Life, Death, and Aging of Elves

Life, Death, and Aging of Elves

One thing I cover with relative frequency in my online content is Elves' ages, calculating the objective and subjective ages for various prominent Elves in The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion according to information gleaned from Tolkien's notes. Here's a general overview of those notes as outlined in The Nature of Middle-Earth (compiled and edited by Carl Hostetter). Detailed breakdowns for a few Elves I get frequent questions about will be in a separate blog post. Warning: there's a lot of math here! You can also scroll to the bottom for a tl;dr conversion list.


The first thing to note when approaching this topic in Tolkien's world is the difference between objective (quantifiable) age and subjective (perceived) age. Objective Age is relatively straightforward, since it's simply a matter of counting Mortal Years and then converting them over to Elvish yéni (great-years). Subjective Age becomes far more complicated, because Elves age differently than Mortal Men in several ways. Let's cover the former so we can quickly move on to the more interesting latter!


Objective Elven Age:

Tolkien set up the Elves to commonly use what is called the duodecimal system. This means Elves like to count things in 12s instead of multiples of 10 (aka the decimal system or Base-10 we commonly use in our world). This affinity toward multiples of 12 is apparent in the conversion ratio used for Mortal Years (coranari/löar - Quenya for "solar-rounds"/"growths") and Elvish Yéni (Quenya for "great-years"). We see these terms used in the Calendar of Imladris in Appendix D of The Lord of the Rings.

1 Yén = 144 Coranari/Löar (Mortal Years)

So if an Elf is 6,192 MY old, that converts to 43 yéni. That does not mean they are the equivalent of a 43-year-old Mortal; it's just the unit in which they measure time as a long-lived race.

This ratio of 1:144 carries across units as well, so 1 Elvish Day = 144 Mortal Days, for example. This is how I calculated the hilarious factoid that the entirety of the plot of Lord of the Rings for Legolas took place in the equivalent of an "Elvish Weekend". (Gollum escapes Mirkwood June 20th, TA 3018; the Ring is destroyed March 25th, TA 3019; total time 278 days. 2 "Elvish Days" would be 288 days. Ta-da!)


Subjective Elven Age:

This is where things get sticky. Even in the confines of The Nature of Middle-Earth's notes, we see that Tolkien hardcore STRUGGLED with the numbers, massaging them several different ways to try to backward manufacture a system that would work for the Elves of the First Age in particular. (The events in the 1st Age all occurred in the relatively short period of just 590 MY, so Elves born in Beleriand complicated things!)

To the best of my knowledge, here is what was generally settled upon:

Growth Years vs Life Years:

Elves split their lives into three main sections: Growth, Youth, and Fading. Growth is measured in "Growth Years" while the rest of an Elf's life is measured in "Life Years".

The Quenya terms the Elves use to distinguish these two measurements are olmen (pl olmendi) and coimen (pl coimendi). Note the multiples of 12.

olmen (growth-year) = 12 MY
coimen (life-year) = 144 MY = 1 yén

The time from conception to birth is 3/4 of a Growth Year. Since 1 Growth Year is 12 MY, this makes gestation (aka colbamarië in Quenya) last the equivalent of 9 MY. (Yes, that's a long time, but it's far better than Tolkien's original idea of 3/4 of an entire yén, which would have been 108 MY. Fuckin' YIKES. Hard pass, Tolkien.)

Another note about conception is that it is a conscious, willful act for the Elves. Pregnancies are never accidental for Elves; they are intentional. Even if both parties haven't formally discussed it prior to conception, the conception itself can only happen when both Elves put their minds and spirits into the act, not just their bodies. We'll revisit this concept in the Fading section.



The Growth period of an Elf's life takes them from birth to maturity. Maturity (or quantolië in Quenya) varies. Because of course it can't be simple; thanks Tolkien. For female Elves, Maturity is generally reached after 18 olmendi (growth-years). For male Elves, it's 24 olmendi. This is significant because the growth-years and life-years are measured differently.

in Aman -- 24 olmendi = 24 x 12 = 288 löar (MY)
in Aman -- 18 olmendi = 18 x 12 = 216 löar (MY)

Tolkien seemed to follow these guidelines for Elves growing up in Valinor. For Elves in Middle-Earth, the numbers are a bit different. Tolkien decided Elves automatically age faster when outside "the domes of Varda", so Elves born in Middle-Earth (and those who leave Valinor before they're fully mature) grow up at a ratio of 1:10 rather than the 1:12 ratio you see above. He also generalized the age of Maturity to 20 for all Elves rather than splitting hairs based on sex.

♂/♀ in Middle-Earth -- 20 quickened olmendi = 20 x 10 = 200 löar (MY)

Essentially, regardless of location, Elves grow up a lot faster than they generally age after that. (Remember, 288 MY is just 2 yéni!)



The youth or vinyarë for an Elf is generally defined as 72 coimendi long (after Maturity is reached). This is the period where an Elf has reached full physical maturity and remains in peak condition or full youthful vigor.

72 coimendi = 72 x 144 = 10,368 löar (MY)

In more Elvish terms, the period is defined by the hröa (body) dominating the balance with the fëa (spirit). As Elves age, the hröa is slowly overtaken by the fëa. The time when the fëa takes control over the hröa marks the end of Youth and the beginning of Fading.

Elves in Aman: In the midst of the powerful magic of the Valar, Elves would grow to maturity and then stay indefinitely physically ageless while they remained there. Elves like Finarfin---who were born in Aman and never left---likely appear to be in their mid-to-late-twenties. Forever. They would still count their objective age using yéni like any other Elf, but it would just be a number without much significance because their Youth never truly ends while in Aman.

Elves in Middle-Earth: Just like in the Growth period, Elves in Middle-Earth age at a quickened pace. While Elves in Aman enjoy the ratio of 1:144, Middle-Earth Elves are quickened to 1:100 during the majority of history in Tolkien's world.

(After the Ring is destroyed in The Lord of the Rings, any remaining Elves in Middle-Earth are quickened to 1:72, and then 1:48 at an unspecified later time. This is why Elves are said to fade into mere spirits if they remained in Middle-Earth into the time of the Dominion of Men. Their fëar overtake their hröar far faster if they stay instead of sailing West.)


Elves' Ages at End of Youth:

♂ in Aman -- "Age 96" -- 24 olmendi + 72 coimendi = (24 x 12) + (72 x 144) = 10,656 löar (MY)
♀ in Aman -- "Age 90" -- 18 olmendi + 72 coimendi = (18 x 12) + (72 x 144) = 10,584 löar (MY)

♂/♀ in Middle-Earth -- 20 quickened olmendi + 72 quickened coimendi = (20 x 10) + (72 x 100) = 7,400 löar (MY)


As stated before, Fading is a general term for when an Elf's spirit overtakes their body. This doesn't mean they cease to physically exist, but it means their physical bodies begin to weaken and they devote their time to cerebral rather than bodily pursuits. It's exceedingly rare for Elves in their Fading period to have children, but Tolkien states that it's not out of an inability to do so. Elves can enjoy sex throughout their lives, but the desire for physical bearing of children generally wanes with time, so they simply won't devote the necessary power of their mind, body, and spirit to conceive.

When Elves reach their Fading phase of life, the pull to leave Middle-Earth for the Undying Lands of Valinor/Aman becomes much stronger. Elves can also be pushed toward this state faster by a few means:

  • Helcaraxë -- Any Elf who had to travel over the Grinding Ice on their way to Beleriand was aged an extra 2 coimendi.

  • Trauma -- Elves like Gwindor---who was captured and tortured by Morgoth/Sauron for more than a decade---are aged faster by their life experiences. The more traumatic, the more they age; the more they age, the faster their bodies relinquish control to their spirits. This is also seen in Celebrían (Arwen's mother), who never fully recovered from an Orc attack in the Third Age and sailed West to avoid succumbing to this traumatic kind of aging.

  • Children -- A typical child (conception, birth, rearing, etc) ages a male Elf an extra coimen and a female Elf an extra 2 coimendi. Special children like Fëanor and Arwen age Elves even more. Fëanor's mother Míriel never recovered and gave up her body completely.

  • Grief -- The loss of a close family member (or several) or a wedded mate can also push an Elf toward their Fading or death. Again, the level of trauma would vary, thus so would the impact.



Elves are not completely immortal. They are slow to age, don't grow physically ill, and are impervious to the elements (otherwise the Elves on the Helcaraxë wouldn't have survived, nor would Maedhros have lasted hanging on the precipice of Thangorodrim). But they, of course, can be killed through most conventional means.

Elves do not pass away of old age. BUT... they can willingly give up their bodies under extreme circumstances. Then again, this is what the Númenoreans and their descendants tended to do, Aragorn included! When they reached advanced age, Tolkien notes that they tended to let go of life rather than cling to it and go senile, which Tolkien implies was a logical progression for Mortal minds after aging past a certain point. Likewise, Arwen chose to be counted as a Mortal despite her primarily Elvish blood, and she willfully relinquished her body closely following the death of Aragorn. Some might call this "death by grief", but I personally feel that's an overly romanticized fandom concept.

In any case, the final fate of the Elves as the Firstborn Children of Ilúvatar is to last while the world lasts, which means that if their bodies are slain or given up under these extreme circumstances, their spirits do not perish but transfer to the Halls of Mandos, where they are allowed to rest and heal from their traumas under the care of Námo and his Maiar. Eventually, they are reborn into new Elvish bodies in Aman. In this way, their fëar are immortal even if their hröar are not.




Overall Objective Elf Age Ratio = 1:144 (1 yén = 144 Mortal Years)
 = 9 Mortal Years (MY)
Growth is measured in olmendi (growth-years)

olmen = 12 MY in Aman
1 quickened olmen = 10 MY in Middle-Earth
♂ Maturity = 24 olmendi = 288 MY in Aman
♀ Maturity = 18 olmendi = 216 MY in Aman

♂/♀ Maturity = 20 quickened olmendi = 200 MY in Middle-Earth
Half-Elves are an exception (see Aging of Half-Elves blog post)

Youth is measured in coimendi (life-years)

coimen = 1 yén (Elvish "long-year") = 144 MY
Youth lasts 72 coimendi after Maturity is reached (aka until Age ♂96/♀90)
Coimendi are also quickened in Middle-Earth. 1:100 instead of the 1:144 ratio used in Aman.

Fading can last indefinitely. Spirit takes prevalence over body.

Trauma, grief, and children all age Elves faster.

Death = Elves can be slain or willfully give up their bodies.

Their spirits never die and are reincarnated in Valinor if their bodies perish.

More Posts

Explore Elf-Boi Offerings

Essential Oil Blends

From Potions Class to the vast realms of Middle-Earth, explore exquisite essential oil blends that will wisk away your senses.

Geeky ★ Niche ★ Merch

Don't miss all the fantastic merch! Follow this link to see the different series, and then explore the links to products on my (Tee)Spring store!

Custom Starscapes

We all shine with our unique lights. Order a custom starscape to show off the hues of your own galaxy and light up your accessories!