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In the movies, we see Legolas performing some skillful displays of balance. Here are just a few I remember at the moment:

  • Walking on snow when the fellowship were travelling through Caradhras (Fellowship of the Ring).
  • Climbing on the chain to stand on the shoulders of the cave troll in the Mines of Moria (Fellowship of the Ring).
  • Grabbing the reins of the horse when attacking Wargs (Two Towers)
  • 'Shieldboarding' down the stairs while loosing arrows into the Uruk-hai at Helms Deep (Two Towers).
  • Single-handedly taking down a Mûmakil (or Oliphaunt) and its riders, much to the dismay of Gimli (Return of the King).

Apart from the first one, which I believe is in the novel, the others I mentioned were definitely for entertainment value in the movies, but I'm not sure if they also occurred in the novel. Does he in fact do these deft feats (or anything similar) in the novel itself?

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2 Answers 2

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The short answer is "no": these are mostly movie inventions.

As you say, the snow-walking does occur, but that's the only one.

The scene in Balin's tomb is somewhat different in the books, and the troll is not even present in the main battle. Instead the battle is a much shorter affair instead of the extended scene of the movie, and is fully described as follows:

The affray was sharp, but the orcs were dismayed by the fierceness of the defence. Legolas shot two through the throat. Gimli hewed the legs from under another that had sprung up on Balin's tomb. Boromir and Aragorn slew many. When thirteen had fallen the rest fled shrieking.

The warg attack in Two Towers doesn't even happen at all in the books, and at Helm's Deep Legolas functions as just another warrior: the only thing of note is his contest with Gimli for who kills the most Orcs.

As for the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, the sole mention of Legolas is his arrival with Aragorn on the Black Ships:

There came Legolas, and Gimli wielding his axe, and Halbarad with the standard, and Elladan and Elrohir with stars on their brow, and the dour-handed Dunedain, Rangers of the North, leading a great valour of the folk of Lebennin and Lamedon and the fiefs of the South.

The only other feat of note that he does do in the books (and which doesn't occur in the movies) is rope-walking on the way to Lórien:

'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?'

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    Actually, there is a cave-troll involved in the fight in Moria: [Gandalf] ‘There are Orcs, very many of them,’ he said. ‘And some are large and evil: black Uruks of Mordor. For the moment they are hanging back, but there is something else there. A great cave-troll, I think, or more than one. There is no hope of escape that way.’ Other than that, you're right.
    – Joe L.
    Feb 3, 2015 at 22:53
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    "A great cave-troll, I think" - couldn't that be referring to what later turned out to be the Balrog?
    – Rand al'Thor
    Feb 3, 2015 at 23:05
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    @JoeL. --- the troll isn't present in the main battle. It tries to enter the chamber of Mazarbul, and Frodo stabs it. It plays no role after that. Feb 3, 2015 at 23:08
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    What @IanThompson said. It was also explicitly stated to be "a huge orc-chieftain, almost man-high" that stabbed Frodo. (Interesting aside: the description of this orc - "His broad flat face was swart, his eyes were like coals, and his tongue was red; he wielded a great spear" - is very reminiscent of Tolkien's original description of the Balrog in HoME7: "They could see the furnace-fire of its yellow eyes from afar; its arms were very long; it had a red [?tongue]").
    – user8719
    Feb 3, 2015 at 23:16
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    @Holger - I personally think they're excessive given what was written about him in the books, but I'm not going to conclude anything more specific than that.
    – user8719
    Feb 4, 2015 at 10:02
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Most of the specific feats you listed are movie inventions, but Tolkien's elves were able to move faster than the human eye could often follow

This all comes from a c.1959 text later titled by Tolkien "The Quendi Compared to Men", which has since be published as the fourth chapter in The Nature of Middle-earth.

Thus the Quendi did not and do not "live slowly", moving ponderously like tortoises, while Time flickers past them and their sluggish thoughts! Indeed, they move and think swifter than Men, and achieve more than a Man in any given length of time. * But they have a far greater native vitality and energy to draw upon, so that it takes and will take a very great length of time to expend it.

* But not on a wholly different time-scale. Thus to a Man Elves appear to speak rapidly but clearly (unless they retard their speech for Men's sake), to move quickly and featly (unless they are in urgency, or much moved, when the movement of their hands, for example, may become too swift for human eyes to follow closely), and only their thought, perception, and reasoning seem normally beyond human speed.
The Nature of Middle-earth page 23

In a later essay (written in response to a 1970 Pauline Baynes illustration he disliked), Tolkien speaks specifically about Legolas

Legolas of the story was an Elvish prince of Sindarin race (III 363), clad in the green and brown of the Silvan Elves over whom his father ruled (I 253): tall as a young tree (II 28), lithe, immensely strong, able swiftly to draw a great war-bow and shoot down a Nazgul, endowed with the still tremendous vitality of elvish bodies, so hard and resistant to hurt that he went only in light shoes over rock or through snow (I 306), the most tireless of all the Fellowship.
The Nature of Middle-earth page 193

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  • So Jackson's film is in fact a highly accurate depiction of Elvish capabilities and all of the haters are wrong?
    – Valorum
    Aug 5, 2021 at 16:34
  • @Valorum - Jackson also certainly did not have the rights to use this text, and he can probably expect a call from the Tolkien Estate's lawyers any day now.
    – ibid
    Aug 5, 2021 at 16:41
  • "Featly" or "fleetly"?
    – Lexible
    Aug 5, 2021 at 20:04
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    "Featly" - in a graceful manner
    – user888379
    Aug 5, 2021 at 20:23
  • @Lexible - "Featly" as in "Does Legolas perform such deft feats"
    – ibid
    Aug 6, 2021 at 0:22

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