26

Are there characters from Tolkien's Legendarium that came back to life after their death, in a way or another (resurrection, reincarnation, etc.)?

I'm well aware that Maiar and Elves possessed an immortal "soul" or "spirit", and that they could not be truly killed; my question is about those characters whose physical bodies or embodiments were killed, or otherwise destroyed, and that subsequently were able to come back from the dead, again with a physical form and with basically the same identity as before.

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    They still did not die. Elves and Maiar could not die unles their fea was destroyed, you question is based on an incorrect premise. – Edlothiad Dec 13 '17 at 20:23
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    Well, I used "death" as a synonim of "killing or destruction of physical body"; I'm an atheist and rational man, but even in our own world religious people believe that the soul is immortal; to their eyes even us don't really die and actual death is an incorrect premise... – Sekhemty Dec 13 '17 at 20:34
48

There is also Beren, who died at the end of the Hunting of the Wolf. Carcharoth, the greatest wolf who would ever live, had already bitten off Beren's hand and gone mad from the pain of the Silmaril burning his belly. He was hunted down by Beren, Huan the hound, and the elves of Doriath, and though Carcharoth was slain, Huan and Beren were mortally wounded.

However, Luthien pled with the Valar to restore Beren, and they agreed to bring him back to life temporarily, so long as he and his wife did not involve themselves further in the affairs of the world. And once Beren died of old age, he would truly pass beyond the circles of the world to receive the gift of Men.

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    This is the correct answer here but would benefit from some sources. – Edlothiad Dec 13 '17 at 20:24
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    I think Beren is the only character who can really be said to come back from the dead. Elves and Maiar are immortal, it's unclear whether Durin really comes back, and the army of the dead didn't come back, it just didn't completely die. – Javier Dec 14 '17 at 21:30
  • @Edlothiad can you explain why you consider this answer the only correct one? – Sekhemty Dec 14 '17 at 22:55
  • @Sekhemty in the Silmarillion Luthien pleads before Mandos and the text says something like that he was "moved to pity, who had never so moved before or after" implying that Beren was the only mortal to ever return from Mandos. – Jared Smith Dec 15 '17 at 12:23
  • @JaredSmith I think it is a bit different, even Elves can return from Mandos, and they are immortal in the sense that they don't die by "natural" means like aging and diseases. But, especially in the Silmarillion, we have basically all the main Elven character "die" in a way or another: the first examples that come to my mind are Feanor, whose body is incinerated at the moment of his death, Fingolfin, killed by Morgoth, Maedhros, who cast himself into a fiery chasm, etc. The concept of death is different for elves and for men, but even if in different ways, they both can "die". – Sekhemty Dec 15 '17 at 13:04
40

Gandalf

As an Istar, and therefore a Maia, his true nature is of a holy spirit, and his physical form is just an incarnation, an avatar.

Nonetheless, after his fight with the Balrog of Moria, where he managed to kill it, he spent all his vital energy and his physical body died as well.

It is stated that Eru himself intervened (presumably in an exceptional way, since this doesn't seem to be the norm) and granted his spirit to "go back" to his body once again, because he was the only Istar that stood true to their original mission.

This new reincarnation was not exactly the same as before: he was previously known as Gandalf the Grey, but when he was brought back to life he did in the form of Gandalf the White: his true potential was now revealed.

The wizards, also called Istari, were originally spirits of the order of the Maiar, the followers of the Valar. These were sent by the Valar to help and assist the peoples of Middle-earth against Sauron as he gathered his forces during the Third Age.
[...]
Their spirits remained immortal, and they aged only very slowly. However, their bodies could be killed: Gandalf did indeed die from his duel with the Balrog of Moria, and only through the intervention of Eru himself was he restored to his body.
Tolkien Gateway, Wizards


Gandalf used his last measure of strength to slay the Balrog, throwing him down the mountainside in ruin. Gandalf's spirit then left his body, having sacrificed himself to save the Fellowship.
[...]
But Gandalf's spirit did not depart Middle-earth forever at this time. As the only one of the five Istari to stay true to his errand, Olórin/Gandalf was sent back to mortal lands by Eru, and he became Gandalf once again. Yet, as he was now the sole emissary of the Valar to Middle-earth, he was granted the power to "reveal" more of his inner Maiar strength. This naked power that lay within him was seldom used during the remainder of his time in Middle-earth, as his mission was essentially the same: to support and succour those who opposed Sauron. Nevertheless, when Gandalf's wrath was kindled his "unveiled" strength was such that few of Sauron's servants could withstand him.
Tolkien Gateway, Gandalf


Glorfindel

Glorfindel was an Elf, thus immortal by nature: meaning that he was invulnerable to the passing of age, but could still be killed by violent acts or by great grief.
He fought with a Balrog during the Fall of Gondolin, on the mountains that encircled the hidden city, and managed to kill it, but he perished too when the dying Balrog grabbed him down the mountain side with it (this sounds familiar...).

Normally when an Elf died, his spirit went to the Halls of Mandos where it awaited to be re-embodied and stay in Aman.

Glorfindel was granted the unique chance to go back to Middle-Earth after his reincarnation.

Glorfindel’s spirit passed to the Halls of Mandos, where he waited with the spirits of the other Noldor who had died during their war against Morgoth. But because of Glorfindel’s noble actions in life, his reluctance at the Exile, and his furthering of the purposes of the Valar by saving Tuor and Idril, he was re-embodied after only a short time. He had redeemed himself, and was purged of any guilt. Not only did his sacrifice get him an early pardon, it earned him great powers, so that he was almost an equal to the Maiar.
Eventually, Manwë sent him across the sea to Middle-earth, possibly as early as Second Age 1200, but more likely in 1600 with the Blue Wizards. If the latter date, he arrived just after the One Ring had been forged, Barad-dûr built, and Celebrimbor dead or soon to be so. While the Blue Wizards were sent to the east, Glorfindel’s mission was to aid Gil-galad and Elrond in the struggle against Sauron. He played a prominent behind-the-scenes role in the war in Eriador and the other struggles of the Second Age and Third Age. His part, though great, was mostly overlooked by the histories, because his immense, angelic power was not usually displayed openly.
Tolkien Gateway, Glorfindel


Durin

Durin I, called the Deathless was the first and foremost of the Seven Fathers of the Dwarwes. The Dwarves believed that he would reincarnate to live seven lives, every time with the name of Durin.

All Kings named Durin that followed Durin I (from II to VII) greatly resembled the Deathless in both appearance and manner, giving credit to this belief.

The Longbeards believed that Durin would return to them seven times, and in each reincarnation he will again be named Durin and reign as King. He did have six descendants that were named Durin, all were kings of Durin's folk.
Tolkien Gateway, Durin

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    I don't think elves (such as Glorfindel) being re-embodied counts in any meaningful was; that was just part of their normal life cycle. – Buzz Dec 13 '17 at 14:56
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    @Edlothiad It depends on what you mean by "reincarnation," I suppose. In one of Tolkien's letters, he mentions that the new bodies of reincarnated elves were basically identical to the old ones (although without any injuries). To me, "reincarnation" implies a wholly new, individual body. However, I am coming at the word from the point of view of a Man, not an elf (for whom reembodiment is perfectly normal). – Buzz Dec 13 '17 at 15:03
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    @KyleStrand because he didn't help guide the people's of Middle-earth but became engrossed by the Fauna and Flora. – Edlothiad Dec 13 '17 at 19:55
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    @KyleStrand good point. Tolkien himself discussed the matter further suggesting that both Blue Wizards and Radagast may have, in fact, did exactly what they were supposed to do, and his stance on this matter is somewhat self-contradictory; see e.g. scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/67711/… , (or just go through the Unfinished Tales, II. Istari.) also, tolkiengateway.net/wiki/Radagast/Fail – vaxquis Dec 13 '17 at 19:56
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    You've failed to use any form of canon sources. The sources TG gets their answers from are provided you should visit those sources. – Edlothiad Dec 13 '17 at 20:23
13

Yes, quite a few.

Men

Beren was the only one.

None have ever come back from the mansions of the dead, save only Beren son of Barahir, whose hand had touched a Silmaril; but he never spoke afterward to mortal Men.

(The Silmarillion, Of Men)

Elves in general

'Reincarnation' or re-embodiment is the usual fate for Elves who die, or at least the Eldar. Tolkien expanded on this in great detail in "Laws and Customs of the Eldar" and "Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth", published in Morgoth's Ring (volume 10 of The History of Middle-Earth).

The details of exactly how it works are not wholly consistent, but it seems that Tolkien eventually rejected the original idea of Elves being reborn as new children

A houseless fea that chose or was permitted to return to life re-entered the incarnate world through child-birth.

(Laws and Customs of the Eldar)

replacing it with a 're-housing' in a reconstructed body identical to the one they had at the time of death.

[Eru speaking to Manwe]

Look and ye will find that each spirit of My Children retaineth in itself the full imprint and memory of its former house

[...]

After this imprint ye may make for it again such a house in all particulars as it had ere evil befell it. Thus ye may send it back to the lands of the Living.'

(Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth, The Converse of Manwe and Eru)

In any case, it appears to be the normal fate of Eldar who die, at least if they want to return to life:

The Eldar say that more than one re-birth is seldom recorded. But the reasons for this they do not fully know. Maybe, it is so ordered by the will of Eru; while the Re-born (they say) are stronger, having greater mastery of their bodies and being more patient of griefs. But many, doubtless, who have twice died do not wish to return.

[...]

Concerning the fate of other elves, especially of the Dark-elves who refused the summons to Aman, the Eldar know little.

(Laws and Customs of the Eldar)

Glorfindel

The unusual thing about the somewhat debatable) case of Glorfindel isn't that he was re-embodied/reincarnated, but that he returned to Middle-earth from Valinor afterwards.

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.

(Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth, Note 3)

Miriel

An anomalous case from the Morgoth's Ring material, Miriel (Feanor's mother) returned to her original body, which (being in Valinor) had not decayed.

In Aman only was there no decay. Thus Miriel was there rehoused in her own body, as is hereafter told. (Laws and Customs of the Eldar)

Ainur

Usually Ainur could not 'die' at all as their bodies were only temporary dress not essential to their function:

Moreover their shape comes of their knowledge of the visible World, rather than of the World itself; and they need it not, save only as we use raiment, and yet we may be naked and suffer no loss of our being.

(The Silmarillion, Ainulindale)

Gandalf

This is a special case, as he was one of the Istari (Wizards) - Maiar who were placed in "permanent" bodies and became incarnate beings like Elves and Men. Thus Gandalf could really die, as he had a real "permanent" body:

Gandalf really 'died', and was changed

[...]

I wd. venture to say that he was an incarnate 'angel'

[...]

By 'incarnate' I mean they were embodied in physical bodies capable of pain, and weariness, and of afflicting the spirit with physical fear, and of being 'killed'

(The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. Letter 156.)

Sauron

The final case is somewhat intermediate between the usual Ainur and the Istari. Sauron wasn't embodied as the Istari were, but he had become largely bound to his physical form via doing evil in it, so when he was killed at the Fall of Numenor and again at the Battle of Dagorlad, he had to reconstruct his body to become "effective" again.

6

I'm surprised that nobody has mentioned The Army of the Dead

"The Dead are following," said Legolas. "I see shapes of Men and of horses, and pale banners like shreds of cloud, and spears like winter-thickets on a misty night. The Dead are following."

"Yes, the Dead ride behind. They have been summoned," said Elladan.

Source: The Passing of the Grey Company, The Return of the King

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    Upvoted as it's a good thought. I think there's a minute distinction in that they are dead, as in the army of the dead. They're merely the "sleepless dead" until being released by Aragorn, following their service to the Heir of Isildur. – Eric McCormick Dec 14 '17 at 17:00
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    The Army of the Dead is in a kind of un-dead status, meaning that they were not allowed to fully die, and continued to exist in a sort of not-life not-death limbo. Once they fulfilled their oath, they were considered free from this curse and allowed to completely die and rest in peace. – Sekhemty Dec 14 '17 at 22:53
2

If you count Dagor Dagorath as canon then Túrin Turambar

In that day Tulkas shall strive with Morgoth, and on his right hand shall be Fionwë, and on his left Túrin Turambar, son of Húrin, coming from the Halls of Mandos; and the black sword of Túrin shall deal unto Morgoth his death and final end; and so shall the children of Húrin and all Men be avenged.

Also Fëanor too

Then Fëanor shall take the Three Jewels and bear them to Yavanna Palúrien; and she will break them and with their fire rekindle the Two Trees, and a great light shall come forth.

Source for both of them, History of Middle-Earth (Book of Lost Roads)

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