Who doesn’t remember the best and most heartbreaking of The Return of the King‘s multiple endings? Pippin and Merry accompany Frodo and Bilbo to the Grey Havens, where Frodo and Bilbo prepare for an extraordinary journey. They join their Elvish friends and Gandalf, one of the Maiar, on a ship sailing west. Their destination? The Undying Lands. J.R.R. Tolkien’s stories about Middle-earth reference the Undying Lands, and the location has a key role in the first episode of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. Here’s what you need to know about the Undying Lands.
As a reward for their campaign hunting evil across Middle-earth, Elven High King Gil-galad grants Galadriel and her lieutenants passage to the Undying Lands. He also does it to get Galadriel out of his beautiful, flowing hair, but that’s besides the point.
The Elven warriors express joy and surprise at the honor the High King bestows upon them. Their reaction communicates the magnitude of the blessing. When Galadriel expresses to Elrond that she might reject the offer, he can’t understand why. Especially since for her, it means returning home to Valinor. Yes, the Undying Lands and Valinor are the same place.
What Are the Undying Lands in The Lord of the Rings?
The Undying Lands include the content of Aman and the island of Tol Eressëa. So Valinor, the realm of the Valar in Aman, is also known as the Undying Lands. The Valar shaped Arda through Ilúvatar’s music. Their home, Valinor, was also home to the Elves (the Valar invited them to live on Aman). Generally, the Valar only permitted immortals the right to reside in the Undying Lands. In the Third Age, Frodo, Bilbo, and later Gimli got special dispensation to travel to the Undying Lands because they were ring-bearers. Going to Valinor did not grant them immortality.
The Undying Lands were said to be a Blessed Realm, offering eternal bliss to those who lived there. As the home of the Valar, it is a place of radiant power. The Rings of Power illustrates that with a beautiful light that seemingly absorbs Galadriel’s lieutenants. They eagerly await the wash of gold that folds them into Valinor. Though the Undying Lands can be viewed as heaven, going there doesn’t mean death. It is a paradise, yes, but it is not necessarily the end. As far as we know, those elves go on to lead beautiful immortal lives in the Undying Lands. And later, Frodo and Bilbo presumably lived the remainder of their mortal lives in peace.
Galadriel didn’t jump ship because she was afraid of death. She simply did not want to give up on Middle-earth and her quest to find Sauron.
Where Are the Undying Lands at in The Rings of Power?
In the time of the early Second Age (the time of this episode of The Rings of Power) the world was flat. Elves could leave from the Grey Havens in Gil-galad’s realm of Lindon and sail to Valinor. Mortals could even trade with those from Valinor—not on their home turf, though. Mortals were not permitted to sail farther west than Númenor. So, the location of the Undying Lands was not a secret, but not just anyone could catch a ferry and hop over.
That changes before the Third Age. By the time we see Frodo and Bilbo leave the Grey Havens with Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel, and more, getting to the Undying Lands is markedly more complicated—particularly for anyone who isn’t an elf. The Rings of Power will likely explore the reason why the path to this special place changes so I won’t spoil it. I’ll only say this: keep an eye on the Númenóreans.