Back for some quoting! First, the description of Cirdan: "Very tall he was, and his beard was long, and he was grey and old, save that his eyes were as keen as stars;..."
The Grey Havens
So the text says he was
old, not that he looked old. Case solved
Erm... ah... well, I admit, the suggestion of the description as a whole is that he looked old. And it's interesting (to me) that Tolkien uses Cirdan's eyes to speak "against age" here, so to speak, while for Galadriel and Celeborn, for example, no sign of age was upon them, unless it were in the depths of their eyes.
Although that said, a long beard and grey hair might make an otherwise youthful looking Elf look old. Tolkien noted elsewhere that Cirdan had silver hair, so perhaps silver-grey... or if that's too much of a reach... onward to the quotes!
As Gandolorin noted, early in Tolkien's world of The Book of Lost Tales,
we find at least one old looking Elf (can't recall if there's more than one at the moment). But here's some much later stuff (later 1950s) from Morgoth's Ring
. This first hails from Laws And Customs: "It might be thought that, since the Eldar do not (as Men deem) grow old in body, they may bring forth children at any time in the ages of their lives. But this is not so. For the Eldar do indeed grow older, even if slowly: the limit of their lives is the life of Arda, which though long beyond the reckoning of Men is not endless, and ages also. Moreover their body and spirit are not separated but coherent. As the weight of the years, with all their changes of desire and thought, gathers upon the spirit of the Eldar, so do the impulses and moods of their bodies change. This the Eldar mean when they speak of their spirits consuming them; and they say that ere Arda ends all the Eldalie on earth will have become as spirits invisible to mortal eyes, unless they will to be seen by some among Men into whose minds they may enter directly."
The stated examples anyway, seem to me to concern certain "inner" changes (impulses and moods) of the body, and in line with this (the following explanation in the text) is the notion that with the exercise of the power of generation, the desire soon ceases, and the mind turns to other things. Elvish fading is described a few pages later, where the body becomes "a mere memory held by the fea",
and a few pages later yet again, it's noted that the Lingerers who have faded may reveal their forms to certain Men "... and he will behold them in all their beauty."
Then there's author's note 7 on the commentary to the Athrabeth: "We are here dealing with Elvish thought at an early period, when the Eldar were still fully "physical" in bodily form. Much later, when the process (already glimpsed by Finrod) called "waning" or "fading", had become more effective, their views of the End of Arda, so far as it affected themselves, must have been modified."
Finrod had noted that the health and stature of the Eldar is diminished in his day, and he finds that the change of the Elvish body "is swifter than in the beginning."
And I think Finrod refers, at least in part, to the very long time it took for Elves to mature "in the beginning", about 3,000 Sun Years, noted in the text Aman
(the fuller maturation discussion aside for the moment). And it seems to me that any diminishing by Finrod's day would be very
relative. We are still in the First Age!
The following passage is from the text Aman
can be roughly translated "body" and "spirit"): "Therefore, after the vitality of the hroa was expended in achieving full growth, it began to weaken or grow weary. Very slowly indeed, but to all the Quendi perceptibly. For a while it would be fortified and maintained by its indwelling fea, and then its vitality would begin to ebb, and its desire for physical life and joy in it would pass even more swiftly away. Then an Elf would begin (...) to "fade", until the fea as it were consumed the hroa until it remained only in the love and memory of the spirit that had inhabited it."
However in Aman, the hroa aged only apace with the fea: "And the Eldar that remained in the Blessed Realm endured in full maturity and in undimmed power of body and spirit conjoined for ages beyond our mortal comprehension
" JRRTSo what do folks think of these later stuffs, and what they say or don't say?
Do Tolkien's Elves have a geriatric stage of sorts, before fading? Not impossible of course, but if so, how long is it? I grant that the change of maturation rate seems a physically demonstrable factor, but I also think Tolkien might have abandoned this idea (due to a very late note published in Vinyar Tengwar).
There's no specific mention of Cirdan or his look in these quotes, but that's maybe explained by the imagined author being (as I think anyway) Elfwine, an Anglo-Saxon mariner-- excepting the author's note, which is in Tolkien's voice of course.
Anyway, I don't easily accept the idea that Cirdan was much older than other Elves -- I mean I accept that much, but my point is, even if so, so what? So why not "easily" accept this? Well, as a reader I feel I was lead to believe that Tolkien's Elves are very
old but don't obviously look old... and then, in the last chapter, I was "suddenly" asked to believe that Elves do
look old at some point, and the ancient folk we've already met just aren't ancient enough. Okay, I guess. In any case, we really don't know (so far) how old Celeborn is, for example, even when checking posthumously published notes or texts.
I might go with the idea that notable hardships could cause an Elf to look older, as in Turin's tale; but I'm not sure this necessarily applies to Cirdan in some significant way, compared to other Exiles in Middle-earth. Cirdan was never imprisoned by Sauron, for instance.
So... help! Do I accept Cirdan as author-published evidence... that's some strong canon there, after all... or
do I reach and reach... cough and splutter... and say that Cirdan was
old, and looked old due to his long beard and [silvery] grey hair?
Sometimes it seems simpler to say that the physically demonstrable way of ageing -- for Elves in Middle-earth -- is fading, turning invisible, while a perfect memory of the body is retained, which will then be used by the Valar to reincarnate the body. And, that this fading will not occur in Aman. "Simpler" as in not adding some physically aged stage to all of that, I mean.
Anyway, sorry I didn't include more context from Morgoth's Ring
. And if this post is too long, see below the "yellow line of brevity" for the short version.yellow line of brevity __________________________ yellow line of brevity
I don't know