Elven Time

Rachel Port

Well-Known Member
Legolas stirred in his boat. 'Nay, time does not tarry ever,' he said; 'but change and growth is not in all things and places alike. For the Elves the world moves, and it moves both very swift and very slow. Swift, because they themselves change little, and all else fleets by: it is a grief to them. Slow, because they do not count the running years, not for themselves. The passing seasons are but ripples ever repeated in the long long stream. Yet beneath the Sun all things must wear to an end at last.'

Not long ago I noticed this passage in The Fellowship of the Ring in a new way. It's after the Company has left Lorien, when Sam notices the moon and they are discussing how their short time in Lorien was a month in the outside world. It's the most personal description of how elves experience time in Middle-earth that I can think of, and it's very poignant. I began to think of the way elves experience a world moving so much faster then they do. And when we discussed Elven economy in Exploring LOTR, I thought of the way we think of "spending time." We "spend" something that we have in limited supply. So it seemed to me that elves do not "spend" time doing things. They do what they love for however long it takes, or until they move on to something else. It could take a day or a year or a century, with breaks for sleep and eating and singing and such. It puts Legolas' going without sleep, or with very little sleep, for days in a different light - his days are not like ours, though he is aware of the movement of the sun.

Anyway, after thinking about this, the first chapters of The Nature of Middle-earth made me smile. All the numbers are a bit less poetic, but it's interesting to find that Tolkien himself was thinking about these things also. In The Hobbit and LOTR we only see elves in their encounters with humans and other mortals. I wonder what those encounters would look like from the elves' point of view. And moving on to the elven life cycle is another look at the way Tolkien was turning it about and once again doing the math, which reference we need in order to comprehend the difference. He had pictured it vaguely, but only from the human perspective. I'm loving this.
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Jim Deutch

Well-Known Member
elves experience a world moving so much faster then they do
I'm still catching up on "Morgoth's Ring", I'm afraid. I've gotten so far behind everything... But in session 20 Corey is discussing the Athrabeth.

Men's lives are short and yet they easily experience boredom, and when it gets extreme, ennui. They yearn for something new and different - even something beyond Arda. Death, for them, is the Gift of Illuvatar (maybe! it gets complicated).

Elves have long lives in the world, and yet they never feel these things; they can sing "Tra la la lally" every day for ten thousand years and still find the same joy in it as the very first time. It's like Sam says: they have a childlike merriment, which Corey compared to a child's favorite phrase, whenever something pleases them: "Do it again!". And again.

I always wondered if Elven sleep is something like dolphins'. Because they need to go up to the surface regularly to breathe, dolphins sleep with only half their brains at a time. They can't just nod off completely and let the breathing become automatic. They literally sleep with one eye open!

Rachel Port

Well-Known Member
I like the comparison to dolphin sleep - think how many times Legolas walks around at night when the others are sleeping, saying that will be rest enough for him.