2. The Early History of the Elves
Elves were a race apart from Men; beautiful, intelligent, and heavily focused on the arts and nature, they were given the gift of immortality, and so could not die from old age. Men, on the other hand, would be given the gift of mortality, and after a short time they died and departed from the world to a fate unknown.
Tolkien's myth of creation follows much the same pattern as the story told by the Bible: at first there is God, Eru, and His angels, the Ainur; at Eru's will, a world is created, and He gives selected Ainur, called the Valar, free reign to design a land that will be fit for His children, the Elves and Men. However, just as in the Bible there is Lucifer, in this new world there is Melkor, an Ainu gone bad out of jealousy and spite. Melkor proceeds to destroy things as the rest of the Valar attempt to build a perfect world, and in the end they are driven to frustration. The good Valar create for themselves a haven in the West, which they call Aman, and they withdraw there, allowing Melkor free reign over the rest of the land, now deemed Middle-Earth, or Arda. And there was endless twilight over all of Middle-Earth, for the Sun and Moon had not yet been created (Silmarillion, Ainulindale). Only the stars provided any light in the sky, and so they became the beloved light of the Elves.
Finally it comes to pass that the Firstborn 'awaken' upon this new created world. When the Valar hear of this, they determine to go to war with Melkor, although they know they will greatly alter the shape of the world with their battles. They know they must defeat Melkor before he can take the Elves and twist them to his evil purpose (although Melkor yet was able to, for when some fled before the Valar, he captured them and mutilated them in body and spirit, creating Orcs, according to the theory presented in The Silmarillion). So the Valar rode out to war, and they soundly defeated Melkor and threw him into the prison of the Valar.
Now amongst the Valar there rose a debate over the fate of Elves; should they be allowed to wander Middle-Earth freely, or should they be bid to live in Aman with the gods? In the end, the Valar chose to send out one of their number to meet the first of the Elves and bid them live in Aman. The one sent is Oromë, the Hunter, for he was the first to see and be enchanted by the Elves, who were fair in appearance and sturdy of mind and spirit. But the Elves were afraid, not understanding Oromë's great power and remembering only the wrath of the Valar as they battled with Melkor, and so they instead sent three ambassadors with Oromë to Aman to see the West and tell them what they thought. These three Elves were Ingwë, Finwë, and Elwë, and afterwards they became leaders of their people (Silmarillion, Coming of the Elves).
Ingwë, Finwë, and Elwë were amazed by the beauty of the land of the Valar, and they returned to their people joyful with the news. Most of the Elves were swayed to come to Aman, but some were not; those that came with Oromë on the journey to Aman were called the Eldar, and those that refused were called Avari, the Unwilling (Silmarillion, Coming of the Elves). The Elves that came with Oromë could be broken down into three groups: those that followed Ingwë, the Vanyar; those that followed Finwë, the Noldor, and those that followed Elwë and his brother Olwë, the Teleri (Silmarillion, Coming of the Elves). It is on this last group that we will now concentrate.