Happy birthday, J.R.R. Tolkien! The author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings novels was born on this date in 1892. Let's celebrate with a few facts about Middle-earth's elves.

1. THE HOBBIT WAS AN AFTERTHOUGHT.

Elves were roaming Middle-earth long before Bilbo Baggins was even a twinkle in Tolkien’s eye. Tolkien is most famous as a novelist, but his first love was language, and the elves were pretty much an excuse to make up imaginary tongues. He started with Quenya (one of the Elven languages) around 1915, the year he finished his degree from Oxford and joined the military for World War I.

2. THE SILMARILLION DIDN’T DO SO WELL AT FIRST.

Tolkien collected his elf mythology in a sprawling, scholarly book that would eventually be turned into The Silmarillion. He sent the book off to his publishers, who took a hard pass. One publishing house complained about the elves’ “eye-splitting Celtic names.” Tolkien handled the rejection well, and promised to consider “a sequel or successor to The Hobbit,” and everyone knows where that led. He never did get the book published within his lifetime, but after his death, his son Christopher managed to get it in print.

3. GALADRIEL IS ARWEN’S GRANDMA.

Illustration by Greg and Tim Hildebrandt via Flickr // CC-BY-ND 2.0

You wouldn’t know it to look at her, but Galadriel is really, really, really old. Based on Tolkien’s hundreds of pages of elf history and mythology, fans estimate she’s over 7000 years old. Galadriel married the elf Celeborn (more about him in a moment) and gave birth to a daughter, Celebrían. Celebrían went on to marry Elrond. The couple had three children: the twin boys Elladan and Elrohir, and their younger sister Arwen.

4. CELEBORN WAS ORIGINALLY NAMED TELEPORNO.

By the time The Lord of the Rings novels rolled around, Tolkien’s catalog of elf languages had expanded. The writer created complete dictionaries and grammars for two primary languages, Quenya and Sindarin, and laid the foundations for many others. In early writings, Tolkien described Galadriel’s husband using his Quenya name, Teleporno, which means “silver tree.” The author later decided to go with the Sindarin version, although we can’t imagine why. 

5. THERE IS AN ELVISH WORD FOR “BUTT.”

Tolkien was serious about his languages, and he put so much work into them that they can be read and spoken. Fans teach Elvish language classes, organize linguistic societies, and produce scholarly works on the subject. Others make it their business to learn rude words in Quenya (and thank goodness for these people). The word, by the way, is hakka, which literally translates to “hams.”

6. TOLKIEN’S ELVES MAY HAVE BEEN ALLEGORICAL.

Tolkien was a devout Roman Catholic, and he imbued Middle-earth with all kinds of religious themes. Biographer Humphrey Carpenter reported that Tolkien intended his elves to be a symbol of purity, of the human race before it fell from grace in Eden. The elves were Tolkien’s ideal people: noble, insular, and monogamous.

7. TOLKIEN NEVER HEARD OF TAURIEL.

The nimble wood elf Tauriel, played by Evangeline Lilly in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy, does not exist in Tolkien’s novel. All of Tolkien’s works were incredibly dude-heavy, and Jackson and his writing partners felt the story would benefit from having at least one lady in it. They brought Cate Blanchett's Galadriel into The Hobbit for the same reason.