Eru has only one name -The One. But the elves gave him another: Illuvitar – the creator.
Eru had only ever intended the to be two “sentient” species on middle Earth – elves and men, also known as the firstborn and the second born, and together known as the children of Illuvitar. However there are four other sentient beings in Tolkien’s writings and only two are given a satisfactory explanation… Ents and dwarves.
Dwarves were, in fact, created before the elves awoke. To that end they are the oldest of the sentient species of Middle Earth. This goes a long way to explaining the traditional dwarf /elf mistrust which runs throughout Tolkien’s writings but is by no means the whole story. However, although dwarves were created before elves, they only awoke after both elves and men. The story goes something like this:
Although Eru kept promising that his children would soon awake, some of the Valar started to get impatient. One of them in particular, Aule, was so enraptured by the skills he had learned on this world that he longed to teach them to other beings. So he created, off his own back, dwarves.
However before the dwarves awoke Eru knew of this plan and visited Aule. He saw that he dwarves were generally “ugly” but he also saw that they had been created out of love. So he pronounced that dwarves would be born, but only after the children of lluvitar.
Compare, if you like, to Melkor’s musical rebellion which was born more out of ego than love.
The other explained sentient species are the Ents. Ents are trees, but trees which were woken to conciousness by the elves before the Valar made “first contact” with them. Long lived though ents are, theirs’ is just another tale of tragedy which Tolkien weaves into his world. After all, all unasked for, they were woken to conciousness, had flourishing relationships with the now lost Entwives, and tried to awaken other trees, commonly called Huorns. But as the elves fade, so the Ents do. Ultimately, they are destined to be come trees again, and nothing more.
That leaves orcs/goblins and hobbits. There are many other creatures of “evil” which come out of the pits of Angband (we’Il get there another time) such as dragons, trolls etc. All of these are described as perversions of nature and the implication is that orcs are a perversion of elves, although this is never categorically stated.
No-one knows where hobbits came from, and perhaps that’s just part of their magic :) However it’s worth noting that without Melkor’s intervention no sentient creatures other than elves and men would have existed.
So, on to the children of Illuvitar themselves.
The elves, the firstborn, awoke by a lake under the stars, on Middle Earth. There was no sun and moon then, so stars it had to be. The Valar found them on a hunting expedition. They immediately fell in love with these long promised firstborn of Illuvitar and asked them to come back to Valinor with them.
Three elven ambassadors went to Valinor (including Thingol, whom we’ll return to later) and reported back. Some elves chose to travel to Valinor, some decided against. This was the first sundering of the elves.
After a long and arduous journey the elves reach an area called Beleriand. This is on the westernmost coast of middle Earth. The Valar tell the elves that in order to get to Valinor they have to build their own ships and sail westwards. This is another sundering of the elves because some choose to put down roots in Beleriand whilst others start making ships.
Eventually, those who have decided to make the voyage from Middle Earth reach Valinor. Of course, they’re not actually permitted to live in Valinor because that’s the “home of the Gods”. So they’re allowed to settle on the eastern seaboard with an open invitation to visit as and when they want. Similarly there is an open invitation to elves in Middle Earth to sail over to Valinor as and when they will.
As for the genesis of men, far less is told. They certainly didn’t attract much attention from the Valar and when they did it was usually distainful. Afterall, the elves were wise and bright and bonny and merry, whilst men were, well, men.
Because he knew being second born was no where near as “glamorous” as being first born , Eru both cursed and blessed his children. To the elves he gave immortality, that they would never sicken or die but would live on unless they were killed by an outside agent (a sword in the guts in other words). Even in death there was no escape from the world because dead elves go to the Halls of Mandos. Mandos is one of the Valar and his halls are within but totally separate to Valinor. So he’s almost a Hades character, except it is expictly stated that there will be a new world one day, and when the time is right those elves in the Halls of Mandos will get reborn there.
Men get almost the precise opposite, They can sicken and die and their lives – even the Numenorian kings (yes we’ll get there too) – are but a melting snowflake compared to the longevity of elves. But man, when he’s dead, is dead. None of this hanging around in the Halls of Mandos stuff. Staight on to the next destination, which is never even partially discussed.
So, which would you go for: Man or Elf? Tough call really, but Tolkien is quite definite in his opinion – Man.
This, because Tolkien’s story isn’t just the tradegy of the elves, is expressed through romance and in particular the story of Beren and Luthien. Suffice to say this is a far more powerful version of the Aragorn / Arwen story most people are familiar with. It’s also worth noting that it’s man’s concept of time which drives the whole story.
Final Nerd Comment: did you know Tolkien invented the word “dwarves “? ‘Tis true! According to the Wierd and Wonderful laws of English if a noun ends in “f” and has a long vowel before it, you just add an “s” for the plural … eg. wharf → wharfs. But if it has a short vowel the “f” is replacedby “ves”. eg. shelf→ shelves. Until Tolkien’s writing the plural for dwarf was always dwarfs. Quite why he insisted on dwarves consistently no-one knows, but I’ll bet there’s a whole heap more warves out there now :)