“Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky…”
From the beginning, Arda has been plagued with the creatures and machinations devised by Melkor. The Valar will not allow the Firstborn to enter the world in darkness, so while Varda prepares for their arrival by placing stars in the sky to guide them, Tulkas brings the war to Melkor.
Melkor has been anything but dormant. He has created the Balrogs and other horrors in his stronghold of Utumno, and to guard against any assault that might come from Aman, the stronghold of Angband was forged, commanded by Melkor’s right hand, Sauron. In what is known as The War for Sake of the Elves, the Valar laid siege to Utumno in a battle that took years. While the Elves would hear few details of this battle and never know it was waged for them, Melkor would never forget it. The power unleashed in the fight would change the world. The Great Sea widened, the Bay of Balar and the river Sirion created, the northern highlands raised as new mountain ranges. The north was laid waste, and the top of Utumno was blown off, granting the Valar direct conflict with their foe. Melkor was cast down, bowed and chained.
The Valar were not omniscient, and they failed to see into the deepest parts of Utumno and Angband. Sauron was not captured, and the fell creatures under Melkor’s service hid or fled across the lands. Melkor was laid upon his face before the Valar in the Ring of Doom and begged mercy, but it was denied. His punishment was to be cast into Mandos, the inescapable prison, for three ages. When his term was completed, he would be brought once before Manwë.
During the War, the Quendi (Elves) were awakened, though they did not take part in the battle. They were brought forth by starlight, and it is thus that they would always revere the stars and Varda Elentári who created them. Their original thoughts are chronicled here, their surroundings, and their sundering.
The first awakened, the three Elven-kings, were Imin, Tata, and Enel, who awoke with their wives: Iminyë, Tatië, and Enelyë respectively.
The Valar call them and their people to Aman, causing them to embark on the Great Journey across Middle-Earth. Some refuse the call and are henceforth known as Avari, dark Elves. A third of the clans who undertake the Journey fall out along the way, and they are called Teleri. They are in turn sundered into many groups, eventually reaching Beleriand. Those who journey across the sea to Aman would be known as the Eldar, though some of the Teleri will also reach Aman guided by Swan boats. And… this is where the casual fan of Tolkien has their eyes glaze over if they’ve not had that happen already, and many first time readers toss the book across the room.
Friends, I’ve been there. I feel your pain. It took me a lot of years to get to the point where I could hope to understand all of this. All I can say is thank the Force for the internet, scholarly texts on the subject, and fellow geeks who can explain this stuff. So I want to extend the hand of geekdom as it was extended to me. If other, more knowledgeable geeks want to chime in and help out, please… by all means, do so. If you read this blog because you’re lost, take a deep breath. What follows is not necessary to know off the top of your head. It helps to be aware of how things break down and list out, but ultimately if you keep your eye on the prize, you can sift through it all with a light in the darkness. What’s the prize? Galadriel. Remember her? Of course you do. She’s an unforgettable to Tolkien fans across the world as she is to Gimli. Read all the way to the end of this, and I promise you’ll be rewarded with her lineage and place in the world. Then read it again with this newfound information, and you’ll discover it becomes easier, especially if you map it all out on paper. You see, as complex as this becomes, the divisions of the Elven groups will be most important later, so it’s equally important to simplify this as much as possible right now — spoilers be damned — so as to tear down the walls of confusion and frustration. Bear with me because, truly, Tolkien’s mind is dizzying. Again, break out some scratch paper. Seriously, do it now.
The breakdown is as follows:
The core group is known as the Quendi. From there, they break into two, the Calaquendi (Elves of the Light) and the Moriquendi (Elves of Darkness). The distinction is that the Calaquendi beheld the light of the Two Trees of Valinor, while the Moriquendi did not.
The Moriquendi are then broken into two groups, the Teleri and the Avari. The Avari, as discussed, refused to heed the call. According to legend, the Orcs may be descended from those Avari who were captured by Melkor early on. Eventually the Avari would wander to the West and mingle with the other clans, but they would be unfriendly, jealous, and otherwise suspicious of everything and everyone. They would accuse the Noldor (whom we’ll get to momentarily) of arrogance. The Teleri would be broken into further groups. The first of these are the Valinorean Teleri (or Falmari), so named because they are the Teleri who followed the Great Journey and reached Valinor. More on them in a bit as they are part of the other great faction, the Calaquendi. The other Teleri groups are of the Moriquendi, and they are the Sindar, the Laiquendi, and the Nandor. The Nandor abandoned the Great Journey near the river Anduin. The Laiquendi splintered from them, known as the Elves of Ossiriand. The Sindar were the Teleri who remained in Beleriand who called themselves Edhil, meaning Elves, related to the Quenya word Eldar of the same meaning. As a touchstone of familiarity, Legolas is Sindarin. This is where we get the split in languages between Quenya and Sindarin, i.e., the High Elves vs. the Wood Elves. The Sindar then split into three further groups. The Iathrim live in Doriath, the Falathrim live in the Falas, and the Mithrim (Sindarin of the North) live across Northern Beleriand. It is this last group that suffers most from Morgoth’s attacks before the first rising of the Sun, and what remains of them is absorbed later by the Noldor who later reside in those lands.
And that’s just the Moriquendi. The Calaquendi divide into the Eldar and the Teleri. These Teleri are the aforementioned Valinorean Teleri, or Falmari. They are one of the three groups of High Elves. The second of these three are the Vanyar, the highest of the High Elves as their clan was founded by Imin, the first Elf. They are the first to reach Valinor, and there they stayed. The final group is the Noldor. They are skilled in crafts and other knowledge, which they would pass to Men after their Exile. The Noldor are also known as the House of Finwë, who was their first ruler. Names among names to know for future reference from his House include Fëanor (he who created the Silmarils), Fingolfin (from whom the kings of Gondor are descended), and Galadriel. See, I kept my promise.
With these touchstones in place (and scorecards at hand), we can proceed to later chapters.