The Tolkien Road

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Chapter 3
Of the Awakening of the Elves and the Captivity of Melkor

The Origins of the Eldar

And Oromë looking upon the Elves was filled with wonder, as though they were beings sudden and marvelous and unforeseen; for so shall it ever be with the Valar. From without the World, though all things may be forethought in music or foreshown in vision from afar, to those who enter verily into Eä each in its time shall be met unawares as something new and unforetold...

Image Credits: “Awakening of the Elves” by kuliszu


With this chapter, we really start to enter into something like a continuous narrative. Up to this point, much has been given by way of background, but chapter 3 is primarily concerned with the awakening of the Firstborn, that is, the Elves, and with their journey to Valinor.


The Firstborn Awaken: The Elves, aka the Firstborn Children of Ilúvatar, finally appear by the shores of Cuiviénen in Middle-earth. They awaken to the light of Varda’s newly created stars, since their part of the world is otherwise covered in darkness due to the Mountains of Aman. Oromë is the first of the Valar to discover them, and at first they fear him, despite his love for them.

Melkor Enchained by the Valar: Melkor seeks to dominate the Firstborn by engendering in them a fear of the Valar. The Valar decide to intervene and destroy Melkor’s designs, and he is captured and imprisoned.

The Summoning and the Sunderings of the Elves: The Valar decide that they want the Firstborn to come to Aman and dwell with them. In order to get there, they must travel a great distance. At three points, different groups of Elves decide not to complete the journey. The three groups who do are the Vanyar (led by Ingwë), the Noldor (led by Finwë), and the Teleri (led by Elwë and Olwë).


Varda & the Elves: Because she kindled the stars that awoke them, Varda holds a special place in the hearts of the Elves.

A Kindred Divided: The Elves are forever a people divided. They are sundered three times on their journey to Aman. The Elves who never make it to Aman are known as the Moriquendi. The Elves who do are known as the Calaquendi. The divisions of their journey will not be the last time Elves are divided against one another.

Trust Issues: From the beginning, the Elves struggle to trust the Valar, in large part due to the corrupting influence of Melkor.

Familiar Terrain: Two important pieces of terrain are mentioned in this chapter: the Blue Mountains and the Misty Mountains. Though the world changes a great deal between this time and the time of hobbits, it is nevertheless the same world, as this geography attests.


On Balrogs: “And in Utumno he gathered his demons about him, those spirits who first adhered to him in the days of his splendor, and became most like him in his corruption: their hearts were of fire, but they were cloaked in darkness, and terror went before them; they had whips of flame. Balrogs they were named in Middle-earth in later days.” (47)

A Elbereth Gilthoniel: “Then Varda . . . beheld the darkness of Middle-earth beneath the innumerable stars, faint and far. . . She took the silver dews from the vats of Telperion, and therewith she made new stars and brighter against the coming of the Firstborn . . . Therefore they have ever loved the starlight, and have revered Varda Elentári above all the Valar.” (48)

Orcs Came From Elves: “…all those of the Quendi who came into the hands of Melkor, ere Utumno was broken, were put there in prison, and by slow arts of cruelty were corrupted and enslaved; and thus did Melkor breed the hideous race of the Orcs in envy and mockery of the Elves, of whom they were afterwards the bitterest foes.” (50)

The Summons: “At the last, therefore, the Valar summoned the Quendi to Valinor, there to be gathered at the knees of the Powers in the light of the Trees for ever; and Mandos broke his silence, saying: ‘So it is doomed.’ From this summons came many woes that afterwards befell.” (52)


Interested to learn more about Chapter 3 of The Silmarillion? Watch these videos for a through discussion of the chapter’s contents.


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  • Grasp the book’s complex structure.
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