The Encyclopedia of Arda - an interactive guide to the world of J.R.R. Tolkien
Awoke at Cuiviénen; some are presumably still extant
Originated at Cuiviénen, but spread westward across Middle-earth
Various, including Avari, Nandor and Sindar1
Elves who did not travel into the West to see the Light of the Trees
Other names


About this entry:

  • Updated 3 May 2021
  • This entry is complete

Dark Elves

Elves who never saw the Two Trees

(All Elves)

The main branches of the Dark Elves or Moriquendi are shown here in bold text. In addition to the Avari who refused the summons of the Valar, at least two divisions of the Teleri also remained in Middle-earth: the Sindar and the Nandor.

After the Vala Oromë discovered the newly-awakened Elves at Cuiviénen, he offered to take them with him to dwell in the Light of the Trees in the West. The Elves were uncertain, and so Oromë took three ambassadors - Ingwë, Finwë and Elwë - with him to Valinor, where they were astonished by what they saw. Returning, the three convinced many of their people to make the Great Journey for themselves.

Not all the Elves wished to make the Journey into the West, and when the three ambassadors led their three clans westward, many chose to remain behind. Those Elves who set out on the Great Journey became known as Eldar, while those they left behind were the Avari. These Avari were the first of the Dark Elves or Moriquendi, a term given to those of Elvenkind who never saw the Light of the Trees in Aman.

The Avari were the first of the Dark Elves, but they were not the last. As the Eldar pursued their westward course, many of them fell away from the Great Journey. One large group feared to cross the imposing Misty Mountains, and instead settled in the woods of the Vales of Anduin, giving rise to the Nandor. Others travelled as far as Beleriand, but chose not to cross the Great Sea, giving rise to the Sindar. The Nandor and Sindar, and the other Elves who fell away from the Journey, never saw the Light in the West and are thus counted among the Dark Elves.

Many of the Sindar chose to remain behind in Middle-earth in order to search for their lost lord. This was Elwë, one of the original three ambassadors to the West, who had vanished into the forests of Beleriand. At last he returned to his people alongside Melian, one of the Maiar, who became his Queen. Elwë was found too late for the Sindar to make the crossing into the West, but together with Melian he founded the realm of Doriath, and his people became the wisest and most skilled of the Dark Elves. Elwë himself, though he belonged to the Sindar, had seen the Light of the Trees during his embassy to Valinor, and so of all his people, he alone was not counted among the Dark Elves.

Far away from Beleriand in the distant East of Middle-earth, the first Men awoke in the land of Hildórien. These Men encountered Dark Elves wandering in the wild. These Avari taught Men what they could, but they knew little of the West or the Valar, and were less wise and skilled than the Elves of the Light had become.

Separated from the Elves of the Light by the wide ocean of Belegaer, the languages of the Dark Elves changed over time, giving rise to numerous dialects across Middle-earth. The most important of these was the tongue spoken across Beleriand: Sindarin, the language of the Sindar. Sindarin was already dominant across the lands west of the Blue Mountains when some of the Elves of the Light returned from the West. These returning Noldor eventually adopted the Sindarin tongue for everyday use, and so it became the pre-eminent Elvish language in Middle-earth.

Throughout the history of Middle-earth, most of the Elves who lived there were Dark Elves, though in Beleriand during the First Age the returning Noldor founded several realms ruled and populated by Elves of the Light. Many of these Elves were lost in war, or chose to return into the West, so that by the end of the Third Age almost all of Middle-earth's Elves were descended from the Moriquendi. Indeed, by the time of the War of the Ring, there were few Elves left east of the Great Sea who had seen the Light of the Trees with their own eyes. Galadriel is the only definite Elf of the Light named at this time (though there may have been others, especially in Rivendell). By this point in history, almost all the other Elves of Middle-earth were descended from the Dark Elves.

The shared adjective 'Dark' might be taken to make a connection between the Dark Elves and the evil of the Dark Lord. No such connection is intended; these Elves were only 'Dark' by comparison with the Elves of the Light who travelled into the West and saw the Light of the Trees. We're specifically told that no Dark Elf ever willingly served Morgoth or Sauron (though many of them were reluctant to join the Wars of Beleriand on either side).

It was not unusual to find Dark Elves living side-by-side with Elves who had returned from Aman. Gondolin was a notable example from the First Age, and in Lórien during the Third Age, a people of Dark Elves were ruled by Galadriel of the Light. Elsewhere, however, the Dark Elves harboured a degree of bitterness against the Elves of the Light, both because of their sometimes imperious attitude, and also because of their choice to depart from Middle-earth long ago.



The Sindarin King, Elu Thingol, was not counted among the Dark Elves; he had travelled to Valinor and seen the Light of the Trees, though he returned and dwelt in Middle-earth.


About this entry:

  • Updated 3 May 2021
  • This entry is complete

For acknowledgements and references, see the Disclaimer & Bibliography page.

Original content © copyright Mark Fisher 1998, 2000, 2021. All rights reserved. For conditions of reuse, see the Site FAQ.

Website services kindly sponsored by Discus from Axiom Software Ltd.
Discus handles online DISC questionnaires for you, sending you a report as soon as results are ready.
The Encyclopedia of Arda
The Encyclopedia of Arda
Homepage Search Latest Entries and Updates Random Entry