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According to Tolkien, Elves who die are called to the Halls of Mandos. If they answer the call they are, after a time, usually given an opportunity to be reincarnated into an identical body.

We know some of those reincarnated Elves chose and were allowed to return to Middle-earth.

Which Elves did Tolkien name as returning to Middle-earth after having died and been re-bodied?

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Lúthien and Glorfindel are the only ones known

  • Lúthien is a borderline case, because she came back as a mortal and not as an elf, but she certainly did return
  • That the Glorfindel seen in Fellowship of the Ring is the same Glofindel who was slain at the Fall of Gondolin has been established on the site before

It's possible there were other instances, but they are not named and would be few in any case; Tolkien indicated in a note to "Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth" that it was an uncommon choice, because of the inherent risk of journeying back:

They 'normally remained in Aman'. Simply because they were, when rehoused, again in actual physical bodies, and return to Middle-earth was therefore very difficult and perilous.

History of Middle-earth X Morgoth's Ring Chapter 4: "Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth" Author's Notes on the 'Commentary' Note 3

Other notes on different manuscripts indicate that there were periods when the return to Middle-earth was outright forbidden:

  • The same note I cited above goes on to say that no elves were permitted to return during the Noldorin Exile:

    Also during the period of the Exile of the Noldor the Valar had for the time being cut all communications (by physical means) between Aman and Middle-earth. The Valar could of course have arranged for the transference, if there was sufficiently grave reason. Bereavement of friends and kin was, apparently, not considered a sufficient reason.

    History of Middle-earth X Morgoth's Ring Chapter 4: "Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth" Author's Notes on the 'Commentary' Note 3

    Lúthien was, of course, an exceedingly special case.

  • A very late note on the subject of Glorfindel indicates that transit was similarly disallowed following the Fall of Númenor, unless there was a very significant reason (emphasis mine):

    When did Glorfindel return to Middle-earth? This must probably have occurred before the end of the Second Age, and the 'Change of the World' and the Drowning of Númenor, after which no living embodied creature, 'humane' or of lesser kinds, could return from the Blessed Realm which had been 'removed from the Circles of the World'. This was according to a general ordinance proceeding from Eru Himself; and though, until the end of the Third Age, when Eru decreed that the Dominion of Men must begin, Manwë could be supposed to have received the permission of Eru to make an exception in his case, and to have devised some means for the transportation of Glorfindel to Middle-earth, this is improbable and would make Glorfindel of greater power and importance than seems fitting.

    History of Middle-earth XII The Peoples of Middle-earth Chapter 13: "Last Writings" Glorfindel

    I should note here that Tolkien has two separate discussions on the subject of Glorfindel; I quote one of them here, but another (suggested to have been written slightly earlier) suggests that Glorfindel landed with Gandalf in the Third Age. These two drafts are obviously wholly incompatible, and it's not clear which one should be taken as "final"; both are dated by Christoper Tolkien to 1968, only five years before his father's death, and he didn't have time to give them the same polish as some of his earlier works.

    Tolkien does write ("hastily", according to Christopher Tolkien) that landing in the Second Age is "far more likely", so make of that what you will.

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    Galdor is an interesting example of a reused Elf-name that definitely belonged to two individuals, but I'm tired so that story will have to wait until tomorrow – Jason Baker May 3 '17 at 3:34

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