In The Silmarillion, we are told that Morgoth was the first to realize that the Elves were awake, and that Elves who wandered alone or in small groups occasionally disappeared, and that this went on for "some years ere the coming of Oromë" to Cuiviénen. Oromë was the first of the true Valar to see the Elves, of course - he just happened to be out hunting and came upon the Elves by chance - and this is how the Valar came to realize that the Elves were up and about.

According to the excellent site Tolkien Gateway, about 35 years passed between the awakening of the Elves and their discovery by Oromë.

But we are also told that Manwë used Eagles and other birds to see what was going on in Arda, so it seems surprising that the Valar remained unaware of the Elves for so long.

Is there any explanation for this puzzling state of affairs?

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    @Lexible I used Valar in every case because every use was plural. I'm not sure why you said that - explain, please. Also note that I said "true Valar", reflecting the fact that the Valar themselves considered Melkor/Morgoth to be cast out of the order, and no longer one of them. "Melkor is counted no longer among the Valar" - Silmarillion, Valaquenta page 24.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Jun 12, 2015 at 5:49
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    You should be a lawyer Wad ;)
    – Yohann V.
    Commented Jun 12, 2015 at 13:07
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    @YohannV. Maybe he is :-) Commented Jun 12, 2015 at 15:18
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    @WadCheber Yep on the plural/singular, you are correct. OTOH Melkor is a Vala (not sure where "true vala" enters that, since Tolkien didn't refer to such).
    – Lexible
    Commented Jun 12, 2015 at 15:59
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2 Answers 2


Because the Valar did not know the (exact) time or place of the awakening of the Children, and they dwelt almost a continent and ocean away.

‘Ye mighty of Arda, the Vision of Ilúvatar was brief and soon taken away, so that maybe we cannot guess within a narrow count of days the hour appointed. Yet be sure of this: the hour approaches, and within this age our hope shall be revealed, and the Children shall awake. Shall we then leave the lands of their dwelling desolate and full of evil? Shall they walk in darkness while we have light? Shall they call Melkor lord while Manwë sits upon Taniquetil?

(Silmarillion, of the Coming if the Elves)

'Within this age' is not exactly what you'd call precise.

They first awoke just as Varda finished creating the stars.

It is told that even as Varda ended her labours, and they were long, when first Menelmacar strode up the sky and the blue fire of Helluin flickered in the mists above the borders of the world, in that hour the Children of the Earth awoke, the Firstborn of Ilúvatar. By the starlit mere of Cuiviénen, Water of Awakening, they rose from the sleep of Ilúvatar; and while they dwelt yet silent by Cuiviénen their eyes beheld first of all things the stars of heaven. Therefore they have ever loved the starlight, and have revered Varda Elentári above all the Valar.


The Eagles had also only just come into existence:

When the Children awake, then the thought of Yavanna will awake also, and it will summon spirits from afar, and they will go among the kelvar and the olvar, and some will dwell therein, and be held in reverence, and their just anger shall be feared. For a time: while the Firstborn are in their power, and while the Secondborn are young.” But dost thou not now remember, Kementári, that thy thought sang not always alone? Did not thy thought and mine meet also, so that we took wing together like great birds that soar above the clouds? That also shall come to be by the heed of Ilúvatar, and before the Children awake there shall go forth with wings like the wind the Eagles of the Lords of the West.’


Keeping in mind that Middle-Earth is a big, big place, the Eagles dwelt in the mountains and there was in the beginning a much smaller number of Elves, it's no surprise that the Valar did not know for some time that the Elves had awakened. Also, it was dark. :) Only Oromë and Yavanna seemed to visit Middle-Earth at all:

To those lands and forests the Valar seldom came, save only Yavanna and Oromë; and Yavanna would walk there in the shadows, grieving because the growth and promise of the Spring of Arda was stayed.


And of course, it was Oromë who came upon the Elves as though by chance. And indeed, Oromë appears to have discovered the Elves before they had even left the place of their awakening, although it's clear quite some time has passed.

In the changes of the world the shapes of lands and of seas have been broken and remade; rivers have not kept their courses, neither have mountains remained steadfast; and to Cuiviénen there is no returning. But it is said among the Elves that it lay far off in the east of Middle-earth, and northward, and it was a bay in the Inland Sea of Helcar; and that sea stood where aforetime the roots of the mountain of Illuin had been before Melkor overthrew it Many waters flowed down thither from heights in the east, and the first sound that was heard by the Elves was the sound of water flowing, and the sound of water falling over stone.

Long they dwelt in their first home by the water under stars, and they walked the Earth in wonder; and they began to make speech and to give names to all things that they perceived. Themselves they named the Quendi, signifying those that speak with voices; for as yet they had met no other living things that spoke or sang.

And on a time it chanced that Oromë rode eastward in his hunting, and he turned north by the shores of Helcar and passed under the shadows of the Orocarni, the Mountains of the East. Then on a sudden Nahar set up a great neighing, and stood still. And Oromë wondered and sat silent, and it seemed to him that in the quiet of the land under the stars he heard afar off many voices singing.

So there was only a small number of Elves to find who were pretty much all bunched up together (save some wanderers Morgoth's servants caught) on a vast continent visited only by two of the Valar on occasion. And for beings literally older than time, years go by in a blink of an eye.

  • Awesome answer as always, Shamshiel. I was under the impression that Manwë was able to watch most/all of Middle-earth, and my reading of the text led me to believe that Yavanna was pretty sure that the Elves would wake up sooner rather than later. And if the Valar were as concerned about the safety of the Elves as they appear to have been, it still seems strange that they took an approach that amounted to "Meh, it'll work itself out". I also may have been confused by the fact that Manwë's birds were mentioned long before the Elves woke up, which made me think the birds came first.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Jun 12, 2015 at 20:57
  • I probably figured that the Eagles and other birds being mentioned so much earlier than the awakening of the Elves meant that the birds were around long before the Elves did their thing. And the text does say that the birds watch over all of Arda and report everything they see to Manwë.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Jun 12, 2015 at 21:00
  • This didn't work so well when they killed the two trees.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Jun 12, 2015 at 23:47

It took the valar several hundred years to find the elves, because they never knew the exact time and place that the elves would awake, and because they didn't keep a careful watch.

First of all, 35 years between the awakening and the finding that you've seen on Tolkien Gateway is measured in Valian Years, not Sun Years. These dates were taken from The Annals of Aman, which was written in c.1951, when Tolkien had decided that 1 VY = 9.582 Sun Years, and so would have actually been 335 years, not 35 years.

Later, c.1959, Tolkien would greatly expand on this, making 1 VY = 144 SY, but also changing the dates, toying between timespans of 90 VY (=12,960), 85 VY (12,240), 80 VY (=11,520), and 14 VY (=2,016), trying to settle on a timespan that would allow the elvish population to have increased to the point needed for the story. Eventually Tolkien settled on six Valian Years having had passed. Thus now making it 864 years.

In that case the Finding should take place about 1728 – 336 = 1392. The Awaking should take place not more than 6 VY (= 864 years) previously, that is in VY 1386. (The entry into Valinor could be later by 12 VY – later allowing for a long sojourn of Oromë and negotiations, and for delays on the March – or perhaps better only 6 VY: sc. early VY 1404 or 1398.) In these 6 VY the Quendi [population] must increase to over 30,000 from 144.
The Nature of Middle-earth - "Calculation of the Increase of the Quendi"

VY 1386/1 Awaking of Quendi. Melian has warning of them in dream and leaves Valinor.
VY 1392/1 Finding by Oromë. 6 VY = 864 [sun-]years
The Nature of Middle-earth - "Key Dates"

In a different text from this time period, Tolkien discusses why it was such a long gap.

But: increasing the length of time between the “Awaking” and the “Finding” (which is useful in allowing more time for Melkor to interfere with them) must inevitably lay some blame on the Valar. As is probably just.

The Valar had, of course, no precise knowledge of the time of that “Awaking”. Not if – as seems essential – the Vision (subsequent to the Music) stopped short of the actual “Coming of the Children”. The Ainur were vouchsafed a Vision of the Children, but not of their exact place in the sequence. Later Eru deliberately did not inform Manwë of the approach of the time: for He did not intend them to be dominated, and the function of the Valar was to prepare and govern the place of their habitation. Even so the Valar should have kept better watch, and not have allowed Melkor peace in which to establish himself. They were, of course, very anxious, but neglected the matter until they feared to ruin Arda in a war, which would involve the Children in misery or destruction. (One may object that this could not be – but all the operations of Melkor, to those now in Time, appeared to be in defiance of Eru, and to have power to upset or spoil the design; so that if these were permitted by Eru (or could not be hindered!) there was no knowing how far they would proceed.)

It seems clear that the rescue of the Quendi must be secret (as far as possible), and before the assault upon Utumno – otherwise this very peril would have occurred. The Great March must occur behind a screen of investment, and before any violent assault had begun!

But Melkor had, of course, since he largely controlled Middle-earth, and had hosts of spies and servants, soon discovered the Quendi, and he had time to frighten them, fill their minds with dark imaginings and fears, beside (probably) capturing some of them, and even corrupting or seducing some – hence the taint in some degree of “the Shadow” which lay even upon the Eldar.
The Nature of Middle-earth - "The Awaking of the Quendi"

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