Tolkien Encyclopedia > Elves
Types of Elves
Feb. 8, 2005
Updated June 23, 2005; Oct. 30, 2006; Jan. 30, 2007; July 10, 2007; Jan. 3, 2011
Moriquendi / Dark Elves
Silvans / Woodland Elves / Wood-elves
Laiquendi / Green Elves
/ Edhel / Elves of the Twilight / Grey
Elves. The Teleri who missed the boat.
Calaquendi / Eldar / Light Elves
Teleri / Lindar
Concerned that Melkor
would harm the newly awakened elves known as Quendi,, the Valar
called them to come to Valinor from Middle-earth. Three elves, Ingwë, Finwë,
came with the Vala Oromë
to scout Valinor and, pleased with what they saw, returned to lead their people back there. This
journey with the dropping off along the way is the major cause for the different types of elves; it is referred to in the Silmarillion as the Sundering of the Elves.
The Quendi, meaning "the speakers", originally
referred to all elves including the Avari in the High Elven language,
Quenya. Eru said in the Silmarillion,
"Of the Beginning of Days", "But the Quendi
shall be the fairest of all earthly creatures, and they shall have and
shall conceive and bring forth more beauty than all my Children; and
they shall have the greater bliss in this world."
No elf possessed wings.
The word "Elves" has been used as a translation both
for "Quendi" and "Eldar".
Their fate is not of Men, for the Elves sail to
Valinor by ship, or die of grief or violence and return to Mandos of
Valinor and now no longer return to Middle-earth. They gave up their
dominion of Arda to Men. But Men, who in the Fourth Age gained
dominion of Arda, die and pass beyond Arda perhaps to Eru himself and
are not bound to the planet as are the Elves.
Elf groups were defined by how far they did or did
not travel towards Valinor when called there by the Valar. The Valar
wanted to keep them safe from Morgoth, who dwelt in Middle-earth. The
nearer to the Valar the Elves came, the greater they became.
The early Quendi were found by Oromë, but had been
lies by Morgoth's servants that he would harm or kill them. A fake
horseman seemed to confirm these tales. Those Elves who
were too fearful or lacked curiosity enough to overcome their fear ran
and were captured by Morgoth's servants. Those lesser Elves were
enslaved and degraded into Orcs. These Orcs then reproduced as did any
other beings of Arda, and their young were also Orcs. They had no
light left in them.
Thus, Elves were
culled early on for the most valiant and most curious.
Moriquendi / Dark Elves:
Those who never came near the light of Valinor, or
whose parents never came near it, were
called Moriquendi, the "Dark Elves". It did not mean they were evil. They did not have
the benefits of living in Valinor as did the Light Elves.
Those who refused to come at all were called the
Avari. The elves who started on the journey but did not complete it were called the Úmanyar, "not of Aman".
Those who came part way but turned aside at
the Misty Mountains
were called Nandor. Those Nandor who later
continued on to the eastern
forests of Beleriand were called Laiquendi. Those who made it to the
shore but missed their chance to travel on the island boat were called
was known as the Dark Elf. He was an elven smith
alone, deep in the forest, trading with dwarves, and who made two black
blades from meteoric iron. His semi-forcing of
marriage to Aredhel
helped cause the downfall of Gondolin,
stronghold of the elves.
Those Quendi who refused to even begin the trip to Valinor
were called the
Avari, the "Refusers". They are shown as a branch separate from the
Teleri in a table in the back of the Silmarillion.
The Úmanyar, "not of Aman",
were those elves who began the journey to Valinor but did not complete
it. They are shown as all being members of the branch of elves called
the Teleri that did not make it to Valinor.
The Nandor, "those who turn back", were elves who
were separated from those journeying westward to Valinor because they
were afraid to cross the Misty Mountains. Instead, many
settled in the area near the Misty Mountains and south of it.
They include the Silvans and Laiquendi.
Silvans / Woodland Elves / Wood-elves:
Silvans were those of the Nandor who never passed west of the Misty
Mountains, instead remaining in the Vale of Anduin and in Greenwood the
Great. (Sil, Index "Silvans")
They were probably mostly from the elven stock that would become known as Teleri, since that was the
largest group, with a sprinkling of others that blended into one group.
In Lothlorien Haldir refers to an elf who ties
off the rope to use for a bridge across a stream, as "one of my people", and the
narration says of this elf that "his hair glinted like gold in the
morning sun" [FotR "Lothlorien"].
A number of Silvans saw the advantages they had
missed and tried to gain them at least partially by taking Sindarin
lords to teach and protect them.
Laiquendi / Green Elves:
A part of the Nandor, led by Denethor, later left
their settlements and crossed the Blue Mountains to settle in Ossiriand
they were eventually called the Laiquendi, the "Green-elves". They
in the trees and fought in guerrilla fashion, rather than in armies.
Ossë did not wish for the
Teleri to leave his domain by the shore and continue on to Valinor, so
he persuaded some of them to remain , the Elves of the Falas, that
later had dwellings at the havens of Brithombar and Eglarest. They were
the first mariners of Middle-earth and first makers of ships.
Sindar / Edhel / Elves of the Twilight / Twilight Elves:
Although correctly included with
the Moriquendi who did not go to Valinor, the Sindar were between light and dark. They did not refuse
to start the journey, but neither did they complete the last leg to
Valinor although they intended to., but remained in Beleriand.
The Sindar tried to reach
Valinor but were left behind at the shore because they waited to search for
king, Elwë Singollo, also known as Elu Thingol,
who had been stopped by love for the the Maia, Melian. While they were waiting, others of their people, led by Elwë's brother, Olwë, went ahead on the island boat that was headed for Valinor. The island never returned so the Sindar missed the boat.
been to Valinor before as one of the three scouts and was therefore one of the Eldar, or Light
Elves. After Elwë and Melian married, the Sindar had the pair as two
constant lesser lights. They also had received the company and teaching of Maiar
who came to them at the
shore including Ossë, and the Vala, Ulmo.
This association and intent put the Sindar between the Refusers or
those who turned back and those who reached Valinor, thus giving them
the name of Twilight Elves. [Sil, "Of Thingol and Melian".]
The Sindar called themselves Edhil, plural Edhel.
Edhel meant simply "Elves" in
The Noldor Exiles, meeting the Edhel, called them
the Sindar, meaning "Grey-elves". This had multiple references. One was
that they were not light elves/Eldar from going to the light of
Valinor, but neither were they dark elves like the Avari who had not
tried to reach Valinor or had contact with any of the Ainur. The Noldor
also referred to the Sindarin Light Elf king, king of all
Elves in Middle-earth, as Thingol, meaning Grey-cloak/ Greymantle. His
name had a double meaning, referring to the cloak he wore, and to his
silver hair. The Noldor also named them after the place they were first
seen, in Hithlim in the north, a place named after its grey mists.
Some Sindar are described with silver hair:
King Thingol's is mentioned as grey-silver during his contact with
Melian [Sil, "Of Eldamar..."]. Lord Celeborn had silver hair and was, according to the UT
index under "Elmo", grandson of
Elmo who was the youngest brother of Thingol.
Some Sindar are described with blond hair:
King Thranduil [H, "Flies and Spiders"] and Prince Amroth.
Calaquendi / Eldar / Light Elves:
The Eldar was the name for elves of the Three Kindreds that
reached Valinor, the Undying Realm of the Valar. These kindreds were the Vanyar,
Noldor (Gnomes in early
versions), and Teleri.
Those who made it all the way to Valinor were called Calaquendi, the "light elves", also referred to as the Eldar, High Elves, Light
Elves, and Elves of the Light.
Teleri / Lindar / Sea-elves:
The Teleri were the largest group, last to arrive
in Valinor, having left a part of their people behind. Teleri,
"Last-comers, hindmost", was the name the other elves gave them for
being last. They called themselves the Lindar,
"Singers", as that was their special gift. They loved the sea and
remained on the shore of Valinor, where they built the great swanships.
Ossë, Uinen, and Ulmo favored the Teleri.
Glorfindel in the Lord of the Rings was
originally intended to be a blond Sinda lord, but once JRRT
remembered Glorfindel of Gondolin, he tried to make them the same elf.
This caused many problems, including why he returned to life in
Middle-earth when others did not, and how his Noldorized Glorfindel
could be a blond Noldo but not in a line of kings, as he should have
come through Finarfin's blood-line.
The Noldor were the second-largest group, second
to arrive in Valinor. They were the crafters. The Noldor were mostly
dark-haired, generally black-haired with grey eyes. The House of
Finarfin included golden-haired elves from mixing with Vanyar.
Aulë favored the Noldor and taught them much of crafting.
The Elves in Middle-earth were "a race high and
beautiful, the older Children of the world, and among them the Eldar
[referring to the Noldor Eldar]
were as kings, who now are gone: the People of the Great Journey, the
People of the Stars. They were tall, fair of skin and grey-eyed, though
their locks were dark, save in the golden house of Finarfin; and their
voices had more melodies than any mortal voice now is heard."
The Noldor who returned to Middle-earth from Valinor
were called the Exiles. The Sindar still in Middle-earth did not trust
them for the Exiles under Fëanor's command slew many of their Teleri kin to steal their
swanships for the return to Middle-earth, then burned the ships they
The Vanyar were the smallest group of Calaquendi,
led by Ingwë, and were first to
arrive in Valinor. They did not leave again unless with the Ainur in battle.
The Vanyar were blond and that trait passed by marriage
into the Noldorin house of Finarfin.
The Vanyar at first lived in the city of
the Noldor but continued on to the feet of Mount Taniquetil where
Manwë and Varda lived, and became the greatest of the Elves.
The Hobbit Ch. 8 "Flies and Spiders".
the King Appendix F II "On Translation" Elves
Silmarillion Ch. 4 "Of Thingol and Melian"
Silmarillion Ch. 5 "Of Eldamar and the Princes of the Eldalie"
Table: "The Sundering of the Elves"
Unfinished Tales Index "Elmo"