The Firstborn Children of Ilúvatar, Elves, are fair and wise, possess great knowledge and supreme skills in crafts, are gifted in creating new things and versed in lore. All of these are native to their nature and being. Another aspect of Elvish essence that makes them very different from other dwellers of Middle-earth is their special outlook on life based around hope.

As people Elves remain unfallen, even though some of their deeds might suggest otherwise.  Verily, some Elves do wish mastery, too many possessions or too much knowledge, and some of the deeds they commit can be rendered as very grievous, cruel and, to speak plainly, unlawful. Still, they are unfallen due to the fact that, however horrible their deeds are, Elves never reject the existence of Eru and His supremacy in Arda. None of them serve Morgoth willingly or accept him as their lord. This unfailing belief in Ilúvatar and acknowledging his authority is one of the two demands from Eru to his Children. Another one is estel.

What exactly is estel and why is it so crucial to Elves? Estel can be loosely interpreted as “hope”, but there is much more to it. This deep concept is explained by Finrod in his conversation with Andreth:

Estel we call it, that is “trust”. It is not defeated by the ways of the world, for it does not come from experience, but from our nature and first being. If we are indeed the Eruhin, the Children of the One, then He will not suffer Himself to be deprived of His own, not by any Enemy, not even by ourselves. This is the last foundation of Estel, which we keep even when we contemplate the End: of all His designs the issue must be for His Children’s joy.

(Morgoth’s Ring, p. 320)

Grounded deeply in Elvish hearts and souls, estel is a kind of hope based around two aspects both of which are vital to it: being undefeated by the ways of the world and attitude to the End. Both aspects are addressed and clearly explained by Manwë in the debate of the Valar concerning the situation of Finwë and Míriel. As the Children of Ilúvatar Elves must not be broken by the griefs of the world and through trials become better, stronger and wiser, learn and be able to see the good even in the world that was marred by the Enemy:

For Arda Unmarred hath two aspects or senses. The first is the Unmarred that they [Elves] discern in the Marred, if their eyes are not dimmed, and yearn for, as we yearn for the Will of Eru: this is the ground upon which Hope is built.

(Morgoth’s Ring, p. 245)

This is something that most Elves are able to do. They find it possible to love Arda even in its tainted state, full of griefs, woe, evil and deformities: Elves see the beauty in the world and create wonderful things regardless of its marring, and by doing so they bring more fairness into the world. This ability to love Arda Marred is a constant source of vexation for Morgoth consumed by incessant hatred and wrath [1].

The latter aspect concerns the end of Arda and, thus, the end of Elves themselves. Elves are often called immortal by Men, but that is not strictly accurate. Their immortality is rather a serial longevity: being of Arda, Elves live as long as Arda lasts. As Finrod notes in the same conversation with Andreth, Arda is finite and it must end at some point. Thus, as the Elvish lord concludes, Elves must also perish utterly: it means the destruction of both fëa and hröa, the total annihilation of an individual. That belief comes from the Elvish understanding of the world, and they know nothing for certain: no information has been revealed to the Firstborn concerning their ultimate end. Such uncertainty must be a heavy cross to bear over the course of their very long lives. To lighten the burden Elves rely on estel that in the end Eru’s design will prove good for all his Children and the End cannot be as ultimate as they see it.

Another aspect of the End that can be contemplated here is the end of Arda itself. Elves love the world greatly, being of it and “at home” there while Men are seen as mere guest [2]. Thus, the understanding of its finite nature can be a rather grievous realisation, too. That way estel is also directed at believing that the world will be healed of Morgoth’s evils in the end, and Arda Marred will be made anew. Manwë addresses this issue, too:

The second [aspect] is the Unmarred that shall be: that is, to speak according to Time in which they have their being, the Arda Healed, which shall be greater and more fair than the first, because of the Marring: this is the Hope that sustaineth.

(Morgoth’s Ring, p. 245)

This hope for the better world, for Arda Unmarred or Arda Remade, must come from the trust of Elves in Eru and his designs for the good of his Children and the world He created.

Estel is grounded very deeply, far deeper than another kind of hope Elves have — amdir — that is interpreted as “looking up”. It is a fundamental concept in Elvish tradition inseparable from their recognition of Eru’s authority and supremacy, the ultimate trust in whatever happens in their lives, no matter how grievous it might be, it will eventually turn out for the best and make them stronger. Estel is something that remains with most Elves during the courses of their long lives, and this belief helps them overcome the trials they have to face in Arda Marred.

Further reading:

Who wants to live forever?

Notes:

[1] Morgoth’s Ring, p. 396

[2] Morgoth’s Ring, p. 315

Works consulted:

  1. J. R. R. Tolkien – The Silmarillion (edited by Christopher Tolkien); HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 1999.
  2. J. R. R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien – Morgoth’s Ring; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2015.

Featured image: Pixabay

5 thoughts on “On Estel.

  1. Gifted in creating new things? That would speak against the professors Christianity wouldn’t it? You are far better read than I am, so I would love an essay on the elves creations. I would rather think that an artist will assemble a supply of the creators works, and with them shape something beautiful to behold with their own skill and talent.

    Just like you!

    1. Well, “sub-creation” would have been a more suitable word here perhaps, just as Tolkien himself used it in a letter to Milton Waldman. Indeed, using the supplies to shape them into something new. And that is something they did easily, naturally, gracefully.
      I’ll consider a general essay on what the Elves made, and there’s already one on the things Fëanor made.

  2. This way of looking at estel gives a really interesting perspective on what Galadriel was doing in Lothlorien. Now that I’ve read your piece, it seems like Galadriel is unwilling to accept Arda Marred. As the book says, “No blemish or sickness or deformity could be seen in anything that grew upon the earth. On the land of Lorien there was no stain.” She is trying to undo the damage single-handedly, at least within her kingdom. With that kind of pride, it’s no wonder she wasn’t going to be allowed back into Valinor until she had a change of attitude.

    1. That’s a fascinating observation, Joe! It definitely seems true. Thus, her unwillingness to accept Arda Marred can also be seen as the failing of estel, which was never a good thing and could lead to bad decisions. It’s good that she was able to change her attitude eventually.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.