Chances are, when you think of half-Elven, you think of Elrond. After all, he was known as Elrond half-Elven. One could argue that while Elrond may not have been the most important of the Peredhil (I came to the conclusion last week that Eärendil and Elwing have that honor), he certainly was the most well-known. Unlike his predecessors, Elrond and his brother were the first to be given an explicit and public (in that they stayed in Middle-earth and therefore their peers were fully aware) choice. This puts Elrond and Elros in a unique situation.
One has to wonder what frame of reference they had. Theirs was certainly an unusual childhood. They were essentially born in exile, both mother and father having fled from the destruction of their civilizations. As children they lived among a broad range of Elves–from Quenya-speaking Gondolindrim to anti-Noldor Doriathrim to the only shipwrights in Middle-earth. They were essentially abandoned as children and then raised by those responsible for the death of half their family (on their mother’s side, of course). Surely the culture of the haven at Sirion, while seemingly content, would have had an undercurrent of fear and sadness. Weren’t the majority of the people the survivors of civilizations once deemed unassailable? Not only that, but the downfalls of both Doriath and Gondolin were brought about by Elves. None of this is the perfect recipe for a happy, stable childhood.
While these numbers may or may not be accurate, the Tale of Years as presented in The War of the Jewels puts Elrond and Elros at either 65 or 55 at the end of the the war against Morgoth, when they would presumably have been given the choice (War of the Jewels, 346-48). They were actually much older than I would have ever guessed. If the brothers lived with the sons of Fëanor the whole time (which is likely), then Maglor and Maedhros probably felt more like family than the memory of Eärendil and Elwing.
The Elder Race
Then the brothers are actually given the choice. It must have been overwhelming–to choose your destiny like that. Tolkien never gets into the motivation behind each choice, so we’re left to guess.
Elrond made what seems like the logical choice. Why not choose immortality, strength, and power? What are the downsides? As it turns out, Elrond had to endure a lot of sorrow in his lifetime. Of course there’s the normal Elvish sorrow–the world moving swiftly on, kingdoms rising and falling, fading. Elrond also endured sorrow that was less common. His wife was captured by orcs and tormented so much that she lost all joy in Middle-earth. (Many subscribe to the theory that she was raped, but I don’t know that there’s enough evidence to back that up. That’s for another post.) His daughter chose to be sundered from him and all of her kin. And let’s not forget that Elrond and his brother were virtually abandoned by their parents.
Still, Elrond was immortal. He was one of the Wise. He ruled in Rivendell for thousands of years. Who in their right might would choose not to have this kind of life?
The Younger Race
Elros, for one. He actually chose to be mortal. Let’s not sugar-coat this decision. Not only did he choose to give up immortality; he also chose a fate that was sundered from everyone he had ever known or loved. There’s no evidence to suggest that he ever had contact with men before he made this choice. He chose to throw in his lot with a foreign people.
What could possibly have motivated such a radical choice? He was made king of the three houses of Elf-friends in Nuúmenor. Did he know about this before he made his choice? It is possible, since The Silmarillion says he “chose to be a king of men” (Silmarillion, 261). I’m not so sure about this, though. The Valar aren’t ones to try to color anyone’s decision. It’s unlikely that they would offer either immortality or mortality and kingship. Is that enough to give up everything you’ve ever known?
Perhaps that was the point–to give up everything he had ever known. Elros and his brother certainly didn’t live an ideal life. Perhaps he saw this choice as an opportunity to start over. If he was disenchanted with the Elvish way of life, then why not become mortal? Eärendil certainly leaned that way. If Elros identified more with his father and his mortal grandfather (and their love of the sea), then mortality would be the only logical choice.
Then comes the problem of Elros’s children. They later regretted his choice. Why shouldn’t they have immortality? It was common among his descendants to marry only others in the line of Elros, so it’s not like their Elvish blood was quickly diluted.
This points to the complicated situation of mortality and the Gift of Ilúvatar. The Valar cannot take this away from men. In fact, they don’t seem to understand why men would even want it taken away. Mortality isn’t a curse but rather a blessing.
This is part of an in-depth series on the half-Elven:
The Choice of the Half-Elven
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: Concluding Thoughts on Mortality
Photo Credit: Stefania Bonacasa