The divisions and sub-divisions of the various Elven kindreds are complex, and at times even convoluted. In this section the basic migrations and divisions will be described, as well as the actual kindreds as they existed in the Second and Third Ages of Middle-earth.
The Awakening of the Firstborn
In the early years of the world, before the Sun and the Moon first rose, the Elves, the “First-born”, awoke under the stars on the shores of Cuiviénen, a large bay in the inland sea of Helcar in eastern Middle-earth. They lived in the twilight world, far from the light of Valinor, for many years before one of the Valar — Oromë the Huntsman — discovered them. The Valar loved Eru’s newborn creations and wished to bring them to the light of Aman, the Undying Lands to save them from Morgoth and the evil that he was already bringing into Middle-earth. Morgoth, the greatest of the Valar who had turned away from his brethren before the beginning of creation, now hated the Elves because they were cherished by the others. He sent out his shadowy servants and captured many of them in the darkness. Unable to create life himself, he tortured and perverted the Elves he imprisoned, and from this corrupt stock bred Orcs.
The First Sundering
It was at the summons of the Valar that the Elves first divided. At first, the Elves were afraid to leave their home under the stars, but three of their kind journeyed to Valinor with Oromë to see for themselves the glory of the Undying Lands. These were Ingwë, Finwë, and Elwë, who later became kings. When they returned, filled with the light of Aman, many of the Elves heeded their stirring words and followed the Valar west.
But not all the Elves wished to leave their native land. Some had come to love the starlight of Middle-earth and chose to stay behind. Those Elves who declined to follow the Valar became known as the Avari (“Unwilling”), and they became the lesser Silvan Elves. They were by far the most plentiful of the Elves, and, despite harassment by the Black Enemy, spread through eastern as well as much of western Middle-earth.
Those who followed the summons of the Valar and undertook the Great Journey westward to Aman became known as the Eldar. And yet, still some lingered along the road or turned back, or were lost. But those Elves who completed the long and difficult journey were made greater by their stay in the Undying Lands, and forever after their descendants held that pure light in their eyes.
The Great Journey of the Eldar
The Eldar were those who made the great journey to live in the Blessed land of Aman. There were three Kindreds: the Vanyar, Noldor and Teleri. The Eldar came to the Uttermost West via an unusual mode of transportation: The Island Tol Eressëa, which, moved by the power of the sea-Vala Ulmo, made two trips from Middle-earth to the Undying Lands. The first trip carried the Vanyar and Noldor; the second carried the Teleri (“hindmost”) who had lingered on the long road and missed the first island voyage.
The Teleri were also divided, however. There were three groups, led by the brothers Olwë and Elwë, and another Teleri, Lenwë. When they reached the vales of Anduin, Lenwë and his people turned away from the journey and remained in Middle-earth. They became the Nandor and vanished for many years. Also, on the trip Elwë (who had been an original ambassador to the Undying Lands) met Melian the Maia and fell into a trance of love. While he was lost, most of his group went over the sea on the isle with Olwë’s people. Elwë at last awoke, and eventually set up a realm in Beleriand with his Maïar wife Melian. As ruler of this land, he went by the name Elu Thingol (King Greycloak). The rest of the Teleri, however, went westward, living on the isle of Tol Eressëa, in sight of Valinor. The Maia Ossë taught them the art of shipbuilding and they were ever after the greatest shipwrights and sailors in all Middle-earth. They sailed to the coast of Aman where they built the beautiful city and wharves of Alqualondë.
The Teleri were also considered the fairest singers in all Middle-earth (rivaling the Vanyar) and called themselves the Lindar. This name related later to one of the titles of the “Golden Wood,” Laurelindórenan.
The Nandor (“Those who turn back”), though technically of the Teleri and so the Eldar, are an exception, since they never traveled to the Undying Lands, and so did not see the light of the Trees. Therefore, they were referred to as Moriquendi (“Dark Elves”). Some eventually went on to settle in Ossiriand, but most remained east of the Misty Mountains, spreading through the forested lands there. These later came under the rulership of the Sindarin King Thranduil in Mirkwood and, of course, Galadriel in Lórien.
The Vanyar’s Settlement
Fairest of the Eldar, and known as the Fair Elves, the Vanyar were the most beloved of the Valar. They were the first of the three kindred to set forth on the Great Journey and the first to arrive in the Undying Lands (Aman), led by their king, Ingwë. Together with the Noldor, they built and lived for a long time in the fair city of Tirion. Sometime later, however, they moved further westward through the gap in the Pelóri (Q. “Mountains of Defense”), and there they made their permanent home.
Only once did the Vanyar ever leave Valinor, and that was to aid the Ainur in battle against the Black Enemy. When the evil Vala was at last defeated, the Fair Elves marched back to their home in victory. There is no record of a Vanya ever again leaving the Blessed Land of Aman.
The Noldor’s Settlement
The Second Kindred of the Calaquendi, both in size and in order of arrival in Aman, the Noldor were also called the Deep Elves. Finwë was their king. They were the most skilled in crafts and lore of the Immortals, the most fiery of spirit, proud and curious. It was Fëanor the Noldo who made the Silmarils, and because of his unwillingness to surrender them, doomed his kindred to a hopeless war against Morgoth to recover the stolen gems, and later to exile from Aman. When the Black Enemy made away with the Silmarils and fled with them to Endor, the Noldor attempted to pursue him over the water by stealing the great boats of the Teleri. The Teleri resisted, and the Noldor, in their desperation, slew a great many of the defending shipbuilders to win the boats. But great was the anger of the Valar that Elf would slay Elf. A storm swallowed many of those stolen boats and the surviving Noldor landed on the shores of Endor only to be met by one of the Valar who doomed them to exile from Aman forever for their hideous crime, the Kinslaying. The Noldor had seen the light of the two trees, but lived out their days in Middle-earth as exiles.
It is perhaps doubly sad and ironic that Fëanor’s grandson Celebrimbor was seduced by Morgoth’s servant Sauron even as Fëanor was corrupted by the evil Vala’s deceptive words. Twice did the Noldor put all of Middle-earth in peril because of their insatiable desire for knowledge.
The Sindar and the Second Sundering
The original Sindar are believed to be those Teleri who waited for their leader Elwë (Thingol), and the Nandor who traveled as far west as Beleriand. The two groups mixed together and became the Sindar, and although they were perhaps more noble than the original Avari (“The Unwilling”), the Sindar were still Moriquendi, for they never reached the shores of Aman. Their homeland was the realm of Doriath in Beleriand, ruled by Thingol and Melian. Although merely Moriquendi, the Sindar gained great wisdom under the tutelage of Melian the Maia and her husband, who was Calaquendi, having once been to Valinor, and so they became known as the Grey Elves. The Sindar spoke Sindarin, and originated the written script Cirth. With the fall of Beleriand, the surviving Sindar migrated eastward, some remaining in Lindon, while others traveled to live with the Noldor in Eregion, or, east of the Misty Mountains, in Lórien and Mirkwood.
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