A cross-referenced list of everything Tolkien said about elf sex. Rated PG, with actual footnotes and bibliographic references. Some readers visit for a laugh, some for information. Make of it what you will!
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Ever since the movie of the book Fellowship of the Ring came out, there seem to be two popular ideas about Elves' sex lives. Either they are radiantly asexual, or they are all screwing each other madly, along with any dwarves, hobbits, and men who happen along. Whichever you prefer is usually based on how attractive you think Orlando Bloom is. Tolkien's history of Middle-Earth provides us with some information about elvish sex lives. I collected these originally as a fic-writing reference.
All this information includes its original text citation. An important source is the essay "Laws and Customs of the Eldar," published in the book Morgoth's Ring, History of Middle-Earth. This essay is referenced so often here that references to it are labeled with the acronym LACE. The LACE essay also discusses Elvish marriage and childbirth in detail, but that's outside the scope of this piece. The acronym HME refers to a book in the History of Middle-Earth series. A complete bibliography is included at the end.
It's helpful to consider that when Tolkien set up elvish social systems, he was in a way creating his own ideal people, based on his own values. It's also grounding to remember that this essay describes what Tolkien said about fantasy people in a fantasy world.
Good and Bad News About Elf Libidos
The good news is that elves like sex. "The union of love is indeed to them great delight and joy." (LACE) The bad news is that elves tend to lose interest in sex after they've had kids. "With the exercise of the power (of generation), the desire soon ceases, and the mind turns to other things…they have many other urges of body and of mind which their nature urges them to fulfil." They do look back happily on the sexually-active time in their lives, though, a period of one to several hundred years. (LACE) Also, "they are seldom swayed by the desires of the body only, but are by nature continent and steadfast." (LACE) Sorry.
Elves were indeed androgynous. It's established that elf guys were beardless (History of Galadriel and Celeborn, UF) There's one contradiction in this in Círdan's being bearded. (The Grey Havens, ROTK) Tolkien describes the differences between the elvish sexes as follows in LACE:
"In all such things not concerned with the bringing forth of children, the neri and nissi (that is, the men and women) of the Eldar are equal...there was less difference in strength and speed between elven-men and elven-women that had not borne child than is seen among mortals."
He goes on to explain differences in career preferences between the sexes and concludes with "But all these things, and other matters of labor and play…may at different times be pursued by any among the Noldor, be they neri or nissi." Among the elf people of the Noldor, elf women make bread. "Yet the cooking and preparing of other food is generally a task and pleasure of (elf-)men." (LACE) I assume they eat a lot of barbecue and elaborately prepared red sauce, then.
Sex = Marriage, Even On the Run
Tolkien describes elvish marriage in detail in the LACE essay. What he states about sex and marriage...well, I can't do any better than to quote him directly. He notes that, among his fantasy people in Middle-Earth, "Marriage is chiefly of the body, for it is achieved by bodily union, and its first operation is the begetting of the bodies of children, even though it endures beyond this and has other operations. And the union of bodies in marriage is unique, and no other union resembles it."
It follows from this that, among the Elves, "It was the act of bodily union that achieved marriage...it was at all times lawful for any of the Eldar, both being unwed, to marry thus of free consent one to the other without ceremony or witness…in flight and exile and wandering, such marriages were often made." Tolkien then proceeds immediately to a discussion of begetting of children. So, "marrying thus of free consent" means that the elf-man and elf-woman involved agree to be life partners, and that there is no excuse for elf casual sex.
Then again, Tolkien does mention that Celeborn was "the lover of Galadriel, who she later wedded." This comment does date back to an early set of notes when Celeborn's name, in Quenya, was Teleporno. You can see why he changed that one. (History of Galadriel and Celeborn, UF)
Happy Begetting-Day To You!
Elves do not remember and celebrate the day that they were born as the day they came into existence. Instead, they celebrate the day their parents begat them. That's the day their parents had the sex that conceived them. (LACE) Apparently, there was some parental will involved in the act of begetting. Either that, or they were having so little sex that it was easy to remember. "Pregnant? How did that happen? Oh, that Thursday three turns of the seasons ago. Oh yeah…" This seems like a good moment to mention that Tolkien was Catholic, so this was compatible with his religion and belief system.
The Facts of Elf Life
So, sex equals marriage, and begetting is considered important. Some more elvish facts of life, all sourced from LACE. Regarding elvish pregnancy, "A year passed between the begetting and the birth of an elf-child, so that the days of both are the same, or nearly so." Elvish childhood and adolescence lasted until the age of approximately 50 years. Elves tended to marry soon after coming of age, with a one-year engagement being standard. Elves did not say they "had a baby," they said "a baby is given to us." The most kids an elf couple ever had were seven, the sons of Fëanor and Nerdanel. Tolkien said absolutely nothing about elf puberty. Nonetheless, I assume it occurs.
Quenya For "You Sexy Things"*?
A scholar of elvish languages, Helge Fauskanger (web site Ardalambion,) once said that "Somewhere there may be a sealed envelope containing a piece of paper with the Elvish designations of the genitals, furtively set down by Tolkien behind locked doors." Somebody has found the envelope. The publication of materials from Tolkien's archived 1920s wordlists of "Early Noldorin" has revealed that these designations do exist, at least in Quenya (thanks due to the astute Delalyra for noting that this information had become available.)
We begin with the essential parts; the Quenya term is in italics, and Tolkien's preferred English or Latin designation is in quotes. First, huch, "cunnus", and móna, "womb", are for the elf-women; vië, "membrum vir.", is for the elf-men. Everybody has hacca, "hams/buttocks", and everybody can get helda, that is, unclothed/naked. This accomplished, provided the elf-couple are appropriately married, it is time to attend to the marital duty of puhta, "coitus" (noun), though hopefully the pair's activity can be referred to with the verb púcë, a slightly gentler term that refers to that activity with a "poetic or archaic" meaning. (Parma Eldalamberion, Issue #13) All of these body parts and activities were given an erotic frisson by yérë, a noun which, based on the Quenya word-root YER, probably means "sexual desire". (Vinyar Tengwar, Issue #46).
Another term is Quenya nosta / Sindarin onna, beget. The source for this is Treebeard's farewell to Galadriel and Celeborn in "Many Partings," ROTK. This farewell includes the Quenya phrase "O vanimar, vanimalion nostari", translated in The End of the Third Age, in the chapter discussing Many Partings, footnote 16, as "fair ones begetters of fair ones." There is a related early Quenya noun, ontâro, meaning begetter/masculine parent. The early Quenya word wegê, meaning manhood or vigor, may be open to a variety of interpretations, and is indeed etymologically linked to the Quenya term vie. There was also a Quenya word meaning virgin, rod, as in Rodwen, "High Virgin Noble (female)." (Maeglin, The War of the Jewels, HME)
If you want more Official Tolkien Linguistic References to Elf Sex, they've done a good job here.
Normal Elves And The Ones Tolkien Wrote About
Tolkien in LACE says that elves normally married young, in their early adulthood, which would have been at 50 to 100 years old. He says that this is normal for elves and that elves who did otherwise had "strange fates." (LACE) He then goes on to present us with large amounts of elf characters who marry late in life (Galadriel, Elrond, Idril, Lúthien, Aredhel, Eöl, Thingol) or not at all (Legolas, Finrod, half the sons of Fëanor) or whose marital status is vague and unknown (Glorfindel, Gil-Galad). Fëanor is the best example of this happy early marriage. But then, he had an exceptional amount of kids (seven). And his wife left him. (Shibboleth of Fëanor, Peoples of Middle-Earth, HME) Possibly the elvish upper classes, who Tolkien wrote about almost exclusively, delayed marriage for sociopolitical reasons.
Very Wicked Deeds
Tolkien had some thoughts on elves and the crime of rape. In the original version of one Silmarillion story, "Eöl found...the sister of King Turgon astray in the wild near his dwelling, and he took her to wife by force: a very wicked deed in the eyes of the Eldar." (Quendi and Eldar essay, footnote 9, War of the Jewels, HME) Indeed. Eöl seems to have been Tolkien's #1 Evil Elf character, using poison, friendly with Dwarves, bad-tempered and secretive, trying to kill his son.
Over the long run, Tolkien seems to have changed his mind about the possibility of elves using rape, as shown in the following paragraph. In the final version of the tale of Eöl and Aredhel, Aredhel was "not unwilling", although Eöl did use enchantments to lure her in. (Simarillion) "Seldom is any tale told of deeds of lust among them." (LACE) Thus rape, molestation, and downloading slash all seem to have been out of the question for 99.9% of elves.
When they're raped, elves die, according to Tolkien's footnote to this sentence. The footnote also overlaps with why elves don't have adultery:
"Among all these evils there is no record of any among the Elves that took another's spouse by force; for this was wholly against their nature, and one so forced would have rejected bodily life and passed to Mandos. Guile or trickery in this matter was scarcely possible…for the Eldar can read at once in the eyes and voice of another whether they be wed or unwed." (LACE footnote 5)
This is a bit of a contradiction with the torment/implied rape of Celebrían. (Tale of Years, ROTK) Possibly elves may endure sex under duress if they've got some reason to hang on afterwards, but this is my idea, not Tolkien's.
Men in Tolkien's backstory seem to "wive by force" a lot more. Rape and forced marriage are plot points in several stories of Men. He also breaks the incest taboo with Turin and Nienor, whereupon they both die tragically. Speaking of tragic…
Interspecies Sex Is Tragic
Elves who marry/love/have sex with mortal Men basically have "strange fates." There are four such recorded marriages in Tolkien canon: Beren and Lúthien, Idril and Tuor, Aragorn and Arwen, and Mithrellas and the first Lord of Dol Amroth. Mithrellas didn't stick around; she ran away from her husband (History of Galadriel and Celeborn, UF). Beren and Lúthien, and Aragorn and Arwen, wound up with the elf-ladies becoming mortal. This means that not only do they die instead of living an immortal Elf life, their souls leave the world and spend eternity with Men's souls. Idril and Tuor managed to scrape up a happy ending, sailing together into the West and being accepted there. (Silmarillion)
There is also a recorded instance of an elf-man falling in love with a human woman. (Legolas fans, please stay calm.) They didn't get married, though. This very depressing story, of bold Aegnor and wise Andreth, is told in "Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth", or the Debate of Finrod and Andreth. (Morgoth's Ring, HME) It is full of reasons why elf/human social intercourse is wrong and ill-starred.
Give Me Lots of Hair, Shoulder Length Or Longer
"All the Eldar had beautiful hair (and were especially attracted by hair of exceptional loveliness)." (The Shibboleth of Fëanor, The Peoples of Middle-Earth, HME) An odd little throwaway, remarkable because it's one of our only hints about what turns elves on. Beautiful voices are also implied to be attractive. The most ravishing elf ever, Lúthien, used enchantment to grow her hair extremely long. This may have been the elves' erotic equivalent of being able to tie a cherry stem into a knot with your tongue.
Elves had a strong incest taboo, clearly stated in the Silmarillion when Maeglin got the hots for his first cousin Idril: "And the Eldar wedded not with kin so near, nor had any before ever desired to do so." (Of Maeglin, The Silmarillion.)
The taboo seems to have lifted for second cousins. Notes in "Of Maeglin" in the Silmarillion imply that this twist of Maeglin's was part of the curse of Mandos upon the Noldor. Notes in Morgoth's Ring imply that, if you were first cousins but your uncle was your father's half-brother, this abrogated the incest taboo enough that marriage was an option. Further notes to LACE, strangely following the footnotes (page 234 in my copy) discuss other incest-taboo overlap possibilities that beautiful immortals have to worry about. "None of the Eldar married those in direct line of descent, nor children of the same parents, nor the sister or brother of either of their parents; nor did they wed half-sisters or half-brothers." (LACE)
Were There Gay Elves?
Why, certainly elves were gay. "Many Meetings" in FOTR clearly states that some were merry as children, while others…Oh. You mean homosexual elves.
To disappoint slash writers everywhere, there were no clear statements of elf homosexuality. There weren't even any unclear ones. The most suggestive elf/elf pair are Fingon* and Maedhros, rescuing each other and sending each other presents just because. (Narn i Hîn Húrin, UF) But even they have less eyebrow-raising stuff going on in 500 years than Sam and Frodo managed to pack into one day.
Although Tolkien never said that the elves DID have hot gay sex, he also never said that they DIDN'T. And I know what I make of that.
One last perplexing note from LACE is that Elves do not change sex, even if they are being reincarnated. But that's a whole other story.
Footnotes and Reader Thanks
A reader has kindly provided a possible Quenya translation of the phrase "you sexy thing": nalyë nat vanya. A literal translation of this is "you beautiful thing," but I can just imagine it being used in context. Thanks to Cheribin, and to a later reader who provided a correction.
Was Fingon married or not? There are contradictory notes about this, and I can't say yes or no. The Silmarillion says yes, he was, and that he was the father of Gil-Galad, noted in the chapter "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age." Gil-Galad's mother is never mentioned by name. However, a note in Peoples of Middle-Earth says that Tolkien changed his mind and specifically noted that Fingon "had no child or wife." This is footnote 35 to the essay The Shibboleth of Fëanor.
Thanks to a reader in Australia for notes that led to an update to the paragraphs "Interspecies Sex is Tragic" and a reader in the Netherlands who noted the above correction re: Fingon's marital status.
- The Fellowship of the Ring (FOTR), J.R.R. Tolkien, Ballantine Books, 1954.
First posted March 1, 2002. Please DO NOT REPOST. Not on your discussion board, not on your site. Since 2009, if you repost, you will be accursed with boils, and you don't want that.
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