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Bloodlines and Lifestyles by Elronds Baliff

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PostPosted: Tue Aug 26, 2003 7:24 pm    Post subject: Bloodlines and Lifestyles by Elronds Baliff Reply with quote

This essay was written originally for a classroom setting and with a page limit, and thus the writing is very condensed. I have only altered it from its original form for accuracy where needed.

Bloodlines and Lifestyles: The Genealogy of Elves in General and Legolas in Particular

By Victoria Hughes

"There was also a strange Elf clad in green and brown, Legolas, a messenger from his father, Thranduil, the King of the Elves of Northern Mirkwood. . . ." - Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring; The Council of Elrond

Legolas Greenleaf: arguably the most popular Elf every created by Tolkien, thanks to the movies. However, very little is actually known about him; Tolkien tells very little indeed regarding Legolas' family, bloodline, etc. While Tolkien was still alive, many questions were asked of him about his published stories. Many of his answers are published in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. However, it was not until after his death that Legolas became an item of unbridled admiration; it seems that in his lifetime no one saw fit to ask Mr. Tolkien about the genealogy of Legolas Greenleaf, and Tolkien never saw fit to directly explain this matter in his writings. (This is not to say that Legolas had no fans prior to Tolkien's death; however, his fanbase was greatly expanded by the movies.) And so Legolas' fans are left to endlessly debate this matter amongst themselves. To this end, I now present the genealogy of Legolas Greenleaf as it may be understood from what small clues Tolkien offers up in his many texts.

To fully understand the matter of Legolas' genealogy, however, one must be familiar with the vast majority of Elven genealogy, which is a complicated matter that is tied up in the very beginning of Time in Tolkien's created world.

It is important to also address specifically the genealogy of the Telerin Elves, from which Legolas is directly descended. Therefore, in addition to discussing Legolas' genealogy in particular, the early history of all Elves and their basic genealogy must also be investigated, and the history and genealogy of the Telerin Elves in particular must be discussed.

The Early History of the Elves

In the beginning, God created not the heavens and earth, but rather the Firstborn. They were the first of the two prominent races to appear on Middle-Earth. These Firstborn were called Elves; their followers, the Secondborn, would be known as Men.

Tolkien's myth of creation follows much the same pattern as the story told by the Bible: at first there is God, Eru, and His angels, the Ainur; at Eru's will, a world is created, and He gives selected Ainur, called the Valar, free reign to design a land that will be fit for His children, the Elves and Men. However, just as in the Bible there is Lucifer, in this new world there is Melkor, an Ainu gone bad out of jealousy and spite. Melkor proceeds to destroy things as the rest of the Valar attempt to build a perfect world, and in the end they are driven to frustration. The good Valar create for themselves a haven in the West, which they call Aman, and they withdraw there, allowing Melkor free reign over the rest of the land, now deemed Middle-Earth, or Arda. And there was endless twilight over all of Middle-Earth, for the Sun and Moon had not yet been created (Silmarillion, Ainulindale). Only the stars provided any light in the sky, and so they became the beloved light of the Elves.

Finally it comes to pass that the Firstborn 'awaken' upon this new created world; when the Valar hear of this, they determine to go to war with Melkor, although they know they will greatly alter the shape of the world with their battles; they know they must defeat Melkor before he can take the Elves and twist them to his evil purpose (although Melkor yet was able to, for when some fled before the Valar, he captured them and mutilated them in body and spirit, creating Orcs, according to the theory presented in The Silmarillion). So the Valar rode out to war, and they soundly defeated Melkor and threw him into the prison of the Valar.

Now rose a debate over the fate of Elves; should they be allowed to wander Middle-Earth freely, or should they be bid to live in Aman with the gods? In the end, they chose to send out one of their number to meet the first of the Elves and bid them live in Aman. The one sent is Orom, the Hunter, for he was the first to see and be enchanted by the Elves, who were fair in appearance and sturdy of mind and spirit. But the Elves were afraid, not understanding Orom's great power and remembering only the wrath of the Valar as they battled with Melkor, and so they instead sent three ambassadors with Orom to Aman to see the West and tell them what they thought. These three Elves were Ingw, Finw, and Elw, and afterwards they became leaders of their people (Silmarillion, Coming of the Elves).

Ingw, Finw, and Elw were amazed by the beauty of the land of the Valar, and they returned to their people joyful with the news. Most of the Elves were swayed to come to Aman, but some were not; those that came with Orom on the journey to Aman were called the Eldar, and those that refused were called Avari, the Unwilling (Silmarillion, Coming of the Elves). The Elves that came with Orom could be broken down into three groups: those that followed Ingw, the Vanyar; those that followed Finw, the Noldor, and those that followed Elw and his brother Olw, the Teleri (Silmarillion, Coming of the Elves). It is on this last group that we will now concentrate.

The Genealogy of the Telerin Elves

The Teleri were the last and greatest group to follow Orom across Middle-Earth to Aman. They were a people apart from the Vanyar and Noldor, for they had an abiding love of water; they would later become the great sailors of the Sea that separated Arda from Aman. When the Elves came to a river for the first time, the Teleri wished to remain, and so they abided a little while longer than their brethren, but when Orom led the Vanyar and Noldor onward without them, there were those among the Teleri that feared the onward journey into the mountains so greatly that they refused to travel onward. These Teleri were called the Nandor, for they loved rivers and streams like their kin but lived in the trees; they went no further, and thus the first of the Elves fell away from the Great Journey (Silmarillion, Coming of the Elves).

Of the Nandor not much more can be said. In The Silmarillion, they are said to have "greater knowledge of living things, tree and herb, bird and beast, than all other Elves." Later, they would be better known as the secretive and mischievous Silvan Elves, or Wood Elves, who lived east of the great mountain range, the Misty Mountains, and mostly populated the large forests of Greenwood and Lrien (Unfinished Tales, History of Galadriel and Celeborn).

Now the remaining Teleri tarried no longer but continued on the long journey to the West, and they were led by Olw and his brother Elw Singollo, who was also called Elu Thingol. Also at this time Melkor had been driven back by the Valar, and 'demigods' (for lack of a better comparison), called Maiar, roamed the earth. These demigods could be considered a step below the Valar. The most prominent of these Maiar on Middle-Earth was Melian; "there were none more beautiful than Melian, nor more wise, nor more skilled in songs of enchantment" (Silmarillion, Of Thingol and Melian).

Some time after passing over the Misty Mountains, Elw, walking alone, chanced upon a glade, and in this glade stood Melian. Immediately he was filled with love for her, and he fell under her enchantment, and she fell for him, and for a long time they but stood together under the eternal twilight. Elw's people searched for him but did not find him, and when it came time for the Elves to move onwards again, some chose to remain behind with Elw, wherever he may have been. So Olw became the king of the Teleri, and those who so chose continued onwards with him to Aman. But when Elw returned to his senses and thus to his people, they did not again take up the Great Journey; rather, he wedded Melian, and he and his people set up a kingdom in the twilight of Arda. They were called the Sindarin Elves, which means Twilight Elves, or Grey Elves, and they lived under the protection of Melian and the kingship of Thingol blissfully for many years, calling their land Doriath.

The rest of the Elves continued and completed their journey onwards to Aman.

The Genealogy of Legolas

This all happened before the Sun and Moon even existed. Some four thousand years later, the world is far different; Thingol's kingdom is destroyed, the Noldorin Elves have returned from Aman, and much of Middle-Earth is embroiled in an ongoing battle with Melkor and his servant Sauron. It is at this time that Legolas' grandfather, Oropher, comes into the picture. Oropher is described as a Sindarin Elf. However, he is amongst a group of Sindarin Elves that believed the ways of Elves had become to complicated and vastly political; therefore, he traveled eastward, away from his people, to live with the Silvan Elves in Greenwood. He became a ruler over them, and his son, Thranduil, ruled after him (Unfinished Tales, History of Galadriel and Celeborn). "Under the leadership of these [the Silvan folk] became again ordered folk and increased in wisdom. [And] Thranduil, father of Legolas of the Nine Walkers was Sindarin" (Unfinished Tales, History of Galadriel and Celeborn).

Why did Oropher desert the ways of the Sindar Elves? Nothing is said of Oropher prior to his trip east over the Misty Mountains; we only know for certain that he is Sindarin, and that he departed East after the destruction of Thingol's realm. However, there may be a few clues to be found. "Welcome son of Thranduil!"
Celeborn hails Legolas upon the Fellowship's arrival in Lothlrien. "Too seldom do my kindred journey hither from the North." Note that Celeborn is actually the grandnephew of Elu Thingol, so he too is a Sindar Elf; the broader interpretation accepts the idea that Celeborn is merely hailing an Elf of the same Sindarin clan. However, a narrower interpretation might be taken as well; perhaps Legolas is in some way related to Celeborn.

Like Celeborn, Oropher is a remnant from the time of King Thingol. Although it is not specifically stated that Oropher is a refugee of Thingol's kingdom, he is lumped in with the Elves that fled East from the sack of Doriath (Unfinished Tales, History of Galadriel and Celeborn). Because he is Sindarin it is highly likely that Oropher is one of the Elves of Doriath. Mayhap Oropher was a cousin of Celeborn, or otherwise related to him; indeed, Celeborn and Legolas' family share a love for middle-Earth and the same distaste for Dwarves. Legolas dislikes Gimli and blames the Dwarves for encroachments upon his father's land and the awakening of dark things in the deeps; Celeborn is the one who has forbidden Dwarves to enter Lothlorien and desires to take back his greeting to Gimli when he hears of the Balrog (The Fellowship of the Ring, The Mirror of Galadriel). Likely he sought out Silvan ways after politics literally destroyed his likely home of Doriath; it was a war between Elves over the magical Silmarils that saw to the destruction of the once-mighty realm, not the enemy Melkor (Silmarillion, The Sack of Doriath). From this sort of violence, it is clear why an Elf might wish to completely lock himself away from political battle and choose a low-level, quieter group of Elves to make his home with.

(Interestingly, Dwarves have a bad history with Thingol as well; when they set a Silmaril (a magical jewel) in a piece of jewelry for him, they were overcome with lust for the Silmaril and killed Thingol over it (The Silmarillion, The Sack of Doriath). Mayhap the grudge against Dwarves goes deeper in both Legolas and Celeborn's families ...)

Therefore it is clear that paternally, Legolas is Sindarin, and quite possibly distantly related to Elu Thingol himself. However, Legolas counts himself among the Silvan Elves. As he says in The Fellowship of the Ring of a deserted region once populated by Elves, "The Elves of this land were of a race strange to us of the Silvan folk." He also sings a song created by the Silvan Elves long ago, and Gimli, the Dwarf of the Fellowship calls Legolas a 'Wood Elf' (The Two Towers, The White Rider). How can this be?

The answer lies not in bloodlines, perhaps, but rather in lifestyle. Although the Sindarin and Silvan Elves were of one origin - the Telerin Elves - the Silvan folk were a much more rustic and simple people than the Sindarin. They took little to no part in the politics of the Elves; they had no leader nor nation until the remains of Thingol's people came out of the West to rule them. As was previously stated, Oropher was of a mind to join the Silvan Elves in this impolitic life; he even adopted
their language, a dialect of Elvish not unlike his own Sindarin Elvish, and fighting style (Unfinished Tales, History of Galadriel and Celeborn).

Although it is not explicitly stated thusly, it is likely that Thranduil was of a like mind with his father. After all, he named his own son after the fashion of the Silvan Elves.
The name 'Legolas' means 'Green-leaves', which is a rather distinctly Silvan, referring back to their woodland home. However, it is important to note that spelling is Silvan. The pure Sindarin form of 'Green-leaves' would be 'Laegolas', where the syllable 'laeg' means 'green'; in Silvan, 'leg' is the word for 'green'. Therefore, Legolas' name is Silvan in origin (Letters, 211).

Legolas is thus shown to be in the rather unique position of being Sindarin by bloodline but Silvan by nature. One could speculate that somehow Legolas does indeed have Silvan blood; nothing is said of his grandmother or mother, and so it is easy to assume his parentage could in fact be mixed. However, on the matter of Legolas' maternal bloodlines Tolkien is silent; one can only speculate and make vague conjectures. In the end it does not seem to matter much to Legolas, who is perfectly happy being exactly what he is: a Wood Elf who loves the water and the trees.


Like most Elves, Legolas Greenleaf's bloodlines are tied up tightly in the cocoon of Elvish history. He is descended from the Teleri, which were the largest group of the Eldarin Elves; his father and grandfather are both from the Sindarin part of
the Telerin Elves. Nothing is known of his mother or grandmother, however, who may very well be from the Silvan part of the Telerin Elves. He lives as a Silvan Elf due to his granfather's choices and experiences, and his father's as well; he is even named in the Silvan language. Therefore, Legolas is brought up to consider
himself not Sindarin as his paternal origins dictate, but rather Silvan, as the lifestyle he adopted dictates.

Never given the need to unravel Legolas' origins, the master creator of Middle-Earth failed to do so, and now much of the Elf's past is shrouded in mystery, the knowledge lost upon the esteemed Tolkien's death. Tolkien left not a key, but lock picks, small bits and pieces of knowledge from which some small part can be gleaned. I hope that I have managed with the tools offered to give a glimpse at the bloodlines of Legolas Greenleaf, and to demonstrate why they do not quite matter as much as it might seem.

* * *

Thank you for reading. Any and all feedback is appreciated.


This essay can be found in the Reality Bytes section of the main archive.
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