How do Elves experience time?


New Member
Hello, I've been listing to the podcast for some time, and more recently reading the forum. I’m excited by the whole project. I think this is the right spot for this thread, I apologize if it isn't. I've been waiting for someone else to bring this up, but I'm too excited about this project to agonize over waiting like that any longer.

This is partially a technical detail about the visuals and partially a look at part of elven culture and the elven psyche that is both a point of tension with humans and the butt of human jocks. Elf-Time. Mostly, it can be done with a minor technical detail, something that will flash by in likely less than 30 seconds of screen time. Conveying Elf-Time, if done poorly, I think using it to much, would make the elves completely unrelatable and inhuman, and that is not what we want.

Showing how elves experience time, especially the spans of time elves live with, as fundamentally different from how humans experience it will be important for hypothetical viewers to understand the tensions between them that will arise later. The only way I could think of to convey long periods of time is a time-laps. The passing of days in a time-laps, (I'm thinking the time-travel time-laps scene from the 2002 movie, The Time Machine) is a useful way to show both time going by and how much time is going by. But the elves of Cuivienen have no Sun to time-laps across the sky.

I would like to put forward the possibility that the seasons passed in Cuivienen, maybe even weather happens. (I haven’t seen anyone else talk about this, I apologize if this has been discussed.) Elves can deal with very cold temperatures and still be comfortable. If Cuivienen was quite livable and comfortable, I think the elves could easily deal with a few inches of snow. (I imagine snowball fights, snow angels, children making snow-elves, etc.) It would also allow different conversations and scenes to happen in different seasons, which is more interesting visually and allows for more interesting settings for staging (falling in love in spring, for instance). A time-laps of the seasons going by would be very useful in Cuivienen. It would be pretty simple to show a time-laps of, say 1,000 winters going by.

The question that needs to be answered then is What does 1,000 winters mean to an Elf, particularly one born in this time?
(No, I don't actually have an answer to this, though I do have some ideas. Also, I don't think there needs to be an exact math behind this answer, but I do think that some understanding of this answer needs to be conveyed and understood by the viewer of the hypothetical show.)

(Also, the lack of a primary light source in the location of their start, creates interesting possible parallels with dwarves, not to mention their environments.)

The rhythms and measures of time we use are driven by markers of the world around us.

By how human's measure time, for comparison purposes:
1,000 hours is roughly 41 days and change.
10,000 hours is roughly 416 days and change.
1,000 days is over 2 and a half years.
10,000 days is roughly 27 years.

Also for comparison purposes, I’m going just define some terms.
Hours, Days, and Years are the basic markers by which most people currently measure and experience time. An Hour, comparatively(!), is a more recent marker of sub-dividing a Day into equal parts. A Day roughly is sunrise to sunrise, a pattern of illumination; it happens regularly and possibly tens of thousands of times over the course of a human life. A Year is a pattern, a repetition of weather, temperatures, and varying states of plant growth (that's what the seasons are); it happens so rarely in a human life, that it is the primary means by which humans will measure themselves over the course of their life. A single human life can see roughly 100 of these patterns before it ends.

The markers for an elf, especially one born in this time, would be very different. There are the whirling stars overhead (hourly, very fast), the Seasons, and maybe how fast certain plants grow (I'll talk about this later). There are no days to sub-divide time; either the turning of the stars overhead, hourly change, or 3 month periods, seasons. (I do grant that the stars would have also been used by the elves as a way to measure time, and technically that would offer some very accurate meaningful time scales, but I’m not sure that’s be best visual way to convey the large time scale involved.)

If the elves used the stars for hourly time (maybe they had a sense of days, but still) the next biggest change in their world would have been the seasons changing. Each Season would have been a potentially striking difference visually, or at least a different life style associated with it.

Humans allot a certain amount of time each Day to accomplish something. How much time does an elf allot in one Season to accomplish something? If a 3 month period, to an elf, feels like a Day to a human, that's something that needs to be conveyed, somehow.

I have this image of an elf sitting against a tree doing something, singing, maybe having a conversation, playing an instrument, as the tree time-lapses through several seasons, Spring through Fall. Maybe some elves choose to do something through multiple winters? (As an amusing side note: That makes me wonder “How many winters did an elf have to talk to a tree before the tree finally answered?”)

For an elf, especially from this time, there is no functional difference between two days and twenty days’ time, other than possibly food and sleep. (I don't want to have to figure out 'how often does an elf need to eat' because I really don't think we need that information.) However, this is probably why elves seem to take forever to do anything.

Truthfully, winter was the only visual means I could think of that could possibly convey 1,000 of any large set amount of time going by. Trying to convey that amount of time with a time-laps of the sky would only give you solid streaks of stars across the sky. The showing the land changing 1) conveys geologic time and even elves aren’t that slow to change (Ents maybe, not elves), and 2) can’t be used precisely (that is, “Did it take that river 100 years to carve that canyon, or did it take 1,000 years?”).

The other benefit of using a seasonal time-laps (or something like it) is it allows a striking difference for when humans finally show up, or even when the dwarves show up.

Showing plants growing is a potentially useful time marker, but problematic for the same imprecision issue that exists for watching the land change. However, if we can identify an exact growth rate for any plant, I vote for trying to establish exactly how fast the Trees grow. If we establish roughly how many winters it takes to grow one thing on one of the Trees (one leaf, one flower, one branch), it would allow lots of time to pass in Valynor and a clear way to represent that; If we establish how fast it grows, that establishes how fast its’ cuttings will grow, in later seasons. How much does one of the Trees grow in one Tree Year? I do assume the Trees grow very slow*. Again, I don’t think we need an exact numerical answer to this, but a sense of the scale.

*I think this is the appeal of Valynor. Compared to the constantly changing environment and seasons of Cuivienen, Valynor doesn’t change; there are no stars to streak across the sky (I assume because of the light); the temperature stays the same instead constantly fluctuating; the plants barely grow compared to Cuivienen, looking at the Trees. This may also be part of the root of sea-longing in the elves. (What do the elves do to make sure their homes don’t get over-grown or wear out, they’ve only got leather and wood? Is that why they’re in the trees, to reduce repairs, if they’re in the trees at all?)


Well-Known Member
Minor problem: there are no seasons, because the Sun and Moon don't exist yet. Seasons are a function of the Sun, and I am pretty sure once it comes into the sky, Valinor sees as much seasonal change as the rest of the Middle Earth. Cuivienen, and most of the time prior to the rising of the Sun, is a much more primordial, and purposefully "timeless" period of prehistory. We should not go out of our way, I think, to get hyper-specific on-screen about how much time is passing and how, exactly, elves perceive it differently. If anything, I think the better approach would be their attitude towards time, one that they share with the ents: "don't be hasty". No one is in a hurry. Things are done in the natural time it takes to do them. On the shores of Cuivienen, there is no want or coveting or avarice, each has what they need and if they desire to do something, they have the ways and means to do so. I am not even entirely sure that shelter is a thing we should consider, although it would certainly pretty up some of the establishing shots.

I'm not sure I agree that elves take "forever" to do anything; I think you're confusing the preservationist impulses of the Noldor of Middle Earth in the latter days of the Third Age with an inherent "slowness" in the physical world that the literature doesn't really seem to support. Galadriel in particular is preoccupied with preserving things as they were when the Noldor first arrived in Middle Earth. In their heyday, places like Menegroth and Gondolin didn't somehow take millennia to build. Elves are super-humanly patient and the Noldor in Bilbo's time have a desire to try and preserve some of the Second Age as it was before the world was bent. I do not think we ought to be given to understand that there is a fundamental difference in the way they perceive time.


Staff member
Ekoile, welcome!

You do bring up a good point about the passage of time as related to the Two Trees. In season 1, we saw the birth of the Trees, so they should be young - barely more than saplings.

Whereas when the elf ambassadors come to Valinor in Episode 2 of Season 2, we should see them full grown. They can stay more-or-less the same throughout season 2, but it should be clearly 'after' Season 1.

Here was our discussion of what the Trees should look like, so you might want to add you comments about growth there:


Well-Known Member
That is a really interesting Issue. We´ve dealt with it before in discussions about Legolas Age...

Legolas does not consider himself young anymore, and i think this touches the issue of how Elves feel or experience time.
Given the fact that an Elf was grown up/adult with 50/100 years an elf of a few hundred years of age would probably still be considered a young adult or even Youth, so it's almost for save that Legolas was at least a few thousand years old, even if he hardly seems to have had experiences with the outside world or at least with men and Dwarves.

Given this and how the Eldar see the Edain as declining fast and aging so fast and dying young I believe Elves feel time to move far faster tham men. A lifetime to a man seems to be a quite short time in the view of an elf... so the constrainig of long periods of time in the early story if far easier solved for us given the fact that the Elves would experience a hundred years like a couple of months (Formenos probably is raised in the glimpse of an eye to them)