While reading this answer, I saw that it says:

In the Unfinished Tales Christopher Tolkien states that:

In a note written in December 1972 or later, and among the last writings of my father’s on the subject of Middle-earth, there is a discussion of the Elvish strain in Men, as to its being observable in the beardlessness of those who were so descended (it was a characteristic of all Elves to be beardless)
Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle Earth: The History of Galadriel and Celeborn

Yet there is also this quote:

As they came to the gates Círdan the Shipwright came forth to greet them. Very tall he was, and his beard was long...
Return of the King: The Grey Havens

Emphasis mine

How did Círdan have a beard?

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    And no comments that say that I should know that, being a wizard and all... – Mithrandir Jan 2 '17 at 19:37
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    How did Cirdan have a beard? - very well, thank you. – Gallifreyan Jan 2 '17 at 19:56
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    @Gallifreian facepalm – Mithrandir Jan 2 '17 at 19:57
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    @Gallifreian but it's not a how does X work question... – Mithrandir Jan 2 '17 at 19:58
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    Perhaps Cirdan had recently attended a stoning. – Ian Thompson Jan 2 '17 at 20:42

Tolkien once wrote that Legolas recognized Imrahil as part elven because no elves or part elves have beards.

So why did he write that Círdan had a beard?

Most of the ordinary elves mentioned in LOTR might be only 457, or 1,519, or 2,821, years old when mentioned.

Círdan was described in year 3021 of the Third Age. The Second Age lasted for 3441 years. The First Age ended 6,472 years before Círdan was described as having a beard in TA 3021. Elrond was born 58 years before the end of the First Age, and so was 6,530 years old in TA 3021.

Tolkien wrote annals giving Galadriel's birth date in Years of the Trees, but unfortunately couldn't make up his mind if the Years of the Trees in Valinor were nine point something times as long as Years of the Sun, or ten times as long, or 144 times as long as Years of the Sun.

So Galadriel is millennia older than Elrond, but depending on the length of Years of the Trees, she could be 14.4 times as many millennia older.

And nobody knows the relative ages of Círdan and Celeborn. Círdan was an important leader of elves far back in the Elder Days, ere ever Galadrial's father was born.

Celeborn is probably a youngster compared to Círdan, no older than Galadrial, but might possibly be as old or older than Círdan. Tolkien kept changing the backstory of Galadrial and Celeborn (including Celeborn's genealogy) trying to get it right, so nobody knows.

So Círdan in the year Third Age 3021 is probably the oldest elf described in Tolkien's works, probably by thousands of years and possibly by tens of thousands.

Tolkien once wrote a note saying that Elves didn't go beards until their third cycle of life - he didn't define cycles but elves would probably be at least ten thousand years old in their third cycle of life.

And so some Tolkien scholars believe that Círdan was the only male elf described when he was old enough to grow a beard.

  • Nice reasoning. – Gallifreyan Jan 2 '17 at 20:39
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    From Morgoth's Ring: The Annals of Aman Tolkien/Christopher stat that 1 Valian year (Year of the Trees) was 9 years, 212 days and 18 hours ~9.6 years. So Galadriel was ~8,338 years old at the end of the third age, not too much older than Elrond, and Cirdan was around 10,900 years old. Again, Mahtan was also described as having a beard. – Edlothiad Jan 3 '17 at 0:17
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    Good reasoning, but it could use citations. – user33616 Jan 3 '17 at 3:04
  • @Edlothiad In later writings, a Valian Year was 144 Sun Years. See Morgoth's Ring: Myths Transformed, note 5. Also LoTR Ap. D: "the Quenya word yén, often translated ‘year’, really means 144 of our years.". The post is correct. – isanae Jan 3 '17 at 7:38
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    "Tolkien once wrote a note saying..." This answer would be significantly improved with a citation. Which note? Can it be quoted here in part? – Adam Davis Jan 3 '17 at 14:49

Tolkien, having spent his entire life writing his Legendarium, changed his mind several times on certain things or simply forgot. I can't give you a 100% concrete answer, but I recall from "The Peoples of Middle Earth" a discussion that, later in life, elves are able to grow beards. After searching online I found a quote in the Vinyar Tengwar Issue 41 which references the aforementioned text quoting:

A note elsewhere in the papers associated with this essay reads: "Elves did not have beards until they entered their third cycle of life. Nerdanel's father [cf. XII:365-66 n.61] was exceptional, being only early in his second."
Vinyar Tengwar 41

This quote is taken directly from The Peoples of Middle Earth: Chapter 11 (The Shibboleth of Feanor) - note 61.

This is noted in the Shibboleth of Feanor, which comprises notes from Tolkien written after 1968 (towards the end of his life). Suggesting that, later in life, Tolkien decided on having the Elves' lives operate in cycles and giving them the ability to grow beards in the third cycle. This is supported as Círdan was born in Cuivienen and is over 10800 years old having been born between 1050 and 1102 Y.T.

Círdan, however, is not an exception, as Mahtan, Nerdanel's father, is described as having a beard although only being early into his second cycle of life.

The operation or length of life cycles is never mentioned, and no additional information is given about the life cycles.

I can't confirm anything extra from the Shibboleth of Feanor without my books on hand.


I was encouraged to post this as an answer, although I'm not sure it is very satisfying.

I can find no other discussion of elves always being beardless. Indeed I can find no mention of beards (or lack thereof) except in reference to dwarves, wizards, hobbits and Tom Bombadil (and of course Treebeard).

I think we must assume that this is a conclusion Tolkien came to between the time he wrote that section of The Return of the King and December 1972 when he wrote the note that is quoted in Unfinished Tales.

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