Sunday 8 August 2021

"Fairy-wife", elf-friend, or staying in faery - three ways that mortals may become 'elvish'

In Tolkien's universe, for a mortal to become more like the 'immortal' elves, more elvish, is regarded an ennoblement. 

Elvishness has various possible effects - one is simply to make the mortal more beautiful (in an elvish way), another is to introduce a yearning-for and appreciation-of 'higher things - such as song, poetry, learning, and wild and beautiful country such as mountains and forests. 

There are also possibilities of greater 'wisdom' - including higher intelligence and 'supernatural' abilities such as foresight and discernment of deeper truths. 

Thus the men of Dol Amroth were made more beautiful by the fact of one of the Princes having married a Silvan elf and - presumably - infusing the population with elvish blood. This seems also to have happened to the Numenoreans due to the marriages of Beren (Man) with Luthien (maia-elf) and Idril (mostly elf) and Tuor (Man). 

Yet - in addition - as well as the results of interbreeding on the bloodlines, there must surely have been an indirect effect due to the larger populations having been formally named "elf-friends" by a 'high elf' of high status - as happened with the Numenorean Men; and also with Frodo and Gildor

Or, perhaps from some kind of proximity-effect of elvishness in a population - whereby living with those of elvish descent, and/or elf-friends, 'rubbed-off' on the other mortals. 

I say 'mortals' because there are examples from both Men and Hobbits; and the one dwarf example of Gimli - who was (we are told in the Appendices) formally named "elf-friend" - presumably by Galadriel, or perhaps by Legolas (see below). It is implied that no other dwarf would have wanted to be named an elf-friend, although there were earlier examples of at least close cooperation between Noldor elves and dwarves, such a Celebrimbor and Narvi who seem to have cooperated in constructing the West Gate of Moria. 

Gimli was unique among dwarves due to his special reverence for Galadriel (a high elf) and his close friendship with Legolas (a 'grey' elf or Sindar) - and he became the only dwarf to go to the undying lands at the end of his life. 

Bilbo was also named an elf-friend - by Legolas's father Thranduil (in The Hobbit) - so we may infer that the Sindar (being of 'the Eldar' or higher elves, although never having been to the undying lands) perhaps also had the capacity to 'make' elf-friends. 

Other interesting examples among the hobbits were the Tooks - about whom there was a legend that one had 'taken a fairy wife'. We are told (by The Hobbit's narrator) that this was not true - but it suggests the possibility that this might have happened. 

And it is one potential basis for the fact that the Fallohide type of hobbit (including the Tooks and Brandybucks) had distinctly elvish attributes - such as leadership, adventurousness and preference for hunting - although these are more like the Silvan wood elves of Mirkwood than the Eldar. Perhaps, therefore, there was indeed - as with the Princes of Dol Amroth, a union of wood elf and hobbit at some point in history? 

But there seem to be other ways in which hobbits can become elvish - with the example of Sam's first-born child, his daughter Elanor; who is described as exceptionally beautiful in an elvish way despite being born to non-Fallohide hobbit parents. Elanor's lineage was also responsible for the preservation of the Red Book of Westmarch - from which Tolkien's stories were 'edited' - so she apparently had the elvish attribute of scholarship.

The implication seems to be that this elvishness of his first-born was due to Sam having visited Lothlorien, reverenced Galadriel, and perhaps also having received a gift from her. So, how did this work? 

Sam does not seem to have been named an elf-friend; so perhaps the mechanism was more like the legends of men about the lasting effects on a mortal of having visited fairyland or faery - including eating their food (perhaps especially - in this case - lembas; which are usually not allowed to mortals). 

At any rate, the elvish 'effect' seems to have 'worn-off' after Elanor was born, since none of Sam and Rosie's other children are described as having been especially elvish. Yet, the changes to the Shire hobbits after the war of the ring - which happened via Merry and Pippin, as well as Frodo and Sam; might also have a 'proximity' cause in their visits to Rivendell and Lothlorien. 

The above examples are enough to establish that the elvish influence was capable of being infused and transmitted to mortals (Men, hobbits, dwarves) by a variety of 'mechanisms'. 

And Tolkien (with his usual deniable-seriousness of tone) often attributed admirable aspects of more recent Men - such as personal beauty and a love of art and learning - to this remote and historical combination of personal contact, formal recognition by noble elves, and blood descent. 



Anonymous said...

Intriguing possible tangent (especially in light of your linked 2013 post): all the English Saints with 'aelf' names - Dr. Farmer's Oxford Dictionary of Saints (ed. 3. 1992) lists - with links to other spellings - Aelfheah (Alphege), Aelflaed (Elfleda, Aelfryth (Etheldritha - Alfreda), Aelfgyva (Aelgifu or Elgiva - Algyva, Aelgytha), as well as Alfwold and Elfstan.

I suspect that the older of the Aelfheahs - or at least a hermit with a variant of his name - turns up in John Masefield's The Midnight Folk - "St. Alpig of St. Alpig’s well, who is thought to have had a hermitage near the river", who "always sends" those described as "the loveliest people Kay had ever seen; they were like people made of light and of rainbows, and with exquisite faces and hands. They were soothing the sleep of all there; driving away little black Annoyances and Bothers, and giving Lovely Dreams instead": Kay Harker is told "They are quite real. They go about the world and help people."

Bilbo's being an "elf-friend" communicative about his relations with elves forms at least part of the background to Frodo and Sam's later experiences.

But the interactions of Elves and Men (and Hobbits) invite continuing pondering - e.g., with regard both to how Men learn of Valar and Maiar and Eru from Elves - including the records of the astonishing experience of the kindred and followers of Bëor the Old of the singing of Finrod, and of how some of the variously 'Half-Elven' enter into the mystery of the 'fate' of Men beyond the world.

How far might Dwarves be said to parallel Elves, in their direct - and, later, traditional - experience of contact with at least one of the Valar, Aulë, combined with the expectation of a 'fate' within the world?

David Llewellyn Dodds

Bruce Charlton said...

@DDL - wrt dwarves - I think they are an exception; indeed all the races seem to have an unique fate, so far as what I have seen Tolkien say (hobbits are a type of Man in this respect). Dwarves are not a primary race in the world, neither are ents - both came later in the conception of the world than did elves and Men.

Sometimes, I think dwarves were perhaps implied to reincarnate - or reanimate in restored bodies in the case of Durin at least - until they would return to their origins (made of whatever Aule made them). But in the second prophecy of Mandos (which Tolkien wrote in his earliest writings, and which foresaw the end of Arda and the beginning of 'Heaven') the dwarves were given a role and a place.

Brick Hardslab said...

I believe by his dismissal of the possibility of a Took taking a Fairy wife that Tolkien was hinting that indeed in the earliest days when creatures like Goldberry and Melian still walked the earth, there was a fairy wife. Perhaps not an elf per se, but he did have other kindly spirits.

As far as Elanor goes he did mention that many of the hobbit children born that year had bright blonde hair and shining eyes (I might have misremembered that last part). Galadriel's gift is probably the cause. He scattered the dust to the four winds.

Bruce Charlton said...

BH - "Galadriel's gift is probably the cause. " - I agree that probably was a factor, but Elanor seemed to have a bit more than the rest. Perhaps from Sam handling the dust?

Brick Hardslab said...

Probably close contact. But Sam would be the last man to want anything special for himself. That may be why the elves never formally declared him elf friend, although there was no man more worthy. Sam would have declined any such title as getting above himself or putting on airs.