This website contains archives of the Tolkien Discussion Group from 2009 to early 2013.

The discussion group continues to meet
in Second Life in Alqualonde the Swanhaven. Contact AelKennyr Rhiano in Second Life.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Romance, Sex, and Marriage Among the Elves

Recommended Reading:  Essays which quote extensively from Professor Tolkien's essay "Laws and Customs of the Eldar"
What Tolkien Officially Said About Elf Sex
and the drier, more scholarly Warm Beds are Good:  Sex and Libido in Tolkien's Writing
Why & How NOT To Write A Middle-earth Romance
          (The first part of this essay is how to avoid writing bad love scenes; the second part is background on what is known of Elvish customs.)

Tolkien Discussion Group
October 28, 2009
Topic: Romance, Sex, and Marriage Among the Elves

Fifi Wickentower
Lihan Taifun
Veovis Nightfire
Keema Silverspar
Ossy Portocarrero

I believe Belenos will be unable to attend tonight
that's too bad
will miss her - she also has insights hehe

did everyone get a chance to read the links?
actually, no. work has been running me into the ground lately.
oh dear, I hope you get a chance to read them later, someone has done a lot of research
i will at my earliest convenience.
those who did read it, did anything in particular strike you?
hmmm, maybe not ...
what I noticed was how very strictly monogamous the elves were
I read it, but we can start with a more directed question?
there was a distinction made between regular elves and Tolkien elves - not much detail but found it interesting that the diference was noted
hmmm, I didn't notice that about "regular elves" and Tolkien elves
yes, and the history of the noldor is quite indicative of how monogamous they were. feanor was furious at finwe's marrying of the lady indis after miriel, his mother, died.
yes, and after that, the elves really avoided second marriages
it appears that once married - it was for life; forever - until the world ended
for life, and no remarrying if you spouse died
Wait, I don't agree.
not after the way Finwe's second marriage turned out
Take Olwe.
ok, what about Olwe?
In the Silmarillion...he obviously has a daughter. But we never hear of his wife again. It is never mentioned that she lived with him in Tol Eressea or in Alqualonde in the Silmarillion. She was a convenient "plot device" to explain Earwen.
There is no mention of love, or even, really, of marriage.
so what do we conclude from that?
tolkien had a marked tendency to discount the role of wives, unfortunetaly. females in general, other than galadriel.
Tolkien, himself, came from an historical context where married couples were expected to stay together, even if the romance died from their marriage.
although he does mention that elves didn't mind spending time apart
yet in the essay it mentioned that the sexes were equal among elves
Yes, he did. I believe it is rather patriarchal to assume that once married, always partnered. But the reality in Tolkien is that they were not. Not always. Look at the archetypes in the elves. How many strong female elves are there?
not all that many. galadriel, maybe aredhel.
most are mentioned with "attributes"....silver hair for Earwen, for example.
Even Galadriel, a stong character, how is she presented?
exceedingly beautiful, as i recall.
She is "wise" for not seizing the ring...she knows her weakness.
and wise.
As long as elves live, can we expect their partnerships to not change over time?
and yet Tolkien explicitly says they do not change over time, which does seem hard for humans to believe
may i include an excerpt?
Normal Elves And The Ones Tolkien Wrote About

Tolkien in LACE says that elves normally married young, in their early adulthood, which would have been at 50 to 100 years old. He says that this is normal for elves and that elves who did otherwise had "strange fates." (LACE) He then goes on to present us with large amounts of elf characters who marry late in life (Galadriel, Elrond, Idril, Lúthien, Aredhel, Eöl, Thingol) or not at all (Legolas, Finrod, half the sons of Fëanor) or whose marital status is vague and unknown (Glorfindel, Gil-Galad). Fëanor is the best example of this happy early marriage. But then, he had an exceptional amount of kids (seven). And his wife left him. (Shibboleth of Fëanor, Peoples of Middle-Earth, HME) Possibly the elvish upper classes, who Tolkien wrote about almost exclusively, delayed marriage for sociopolitical reasons. (1)
so, see, Tolkien contradicted himself...which is not surprising when a writer creates such a expansive universe.
certainly. it's too hard not to.
do you think his theoretical ideas about elvish lives were not consistant with the characters he wrote?
I do
because the "theory" clashed with the practiciality of creating the stories within tht universe
he seemed to have a block about writing female characters
It is possible that the ideas evolved as the characters did
I'm sure his ideas evolved a lot over, what, 40 years? maybe more, that he was writing, or thinking about the universe
and he was expressing his ideals
the practicallities?
when you are trying to take this idea about elves marrying for life and never changing their feelings about each other...and then you as a writer are trying to create storylines, plot twists, character development...Well, that concept of always married and never feeling different... that can hamper things Does that make sense?
(not that much character development)
AelKennyr Rhiano nods. but still..if, for example...Keema never changes her feelings for ....let's say Veovis, and they are married... who do we create a character we care about? She is rather static.... How do we become involved with her ...because we as humans change?
beware of projecting our human ways of feeling onto the elves.
True, Fifi, but then again...the reader IS human.
and if the reader cannot identify...then the reader won't read.
Keema Silverspar blinks at Lord AelKennyr
Sorry, Keema...I was just making and example.AelKennyr Rhiano blushes
if an elf's feelings changed, that might be tragic, and he or she still would have strong social pressure
to not remarry
I am not saying all this is in stone...but it helps to look at his work from the prospective of the crafting of writing?
yes - a 'static' character is not sympathic
part of the crafting of writing is to find the interesting points of tension, within the framework established
those might not be the same points of tension as in our universe
we need the tension and the conflict and the climax of the conflict
As the years pass, what in the society changes, what is accepted today , that may not have been accepted 50 or 100 years ago
the concept of the nuclear family for one
although with elves, that might be "50,000 or 100,000 years"
what are the years in elven for societal change
acceptance of nontraditional pairings
generations, so to speak
do we know any examples of social change?
it seems like the idea of no remarrying came from the conflict between the half-brothers in Finwe's household, so that was a social decision
And i would have to ask if that would have extended out through all the elven clans. Would the Teleri have adopted that social change, for example?
and, you know, the Sindar would not have been around to even know about that decision
not sure if that was as a result of that marriage, or the taboo against it already existed, and finwe just went against it.
one of the essay's commented that Tolien wrote mainly about the upper class Eldar, so there may have been difference among the 'regular' elves
We must remember the different elven socieities did not live in a vaccuum...they would have developed their own mores and social practices.
That is hinted at in the Kinslaying.
hinted at the kinslaying that there were differnces between the Teleri and the Noldor?
yes in the perspectives and reactions between the two ... and those cultures would have developed differently over time
and, as Fifi said, we don't have many stories of regular working-class elves
yeah, that's true. you don't really hear about how the "rank and file" elves lived their lives.
there must have been farmers or food -gatherers or something,but we never hear about it
It doesn't help us that married couples who figure predominantly in Tolkien's tend to "vanish" as they serve their literary need. Take Earwen....She is a Teleri...who does she marry?
meaning the wives vanished?
yes. i always found it interesting that lady anairë chooses to stay behind in tirion with earwen, while fingolfin goes off to middle-earth, and his sister, irimë, goes with him. what's up with that?
(( hmmm, I wonder))
wedding feast, marked mainly by who attended ... followed an appropriate time later by the birth of a kid ... fast forward to kid being an adult
So we are left with large gaps
gaps in the details of people's actual lives
The gaps are left to the imagination
And are we certain that when an elven couple marry, it is always for love?
i would guess political associations might be involved, but that's more of a human aspect to royal marriage.
well, aside from that , there could be parental pressure
I can't imagine elves marrying someone they really disliked
not dislike, just not burning passion.
none are forced to marry
yeah, i tend to agree with that. they don't seem the type to accept being forced into anything.
All of us know there are ways of exerting societal pressure without being "forced" though
although, elves being immortal, there would be a lot less pressure about "producing an heir", "carrying on the line"
Tolkien says the reason for marriage is the union of bodies and then the children
I don't agree....yes, that was where I was going
very much so
and after that period is done - however long - they then go on to other things :))
basically explore their sexual nature and then move on
it never really mattered whether Olwe had an heir or not, did it?
If Olwe died, what would happened to the Teleri?
well, someone would take over as leader
but who? after all they had been through...without an heir...think of it.
And Veovis, I would submit that in playing your character, don't you feel a wee bit of pressure to secure your partner?
well, considering i hav a hard time keeping them in tirion, i suppose so. i'm on my third anairë now.
lol, not quite the way Tolkien wrote that
so, why do your feel the need for Anaire? AelKennyr Rhiano blushes Wait, that was not quite how I wanted to say that.
how else will there be a fingon, turgon and aredhel?
lol, same as Tolkien
so it is not about romance, and there is a pressure
would you like another excerpt?
oh, yes :)))
In fact, the formal celebrations and legal aspects which we think of as constituting marriage are completely irrelevant to the Eldar: they like having the parties, and the presents, and giving each other jewelry they've made (as well as spouses exchanging rings, the parents of bride and groom give their new son and daughter ornaments, which as Christopher Tolkien points out casts a new light on foresighted Galadriel giving Aragorn a gem in Lórien)-- but none of this is necessary, though it's considered civilized behaviour. What makes the marriage is the personal promise and the physical consummation, not the societal aspects. And they don't rape, or the euphemism beloved of the authors of bodice-rippers, "forced seduction" — "for this was wholly against their nature."
that certainly implies that it is usually the principals, and not their parents, arranging the marriage
Only amoungst other royals?
what do you mean, Keema?
What if a basket weaver slipped in, Tolkien gives little history to the women, would that not cause a small problem?
there are comments on elves 'on the run' together (not escaping, but exploring, traveling who spontaneous decide to wed - it is only them, alone, together)
also...this still does not mean that the marriage is totally free of any external influences...just delineates how the ritual is accomplished.
well, there is, i believe, one case where a relationship was not considered desirable by a parent, that being beren and luthien. Thingol was out of his mind over it.
they eloped!
I like what Keema said earlier... [08:04 PM] Keema Silverspar: What if a basket weaver slipped in, Tolkien gives little history to the women, would that not cause a small problem?
they eloped, and depending on how you read some of the vague comments, they may have been privately "married" a long time before Thingol realized it
rofl possible

AelKennyr Rhiano blushes...I have a question... What if both elves are the same sex?
a situation Tolkien never comments on
as in happy elves?? :D
depends on if they get to marry?
well, it sounds like, once they have gone off into the bushes together, it would be hard to claim they were not married
AelKennyr Rhiano blushes
Keema Silverspar looks around for the bushes
Keema Silverspar laughs
Keema Silverspar wipes sweat from her forehead, No bushes
you naughty girl, you!
Would that partnershp be recognized ? It will produce no children. How strong was the need to produce heirs?
remeber he was Catholic
Tolkien was of the sex = procreation school
AelKennyr Rhiano nods
marriage = sex = procreation
you may like this, Ael
. . . . The most suggestive elf/elf pair are Fingon* and Maedhros, rescuing each other and sending each other presents just because. (Narn i Hîn Húrin, UF) But even they have less eyebrow-raising stuff going on in 500 years than Sam and Frodo managed to pack into one day.

Although Tolkien never said that the elves DID have hot gay sex, he also never said that they DIDN'T. And I know what I make of that.

One last perplexing note from LACE is that Elves do not change sex, even if they are being reincarnated. But that's a whole other story. be honest...several months ago, in a group chat I was viciously criticized for not taking a rp queen and immediately producing rp children.
wow :(
and I've seen writers make good cases for both interpretations of Frodo/Sam relationship
but sam implied he liked a female hobbit. of course, he could've been bi?
but they weren't elves
Sam MARRIED a female hobbit
so to speak, she could have been his beard.
Lihan Taifun glares at Ael
elves don't have beards - one exception, I believe
my point here is that even we, rping Tolkien..even we can be suspectible to this need for procreation.
well, susceptible certainly in the sense that some of the sim stewards might like to see the story line progressing.
and in the feeling of "expectations", you are "expected" to
I guess what we are dancing around is...what really IS the elvish way...not just what Tolkien stated, but what is presented in his works.
that is not the elvish way
maybe so. heck, at one point, i was thinking that our version of fingolfin was going to be a bachelor.
then the people scheduled to be Fingolfin's children would be in a hard spot
yes, but so far, none have appeared who could likely play the roles well, at least not in tirion.
ah, that takes off some of the pressure, for the time being
lol, and as long as feanor and nerdanel's wedding keeps getting postponed, so does fingolfin's.
the first born marries first. he is the high prince of tirion.
wait, is that true?
is that a specificially Noldor custom?
Keema Silverspar watches Veovis wipe the sweat from his brow
in tirion it is.
for that sounds like a human mediveal convention to me
well, that's sheri's rule atm.
and yes, it definitely sounds medieval.
I don't know of anywhere in Tolkien that is an elven convention.

I am getting some im traffic that my presence is requested in tirion.
glad you could come
It was great you were here
"Lótesse i cala of ngolwe,ngóle,saila" hirta,tulya" le" (May the light of wisdom guide you)
safe paths
fair winds
May fair winds fill your sails

Ossy Portocarrero sighs "I was very late"
it is ok, we were just talking about love and sex; AelKennyr Rhiano winks at Lihan and Fifi
yes, we were :-) and marriage
and annoying parents who want heirs
and happy elves :))
Gay one might say :D in the purest sense of the word
Why is the theme from Married with Children playing in my head?
I was thinking Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
thats a good one too, but it wasnt in my head
I'm pure ... sometimes
of course
when I am asleep... or drugged ... comatose
oh those happy elves*
um, don't ask Nienna about that stuff
one of the two unmarried Valar

uh oh, Fifi is in charge of ocean winds
either you two cooperate, or you fight ALL THE TIME
I was just imagining that conversation the other day, didn't know it was you, though, Fifi
I'm all for cooperation
I didn't remember which wind you were, we really need something for the Ainur to do
but you knew it was some hot air lol
cool air, I would think, nice sea breeze
well, yes; breeze or typhoon, friend of sailors or not
Osse's enabler
Heh, Not that I'd ever admit it
that's what keeeps it interesting - always changing, air and water
it's not your fault the charming maiar all want to help you ...
did i say i wanted to help??
"cooperate" you said
perhaps it isn't persona; well - cooperation over the other - but mostly like to just blow around the world, no particular outcome in mind
plenty of room to run, on the open ocean
gotta have that!
maiar wind races!
and sometomes the wind blows inland a bit to the streams
or lakes
all fresh water

were we still discussing sex? or did we give up on that?
is Kath ready to discuss hobbits yet?
hobbits! hairy toes! pie!
hahahaha, sex lives of hobbits, euuuu, lol
hobbits are probably too much like humans
what about dragons?
yes, dragons, cool
thinking of Belenos - she will have stuff to say
yes, should be lively
so we have Belanos, but what was the alledged topic?
Lihan, is there some area to look at re: dragons and Tolkien - I know there isn't much
dragons in tolkien's world
is there more than just whats is name
more than one dragon?
Belanos would know
or - there is more to be said on Eldar sexual practices :D
well, I am sure there is
yes - smaug - a poor role model
dragons were poor role models
yes...but a lot point to him as the definitive role model
or perhaps maligned - one must consider the source
there was the dragon Hurin met, and one at the destruction of Gondolin, so, several dragons we know something about
sounds like our next topic.
ok, sounds like it

(1) Editor's note: LACE = "Laws and Customs of the Eldar", an essay by Professor Tolkien; HME = "History of Middle Earth", a collection of Professor Tolkien's notes, published after his death