Waybred of the Elves


Quotes from the Books

I've left out a few "so-and-so munched a bit of lembas" or "we don't have any more lembas!" type lines, to avoid tedium.

The Fellowship of the Ring

Chap. 8- Farewell to Lórien

In the morning, as they were beginning to pack their slender goods, Elves hat could speak their tongue came to them and brought them many gifts of food and clothing for the journey. The food was mostly in the form of very thin cakes, made of meal that was baked a light brown on the outside, and inside was the colour of cream. Gimli took up one of the cakes and looked at it with a doubtful eye.

'Cram,' he said under his breath, as he broke off a crisp corner and nibbled at it. His expression quickly changed, and he ate all the rest of the cake with relish.

'No more, no more!' cried the Elves laughing. 'You have eaten enough already for a long day's march.'

'I thought it was only a kind of cram, such as the Dalemen made for journeys into the wild,' said the Dwarf.

'So it is,' they answered, 'But we call it lembas or way bread, and it is more strengthening than any food made by Men, and it is more pleasant than cram, by all accounts.'

'Indeed it is' said Gimli. 'Why, it is better than the honey-cakes of the Beornings, and that is great praise, for the Beornings are the best bakers that I know of; but they are none too willing to deal out their cakes to travellers in these days. You are kindly hosts!'

'All the same, we bid you spare the food,' they said. Eat a little at a time, and only at need. For these things are given to serve you when all else fails. The cakes will keep sweet for many many days, if they are unbroken and left in their leaf wrappings, as we have brought them. One will keep a traveller on his feet for a day of long labour, even if it be one of the tall Men of Minas Tirith.'

Chap. 9- The Great River

'Praised be the bow of Galadriel, and the hand and eye of Legolas!' said Gimli as he munched a wafer oflembas. 'That was a mighty shot in the dark, my friend!'

The Two Towers

Chap. 2- The Riders of Rohan

Often in their hearts they thanked the Lady of Lórien for the gift of lembas, for they could eat of it and find new strength even as they ran.

Chap. 3- The Uruk-Hai?

He slipped the cords off his wrists, and fished out a packet. The cakes were broken, but good, still in their leaf-wrappings. The hobbits each ate two or three pieces. The taste brought back to them the memory of fair faces, and laughter, and wholesome food in quiet days now far away. For a while they ate thoughtfully, sitting in the dark, heedless of the cries and sounds of battle nearby. Pippin was the first to come back to the present.

Chap. 5- The White Rider

'Here at last we find news!' said Aragorn. He lifted up a broken leaf for them to see, a large pale leaf of golden hue, now fading and turning brown. Here is a Mallorn-leaf of Lórien, and there are small crumbs on it, and a few more crumbs in the grass.

Chap. 1- The Taming of Sméagol

'What food have we got left?'

'Only those, what d'you call them, lembas, Mr. Frodo. A fair supply, but they are better than naught, by a long bite. I never thought, though, when I first set tooth in them, that I should ever come to wish for a change. But I do now: a bit of plain bread, and a mug—aye, half a mug—of beer would go down proper.

Chap. 2- The Passage of the Marshes

'But what is it they've got, precious? Is it crunchable? Is it tasty?'

Frodo broke off a portion of a wafer and handed it to him on its leaf wrapping. Gollum sniffed at the leaf and his face changed: a spasm of disgust came over it, and a hint of his old malice. 'Sméagol smells it!' he said 'Leaves out of the elf-country, gah! They stinks. He climbed in those trees, and he couldn't wash the smell off his hands, my nice hands.' Dropping the leaf, he took a corner of the lembas and nibbled it. He spat, and a fit of coughing shook him.

'Ach! No!" he spluttered. 'You try to choke poor Sméagol. Dust and Ashes, he can't eat that. He must starve. Poor thin Sméagol!'

'I'm sorry,' said Frodo, 'but I can't help you, I'm afraid. I think this food would do you good, if you would try. But perhaps you can't even try, not yet anyway.'

The hobbits munched their lembas in silence. Sam thought it tasted far better, somehow, than it had for a good while: Gollum's behaviour had made him attend to its flavor again.

The Return of the King

Chap. 1 The Tower of Cirith Ungol

But I guess they [the orcs] disliked the very look and smell of the lembas, worse than Gollum did. It's scattered about and some of it is trampled and broken, but I've gathered it together.

Chap. 3- Mount Doom

The lembas had a virtue without which they would long ago have lain down to die. It did not satisfy desire, and at times Sam’s mind was filled with the memories of food, and the longing for simple bread and meats. And yet, this way bread of the Elves had potency that increased as travelers relied upon it alone and did not mingle it with other foods. It fed the will, and it gave strength to endure, and to master sinew and limb beyond the measure of mortal kind.

The Silmarillion

Chap. 21- Of Túrin Turambar

Another gift I will give to you, Cúthalion,' said Melian, 'that shall be your help in the wild, and the help also of them you choose.' And she gave him store of lembas, the waybread of the Elves, wrapped in leaves of silver, and the threads that bound it were sealed at the knots with the seal of the Queen, a wafer of white wax shaped as a single flower of Telperion; for according to the customs of the Eldalië the keeping and giving of lembas belonged to the Queen alone. In nothing did Melian show greater favor to Túrin than in this gift; for the Eldar had never before allowed Men to use this waybread, and seldom did so again.

Chap. 21- Of Túrin Turambar

Those that were hurt or sick he tended, and gave to them the lembas of Melian; and they were quickly healed, for though the Grey-elves were less in skill and knowledge than the Exiles from Valinor, in the ways of life of Middle-earth they had a wisdom beyond the reach of Men

The Unfinished Tales

Part I: The First Age- Of Tuor And His Comming To Gondolin

"Yea," said Tuor. "But whither will you lead me, and how far? Shall we not first take thought how we may fare in the wild, or if the way be long, how pass the harbourless winter?"

But Voronwë would answer nothing clearly concerning the road. "You know the strength of Men," he said. "As for me, I am of the Noldor, and long must be the hunger and cold the winter that shall slay the kin of those who passed the Grinding Ice. Yet how think you that we could labour countless days in the salt wastes of the sea? Or have you not heard of the way-bread of the Elves? And I keep still that which all mariners hold until the last." Then he showed beneath his cloak a sealed wallet clasped upon his belt. "No water nor weather will harm it while it is sealed. But we must husband it until great need; and doubtless an outlaw and hunter may find other food ere the year worsens."

"Maybe," said Tuor. "But not in all lands is it safe to hunt, be the game never so plentiful. And hunters tarry on the road."

Part I: The First Age- Narn I Hîn Húrin

The silver leaves were red in the firelight; and when Túrin saw the seal his eyes darkened. "What have you there?" he said.

"The greatest gift that one who loves you still has to give," answered Beleg. "Here is lembas, the waybread of the Eldar, that no Man yet has tasted."

"The Helm of my fathers I take," said Túrin, "with good will for your keeping; but I will not receive gifts out of Doriath."

"Then send back your sword and your arms," said Beleg. "Send back also the teaching and fostering of your youth. And let your men die in the desert to please your mood. Nonetheless, this way-bread was a gift not to you but to me, and I may do with it as I will. Eat it not, if it sticks in your throat; but others here may be more hungry and less proud."

Then Túrin was abashed, and in that matter overcame his pride.

Part III: The Third Age- The Disaster Of The Gladden Fields

Though it was a long journey, each of the Dúnedain carried in a sealed wallet on his belt a small phial of cordial and wafers of a waybread that would sustain life in him for many days - not indeed the miruvor or the lembas of the Eldar, but like them, for the medicine and other arts of Númenor were potent and not yet forgotten. No belt or wallet was among the gear discarded by Isildur.

The Peoples of Middle-earth (HoME XII)

Of Lembas

'This food the Eldar alone knew how to make. It was made for the comfort of those who had need to go upon a long journey in the wild, or of the hurt whose life was in peril. Only these were permitted to use it. The Eldar did not give it to Men, save only to a few whom they loved, if they were in great need.*

The Eldar say that they first received this food from the Valar in the beginning of their days in the Great Journey. For it was made of a kind of corn which Yavanna brought forth in the fields of Aman, and some she sent to them by the hand of Oromë for their succour upon the long march.

Since it came from Yavanna, the queen, or the highest among the elven-women of any people, great or small, had the keeping and gift of the lembas, for which reason she was called massánie or besain: the Lady, or breadgiver.†

Now this corn had in it the strong life of Aman, which it could impart to those who had the need and right to use the bread. If it was sown at any season, save in frost, it soon sprouted and grew swiftly, though it did not thrive in the shadow of plants of Middle-earth and would not endure winds that came out of the North while Morgoth dwelt there. Else it needed only a little sunlight to ripen; for it took swiftly and multiplied all the vigour of any light that fell on it.

The Eldar grew it in guarded lands and sunlit glades; and they gathered its great golden ears, each one, by hand, and set no blade of metal to it. The white haulm was drawn from the earth in like manner, and woven into corn-leep‡ for the storing of the grain: no worm or gnawing beast would touch that gleaming straw, and rot and mould and other evils of Middle-earth did not assail it.

From the ear to the wafer none were permitted to handle this grain, save those elven-women who were called Yavannildi (or by the Sindar the Ivonwin),¤ the maidens of Yavanna; and the art of the making of the lembas, which they learned of the Valar, was a secret among them, and so ever has remained.'

Lembas is the Sindarin name, and comes from the older form lenn-mbass 'journey-bread'. In Quenya it was most often named coimas which is 'life-bread'.

* This was not done out of greed or jealousy, although at no time in Middle-earth was there great store of this food; but because the Eldar had been commanded to keep this gift in their own power, and not to make it common to the dwellers in mortal lands. For it is said that, if mortals eat often of this bread, they become weary of their mortality, desiring to abide among the Elves, and longing for the fields of Aman, to which they cannot come.

† In the story of Turin it is said of Melian's gift of lembas to Beleg the Bowman (The Silmarillion p. 202) that it was 'wrapped in leaves of silver, and the threads that bound it were sealed at the knots with the seal of the Queen, a wafer of white wax shaped as a single flower of Telperion; for according to the customs of the Eldalië the keeping and giving of lembas belonged to the Queen alone. In nothing did Melian show greater favour to Túrin than in this gift; for the Eldar had never before allowed Men to use this waybread, and seldom did so again.'

With 'massánie or besain' cf. the entry in the Etymologies, V.372, stem MBAS 'knead': Quenya masta, Noldorin bast, 'bread'; also the words lembas, coimas, explained at the end of the present text as 'journey-bread' and 'life-bread'. Above the ain of besain is faintly pencilled oneth. sc. besoneth.

In using the word Lady here my father no doubt had an eye to its origin in Old English hlaef-dige, of which the first element is hlaf (modern English loaf) with changed vowel, and the second a derivative of the stem dig- 'knead' (to which dough is ultimately related); cf. lord from hlaf-weard 'bread-keeper'.

‡ haulm: the stalks of cultivated plants left when the ears or pods have been gathered; corn-leeps: leep (leap) is an old dialect word for a basket (Old English leap [long 'e']).

¤ Ivonwin: the Noldorin (i.e. later Sindarin) form Ivann for Yavanna appears in the Etymologies, V.399, stem YAB 'fruit'.

Letter 210

22. Lembas, 'waybread', is called a 'food concentrate'. As I have shown I dislike strongly any pulling of my tale towards the style and feature of 'contes des fées', or French fairy-stories. I dislike equally any pull towards 'scientification', of which this expression is an example. Both modes are alien to my story.

We are not exploring the Moon or any other more improbable region. No analysis in any laboratory would discover chemical properties of lembas that made it superior to other cakes of wheat-meal.I only comment on the expression here as an indication of attitude. It is no doubt casual; and nothing of this kind or style will (I hope) escape into the actual dialogue.

In the book lembas has two functions. It is a 'machine' or device for making credible the long marches with little provision, in a world in which as I have said 'miles are miles'. But that is relatively unimportant. It also has a much larger significance, of what one might hesitatingly call a 'religious' kind. This becomes later apparent, especially in the chapter 'Mount Doom' (III 213 and subsequently). I cannot find that Z has made any particular use of lembas even as a device; and the whole of 'Mount Doom' has disappeared in the distorted confusion that Z has made of the ending. As far as I can see lembas might as well disappear altogether.

FolderFood FolderCompendium

(C) The Tolkien Wiki Community Page last changed: October 1, 2004