Middle Earth has basically 2 types of Elves, the "High Elves" (Noldor, Vanyar) and the "Wood Elves" (Lotholrien)

But all of them have similar characteristics of

  1. Long face
  2. Sharp face cut
  3. Fair-Bronze Skin
  4. Tall
  5. Skilled with Archery/horse-riding

Now my question is, what real world/mythological parallel were these inspired from? I have 3 basic options

  • Celtic mythology has the Tuatha Dé Danann, druids, Arthurian legends, Camelot and Summer Isles of the Divine, things associated with wood elves.
  • Germanic mythology has light elves (Ljósálfar) who although not described much are very similar to how Tolkien depicted his elves and the usual high elves (DnD, Warhammer etc) in their behavior/the granduer associated with them.
  • Another theory is that the invading Indo-Europeans, the source of the long faced race in Old Europe (full of Cro-Magnons and alpinids) were seen as beautiful elves by the inhabitants.

Iam ruling out the English/Germanic fairy tales as they had the gnomesque/pixie type elves.

  • 4
    Where in Tolkien's writings is it said that all elves have these characteristics? I'm not sure it's true at all. Aug 1 at 6:22
  • I'm half sure that 4 is common among Tolkien's Elves. 5 for some. 1, 2, 3 - never read anything like that.
    – Eugene
    Aug 1 at 6:48
  • 5 is kind of implied by elves being keen-sighted and good with animals. And for 4 we know that some elves were tall (see my answer here), but I don't think we know that they all were. But it's also worth noting that there are other types of Elves; the wood-elves of Lorien and Mirkwood were Sindar, so still part of the Eldar, but we know even less about the Avari let alone how tall they were. Aug 1 at 8:25
  • Tolkien's Elves grew out of wanting to tell stories that explained why there are fairies in England, but that that they weren't always invisible and small (Dr Dmitra Fimi explains this in her book Tolkien, Race and Cultural History). Over time he discarded this original inspiration, as you can tell. He really didn't like his poem Goblin feet, a very early precursor of the idea of the fading of the Elves, later on. Aug 1 at 10:02
  • Re 5. due to their long lives, an Elf would be highly skilled in anything they want. Archery was certainly common (for hunting) but horse-riding was far from universal.
    – OrangeDog
    Aug 1 at 11:36


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