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User:Mord/Of the Departure of Celeborn


[edit] Evidence

Around TA 1000, Círdan stated his intent to remain in Mithlond until no remaining Elves wished to depart Middle-earth.
  • Appendix B, The Great Years: "But after the passing of Galadriel in a few years Celeborn grew weary of his realm [East Lórien] and went to Imladris to dwell with the sons of Elrond."
"A few years" after FoA 1, Celeborn left East Lórien for Rivendell to live with Elladan and Elrohir.
  • Appendix A, (iii) Eriador, Arnor, and the heirs of Isildur: "At the Grey Havens dwelt Círdan the Shipwright, and some say he dwells there still, until the Last Ship sets sail into the West. In the days of the Kings most of the High Elves that still lingered in Middle-earth dwelt with Círdan or in the seaward lands of Lindon. If any now remain they are few."
We can tell this passage was written by a Hobbit scholar, owing to a reference to "years before we came to the Shire" earlier in the paragraph. It is likely that this passage would have been part of the Thain's Book composed in FoA 63, because there is no reason for later additions made in Gondor and first included in Findegil's copy of FoA 171 to have been written in the authorial voice of a Hobbit. "Now" must refer to FoA 63, meaning that at that time, the Hobbit scholar was unsure if any High Elves remained in Lindon at all, but he did believe Círdan remained in Middle-earth.
  • The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen: "We [Aragorn and Arwen] met under the white birches in the garden of Elrond where none now walk. [...] The uttermost choice is before you [Arwen]: to repent and go to the Havens and bear away into the West the memory of our days together that shall there be evergreen but never more than memory; or else to abide the Doom of Men."
As of 1 March FoA 120, Aragorn believed that either Rivendell generally or the garden of Elrond specifically were abandoned. Rivendell is often described as the "house of Elrond," so it is likely that "the garden of Elrond" is a metonymy for Rivendell; there is no reason for the sons (and father-in-law) of Elrond, and the Elves in general, to decline to walk in Elrond's garden if they still dwelled in Rivendell. Aragorn also believed that there was at least one ship in the Grey Havens, meaning Círdan must not yet have left Middle-earth.
  • '"Nay, dear lord," she [Arwen] said, "that choice is long over. There is now no ship that would bear me hence, and I must indeed abide the Doom of Men, whether I will or I nill: the loss and the silence."
Arwen's reply expresses her belief that she does not have the option to pass West.
  • Appendix B, Later Events Concerning the Members of the Fellowship of the Ring: "[After the Passing of King Elessar] Legolas built a grey ship in Ithilien, and sailed down Anduin and so over Sea."
Before the end of FoA 120, Legolas left Middle-earth. He departed from Ithilien, not Mithlond.
  • The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen: "[Arwen] went out from the city of Minas Tirith and passed away to the land of Lórien, and dwelt there alone under the fading trees until winter came. Galadriel had passed away and Celeborn also was gone, and the land was silent."
Galadriel had "passed away" while Celeborn was "gone," suggesting the possibility that he had not yet left Middle-earth. This passage could refer to any time after 1 March FoA 120 and before the (nebulously defined) beginning of Spring FoA 121.
  • Note on the Shire Records: "There [in Rivendell], though Elrond had departed, his sons long remained, together with some of the High-elven folk. It is said that Celeborn went to dwell there after the departure of Galadriel; but there is no record of the day when at last he sought the Grey Havens, and with him went the last living memory of the Elder Days in Middle-earth."
This section is about Findegil's copy of FoA 171, so as of that year, either Celeborn had not yet left Middle-earth, he had done so but there were no witnesses, or he had done so and there were witnesses but their account never reached Findegil. The past tense of the last clauses - "he sought," "with him went" - suggests that the departure may have already taken place.
  • The History of Galadriel and Celeborn, Amroth and Nimrodel: "The light Elven-ship was torn from its moorings and driven into the wild waters towards the coasts of Umbar. No tidings of it were ever heard in Middle-earth; but the Elven-ships made for this journey did not founder, and doubtless it left the Circles of the World and came at last to Eressëa."
Tolkien's language in the previous passage is reminiscent of his description of the voyage of the last Elven ship from Edhellond in TA 1981.

[edit] Analysis

[edit] Shipmates

If Celeborn took "the last living memory of the Elder Days" with him and Círdan departed on the "last ship," the two would necessarily have left on the same ship, the last to leave Mithlond. This much is beyond any reasonable doubt. However, there are ambiguities that allow for the possibility that this was not the last ship to leave Middle-earth.

We have reason to doubt the literal truth of the statement that Celeborn took "the last living memory of the Elder Days" with him: as far as we have any reason to believe, Treebeard still lived, as did Bombadil. It is likely that the phrase is meant to be intepreted figuratively, as "the last living memory of the Elder Days among the Children of Ilúvatar." Even if Treebeard and Bombadil are not considered to possess "living memories" for this purpose, there is no reasonable interpretation that allows Celeborn to leave Middle-earth while Círdan remains behind.

[edit] "Last" ship?

Similar figurative language may also apply regarding Círdan's "last ship." Particularly noteworthy is the fact that Legolas could choose to build his own grey ship in Ithilien rather than depart from Mithlond. If Legolas could build his own ship, there is no apparent reason that other Elves could not do the same.

If Círdan's "last ship" was meant as the "last ship from Mithlond," then the activities of other Elves elsewhere are irrelevant and offer no insight into the date of Círdan's departure. His description of his mission given in the The Silmarillion explicitly refers to "guarding the Havens," which gives some credence to this interpetation. However, the account of the end of the Third Age in the The Silmarillion contradicts that of The Lord of the Rings, so too much weight cannot be given to it.[note 1]

If Círdan left on the literal last ship from anywhere and Legolas was unique in building a ship outside Mithlond, then the date of Legolas' departure helps set a lower bound for the date of Círdan's own departure. If unattested, unnamed Elves built their own ships as well, that naturally pushes the lower bound into the undefined future.

[edit] Arwen's reply

Arwen's reply to Aragorn on his deathbed expresses her belief that she cannot go West. This belief is generally justified by readers in one of two ways:

1) She has already made the irrevocable choice of the Half-Elven to be counted among Men, and therefore would not be permitted to go West even if she were to take ship.
2) No ships are available to take her West.

In the first interpretation, there may or may not be ships remaining in Mithlond as of 1 March FoA 120. In the second interpretation, there are certainly none remaining; if this is the case, then we know that Celeborn has already left Middle-earth, which helps set an upper bound date for his departure.

Unfortunately, the second interpretation must be incorrect. If the only obstacle to Arwen's going West were a mere lack of transport, this would be quickly rectified by Legolas' grey ship. Why would she decline to embark and go West if she had the power to do so? Even if one were to interpret her words "there is now no ship that would bear me hence" to mean "there is no ship available at the present moment to bear me hence," her actions after the death of Aragorn prove that lack of transport cannot be the only factor preventing her from going West.

Arwen chose to accept death even after the grey ship was completed. Either she no longer desired to go West or she knew herself to be ineligible because she had already chosen the Doom of Men. The text's explicit and repeated references to her "choice" made prior to the death of Aragorn support the latter explanation, but regardless, neither explanation has anything to do with the physical availability of transport.

The only interpretation that allows the physical availability of ships in Mithlond to have been the determining factor in her reply to Aragorn is necessarily convoluted: Arwen must have been able and willing to go West up to the moment of Aragorn's death but constrained by a lack of ships, then following his death she must no longer have wished to go West even when a ship became available. This interpretation fails to account for the repeated references to her "choice" and requires that we ascribe to Arwen an unattested change of heart. Therefore we must reject it.

As such, Arwen's reply has no value in ascertaining whether or not there were still ships in Mithlond on 1 March FoA 120 or at any other time.

[edit] Tolkien's diction

Tolkien's phrasing in his description of Lórien in FoA 120, "Galadriel had passed away and Celeborn also was gone," may lend credence to Aragorn's belief that Mithlond was not abandoned as of 1 March FoA 120. Tolkien chose specifically to describe Galadriel and Celeborn's absences from the land differently, implying that they were qualitatively different in some way. Galadriel had gone into the West by this time, so the most obvious possible difference would be that Celeborn had not yet done so.

[edit] Lower bound

If Círdan's ship was only the Last Ship out of Mithlond, then a lower bound for Círdan's departure can be reckoned at several points.

  • If neither the Hobbit scholar nor Aragorn were correct, Celeborn may have left Middle-earth at any time following the departure of the White Ship, allowing "a few years" for him to grow weary of his realm in East Lórien and make a brief stop in Rivendell to bid farewell to his grandsons.
  • If the Hobbit scholar was correct that the Last Ship had not yet set sail into the West, Círdan could not have left before FoA 63.
  • If Aragorn was correct that there was still at least one ship in Mithlond, Círdan could not have left before 1 March FoA 120.

If Círdan's ship was truly the Last Ship out of Middle-earth and Legolas was the only Elf outside of Mithlond to build his own ship, Círdan could not have left prior to 1 March FoA 120. (If Elves other than Legolas built their own ships outside of Mithlond, we have no evidence to support moving the lower bound forward by any definable amount of time.)

If Tolkien's use of "gone" versus "passed away" is meant to signify that Celeborn had not yet left Middle-earth as of Arwen's arrival in Lórien, then Círdan could not have left prior to that uncertain date between 1 March and 1 Yule FoA 120.

[edit] Upper bound

If Aragorn was incorrect that there was at least one ship remaining in Mithlond upon his death, and Tolkien's use of "gone" versus "passed away" was entirely stylistic, Celeborn must have been gone from Middle-earth before 1 March FoA 120.

If Aragorn was correct, then regardless of the significance of Tolkien's diction, the matter becomes much more subject to interpretation.

The Note on the Shire Records is clearly written in the voice of the fictional JRR Tolkien, translator and transcriber of the Red Book. This pseudo-Tolkien may well be considered the narrator of other works in the Legendarium not otherwise attributed, including the tale of Amroth and Nimrodel in Unfinished Tales. This is relevant because the narrator of that tale speaks authoritatively of the drowning of Amroth and the voyage of his ship, despite these events explicitly having no witnesses in Middle-earth. This sets a precedent that Elven ships may depart without any who remain seeing them go, yet the narrator may still speak of them with authority as having done so at a particular time.

If we grant to our narrator the same authority in the Note as we do in Amroth and Nimrodel and interpret his description of the departure of Celeborn in the Note in the same way as we interpret his description of the departure of Amroth's ship in Amroth and Nimrodel, the parallel becomes obvious. The passage in the Note describing Celeborn's unseen departure refers to the story contained in the pages of Findegil's copy of the Red Book, suggesting that the departure of Celeborn was at the latest contemporaneous with that work.

If the foregoing interpretation of the Note is not accepted, then we cannot say that Celeborn and Círdan were certainly gone from Middle-earth as of any specific point in time.

[edit] Conclusions

It's certainly narratively appropriate for the last great lords of the Sindar to leave Middle-earth shortly after the death of King Elessar. After Elessar the kingship passed to Eldarion, "scion of the Eldar," whose very name reflects that "the Eldar of story and song" had become no more than a legacy inherited by Men.

Tolkien typically does not ascribe false statements to his wise and virtuous characters, except deliberately and with specific reason. Furthermore, Tolkien's choice of language in the published Lord of the Rings is generally very deliberate, evidenced by his many unpublished drafts and post-publication revisions, and though contradictions are known to have slipped in between drafts, Tolkien can seldom be accused of choosing his words in a sloppy or imprecise manner. Whether Tolkien chose to remain ambiguous or provide specifics in any given passage, the words he used were more than likely the product of conscious decision-making.

Taking at face value all statements of fact from trustworthy characters and assuming Tolkien had specific intent in his description of Lórien, it seems most reasonable that Celeborn departed Middle-earth upon the death of his granddaughter Arwen Undómiel and was long gone from the circles of the world by the time of Findegil's writing.


  1. The Silmarillion implies that Círdan's "last ship" was identical with the White Ship and states that when the bearers of the Three Rings departed on it, "an end was come for the Eldar of story and of song." In The Lord of the Rings, Círdan did not take the White Ship. For both accounts to be true, Círdan must not be counted among "the Eldar of story and of song," which is impossible given his role in the tale of Eärendil.