In the very hour that Varda, the Lady of the Heavens, rekindled the bright Stars above Middle-earth, the Children of Eru awoke by the Mere of Cuiviénen, the "water of awakening". These people were the Quendi, who are called Elves, and when they came into being the first thing they perceived was the light of new Stars. So it is that, of all things, Elves love starlight best and worship Varda, whom they know as Elentári, Queen of the Stars over all Valar. And further when the new light entered the eyes of the Elves in that awakening moment it was held there, it was held there so that ever after it shone from those eyes.
Thus Eru, the One, who earthborn know as Ilúvatar, created the fairest race that ever was made and the wisest. Ilúvatar declared that Elves would have and make more beauty than any earthly creatures and they and they would posses the greatest happiness and deepest sorrow. They would be immortal and ageless, so that they would live as long as the Earth lived. They would never know sickness and pestilence, but their bodies would be like the Earth in substance and could be destroyed. They could be slain with fire or steel in war, be murdered, and even die of great grief.
Their size would be the same as that of men, who were still to be created, but Elves would be stronger in spirit and in limb, and the Elves would not grow weak with age, only wiser and more fair.
Though far lesser beings in stature and might than the God-like Valar, Elves share the nature of those powers more than the secondborn race of Men do. It is said that Elves always walk in a light that is like the glow of the Moon just below the rim of the Earth. Their hair is like spun gold or woven silver or polished jet, and starlight glimmers all about them on their hair, eyes, silken clothes and jeweled hands. There is always light on the Elven face, and the sound of their voices is various and beautiful and subtle as water. Of all their arts they excel bast in speech, song and poetry. Elves were the first people on Earth to speak with voices and no earthly creatures before them sang. And justly they call themselves the Quendi, the "speakers", for they taught the spoken arts to all races on Earth.
In the First Age of Starlight, after the Fall of Utumno and the defeat of Melkor the Dark Enemy, the Valar called the Elves to the Undying Lands of the West. This was before the Rising of the Sun and the Moon when only the stars lit Middle-earth, and the Valar wished to protect the Elves from the darkness and the lurking evil that Melkor had left behind. They also wished to have the companionship of these Fair Folk and wanted them to live in the Everlasting Light of the sacred Trees of the Valar in Valinor.
And so, in the Undying Lands, which lie beyond the seas of the West, the Valar prepared a place named Eldamar, "elvenhome", where it was foretold that in times the Elves would build cities with domes of silver, streets of gold, and stairs of crystal. The land would be bountiful with fruit and grain, and the Elves would be happy, and wealthy. The shores of Eldamar would be strewn with diamonds opals and pale crystals that the Elves themselves would work for the simple joy of making woundrous objects of beauty.
In this way the Elves were first divided, for not all the Elven people wished to leave Middle-earth and enter the Eternal Light of the Undying Lands. At the bidding of the Valar a great number went to the West, and these called themselves the Eldar, the "People of the Stars", But others stayed for the love of Starlight and were called the Avari, the "Unwilling". Though they were skilled in the ways of nature, and like their kindred were immortal, they were a lesser people. They mostly remained in eastern lands were the power of Melkor was greatest and so they dwindled.
The Eldar were also known as the people of the great journey for they had traveled westwards across the pathless lands of Middle-earth towards the Great Sea for many years. Of these Elven people there were three kindred, ruled by three kings. The first was the Vanyar, and Ingwë was their king; the second was the Noldor, with Finwë as their lord; and the third was the Teleri who were ruled by Elwë Singollo. The Vanyar and Noldor reached Belegaer, the Sea of the West long before the Teleri, and Ulmo, Lord of the Waters, came to them and set them on an island that was like a vast ship. He then drew the two hosts over the sea to the Undying Lands, to Eldamar, the place that the Valar had prepared for them.
The fate of the Teleri was different from their kindred and they separated into various races. Because the Teleri was the most numerous of all the kindred, their passage was slowest. Many turned back from the journey, and among these were the Nandor, the Laquendi, the Sindar and the Falathrim. Elwë the High King was himself lost and remained in Middle-earth. However most of the Teleri pushed westwards, taking Olwë, Elwë's brother as their king, and they reached the Great Sea. There they awaited Ulmo who at last took them to Eldamar.
So it was that most of the Eldar came to the Undying Lands in the days of Eternal Light when the Trees of the Valar lit all the lands. In that light the Elves were ennobled and grew wise and powerful beyond the imagining of those in the Mortal Lands. Their tutors were the Valar and the Maiar, from whom they learned great skills and untold knowledge.
In Eldamar, the Vanyar and the Noldor built a great city named Tirion on the hill of Túna, while on the shores the Teleri built the Haven of Swans, which in their language was Alqualondë. These cities of the Elves were the fairest in all the World and to compare them in beauty was to compare the silver Tree of Telperion to the gold Tree of Laurelin. During that time called the peace of Arda and the chaining of Melkor, the Eldar grew in body and spirit as the fruit and flowers of the Trees. They created many objects of great skill and beauty that have never been surpassed and since the Dying of the Light shall never again be achieved.
In Middle-earth the Sindar (who were called the Grey Elves), through the teaching of Melian the Maia, grew mightier than all other Elves in Mortal Lands. An enchanted kingdom with great power was made in the woods of Doriath and it was the greatest kingdom of all the Eldars that did not see the Trees of the Valar. With the help of the Dwarves of the Blue Mountains, the Sindar built Menegroth, a mighty city. It was called the Thousand Caves, for it was a city beneath the mountain. Yet it was like a forest hung with golden lanterns. Through its galleries could be heard bird song and the laughter of crystal water flowing in silver fountains. No fairer city was built by any race in Middle-earth.
These were the great Ages of the Eldar, both in Middle-earth and in the Undying Lands. Yet this time of peace was fated to end, soon after the release of Melkor. All believed Melkor to have repented of his ways, and he had given much help and wisdom to both the Valar and to the Eldar, but he had secretly instilled strife in the lands. However the Eldar grew greater still, and it was during this time that Fëanor rose among the Noldor and made a work that is named greatest of the deeds of the Elves in Arda. The genius of Fëanor wrought the Silmarils, three jewels like diamonds that shone with a flame that was a form of life itself and shone too with the living light of the Trees of the Valar. At this time the lies that Melkor had spread bore fruit, and there was strife and war. With the great spider, Ungoliant, Melkor came and destroyed the Trees, and light went from the Undying Lands for ever. During the long night that followed, Melkor stole the Silmarils and with Ungoliant fled across Helcaraxë, the "grinding ice", And returned to Middle-earth and the dark Pits of Angband, his great armory.
Fëanor swore vengeance, and against the Will of the Valar, bound the Noldor to his purpose with an oath The Noldor therefore pursued Melkor to Middle-earth. In doing this they became a cursed people, for they captured the Swan ships of the Teleri of Alqualondë and slew their Elven brothers. This was the first kinslaying among Elves. With the ships of the Teleri the Noldor of Finwë crossed Belegaer the Great Sea, while the Noldor led by Fingolfin in act of great courage dared to cross the Helcaraxë, the bridge of ice, on foot.
As the "Quenta Silmarillion" tells so began the War of the Jewels, which caused the downfall of the Noldor and Sindarin in the lands of Beleriand in Middle-earth. For the Noldor pursued Melkor, and made war on his kingdom for all the First Age of the Sun. Melkor they named Morgoth, the "Dark Enemy of the World". The war was bitter and terrible and, of those Eldar who were in Middle-earth, few survived that struggle, though great deeds were done and mighty kingdoms rose and fell. Finally the Valar and many Eldar in the Undying Lands came and, in the War of Wrath, crushed Morgoth the Enemy for ever. But in that war Beleriand was destroyed and was covered by the waves of the vast sea. The great kingdoms of that place disappeared for ever, as did the Elven cities of Menegroth, Nargothrond and Gondolin. Only one small part of Ossiriand, which was named Lindon, survived the deluge. There the last kingdom of Eldar remained in the first years of the Second Age of the Sun. Most of the Eldar who survived the War of Wrath returned West and were brought by the White ships of the Teleri to Tol Eressëa in the Bay of Eldamar. There they built the Havens of Avallónë, including a tower that sent light over the Shadowy Seas. Meanwhile those of the Secondborn race of Men who had aided the Eldar against Morgoth went to an island named Númenórë in the center of Belegaer, the Great Sea.
Little is told after that time of those Eldar in the Undying Lands, except that, though the Light of the Trees had gone, there never was anything on Middle-earth, in even its greatest days, to compare with the twilight years of Eldamar. The Eldar grew still wiser on the Blessed Shores, but none have returned to tell the tales of that place and the deeds of those people.
Yet still for a while some Eldar remained in Mortal Lands, for their doom was not fulfilled. Some who were great among the Noldor and Sindar had remained. One was Gil-Galad and he was last of all the High Kings of the Eldar in Middle-earth. His reign lasted as long as the Second Age of the Sun and his kingdom of Lindon survived until the Fourth Age. There was peace in the years of the Second Age. The Elves again prospered and wandered into the East. Some Noldor and Sindar lords joined the Silvan Elves and made themselves kingdoms: Thranduil made Greenwood the Great his Woodland Realm and Celeborn and Galadriel ruled Lothlórien, the Golden Wood. In that Age the greatest of the Eldarin colonies was Eregion, which Men named Hollin, where many of the great Noldor went. As a people they were named Gwaith-i-Mírdan, but in later days they were called the Elven-smiths. And it was to these people that Sauron the Maia, greatest servant of Morgoth came in disguise. Celebrimbor, the greatest Elven-smith of Middle-earth and grandson of Fëanor, who made the Silmarils, lived in Hollin. At his order and with his skill the Rings of Power were made, and because of them and the One Ring that Sauron forged the War of Sauron and the Elves was waged and many other wars in both that Age and the next.
The evil battles of Sauron's War were terrible. Celebrimbor perished and his lands was ruined, and Gil-Galad sent Elrond and many warriors from Lindon to the aid of the people of Eregion. Those Elves who survived the destruction of Eregion fled to Imladris (which in the Third Age was called Rivendell) and hid from the terror, and they took as their lord Elrond Half-elven. But though the Elves were not strong enough to break the power of the Dark Lord as long as he held the One Ring, their allies, the Númenóreans, had grown mighty in the West and even in the reckoning of Elves were god-like in power though they were but mortals. The Númenóreans came in their ships to Lindon and drove Sauron from the lands of the West. In a later time still, they came again, and to the amazement of the World they captured the Dark Lord himself and in chains took him to their lands.
Even in defeat the Dark Lord Sauron was cunning. Indeed by treachery he achieved what he never could in war. The "Akallabêth" tells how the Númenóreans were deceived by Sauron and terrible doom fell on them. The lands of Númenórë were swallowed up by the Sea of Belegaer, and all but a chosen few of that race vanished from the Earth for ever. The Change of the World also occurred, and at that time the Undying Lands of Valinor and Eldamar were removed from the Circles of the World. Mortal Lands became closed in on themselves and the Undying Lands were set apart. They were unreachable except by the white Elven-ships that sailed by what was named the Straight Road, which reached beyond the Spheres of the mortal World to that Undying Blessed Shore.
But in that Second Age of the Sun there was still Sauron, Lord of the Rings, to deal with. For he had escaped the Downfall of Númenór and had returned to his kingdom of Mordor. Therefore the Last Alliance of Elves and Men was made, and all who were great among the Elves and the Númenóreans made war on the Ring Lord. They broke Mordor and Barad-Dûr his tower, and took his Ring from him. He and his servants perished and went into the shadows, but Gil-Galad, the last High King of Elves in Middle-earth was also killed, as were nearly all the great lords of the Númenóreans. And again there was peace for a time and many Eldar went into the West from the Grey Havens.
There still remained a few Eldar who watched the lands that slowly the race of Men were coming to posses. In the Third age, the Eldar were but a shadow of their former presence. Lindon remained but stood mostly apart from the strife of Middle-earth, and Cirdan, lord of the Grey Havens, was held highest among them. East of the Blue Mountains the Eldar ruled only the lands of Lothlórien, the Golden Wood, Imladris, which was called Rivendell, and the Woodland Realm of Greenwood, which was renamed Mirkwood. All of these were in some way hidden and kept apart from the world of Men. The concerns of the Elves seemed largely their own in all but one matter: that of the Lord of the Rings, who came to Mordor once again and sent his servants, the Nazgûl, out over the land. Then the Elves and the descendants of the Númenóreans once more fought that which is called the War of the Ring. The One Ring in that time was destroyed. Mordor fell again, and finally, Sauron vanished for ever, as did his servants; and his hold on all evil in the World was broken. However, the power of the Ring was bound to the power of the Eldar in Mortal Lands, and, when the One Ring was unmade, the glory of the Eldar faded. The ringbearers and many of the kin was then called to the Undying Lands. In the Fourth Age in the time of dominion of Men, the last of the Eldar sailed the last ship that Cirdan of the Grey Havens made upon the Straight Road. And thus these people of the Stars passed away for ever to that place beyond the reach of mortals save in ancient tale and perhaps in dream.