While most of the Lord of the Rings action happens on Middle Earth, it is only one of the many lands of Arda, the “Earth” created by Tolkien. We hear of a few of the other continents throughout the story, but perhaps the most compelling is the Undying Lands.
The Undying Lands is a realm west of Middle-Earth consisting of the continent of Aman and the island of Tol Eressëa. Also known as Valinor, the Undying Lands are inhabited by immortal beings such as Valar, Maia, and Elves. Only these beings are permitted to live here, with the expectation of the ringbearers Bilbo and Frodo.
The Undying Lands are mentioned several times in the Lord of the trilogy. They are the lands to which the Elves travel at the end of the Return of the King, with Bilbo and Frodo.
The Undying Lands are further explored in Tolkien’s other works. Sam and Gimli are also invited to the Undying Lands due to their role in the ring quest. They later traveled there with Legolas as their guide.
The Location of the Undying Lands
The continent of Aman and the island of Tol Eressëa are located to the west of Middle Earth, separated by the great sea Belegaer. It is a long, crescent moon-shaped continent that stretches along the world’s western edge between the two poles.
On its far west coast, Aman faces Ekkaia, the Encircling Sea, which Tolkien imaged marked the edges of his world. The continent’s northernmost point is very close to the north-western tip of Middle Earth, but the two lands are separated by a frozen region of crashing ice known as the Helcaraxe.
Unlike he did for Middle Earth, Tolkien never created any detailed maps of Aman. Karen Wynn Fonstad made the maps based on some rough sketches Tolkien made of Arda and its landmasses and the information about Aman given in the Legendarium – Tolkien’s collection of mythopoetic writings.
Who Lives in the Undying Lands?
The Undying Lands are principally the home of the Ainur, a race of demigods primarily responsible for shaping the world – the Ainur include both the Valar and the Maiar. The Ainur allow immortal beings, such as the Elves, to live there alongside them. Mortals are blocked from sailing to Aman, with exceptions made for a few, such as the ringbearers.
Aman is also often called Valinor, after the Valar. These demigods existed before creation. A group of them decided to descend on Arda when it was still in its nascent form to complete its development.
While most of the Valar are benevolent, Melkor, also known as Morgoth, represents darker forces. While the other Valar tried to create beauty and balance within the world, Melkor intentionally corrupted it.
The Valar initially settled on the Isle of Almaren, an island in the middle of Arda, to do their work. However, it was destroyed due to their ongoing conflict with Melkor. As a result, the Valar withdrew to Aman and created a new home for themselves there.
Also, read our guide on who the Valar are in The Lord of the Rings.
Another group of beings that descended to Arna with the Valar and then accompanied them to Aman are the Maiar. They are lesser than the Valar, and each is attached to an individual Vala, but they are still powerful. Collectively the Valar and the Maiar as known as the Ainur.
The Maiar are important because some of them were sent to Middle Earth to help protect the world. Gandalf and Saruman number among them.
As life continued to flourish on Arna, the Elves eventually emerged on the westernmost continent of Middle Earth known as Cuivienen. After being discovered by the Valar, the Valar invited them to live on the continent of Aman.
This invitation split the race of Elves into two. Those who accepted the summons of the Valar became known as the Eldar. Those who did not became known as the Avari.
However, some of the Eldar still dwell in Middle Earth. Some never made it to Aman, as the journey was treacherous. The clans that did were the Vanyar, Noldor, and Teleri. They became collectively known as Calaquendi. Also, later a group of Noldor returned to Middle Earth from Aman.
The Geography of the Undying Lands
The Valar came to Aman after their previous home was destroyed, so they had reason to build some fortifications. They constructed the mountain range of the Pelori along Aman’s eastern border to protect the continent and established their settlement in the west, beyond the range.
Their principal city is called Valmar. On a large green mound just to the west of the city were the Two Trees of Valinor, Telperion (white tree), and Laurelin (golden). The Vala Yavanna created these to bring light to Aman.
Here is a teaser image of Valmar and the Two Trees in Valinor which was released by Amazon for The Lord of the Rings TV series:
The Elves settled in the lands on the eastern side of the Pelori mountain range. Their principal port city is called Alqualonde, which means Haven of Swans. It has mansions of pearls, and to enter the harbor, you pass beneath a natural rock arch to a beach strewn with gems.
They also established a city for themselves just off the west coast of Aman on an island called Tol Eressea that sits in the Bay of Eldamar.
They have yet another city at the Pelori mountain pass called Tirion. It faces the Two Trees and the Starlit Seas. It has a central square at the top of a hill and a tower called Mindon Eldalieva, which holds a beacon visible for as far away as the isles in the east.
A Brief History of the Undying Lands
The Settlement of Aman
The history of the Undying Lands begins when the Valar settle there after the destruction of their previous home. They lived there alone for more than 10,000 years until one of the Valar discovered the Elves.
This discovery urged the Valar to finally deal with Melkor, as they saw the threat that he posed to the Elves. He was defeated and brought back to Aman as a prisoner.
After this, the Valar invited the Elves to join them on Aman. Some of the Elves, which then became known as the Eldar, chose to join them.
The Destruction of the Two Trees
Melkor only remained in prison for around 3,000 years, after which he was released. Soon after his release, Melkor and Ungoliant destroyed the Two Trees of Valinor that bring to Arda, plunging the continent into darkness.
This caused chaos, especially since one of the Noldor Elves, Feanor, had captured some of the light of the Two Trees in two jewels called the Silmarils. He refused to hand over the jewels to restore light in the land, and then they were stolen by Melkor.
Desperate to retrieve his treasures, Feanor assembled an army of Noldor. They killed many of the Teleri kin and stole their ships to sail to Middle Earth in pursuit.
When the Two Trees died, they left behind a silver flower and a golden fruit, and these were set aloft in the sky to create the sun and the moon. It is said that the first Men awoke in Arna when the sun first rose.
At this time, the Valar also increased the fortifications of Aman. They raised the Pelori mountains to even greater heights and left open only one small passage. They also set a chain of dark rocks in the Great Sea to enchant mariners and divert them.
The Defeat of Melkor
While the Valar were fortified on Aman, Melkor, known as Morgoth, was causing trouble elsewhere. Eventually, many beings of Middle Earth tried to reach Valinor to ask the Valar for help in the fight against Morgoth.
Eventually, the half-Elf half-Man Earendil was able to reach their shores with the assistance of a Silmaril. When he arrived, he prayed to the Valar to show mercy on the Men and Elves of Middle Earth and forgive the Noldor Elves who had abandoned Aman and help them.
The Valar agreed and captured Melkor again. This time they cast him out of the world through the Door of Night, banishing him to the Void beyond.
Attack on Aman
The main villain from the Lord of the Rings, Sauron, apprenticed himself to Melkor and came into his own after his master was expelled.
An island off the east coast of Aman, within sight of Tol Eressea, was occupied by Men after the sun’s rising. These Men were the Dunedain and became known as the Men of Numenor.
These Men were not allowed to sail to Aman, but the Elves would often visit them. It was not long before the Men became jealous. After a time, Sauron made his way to this island and began corrupting these Men. He convinced them to launch an assault on Aman and capture it for themselves.
The Numenor made it as far as the city of Tirion. But then the Valar used their powers to bury the army alive and trap them beneath the earth, where legend says they will remain until the end of the world.
They also sank the island of the Numenor, forcing the remaining Dunedain to Middle Earth. To ensure that nothing similar would happen again, they also removed Aman from the plane of mortal existence. Mortal mariners traveling west will find only barren lands, while immortals can still navigate the Blessed Realm.
The Undying Lands in the Lord of the Rings
The Valar and Aman had already removed themselves from the mortal realm by the time of the events described in the Lord of the Rings. But the Valar did not wholly abandon the rest of the world.
When the Valar withdraw, they choose five Maiar to travel across the sea and act as emissaries to help combat evil in the mortal realm. These Maiar took the form of men and were forbidden to reveal their true nature. They became known as the Astari, five wizards with the appearance of men.
They play a significant role in the defeat of Sauron and the events of the War of the Ring. This success allows Gandalf to return to Aman, with many Elven companions, and Bilbo and Frodo.
As mortals, Bilbo and Frodo should not be able to enter the Undying Lands, but an exception is made for them. The corrupting influence of the One Ring means that they no longer belong in the mortal realm, so space is made for them among the blessed.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do Elves die in the Undying Lands?
Elves are immortal, and they continue to be immortal when they dwell in the Undying Lands. The journey there is probably better characterized as a kind of ascension. They leave behind the strife and grief of the mortal realm to live in a world of peace and harmony created by the Valar.
Are the Undying Lands heaven?
The Undying Lands have a heavenly quality since demigods and immortals inhabit them, but they are not heaven.
Can anyone sail to the Undying Lands?
Only immortals can sail to the Undying Lands, mortals will find their way blocked. In the times portrayed in the Lord of the Rings, only the Elves and Maiar (wizards like Gandalf) can sail to Aman.
Why didn’t Aragorn go to the Undying Lands?
Mortals are not allowed to live in the Undying Lands, with few exceptions. No exception seems to have been made for Aragorn. This may have been partly his own choice, as he had work to do on Middle Earth restoring the world of Men. But he may also have been unwelcome, as a descendent of the men of Numenor.
Why didn’t Sam go to the Undying Lands?
At the end of the Return of the King, we see Bilbo and Frodo accompanying the Elves to the Undying Lands. A notable exception has been made for these mortals to dwell there. Their experience with the One Ring means that there was no longer a place for them on Middle Earth.
Sam Gamgee does not go with them at this time as he was not corrupted by the One Ring and still has ties to the mortal realm. He stays in the Shire and marries his sweetheart Rosie.
After Rosie’s death in the year 61 of the Fourth Age, Sam, Gimli, and Legolas traveled to the Undying Lands, reuniting with Frodo.