18

In The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring when the Fellowship is climbing the mountains and are pretty much overcome by the snow; Legolas is quite able to walk on the snow, when the rest have to wade through the snow:

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).

[Emphasis added is mine]

How is this so? Is there any canon explanation of this (or any similar) ability?

  • 1
    I'm sure someone will come along with canon sources - but elves have a special relationship with nature, and pass lightly through Middle Earth - so it is that Legolas is able to tread lightly on the snow that the others (including the Hobbits) sink into. – HorusKol Apr 17 '14 at 6:08
  • I suspect Legolas, and elves in general, are just surprisingly light given their strength and size, like Mithril, and the elven boat they use after leaving Rivendell. (In the book, they’re described as being surprised they can lift the boat so easily.) – Paul D. Waite Apr 17 '14 at 6:54
  • 5
    High fantasy tends not to include in-universe explanations... – AakashM Apr 17 '14 at 11:24
  • 3
    Maybe elves have very big feet? – user14111 Apr 17 '14 at 14:41
  • 3
    This is a real-world answer, not really related to the question, so I will leave it as a comment: On a mountain hike as a Boy Scout with a group of advanced "high adventure" hikers from my troop, we found our route covered in 6-10 feet of soft, light snow. We decided to hike single file, in order of weight, from least to most, and walked in the footsteps the lighter people in front of us had left. Each hiker compacted the snow a bit more than the people in front of him, and we managed to stay on top of the snow most of the time that way. – Wad Cheber May 6 '15 at 21:57
17

Legolas is a Sindarin Elf, but culturally he has more in common with the Silvan Elves of Mirkwood and (more distantly) Lorien. He is very light of foot and skillful in his movements, and - while he probably wouldn't have much experience with mountainous terrain - he is capable of moving with considerable ease where others would have difficulty.

Later on, in Lorien, we see the following:

'Celebrant is already a strong stream here, as you see,' said Haldir 'and it runs both swift and deep, and is very cold. We do not set foot in it so far north, unless we must. But in these days of watchfulness we do not make bridges. This is how we cross! Follow me!' He made his end of the rope fast about another tree, and then ran lightly along it, over the river and back again, as if he were on a road.
'I can walk this path,' said Legolas; 'but the others have not this skill. Must they swim?'

Haldir's crossing of the rope recalls the snow scene (the same words are even used: "running light"/"ran lightly"), and Legolas himself suggests that this is a skill. It's also interesting to note that on Caradhras Legolas says "running light over grass and leaf" which suggests that it's a skill picked up from his forest home.

In other words: "this is uneven, soft stuff; I know how to run lightly over another kind of uneven soft stuff, let's give it a try".


There is one group of Elves who do have considerable experience with snowy, icy terrain, and they're the Noldor who followed Fingolfin over the Grinding Ice at the start of the First Age of the Sun. If (as seems likely) Glorfindel was one of them, he would have been a greater asset to the company on Caradhras. Galadriel was also one in some versions of her story (in others she travelled separately to Middle-earth), but neither case is relevant to that of Legolas.

15

In-canon, the quote you've referenced is just about the best one to describe how the elves (with their extremely light bodies and swift movements) seem to almost float over packed snow. You should, however note that this ability only seems to apply when they're running, not when they're walking.

We can see from this pen-sketch by Tolkien that elves wear long shoes and have strongly elongated (but painfully thin) limbs. It follows that they would be well suited for moving over snow. The impact of a single step would be very low and the depth of tread would be similarly shallow, allowing faster movement;

Simlamrillion Elf

About the best example I could think of would be the vid below. Although the snow is nearly a foot deep in places, the cheetah's legs rarely go in more than a couple of inches when it's moving at speed.

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.