To start with I need to define the problem, or else I’m going to end up recounting the whole of not only the Silmarillion but also Unfinished Tales and the Book of Lost Tales and probably Leaf by Niggle while I’m at it. Also, I can’t stress this enough, I am not a Tolkien scholar. Legit Tolkien scholars exist; I’ve listened to their podcasts. I’m just a guy who likes to retell other people’s stories in what I like to think of as an entertaining way.
Brant asked about the Elves: who they are, what their deal is, and “what the hell is the West?” Cutting that down into something that can be addressed in a few thousand words, we’re looking at the Elves as seen in, specifically, the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies, Jackson’s Elves, and examining their history.
The story of the elves starts at the very beginning of time, more or less. Eru Iluvatar, which is Tolkien for the Abrahamic big-G God, sang a whole universe into being. Eru created the first elves alongside the Valar (singular Vala, which is Tolkien for Classical little-G gods, or maybe archangels is a more apt comparison), but those first elves spent about a thousand years asleep while all kinds of crazy prehistory god/demon/angel stuff happened. Lamps were built and destroyed, one Vala wrestled another one; it was a whole thing and we don’t need to get into it.
One hundred and forty-four elves woke up in a garden-realm called Cuiviénen. Visualize the map of Middle Earth in your mind, with the Misty Mountains in the middle and Mordor down in the lower right; Cuiviénen was located off the map a ways to the east. Eventually it was destroyed, but while it lasted, it was pretty sweet.
The hundred and forty-four original elves self-selected into three tribes, whose names aren’t important, and dwelled peaceably in the garden-realm for several years. This was before Middle Earth had a proper day-night cycle, so mostly they walked in starlight; it was very idyllic. At least until Melkor aka Morgoth aka Tolkien for Satan showed up. Morgoth was one of the Valar, the little-g gods, but he was prideful and spiteful and all the usual Satanic qualities, so the Valar kicked him out of their territory in the super-distant west and he went sulking across the sea to Middle Earth, where he found the elves.
“Sweet!” Morgoth said to himself. “Little people made of meat and starlight that walk around and sing songs and crap! I want some!” He abducted some of the elves and dragged them off to Utumno, which was his evil castle version 1.0 in the far north of Middle Earth. There he did wicked magic on them until they stopped being Elves and started being Orcs who feared and worshipped him.
So naturally the elves were pretty peeved about this, and whenever Morgoth came by Cuiviénen they’d hide. One day – thirty-five years after the first elves woke up – one of the other Valar happened to wander into Cuiviénen. At first the elves hid, but Valar are clever and Oromë (that was this Vala’s name) pretty quickly sussed them out. He spent a few years studying them, making friends, etc., before returning to Valar territory in the uttermost west.
“Guys,” he said to the other Valar. “Remember how Morgoth came in and tore down the lamps? And then he fled off to the big empty continent on the other side of the sea? And then we were all, whatever? Because the big empty continent on the other side of the sea is empty? So let him have it? Like, what harm could he do?”
“Where’re you going with this?” asked Manwë, the Zeus/Odin sort of figure among the Valar.
“Turns out the big empty continent isn’t totally empty! There are these little people there made partially of meat, and they sing, and Morgoth has been getting up in their grills and turning some of them into orcs!”
“Orcs? Shit!” exclaimed Tulkas, who was the Thor-type Valar. “I’ve never heard of them before now, and already I hate them! Let’s go rescue these little meat-people from Morgoth!”
All the Valar agreed! They quickly departed Valinor (that was the name of their homeland) and Aman (that was the name of their continent) and crossed the sea to Endor (that was the name of Middle Earth, the continent where all the action was). There they invaded Morgoth’s citadel Utumno and killed a bunch of orcs and drove Sauron (Morgoth’s sidekick) into hiding, Led by Tulkas, the Valar captured Morgoth and carried him back to Valinor. There he pled guilty, copped a plea, and got off with a few million hours of community service.
As far as the elves knew, what happened was that Oromë left, and then he came back to hang out some more. And then there were earthquakes and weird lights in the northern sky for about twenty years, and then Oromë announced that evil had been vanquished.
“There was evil?” asked the elves.
“Yeah, don’t worry about it. It’s been defeated forever I’m pretty sure.” Oromë snapped his fingers, thinking of something. “Dudes! I just had an awesome idea. You guys should totally visit Valinor, my more-or-less homeland!”
The elves exchanged nervous glances.
“It’s great! We’ve got trees there like you wouldn’t believe! You’ll love ’em! Also we have a day-night cycle!”
NEXT: TREES LIKE YOU WOULDN’T BELIEVE!