoLT II, The Tale of Eärendel)

When living at the mouths of Sirion, he married Elwing, and she bore him Elrond and Elros, who were also called Half-elven.

“Yet Eärendil could not rest, and his voyages about the shores of the Hither Lands eased not his unquiet. Two purposes grew in his heart, blended as one in longing for the wide Sea: he sought to sail thereon, seeking after Tuor and Idril who returned not; and he thought to find perhaps the last shore, and bring ere he died the message of Elves and Men to the Valar in the West, that should move their hearts to pity for the sorrows of Middle-earth.”

When he landed on the shores of Valinor, he was described as the “first of living Men” to set foot there. From this, one could say that the Valar’s acceptance of him meant that they considered him of elvenkind, even though genetically he was half mortal. But there is the issue of the Silmaril to take into consideration. Would the Valar have let any person into Valinor if they bore a Silmaril? It seems that it was the Silmaril that allowed Vingilot to be steered through the Enchanted Isles and manage to find Aman.

The Judgement of Manwë

When Eärendil reached Valinor, Mandos pronounced his judgement on the Man who had dared set foot in the Undying Lands.

“Mandos spoke concerning his fate; and he said: “Shall mortal Man step living upon the undying lands, and yet live?” But Ulmo said: “For this: “For this he was born into the world. And say unto me: whether is he Eärendil Tuor’s son of the line of Hador, or the son of Idril, Turgon’s daughter, of the Elven-house of Finwë?” And Mandos answered: “Equally the Noldor, who went wilfully into exile, may no return hither.”

“But when all was spoken, Manwë gave judgement, and he said: “In this matter the power of doom is given to me. The peril that he [Eärendil] ventured for love of the Two Kindreds shall not fall upon Eärendil, nor shall it fall upon Elwing his wife, who entered into peril for love of him; but they shall not walk again ever among Elves or Men in the Outer Lands. And this is my decree concerning them: to Eärendil and to Elwing, and to their sons, shall be given leave each to choose freely to which kindred their fates shall be joined, and under which kindred they shall be judged.” (“The Silmarillion”, The Voyage of Eärendil and the War of Wrath)

Elwing chose to be counted among the Eldar, because of Lúthien, and Eärendil chose the same for Elwing’s sake – though his heart was rather with Men and the people of his father.

An earlier version of the Judgement includes an extra sentence, which shows that Tolkien’s early ideas seem to have been that half-elven were mortal, unless otherwise decreed:

“Then Manwë gave judgement and he said: “To Eärendel I remit the ban … Now all those who have the blood of mortal Men, in whatever part, great or small, are mortal, unless other doom be granted to them; but in this matter the power of doom is given to me. This is my decree: To Eärendel and to Elwing and to their sons shall be given leave each to choose freely under which kindred they shall be judged.” (The Lost Road, Quenta Silmarillion)

The Peredhel twins: Elrond and Elros

Were Eärendil and Elwing mortal when Elrond and Elros were born? It is not known for certain, but some inferences can be made. If we look at timelines:

Earliest Annals of Beleriand

200 – birth of Eärendil and Elwing
225 – birth of Elrond

Tale of Years C

505 / 503 – Birth of Eärendil
527 / 530 – Marriage
528 / 530 / 534 – Voyages of Eärendil begin
528 / 532* – Elros and Elrond born
536 / 540 / 542 – Eärendil comes to Valinor

*This date corresponds exactly with the date from the Line of Elros in Unfinished Tales – where Elros was born 58 years before the Second Age began.

So …. Eärendil and Elwing were around 25 (ish) when Elrond and Elros were born. This seems *incredibly* young for Elves (even those who are partly Man and partly Elf). And for the birth to occur only 1 year after marriage when it takes elves about a year to carry children seems even more unusual.

If we look at the Silmarillion….

“Bright Eärendil was then lord of the people that dwelt nigh to Sirion’s mouths; and he took to wife Elwing the fair, and she bore to him Elrond and Elros, who are called the Half-elven. Yet Eärendil could not rest, an his voyages about the shores of the Hither Lands eased not his unquiet.”

So, in both sources, Elrond and Elros were born before Eärendil and Elwing went to Valinor. I would suggest then that they were born to mortal parents rather than parents who had officially joined the immortals.

The choice of which race to be numbered among was passed down to Eärendil and Elwing’s sons, Elrond and Elros.

“The Peringiul, the Half-elven, were born of Elwing wife of Eärendel, while Eärendel was at sea, the twin brethren Elrond and Elros.” (The Lost Road, The Later Annals of Beleriand)

Their genetic makeup was 6/16 Man, 5/16 Sindar, 4/16 Noldor, and 1/16 Maiar. Therefore, their blood was predominantly elven. Whether, before they chose which race to be counted in, they were classed as mortal or immortal is unknown, but if Eärendil and Elwing were indeed considered mortal at that point, their children would be too.

They both made their choice at the end of the First Age, when Elros became numbered among Mortals, and Elrond among elvenkind.

“In Middle-earth dwelt also Gil-galad the High King, and with him was Elrond Half-elven, who chose, as was granted to him, to be numbered among the Eldar; but Elros his brother chose to abide with Men.” (Silmarillion, Of the Voyage of Eärendil and the War of Wrath)

“Elrond chose to be of Elvenkind, and became a master of wisdom. To him therefore was granted the same grace as to those of the High Elves that still lingered in Middle-earth: that when weary at last of the mortal lands they could take ship from the Grey Havens and pass into the Uttermost West, notwithstanding the change of the world. But to the children of Elrond a choice was also appointed: to pass with him from the circles of the world; or if they wedded with one of Mankind, to become mortal and die in Middle-earth.” (PoME, The Making of Appendix A, p257)

“Eärendil is Túor’s son & father of Elros … and Elrond, their mother being Elwing daughter of Dior, son of Beren and Lúthien: so the problem of the Half-elven becomes united in one line. The view is that the Half-elven have a power of (irrevocable) choice, which may be delayed but not permanently, which kin’s fate they will share. Elros chose to be a King and ‘longaevus’ but mortal, so all his descendants are mortal, and of a specially noble race, but with dwindling longevity… Elrond chose to be among the Elves. His children – with a renewed Elvish strain, since their mother was Celebrían dtr. of Galadriel – have to make their choices. …. When [Arwen] weds Aragorn … she `makes the choice of Lúthien’, so the grief at her parting from Elrond is specially poignant. Elrond passes Over Sea.” (Letters #153)

Elros

Even though Elros chose to be mortal, he was still allotted a long life-span – many times that of the Men of Middle-earth. He lived for 500 years, and ruled the Númenóreans for 410 years. This longevity was passed down through his line, through to the Kings of Númenor, Arnor and Gondor.

Elrond

Elrond chose to be numbered among elvenkind, and married an elf – Celebrían, half-Noldor, half-Teleri. He lived in Middle-earth until the end of the Third Age, was the bearer of Vilya after Gil-galad, and only left Middle-earth with the rest of the Ringbearers after the War of the Ring.

It is with Elrond that we can see the evolution of some of Tolkien’s ideas about the half-elven:

“But of these only Elrond was now left, the Half-elfin; and [he] elected to remain, being bound by his mortal blood in love to those of the younger race” (The Shaping of Middle-earth, The Quenta)

“The introduction of Elrond in S is of great interest. … When the Elves return into the West he elects to stay ‘on earth’, being ‘bound by his mortal half’. It is most remarkable that although the idea of a choice of fate for the Half-elven is already present, it takes a curiously different form from that which is was to take afterwards, and which became of great importance in The Lord of the Rings; for afterwards, Elrond … elected to remain an Elf – yet his later choice derives in part from the earlier conception, for he elected also not to go into the West. In S, to choose his ‘elfin half’ seems to have meant to choose the West; afterwards, it meant to choose Elvish immortality.” (The Shaping of Middle-earth, Annotations to The Earliest “Silmarillion”)

As Elrond chose immortality, the Choice was passed down to his children, Elladan, Elrohir and Arwen, all of whom were born Peredhil, though with a greater amount of elven blood than their father. Of those three, we only truly know Arwen’s decision.

Arwen

It is with Arwen that we see the true heartache that could be involved in the Choice. Most tragic is the effect on Elrond – who has already lost his wife and his brother:

“But there will be no choice before Arwen, my beloved, unless you, Aragorn Arathorn’s son, come between us and bring one of us, you or me, to a bitter parting beyond the end of the world. You do not know yet what you desire of me.” (“The Lord of the Rings”, Appendix A)

When Elrond discovered that Arwen did indeed love Aragorn, his heart was grieved, “and found the doom long feared none the easier to endure” (“The Lord of the Rings”, Appendix A)

Arwen’s choice was made when she re-met Aragorn in Lórien. For some time Aragorn and Arwen wandered together in the glades of Lórien and on the evening of midsummer they went to the fair hill, Cerin Amroth. Upon this hill they plighted their troth. And Arwen told Aragorn :

“I will cleave to you, Dúnadan and turn from the twilight. Yet there lies the land of my people and the long home of all my kin.” (“The Lord of the Rings”, Appendix A)

When Elrond left Middle-earth, Arwen’s doom was sealed:

“Elrond grew weary at last and forsook Middle-earth, never to return. But Arwen became as a mortal woman, and yet it was not her lot to die until all that she had gained was lost.” (“The Lord of the Rings”, Appendix A)

As Arwen chose to become mortal, and because she married a mortal, her children were born mortal. Therefore, neither Eldarion nor Arwen’s daughters were given the Choice.

And after Aragorn died, the light in her eyes faded, and she went forth from Minas Tirith to a silent Lothlórien.

“There at last when the mallorn-leaves were falling, but spring had not yet come, she laid herself to rest upon Cerin Amroth; and there is her green grave, until the world is changed, and all the days of her life are utterly forgotten by men that come after, and elanor and niphredil bloom no more east of the Sea.” (“The Lord of the Rings”, Appendix A)

Reuniting of lineages

The marriage of Aragorn and Arwen was the third of the unions of Eldar and Men, and was the first where the bloodlines of the Eldar, Maiar, and the Edain were combined into one line, as Arwen’s heritage included the four Elven Kings – Finwë, Ingwë, Olwë and Elwë – as well as Maia and mortal blood.

Elladan and Elrohir

“The end of his sons, Elladan and Elrohir, is not told: they delay their choice, and remain for awhile.” (Letters)

We do not know for definite Elladan and Elrohir’s choices, but Tolkien does drop some hints:

“It is probable that Meriadoc obtained assistance and information from Rivendell, which he visited more than once. There, though Elrond had departed, his sons long remained, together with some of the High-elven folk. It is said that Celeborn went to dwell there after the departure of Galadriel; but there is no record of the day when at last he sought the Grey Havens, and with him went the last living memory of the Elder Days in Middle-earth.” (Prologue, LotR)

The way Tolkien words this “when at last he sought” makes it fairly clear to me that Celeborn passed over the Sea.

“And with him went the last living memory of the Elder Days” … well … that’s a fairly large statement. Does that suggest that Elladan and Elrohir passed over the Sea with Celeborn? Are they old enough to be included of those elves who saw the “Elder Days”?

There are also suggestions that soon after the start of the Fourth Age, Rivendell was empty:

“At the Grey Havens dwelt Círdan the Shipwright, and some say he dwells there still, until the Last Ship sets sail into the West. In the days of the Kings most of the High Elves that still lingered in Middle-earth dwelt with Círdan or in the seaward lands of Lindon. If any now remain they are few.” Appendix A, LotR)

“Lady Undómiel,” said Aragorn, “the hour is indeed hard, yet it was made even in that day when we met under the white birches in the garden of Elrond where none now walk.” (LotR, Appendix A)

I personally think that they stayed in Middle-earth for a while, and then left, probably with Celeborn.

So what really makes a half-elf mortal or immortal?

A lot of the problems around this issue come from confusion between “genetic” elvishness / mannishness and “actual” elvishness / mannishness. For example, both Elrond and Elros are genetically more Elvish than anything else, though Elrond comes to be counted among the Elves, and Elros among the mortals.

So what is more important – the genetic constituent of a person, or what the Valar decree he is?

And it seems as though what the Valar say they are is most important. It is the Valar (Mandos) who decrees that the Peredhil are allowed to choose, it is the Valar who allow Tuor to become immortal, even though he is a Man.

“[Mandos said] “And this is my decree concerning them: to Eärendil and to Elwing, and to their sons, shall be given leave each to choose freely to which kindred their fates shall be joined, and under which kindred they shall be judged.” (“The Silmarillion”, The Voyage of Eärendil and the War of Wrath)

And fittingly, the last word will be left to Tolkien:

“Elvishness” is a state of being, not determined by Mendelian genetics but instead determined by the rulings of the Valar.” (“The Lost Road”)

References

- The Silmarillion
- The Lord of the Rings
- The Letters of JRR Tolkien
- HoME – Book of Lost Tales 2, The Lost Road, The War of the Jewels, Peoples of Middle-earth

Written by Atalante