Legolas running lightly over the snow

TThurston

Member
When the company encounters the snow on Caradhras, we read the following:

Aragorn was the tallest of the Company, but Boromir ... was broader and heavier in build. ... In places the snow was breast-high and often Boromir seemed to be swimming or burrowing with his great arms rather than walking. ... Legolas watched them for a while with a smile upon his lips, and then he turned to the others. 'The strongest must seek a way, say you? But I say: let a ploughman plough, but choose an otter for swimming, and for running light over grass and leaf, or over snow - an Elf.' ... With that, he sprang forth nimbly, and then Frodo noticed as if for the first time, ... [he] wore only light shoes, .. and his feet made little imprint in the snow. ... Then swift as a runner over firm sand he shot away, and quickly overtaking the toiling men, with a wave of his hand he passed them, and sped into the distance"

Several questions here:

1. How much shorter than Aragorn is Legolas? When I first read this, I assumed (as I think is natural) that Legolas was much shorter than the two men, and very slight in stature.

2. Is running over show a weight thing, magic, or a skill of a particular sort of nimbleness? The text seems to suggest that it is something we could expect from other elves, not just Legolas. I'm reminded of Tom Bombadil waving off raindrops, but I don't recall if we decided what sort of thing that was. I'm also reminded of the feet of some animals, like lynx, or snowshow hares that allow running over the top of snow without sinking. Perhaps the light shoes of Legolas work like the feet of those animals, and were Legolas barefoot, he might sink deeper into the snow. I don't suppose this is really resolved in the text, and perhaps it is for each reader to imagine to himself how it happens.

We later get other hints regarding the nimbleness of Legolas. At Haldir's talan, "a ladder was let down; it was made of rope... Legolas ran lightly up, and Frodo followed slowly." Running up a rope ladder (not climbing) presents an interesting a picture. Crossing Celebrant, we read that Haldar tied a rope between tress on both sides of the river, and then "ran lightly along it, over the river and back again... 'I can walk this path', said Legolas, 'but the others have not this skill..." It sounds here like this "light running" is a skill rather than a weight thing.

3. Regarding Legolas' stature, we later read that when Aragorn, Legolas, and GImli meet the riders of Rohan, that Aragorn takes one horse, and the Legolas takes Gimli behind him on the second horse. I always understood this to indicate that the combined weight of Legolas and Gimli would be comparable to the weight of Aragorn. We know from our reading elsewhere that Dwarves are taller than hobbits (so that the Dwarves have to carry Bilbo over the Ford at the Carrock), but much stockier - heavier in build. Also note that Legolas (and other elves, perhaps) uses a bow for his weapon, rather than the sword of Gandalf, Aragorn, or the axe of Gimli. I wonder if this is because his stature. What does the text of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings tell us about the stature of Elves? (I mean the text of those works of Tolkien that were published in his lifetime). Note that I always assumed that Gimli would have been more than half the weight of a normal man, and this would suggest that Legolas would be taller, but lighter than GImli. Also note that Legolas does not seem to have a problem riding a horse rather than a pony, as most hobbits would have. Perhaps he is shorter than Aragorn, but not by much. After all, he didn't seem to have a problem with a Rohan war steed.

4. Regarding "an otter for swiming", I'm reminded of the group consensus that Barad Morlas is an amusement park for elves, complete with a water slide like otters would use - interesting. It does seem that Legolas compares himself to an otter. Not really sure of the question here.
 
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Beech27

Active Member
Tolkien was famously pretty light on specific physical description, but he did push back against the notion that elves were slight, Legolas included. From the Book of Lost Tales, for instance:

He was tall as a young tree, lithe, immensely strong, able swiftly to draw a great war-bow and shoot down a Nazgûl, endowed with the tremendous vitality of Elvish bodies, so hard and resistant to hurt that he went only in light shoes over rock or through snow, the most tireless of all the Fellowship.

There are also papers where Tolkien mentions Aragorn and Boromir were 6'6 and 6'4, respectively, so Legolas could be shorter than them, and still not outright short. And drawing bows effectively and as quickly as he demonstrably does couldn't be done by the slight/weak.

As for whether running over snow is natural ability, developed skill/talent, or magic, with elves I think we always just have to shrug and say yes, it's all of those and none. That is, that there isn't a line between them, for elves.
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
In regard to your shoe hypothesis about how Legolas can run across the top of the snow:

At about age 10, my friends and I tested this theory by wearing tennis shoes and trying to run across the top of the foot deep snow to school. Myth Busted!
 

TThurston

Member
Okay, I've discovered the book, "The Nature of Middle Earth" that quoting Tolkien gives pretty complete descriptions of the stature of each member of the fellowship. Apparently Gimli is about 4 feet high and stocky, and Legolas about 6 feet high. I still wonder about Legolas and Gimli sharing a horse. I hope their combined weight wasn't too great. Perhaps it was a horse used to carrying a man of Rohan with full armor and gear, and thus the combined weight of Glimli and Legolas would not be too burdensome.
 

Rachel Port

Well-Known Member
In The Nature of Middle-earth (reading ahead) Tolkien says elves are tall, with both men and women standing between 6 and 7 feet.

Both Legolas and the elves of Lorien can run across a rope stretched over a stream with no problem - I would think that kind of fleetness is a fairy thing, whether the fairy is tall or tiny. And I doubt Legolas has the weight of a man or similar height. There seems to be an overall lightness of movement and also their way of riding horses without saddle or bridle that gives a strong impression of little weight. And don't forget, Eomer also gives a ride to Gimli, and he is a tall and strong man, probably weighing a good deal more than Legolas. These are powerful horses in Rohan.

Flammifer, I love that story about the sneakers in the snow.
 

TThurston

Member
I found another interesting passage regarding Legolas. Near the end of the pursuit of the Orc-company who abducted Merry and Pippin, we read that "Legolas still stepped as lightly as ever, his feet hardly seeming to press the grass, leaving no footprints as he passed; but in the waybread of the Elves he found all the sustenance that he needed, and he could sleep, if sleep it could be called by Men, resting his mind in the strange paths of Elvish dreams, even as he walked open-eyed in the light of this world." Perhaps he makes little mark on the world because he is not quite of the world. I know we've discussed elves before as belonging to another realm, Faerie. Not quite the same as we've discussed with the Nazgul, but still otherworldly. So perhaps Legolas (and other elves) may be tall and strong, but still dwelling partly in that other realm, they can leave a light footprint in the normal world of men, hobbits, and dwarves. Or sit lightly in the on a horse, even one "smaller and lighter" than Aragorn's horse, and share it with Gimli. We get a description from Gandalf about Glorfindel nature in that other world, "a white firgure that shone and did not grow dim .... you saw him for a moment as he is upon the the other side, one of the mighty of the Firstborn." Perhaps all of his kindred are alike, but to a lesser degree.
 
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Rachel Port

Well-Known Member
But Legolas is a wood elf and has not lived in Valinor, and I thought it was only the elves who had been dwelt at once in both worlds. It's only when he sees the gulls that he finds a longing for the sea, and what lays beyond. I don't think Faerie is "the other side," but a description of a magical aura that exists around elves, and that gets stronger when elves gather together.

Lately I've been finding Legolas fascinating.
 
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