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Elven characteristics

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Last Elf by Piotr Wysocki
"The Elves have their own labours and their own sorrows, and they are little concerned with the ways of hobbits, or of any other creatures upon earth."
Gildor Inglorion[1]

The Elves were the fairest creatures in Arda, a far more beautiful race than Men, and generally tall (about six feet).[source?] Among them, those who had gone to Valinor were the fairest and had the greatest skill of body.

Elves had keener senses, sight and hearing than Men, were slender, graceful yet strong, but were resistant to extremes of nature, illness and disease. However many Noldor died at the crossings of Helcaraxe.

Practical considerations, including a number of occasions where Men were mistaken for Elves (most notably Túrin Turambar), suggest that the points of difference between Elves and Men, must have been subtle.


Pointed ears

Whether Elvish ears were pointed or not is open for speculation,[2][3] but it should be noted that there are no explicit references to pointed Elvish ears in The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings or The Silmarillion.

It was stated in early linguistic writings that "the Quendian ears were more pointed and leaf-shaped than Human."[4][5] Answering to a question on Hobbit ears, Tolkien wrote that these were "only slightly pointed and 'elvish'".[6] Some fans take this to mean that Elvish ears were pointed, while others argue that it is an ambiguous statement.[2][3]

Hair colour

Elven hair colour is quite varied and complex. In general, the Vanyar were golden-haired, and other Elves (including the Noldor, Sindar, and Avari) had dark (brown) or even black hair,[7][note 1] although some of the Teleri, including Celeborn, had silver hair. Lúthien Tinúviel and her remote descendant Arwen Undómiel, both described as the fairest of all Elves, were dark haired.

This is not the full picture, however: Míriel Serindë of the Noldor, the first wife of Finwë and mother of Fëanor, is described as having a silvery hair.[8] Finarfin, the youngest son of Finwë, and his descendants (such as Galadriel) had golden hair on account of Finwë's second wife, Indis of the Vanyar. Idril, the daughter of Turgon, King of Gondolin, had golden hair inherited from her mother, Elenwë of the Vanyar. Fëanor, the eldest Noldorin prince is described as having a "raven-dark" hair.[9] However, not all the sons of Fëanor were dark-haired: Maedhros and the twins Amrod and Amras had auburn hair, from their grandfather Mahtan. Another Noldo with unusual hair colour was Glorfindel, whose hair is described as of "shining gold" in colour.

Additionally, a silver hair colour existed in the royal houses of the Sindar, with Thingol, Círdan and Celeborn all described as having silver hair.[10] Galadriel displayed an extremely rare hair colour nowhere else observed: "silver-golden" hair, said to be dazzlingly beautiful ("blending the light of the Two Trees, Telperion and Laurelin"). This may have been a result of her unusual mixed Noldorin-Vanyarin-Telerin heritage (her mother was the niece of Thingol, and her father was a son of Finwë and Indis). Thranduil, father of Legolas and a Sindarin Elf, is described as having blond ("golden") hair in The Hobbit,[11] but his son Legolas' own hair colour is not recorded. The golden hair colour is sometimes implied among the other Elves: Amroth, a Sindarin Elf of Lórien is one such case, whose hair is described as "bright" and shining like a spark of gold in the sun.[12] In The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, a very similar reference is made for an Elf of Lothórien with a hair "glinted like gold" in the sun.[13] However, these descriptions can be interpreted differently.

Eye colour

When Tolkien describes Elven eyes, they tend to be grey. This is certainly true of Lúthien (and her descendants: Elrond, Arwen and her brothers, and Aragorn and the Dúnedain). Voronwë, who guided the man Tuor to Gondolin, also had grey eyes.

Though he was half-Noldorin, Maeglin is said to have dark eyes (possibly from his father Eöl, who was not of the Noldor), while Olwë (the brother of Lúthien's father Thingol, and a Telerin king) had blue eyes. The eye colour of most other Elves is not mentioned, and so would be difficult to generalize.

Other characteristics

The Elves were like Ainur in spirit; they loved all beauty of nature, especially water, the Sea and the stars, since they were the first things they saw; as a consequence Ulmo and Varda were the Ainur closer to them. They were marked by an insatiable curiosity and a desire of learning and creating.

They detested all evil and were usually more resistant to be corrupted than Men, unless evil tricked them with fair form, like Annatar. Conversely, their work harmed evil, like lembas and the Elven rope that brought pain to Gollum's skin. They were, however, succeptible to greed, pride and jealousy, as exemplified by the story of the House of Fëanor, or the jealous and unjustified hatred of Saeros toward Túrin. [14]

The Eldar could manipulate sanwe-latya (Quenya for "thought-opening" or "telepathy") which allowed them to communicate with thought (Ósanwe).

Elves apparently did not sleep but rested their minds with beautiful thoughts in reverie or looking at fair things.

Also, unlike Men, Elves were ambidextrous.[15]

Although Elves were generally considered the most powerful of the Children of Ilúvatar, there are accounts that some Men from the Great Houses of the First Age were physically stronger, though less agile. It is told that the Dragon Helm was given to Fingon, but "in all Hithlum no head and shoulders were found stout enough to bear the dwarf-helm with ease", so the High King gave it to Hador, a Man.[14]


  1. Tolkien notes in one manuscript that "no Elf had absolute black hair" (J.R.R. Tolkien, "Words, Phrases and Passages in Various Tongues in The Lord of the Rings", in Parma Eldalamberon XVII (edited by Christopher Gilson), p. 125).


  1. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "Three is Company"
  2. 2.0 2.1 Conrad Dunkerson, "Do the Elves in Tolkien's stories have pointed ears?", The Tolkien Meta-FAQ (accessed 15 February 2012)
  3. 3.0 3.1 Michael Martinez, "Do Tolkien’s Elves Have Pointy Ears?" dated 21 September 2011, (accessed 15 February 2012)
  4. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Lost Road and Other Writings, Part Three: "The Etymologies", p. 368 (roots LAS1 and LAS2)
  5. J.R.R. Tolkien, "Addenda and Corrigenda to the Etymologies — Part One" (edited by Carl F. Hostetter and Patrick H. Wynne), in Vinyar Tengwar, Number 45, November 2003, p. 26
  6. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 27, (dated March or April 1938)
  7. J.R.R. Tolkien, "Words, Phrases and Passages in Various Tongues in The Lord of the Rings", in Parma Eldalamberon XVII (edited by Christopher Gilson), pp. 118, 125
  8. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Morgoth's Ring, "Part Three. The Later Quenta Silmarillion: (I) The First Phase: 6. Of the Silmarils and the Darkening of Valinor"
  9. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion: Of Fëanor and the Unchaining of Melkor"
  10. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The War of the Jewels, "Part Four. Quendi and Eldar": Sindar
  11. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, "Flies and Spiders"
  12. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "The History of Galadriel and Celeborn"
  13. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "Lothlórien"
  14. 14.0 14.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "Narn i Hîn Húrin (The Tale of the Children of Húrin)"
  15. J.R.R. Tolkien, "Eldarin Hands, Fingers & Numerals and Related Writings — Part Three" (edited by Patrick H. Wynne), in Vinyar Tengwar, Number 49, June 2007