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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?

  • their names just got chnged – Edlothiad Apr 29 '17 at 9:14
  • nope: Elwe(Thingol) had a brother, Olwe. This can't happen if he was 'awoken'. – Mat Cauthon Apr 29 '17 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 '17 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. – suchiuomizu Apr 29 '17 at 13:09
  • Read this: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/36007/… It's definitely plausible that they aren't the same. – Mat Cauthon Apr 29 '17 at 13:20
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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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