Tyalië Eldaliéva · The Games of the Elven-Folk

Translator’s Note

This text, by Elrist ???endil (probably Aewendil—the manuscript is damaged), was originally written in Sindarin (and titled in Quenya, as above). I've prepared this English translation.

There are a few cases where I found I couldn't convey the full meaning of the original with just a free translation, and in those cases I've noted the original phrasing in brackets. If you know Sindarin you may find this illuminating, I don't know. For example, the pun on haew habit and (i) haew the poison just doesn't have a good English translation, so I've left the original Sindarin in.

Another difficult translation is vision for fanwos—an apparition or image from a dream, which Elrist mentions trying to recover through the games. I suspect that this is the very same idea conveyed by the word naru from which I took my name (and which I should really write about at some point). The briefest way I can explain naru is to mention a couple related terms: aesthetic, as it's used on the modern Web (as in the naturecore aesthetic) and the Latin genius loci.

However, the elephant in the room as far as translation goes is really the word telien (pl. telin) which in other texts is variously translated play, sport, game. Its Quenya cognate tyalië, used in the title, originally meant mirth, though it seems likely that Elrist is using Quenya merely for its archaic effect, not to convey a different shade of meaning. I've translated both words as game throughout.

However, I am aware that this translation poses some risk of confusing readers, and indeed mirth may be the more fitting translation of the whole concept (though there are many points in the text where mirth wouldn't make sense grammatically). We tend to think of games as having a goal, a finite set of players, an endpoint, etc. But it's clear from context that elves (or at least, Elrist) doesn't think of telin this way. A game, in his worldview, can last a moment or a hundred years; players can drop in and out; and above all there is no goal except the playing. And this last point is, I think, why Elrist remains skeptical of the value of his own work, from beginning to end. An analogue from our own time might be someone setting out to write an instruction manual for Christmas. Amid the meticulous documentation of cookie recipes, carols, and tree-decorating practices, it would be hard not to think that something essential had been lost in the writing down.

Still, I think Elrist's work has merit. He was writing in the Sixth Age, as near as I can place it, so his audience would have been the elven-folk who remained in Middle-earth, and whose majesty had been fading since the end of the Third Age with the waning of the three rings. The games he discusses thus have the curious property, both tragic and delightful, that they require little or no magic beyond what mortals of our time are capable of. I venture to say that we, who perhaps fall into the category of younger and quicker folk that Elrist mentions, could play them if we chose—though Elrist himself might chuckle at the thought.

—Naru, October 2020

Minnad · Introduction

It is with some reluctance that I take up my pen once again to write on the subject of elvish games. I do not doubt that some will call such an undertaking impossible, while others will say it is not necessary. Indeed, it once would have been wisdom to say so, for long ago the games of the Elves were part of the growing life of the Earth, innumerable as the leaves—and nowhere twice the same. They were never written down.

But alas, that world is no more. The games have been forgotten, or repeated only as hollow rituals, echoes in search of a sound. For in trying to evoke those elder days, we have often erred: instead of playing the games, we have tried to use them to seek something else: the remembered vision [fanwos] of the past. But that cannot work: the games are not symbols that point to something else, nor magic spells that conjure into existence that which was lost. They are the stuff of life itself: the real thing.

And therein lies our dilemma. For the games can only work when we play them without seeking something beyond them—that is, when we play them without desire of recompense. But now that the games are no longer living, growing things, the fact is that we do not play them unless we are seeking.

I do not have a certain answer to this dilemma. But I suspect that the way out may be through habit [haew]. For if we can break free of our seeking-addiction [i haew—a pun between habit and poison] and make these games our habit [i chaew], we may be able to play them without intent [ben-inn], even as sometimes we walk or breathe. If we do that, we may one day wake up and find ourselves in the middle of a game, and then, having begun without the poison [i haew] of seeking, we can begin truly to play as we once did.

I myself may be too old for this escape: eighty long years [ennîn, or 144-year cycles] have passed my dwelling in these middle lands, and at such an age one's habit does not change readily. It is my hope that the younger and quicker folk will be the ones to relight the lamps: to rekindle the games among us, so that they may soon truly live once again.

I Thelin · The Games

Linn a Thûl · Song and Breath

Limmidh · Song and Breath