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Why do elves only sail if they've suffered a kind of loss or sea longing?


New Member
Dec 29, 2017
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United Kingdom
I'm sorry if this sounds like a dumb question, I'm not very well versed in the lore at all. But why do the elves only seem to sail if they've experienced a loss of something or are called by the sea longing?
Some elves lament for the white shores of Aman for years, but if that is so, what is stopping them from sailing to this said to be pure, perfect land? Or for example, when an elf sails for Aman, can't their families easily go with them?
Is it just the simple fact of being born in Middle Earth and not wanting to leave the land they have developed ties to?
Again, I'm sorry if this has a really obvious answer, but I've just found myself confused by it.


Registered User
Nov 28, 2004
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Tolkien seems to address the matter (if briefly) at the end of Quenta Silmarillion: "Yet not all the Eldalie were willing to forsake the Hither Lands where they had long suffered and long dwelt..." Similarly in Of The Rings Of Power And The Third Age: "... and many of the Eldar still dwelt there, lingering, unwilling to forsake Beleriand where they had fought and labored long."

That said, I think there are a number of reasons why some Elves would return West Over Sea, including: "From the Grey Havens the Eldar ever and anon set sail, fleeing from the darkness of the days of earth..."

Or becoming weary of the world of Middle-earth (given the rapid change there, decay and loss -- at least rapid from an Elvish perspective). "... building and tending the elven-ships wherein those of the Firstborn who grew weary of the world set sail into the uttermost West." Although this was staved off in some measure in the Third Age, by the power of the Three Rings.

In the unused Epilogue to The Lord of the Rings, it's said (I think this is said by either Sam or Elanor) that Celeborn wasn't tired of his land yet (in explanation of why he did not take ship with Galadriel), and when he was, he could pass West.

But you're correct, the Exiles especially were arguably torn, so to speak, and the High Elves of Imladris would even go on pilgrimage to the Tower Hills to get a glimpse of Eressea in the Palantir. And then we have the Three, used in the Third Age to help build a semblance of the West in Middle-earth (though one was eventually given to Gandalf of course).

And when the rings lost their power to hold back the effects of time, many of the High Elves did depart, as we know. Galadriel was a special case, but her individual ban was finally lifted after her rejection of the One.

Some Elves just would not leave however :D

For example, a text printed in Morgoth's Ring compares the Houseless (bodiless) Elves to the Lingerers, the latter being Elves who remained in Middle-earth so long that their bodies faded, and could not be seen, in normal circumstances, by the eyes of Men.

Hope some of that at least seems to answer your questions ;)


Well-Known Member
May 6, 2018
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Woodland Realm
Great reply Galin. I think the answer as to why the the Firstborn sail to the West depends upon the Age. There are multiple summons (compulsory and not) of the Valar while Melkor walked the earth and upon his imprisonment in Valinor and afterward. There are the obvious reasons Zahbia put forth and as Galin said some Elves deeply regretted the destruction the many wars had exacted on their birthplace, and the ongoing despoilment of Arda, Arda Marred and that hastened some to leave.

Also Galin points out, (geez I sound like a fan girl) there was the Noldor (acting again in rebellion) who hoped to delay their sailing by healing Arda and in response Sauron had the Rings created to deceive them into believing this was so for wasn't one power of the Ring to tarry Time? The Elves eventually realized the deception but that's another story.

I also think there's the very real fear of fading. And after the destruction of the One Ring what reason was there for the Firstborn to remain? It was the time of men.

So when the question is answered one must consider, "In which Age?" or "big picture"?
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