As we all know Tolkien’s Elves are a noble tall and dexterous race. this is adressed in Are Tolkien Elves taller or shorter than Men? of which this question is not a duplicate

I was wondering where he got that idea, I mean most of the Middle Earth universe is from mythology, yet the elves don’t seem to fit in that partern.

In most culture elfs, or variants are small, they are the “little people” and even Icelandic Alfars are often seen as children. Most of the fae are depicted as small and traditional Trolls are tiny, whitough talking about oder fae races like pixies. i am not sure about the size of the Celtic fae court of the Sidhe.

Even in derivative works in fantasy, most of which are Tolkien based they are small, even when Garry Gygax created D&D he made his elves smaller than humans.

So do you know where Tolkien got that Idea of Tall Elves?

NOTE And yes, while there is often an amalgame of diferent fae races, i beleive that in tolkien's time the Fae or Elves was an umbrela term for nature spirits...it is latter that fine distinctions between what constitues a Sprite or Pixie was commonly accepted (and no, i don't want to be drawn in a debate about pre-existing definitions and examples of latine or Celtic mythology)

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    The folk wisdom that D&D was primarily inspired by Tolkien is easily dismissed as uninformed speculation; where they coincide it is usually because Gygax & Friends were drawing on other pop culture properties which used the same mythological sources Tolkien did.
    – BESW
    Commented Nov 15, 2014 at 0:21
  • Because if they were short, their clothes wouldn't fit.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jan 12, 2016 at 20:15
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    @BESW: You're conflating two things. Your first sentence says Gygax was not "primarily" inspired by Tolkien. This is certainly arguable. But "where they coincide it is usually because Gygax & Friends were drawing on other pop culture properties which used the same mythological sources Tolkien did" is completely unfounded and unsupported by your link. Note that the page you linked to said "Tolkien definitely should have also been mentioned with those." He totally got hobbits, orcs, and much else from Tolkien, not from Tolkien's "mythological sources."
    – wyvern
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 13:36
  • 4
    Kids read Tolkien religiously. Kids go on to make Tolkien ripoff game with many Tolkien shout outs. 40 years later, people claim there's no primary inspiration.
    – user40790
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 18:36
  • The silly answer: Tolkien did Tolkien and Smolkien but not Normolkien. The only characters in modern-human normal height range are hobbits affected by Ent-draughts.
    – Darael
    Commented Mar 4, 2017 at 14:45

4 Answers 4


Actually, the first "Fair Folk" archetypes in Northern European myth were all tall. In fact they were described as much taller and physically more impressive than humans.

Tolkien built his Elves on the foundations of the Nordic Ljosalfar and the Celtic Tuatha De Danann/Tylwyth Teg.

In all of these cultures, the original myths depict these folks as mighty and tall. Skilled in the arts of magic, war and civilization. In fact, Germanic names like Alfred, Alvin, Elric, Ælfstan, Elvis, Avery, Aubery, Elwin, Alger, etc. have the "Alfr" root to lend a flare of a lineage of power to individuals.

The physical look of "tall and fair" seems to be taken from Norse myth. Especially when it comes to the Vanyar, who were blond and live close to the Valar like the Light Elves live close to the Aesir.

However, when it came to the history of the Elves, especially that of the Noldor, Tolkien took much from the Tuatha De Danann of Irish mythology (The Tuatha De Danaan who didn't leave Ireland became known as the Daoine Sidhe).

In fact, they are so alike it seems like Tolkien did a re-organization of Irish myth cycles.

The idea of a Land of perpetual youth that lies west across the great sea only reachable by Elven ships after elves depart from Middle Earth or after they pass away is only found in the Celtic myth of a Land of Youth (Mag Mell, Tir na nOg) that lies west of the Atlantic Ocean, only reachable from Britain and Ireland from special boats of the Daoine Sidhe or sometimes Fomorians (the Fomorian king Elatha came to Ireland from across the western sea in a boat made of silver). The Sidhe (I'm including the Fomorians as part of this group, since many of the most powerful of the Tuatha De Danaan had Fomorian lineage) were powerful and had god-like powers, in fact more powerful than any Norse records of Alfar: Balor of the Evil Eye, Nuada of the Silver Arm, Lugh, Manannan Mac Lir, etc. They made seas rise and plains burn to ash in an instant.

So to answer your question, Tolkien actually took his Elves straight from European mythology, just, from periods that was BEFORE later Medieval retconning of them into tiny creatures.

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    This would be greatly improved if you added paragraph breaks. -From Review
    – Mithical
    Commented Jan 12, 2016 at 20:14

...Are you sure Icelandic traditions have small elves? I always thought he made them tall precisely because Nordic elves were always tall. Also, the elves are made in the image of the Valar, as were Men, so it doesn't make much sense for the two to be of unequal stature. The two races are the same but different; they each have different gifts (eternal life vs. the gift of death and the power to change fate), but they are both capable of creating art and civilization. If Tolkien intended this from the start of his work, he would not have made the two species so obviously unbalanced (in a very literal sense).

Also, scanning the Wikipedia article about Scandinavian folklore, I see that Dwarves are labeled Dark Elves in Scandinavian tradition, so maybe Tolkien made his race taller so there wouldn't be any confusion between the Dark and Light elves.

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    Regarding same but different - Tolkien said that Elves and Men were biologically identical. It was only in their fates they differed.
    – Shamshiel
    Commented Nov 14, 2014 at 23:34
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    maybe i am wrong, i got that from a documentary i saw about Icelandic beleifs. i see in wiki that "This shows a strong tradition of associating elves with the Æsir, or sometimes even of not distinguishing between the two groups." so if they are based on Gods, makes sense them being tall and noble rather than mischevious and small Commented Nov 14, 2014 at 23:34
  • As a follow-up, everyone tends to focus on the Old English influences of Tolkein, but there's much less talk about the Christian influences - Illuvitar and Melkor, destiny, etc.
    – chif-ii
    Commented Nov 19, 2014 at 14:14
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    The Valar based (sometimes) their shapes on the elves, the elves where not based on the Valar.
    – user46509
    Commented Jan 12, 2016 at 20:21

Elves are the elder children of Eru – and superior in pretty much every way that counts. Obviously immortal, more intelligent, more agile, physically stronger, immune to disease, highly resistant to poison and they will recover from almost any wound that does not kill them outright. Even the 'death' of their bodies is only a temporary setback; after the period of reflection and waiting in the Halls of Mandos they will form a new body to house their spirit and return to the world – a body in many ways superior to the first one as described in Morgoth's Ring.

More to the point they simply could not die – they absolutely could not leave the world and this is one of the prime 'rules' of Middle-Earth. Only men could 'escape' and this is why elves sometimes looking with envy on 'The Gift of Men' – with the special case of Luthien the half-Maia and the line of half-elves who were her descendents excepted.

I dare say being tall was just an extension of this superiority – just as their beauty was. Now, obviously being tall is not required for beauty and beauty is in the eye of the beholder and so on – but I am fairly sure this is why Tolkien made them that way.


Combining from other comments and answers...

Elves and humans are biologically the same. So, why are elves tall?

Elves and humans have with different gifts "eternal life vs. the gift of death"

Things not mentioned:

Elves age slowly, they are adults somewhere between 50 and 150.

Most elves, espically the older and taller ones were around when the world was new and more pure.

Elves are more civilized.

What is the simple answer? Nutrition.

IRL Humans became taller on average with better nutrition (and are now slight sorter with junk food).

Elves just eat better than humans.

  • Why do people downvote this answer, it may be right.
    – Yohann V.
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 14:10
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    @YohannV. Because it's written very poorly and seems very speculative. Commented May 21, 2015 at 21:26
  • @AlfredoHernández All answer are speculative. You could indicate how to improve the answer and not just downvote.
    – Yohann V.
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 21:59
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    @YohannV. The points are not elaborated enough, the sentences are hardly 5-10 words each; it's really poorly written, that's all. Commented May 21, 2015 at 22:02
  • @AlfredoHernández First time poster, what a welcome
    – Yohann V.
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 22:24

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