That Darn Elf a random musing

not done yet

Give us a hand.

Several times, Tolkien describes Legolas as having long, slender hands. It may be a Tolkienism, because he also describes Saruman as having long hands at one point. In this case I think it is one of those small things that describes much about the character. We don't know his hair color, but we do know his hands: to me it shows a long slender build, greyhound, cheetah, antelope...the light incredibly strong talons of a falcon, or an accipiter like the Cooper's Hawks that chase, with incredible agility, the sparrows at my bird feeder. And lean, long, chiseled hands seem to go with poets, musicians, artists.

This is the one place where Orlando Bloom doesn't match Legolas' description(except in his general build, which is perfect), but I like his squarer, yet chiseled hands too, also the hands of a sculptor and artist. I'm not sure why, but my attention was drawn to his hands in the stills from the films. Perhaps it is because all you see of him, not covered by costume, is his hands and face. Our culture is used to seeing far more skin. There are some subtle contrasts between Legolas and the other characters in the film, shown by their hands: Frodo's notorious chewed fingernails, Aragorn's battle-torn hands contrasted with Legolas, to whom dirt seems not to stick.

Then there's that perfect hair...what kind of Elvish mousse is he using anyway? Ah well, that's another musing...

He stands not alone.

When the Three Friends are caught in the sun-circle of the galloping Riders of Rohan, Legolas and Gimli remain silent, letting the Man Aragorn deal with these warriors of Men. Eomer utters several lines which show his folk's keen suspicion of Elves. Legolas remains silent, still. It is only when Eomer threatens to cut off Gimli's head that Legolas' hands move faster than sight, bending his bow and saying; "He stands not alone, you would die before your stroke fell." There is no exclamation point. He does not shout it. Five leagues ago he counted those one hundred and five Riders, certainly more than the gleaned arrows he is carrying. It doesn't matter, he stands beside a threatened friend at whatever cost. Of course it does show a bit of youthful impulsiveness. It is again Aragorn who shows his kingly diplomacy by smoothing over the ruffled feathers of the Rohirrim. I find myself liking Legolas' impulsiveness, it's part of that childlike side of him; the part that gleefully runs on snow on Caradhras, that peers into the depths of Fangorn with wonder, that sings to the stars.

There is a moment in this sun-circle of Riders, when Aragorn reveals himself, telling his true name and drawing Anduril. Eomer steps back in awe. And 'for a moment it seemed to the eyes of Legolas that a white flame flickered on the brows of Aragorn like a shining crown.' Today we would call that being able to see an aura. Some of us might think of it as some hokey New Age thing, or we might take it seriously. Tolkien used the imagery of light over and over, especially the inner light, the sort of thing represented by halos in old religious paintings. We see it in Glorfindel when he drives the Black Riders into the River Bruinen (Frodo remembers a shining figure). We see it in Gandalf and Frodo at times, the inner light, shining through. Gandalf says of the Noldorin Lords, like Glorfindel: 'thery live at once in both worlds, and against both the Seen and the Unseen they have great power. You saw him for a moment as he is on the other side: one of the mighty of the Firstborn.' Legolas is Sindarin, one of the three kindreds of the Eldar, the one that started on the great journey to the Blessed Realm, then got distracted and stayed in Middle-earth. ADD Elves, I guess. Legolas apparently has the psychic capabilities of the Eldar, but he is from a small woodland realm, one that is a shadow and a memory of the great realms of the Silmarillion days. He does not have the great learning of the Noldor who went oversea and returned. Still, I think I like him better that way, more down to earth, more real.

The Elvish Way With All Good Beasts.

'There was great wonder, and many dark and doubtful glances, when Eomer gave orders that the spare horses were to be lent to strangers...'

There are three empty saddles, and three of our Fellowship. Gimli, though, is no horseman, and Legolas invites him to ride with him, a sensible solution.

'A smaller and lighter horse, but restive and fiery, was brought to Legolas. Arod was his name.'

Note the words, "restive and fiery". This is not the quiet, actor-safe horse(s...there were two Arods, at least) we saw in the movie. The one Orli had to thump with his heels on several occasions, while Viggo looked like the excellent horseman he is, on a horse that I have heard is an umpteenth level FEI dressage horse. I have had Arabs and half-Arabs most of my life; small, tough, slender, elegant, fast, long on endurance. Elf horses. They are an ancient breed, the Firstborn, at the roots of most other modern breeds. They're smart, people oriented, but often "restive and fiery". They will dance under you. Leap sideways at a bit of blowing paper. Wonder why you want to walk through the mud puddle when they can sail over it. Argue with you about an exercise you are trying to perform, especially if they think it's a stupid human trick and utterly boring.

'But Legolas asked them to take off saddle and rein. "I need them not." He leapt lightly up, and to their wonder Arod was tame and willing beneath him, moving here and there with but a spoken word: such was the Elvish way with all good beasts.'

'Such was the Elvish way with all good beasts.' My favorite line in the entire Book. My favorite scene. The one which gives me much the same reaction to Legolas as Gimli has to Galadriel in Lothlorien.

I've been surrounded by critters since I was born: cats, dogs, horses, the odd goat, and later (as a wildlife rehab volunteer) everything from wild geese and herons to hawks, owls, emus, otters, beaver, porcupine, vultures, a young tiger (who could embrace my ample thigh with his jaws), and a very young lion king (who dragged his blankie about like the Kill of the Week, and studied me with eyes that knew one day he would be large and I would be prey). 'The Elvish way with all good beasts' resonates with me on a very deep level. It is something I wish I had, and have struggled most of my life to understand. I have trained all of my own horses, and several others; including a number of mustangs "green-broke" or fresh off the range (the Bureau of Land Management's Adpot-a-Horse program had a distribution center here for many years and the area filled with wild horses). I've trained dogs, and cats (sort of) and helped train a couple of lecture vultures (yeah, vultures). It is a constant learning experience. Sometimes a hard and frustrating one. Tolkien apparently never trained any critters, he doesn't seem to have had many in his life, though he did spend some time with a cavalry unit. He writes horses and dogs neatly, though, and understands that his Elves have a deep kinship with all life.

There is a wonderful book on my shelf called "All Those Girls in Love With Horses. It is a big coffee table book by a photographer named Robert Vavra. His photos are above the mundane sorts of calendar horse photos the way Galadriel is above Pop Star of the Week. It has many short chapters on various women involved with horses. One chapter is about a ranch in Oregon where they raise Arab horses. there is a sequence of photos of the farm manager riding a grey stallion (white in the picture, but most white horses are greys who have aged to white, and are still called grey)...Wazir is cantering, leaping, galloping among his mares, under total control. And he is wearing nothing but a thin cord around his neck. In 1985 friends and I traveled across the west and stopped at the farm in Oregon where Wazir resided. His owner rode him out of the barn with just the light cord around his neck, then turned him loose in a corral where he leapt and danced and galloped in a most restive and fiery way.

If you watched LOTR closely, you will occasionally see a thin cord around Shadowfax's neck. That's how you train a horse to work without saddle or rein: they work off shifts of weight, leg cues, and the pressure of the neck rope. And moving here and there with but a spoken word works too, they will work off voice commands. In fact, that's how you first train a horse, in a round pen or on a lunge line, working with voice commands. Then, when you get on the horse, you have a language you both already know. Inspired by the Elf, I trained my 4-H project horse (who I had 25 of the 27 years of his life, longer than most marriages) to work bridleless. It's not impossible, Shadowfax, in the film, makes it look easy.

It would be easier if you had Legolas' incredible empathy.

um, about that saddle I said I didn't need...

Which brings us to one of the big goobers of the story; a plothole of epic proportions: Legolas and Gimli gallop off into the sunset, on a horse with no saddle or bridle.

Hmmmm, bet Tolkien never rode bareback with anyone. Especially an armoured Dwarf with a battleaxe.

A saddle has a tree inside: a wooden frame that fits over the horse's back without touching the spine. It's covered with leather, padded underneath, strapped on by a sturdy girth under the belly (sometimes two), and sometimes by breast bands or breeching (straps around the haunches). It is hung with stirrups (invented by the Mongols), which allow you to brace yourself if wielding sword or couched spear (tucked under your arm, using the whole weight and speed of the horse to hit the enemy), or to stand up off the bumpity-bump of the gallop to shoot a bow, ( certain Elves). The saddle creates a sturdy and immoveable platform for you while your buddy sits behind and clings to you as one drowning.

Horses' shoulder blades form a mountainous hump at the base of the neck, this is called the withers. A good saddle horse has high withers (exactly the opposit of a zebra or donkey, which has flat or mutton withers), to keep the saddle from sliding forward, or even sideways.

Bareback, you sit with the withers about two inches in front of your crotch. With anyone behind you, the motion of the horse tends to send you bouncing forward.

Bad enough if you're female.

Really, really bad for Legolas. Who still has to shoot a bow, without stirrups.

Dammit elfboy, what were you thinking!

A reader actually wrote to Tolkien and asked why Glorfindel has a saddle (with stirrups) and a bridle on Asfaloth. Tolkien replies something like...ooops. He had not yet given any thought to the Elvish way with all good beasts, when he wrote Glorfindel's part. Bridle (which contains a bit, and reins and is therefore a control device) was later changed to headstall (which can be merely decorative, and is simply the straps around head and nose which normally hold the bit and reins in place). Perhaps, with that Elvish foresight, Glorfindel knew a Hobbit would need to ride his horse, so he graced Asfaloth with a saddle and stirrups which could be shortened to fit a Hobbit.

(Svaha with English saddle, side reins for lungeing, fly mask for sanity, and stirrups tucked up so they don't flap and send her off to the far reaches of Fangorn)

Listening to trees.

The Three Companions ride on, the orcs are destroyed, the Hobbits yet missing. At the eaves of Fangorn they build a fire, under Aragorn's admonition to cut no living wood.

"If those unhappy hobbits are astray in the woods it might draw them hither." I may be wrong, but I think it is only Legolas who uses the word hither much. He seems to have a slightly older sense of speech, as if the Elven accent carried the classic echoes of the Firstborn, the First speakers, Quendi. (Quendi means the speakers)

Another one of my favorite images: Aragorn sits 'silent, with his back to the great tree, deep in thought.' Gimli sits hunched by the fire, nervous at the edges of this great wood, fingering the edge of his axe.

Legolas stands 'alone in the open, looking toward the profound shadow of the wood, leaning forward as one who listens to voices calling from a distance.' Fascinated by this great wood he has heard of, but never seen, listening to the far-off voices of the trees. I can see his eyes, wide with wonder, starlit with elflight as his spirit tunes itself to the trees. A few minutes later when he joins the others around the fire, he looks up at the boughs of the chestnut spreading above them, maybe it's the dancing light that tricks their eyes, or maybe this is one of the Huorns of the forest, or some other tree that has been half wakened. But the boughs seem to be bending toward the flame, the leaves rubbing together like cracked hands taking comfort in the warmth. And it is a hint at what awaits within Fangorn. Legolas looks up and says with delight, "Look! The tree is glad of the fire."

We learn a little about all Three Companions in the conversation that follows: Fangorn is an unsettling place for Gimli, as unsettling as the Mines of Moria were for Legolas. He does not understand the speech of living things, he only sees the dark shadows under the tangled trees. Aragorn is silent, thinking grim ranger thoughts until Legolas interrupts him with questions about Fangorn. Again, I see him with a childlike, wide-eyed curiosity here. Aragorn says: I had thought of asking you what was the truth of the matter. And if an Elf of the Wood does not know, how shall a Man answer?

Change and growth is not in all things and places alike.

"You have journeyed further than I." For all his years, Legolas does not have the deep experience of Aragorn. This shows the contrast between Elf and Man nicely. Aragorn, in his few years, has traveled far, and changed much, while Legolas has lived under the same trees, treading the same paths for far longer. Legolas has had years to perfect the skills he has, and he knows a great deal from songs and poems and tales of his folk, but he does not have the broad-ranging experience of the ranger. Elves change but slowly. He is perhaps often overlooked by serious students of Tolkien, or literature, or film, because he is a character who does not change much. Few characters end a book or movie the same way they started out, it's one of the reasons we watch or read: to see what happens. Character, conflict, change, conclusion: those are the foundation stones of Story. But there are many characters in LOTR who do not change: Faramir is a cool drink of pure water in the chaos of that part of the story. Tom Bombadil (many people's favorite) is probably a Maia or Vala, an essential force of Nature who does not change, even in the presence of the Ring. Glorfindel shows up and escorts Our Heroes, shows many admirable qualities, and vanishes, unchanged. Does Arwen change? Galadriel? The Gaffer?

Legolas does change. He steps out from under the trees of Mirkwood, and takes on what seems to be a simple errand to Rivendell. Maybe he was part of the Company that lost Gollum, or the Captain of that company. He may have been sent by his father, or he may have volunteered to right what he saw as his own mistake. I like to think he took the responsibility on himself. His reaction at the Council of Elrond shows his surprise and distress: and in his fair Elvish face there was great distress."The tidings that I was sent to bring must now be told. They are not good, but only here have I learned how evil they may seem to this company." There is no record of how or why he was chosen by Elrond for the Fellowship, he is just suddenly there: 'and Legolas shall be for the Elves.' I think, by the distress shown on his face earlier, he volunteered. Pleaded his case against more logical candidates like Glorfindel. He changes again as he faces the ultimate elf-bane, the balrog, and lives to tell the tale, though he cannot fight it himself. He has realized his limits, he has been, probably for the first time, in a position where he has no power. He makes a friend of a Dwarf, not just any old Dwarf, but one whose father butted heads with his own father. He, who has lived mainly among his own people, travels, the lone Elf, among Men who are less than welcoming at times. He stands before the Black Gates against hopeless odds, faces certain death again, and survives. But most significantly, he hears the call of the Valar; the gulls in the dark. And he is changed, for he can never go home again.

Elvish Dreams.

Just after this they draw watches, Gimli takes first watch, and the others rest. And we find out another wierd thing about Legolas: 'Legolas already lay motionless, his fair hands folded upon his breast, his eyes unclosed, blending living night and deep dream, as is the way with Elves.' He is the most tireless of all the Fellowship, according to Tolkien's description in Lost Tales 2, but he is a living breathing being of flesh and blood and bone, and he must still rest. There are tales of famous folk who only needed a few hours sleep each night, or of people who catnap for an hour or two at a time. There are forms of meditation which result in rest and refreshment, but are not sleep as we generally know it. Whales and dolphins (unlike seals who sink to the bottom and hold their breath for a half hour or so) sleep on the move, strolling through the water with the breathing parts of their minds awake; they would drown if they slept like humans. And no doubt, Legolas, unlike many of us, remembers all of his dreams.

But where'd he get the rope?

In the midst of the night, old man is seen briefly at the edge of the forest, he vanishes, then; 'Suddenly Legolas gave a cry. "The horses! The horses!" There is no warning whinny, no thunder of hooves, they are simply gone, and he is the first to notice. There is a nice little plothole here...Orlando's line in Pirates of the Caribbean fits it nicely...

"Where'd he get the rope?"

The horses were picketed. Tied by halters worn either under their bridles or carried among other gear, and rope. You can picket a horse by tying a rope between trees and tying the horses to that rope, or by tying the horse to a stake in the ground. Arod and Hasufel had 'dragged their pickets and disappeared.' So they were tied to longer ropes staked in the ground.

Arod is wearing no tack. No bridle, no saddle. No nothing...

Where'd he get the rope???

Ok, so Aragorn had a bit of spare rope in his pack. They wove a rope halter. Easy enough. Easier than roping two sea turtles anyway....

So why couldn't Legolas, he of 'the elvish way with all good beasts,' simply tell Arod to stay?

"Did they sound to you like beasts in terror?"

"No. I heard them clearly. But for the darkness and my own fear I should have guessed that they were beasts wild with some sudden gladness. They spoke as they will when they meet a friend that they have long missed."

Aragorn does not think the horses ran in terror, and Legolas confirms it. Aragorn has grown up with Elves and learned some of thier empathy, but Legolas has more. There is a small thing hidden in these lines; Legolas speaks of his own fear. He is strong, capable, but not invulnerable, or without fear. He goes forth on the quest in spite of it.

On reading the trail of Merry and Pippin, Legolas falls into Elf humor: "Well, here is the strangest riddle that we have yet found! A bound prisoner escapes form both the Orcs and from the surrounding horsemen. He then stops while still in the open and cuts his bonds with an Orc-knife.But how and why? For if his legs were tied, how did he walk? And if his arms were tied, how did he use the knife? And if neither were tied, why did he cut the cords at all? Being pleased with his skill he then sat down and quietly ate some waybread! That at least is enough to show that he was a Hobbit, without the mallorn-leaf. After that I suppose, he turned his arms into wings and flew away singing into the trees. It should be easy to find him: we only need wings ourselves!" The fear that the Hobbits are dead is relieved, and Legolas is light of heart again. It is also obvious that he is amused by the Hobbits, he likes them, he has already called them merry young folk.

On into Fangorn they follow the trail, Gimli is daunted by the dark ancient wood, but Legolas stands under the eaves of the wood, stooping forward as if he is listening, peering with wide eyes into the shadows, much as he did earlier around the fire: "I don't think the wood feels evil whatever tales may say. No, it is not evil; or what evil is in it is far away. I catch only the faintest echoes of dark places where the hearts of the trees are black. There is no malice near us; but there is watchfulness, and anger." I was pleased to see a fragment of this make it to the extended DVD of Two Towers. You can see his sense of wonder about the wood, his empathy for the forest, for the individual trees. His psychic sight shows here too, that elfsight that sees beyond the surface of things. Orlando Bloom did a nice job of evoking that quality, that way of seeing.

"It is old, very old. So old that almost I feel young again, as I have not felt since I journeyed with you children. It is old and full of memory. I could have been happy here, if I had come in days of peace." When I first read those lines, it blew my picture of Legolas right out of the water. I was 23, and was picturing Legolas much the same as myself. Suddenly he is ancient, but that does not match his character, or the way he relates to other characters, especially Aragorn, who he respects as an elder.


It took me a long time to realize we are talking about an Elf. And Elves run on Elvish time. Part of his "so old that almost I feel young again" line is tongue-in-cheek Elf humor. Spock's cocked eyebrow and deadpan expression. Part of it is true, save Gandalf, he is the oldest in years of the entire Fellowship. But Elves do not count the running years, not for themselves. He is still quite young, as his folk go, yet a young Elf is not the same as a young human, any more than a three year old horse is really like a teenaged human. In some ways he is more skilled, more knowledgeable than even Aragorn, and in other ways he is quite young, quite naive. And that is perhaps the most Elvish trait of all, being old and young all at once.

"Every Elf in Wilderland has sung songs of the old Onodrim and their long sorrow. Yet even among us they are only a memory.If I were to meet one still walking in this world, then indeed I should feel young again!"

continued in part five...

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