FAQ / Where do men go after they die

When Men die their spirits are not bound to the Earth, so they go to Ilúvatar beyond the confines of Arda.

Details and comments

In BoLT1, we find some early views on where Men's spirits go.

The hall that she (Fui - wife of Mandos) loved best was one yet wider and more dark than Vę, and she too named it with her own name, calling it Fui. Therein before her black chair burnt a brazier with a single flickering coal, and the roof was of bats' wings, and the pillars that upheld it and the walls about were made of basalt. Thither came the sons of Men to hear their doom, and thither are they brought by all the multitude of ills that Melko's evil music set within the world. Slaughters and fires, hungers and mishaps, diseases and blows dealt in the dark, cruelty and bitter cold and anguish and their own folly bring them here; and Fui reads their hearts. Some then she keeps in Mandos beneath the mountains and some she drives forth beyond the hills and Melko seizes them and bears them to Angamandi, or the Hells of hen, where they have evil days. Some too, and these me the many, she sends aboard the black ship Mornië, who lieth ever and anon in a dark harbour of the North awaiting those times when the sad pomp winds to the beach down slow rugged paths from Mandos.

Then, when she is laden, of her own accord she spreads her sable sails and before a slow wind coasts down those shores. Then do all aboard as they come South cast looks of utter longing and regret to that low place amid the hills where Valinor may just be glimpsed upon the far off plain; and that opening is nigh Taniquetil where is the strand of Eldamar. No more do they ever see of that bright place, but borne away dwell after on the wide plains of Arvalin. There do they wander in the dusk, camping as they may, yet are they not utterly without song, and they can see the stars, and wait in patience till the Great End come.

Few are they and happy indeed for whom at a season doth Nornorë the herald of the Gods set out. Then ride they with him in chariots or upon good horses down into the vale of Valinor and feast in the halls of Valmar, dwelling in the houses of the Gods until the Great End come. Far away are they from the black mountains of the North or the misty plains of Arvalin, and music and fair light is theirs, and joy.

BoLT1, "The coming of the Valar and the building of Valinor"

This vision Tolkien changed through the years and in the Published Silmarillion we find Mandos with a sister - Nienna, who seems to have taken the place of Fui. Her halls are those of sorrow but no Men's spirits dwell there and no Man's or Elf's soul awaits for her judgment but "all those who wait in Mandos cry to her, for she brings strength to the spirit and turns sorrow to wisdom". Thus, the early idea that Men's spirits too went to Valinor had been early abandoned.

Instead, in his later writings Tolkien seems to have developed much stronger interest towards the idea of the "gift of Illuvatar" to the Secondborn and towards the role and importance of Men and the destiny of their souls.

'Behold I love the Earth, which shall be a mansion for the Quendi and the Atani! But the Quendi shall be the fairest of all earthly creatures, and they shall have and shall conceive and bring forth more beauty than all my Children; and they shall have the greater bliss in this world. But to the Atani I will give a new gift.' Therefore he willed that the hearts of Men should seek beyond the world and should find no rest therein but they should have a virtue to shape their life, amid the powers and chances of the world, beyond the Music of the Ainur, which is as fate to all things else and of their operation everything should be, in form and deed, completed, and the world fulfilled unto the last and smallest.

But the sons of Men die indeed, and leave the world, wherefore they are called the Guests, or the Strangers. Death is their fate, the gift of Ilúvatar, which as Time wears even the Powers shall envy

The Silmarillion; Quenta Silmarillion; Chapter 1 "The beginning of Days

To me it is also interesting to note that in the LotR J.R.R.Tolkien as if touches back the old theme of mortal Men dwelling in the Undying Lands at least for some time (through the episode of Frodo and Bilbo led by the Elves to Aman).

This brief episode, however has turned to be the source of "hot" discussions.

Do Men die when living in the Undying Lands?

Let's provide some facts on this issue too.

It is known that after the withdrawing of Aman from the circles of the world, only the Elves had the privilege of being let find the Straight Road and reach the Blessed realm. However,

But in this story it is supposed that there may be certain rare exceptions or accommodations (legitimately supposed? there always seem to be exceptions) and so certain 'mortals', who have played some great part in Elvish affairs, may pass with the Elves to Elvenhome. Thus Frodo (by the express gift of Arwen) and Bilbo, and eventually Sam (as adumbrated by Frodo) and as a unique exception Gimli the Dwarf, as friend of Legolas and 'servant' of Galadriel.

I have said nothing about it in this book, but the mythical idea underlying is that for mortals, since their 'kind' cannot be changed for ever, this is strictly only a temporary reward: a healing and redress of suffering. They cannot abide for ever, and though they cannot return to mortal earth, they can and will 'die' - of free will, and leave the world.

Letters 154

So, it turns out that ...

Frodo was sent or allowed to pass over Sea to heal him - if that could be done, before he died. He would have eventually 'passed away': no mortal could, or can, abide for ever on earth, or within a Time."
Letter 246

Yet, in general, no matter the exceptions, it was considered that mortal men had no business in Aman! For no immortality they would've achieved even if they lived there among the Elves and the Gods.

For it is not the land of Manwe that makes its people deathless, but the Deathless that dwell therein have hallowed the land and there you would be wither and grow weary the sooner, as moths in a light too strong and steadfast.'
The Silmarillion, Akallabeth

Moreover, let's not forget about the gift to the Men by Eru! And that gift was sth. that no Vala could've taken away or altered.

“…for the point of view of this mythology is that ‘mortality’ or a short span, and ‘immortality’ or an indefinite span was part of what we might call the biological and spiritual nature of the Children of God, Men and Elves ( the firstborn) respectively, and could not be altered by anyone( even a Power or god), and would not be altered by the One, except perhaps by one of those strange exceptions to all rules and ordinances which seem to crop up in the history of the Universe, and show the Finger of God, as the one wholly free Will and Agent.”
Letter 156



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