The Encyclopedia of Arda - an interactive guide to the world of J.R.R. Tolkien
Location
Found throughout Middle-earth, and also noted to exist in Aman
Species
Several different species of the genus Cygnus1
Meaning
Probably derived from an ancient root swen, 'to sing, make a sound'2

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About this entry:

  • Updated 12 May 2013
  • Updates planned: 1

Swans

The Fenlands of Swanfleet
The fenlands of Swanfleet. In the far distance, the Misty Mountains can be seen.

An important bird in the tales of the Elder Days. The Teleri seem to have especially revered swans, naming their city Alqualondë (the Swanhaven), and building their ships in swan-form.


Notes

1

When Tolkien refers to swans, he would most likely have had in mind the so-called mute swan (Cygnus olor), which is by far the most common variety in the British Isles. We're also told of black swans to be found in the more southerly reaches of Anduin, but these are extremely unlikely to be modern black swans (Cygnus atratus) which are native to Australia. Rather, the black colour in this case is apparently intended to indicated the encroaching power of the Dark Lord.

2

Swan is a very ancient word and, seems to mean essentially 'singing bird', a curious derivation given that swans are among the least melodious of all birds. The name is perhaps related to the fanciful legend of the 'swan song', a beautiful song said to be made by a swan as it dies.

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