Why are elves and humans so much alike (physically speaking)? Except for the pointy ears, there are no other major (physical) differences, am I right?

Do they have a common ancestor? Or does one of them descend from the other?

  • 6
    Not to forgot the minor physical difference that one race is mortal and the other is not. (I'm old enough to care about that.)
    – sbi
    Commented Feb 2, 2012 at 14:23
  • 6
    Elves are described as beautiful and tall, we also often hear about white-ish skin as well as various hair colours; but I'm not sure if Tolkien even wrote anything about pointy ears. Commented Feb 2, 2012 at 14:23
  • @sbi I didn't consider death as something strictly physical Commented Feb 2, 2012 at 14:31
  • @julio: While this is debatable, I never said anything about it being strictly physical. :)
    – sbi
    Commented Feb 2, 2012 at 14:48
  • 1
    @leftaroundabout He did when he described hobbits as having ears that are not as pointy as elves' ears.
    – MadTux
    Commented May 4, 2013 at 14:43

2 Answers 2


Eru Ilúvatar created both of them, Elves first, and, much later, men. Therefore they are both called "the Children of Ilúvatar."

It was so long between the creation of Middle Earth and the awakening of the Elves that one of the Valar, Aulë, became impatient and created the Dwarves. Eru expressed his disappointment at Aulë's action, but gave them life anyway, but forbade them to actually awaken before the Elves.

Elves awakened well before the first age of Middle Earth, and were called the firstborn.

Dwarves awakened about a century afterwards.

With the coming of man began the First Age of Middle Earth.

The real difference between them is not in their life, it is in their death. Men are, of course, mortal, and Elves cannot die of old age. When Elves die, their spirits go to the Halls of Mandos, in Valinor. When men die, however, their souls transcend Middle Earth and go to join Ilúvatar directly.

  • 1
    Just curious, where does it say that Men will " join Ilúvatar directly"? I always thought that it was a mystery as to what would happen to Man after death. Thanks Commented Feb 10, 2017 at 19:30

They were both created separately

So they did not descend one from the other, Kevin has answered this and the differences in their doom brilliantly, so I will say no more on this.

However there are a few physical differences

Physically the elves appear to be:

Immune to death from disease and able to heal faster

  • 'For though Eru appointed to you not to die in Ea, and no sickness may assail you, yet slain ye may be, and slain ye shall be.'

    The Silmarillion - Of The Fight of the Noldor

  • Immortal were the Elves, and their wisdom waxed from age to age, and no sickness nor pestilence brought death to them.

    The Silmarillion, Of Men

  • From their beginnings the chief difference between Elves and Men lay in the fate and nature of their spirits. The fear of the Elves were destined to dwell in Arda for all the life of Arda, and the death of the flesh did not abrogate that destiny. Their fear were tenacious therefore of life 'in the raiment of Arda', and far excelled the spirits of Men in power over that 'raiment', even from the first days protecting their bodies from many ills and assaults (such as disease), and healing them swiftly of injuries, so that they recovered from wounds that would have proved fatal to Men

    History of Middle Earth X - Morgoth’s Ring - Laws and Customs of the Eldar

Unless of course they have too much grief, and then they can waste away.

  • For the Elves die not till tile world dies, unless they are slain or waste in grief*

    The Silmarillion - Of the Beginning of Days

They can also be poisoned

But in the evening Aredhel sickened, though the wound had seemed little, and she fell into the darkness, and in the night she died; for the point of the javelin was poisoned, though none knew it until too late.

The Silmarillion - Of Maeglin

Unaffected by Ageing

neither does age subdue their strength, unless one grow weary of ten thousand centuries

The Silmarillion - Of the Beginning of Days


When they are climbing Caradas, Legolas is able to walk upon snow where-as the humans Aragorn and Boromir have to plough through it.

Aragorn was the tallest of the Company, but Boromir, little less in height, was broader and heavier in build. He led the way, and Aragorn followed him. Slowly they moved off, and were soon toiling heavily. 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, though he had long known it, that the Elf had no boots, but wore only light shoes, as he always did, and his feet made little imprint in the snow. 'Farewell!' he said to Gandalf. `I go to find the Sun!'

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, and vanished round the rocky turn.

The Fellowship Of The Ring - The Ring Goes South

This was even shown in the film


Perhaps elves therefore have a less dense bone structure, similar to Avian?

Endowed with better eyesight

Whilst tracking the orcs that took Merry and Pippin Legolas is able to see an eagle that Aragorn is unable to:

'Look!' cried Legolas, pointing up into the pale sky above them. 'There is the eagle again! He is very high. He seems to be flying now away, from this land back to the North. He is going with great speed. Look!'

'No, not even my eyes can see him, my good Legolas,' said Aragorn. 'He must be far aloft indeed. I wonder what is his errand, if he is the same bird that I have seen before. But look! I can see something nearer at hand and more urgent; there is something moving over the plain!'

The Two Towers - The Riders of Rohan

Legolas is able to see great details of the Riders of Rohan when they are approaching Legolas, Gimli and Aragorn, even though they are over 15 miles away. Aragorn comments how keen elves eyes are:

'Riders!' cried Aragorn, springing to his feet. 'Many riders on swift steeds are coming towards us!'

'Yes,' said Legolas,'there are one hundred and five. Yellow is their hair, and bright are their spears. Their leader is very tall.'

Aragorn smiled. 'Keen are the eyes of the Elves,' he said.

'Nay! The riders are little more than five leagues distant,' said Legolas.

The Two Towers - The Riders of Rohan

Legolas also says that 15 miles is a trivial distance and should not suggest that an elves eyes are good. This would imply that elves can see in detail even further than 15 miles...

...but less than 36 miles:

'Many things,' said Legolas. 'It is a great company on foot; but I cannot say more, nor see what kind of folk they may be. They are many leagues away: twelve, I guess; but the flatness of the plain is hard to measure.'

The Two Towers - The Riders of Rohan

However some men were stronger than elves ...

Fingon was not strong enough to bear the weight of the Dragon Helm of Dor-lómin and so gave it to Hador, a man:

But in all Hithlum no head and shoulders were found stout enough to bear the dwarf-helm with ease, save those of Hador and his son Galdor. Fingon therefore gave it to Hador, when he received the lordship of Dor-lómin.

Unfinished Tales - NARN I HÎN HÚRIN - The Departure of Túrin

  • 1
    Excellent answer - but unless you have some other evidence, then I am pretty sure that Tolkien meant the traditional "land league" of 3 statute miles, not 3 nautical miles, which your arithmetic implies. (In other words 5 leagues is 15 miles and 12 leagues is 36 miles.)
    – AAT
    Commented Feb 27, 2017 at 14:49
  • 1
    @AAT thanks for the heads up, yup i was using the incorrect league, think I've corrected them in all places now. Still a great distance to see in detail when I have trouble looking at a book some days Commented Feb 27, 2017 at 14:51

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