Session 5-19: The Differing Perspectives of Men and Elves

amysrevenge

Well-Known Member
The more I think about this... the more I think Tolkien maybe made his Elves too human(? I hate to suggest it even haha). Too much like us (RL people) and not alien enough. The two factors of functional immortality and actually having met and interacted with the de facto gods would make Elves so much more inaccessible. I have a hard time really thinking through how there can even be meaningful interaction. Like, I've joked before about Elves losing track of which generation of Man they were talking to. That would be the tip of the iceberg.

Unless there was some other externally induced effect to make them more human-like than the conditions would otherwise suggest. The will of Illuvatar, that sort of thing. Something artificially keeping Elves' attention on the immediate, when they would naturally tend toward the eternal.

I'm having a hard time putting thoughts into words today.


ETA: An example would be Elves' natural monogamy. That would be an external influence, I think. (I mean, that it happens to coincide with Tolkien's own morality isn't accidental, but I think the notion of monogamy being morally positive might be tied to human mortality).
 
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Ange1e4e5

Well-Known Member
The more I think about this... the more I think Tolkien maybe made his Elves too human(? I hate to suggest it even haha). Too much like us (RL people) and not alien enough. The two factors of functional immortality and actually having met and interacted with the de facto gods would make Elves so much more inaccessible. I have a hard time really thinking through how there can even be meaningful interaction. Like, I've joked before about Elves losing track of which generation of Man they were talking to. That would be the tip of the iceberg.

Unless there was some other externally induced effect to make them more human-like than the conditions would otherwise suggest. The will of Illuvatar, that sort of thing. Something artificially keeping Elves' attention on the immediate, when they would naturally tend toward the eternal.

I'm having a hard time putting thoughts into words today.
Well they're not completely alien to each other, otherwise you wouldn't have the Half-Elven.

And also why I started a thread on how different Elves and Men are on a physical level and how Balrogs, our resident Hero-Killers (whenever they show up somebody dies), weren't able to beat Elves. Didn't gain much traction however.
 
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amysrevenge

Well-Known Member
On this particular point, I have to push back. The Elves have perfect recall when it comes to memory, so it seems unlikely they would think they were talking to someone they had known was dead.
Fair enough. But the wider point stands I think (and, boy, does perfect memory clash in my brain with changing/drifting languages, which is literally the whole point of this thing haha).
 

MithLuin

Administrator
Staff member
I think elves, even with very good memories, could easily fall into the family storytelling trap of 'remember that time when we...' and the person in question has to point out that they were only a baby or not born yet, so no, they don't remember. Oh, right, that was before your time...

While elves know that Men are young, they likely sometimes forget just how young. It's a different perspective than their own, and Men grow up faster than elvish children do. A 21-year-old human looks like a 50-100 year old elf. Or a 300 year old elf. Or a 6,000 year old elf. So, you can see the problem.
 

Haakon

Administrator
Staff member
I agree with MithLuin here..
I think a lot of small differences in how they use conversation will be apparent. Elves will refer to stuff offhandedly and leave Men wondering what the Elf meant, or Men will misunderstand completely. The Elves have eons of time to refer to (and most of it was without Men) and won't necessarily adjust to the few decades of experience a Man has. How do you talk to a young person about how it feels to be old? How does a 90-year old Man explain her perspective on Life and Death to a 12-year old kid? It's a similar thing. But the Elves could, after having encountered this problem (the Men not understanding offhanded remarks), also become hesitant and take extremely long time to respond to something a Man has said, or they could refrain from responding at all. When going through a problematic issue, they will not be afraid of taking too much time (as shown by the example of The Council of Elrond).
 

Ange1e4e5

Well-Known Member
I think elves, even with very good memories, could easily fall into the family storytelling trap of 'remember that time when we...' and the person in question has to point out that they were only a baby or not born yet, so no, they don't remember. Oh, right, that was before your time...

While elves know that Men are young, they likely sometimes forget just how young. It's a different perspective than their own, and Men grow up faster than elvish children do. A 21-year-old human looks like a 50-100 year old elf. Or a 300 year old elf. Or a 6,000 year old elf. So, you can see the problem.
Unless you're Cirdan; with his silver hair and beard, he looks on the older side.
 

Rhiannon

Well-Known Member
On this particular point, I have to push back. The Elves have perfect recall when it comes to memory, so it seems unlikely they would think they were talking to someone they had known was dead.
Elves have good memories, much better than humans, but they do not have perfect recall. For example, Legolas says that he has forgotten much of the "Lay of Nimrodel" when he sings it for the fellowship outside Lothlorien. I think an Elf would understand if a single Man forgot something that happened earlier in his life. Where the major difference would come in would be with collective memory. Elves would be surprised by how quickly a group of Men might forget the events of 100 years ago because 1) those Men were not alive to experience those events and 2) Men's tales of the events would not be able to impart the real experience the way Elvish storytelling can.
 

Ange1e4e5

Well-Known Member
Elves have good memories, much better than humans, but they do not have perfect recall. For example, Legolas says that he has forgotten much of the "Lay of Nimrodel" when he sings it for the fellowship outside Lothlorien. I think an Elf would understand if a single Man forgot something that happened earlier in his life. Where the major difference would come in would be with collective memory. Elves would be surprised by how quickly a group of Men might forget the events of 100 years ago because 1) those Men were not alive to experience those events and 2) Men's tales of the events would not be able to impart the real experience the way Elvish storytelling can.
So how would that come up in conversation? Would Finrod ask about the Shadow they were fleeing?
 

Rhiannon

Well-Known Member
In the "Athrabeth," Andreth brings up another difference between Men and Elves that I think it might be worthwhile to try to depict:

"'... those among us who have known the Eldar, and maybe have loved them, say on our side: "There is no weariness in the eyes of the Elves." And we find that they do not understand the saying that goes among Men: too often seen is seen no longer. And they wonder much that in the tongues of Men the same word may mean both "long-known" and "stale". 'We have thought that this was so only because the Elves have lasting life and undiminished vigor. "Grown-up children" we, the guests, sometimes call you ...'"

Basically, Elves can do and see the same things over and over again without ever getting bored or tired of them. An Elf would enjoy hearing a song the 6000th time just as much as the first time. Men, on the other hand, do get bored and might seek out new stimuli or experiences.
 

Rhiannon

Well-Known Member
So how would that come up in conversation? Would Finrod ask about the Shadow they were fleeing?
Yes, but that's not a perfect example. Part of the reason Men do not talk about the Shadow is that they are unwilling to share with the Elves, not just that they do not remember.
 

Nicholas Palazzo

Well-Known Member
Elves have good memories, much better than humans, but they do not have perfect recall. For example, Legolas says that he has forgotten much of the "Lay of Nimrodel" when he sings it for the fellowship outside Lothlorien. I think an Elf would understand if a single Man forgot something that happened earlier in his life. Where the major difference would come in would be with collective memory. Elves would be surprised by how quickly a group of Men might forget the events of 100 years ago because 1) those Men were not alive to experience those events and 2) Men's tales of the events would not be able to impart the real experience the way Elvish storytelling can.
I'll admit that "perfect recall" is not the best descriptor for what I'm trying to express, as it implies eidetic memory, which they don't have, as you aptly point out. I suppose I'm speaking in a more narrow sense about experiential memory? When they remember things that happened to them in the past, they experience it as if it were the present. So they might forget the words of a long lay, or an obscure piece of lore, but not the face of someone they knew.
 

Rhiannon

Well-Known Member
Session 5-19: Differing Perspectives of Men and Elves

Discussion of Episode 1 B-plot


Before going to live in Gondolin, Aredhel went on a tour of Beleriand, which led her to doubt the feasibility of keeping Morgoth in leaguer. She saw Gondolin as a place where they could hide and build an army and eventually attack when Ulmo sends them a message (based on older story from Book of Lost Tales). Gondolin was a means to an end. However, Turgon and many of the Gondolindrim are coming to think of Gondolin as an end in itself. Aredhel leaves because she thinks Turgon is not following his mission. She is a tragic figure for foreseeing Turgon’s failure, but she is not able to correct it by herself. Her efforts to help with the leaguer are futile, and she makes bad decisions later on when she meets Eöl. She is also going against Ulmo’s directive by leaving Gondolin prematurely. Aredhel’s impulse is similar to what Fingolfin’s impulse to attack Morgoth.

In Episode 1, Turgon gives a speech in Gondolin. Aredhel notices that, while he is praising the city, he is not talking about the future or the plan for Gondolin. When Aredhel confronts Turgon later in the episode, he is surprised that she is upset and believes he is fulfilling Ulmo’s purpose. Turgon has a more long-term, Elflike view. Aredhel’s view is more human. Turgon sees Gondolin as a refuge. Not just from Morgoth, but from change as a whole, kind of like Lothlórien in the Third Age. Aredhel should say that Turgon has changed. The Gondolindrim are turning inwards; they now see themselves as separate from the rest of Beleriand. Turgon will not disagree with her, he will just see her concerns as overexaggerated and Aredhel herself as impatient.

There is a 15-year gap between Episodes 1 and 2. Turgon gives his blessing to her plan to leave in Episode 1; Aredhel actually leaves in Episode 2. This is not weird because they are Elves. In Episode 2, there is a public ceremony in which Turgon explains that Aredhel is going on an embassy to Fingolfin so the public does not think Aredhel is just getting an exception to the no-one-leaves-Gondolin rule.

Both Aredhel and Turgon are correct; there is just a tragic misunderstanding. Turgon was right to foresee that bad things would happen if Aredhel left Gondolin, which will be confirmed when she dies later in the season.

Pengolodh is an unsung hero. He is the compiler of the Silmarillion. In this episode, he can show the Gondolindrim perspective because he has never known anything but Gondolin. He sees Gondolin as the whole world; Aredhel thinks about all of Beleriand.

Frame Story in Episode 1

The teaser of this episode establishes where Harad is and that there is distrust between Gondor and Harad because they were enemies in the past. There is trade between Gondor and Harad, but they are not at war or even preparing for war … yet. The captain calls Gandalf “Gandalf,” not “Mithrandir.” Perhaps Gandalf could introduce himself as Incánus in Gondor.

Harad might visually look like northern Africa, but without the distinctly Muslim cultural influences. We don’t want Gondor and Harad to look like Christian vs. Muslim.

It has been 30-40 years since Incánus has been to this town in Harad. Incánus is welcomed like he is in Hobbiton. The younger son has heard about stories about Incánus, but he doesn’t remember him personally. The Queen of the city-state remembers Incánus and is surprised that he appears the same as when he visited previously. The main characters have Adûnaic names and Númenórean heritage. This is part of why Gandalf was interested in the city-state.

Differences between Men and Elves

The lifetime of a human is about the time it takes an Elf to grow from childhood to maturity. Especially in Nargothrond, we can show children aging at different rates. Elves might seem condescending to Men. Because Men are the same ages of children, they might speak to them like children. This would be somewhat like when teenagers want adults to see them as equals, but Elves would not have had the same experience. Fingon might see Hador entering his service as taking custody of a child. Hador proving himself would help earn respect for all Men.

Evolution of Elves’ understanding of Men: Men die in extremely short periods of time (Bëor) -> Men can be useful and productive despite their short lifespans (Hador)

Elves will come to realize what Men can accomplish as a whole in their short lifespans. One place where this can come up is Finrod’s visit to the House of Bëor after they have moved to the frontier. He may have reservations about how long it will take them to adapt, but when he visits, he will see that their society has transformed.

The living memory of Elves is more than the generational tradition of Men. Men will more quickly forget who they are and where they came from. Men might revere the Elves because of their long memories and wisdom. This might be kind of like how the Hobbits in LOTR react to the Elves. Even though the Finrod clarifies that the Elves are not Valar, Men might see something godlike about Elves. Elves might try to adapt their thoughts to Men in consideration of Men’s limited memories. They would not try to tell Men all the stories about their ancestors, but they might occasionally bring them up, e.g., Finrod might compare Barahir to Bëor.

Men would learn writing from Elves and use it to preserve their history. This will become more important to Elves as more and more Elves start dying. This would probably come up in Nargothrond. It would correlate with the House of Bëor’s tradition of a wise person being a leader. Andreth will still be the wise woman/record keeper after she retires so Barahir can be leader.

We will come back to talking about the differences between Elves and Men in a later session. The “Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth” is a great source for this.
 

Ange1e4e5

Well-Known Member
So if the Gondolodrim see themselves as separate from the rest of Beleriand, what is going to break Turgon and the Gondolodrim out of their ennui and participate in the Nirnaeth Arnoediad?
 

Nicholas Palazzo

Well-Known Member
So if the Gondolodrim see themselves as separate from the rest of Beleriand, what is going to break Turgon out of his ennui and participate in the Nirnaeth Arnoediad?
That's an excellent question, which deserves some thought. We might have to spend some time in Gondolin during S06 to explore that.
 

Rhiannon

Well-Known Member
Actually, I suspect that the Gondolin story will a plotline of Season 7, not Season 6. Turgon's shift in viewpoint will be due to a combination of factors, including his encounter with Hurin and Huor, news he receives via eagle of preparations for the Union of Maedhros, possibly encouragement from Maeglin, and probably remembering events of Season 5 like Aredhel's appeal to him and Thorondor delivering Fingolfin's body.
 

Phillip Menzies

Moderator
Staff member
I know this session has passed, but this is something about Tolkien's elves I have never understood. What does it mean to belong to an elvish house? From a human perspective all the people can claim common kinship with the house or with the tribe due to people not travelling far from their birthplace and breeding with people who share common ancestry. It cannot be the same thing for elves because of their slow birth rate. I always wondered "who are the Feanoreans?" Finwe was an original elf who woke at Cuivienen who only had 3 offspring one of which was Feanor. Feanor had 7 sons and by the time they are leaving Valinor some of them have children, so who are the rest of this huge multitude of elves called the Feanoreans who are clearly no more than red shirts? Is there a system where elves can just align themselves with whoever they want? The problem for me comes down to the slow reproduction rates of elves which is demonstrated through ALL of the main characters. Who are the elves that are reproducing at high rates to be able to field such huge armies and do they claim kinship with their leaders? For heaven's sake, Celeborn and Galadriel only ever had one child in all of the many thousands of years they were together. This is similar to Corey's frustration about Boromir, Faramir, Theodred and Eomer all being bachelors and not producing heirs. The bigger question is do we even bother to explain this elvish dynamic in Silmfilm? Tolkien certainly didn't.
 

Nicholas Palazzo

Well-Known Member
I know this session has passed, but this is something about Tolkien's elves I have never understood. What does it mean to belong to an elvish house? From a human perspective all the people can claim common kinship with the house or with the tribe due to people not travelling far from their birthplace and breeding with people who share common ancestry. It cannot be the same thing for elves because of their slow birth rate. I always wondered "who are the Feanoreans?" Finwe was an original elf who woke at Cuivienen who only had 3 offspring one of which was Feanor. Feanor had 7 sons and by the time they are leaving Valinor some of them have children, so who are the rest of this huge multitude of elves called the Feanoreans who are clearly no more than red shirts? Is there a system where elves can just align themselves with whoever they want? The problem for me comes down to the slow reproduction rates of elves which is demonstrated through ALL of the main characters. Who are the elves that are reproducing at high rates to be able to field such huge armies and do they claim kinship with their leaders? For heaven's sake, Celeborn and Galadriel only ever had one child in all of the many thousands of years they were together. This is similar to Corey's frustration about Boromir, Faramir, Theodred and Eomer all being bachelors and not producing heirs. The bigger question is do we even bother to explain this elvish dynamic in Silmfilm? Tolkien certainly didn't.
So, we have to take into account the time spans involved. About 4000 years go by between the awakening of the Elves and the rising of the sun. That's long enough for 40-80 generations. Even with only the 144 original Elves described in certain versions of the story, 40 generations, and with only an average of 1 child per two Elves, that still gets us 11 million people. With 2 children per couple, we get over a trillion. So if the Noldor number even a couple hundred thousand when they arrive in Beleriand, that seems pretty believeable.
 
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