Messenger of Mirkwood

by Oct 3, 2006Critical Viewpoints

~Messenger of Mirkwood

We all know and love the elf Legolas. But sadly enough for us very little is known about him. All that is told to us it that he is a prince of Mirkwood who is used as a messenger. And of course the famous description of him “a strange elf clad in green and brown.” But other then that we know very little of what he looks like, his past, or even his family. There are many essays on this character all ready circulating but this gives this author a chance to bring forth new ideas about him as we explore this Messenger of Mirkwood.

Through out the books we come to learn that for the most part he is a curious, lighthearted elf of Mirkwood who happens to have extraordinary talent with a bow. But later at the end of Return of the King he becomes the exact opposite of the joke prone elf we have grown to love. He becomes silent and contemplative as the sea longing awakes with in him. He becomes a very different elf. Even the hobbits notice that their once lighthearted companion as fallen into an uncharacteristic solitude. Legolas is your common playful wood-elf until the doom of the elves befalls him in Pelargir and this joyful elf is stricken down. It really is amazing how long Legolas battled with the sea longing for. But when he left that pure Elven joy that he seemed to always possess even in greatest peril seemed to leave to. It seems that this “strange” elf is stranger then we once thought.

Now what of his looks? We know that all elves are fair and beautiful and if we put bits of evidence together from Tolkien’s other works then we should be able to paint an accurate picture of Legolas. Thanks to Tolkien’s original description his clothing is out of the way, green and brown. Presumably typical wood-elf garb, tunic, breeches, and light shoes. But from there we move into more controversial features. His face was “fair beyond the measure of men” so he is beautiful, but we knew that so what makes him beautiful? By comparing him to other elves we would find that he had pale skin and would most likely have had grey eyes.

Now, as for hair. The argument is whether Legolas has dark or light hair. The supporters of him having light hair use his father, Thranduil, whom we know was a blonde. The supporters of his dark hair use a passage from The Fellowship of the Ring “His dark head was crowned with sharp white stars…” claiming that this means he has dark hair. It is of my opinion that Legolas has lighter hair, though not the intense blonde that the movie gives him. The above passage can be easily explained, it was night, during the night everything is dark so a light-haired being would appear to have dark hair. The fact that his father has golden hair is a great asset to this view. However depending on what type of elf his mother was, it is widely assumed that she was a Sindarin elf and blonde hair is typical among Sindarin elves, his hair color may differ. People can argue this point by using Luthien Tinuviel as she was of Sindarin parentage and had black hair. All I have to say to that is that her mother is a Maia and anything is possible. No one can be sure of any color hair or any of Legolas’s looks but we do what we can by comparing facts given by Tolkien and get this picture of him.

Very little is known about Legolas’s family and there are actually contradictions about the Royal House of Mirkwood hidden in all the histories of Middle-Earth. In some cases Thranduil comes out of Beleriand alone, and in other accounts with his father Oropher. We also do not know who the wife of Thranduil was, though it is probable that he had taken a Sindarin wife in Lindon. Nor do we know if Legolas had any siblings or a wife of his own. It seems likely that he did have siblings and that he was not the oldest of the bunch. It would not make sense for Thranduil to send his oldest son and heir with a colony of elves into Gondor. So it is probable that he is either the youngest or down amongst the younger children. Also most elves married but it does not appear through textual evidence that Legolas would have a wife. It is unlikely that Legolas would have left a wife and family to go on a quest that he was unsure if he would even return from. He could have easily have declined Elrond’s request to be a part of the Fellowship in favor of protection of his family. So he most likely was not married.

Another question that arises with discussion of Legolas’s family is why did he never refer to himself as a prince of Mirkwood? It is obviously not uncommon to exploit ones political position as we see with Aragorn constantly referring to himself as the heir of Isildur. So why did Legolas never mention his position? There are several times when if might help to have a prince in your midst. Well one reason might very well be that because he is a younger son of Thranduil such titles are only used ceremoniously in his own home. Or maybe he feels that he will be judged more critically if it is known he is of royal blood. Elves of course are always judged critically by men but certainly royalty would be deeply scrutinized. Another reason may be that because he never introduces himself he is subject to what ever the introducer knows about him. A last reason is an interesting idea that has come to my ears a few times. There are some who think that Legolas was a !@#$%^& prince. If the elves even have those. That might explain why he is never referred to directly as a prince. Even Elrond only says that he is a “son of Thranduil.” It might also explain why he refers to Thranduil as “my Elven lord” and never as “my father.” Though this idea is interesting there is no textual basis for this fact and there are other much more legitimate ideas about why his position is never mentioned.

Legolas’s age is another popular topic of fans of the character and the books. Some claim that he is ancient, the same Legolas Greenleaf that lead the people out of Gondolin. While others say he is one of the youngest elves in Middle-Earth. The latter seems to be the more logical of the two beliefs. For one he implies that he has never traveled very far. In fact he states that point black as the three hunters stand before Fangorn Forest. Also in The Book of Lost Tales 2 it says “In the tale appears the keen-sighted Elf Legolas Greenleaf, first of the names of the Fellowship to appear in my father’s writings. (see p. 218 on this earlier Legolas.)” So Christopher Tolkien tells us that there are two Legolas Greenleafs. Also there are several contradictions in the two characters. Legolas Greenleaf of the House of the Tree can see amazingly well in the dark, in fact he is famed for it. And Legolas Greenleaf of Mirkwood can not see all that well in the dark. In The Two Towers he says “Would that the night would end and I would have better light for shooting.” So those reasons state quite clearly that Legolas of the Fellowship was a young Elf.

However now that we have established that he was young just how young was he? There are times when he drops subtle hints about his age. For instance in Lothlorien he tells us that he has never yet been to that land of his kin. Well Oropher pulled his realm farther away from Lorien near the end of the Second Age. So he was most likely not born until well into the Third Age. Now just when in the Third Age was he born? Well while in Rohan he says that the red leaves of Mirkwood have fallen 500 times since the first king of Rohan. He makes it sound like he has been around for all 500 of those years. So we can assume that he is a little older then 500. Most likely between 800 and 1000, so if we do the math then that puts his birth some time during the middle of the watchful peace. If we go with the widely accepted number of 800 then that puts his birth in the year 2219 of the Third Age. About 244 years before the One Ring was found again.

Now if we wanted to get a specific date then there are several ways that we might use to make an estimate. The most obvious way is to use Astrology. Cunningly enough, after perusing many astrology sites for characteristics of the signs, the one that seems to be most compatible with Legolas is Sagittarius the Archer. These people are curious, optimistic, and egger to learn. Just as Legolas shows on several occasions. So this would place his birthday sometime between November 22 and December 21. I learned while searching people born closer to the cusp of their sign show the most numerous of the qualities possessed by that particular sign. Legolas does not portray all of the Archers characteristics so I would place his birth date somewhere in the middle, on December 6th. Of course using this imprecise and mythological art no one can be entirely sure of anything so Legolas’s actual begetting day will remain a mystery.

There are a few smaller questions about Legolas that have been discussed in fan communities every where since the movies were released. One such is; could Legolas actually have known Aragorn before the Council of Elrond? The answer to that is no. Legolas would have met Aragorn when he came to Mirkwood with Gollum, but that was probably the only time they met before hand, and it was most likely just in passing. He probably did not have any type of friendship with him until they traveled together in the Fellowship. Another question is was Legolas in charge of Gollum’s captivity and is that why he was sent to Rivendell? That may be likely. Or he may have been a part of his guard at one time or another. I think that Legolas must have had some interaction with Gollum because he definitely seemed distressed at the Council and one who was just running errands would not have known the importance of the prisoner. True Legolas did say that he was not aware of how grievous the loss was but he still knew Gollum was an important captive. So he definitely had interaction with him but if he was in charge I cannot say. One last question is, Was Legolas at the Battle of Five Armies? That I think is a definite yes. As the wood elves were only going to collect treasure and they did not anticipate a fight I think Thranduil would have brought along his children. With all the treasure Smaug had horded up he would need all the help he could get. During the battle Legolas was probably with the archers that scaled the Eastern shoulder of the mountain. His skill with the bow would have been needed and he was most likely fully developed in his skill by then.

Legolas is a confounding character. He is unlike to so many of the elves we have previously met. Could anyone imagine Elrond playing a killing game with a dwarf in a crucial battle? Or imagine Galadriel making light of the situation on Caradhras? No one cannot. Legolas is such an interesting character that people crave to know more about him. Though the great Professor Tolkien left us no answers other then what we could reason out ourselves. I have given you my best guess on Legolas and his many puzzling questions. I can only hope that you as the reader can come to a bit more of an understanding about him after you have read my thoughts on Legolas the messenger of Mirkwood.


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