Is there a particular reason the elves die off so fast? After the first war against Sauron, I recall the elves being decimated, to the point that they're almost useless army-wise in the trilogy. But I'm guessing men suffered equal or greater losses as well.

Anyways, other races just seem much more capable of repopulating, while is seems like there are incredibly few (if any?) elven children. Considering the fact that elves are immortal, wouldn't their population be the fastest to grow? Also the seem to be perpetually 40 years old, so aren't they eternally fertile as well? Why don't they have more kids and build bigger societies?

  • 11
    Sex is just so... inelegant... – Nerrolken Jun 3 '15 at 22:44
  • 15
    @Nerrolken I must disagree – FreshWaterTaffy Jun 3 '15 at 22:44
  • 3
    Possible duplicate? scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/36104/… – Rand al'Thor Jun 3 '15 at 22:45
  • 5
    They must pay taxes making more then half of their income and can't afford children. – maaartinus Jun 4 '15 at 18:48
  • 4
    I don't think this is any of our business! I've never heard an Elf ask such a personal question about Humans and I think we should take a leaf out of their book and remember our manners! – CJ Dennis Jun 5 '15 at 8:19
up vote 71 down vote accepted

Tolkien himself addresses this in an essay called "Laws and Customs Among the Eldar". There are essentially two problems:

  1. Elvish libido diminishes over time. Contrary to popular belief (and outward appearance, from a human perspective), Elves do age; and as they get older, they get less interested in procreation.
  2. Having children is exhausting. The Elves believe that their child-bearing process draws a heavier physical and spiritual toll on them, compared to what it does to humans. They're understandable reluctant to have a lot of kids, because what's the point in having a dozen kids if doing so might literally kill you?

From "Laws and Customs":

It might be thought that, since the Eldar do not (as Men deem) grow old in body, they may bring forth children at any time in the ages of their lives. But this is not so. For the Eldar do indeed grow older, even if slowly: the limit of their lives is the life of Arda, which though long beyond the reckoning of Men is not endless, and ages also. Moreover their body and spirit are not separated but coherent. As the weight of the years, with all their changes of desire and thought, gathers upon the spirit of the Eldar, so do the impulses and moods of their bodies change. [...]

Also the Eldar say that in the begetting [conceiving], and still more in the bearing of children, greater share and strength of their being, in mind and in body, goes forth than in the making of mortal children. For these reasons it came to pass that the Eldar brought forth few children; and also that their time of generation was in their youth or earlier life, unless strange and hard fates befell them.

History of Middle-earth X Morgoth's Ring Part 3: "The Later Quenta Silmarillion" Chapter 2: "The Second Phase" Laws and Customs Among the Eldar

That last point about the toll on their mind and body is worth expanding on, and fortunately Tolkien does this later in the essay:

[A]ll the Eldar, being aware of it in themselves, spoke of the passing of much strength, both of mind and of body, into their children, in bearing and begetting. Therefore they hold that the fëa [soul], though unbegotten, draws nourishment directly from the fëa of the mother while she bears and nourishes the hrondo [body; later changed to the word hroä], and mediately but equally from the father, whose fëa is bound in union with the mother's and supports it.

History of Middle-earth X Morgoth's Ring Part 3: "The Later Quenta Silmarillion" Chapter 2: "The Second Phase" Laws and Customs Among the Eldar

  • 45
    Little runts, draining your bank account AND your life force! – Nerrolken Jun 3 '15 at 23:28
  • 7
    @Nerrolken They do drain your life force, but at the same time you're happier than you ever knew you could be. While you're convinced your kids will be the end of you, at the same time you know you wouldn't hesitate to lay down your life in order to preserve theirs. – ShemSeger Jun 4 '15 at 3:13
  • 12
    @ShemSeger: Apparently the Elves disagree. – Misha R Jun 4 '15 at 6:19
  • 2
    Great answer, but note that "conceiving" as a parenthetical explanation of "begetting" makes no sense. Begetting (making someone get) is what men do, conceiving (receiving) is what women do. So "in the begetting, and still more in the bearing of children" covers both sexes. This is also taken up later with the phrase "bearing and begetting", which doesn't mean that one person does both but is again meant to cover both sexes. – Hans Adler Jun 4 '15 at 12:01
  • 2
    @Jason Baker: Then it appears that Tolkien uses bearing like German gebären in the sense of giving birth, whereas perhaps a more usual meaning in English is being pregnant - a state that lasts 9 months in humans and maybe a year in elves. But my point was that a woman conceives a child at the exact moment when, or at most a day after (depending on the precise definitions used), her partner begets the child. Following the old theory of the man passing over a kind of embryo, it's the same relation as giving and taking, so they are clearly not synonyms. – Hans Adler Jun 4 '15 at 16:31

Elves only have a small number of children in a small amount of time.

Elves only procreate for a certain period of their lives, as Tolkien said (in quotes):

The bad news is that elves tend to lose interest in sex after they've had kids. "With the exercise of the power (of generation), the desire soon ceases, and the mind turns to other things…they have many other urges of body and of mind which their nature urges them to fulfil." They do look back happily on the sexually-active time in their lives, though, a period of one to several hundred years.
What Tolkien Officially Said About Elf Sex; quote inside from "Laws and Customs of the Eldar", one of Tolkien's essays.

When they do have children, there aren't many:

Seven children was the usual upper limit in ancient times, but in future ages, partly due to varying levels of corruption in various elven societies, these norms were often exceeded rarely, even when corrupted do they ever succumb to deeds of Lust.
Elf children

So it's once and done, while Elves are young, and then things slow down. For most of their lives, Elves do not have young (even relatively young) children.

  • Can someone translate that second quote into modern English? I can't quite parse it. – Harry Johnston Apr 20 at 22:18
  • @HarryJohnston In the past it was usual that no more than seven children were had. Later on due to varying degrees of corruption in various elven societies the norms were often exceed but rarely. And therein lies the problem: often and rarely conflict with each other. This makes one question if the rest of it is relevant; I would say not. Not that I think seven children isn't many... – Pryftan Jun 23 at 1:17
  • @Pryftan, looking at the linked source (via the Wayback Machine) it isn't clear to me whether this is a direct quote from Tolkien or not. If it is, I'm thinking perhaps it got mangled somehow. – Harry Johnston Jun 23 at 1:47
  • @HarryJohnston After I wrote that I thought I should have added that it doesn’t seem like Tolkien wrote it himself although he certainly had some archaic writings. He even wrote about this in at least one letter. I did also think of another way it could be interpreted, the contradiction, but not really: it’s as you say if his it’s mangled. Which btw I also meant to say I love that you used the word parse for that’s the word I use for that type of thing. Programmer’s thinking. Mangled is also a good word but so is corruption e.g. memory corruption! – Pryftan Jun 23 at 12:49
  • @HarryJohnston I just posted an answer on the subject of numbers and indeed the quote seems not only incorrect but not even - as we both thought - Tolkien's writing. – Pryftan Jun 23 at 13:35

To supplement Jason Baker's excellent answer I wanted to add something about the number of children also from the same essay in Morgoth's Ring. I would like to point out that there seems to be something in HDE's answer that must have been sourced from a wiki; however commentator Harry Johnston in that answer asked if anyone could translate a quote in that answer. I did so but he and I both thought it didn't look like Tolkien. Since it talks about number of children Elves tend to have I thought I would add something from the same essay that Jason cited:

The Eldar wedded for the most part in their youth and soon after their fiftieth year. They had few children but these were very dear to them. Their families, or houses, were held together by love and a deep feeling for kinship in mind and body; and the children needed little governing or teaching. There were seldom more than four children in any house and the number grew less as the ages past but even in the days of old, while the Eldar were still few and eager to increase their kind Fëanor was renowned as the father of seven sons, and the histories record none that surpassed him(4).

Footnotes:

(4): There were actually two drafts of this essay; Christopher shows the main one and then shows divergences. In this essay at footnote four he has this to say about version A:

'.. while the Eldar were still few, and eager to increase their kind, before the weight of years lay on them, there is no record of any number more than seven', with 'seldom' written later above 'no'.

Summary

In the earlier ages they were more eager to increase their kind, when they had fewer. As the ages went by this desire decreased - as Jason's answer points out; the other answer suggests that seven was the upper limit but usually it was no more than four and as the ages went by the number grew less. Fëanor was one of the ones who actually had seven and none surpassed him in this.

  • 2
    I've rolled back the changes; the word is commentator and it is Morgoth's Ring. There was no need to make any changes that I could see and I don't appreciate, actually, changing a word when the word is perfectly valid. – Pryftan Jun 23 at 22:24

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.