The Choice of the Half-Elven

I must indeed abide the Doom of Men, whether I will or I nill: the loss and the silence. But I say to you, King of the Númenoreans, not till now have I understood the tale of your people and their fall. As wicked fools I scorned them, but I pity them at last. For if this is indeed, as the Eldar say, the gift of the One to Men, it is bitter to receive. (RotK, 1037-8)

One common threads woven through the tales of Middle-earth is that of the Peredhil, the half-Elven. These individuals are few, since unions between Men and Elves were rare, but they are among the most important characters in Tolkien’s writings. These are the people caught between mortality and immortality, between the Elder Race and the Younger Race:

  • Lúthien Tinúviel (who technical isn’t half-Elven, but she’s still critical to this discussion)
  • Dior Aranel
  • Elúred
  • Elúrin
  • Elwing
  • Eärendil
  • Elrond
  • Elros
  • Elladan
  • Elrohir
  • Arwen

Central to the Mythos

The half-Elven are fascinating, both when you examine their choices as characters and when you look at their place within the mythos. Lúthien and Eärendil, in particular, are two of the most important figures in the history of Middle-earth. They dared to do what others would not and they continued to inspire others for centuries upon centuries.

Even from Tolkien’s perspective, these two characters are vital to Middle-earth. Eärendil could be considered the creative spark from which Tolkien’s life work grew. The tale of Beren and Lúthien was probably dearest to Tolkien because Lúthien was inspired by his wife, Edith.

The Importance of Mortality

Perhaps the reason these characters are so central is that the theme of the story (or at least LotR), in Tolkien’s own words, is immortality and mortality,

The real theme for me is about something much more permanent and difficult [than power]: Death and Immortality: the mystery of the love of the world in the hearts of a race ‘doomed’ to live and seemingly lose it; the anguish in the hearts of a race ‘doomed’ not to leave it, until its whole evil-aroused story is complete. (Letters, 246)

Indeed, this thread runs through all of Tolkien’s works. The Silmarillion is heavy with the sorrow of both Elves and Men. The half-Elven stand at the crossroads of mortality and immortality–some of them are given the explicit choice. This makes them an important part of understanding both Tolkien and Middle-earth.

This is part one of an in-depth series on the half-Elven. Check back often to read the rest of the series:
Half-Elven Part II: The Choice of Lúthien
Half-Elven Part III: Those Denied the Choice
Half-Elven Part IV: The Union
Half-Elven Part V: The Children of Choice
Half-Elven Part VI: The Last Ones
Half-Elven Part VII

Photo Credit: Michael Spiller

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