"What Light Do You Dream Under?" -- An Elvish Metaphor for LGBTQIA2S+

"What Light Do You Dream Under?" -- An Elvish Metaphor for LGBTQIA2S+

To date, this is my favorite passion-project translation into Neo-Sindarin. On TikTok, I was asked how the Elves would theoretically refer to LGBTQIA2S+ folx, and it took me a month to formulate what became a sweeping metaphor that's frankly better than the labels we use in modern English! In this blog post, I'll walk you through my process, through the in-world significance and symbolism behind the Elvish, and the translation notes for the entire metaphor of "What Light Do You Dream Under?"


The Requirements:

When I first tackled this project, I had a few rules I wanted to adhere to as I decided upon a metaphor for queerness.

  1. Inclusion without Confusion -- First and foremost, I wanted all parts of the LGBTQIA2S+ community to be represented in my metaphor. There is a vastness to queer experiences, so that alone was a tall order but remained paramount.
  2. Societal Normalization -- The metaphor needed to be common vernacular within the Elvish language so queer identities and desires would be normalized, never seen as fringe or 'other'.
  3. No Dependence on Gender -- The terms we typically use like "gay" and "lesbian" automatically require the identifying speaker to adhere to a gender binary. I was determined to avoid this. As a non-binary person myself, I'm constantly frustrated by that restriction of modern labels.
  4. Answers Based on Attraction -- The only reason we ask if someone is queer is to identify whether or not we are in their realm of attraction, whether this satisfies general curiosity or if we're seeking knowledge of compatibility before pursuing the person romantically or sexually. I wanted this to be assumed up front instead of the metaphor being used to classify for identity politics. I didn't want the metaphor to be able to be used against the speaker, regardless of their answer.
  5. Allo-to-Ace Spectrum -- Modern vernacular is woefully equipped to describe one's identity on the allo-to-ace spectrum. If at all possible, I wanted my metaphor to be open to those who are various flavors of demi-sexual or asexual. Having varying levels of desire should not 'other' people from the queer community.
  6. Open to Intersex Identities -- Often ignored entirely, the intersex community deserves to have a special place in the metaphor. Again, if the metaphor is based on attraction, then personal identity becomes less important, but for those who want to project this part of their identity, they should have that option.

I know. That's a lot. But the rules were important. And I managed to stick to every single one, which is a huge accomplishment to me! Let's get to the actual finished product and then break down why it works so well!


The Metaphor:

"What light do you dream under?" -- Olthol nu 'alad van?

At first glance, this phrase probably makes little sense. But at the very least, you can see how harmless and unassuming a question it is. It's deliberately casual. There is no veiled threat that you'll be treated differently based on your answer. You're just talking about kinds of light.

It's perfect, and truthfully I'm still patting myself on the back for it.

Keep in mind, I'm working within the confines of the Elvish Language (specifically Neo-Sindarin, which is an approximation of Tolkien's Sindarin he developed for use by the Elves in Middle-Earth). It's an incomplete language with limited vocabulary, so framing a question where answers all have to do with kinds of light is ~chef's kiss~. There are words in Neo-Sindarin for sunlight, moonlight, starlight, dawn, twilight, firelight, and (with a little reconstruction) both solar and lunar eclipses. This wealth of usable vocabulary comes in handy!

Dreams are significant in Tolkien's world. Visions of the past and future are often presented through dreams. Tolkien even assigned a Heavenly Being to the concept. Irmo is the Vala of Dreams, one of the Fëantúri or beings that see to the core of the spirits of Men and Elves. Dreams guide major events in Tolkien's books, from the founding of great Elven realms in the First Age to bringing Boromir to Rivendell right on time to become part of the Fellowship of the Ring. By asking about someone's dreams, you're asking about the core of their being, their desires and motivations in all their nuance.

Light also carries a deep significance in Tolkien's world, and this is the crux of how the metaphor breaks down and works.


Connotations of Light in Middle-Earth:

The Elves in Middle-Earth are collectively called the Elennath in their own language, which translates to "Star-People". This is because when the Elves awoke, the Sun and Moon had not yet been created, so they beheld starlight before all other things. This is why the Elves have so many mentions of Elbereth or Varda in their songs; Varda is the Vala of Stars and particularly beloved by the Elves.

Mortal Men are sometimes referred to as Children of the Sun because they in turn awoke once the Sun was created. It also alludes to the way Mortals' lives burn in bright flashes that die out quickly. They are the passing days where the Elves are the constant starlight. While this particular aspect of light doesn't play into my metaphor, it's part of why the metaphor works. Light is intrinsic to the beings that are Elves and Men. As such, when someone asks you what light you dream under, there is no wrong answer. Every answer will be descriptive and laden with meaning because of the history of Elves and Men in the world as Tolkien constructed it.

The Sun (Anor) and the Moon (Ithil) hold special significance in Tolkien's world, and I'll try to explain as briefly as possible. The Sun and Moon were both created from the remnants of an older form of light in Tolkien's world: the Two Trees of Valinor. This pair of trees shined with lights that intermingled twice per cycle, so the light shifted from silver (which shone from Telperion) to gold (which shone from Laurelin) and back again. You can find the tale of the destruction of the Two Trees in The Silmarillion Chapter 8: The Darkening of Valinor. Suffice it to say that the loss of this light source was universally mourned, and the Moon and Sun were made from the final flower of Telperion and the final fruit of Laurelin respectively.

After Ithil and Anor are created with the last lights of the Two Trees, they are placed under the care of two Maiar (lesser gods), who then steer them through the sky. Ithil (the moon) is guarded by Tilion, a male Maia described as having a silver bow and being fond of hunting. Anor (the sun) is guarded by Arien, a fiery female Maia who preferred to take the form of an unfettered blaze rather than be confined in an Elf-like body. For this reason, the Moon is seen as a masculine or male celestial entity while the Sun is feminine or female. But because Maiar are not strictly given physical form, these gendered concepts are quite loose and not confined to physical anatomy. (aka The Maiar are gendered, but they are not labeled as a specific sex.)

The stars, just to contrast, are genderless in general, but specific stars or constellations are sometimes given gendered pronouns in Tolkien's works.

Shadows also come into play in the metaphor, so it's important to note that shadow is not initially viewed with a negative connotation. The Elves were born under starlight, which means shadows were the norm! Shadows only become a source of fear or foreboding after Morgoth (the big baddie in the Silmarillion) uses the darkness to obscure his monstrous creations. The shadows themselves aren't something to fear, but it is known that Morgoth and Sauron use them, so shadows are cause for vigilance. You'll see how this actually works with the metaphor as well.


The Basic Answers & Their Meanings:

So how does one answer "What light do you dream under?", and what would those answers actually mean? Let's get into it! Remember: the answerer remains genderless, so these answers apply to anyone who feels this kind of attraction or desire. Gender doesn't matter.

"I dream under moonlight." -- Olthon nu hilith.

Since the Moon is masculine, this means you are attracted to or desire those who are masculine or male.

"I dream under sunlight." -- Olthon nu 'lawar.

The Sun is feminine, so this means you are attracted to or desire those who are feminine or female.

"I dream under starlight." -- Olthon nu 'ilgalad.

There are many stars in the sky, so this applies if you consider yourself bisexual or pansexual. This answer also works for people who identify as polyamorous.

"I dream under twilight." -- Olthon nu dinnú.

This is the time of day where the sun and moon aren't necessarily in the sky, but their light is still present. This answer is for those who are attracted to any flavor of non-binary folx. If you are specifically attracted to or desire people who are genderqueer, genderfluid, androgynous, or agender, this is your answer.

"I dream under shadow." -- Olthon nu 'wath.

Shadows obscure light. This is a gateway response for anyone who identifies along the demisexual or asexual part of the spectrum. If someone answers this way, a dialogue can begin on how deep the shadows are in order to describe your particular brand of ace-ness.


Supplemental Phrases for Trans*:

Don't worry. That's not it for the metaphor! We still need to cover trans* folx and intersex folx. For this, I expand the answer to include additional phrases. These are purely optional, since you don't have to identify yourself if you don't want to. If you desire to share, however, you can add a phrase to the end of your answer that basically describes the quality of your own light.

"...like the solar eclipse." -- Olthon nu ____ suin Anor gwathrannen.

This describes your own light as being obscured sunlight, making you feminine despite what you may look like. This is for MTF transwomen.

"...like the lunar eclipse." -- Olthon nu ____ suin Ithil gwathrannen.

This describes your own light as being obscured moonlight, making you masculine despite what you may look like. This is for FTM transmen.


Supplemental Phrases for Intersex:

"...like the trees." -- Olthon nu ____ suin yrn.

For those unfamiliar with botany, trees are commonly various kinds of intersex! So if you are likening your own light to the light of the trees (especially the Two Trees of Valinor), it can be interpreted you're identifying yourself as intersex. This also aligns you with the Yavanna, the Vala whose name means "Giver of Fruits". She's the one who created the Two Trees, and I think she'd champion anyone who resembles the flora she created.

There are additional flavors you can add to this in the Elvish language if you like. I don't identify specifically which one you should choose because each intersex individual likely identifies differently. Just choose whichever fits best for you!

  • "...like the elm trees." -- ...suin elaif.
    Elm trees are cosexual, meaning they have flowers with both fully functional male and female parts. This could be interpreted as being for people who have both functioning male and female sexual anatomy.

  • "...like the beech trees." -- ...sui neldyr.
    Beech trees are monoecious, meaning they have separate male and female parts, but both are still on the same tree. This could be interpreted as being for people who have visible sex organs of one kind but secondary characteristics of another kind.

  • "...like the pine trees." -- ...sui thoen.
    Most pine trees are monoecious like the beech trees, but some pines are sub-dioecious, which means they are mostly one sex but not entirely. So if your body and identity mostly adhere to one sex more than the other but you still want to identify as intersex, you can use this phrase.


The Neo-Sindarin Breakdown:

Let's do a little linguistic dissection! The main attraction for this translation is the concept of Lenition or Soft Mutation. Neo-Sindarin takes a lot of cues from Welsh, a language Tolkien loved. One similarity is in the myriad ways Sindarin words mutate. There are vowel shifts to make words plural, which we see in all those tree words in the previous section... there are consonants that shift because they follow certain vowels... and there are consonants that shift because of grammar or syntax (the way words are organized in a sentence). This last example is called Soft Mutation or Lenition.

For the purposes of our phrases in this translation, the main rule to follow is that words following most prepositions end up leniting or mutating some other way. So when we say we dream under any kind of light, the kind of light follows the preposition "under" and mutates:

English Word

Neo-Sindarin Word

Lenited Word



















If you were to answer the question "What light do you dream under?" with a single word instead of a full sentence, you would answer with the original, unmutated Neo-Sindarin words listed above. But in a full sentence, when these words are placed after the preposition for "under", we use the Lenited versions.

We also lenit the word for "what" (man) because it is a direct object, which is one of the syntax triggers for Lenition. So man mutates to van.

Beyond that, the translation is actually pretty straightforward. The verb "to dream" is oltho-. In the question, we add the suffix -l to denote the second-person subject (i.e. "you dream"), and in the answer, we use the first-person suffix -n. This is where Olthol and Olthon come from, meaning "you dream" and "I dream" respectively.

 We are left with Olthol nu 'alad van?, which translates directly to "Dream-you under light what?" And the possible response Olthon nu 'ilgalad., which is "Dream-I under starlight."

The supplemental phrases all use the preposition suin "like the" to add a description of our own light for trans* or intersex individuals. Because suin ends with an "n", it triggers Nasal Mutation, which typically messes with that ending "n" and the beginning consonant of the word that follows. Fortunately for us, all of our responses begin either with vowels (which never mutate) or with consonants that drop the initial "n" but don't mutate themselves (e.g. "n", "th", or "f"). So the one place you see the mutation is where the "n" disappears in sui thoen or sui neldyr. The point of all mutations is to smooth out phrases as they're spoken, so eliminating the "n" in those cases makes it easier to say!


Common Q & A:

What if I'm non-binary?

First, there's a basic assumption I work under for all answers: Elves are non-binary by default. This is entirely my own fan-created theory. And I blame Peter Jackson and his design team for making the Elves so wonderfully androgynous in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movie trilogies. So if all Elves are non-binary by default, then the answers to "What light do you dream under?" don't require an Elf to identify their gender. Their gender is irrelevant; what matters is their desires, the proverbial light they seek to dream under. So if you're any flavor of trans* or non-binary, you don't have to identify yourself at all if you don't want to.

What if I'm aromantic?

The metaphor addresses what someone is attracted to or what energy they are drawn to. The manner of their proverbial dreams would be topic for further discussion. So precisely what you metaphorically dream about is entirely individualistic. In this way, the metaphor works whether you're seeking something super casual, seeking a non-sexual life-mate, or seeking a friend-with-benefits. Because dreaming doesn't necessarily mean commitment, aromantic folx are welcome. Because dreaming doesn't necessarily mean having sex, asexual folx are also welcome. The vagueness works in our favor here, and specific desires would be hashed out with further conversation if the people talking to each other are compatible. This metaphor just gives a basis for that compatibility to be determined through superficial conversation. What is then done with that knowledge is up to you and whomever you're talking to!


If you have any other questions, please leave a comment! I'd be happy to provide further explanation or find a way to include any part of the queer spectrum I may have missed! I hope you love this translation, and if you want to support my crazy way of turning things into Elvish, please take a look at my store, where I have merch of this phrase available!

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