Types of Elves

by Varda-(Valar)
Feb. 8, 2005
Updated June 23, 2005; Oct. 30, 2006; Jan. 30, 2007; July 10, 2007; Jan. 3, 2011

Tolkien Encyclopedia > Elves

Moriquendi / Dark Elves
    Avari /Refusers
           Silvans / Woodland Elves / Wood-elves
           Laiquendi / Green Elves
        Sindar / Edhel / Elves of the Twilight / Grey Elves. The Teleri who missed the boat.
Calaquendi / Eldar / Light Elves
    Teleri / Lindar
       Noldorin Exiles


    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, and Elwë, 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 told 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 the Sindar.
    Eol was known as the Dark Elf. He was an elven smith living 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, last great 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 where they were eventually called the Laiquendi, the "Green-elves". They preferred to live 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 their missing 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.
    Elwë had 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 Sindarin.
    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."

Noldorin Exiles:

    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 took.


    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 Valmar with 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".
    Return of 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"
    Silmarillion Table: "The Sundering of the Elves"
    Silmarillion Indices
    Unfinished Tales Index "Elmo"