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Imin, Tata, and Enel were the first Elves to awake in the Cuivienyarna. They were called the 'elf-fathers' as they later awoke all the other Elves at the bay of Cuiviénen.

And so it was that the Quendi ever after reckoned in twelves, and that 144 was for long their highest number, so that in none of their later tongues was there any common name for a greater number. And so also it came about that the 'Companions of Imin' or the Eldest Company (of whom came the Vanyar) were nonetheless only fourteen in all, and the smallest company; and the 'Companions of Tata' (of whom came the Noldor) were fifty-six in all; but the 'Companions of Enel' although the Youngest Company were the largest; from them came the Teleri (or Lindar), and they were in the beginning seventy-four in all.

After that, these 3 Elves (and their wives) are never mentioned again. Replacing them as the leaders of the Elves would be: Ingwe, Finwe and Elwe who would become High Kings of each respective Elven race: Vanyar, Noldor and Teleri. (Exception is Elwe, who was replaced by his brother Olwe).

So, why were these 3 first Elves not the ones to lead the Eldar, and why were they never mentioned again?

NOTE: This is not a duplicate of: Are any of the original elves that awoke at Cuiviénen named?

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  • their names just got chnged
    – Edlothiad
    Apr 29, 2017 at 9:14
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    nope: Elwe(Thingol) had a brother, Olwe. This can't happen if he was 'awoken'.
    – Voronwé
    Apr 29, 2017 at 9:18
  • I know, I mean these guys got retconned, although if i'm not mistaken the Elwe one was written first.
    – Edlothiad
    Apr 29, 2017 at 11:41
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    @Voronwë Why not? The Ainur considered some of themselves to be siblings (Manwe and Morgoth were brothers for example). It is not impossible some of the first generations of other races were the same. Apr 29, 2017 at 13:09
  • Read this: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/36007/… It's definitely plausible that they aren't the same.
    – Voronwé
    Apr 29, 2017 at 13:20

2 Answers 2

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We have (appropriately) three main possibilities:

  • They abdicated their positions. This doesn't explain why they're never mentioned again, but it's possible that all three of them simply gave up leading their respective tribes. It's worth noting that Ingwë is not described as being the leader of the Minyar, but of the Vanyar (and similarly for Finwë and Elwë); although the early tribes and later ones are very similar (especially in the case of the Minyar/Vanyar), they're not quite the same1, and it's possible that it was decided that a new leader would be required after this point
  • They died. We know that Elves had a tendency to die in their early history, before they encountered the Valar. Since, according to the Annals of Aman in Morgoth's Ring, the Awakening occurred in YT 1050, and Oromë's initial discovery occurred in YT 1085 (equivalent to about 300 years of the sun), it doesn't seem implausible that they could have fallen prey to any number of natural hazards

  • They never existed in the first place. It's worth noting that the story is explicitly called out as being a "fairy tale":

    A form of this legend is found in a single typescript with carbon copy. On one copy my father wrote (and similarly but more briefly on the other): 'Actually written (in style and simple notions) to be a surviving Elvish "fairytale" or child's tale, mingled with counting-lore.'

    History of Middle-earth XII The War of the Jewels Part 4: "Quendi and Eldar" Appendix: "The legend of the Awaking of the Quendi"

    Some people read this (in conjunction with the stated fact that the names "Imil", "Tata", and "Enel" literally translate to "One", "Two", and "Three", as well as the fact that it's presented as a legend and not a history) as suggesting that this legend isn't a literal history, but rather is a teaching tool to help wee Elves learn simple mathematics. If this is true, then it's exceedingly possible that the three Elf-fathers never existed at all, or not in the forms seen in this tale

Since Tolkien never wrote about the three Elf-fathers outside of this manuscript, there's not much more we can say.


1 Even in the case of the Vanyar, who continued to self-identify as the Minyar and weren't split up as the other tribes were, the tribe's goals have shifted after this point; the style of leadership best-suited to lying around a lake singing is not necessarily the style best-suited to trekking across a continent-and-a-half

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This question is more-or-less answered in The Nature of Middle Earth in a way that seems satisfactory - to me anyway: the first existing Elves were not leadership material and mostly ended up Avari, the unwilling who never left Middle-Earth.

Fairly clearly then Ingwe, etc. are not "First Elves." What then became of older generations?

This can be got over. The Quendi at first (to 3 gens.?) were very philoprogenitive. They mated almost at once with their predestined mates. It was not for some time, when their young, inexperienced fear began to take command, that their other faculties demanded fulfillment, and they began to be absorbed in the study of Arda. The younger generations therefore progressed rapidly in strength, nobility, and intellectuality of character, and made natural leaders. The first few generations (expending much vigour in begetting) were least adventurous and were nearly all Avari in the event.

In another draft in the same book, trying to lay out an early timeline, Tolkien specifically mentions Tata, Inel, and Imin as Avari:

The "Ambassadors" [Ingwe, Finwe, and Elwe, all of the 24th or 25th generation; only the youngest were willing to go and these three were elected from among those] return. Great Debate of the Quendi. Imin, Tata, and Inel are ill-pleased, and regard the affair as a revolt on the part of the younger Quendi, to escape their authority. None of the First Elves (144) accept the invitation. Hence the Avari called and still call themselves "the Seniors."

Tolkien does also consider sending the Three to Valinor with Ingwe, Finwe, and Elwe, but the younger Elves end up being the most persuasive and passionate speakers, and this draft has Enel not at all impressed with Valinor. But it seems that Tolkien, when he reflected about this at all, tended to go with the "Tata, Inel, and Imin were decidedly Avari" route: that narrative crops up more than once in The Nature of Middle Earth.

It also happens that Elves did typically resign kingship to their descendants after a period of time, we just don't see it happen much in-story because from an Elvish perspective, the recorded history we have of Middle-Earth is relatively short.

Secondly, in any case: Elvish lords or Kings (as Numenoreans later) tended to hand on lordship and affairs to their descendants if they could or were engrossed in some pursuit. Often (though we don't see it in Beleriand, since the War occupied so short a span of Elvish-time, and the lords and Kings were so often slain), after passing 200 age-years [NB: these are not the same as our years] they would resign. It would thus be young, eager Quendi of some later generations (whose fathers or grandfathers were lords) who were chosen and/or willing to go as ambassadors to Aman - after which they would be preeminent and obvious leaders of the March. "The light of Aman was in their faces", and other Elves were in awe of them.

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