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Following Ilúvatar's intervention in the Second Age, we know that no ship sailed by men could ever again reach Aman in the West. By implication, then, the ship leaving the Grey Havens at the end of The Lord of The Rings carrying Gandalf, Frodo, Bilbo, Elrond and others would, quite possibly, be the final voyage from Middle-earth to Aman (although one wonders whether the Elves who remained in Middle-earth would be able to make the journey).

Does Tolkien ever write directly or imply that a journey by Elves from Aman back to Middle-earth would be possible in the Fourth Age or thereafter? I'm not aware of anything that, in theory, would make such a voyage impossible but I'm wondering whether there was an intention for it never to happen? For example did the Valar want to sever all connections between Aman and Middle-earth?

P.S. Thank you for the answers and comments so far. However I do want to emphasize: my primary interest in the question is the second paragraph above. Does the route from West to East remain open?

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    Sam sailed west some years after Frodo. Mar 15 at 13:22
  • I'm curious, where does it say that? I thought he spent the rest of his life with his family in the Shire.
    – Adam Gold
    Mar 15 at 13:42
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    @AdamGold Near the end of the Tale of Years, that he went to the Grey Havens after Rose died. Mar 15 at 13:45
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    @AdamGold In Appendix B "The Tale of Years". Frodo went in 1422, Sam left his family and went west in 1482, and Legolas (with Gimli) left in 1541 - well into the 4th Age. Mar 15 at 13:46
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    @Adam Gold You should read the note on the Shire Records in The Fellowship of the Ring. Celeborn, who might count as a "High Elf" remained in LOriena nd Rivendell and there is no record of the date when he went to the Gray Havens and the last living memory of the Eldar Days in Middle-earth departed. Cirdan said he would sail on the Last Ship, but didn't say when that ship would be. Mar 15 at 19:23

3 Answers 3

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The Peoples of Middle-earth, the final volume of The History of Middle-earth contains an essay dealing with whether the Glorfindel seen in The Fellowship of the Ring was the same Glorfindel who died during the sack of Gondolin. The essay contains the following text:

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 Numenor, 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, Manwe 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.

The line I have bolded explicitly says that no travel was possible from Aman to Middle-earth in the Third (and Fourth Age), with a couple of important exceptions such as Glorfindel (possibly) and the Istari. This was a direct command from Eru.

It should be noted that Tolkien frequently changed his mind about important points in the legendarium, but this essay written in "the last years of his life" would seem to be his final word.

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    Then how did the Wizards get across?
    – OrangeDog
    Mar 16 at 10:11
  • @OrangeDog special exception Mar 16 at 10:15
  • That's definitely the most conclusive reference I've read to the near impossibility of a West --> East journey (with, as you say, some exceptions). It seems, then, that Aman was 'removed from the world' in a way that affected access 'symmetrically', so-to-speak.
    – Adam Gold
    Mar 16 at 17:50
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    @AdamGold I would rather say the access was very asymmetric. We have examples of people travelling to the West even into the 4th age, but no cases of anyone travelling east since the 2nd age (with the exception of the wizards). Mar 16 at 18:09
  • @ClaraDiazSanchez: when you state it like that, yes you are correct. What I was referring to though, albeit less clearly than I should have, was not the symmetry or asymmetry of actual journeys. Rather was there a situation when Men and other Middle-earth folk could only reach Aman with 'special permission' from the Maiar or Eru, while Elves could freely return to Middle-earth? The quote you cite shows that Elves also required special permission to travel East. Therefore I'm referring to a symmetry of restricted access!
    – Adam Gold
    Mar 16 at 23:40
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There is no evidence at all for returns in the Fourth Age, and probably -- but not certainly -- there was no such traffic.

First, there is no evidence whatsoever in the canon that the applicable Rules -- whatever they were -- changed between the Third Age and the Fourth Age. And in the Third Age, traffic from West to East was very, very small quite likely limited to the Istari. (Glorfindel probably returned in the Second Age.) So the evidence is moderately persuasive that in the Fourth Age the Rules -- whatever they were -- limited returns from Aman to Middle-earth.

Secondly, there is no record in LotR of any returns in the Fourth Age -- yet we do have records of multiple departures from Middle-earth to Aman:

In one of the Appendixes to LotR, JRRT writes:

At the Grey Havens dwelt Círdan the Shipwright, and some say he dwells there still, until the Last Ship sets sail into the West. In the days of the Kings most of the High Elves that still lingered in Middle-earth dwelt with Círdan or in the seaward lands of Lindon. If any now remain they are few.'

This is written from a PoV some years into the Fourth Age -- long enough that Cirdan's remaining behind at the Grey Havens has become a matter of story or legend. (And note that Cirdan did not join the ring bearers in their departure.) And during that time, other High Elves are believed to leave Middle-earth.

Additionally, as @Clara Diaz Sanchez noted in her comment, Sam sails west with a shipload of elves many decades into the Fourth Age.

Finally, one of the last notes in the Red Book of Westmarch (the main source for LotR says:

We have heard tell that Legolas took Gimli Glóin's son with him because of their great friendship, greater than any that has been between Elf and Dwarf. If this is true, then it is strange indeed: that a Dwarf should be willing to leave Middle-earth for any love, or that the Eldar should receive him, or that the Lords of the West should permit it. But it is said that Gimli went also out of desire to see again the beauty of Galadriel; and it may be that she, being mighty among the Eldar, obtained this grace for him. More cannot be said of this matter.

It is clear that for at least a time into the FA, the way West remained open to at least some Elves and that this was fairly common knowledge.

Yet in spite of the clear evidence that people in Middle-earth were sufficiently aware of traffic from Middle-earth as to record it, they record nothing of traffic coming the other way. This suggests that it was at very least extremely limited.

Bottom line: No evidence of of any sort suggests there was Aman to Middle-earth traffic in the Fourth Age and there is indirect evidence against there being any. But no one can say for sure in canon.

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  • Well that certainly answers my query about whether the remaining Elves could return to Aman? For some reason I thought Círdan joined Gandalf and the others on their final voyage.
    – Adam Gold
    Mar 15 at 13:45
  • The author of the note in the Red Book does not really know whether or not Gimli & Legolas were able to reach Aman - just that they set out and did not return. So it is all speculation.
    – user23087
    Mar 15 at 16:09
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    I suppose we could argue that the fact that it is speculation implies that no one ever made the reverse journey. But whether that is because they did not want to return, or could not return we do not know.
    – user23087
    Mar 15 at 16:10
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    @user23087, you're getting precisely at what I'm trying to understand: could a return journey be made from West to East should someone decide to do so or, for reasons that we may only be able to speculate about, would it no longer be possible?
    – Adam Gold
    Mar 15 at 17:32
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    Correct. But it's still useful and I have used it in an updated answer.
    – Mark Olson
    Mar 16 at 16:31
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Some answers of this question claim that after the world was changed it was forbidden by Eru for living beings like Elves and Men to sail from Aman to Middle-earth. The Istari, being Ainur, were permitted to do so.

https://www.quora.com/Why-cant-elves-who-go-to-Valinor-return-to-middle-earth

Added March 16, 2022:

Some answers here also claim that return form Aman was forbidden after the changing of the world:

https://www.quora.com/How-many-elves-returned-from-physical-death-back-to-Middle-Earth-What-were-the-requirements-for-this-I-know-Glorfindel-did-But-were-there-certain-rules-A-noble-death-A-just-cause-Because-I-know-elves-such-as-Feanor

Tolkien discussed whether Glorfindel returned to Middle-earth during the 2nd Age or during the 3rd Age with the Istari. I don't know if he made up his mind.

How did the Istari come to Middle-earth during the Third Age? Did they fly there in spirit form and then take human-like bodies, or did they take human like bodies in Aman and then sail to Middle-earth in vessels such as Elves or Men would have used?

In The Two Towers, book Three, Chapter IV "Treebeard":

"saruman is a wizard," answered Treebeard. "More than that I cannot say. I do not know the history of Wizards. They appeared first after the Great Shps came over the Sea; but if they came with the ships I can never can tell..."

Since 1966 I have assumed that those "Great Ships" came to Middle-earth about Third Age 1000, and the wizards came aboard them. Unless the wizards used magic to sail the Great Ships along the Straight Path from Aman to the world and over the oceans of the world to Middle-earth, there should have been sailors aboard those ships, and many sailors if they were "great" ships.

Those sailors would have been ainur using temporary phsyical bodies, or Elves, or a mixed group. And if there were any rebodied Elves in Aman who wanted to return to Middle-earth, and if they could get permission, they might have traveled as other passengers to Middle-earth on the Great Ships.

But today, March 16, 2022, when thinking about this passage, I wondered whether the Great Ships could have appeared at the shores of Middle-earth many centuries or even millennia before the wizards were first noticed by Treebeard.

Maybe those ships were Numenorean ships coming to Middle-earth during the later two millennia of the Second Age, or maybe they were the nine ships mentioned in an ancient rhyme of lore about the faithful Numenoreans who fled from the Downfall and landed in Middle-earth about Second age 3319.

Tall ships and tall kings Three times three, What brought they from the foundered land Over the flowing sea? Seven stars and seven stones And one white tree.[note 1]

To someone as old, and as little interested in the outside world as Treebeard, a difference of a few thousand years might not be enough for him to think there couldn't be any connection between the two events.

Gandalf apparently first appeared at the Grey Havens, supporting the idea that the wizards sailed in ships from Aman to Middle-earth.

The Return of the King, Appendix B, The Tale of Years, mentions the coming of the wizards at the beginning of the section on the Third Age.

...The ring of Gil-Galad was gven by him to Elrond; but Cirdan surrendered his to Mithrandir. For Cirdan saw farther and deeper than any other in Middle-earth, and he welcomed Mithrandir at the Grey Havens, knowing wence he came and wither he would return.

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  • It was interesting to read in that quora thread certain statements that it was actually not possible (perhaps with a few exceptions) for the West (Aman) --> East (Middle-earth) journey to be made from the First Age onward. I wonder if anyone can point to places where Tolkien mentions this?
    – Adam Gold
    Mar 15 at 21:49

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