In The Rings of Power, Galadriel claims that Valinor is the home of the Elves. But according to J.R.R. Tolkiens Lord of the Rings, that isnt true.
Warning: Spoilers ahead for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power episodes 1 & 2.In The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power episode 1, Galadriel recounts how the Elves “left Valinor, our home” and journeyed to Middle-earth in order to fight off Morgoth during the First Age. However, strictly speaking, Valinor isnt the home of the Elves. Its not the place they truly originate from—despite Galadriel and the soldiers she commanded being given passage to Valinor as a sort of retirement plan following efforts to root out Sauron in Middle-earth.
In a gloriously autumnal scene, Gil-galad hails the “most valiant of warriors” and declares that they will be “granted an honor unrivaled” in all the lore of the Ñoldorian Elves. “They will be escorted to the Grey Havens and granted passage across the sea to dwell for all eternity, in the Blessed Realm, the Far West. The Undying Lands of Valinor!” Gil-galads words suggest a sort of homecoming, and though the Elves have a long association with the realm, their true origin is more complicated.
Viewers familiar with The Lord of the Rings trilogy will recall that, after the War of the Ring, Frodo departs Middle-earth from the Grey Havens to head for the Undying Lands where he would find lasting peace from his trials. The common perception is that Valinor is a kind of heaven for the inhabitants of Middle-earth (especially the Elves), a place they can go after a well-lived life. But, though Elves came from Valinor to fight against Morgoth, it was never actually their real home. In fact, according to supplementary Middle-earth material, the Elves actually came from another place entirely – Cuiviénen.
What is Valinor?
In the far west of Middle-earth, there is a continent called Aman (or at least there used to be, but we’ll come back to that), that was shaped by Middle-earth’s gods, the Valar, as the best place in the world for elves.
At the dawn of time, Middle-earth’s supreme creator god, Eru Ilúvatar, created the Valar to be the caretakers of the world, and to shape its form into one that would be good for Ilúvatar’s next creations, Elves. (Men were also in the blueprints for Middle-earth, but not for some eons later.) The Valar were not powerful enough to turn all of Middle-earth into a paradise, so after they made all the birds, and fish, and animals, and the mountains, and valleys, and rivers, and oceans, and most of the stars … they focused on crafting an elven homeland in the far west.
And when they found the first elves, they spent a long time gaining their trust and guiding them to Aman, with some factions of elves choosing to stay behind at various pinch points like mountain ranges and ocean shores — leaving a tidy trail of different elven cultures for Tolkien to play with during the course of The Silmarillion, his history of the pre-Lord of the Rings Middle-earth.
On the continent of Aman, the elves and the Valar founded a nation called Valinor. Valinor is Asgard, and it is Valhalla; it is Heaven, and it is, in some ways, Eden. And within Valinor is the domain of Mandos, Middle-earth’s god of the afterlife. The Halls of Mandos are a system of great caverns and underground halls lined with god-woven tapestries depicting all of history. When elves die, their spirits travel to the Halls, where they rest for a time as disembodied shades. Most of them are then returned to corporeal form and rejoin all the other elves living in Valinor.
Most elves “return to life” without much drama, but Mandos has the power to deny an elf corporeal form if they were a particularly bad person in life. And if an elf lacks the will to live again — which has happened at least a few times — they remain as a sad, disembodied shade in the Halls of Mandos until the end of time or until they feel better, whichever happens first. Their families and friends can visit them, but it’s not very fun.
So yes, if an elf is killed in battle, her death will separate her from any loved ones she has on Middle-earth as her spirit travels to Valinor to be re-embodied. But her elven friends and family know they’ll see her again eventually. And “eventually” is not hard to wait for when you literally live forever. Any amount of time you spend apart from your loved one is, by definition, is a blip on the road of infinity.
Human spirits also travel to the Halls of Mandos upon death, but they do not get to stay, and nobody knows where they go except Mandos and Ilúvatar himself. Spooky! And very interesting that Tolkien’s own mythology is one in which humanity has no guaranteed afterlife of any kind.
Many elves traveled to Aman in the early days of Middle-earth and made it their home — some elves, like Galadriel, were simply born and raised in Valinor, the realm of the gods, which is part of the reason she’s such a stand-out badass compared to the other elves in The Lord of the Rings.
But whether they’ve been to Valinor before or not, all elves go there when they die, and all elves can leave Valinor and sail to the rest of Middle-earth if they want — though that hasn’t happened particularly often in Tolkien’s work, and when it has it’s usually a big deal.
The Valar could not permit this: Manwë called upon Ilúvatar, and the land of Númenor was destroyed and lost forever. The Undying Lands, which until that time had been part of the World, were removed forever from the reach of mortal Men, though the Elves could still sail West and come there, if they would.
“Undying Lands” seems to be a name that originated among Men. The Númenóreans, especially, envied the seemingly endless life of those who lived in these regions. From the first, the Valar placed a ban on the Men of Númenor, that they should not sail into the West from their island, or set foot on the shores of Aman.
Wise as the Valar were, though, they did not foresee the wiles of Sauron. The fallen Maia falsely persuaded the last King of Númenor, Ar-Pharazôn, that the ruler of the Undying Lands would be undying himself. Believing Sauron, Ar-Pharazôn assembled a great navy and sailed westward to make hopeless war on the Valar for the imagined prize of endless life.
Frodo and Bilbo sailed west with the elves, does that mean they’re immortal?
Tolkien wasn’t really explicit about that, but probably not. Immortality is a facet of the Elven race, not something conferred by Valinor itself. It’s probably better to think about Frodo and Bilbo (and Sam and Gilmi)’s invitations to board a boat at the Grey Havens as the gift of a very, very nice retirement in recognition of services rendered to the safety of Middle-earth and thus the goals of the Valar.
Where were the Elves going in LOTR?
Why did the Elves go to the Undying Lands?
Why did Frodo go to the Undying Lands?