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Old 06-01-2011, 05:20 PM   #1
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Elves and Free Will

On a current rereading of The Silmarillion, the following caught my attention,

"But to the Atani [men] he gave a new gift. ... They should have a virtue to shape their life, amid the power and chances of the world, beyond the music of the Ainur, which is as fate to all things else."

Surely, this is a description of Eru granting Man the gift of Free Will, separate and outside of destiny and fate. The implication that intrigues me, is that this gift was unique to men among all things. Does this imply that the elves do not have free will? That their fates, actions, thoughts, choices and lives are all caught up in the Music, predestined and set in stone?

They passed slowly, and the hobbits could see the starlight glimmering on their hair and in their eyes.
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Old 06-01-2011, 06:27 PM   #2
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I don't really see that as meaning that Men had free will, and Elves did not. The individual retained free will always according to the will of the One. As a race, though, the Elves were pretty much restricted to a certain course.

The Elves alone of the Children were immortal, and did not naturally die in Arda. Therefore, they really weren't suited for life in a mortal environment. I see their place as ultimately teachers of the other races (though they certainly had their share of heroic parts in shaping the history of the world), which is why they eventually had to relinquish their attachments to the mortal lands and return West, or else wither away to insignificance.

Men, on the other hand, were in a suitable place living in a world in which things "died" as they did. More importantly, the fate of the race of Men was left open-ended: no such ultimatum was given to them as was the Elves. To Men ultimately was given the power to make the world their own, and see things through to the End, taking part in things that had not been revealed to the Valar in the Music, but were the province of Eru alone.
Music alone proves the existence of God.
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Old 06-01-2011, 06:33 PM   #3
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Like Zil said, the "gift" that Men received was the ability to leave the world and detatch themselves from it upon death. I don't think it was anything connected to free will.
You passed from under darkened dome, you enter now the secret land. - Take me to Finrod's fabled home!... ~ Finrod: The Rock Opera

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Old 06-02-2011, 05:26 AM   #4
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Verlyn Flieger argues that Elves do not have free will in an 'external sense' -- that is, their choices cannot change external outcomes but may have inner consequences for them, as with Feanor choosing not to surrender the Silmarils.

I disagree; but for now I'll generally note that recent editions of Tolkien Studies not only 'debate' the matter of Elves and free will, but one essay provides previously unpublished material from JRRT himself that relates to this matter (presented by Carl Hostetter). While certainly not an attempt to restrict discussion here, I recommend the following three articles on the subject, if you can get them:

A) 'The Music and the Task: Fate and Free Will in Middle-earth'
Verlyn Flieger

B) 'Fate and Free Will'
J.R.R. Tolkien
Carl F. Hostetter

(both in volume VI)

C) 'Strange and free' —On Some Aspects of the Nature of Elves and Men
Thomas Fornet-Ponse

(volume VII)

I especially recommend B for the 'new' descriptions from JRRT!
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