The Elves of Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings"

Updated on October 28, 2019
Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

Wesman Todd Shaw is a huge fan of Lord of the Rings and loves writing about it.

The World of Middle Earth: There Is More to It Than Most Know

It is rather humorous the way a casual fan of Tolkien might think that hobbits are the chief characters within Tolkien's vast legendarium. The truth of the matter is quite different, as the entire story sits on the shoulders of the elves.

The entire tale of Middle Earth is not something known to one who has only read The Hobbit, and the trilogy known as The Lord Of The Rings. It is absolutely vital to have also read The Silmarillion for the reader to truly understand this thing called "Middle Earth." Just what these elves are is another thing altogether and equally vital in regards to an understanding of exactly what is going on in the Tolkien legendarium. As is usual, not all things are exact, as one of the elves I will be elaborating a bit on here is only a half-elf, and he is also much more than that too.

I never really can stress this enough, but with Tolkien, everything starts with The Silmarillion, and nothing can be fully understood about the rest of his legendarium without having read the complete tale of Middle Earth. One can hardly know the significance of the major elvish characters within The Lord Of The Rings, and The Hobbit without having also read The Silmarillion.

Viewed in its entirety, the whole tale of Middle Earth can be said to have little to do with magick rings; really, it is a tale of the creation of a world, and of how the elves turned that world over to mankind.

Peter Jackson's Characters as Tolkien's Elves In "The Lord Of The Rings."
Peter Jackson's Characters as Tolkien's Elves In "The Lord Of The Rings."

Tolkien's Elves: What the Heck Are They?

J.R.R. Tolkien was writing about elves long before he'd ever decided to create the literary race of creatures known as hobbits. Elves are present in the mythologies of Scandinavia, Germany, and England, but Tolkien's elves were not meant to really resemble the European mythological elves, Tolkien was, rather obviously, very much creative along with scholarly.

Tolkien's elves are the firstborn sons of the creator God of Tolkien's allegorical world, Middle Earth. Being the firstborn of the creator, however, doesn't mean the elves were the first race of bipeds on Middle Earth, a lesser god had already created the dwarves.

As it goes, the elves had immortal spirits bound to Arda, or the Earth of Tolkien's world, and the world or planet was NOT called "Middle Earth," but rather, Middle Earth was a continent on the Earth; there were also other continents, and one of them inhabited by the lesser gods.

Tolkien's elves were immortal, they did not age, and they did not die unless by sword, etc, or sorrow, their spirits were created to last so long as the world endured, but they could become so old their very spirits overtook their bodies, rendering them invisible save for when they deemed it necessary to reveal themselves to men.

Characteristics of the Elves

The elves of Tolkien's Middle Earth are similar in appearance to men, but very very different creatures in a large number of ways. Most notable of all is the fact they do not die unless in battle, or from grief.

Unlike men, elves are not so concerned with power; they'd rather practice the arts such as smith-work poetry, music, sculpture, or healing. Their spirits are tied to the Earth, and their spirits were created to last so long as the Earth lasts, and so, they are very closely tied to nature, but less so than say, Radagast the Brown, the Wizard who preferred the kinship of animals to that of elves, dwarves, men, or other creatures.

So far as the wizards go, the elves of Middle Earth were forevermore fond of Gandalf, the wizard who loved both crafts and nature, and was even by some thought to be an elf, and had been called "the elf of the wand."

Elves were, by and large, more beautiful than the children of mankind, and not so susceptible to the moral failings of men. They weren't so afflicted by greed or lust for power as humanity, as they were more aware of themselves as spirits in a material world.

Tolkien's elves of Middle Earth were generally taller than men, and had eyes of grey colour that could see not just further into the distance, but to some extent, into the hearts and minds of others, and even into the future.

Persons who've not actually read the books by Tolkien, and have only indulged themselves with the Peter Jackson films may be somewhat behind the curve on the actual goings-on of the story/films, and exactly what the significance is of the elvish characters, and for that reason I thought it would be good to take a look at the three most known elves from The Lord Of The Rings:

  1. Legolas
  2. Galadriel
  3. Elrond The Eleven Half

Legolas the Elf
Legolas the Elf | Source

1. Legolas: Prince of the Wood Elves

Never once is it mentioned in Peter Jackson's film adaptations of The Lord Of The Rings exactly who Legolas the elf actually is, what is seen is the elf warrior, the splendid archer, and the friend of the returning king, Aragorn. While Legolas is never mentioned in "The Hobbit," his father is, the King of the wood elves living in Mirkwood Forrest. In Peter Jackson's first installment of what is amazingly going to be a trilogy of films concerning Tolkien's book, The Hobbit, the father of Legolas is hinted at, and shown, but does not speak.

What is most notable concerning Legolas in both Tolkien's books and Jackson's films are both his never-ending good cheer, and his friendship with Gimli the Dwarf, but Jackson only hinted in the films at how this had not always been so, and perhaps the viewer of Jackson's films for The Hobbit will better understand just why that is.

2. Galadriel

From the Peter Jackson films, and I do mean the first film for The Hobbit as well, Galadriel is very present, and clearly shown to be one of the most powerful persons in the Tolkien world. What is it that makes Galadriel so very powerful? Well, first off, she has one of the three rings of power given to the elves, and the only ring more powerful than the ones she, Gandalf, and Cirdan the Ship-write have is the one ring, which the entire tale seems to be focused on.

....but being a bearer of one of the rings of power was not what made Galadriel so wise and powerful. The entire tale concerning The Hobbit, and The Lord Of The Rings is merely the tale of the third age of Middle Earth, but Galadriel was born in the first age of Middle Earth, and of course, lived through the second age as well. Suffice it to say, she is beyond ancient and has the accumulated wisdom of all those years of life. Still, this isn't sufficient, Galadriel was one of the most powerful of all the elves to have lived in the entire Tolkien Legendarium, and is considered second in wisdom and power to only Feanor, who created the silmarills, but of course one would then need to read The Silmarillion to know about any of that.

Among Tolkien nuts such as myself, it is probably somewhat debatable as to who would have been more powerful had they taken possession of the one ring of power, would it have been Gandalf? How about Galadriel? Elrond maybe? Some might even think it would have been Aragorn who'd have become most powerful. While I'm forever encouraging any and all to read the actual books, in the Peter Jackson films, one of the very best scenes of all is the scene where Frodo offers the ring of power to Galadriel, and she contemplates it, and then turns it down.

Elrond Half Elven
Elrond Half Elven

Elrond The Half Elven

"He was as noble and fair as an elf-lord, as strong as a warrior, as wise as a wizard, as venerable as a king of dwarves, and as kind as summer."

Like Galadriel, Elrond appears throughout the entire Tolkien legendarium and is a dominant character throughout. He is thousands and thousands of years old, having lived through the first and second ages of Middle Earth already, but Elrond isn't exactly an elf, he is only half-elf, as elves and men can, of course, mate. It is somewhat a failing of Peter Jackson's that he's not fleshed out who all these characters are, exactly, but I've already forgiven Peter, and surely you will too, as my entire life I've wanted Tolkien's world set to film, I just never imagined it having been done quite so well.

So Elrond, and as per the book, will be seen again and played well in Jackson's first rendition or film for The Hobbit film trilogy, as all the most powerful characters from The Lord Of The Rings, save Aragorn, are.

So who is Elrond?

Well for a complete answer to that question, I offer up the following page concerning nothing other than Elrond, and who he is in Tolkien's fabulous Middle Earth legendarium.

The shorter explanation would be to simply say Elrond is half elf, one-quarter man, and one quarter one of the lesser sort of gods that live in Middle Earth. Both Sauron and all the wizards are of the same level of lesser god as Elrond is related to. One could imagine the Middle Earth pedigree of Elrond contributing to his wisdom, but besides all of that, he is also related to all three tribes of elves.

Why No Mention of Arwen?

Simply put, the character of Arwen, played in the Peter Jackson films by Liv Tyler, was greatly expanded in the films. I suspect the reason for this was to add more female interest in the Tolkien world, and that is perfectly well and good with me, as one of the chief criticisms of Tolkien is the lack of female representation in parts of the vast and rambling totality of it all.

What I've actually found in my life on the Internet is that the only persons out there who seem to know and love J.R.R. Tolkien and his Middle Earth more than me....are women. I know several who could run me out any window in a Tolkien themed trivial pursuit. In any case, and as always, please if you're interested in this at all, read the books, and if you've read some, then read the others. Thanks for reading this page.

© 2012 Wesman Todd Shaw


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    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      5 months ago from Kaufman, Texas

      That's awesome!

      A dear friend, just this Christmas, bought for me The Fall of Gondolin, and The Children of Hurin.

      I haven't started on them yet, but I'll be starting on one of them probably next week. I'm unsure how to decide which of the two to go for first.

      Just this week I watched the film "Tolkien," and I thought it was extremely good. I noticed Rotten Tomatoes hadn't ranked it very high, but I can't figure why.

      It's not a complete thing about J.R.R.T. It's just about him from childhood to after the end of WWI.

    • profile image

      Anne Hurst 

      5 months ago

      I finally got around to reading Tolkien two years ago. Have read and seen the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings and have read the Silmarillion. I've tried to obtain other more obscure series of volumes on Middle Earth but much more difficult to find. I fell in love with Middle Earth and especially the Elves. Reading Tolkien inspired me to begin writing poetry again!

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      6 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Suhail and my dog - hey thanks! The LOTR films are terrific and "close to" the books. The Hobbit films...they're fun, but they're so far and gone from the book and larger Tolkien lore they hardly are even Tolkien much any more. Still good fun!

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 

      6 years ago from Mississauga, ON

      An ideal article to read by a person like me who is a Tolkien movies fan, but haven't read any of the books, because of my interest in only reading non-fiction adventure books.

      I read it late, but like they say, "better late than never."

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      7 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      GuitarGear - THAT'S AWESOME!!!!!!

      I fully intend to do more of them...I can hardly wait for the next Peter Jackson film....they do deviate quite a lot from the books, but they also raise interest in them at the same time, so despite what Christopher Tolkien thinks, it's one big win. :)

    • GuitarGear profile image

      Walter Holokai 

      7 years ago from Youngstown, Ohio

      WTS, Thanks for the hub. I saw the movie last week with my daughter. We really enjoyed it. When I was in high school in the 70's a large group of us were Tolkien freaks. It seemed everybody was reading the trilogy. We even had a weekly column in the school paper, "News From Middle Earth" written by yours truly. Kids would slip me notes containing messages pertaining to the books, the meanings of which were only known to their particular Tolkien clique. Tolkien was a fascinating writer and even went so far as to develop an Elvish language and dictionary which I'm sure you already knew about. Your Tolkien articles reminded me of my high school days. Thanks!

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      7 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Oh I'm getting there. Dwarves are a big deal in Tolkien, and especially in "The Hobbit."

      Elves are almost exclusively "the good guys" in Tolkien's world, where dwarves were at times not.

      As for orcs...that is a bigger subject than it would seem ...but orcs originated from captured elves that had been tortured for hundreds or thousands of years :)

      Thanks very much, expertscolumn!

    • expertscolumn profile image

      Stanley Soman 

      7 years ago from New York

      Interesting, I wonder why there is such a fascination with elves per say. I know someone who went to the length of learning a fictional language, Elvish. Why hasn't there been enough stress on the dwarves or the orcs for that matter?

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      7 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      tlmcgaa70 - That sounds like a terrific formulae for creating your own fantasy novel!!!!!!!!!

      Most nights when I shut it down and attempt to sleep....I try to imagine myself somewhere in middle sure works towards getting me to sleep!

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      7 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Thanks very much, kashmir56 !!! You can be sure I recommend both the films AND the books!

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      7 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Thanks very much, Eddy! Best Wishes to you and to yours in 2013!

      I'm so lost in "middle earth," that there will sure be more Tolkien pages from this end :)

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      7 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Thanks very much Alan!!!

      I sure do want to study mythology, and especially North and Western European mythology.

      There is so much to learn in this world...and so little time to learn it makes me rather sad.

      Tolkien did have some "dark elves," after a fashion, in "The Silmarillion." I recall one with a black sword that had drank so much blood that it became a living entity itself.

      Best wishes for you in 2013!

    • tlmcgaa70 profile image


      7 years ago from south dakota, usa

      awesome hub! i have read the hobbit, lotr and hurins children. i started the silmarillion, but haven't finished it yet. i have always said that Tolkien was the king if not the inventer of true "epicness". if i were to ever teach a class how to write an epic story he would be the required reading material. some time ago i started writing me into Tolkeins world. it is just a story for my own pleasure, but it is fun. im not the linguistics master Tolkien was, so for names i took ancient welsh names. when i first started it i was all gung the writer i can do whatever i want, i could that wouldn't work, i know i could that wouldn't work the end i realized that every bad thing that happened to the members of the fellowship had to happen for good to happen later. i realized i couldn't, didnt want to change anything in Tolkeins i decided to be someone from my own earth, i get in a serious accident and wake up in middle earth in the golden woods. i am set upon by wargs and goblins and rescued by three elves, brothers. who take me to see celeborn and galadrial, who sets me on the path of the fellowship. in the end i never meet up with them, but i do save Aragorns life in the battle before the gates of mordor. in saving his life i "die", thus being sent back to my own world. the last remaining elf brother also ends up being seriously wounded try to save me, and he ends up in my world. we meet up. we soon learn that sauron didn't actually die, but had been transported to my world with me. so the elf and i seek him out and have one last battle with him. this time he dies but not before killing the elf, who is then sent back to his own world. it was great fun thinking all this up but very involved in writing it as i am a stickler for details and to often get bogged down in them. i greatly enjoyed your hub...voted up and more and shared.

    • kashmir56 profile image

      Thomas Silvia 

      7 years ago from Massachusetts

      I have not read the book or seen the movie but found your hub very interesting and fascinating .

      Vote up and more !!! SHARING !

    • Eiddwen profile image


      7 years ago from Wales

      I am a great fan of The Lord Of The Rings and this hub was indeed a treat. Thanks for sharing and have a wonderful 2013.


    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      7 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      I've had a thought. Aside from wishing you a great New Year 2013, I should have put you onto "VIKING - 24: GIANTS, DWARVES & MONSTERS - Just the ticket..." There's a list of all the uglies there. Number 25 tells you about mankind in Midgard.

      Here's me signing off for 2012. See you next year.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      7 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Nice piece of writing, Wes. I've never been a great fan of Tolkien, although part of his writing stretches onto my own, i.e., the Norse connection. He's simplified the elfen dimension of mythology, perhaps to make his writing easy to follow for the majority (dumbing down, if you like - which is odd for an Oxford Don).

      There were dark elves and light elves, the dark elves living under man-made mounds or hills, or in caves. The light elves lived in woodland and people left food for them. The dark elves wrought sorcery and treasures such as Sif's golden hair (she was Thor's wife) after Loki cut off her tresses when she was asleep - just think, the first recorded 'hair-piece'.

      The ring, as in the ring cycle, would have been made by one of the dark elves [see 'VIKING - Ye Gods and Little Fish in the Norse Sea of Myth' in my 'VIKING' series. There will be a lot that's familiar to you as a Tolkien fan]. Tolkien also referred to Samian - aka Finnish - mythology, using a Samian name, for example, for the wizard Saruman. Gandalf could be either Norse or Samian, it's hard to say not being party to Tolkien's notes.

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      7 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      CHRIS YOU AREN'T THAT OLD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      Good to see you, Good Friend! I think I re read all Tolkien about once every ten or fifteen years just to keep my imagination up to speed :)

    • christopheranton profile image

      Christopher Antony Meade 

      7 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      It's about forty years since I first read Tolkien. His magic world will never die for me.

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      7 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      I think your Bev is AWESOME then Billy !!!!!!!

      Billy when I lay down and turn off the lights each night....well, the most of the time...I get myself to sleep by trying to insert myself into the J.R.R. Tolkien middle earth.

      Hey, it seems to work...and I am just a total fanatic about that stuff!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      7 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks for the education, buddy! I've seen the movies but I really know very little about the book or the background. Truth be told I saw the movies because Bev loves the series. :)

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      7 years ago from Kaufman, Texas


      I downloaded the director's cuts, the extended versions....if I told you how often I watch that might worry for my mental health!!!!!!!!!!!!! LOL!

      Yes "The Silmarillion" is Deep and THICK stuffs!!!!!

    • CMHypno profile image


      7 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      I tried reading The Silmarillion once when I was a teenager but I didn't get through it. Possibly I was too young and should give it another go. Strangely enough, as I found your hub I am also watching 'The Return of the King' on the TV. I have never watched the films before, but they have all been on over Christmas so I have watched them for the first time.

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      7 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      It's the religion and philosophy section of Tolkien's world!, in a way. It is also the historical section...if you wanted to look at it in a Biblical POV...The Silmarillion would be the Old Testament, and both The Hobbit and LOTR, the New Testament.

      If you aren't a Bible sort of guy....just use that comparison as you see fit!!!

    • David Warren profile image

      David Warren 

      7 years ago from Nevada and Puerto Vallarta

      Thank you, I was eleven or twelve when I read The Hobbit. Definitely will find The Simarillion soon.

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      7 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Hey thanks David! Just FYI...if you want The Silmarillion, that is tough reading!...small kids would have to be really interested to read that one.

      But do read The Hobbit to your grandson! Of course I have no clue what age we are talking about in his regards, but I always say the following:

      The Hobbit is a children's level book

      LOTR is Teen to adult level

      The Silmarillion ...that is college level reading!

    • David Warren profile image

      David Warren 

      7 years ago from Nevada and Puerto Vallarta

      Thank you! I'll definitely put "The Simarillion" on my reading list. I read "The Hobbit" and following trilogy MANY years ago. After taking my grandson to the new film I picked up a copy of "The Hobbit". As I was barely a teenager myself when I read it I've decided another look might be interesting. Enjoyed your hub!


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