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Old 08-16-2019, 11:54 AM   #21
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Default Re: Elven maturation and population growth

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Originally Posted by whswhs View Post
Yes, exactly. Tolkien was quite clear that Middle-Earth was a pre-Christian world, where the best you could have was virtuous pagans, and the only immortality they could hope for was to be remembered.
Weeeeelllll, not really. Yes, it's a pre-Christian world, though Middle-earth was not always firmly meant to be our own Earth in a mythic past. The stories started out that way, but drifted away from it a lot.

But it's not the case that pre-Christian humans couldn't achieve the immortal souls that Christians could. In Tolkien's mythology, human spirits go somewhere unknown, while elves' spirits remain in the world to eventually be reborn or reincarnated. Some of the details of this changed over Tolkien's life, but this basic idea was always there. Elven mythology considers human death a Gift from Iluvatar, a positive feature which lets humans escape the weariness of the world in a way the elves cannot. Early humans, before they were corrupted by Morgoth, didn't become infirm with age; instead, they sensed that their time had come and would willingly flee their bodies and die — Aragorn does this at the end of his life.

There was no original sin leading to mortality in Tolkien. Humans were never immortal; they were just corrupted by Morgoth. They were taught to fear death and not accept it when it came. Humans not wanting to die cause some of the biggest problems in Middle-earth: Ar-Pharazon trying to conquer Aman; the nine kings of men who became the Ringwraiths. In Tolkien, it's unnatural for humans to live forever. Butter scraped over too much bread.
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Old 08-16-2019, 01:22 PM   #22
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Default Re: Elven maturation and population growth

The men of Numenor are longer lived than many. Not quite the biblical thousand years... but still well over 100.

Tolkiens' wearying of life with age is mirrored in many other, later authors' works.

Heather Alexander, based upon CJ Cherryh's Tree of Swords and Jewels, created Arafel's Lament - which would perfectly fit late 3rd/early 4th age Middle Earth elves....

One of my TOR campaigns, players broke out into Arafell's Lament while approaching Rivendell.
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Old 08-16-2019, 02:19 PM   #23
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Default Re: Elven maturation and population growth

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In Tolkien and every edition of D&D I know of, elves don't reach adulthood until age 100 or so. This has always struck me as extremely weird. It suggests elven education for "children" could be the equivalent of dozens of PhDs, and there's a general question of how you even roleplay someone who is 100 years old but just starting their career. On the other hand, maybe this helps explain why the elven population doesn't grow any faster, and perhaps slower, than the human population. It seems like reaching maturity as fast as humans plus no aging after that is potentially a recipe for fairly fast population growth (especially factoring magical healing and such). Thoughts? There's also the general question of what keeps the elven population under control regardless, since centuries of childbearing years for women presents its own problems regardless of whether they start having children at 20 or 120.
I struggle with this as well. The people that write medieval inspired fantasy races are not necessarily biologists by training. So, generally speaking, species get to maturity which is the point where they can reproduce, and then slowly reduce their reproductive capability. There are a number of biological factors that could keep population growth under control.

First of all, there is the low birth rate (social or biological factors) that could be applied. Some species have long gestational times (although not proportionally longer. Nobody wants to be pregnant for 8-10 years!) and the likelihood of pregnancy may be very low from one year to the next, compared to human populations. In terms of 'adulthood', beyond physical maturity, adulthood is mostly a social distinction. At what age are young members of the community considered adults? They may be biologically mature at 25 years, but not really considered thoughtful adults until 100-120 years, for example. In my campaigns, I normally rule that the Elves reach maturity a little slower-- maybe 25-30 years, but then are physically mature, but with low likelihood of having children, to account for the relatively low numbers of elven children in the community.

Alternatively, there could be social pressures keeping the birth rate low (and one considers that if even human populations can historically control the likelihood of pregnancy, the advanced cultures of the elves should be able to as well). "What? You're having another child? But your child is only 10 years old.. What are you, bunnies?" As medicine has improved the number of children per family has reduced in many cases, as the likelihood of those children surviving to adulthood has increased significantly, and it's a more efficient use of resources to concentrate on having only the two children to replace you and your partner.

I don't much like the fantasy RPG design feature where different races are 'balanced' against one another. I recognize why this is done, that nobody wants to play a character that is apparently much weaker than another one, but the source material, these races are never really balanced. Elves are frequently superior (in a game sense) to other races, for example, and from that standpoint, I normally gravitate towards games that support that-- as GURPS 4E does, being that an Elf template is 65 points, but it costs you 0 points to be a human, for example. That reflects to me the sense that 'not all races are exactly balanced from a game standpoint' and reinforces the game world. It also allows you to play a high point Elf who not only has the Elf template, but might also have many, many years to hone their skills. An elf who physically matures at 30, and is an adventurer at 100 (quite young for an elf) has had 70 years to learn art, philosophy, language, and weapons skills). An 88-year old human, on the other hand (18 to mature, and 70 years of experience) is fighting against the physical limits of what they can still accomplish at 88 years of age*

*Assuming that you are not of Dunedain blood, in which case you could be quite active at 88, but certainly aren't going to keep pace with elves throughout their lifecycle.

I've been thinking about putting together a talk/seminar for gaming conventions on biological/genetic considerations in Fantasy/Science Fiction, so this topic has kind of been on my mind at late.

Best of wishes to everyone!

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Old 08-16-2019, 02:22 PM   #24
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Default Re: Elven maturation and population growth

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David Morgan-Mar's Irregular Webcomic has a worryingly plausible version:
Hilarious, and certainly a reason that the elves would have learned to control their reproduction early.
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Old 08-16-2019, 03:09 PM   #25
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Default Re: Elven maturation and population growth

In my Ranoc setting, most of the Elves live like Ewoks: in villages built 15 to 50 feet up off the ground in the trees of a tropical/semi-tropical jungle, while farming on the ground after monsoon season ends. That can lead to a lot of young deaths. Ranoc Elves are also incredibly patient due to their long lifespans (600 years on average, as opposed to the Human 70), so starting a family while young is considered "hasty" by Allira'el society. I can see them having a few kids, waiting a century or two, then having another couple kids.


One thing Tolkien assumed was "Elves are in decline", same with Dwarves and Ents, with Men (and Hobbits, the new kids on the block, historically speaking) on the rise. This does not necessarily have to be the case in your world. As an inversion, Elves could be a younger race than Men, only now appearing on the scene, being stronger, taller, faster, smarter, handsomer, and much longer lived than Men...
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Old 08-16-2019, 03:39 PM   #26
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I remember this D&D 2e book: "The complete book of elves". There are a number of reasons that could cover your question.

If I recall correctly, Elves remain as children for about 70 years (adolescence ending at 100); I could say their minds and bodies develop way slower than humans. They could have great knowledge and dexterity, but might lack the maturity and strength to engage with adults (of any race) or the world’s hazards.

When Elves reach about 101-110, they become adults; it seems this is when they start adventuring (increasing their mortality rate). And so they settle down around age 175 (at this age they become more susceptible to disease); but let’s assume this is the time when they come back home and start pursuing less fleeting matters (such as fame and glory).

Culturally, relationships bear great weight to elves; so they (usually) are picky with their relationships. Any relationship transcending the acquaintance levels require incredible commitment. Elves rarely bond with others, and if they do, it seems it is even rarer having an Elf married. (Marriage’s purpose is reproduction).

After this, let’s say it takes about 30 years for an elf to build a relationship worth their attention. This means Elves are almost 200 years old when they start thinking about family (but what if they die or decide that marriage and children are also very mundane and fleeting?

If you take all of the above into consideration, I think it has to do with their culture.

Elven fertile season is spring (once per year); it basically means they have a lower chance to conceive children than humans (which usually have a fertile season at least once per month). Finally, Elven pregnancy lasts 2 years.
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Old 08-16-2019, 09:41 PM   #27
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Default Re: Elven maturation and population growth

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Weeeeelllll, not really. Yes, it's a pre-Christian world, though Middle-earth was not always firmly meant to be our own Earth in a mythic past. The stories started out that way, but drifted away from it a lot.

But it's not the case that pre-Christian humans couldn't achieve the immortal souls that Christians could. In Tolkien's mythology, human spirits go somewhere unknown, while elves' spirits remain in the world to eventually be reborn or reincarnated. Some of the details of this changed over Tolkien's life, but this basic idea was always there. Elven mythology considers human death a Gift from Iluvatar, a positive feature which lets humans escape the weariness of the world in a way the elves cannot. Early humans, before they were corrupted by Morgoth, didn't become infirm with age; instead, they sensed that their time had come and would willingly flee their bodies and die — Aragorn does this at the end of his life.

There was no original sin leading to mortality in Tolkien.
Though there most definitely was Original Sin. It didn't make Men mortal, but it did shorten our spans and turned Death into a fearful, frightening thing for us.

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Humans were never immortal; they were just corrupted by Morgoth. They were taught to fear death and not accept it when it came. Humans not wanting to die cause some of the biggest problems in Middle-earth: Ar-Pharazon trying to conquer Aman; the nine kings of men who became the Ringwraiths. In Tolkien, it's unnatural for humans to live forever. Butter scraped over too much bread.
More precisely, it might be natural for us to want to live longer than we do, since our original natural spans were much longer, but we wouldn't like endless life on Earth if we could ever achieve it. It would be torment (i.e. Gollum, the Ringwraiths).

But Tolkien observed at one point that even if we could achieve physical immortality in the Elven sense, if our bodies remained hale and perfect indefinitely, after a due time we would grow weary of the world and the soul would long to escape from Ea. Various bad things would follow on from that.

Note also that it's also forbidden for an Elf to seek Death (capital D). Trying to escape from Ea is just as perverse and wrong for an Elf as seeking physical immortality is for a Man. Feanor's mother Miriel was attempting something approximating this, and it was an initiating trigger for much of the nastiness of the First Age.

What the Dunedain of Numenor appear to have had, in essence, was a partial 'suspension of sentence' for Original Sin. Their commoner lifespans were centuries long, and in the early generations they didn't particularly dread death at the end of their natural spans. They might or might not wish for a little more time, but they were at near-peace with their own nature in a way rare for Men.
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Old 08-16-2019, 09:48 PM   #28
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Weeeeelllll, not really. Yes, it's a pre-Christian world, though Middle-earth was not always firmly meant to be our own Earth in a mythic past. The stories started out that way, but drifted away from it a lot.

But it's not the case that pre-Christian humans couldn't achieve the immortal souls that Christians could. In Tolkien's mythology, human spirits go somewhere unknown, while elves' spirits remain in the world to eventually be reborn or reincarnated. Some of the details of this changed over Tolkien's life, but this basic idea was always there. Elven mythology considers human death a Gift from Iluvatar, a positive feature which lets humans escape the weariness of the world in a way the elves cannot.
Note too that this point goes to the heart of a key psychological difference between the Kindreds. Original Sin haunts every human down through every Age, one way or another none of us is able to avoid it and its consequences, save by Divine grace. Elves lack that (except for the Noldor in a smaller way).

The Elves say of Men that 'we have a Darkness behind us' that haunts us. But the Elves say of themselves that they have a Darkness before them that haunts them.

What do they mean? Elves live forever, or until the end of the world, at least, either in body or as a ghost. They can be rebodied if the Valar grant this, but either way they stay in this world (Arda) or at least this universe (Ea).

Which means that every Elf, no matter when born, will still be around for the End. Only the last generations of Men will experience the coming of Antichrist or the End Times in life. Every Elf will be there...and they don't know what happens to them then, or if they continue afterward. So they have a Darkness before them that haunts them.
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Old 08-17-2019, 11:14 AM   #29
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Default Re: Elven maturation and population growth

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Heather Alexander... created Arafel's Lament
YouTube link, since I looked it up, not having heard of it.

(One "l" in "Arafel", as quoted, rather than the second mention in the post, as the double-l version will also give you a lot of hits, but not for the thing you want.)
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Old 08-17-2019, 01:53 PM   #30
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Default Re: Elven maturation and population growth

There was an Original Sin of sorts, but it wasn't a sin of Men, but rather of Morgoth, who'd been watching for the rise of the Second-Born in order to attempt to corrupt them at the source. (He succeeded in the case of most Easterlings and Southrons, but there were those who resisted his corruption and fled West seeking the Light.) Morgoth's surrounding darkness and evil was what led Men to begin fearing the dark. (In fact, in my current reread of The Silmarillion, I'm near the beginning of Akkalabeth, the tale of the downfall of Numenor to the whispers of Sauron.)

On the other hand, the Elves had their own Original Sin, in the foolish oath of Feanor that no one else should ever possess the Silmarils. That led to the Doom of Mandos, the Kinslaying, and a great many more evils descending therefrom.
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