That Darn Elf a random musing

but elves love words

The White Rider.

It is Legolas who first sees the Old Man coming through the trees...

There are two and a half pages of the Old Man approaching the Three Friends in my 1992 Alan Lee illustrated hardback edition of LOTR. The tension mounts, and Gimli tries to cut it with all the subtlety of a battleaxe. Legolas seems unable to do anything, his bow and hands hang loose at his sides. Whether it is because he senses something Gimli cannot, it is hard to say, he is certainly (see "you would die before your stroke fell") no less impulsive, now would he be easier to enchant. I would think Elves would be harder to enchant. At any rate, it is he who at last recognizes Mithrandir (before either of his companions) and shouts out with childlike glee, as his arrow bursts flaming into the air.

Here Mithrandir, Gandalf the White, brings messages to the Fellowship from Galadriel. Legolas says of his message: "Dark are her words, and little do they mean to those who receive them..."

"Legolas Greenleaf, long under tree.

In joy thou hast lived. Beware of the sea!

If thou hearest the cry of the gull on the shore,

Thy heart shall then rest in the forest no more."

She, who has been to the Blessed Realm, is speaking of the Sea-longing. The hidden whisper of the Valar in the heart of the Eldar, calling them home. Legolas' people, the Sindar, started on the Great Journey eons ago, and never went across the Sea. The longing for Home is still there, buried. Waiting.

Water is a potent mythic image. I dived into this imagery in an essay called The Sea-Longing. It is one of the images in The Book that hits me hard. I still remember the moment when I was 12, coming up over the last sand dune and staring out at living, breathing, leaping water that filled the world to the far horizon and beyond. Since then I have paddled its surface and dived beneath it. Gone offshore to where the whole world is a silver circle of sea and sky. Dropped beneath its surface to where the world is dark and green as a forest at twilight. Floated eye to eye with a stingray, skimmed my kayak along beside dolphins, drifted down a river with eagles soaring overhead, heard the distant cry of gulls in the dark.

"Thy heart shall then rest in the forest no more." Indeed, it won't.

My friend Arod.

Gandalf calls the horses, who had, in fact, run off with Shadowfax. In the film, Legolas has a wonderful line: "that is one of the mearas, unless my eyes are cheated by some spell..." and the look on his face, again, is one of gentle wonder. In The Book, he says: "There is Hasufel, and there is my friend Arod beside him!" I love the way he says "my friend Arod". He does not see the horse as merely a convenience, a conveyance, a way to get from Point A to Point B. He does not see the horse as a lesser being. He sees him as another living being worthy of friendship.

Edoras and Elf-fu.

On the approach to Edoras, Gandalf bids Legolas; "Speak! Tell us what you see there before us!" Legolas describes the Golden Hall, and the few Men guarding it, though it is yet miles away. "The horse-lords do not sleep, even if it seem so from afar." Says Gandalf. Better than binoculars is an Elf in the party...

Running on Elvish Time;

"Many long lives of men it is since the Golden Hall was built."

"Five hundred times have the red leaves fallen in Mirkwood in my home since then, and but a little while does that seem to us."

"But to the Riders of the Mark, it seems so long ago, that the raising of this house is but a memory of song, and the years before are lost in the mist of time."

Our heroes enter the Golden Hall, Aragorn is introduced as "Heir of Kings", but Legolas and Gimli as simply "Legolas the Elf and Gimli the Dwarf", representatives of their entire peoples. They reluctantly leave their weapons (perhaps Legolas leaves his with the same flair he used in the film), Legolas admonishing the guard: "Keep these well, for they come from the Golden Wood and the Lady of Lothlorien gave them to me." The guard reacts with fear and wonder, and lays the Elvish weapons hastily by the wall. "No man will touch them." No Man ever has touched them, for they were made, given and carried by Elves till now. From Boromir's reaction on the eaves of Lorien, to the varied reactions of the Rohirrim, to Farmir's men questioning whether Sam and Frodo were Elves, it seems Elves have already begun to fade into myth and legend in Middle-earth, and often they are viewed with uncertainty, or even fear and suspicion. Tolkien writes from a sort of camerra eye view. He does not get inside his characters' heads, but if he did, what would we see of Legolas? Would he feel alienated, hurt, the lone Elf traveling in lands where his kind are viewed with suspicion? If he does, he does not show it, remaining the staunch Hero Companion. In the films he shows gentle empathy to the people of Rohan. Watch him in the background of one scene where Aragorn is talking; Rohirrim are crowding by in the streets of Helm's Deep, Legolas could hold himself aloof, or shoulder the passing folk out of the way, like a fish swimming against the current to stay in one place. But he does not, he stands behind Aragorn, a look of quiet composure on his face, reaching out with a gentle touch now and again to passers by as if to reassure them.

The Rohirrim array Aragorn and Legolas in shining mail, unlike the film, where Legolas keeps his forest colored leathers. In D&D, Elves often go in leather; their higher agility is weighed down by mail or heavy plate armour. The leather seemed to suit Legolas, and I liked the simple addition of the heavy leather shoulder pads, remarkably like the ones I made for my SCA armour, back in the dark ages of the eighties. It's hard to write fight scenes in books, that's where film shines. It was wonderful to see Legolas move. I have tried fighting with two swords, or sword and dagger (SCA, with rattan stand-ins for the weapons, armour, and real hard blows...and some choreographed steel fighting in Markland) and know how difficult that can be (I have a bad knee to prove it). When I saw TTT in the theaters, I was sad to see what I thought were basic punches being thrown about by the Elf as Our Heroes enter the Golden Hall.

Ack! Horrors! Manstuff! Elves should move like those people (Michele Yoe and Chow Yun Fat) in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Then I ran the DVD in slow-mo. Watch Legolas closely, he's throwing open-handed palm strikes, and blocks that belong in several Asian martial arts. Aha! Elf-fu! Kudos to the stunt coordinator guys!

Gimli:"Men need many words before deeds. My axe is restless in my hands. I wish I could walk and not bump like a sack at Gandalf's saddlebow."

Legolas: "A safer seat than many, I guess. Yet doubtless Gandalf will put you down on your feet when blows begin; or Shadowfax himself. An axe is no weapon for a rider."

Indeed. A sword is hard enough to manage. I accidently nicked my mare's brow with one swinging at a melon. And what's this about a saddlebow? Gandalf has none, Shadowfax is ridden without tack of any sort!

Eomer: "Legolas upon my left and Aragorn upon my right and none will dare to stand before us!" One of my favorite lines. An ode to two great warriors, a sign of Eomer's respect for both, but also a shift of attitude for Eomer who first says, with suspicion, "are you Elvish folk?" Aragorn too, is rather Elvish; he is the descendant of Elrond's brother, and was himself raised by Elrond and the Elves of Rivendell. Still, in The Book, he does not come off with the same quirks that define Legolas' Elvishness, nor does he have the same lightness, or childlike sense of wonder.(He always seemed a bit too grim and serious for me).

And despite the scene in the film (which he stole from Legolas, grrrrr) where he charms a horse, he cannot ride without saddle or bridle. (Though Viggo is, in fact, the better horseman.)

One could further analyze the whole left and right thing there (Aragorn on the right...). In certain times and cultures, left-handed was "sinister"; at least different, if not downright evil(perhaps a sign of witchery; itself an echo of an earlier, more female, more intuitive, elvish age). At times, left is considered feminine, right masculine. At the very least, they are opposites. Only left handed people are in their right minds: it seems to be the opposite side of the brain which controls each side of the body; left(brain, right hand) is supposed to be logic and reason and math, right(brain left hand) is supposed to be crative, intuitive and artistic. Aragorn is the pragmatic human, leading the way into the Age of Reason, Legolas is the intuitive Elf, all poetry and dancing leaflight.

Or maybe Tolkien didn't think about any of this, he just wanted them all riding abreast.

You can tell a sparrow from a finch...

Gandalf: You have the keen eyes of your fair kindred, Legolas, and they can tell a sparrow from a finch a league off. Tell me, can you see anything yonder towards Isengard?

I never appreciated the humor of this line from The Book until I put up a bird feeder and broke out my Peterson's Field Guide to Eastern Birds (North America). My previous bird experience had been raising one parakeet, having my cats eat two more, helping round up wild geese, a fish-hooked duck, and some manic emus for a wildlife rehabber, and handling big birds with sharp pointy feet (raptors) for another rehabber. When I couldn't find the house (English) sparrows in Peterson's, I eventually discovered it was because they are on the finch pages (under weaver finches). Sparrows and finches in Peterson's run from page 263 to page 289. They are divided into weaver finches/family ploceidae , and "grosbeaks, finches, sparrows, buntings"/family fringillidae. I can now tell a sparrow from a finch a yard away with a field guide and good binoculars. My esteem for the skills of Legolas has gone up tremendously.

Yet you comfort me.

As they ride with the Rohirrim toward Helm's Deep, Legolas goes with Aragorn and Eomer in the van (vanguard; forward part of the advancing army), sticking by Aragorn's side. Later Legolas and Gimli stand on the wall, Gimli is pleased with the tough bones of the mountain fortress, and speaks of how he and his kin could turn it into a place where armies break upon it like water. "I do not doubt it" says Legolas, "But you are a dwarf, and dwarves ar strange folk. I do not like this place, and I shall like it no more by the light of day. But you comfort me Gimli, and I am glad to have you standing nigh with your stout legs and your hard axe. I wish there were more of your kin among us. But even more would I give for a hundred good archers of Mirkwood."

This mirrors the lines said by Gimli earlier in Fangorn: Legolas has said "I could have been happy here if I had come in days of peace." Gimli replies: "I dare say you could. You are a Woodelf and Elves of any kind are strange folk. Yet you comfort me. Where you go I will go. But keep your bow ready to hand, and I will keep my axe loose in my belt. Not for use on trees!"

"But even more would I give for a hundred good archers of Mirkwood." I guess that explains Legolas' great grin when the Galadhrim archers march into Helm's Deep in the film, he got his wish, sort of.

The Great Orc Slaying Contest.

"Two!" said Gimli patting his axe. He had returned to his place on the wall.

"Two?" said Legolas. "I have done better, though now I must grope for spent arrows; all mine are gone. But I make my tale twenty at the least. But that is only a few leaves in a forest."

Thus begins the Great Orc Slaying Contest, something many men in battle have done, in one way or another. It is a deadly game, but it lightens the load, fires the spirit, keeps them from succumbing to the horrible realities of the situation. Note that Legolas is using forest imagery in the above lines, and that he has had to search for spent arrows.

"Twenty-one! cried Gimli, He hewed a two-handed stroke and laid the last orc before his feet. "Now my count passes Master Legolas again."

'He climbed up and found Legolas beside Aragorn and Eomer. The Elf was whetting his long knife.'

"Twenty-one! said Gimli.

"Good! said Legolas, "But my count is now two dozen. It has been knife-work up here."

An eerie little line, and image, if you think about it long enough. Gimli has been knocking orcs down with a battleaxe, but Legolas, out of even spent arrows, has facing orcs with only a knife. One single knife, not the pair he carries in the film. It shows not only the realities of battle, but just how deadly he really is.

Glad he's on our side.

The battle rages on, with all its twists and turns till Aragorn stands on the stair that leads up to the rear-gate of the Hornburg. Behind him, on the upper steps kneels Legolas, Protective Hero Companion, one last gleaned arrow in his bent bow.

"All who can have now got safe within, Aragorn, come back!"

The fear of the bright blade Anduril has held off the orcs briefly, now Aragorn turns and runs up the stair, but he stumbles...

...the first orc falls with Legolas' last arrow in his throat. Someone throws a great rock from above, and it crashes through the orcs, giving Aragorn and Legolas time to get to safety. A small moment in the great battle, but a decisive one; the once and future king has been pulled from the brink of death by a friend.

Why is Legolas here, risking his immortal life for one who will be gone anyway in a mere ripple in the stream of time? Why not just take ship west and forsake Middle-earth? He has a thousand chances to walk away, to turn back, but he doesn't. Why?

Somewhere in The Silmarillion an Elf makes a comment about the bravery of Men; how amazing it is that they who have so few years are willing to sacrifice those few to fight Darkness and Evil. Immortal Elves astonished by the willingness of mortal Men to sacrifice what little life they have for a cause. A number of the Elves, in the Silmarillion especially, have repaid the favor.

'Taking his leave, he returned to the walls, and passed round all their circuit, enheartening the men, and lending aid wherever the assault was hot. Legolas went with him.' A brief one-liner in the middle of Helm's Deep, Aragorn doing what leaders do...and Legolas at his side like a guardian angel, offering aid, support, and that shaft of light in the dark.

When Aragorn and Legolas get safe within the Hornburg, Legolas realizes Gimli is missing, and Aragorn last saw him in the fight on the ground behind the wall.

"Alas, that is evil news." says Legolas.

"He is stout and strong. Let us hope he will escape back to the caves...that would be to the liking of a dwarf."

"That must be my hope. But I wish that he had come this way. I desired to tell Master Gimli that my tale is now thirty-nine..."

Here Aragorn laughs, a rare thing for him now. "If he wins back to the caves, he will pass your count again. Never did I see an axe so wielded." Perhaps he has seen through Legolas' stoic line about telling Gimli his score, to the real worry, and fear for a friend, underneath.

As the battle concludes, Gandalf and a thousand men on foot show up to save the day, but Legolas is awestruck by the sudden appearance of a forest where none had been before; the Huorns from Fangorn. The extended DVD has a very few shots of the Huorn wood, but they add a great deal to the movie, and there is a lovely shot of Legolas' reaction to seeing it for the first time. Though it only lasts a few seconds, Orli's expression pretty well captures the surprise and wonder of Legolas first glimpse of the Huorn Wood.

Gimli and Legolas meet again, after the battle:

"Forty-two Master Legolas!"

Legolas notes the bandage around Gimli's head; "You have passed my score by one, but I do not grudge you the game, so glad I am to see you on your legs! "

Note that the Elf does not tell his score until he hears Gimli's. I have a deep suspicion that he fudged his own score, letting Gimli have the contest, for his hurts, and because Legolas was so glad to see him alive.


As they ride through the Huorn wood, Gimli again feels terrified of the strange wood.

"It is hot in here. I feel a great wrath about me. Do you not feel the air throb in your ears? "says Legolas. He is ever glancing from side to side, fascinated with the wood, wanting to halt and listen to the sounds of the forest. Gimli will not allow it. Legolas says; "These are the strangest trees that ever I saw, and I have seen many an oak grow from acorn to ruinous age. I wish that there were leisure now to walk among them: they have voices, and in time I might come to understand their thought." From several sources I have read, we can pin Legolas' age at around 500, give or take a century. But if you live in a forest, you can see many trees grow and die, quite a few at the same time.

"...their speech is of crushing and strangling!" says Gimli, who then waxes eloquent about the Glittering Caves, and how dwarves would pay pure gold for a glimpse. At first Legolas takes it lightly saying "I would give gold to be excused, and double to be let out if I strayed in!"

Gimli, with the stubborness of dwarves, persists, and at last Legolas is moved by his words, for words are the realm of Elves. It was they, the Quendi, the speakers, who first woke up the trees and taught them to talk. And trees come into the bargain Legolas makes now with his friend: "Come! Let us make this bargain---if we both return safe out of the perils that await us, we will journey for awhile together. You shall visit Fangorn with me, and then I will come with you to see Helm's Deep." (the Glittering Caves)

Gimli says: "I will endure Fangorn, if I have your promise to come back to the caves and share their wonder with me."

I love this bargain of opposites. Neither appreciates the thing that the other finds beautiful, in fact, they each find the other's thing of beauty terrifying and alien. But they have traveled long together, fought and risked their lives side by side for the same cause. The little differences of Elf and Dwarf don't seem so big anymore. Legolas and Gimli are opposites, earth and leaf, crystal and tree, dark and light; these two opposing forces are reconciled with their friendship, and this bargain. Think of a few of your favorite movies, TV shows or books, and see how many times this kind of pair of opposites has cropped up.

"As they rode out from under the eaves of the wood, Legolas halted and looked back with regret. Then he gave a sudden cry."

"There are eyes!" he said, "Eyes looking out from the shadows of the boughs! I have never seen such eyes before. He turns and rides back...

"No no! cried Gimli, "Do as you please in your madness, but let me first get down from this horse!"

I love this! Legolas leaving the wood with great reluctance, looking back and wishing he could hang up his bow and poke around in the woods for a few hundred years. He's Jaques Cousteau, Jane Goodall, Bernd Heinrich, anyone who's spent years in the wilderness watching dolphins or chimps or ravens. He's a tough, capable warrior, a stout Hero Companion, a really scary fighter with knife or bow...but what he really wants to do is wander about under the trees for a few years, in a kind of Elvish zen. It is Gandalf who finally yells, using his name in two languages: "Stay Legolas Greenleaf!"

"And now the songs have come down among us out of strange places, and walk visible under the Sun." (Theoden, of the Ents)

If you strange folk did not wreathe yourselves in smoke.

Upon finding Merry and Pippin at Isengard, lying about feasting and smoking, Gimli waxes eloquent about the "fine hunt you have led us! Two hundred leagues through fen and forest, battle and death to rescue you, and here we find you feasting and idling and smoking...I am so torn between rage and joy that if I do not burst it will be a marvel."

Legolas says, laughing: "you speak for me too, though I would sooner learn how they came by the wine."

Two nifty things here: one is that Gimli has beaten an Elf in a contest of words. His entire speech is quite a fat paragraph. Legolas only says "you speak for me too."

The other is that Leggy seems to be the only non-smoker in the party (there's more of this later), and then there's that wine reference...

...back in The Hobbit, there is a scene in the cellars of the King (Thranduil, Legolas' father), in which a butler named Galion, and a Chief Guard, who is not named feel the need to taste test the wine, freshly come from Dorwinion, before it is sent up to the King's table. It is particularly potent wine, enough to make a woodelf...or two...quite sleepy. They fall snoring onto the table, and very soon the chief guard has no keys, but Bilbo is trotting down the hall to free the dwarves.

Chief Guard; the sort of position a King might give to his youngest son on a time...

"You have drunk of the waters of the Ents, have you?" said Legolas, "Ah, then I think it is likely that Gimli's eyes do not decieve him. Strange songs have been sung of the draughts of the Ents." Legolas and Gimli have noticed Merry and Pippin's increased height, as well as their uncommon health and vigor, even after their kidnapping by orcs. Again Legolas knows somethig of the wide world through the songs and stories of his people, though he has only seen the Ents from a distance so far. As the Hobbits and Gimli and Aragorn settle down after their meal in the storeroom at Isengard, for a smoke, Legolas says: "Well, I am going back into the open air, to see what the wind and sky are doing!" I totally love this. I've suffered a few choking sessions with folk who had the strange habit of sucking smoke into their lungs. And Legolas seems like the sort who would grow fidgety if kept long from wind and sky and tree. And if locked away from them for too long, he would certainly grow ill and die.

As he rises and leaves, Aragorn and the others follow him. They sit on the piled stones before the gates of Isengard, smoking in silence, while 'Legolas lay still, looking up at the sun and sky with steady eyes, and singing softly to himself.' As in the chase across Rohan, in the night, he is in the moment, in a sort of quiet Sindarin zen, singing to himself, watching the natural rhythms of sun and sky. It is something humans rarely do: look up. It is a kind of meditation, a prayer, or the kind of be-here-nowness that birds and wolves and horses have. It's incredibly appealing, incredibly beautiful to me.

He also seems to be staring at the sun without going blind. One of those crazy superhuman Elf things he can do, like running on snow, or sleeping with his eyes open.

At last he grows Legolasly impatient: "Come now! Time wears on and the mists are blowing away, or would, if you strange folk did not wreathe yourselves in smoke. What of the tale?" Add to his many fine qualities 'non-smoker'. Tolkien of course was writing in a time period before anyone took seriously tobacco's dangers. He himself smoked the occasional pipe. It's kind of funny that one of his main characters seems to be annoyed by it.


In the confrontation with Saruman, locked in his tower, it is Gimli who speaks, while Legolas remains silent and no doubt watchful. When the Company returns to the Gate, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli see Treebeard for the first time up close, and look on him in wonder.

"The Old Ent looked at them long and searchingly, and spoke to them in turn. Last he turned to Legolas" (who is by now no doubt growing marvelously impatient).

"So you have come all the way from Mirkwood my good Elf? A very great forest it used to be."

"And still is. But not so great that we who dwell there ever tire of seeing new trees. I should dearly love to journey in Fangorn's Wood. I scarcely passed beyond the eaves of it, and I did not wish to turn back." Understated, but I see the excitement in his eyes.

'Treebeard's eyes gleamed with pleasure, "I hope you may have your wish, ere the hills be much older."

"I will come if I have the fortune. I have made a bargain with my friend that, if all goes well, we will visit Fangorn together---by your leave." Princely diplomacy.

"Any Elf that comes with you will be welcome."

"The friend that I speak of is not an Elf." More princely diplomacy.

"Hoom, hm! Ah now, a Dwarf and an axe bearer!..."

"Strange it may seem, but while Gimli lives, I shall not come to Fangorn alone. His axe is not for trees, but for orc-necks, oh Fangorn, Master of Fangorn's Wood. Forty-two he hewed in the battle." Lots of princely diplomacy and sticking up for a friend.

Legolas' voice shows his awe and delight and respect of Treebeard. And once again he defends his buddy, even if it carries the possibility of not being allowed into Fangorn's Wood. I wish that we had seen more of Legolas' reaction to meeting Treebeard in the film; the delight, childlike wonder and astonishment on his face would be wonderful.

concluded on part six...

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