Stars have been a vital part of the Elves’ lives since the Firstborn awoke near Cuiviénen under the starlight. It was their doom appointed by Eru Ilúvatar, so being the first thing the newly awoken race saw, the stars cannot have been anything but of paramount importance for the fair people.

According to the legend, the first primitive utterance made by the Elves when they first saw the stars was Ele which means “Behold”. This exclamation became the source of such words as êl and elen (“star”), elda and elen (“of the stars”). Hence the name Oromë chose to use for the Elves upon discovering them on the shores of Cuiviénen: Eldar — “People of the stars”. However, later it was referred only to those Elves who followed the Vala on the westward road, and that is the Three Kindreds: the Vanyar, the Noldor and the Teleri. The Avari (The Unwilling) — the Elves who refused to travel west — were not considered among the Eldar.

The Valië Varda who created the stars under which the Elves awoke is the most revered by them of all the Valar. In Quenya Varda is called Elentári, in Sindarin her name is Elbereth, and both names mean “Star-Queen”:

Of all the Great Ones who dwell in this world the Elves hold Varda most in reverence and love. Elbereth they name her, and they call upon her name out of the shadows of Middle-earth, and uplift it in song at the rising of the stars.

(The Silmarillion, p. 16-17)

Varda is often featured in Elvish songs. They are sung by the Elves throughout the ages, and as the time goes by and fewer and fewer Elves remain in Middle-earth, the figure of Varda seems to be growing even more in importance for those fair people still lingering in Middle-earth as the link connecting them to their true home in the West, the unfailing bastion of faith in the world where there is less and less place left for the Elves. Under the name Elentári Varda appears in Galadriel’s lament in The Lord of the Rings. Besides, as Frodo, Sam and Pippin are being pursued by the Black Riders, it is the hymn in praise of Elbereth that they hear sung by Gildor’s company shortly before meeting the Elves face to face. One verse of the hymn, however, is dedicated to Varda’s creation — the stars:

O stars that in the Sunless Year

With shining hand by her were sown,

In windy fields now bright and clear

We see your silver blossom blown!

(Fellowship of the Ring, p. 105)

With language being the representation of culture, traditions and people’s beliefs, it is not surprising that, apart from songs, the stars feature in various figures of Elvish speech: sayings, phrases and well-wishes, metaphors, comparisons. One of the best-known is Elen síla lúmenn’ omentielvo — “a star shines on the hour of our meeting”. It is a greeting Frodo uses when he meets Gildor and his company, and that is a very polite way to greet the Elves. In his turn, Gildor also uses a star-phrase to say farewell to Frodo and to wish him a good journey: “I name you Elf-friend; and may the stars shine upon the end of your road!” (Fellowship of the Ring, p. 112). In a similar manner Elrond says to the Fellowship departing from Rivendell on their perilous journey: “May the stars shine upon your faces!” (Ibid., p. 369) [1]. These utterances look like an Elvish way of wishing good luck or giving their blessings to somebody: to wish the light of something they revere so much upon one’s road.

Language is not the only field where stars feature greatly. A lot of Elvish creations are either connected with stars, or are reminiscent of them. Various gems made by them are compared to the stars either because of their shape, or bright shining. While most gems are used for decorations, in jewellery and are beautiful, skilfully-made things, the Silmarils created by Fëanor (whose heraldic device was, by the way, an eight-rayed star) stand out considerably here. As part of their “inner fire” the Silmarils bear the light of Telperion — the Silver Tree whose dew Varda used to create the stars under which the Elves awoke. Thus, the stars and the gems can be considered akin in a certain way:

Therefore even in the darkness of the deepest treasury the Silmarils of their own radiance shone like the stars of Varda; and yet, as were they indeed living things, they rejoiced in light and received it and gave it back in hues more marvellous than before.

(Silmarillion, p. 68)

At the end of the First Age one of the Silmarils indeed goes up to the sky and, born by Eärendil, becomes the Star of Eärendil whose light helps Frodo and Sam a lot on their dark journey to the heart of Mordor and whose appearance in Middle-earth and in the sky is prophesied by Huor during Nirnaeth Arnoediad: “…from you and from me a new star shall arise” (ibid., p. 230) he says to Turgon, and these words cannot be more accurate in both metaphorical and direct sense: Huor and Turgon are Eärendil’s grandsires.

The substance called ithildin can be seen used on the gates of Moria. It is made out of mithril by the Elves and reflects only moonlight and starlight. Before the right password is guessed by the Fellowship of the Ring by Moria gate, Gandalf utters a few words and touches the stone surface, with his actions bringing ithildin drawings to life and the lines making an ornament on the door. In the moonlight it looks like “like slender veins of silver running in the stone” (Fellowship of the Ring, p. 400).

With the Elves being great lovers of nature, it is no wonder that there is an example of a star-shaped flower in their flora, and that is elanor growing in Lothlórien. Translated from Sindarin, the name means “Sun-star”. Small and lovely to look at, the flower enjoys some characteristics of the stars as we learn together with the Fellowship who see “a long lawn of shining grass, studded with golden elanor that glinted in the sun” (ibid., p.487). 

Comparisons of different Elves to the stars are frequently applied in Tolkien’s texts. Fingolfin gleams like a star in his single combat with Morgoth; Lúthien’s eyes remind of a grey starlit evening; Nimrodel is called “a shining star” in the song Legolas sings; Círdan’s eyes are as bright as stars; the fall of Gil-galad is likened to the fall of a star. In his case the Elf’s name is also connected to the stars and means “Star of bright light” in Sindarin: the High King of the Noldor got it for his keen, bright eyes. Besides, there are a lot of other star-names in the Elvish genealogy, with one line being particularly prominent. Elwing (“Star-spray”) “was born on a night of stars, whose light glittered in the spray of the waterfall of Lanthir Lamath” (Silmarillion, p. 282); her son’s Elrond’s name means “Star-dome”. His position in the Second and Third Ages of Middle-earth is very important, and upon his house “the stars of heaven most brightly shone” (Silmarillion, p. 358). Elrond’s daughter is Arwen Undómiel (“Evenstar”), whose beauty was likened to that of Lúthien’s, “and the light of stars was in her bright eyes, grey as a cloudless night” (Fellowship of the Ring, p. 298). Descending from Beren and Lúthien, this Elvish line was particularly important in the history of Middle-earth as they were part of many vital events and it is through them that a drop of Elvish blood was passed from Lúthien and, as it was said, ennobled the mortal race.

Hateful to Orcs and other dark creatures, starlight is closely associated with the Elves, goodness and fairness. The light of the stars and the stars themselves were very accurately described by Sam, who has a very keen perception of the Elves. In a very dark moment of their journey to Mordor he says to Frodo that stars cheer his heart and calls them very Elvish. Indeed, Sam. You are absolutely right.


[1] I am grateful to Joviator for mentioning this example in his comment and thus reminding me that I have forgotten to include it in the reflection. Thank you, my friend!

Further reading:

In starlit memory.

Works consulted:

  1. J. R. R. Tolkien – The Silmarillion (edited by Christopher Tolkien); HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 1999.
  2. J. R. R. Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2001.
  3. J. R. R. Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2001.
  4. J. R. R. Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2001.

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8 thoughts on “People of the stars.

  1. There’s a slow debate going on in Fellowship of the Ring that I never noticed before.
    Gildor: may the stars shine upon the end of your road!
    Gandalf: do not travel by night!
    Elrond: may the stars shine upon your faces!
    Narrator: …they strode away far into the night.
    There’s no question who won that argument.

  2. Fantastic post!
    Of course, I already knew the tight link beween Elves and the starts, still I’d never realised ebfore how much lore and influnce the stars and what they represent is in Tolkien’s stories.
    It’s just awesome that Tolkien could create this lore inside his own lore.

    1. Thank you!
      Stars are indeed all around the Elves in their lore. Hardly surprising, considering the fact that they woke up under those stars. Tolkien’s ability to create lore within lore was amazing!

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