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Also known asDark Elves, 'Elves of the Darkness'
Created dateYears of the Trees
Home worldMiddle-earth
Base of operationsMortal lands

In the fictional universe of J. R. R. Tolkien, Moriquendi is a Quenya word meaning "Dark-folk",[1] but often translated "Elves of Darkness" or "Dark-elves".[2] This name has a long internal history.

Internal history[edit]

There existed two old elvish compounds in the Quenderin language, or Primitive Quendian with *kwendī "Elves": *kala-kwendī and *mori-kwendī, meaning the "Light-folk" and the "Dark-folk". These two words go back to the time before the Sundering of the Elves, or rather to the time of the debate among them over the invitation by the Valar to migrate to Valinor. Both words were made by the party favourable to the Vala Oromë, and referred originally to Elves who desired the Light of Valinor versus Elves who did not wish to leave Middle-earth. *Mori-kwendī had from the beginning a negative sense, implying that these Elves willingly tolerated the shadows Melkor had put upon Middle-earth.

The Quenya forms became Calaquendi and Moriquendi (a rare singular is once recorded Moriquen). In Quenya the term Calaquendi applied only to the Elves who actually lived (or had lived) in Eldamar; and the Moriquendi included all other Elves, whether or not they had participated in the March to Valinor. The Moriquendi were regarded as greatly inferior by the Calaquendi, who lived in the Light of the Two Trees, and had also received great knowledge and powers by living with the Valar and Maiar.

In Exilic Quenya the Noldor did not make much use of the terms Calaquendi or Moriquendi, which were rather offensive to the Sindar of Beleriand. A new politically correct name was coined to replace the obsolescent term Moriquendi: Úmanyar, "those not of Aman".

"Those Elves the Calaquendi call the Úmanyar, since they came never to the land of Aman and the Blessed Realm; but the Úmanyar and the Avari alike they call the Moriquendi, Elves of the Darkness, for they never beheld the Light that was before the Sun and Moon." —The Silmarillion, Chapter 3, "Of the Coming of the Elves and the Captivity of Melkor"

Concept and creation[edit]

Tom Shippey has identified the concept of Tolkien's "Light elves" and "Dark elves" as being inspired by the medieval Icelandic Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson which distinguishes between ljósálfar (light-elves) and dökkálfar (dark-elves). Snorri writes that the dark-elves are "black", svart, but simultaneously he writes of all "black-elves" being dwarves. This contradiction was first investigated in the 19th century by German linguist Jacob Grimm and Danish philosopher N. F. S. Grundtvig. Grimm noted a dualism between good and evil in the Edda's light-elves and dark-elves, like Grundtvig, but he raised the question whether three kinds of Norse elves should be assumed. Shippey suggests that these discussions must have been known to Tolkien and that "one of the starting points of his whole developed mythology was this problem in nomenclature, this apparent contradiction in ancient texts...".[3]

A first concept of Eöl the Dark Elf was written by Tolkien in 1917 in the tale The Fall of Gondolin and was eventually published in The Silmarillion by Christopher Tolkien. "Dark Elf" is, however, a personal appellation resulting from Eöl dwelling in a shaded forest. It was in the "Quenta Silmarillion" which was written in the 1930s that Tolkien first used the term Dark-elves for those elves who were lost on their wanderings towards Valinor and did not see the light of the Two Trees.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ J.R.R. Tolkien, "Quendi and Eldar", The War of the Jewels, p. 373.
  2. ^ "Moriquendi". The Encyclopedia of Arda. Mark Fisher. 15 March 2010.
  3. ^ a b Shippey, Tom (2004). "Light-elves, Dark-elves, and Others: Tolkien's Elvish Problem". Tolkien Studies. 1 (1): 1–15. doi:10.1353/tks.2004.0015.