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Men and Elves go to the Halls of Mandos when they die, to receive judgement, whence the Men move on to their fates, and the Elves linger forever (until the End of Days, Dagor Dagorath).

The Halls of Mandos are located in Valinor, in an actual, physical building -- so is it possible that the living elves of the Valinor (those who travelled there from Middle Earth when alive) could visit the Halls, to see their deceased ancestors and relatives, perhaps? If the living inhabitants of Valinor are free to travel the rest of the expansive landscape, what is to stop them from entering the Halls of Mandos? I'm sure more than enough of them would be keen on seeing their departed family and friends again.

Are the Halls open to those in Valinor, or are they completely separate? Are they visible to the living? I'm imagining an absurd scenario wherein the living elves would travel the vast space of Valinor, carefully avoiding the massive hall in the middle? Or perhaps staring longingly in through the windows?

What is the nature of travel between the two places? When one dies in Valinor (as did the Hobbits, eventually) did their spirits then just poof into the Halls, which again, are physically located upon the continent on which they died?

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  • NoMe says that talking to the dead elves was one of the ways the valar knew what was going on in Middle-earth, but doesn't specify if elves were able to visit them.
    – ibid
    Commented Oct 3, 2021 at 6:47

2 Answers 2

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There's very little information about the physical nature of the Halls of Mandos in Tolkien's writings aside from this passage on the Chaining of Melkor which I've extracted from History of Middle-earth 10 (a similar passage appears in Chapter 3 of the Silmarillion):

...the halls of Mandos, from whence none have ever escaped save by the will of Mandos and Manwe, neither Vala, nor Elf, nor mortal Man. Vast are those halls and strong, and they were built in the north of the land of Aman.

There's absolutely no evidence in Tolkien to suggest that living Elves can visit these Halls; in fact there are clear statements that suggest that the living do not mingle with the dead, for example the following passage (also from History of middle-earth 10, this time in relation to the judgement on Finwe and Miriel):

When Mandos had spoken thus, the Eldar who were present asked: 'How then shall the will or the doom be known?' It was answered: 'Only by recourse to Manwe, and by the pronouncement of Mandos. For who among the Living can discover the will of the Dead, or presume the judgements of Mandos?'

This is confirmed by a passage in the very late writings on Glorfindel given in History of Middle-earth 12:

Glorfindel remained in the Blessed Realm, no doubt at first by his own choice: Gondolin was destroyed, and all his kin had perished, and were still in the Halls of Waiting unapproachable by the living.

There is therefore no mingling of the living with the dead. But (and going into speculative territory) even if they could, the statement in my first quote above that escape from Mandos is impossible would mean that they would never get out (unless Mandos himself permitted it) to tell the living what they had seen there.

Regarding the travel of a spirit to the Halls of Mandos, there is little information, but the Finwe and Miriel material has this to say:

It was in Aman that they learned of Manwe that each fea was imperishable within the life of Arda, and that its fate was to inhabit Arda to its end. Those fear, therefore, that in the marring of Arda suffered unnaturally a divorce from their hroar remained still in Arda and in Time. But in this state they were open to the direct instruction and command of the Valar. As soon as they were disbodied they were summoned to leave the places of their life and death and go to the 'Halls of Waiting': Mandos, in the realm of the Valar.

It is of course unclear from this whether the travel is instantaneous or if there is some time between death and arrival at Mandos, but we really don't have anything more to work with. What is confirmed in following passages is that the summons to Mandos may be refused, and so we can state with certainty that Elves don't always go to the Halls of Mandos when they die.

The final consideration is the matter of those who have returned from Mandos and what they report of their time there, and again I'll quote from the Finwe and Miriel material in History of Middle-earth 10:

The Re-born report that in Mandos there are many elves, and among them many of the Alamanyar, but that there is in the Halls of Waiting little mingling or communing of kind with kind, or indeed of any one fea with another. For the houseless fea is solitary by nature, and turns only towards those with whom, maybe, it formed strong bonds of love in life.

And:

As for guilt in other matters little is known of the dealings of Mandos with the Dead. For several reasons: Because those who have done great evil (who are few) do not return. Because those who have been under the correction of Mandos will not speak of it, and indeed, being healed, remember little of it; for they have returned to their natural courses...

From this we get confirmation (which also exists elsewhere) that return from Mandos is not always guaranteed, and that those who do return have little enough to report.

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  • Seems also, it was only a matter of time until they were released.
    – Mithoron
    Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 14:43
  • "There is therefore no mingling of the living with the dead." Aragorn arriving at Minas Tirith on the ships of the corsairs might have something to say about that…
    – Lexible
    Commented Aug 23, 2022 at 4:41
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Living elves were unable to visit the dead in the Halls of Mandos

When Miriel dies, Fëanor says that he is unable to "visit or speak" with her unless he himself would die as well.

During the time of his sorrow Finwë had little comfort from Fëanor. For a while he also had kept vigil by his mother's body, but soon he became wholly absorbed again in his own works and devices. When the matter of Finwë and Indis arose he was disturbed, and filled with anger and resentment; though it is not recorded that he attended the Debate or paid heed to the reasons given for the judgement, or to its terms except in one point: that Miriel was condemned to remain for ever discarnate, so that he could never again visit her or speak with her, unless he himself should die. This grieved him, and he grudged the happiness of Finwë and Indis, and was unfriendly to their children, even before they were born.
The Peoples of Middle-earth - The Shibboleth of Fëanor (c.1968)

Likewise, as user8719 pointed out, the Glorfindel essay specifies that the dead in the Halls of Mandos were "unapproachable by the living".

Glorfindel remained in the Blessed Realm, no doubt at first by his own choice: Gondolin was destroyed, and all his kin had perished, and were still in the Halls of Waiting unapproachable by the living. But his long sojourn during the last years of the First Age, and at least far into the Second Age, no doubt was also in accord with the wishes and designs of Manwë.
The Peoples of Middle-earth - Last Writings / Glorfindel (c.1972-3)

It is worth noting though that while the living elves were unable to directly visit or speak with the dead, the Valar (or perhaps just Mandos himself) were still able to. This was actually their biggest source of news as to what was going on in Middle-earth.

Moreover the Valar had great knowledge of the war of the Ñoldor and Sindar against Melkor in Thangorodrim; for great hosts of Elves were slain in that war, and some came in spirit to Mandos where all their deeds in Middle-earth were laid bare.
The Nature of Middle-earth - Manwë's Ban (c.1972-3)

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