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I've read about quite a few prodigious archers in Middle-earth: Beleg, Legolas, Rangers like Aragorn (not sure about this one) as well as other Men of Gondor, Easterlings (not sure where I've seen anything about them, actually) and Bard.

Main question:
Who (according to Tolkien) was the greatest archer from each race?

Bonus question:
Was there a single archer (of any race) who Tolkien esteemed above all others?

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    You're going to need to give us some criteria as to what defines "best". Accuracy? Distance? Kills? Flaire? – phantom42 May 23 '15 at 19:14
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    That pretty blonde girl in the films seems quite handy with a bow. – Valorum May 23 '15 at 19:20
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    @Richard - who can shoot the farthest would depend on the bow strength (known in archery as "draw weight", IIRC), not the archer's skill. If the best archer in the world is using a weak bow, he won't shoot as far as a first timer with a much stronger bow, as long as the first timer is strong enough to draw the stronger bow properly. I think we can assume that the best archer in Middle-earth would be the one who is most effective/accurate in battle conditions. Being able to hit a bullseye on a practice range is very different from hitting moving targets that are trying to kill you. – Wad Cheber stands with Monica May 24 '15 at 17:57
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    @Richard - archaeologists digging in Medieval English cemeteries find skeletons with deformed right arm bones. These are archers who used longbows. The draw weight was insane - hundreds of pounds of force was needed to draw them, compared to an average draw weight of 60 lbs or less on modern bows - and the men who used them were mutants with one ridiculously strong arm. Those bows fired farther than Native American bows, not because of skill, but because of the inherent strength of the bow. – Wad Cheber stands with Monica May 24 '15 at 18:45
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    @WadCheber - So nothing to do with the legal requirement that all English men must practice archery at least weekly then? Or the fact that Indian bows were intended primarily to kill game rather than as instruments of war? – Valorum May 24 '15 at 18:47
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Elves

The greatest Elf bowman appears to be Duilin of Gondolin, an Elf-lord of Gondolin and chief of the House of the Swallow

In his "Unfinished Tales", Tolkien specifically refers to him as being a soldier of impeccable physical prowess and has this to say about his abilities with a bow;

Now the folk of the Swallow bore a fan of feathers on their helms, and they were arrayed in white and dark blue and in purple and black and showed an arrowhead on their shields. Their lord was Duilin, swiftest of all men to run and leap and surest of archers at a mark.

Beleg Cuthalion(A.K.A. "Beleg the Archer", A.K.A. "Beleg Strongbow") is also repeatedly called out as being an exceptional archer and possessing the ability to fire arrows great distances:

Moreover Beleg the Archer was great among the people of Doriath; he was strong, and enduring, and far-sighted in mind as well as eye, and at need he was valiant in battle, relying not only upon the swift arrows of his long bow, but also upon his great sword Anglachel (needed only by an archer because the orcs were so many). And ever the more did hatred grow in the heart of Mîm, who hated all Elves, as has been told, and who looked with a jealous eye on the love that Túrin bore to Beleg. The Children of Hurin

and

Beleg: Elf of Doriath, a great archer; friend and companion of Túrin. Called Cúthalion ‘Strongbow’.

That said, there's no specific reason to assume he was the single greatest elf archer.


Orc

The orcs are invariably described as a bit crap with a bow, relying on mere force of numbers and volume of (poisoned) arrows to do damage:

Behind them orc-archers crowded, sending a hail of darts against the bowmen on the walls. - LotR: TTT

and

Dismayed the rammers let fall the trees and turned to fight; but the wall of their shields was broken as by a lightning-stroke, and they were swept away, hewn down, or cast over the Rock into the stony stream below. The orc-archers shot wildly and then fled. LotR: TTT

and

But orc-arrows are plenty, and the sight of one would not be taken as a sign of Doom by Boromir of Gondor. LotR: TTT

and

The orcs hindered by the mires that lay before the hills halted and poured their arrows into the defending ranks. - LotR: RotK

  • In tLotR movies, Legolas is portrayed as a preeminent archer but I don't recall him be especially gifted in the books. He could definitely use the bow effectively but his skill wasn't remarkable. My recollection was that Bard was gifted enough to have a reputation for skill with the bow. But whether a gifted human could best an average elf, I haven't a clue. – Jim2B May 23 '15 at 19:55
  • In the Book of Lost Tales(part two?) I'm pretty sure Tolkien said a bit about Legolas' immense strength with the bow... And general vitality as well. – AJL May 23 '15 at 21:25
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    @Jim2B In the books, Legolas is certainly very good with a bow, but not ridiculously good. In the movies, I don't think he ever misses a shot. But in the films, Legolas has an infinite supply of arrows, whereas in the books he runs out more than once. The movies are like all movies- plausibility is secondary, badassness always comes first. The books don't strain the bounds of plausibility as much, except perhaps when Legolas shoots downpour a winged Nazgul in the dark with a single arrow. – Wad Cheber stands with Monica May 23 '15 at 21:41
  • @Richard Giving them an answer anyway tends to dilute the message. If they've already received an answer, why should they care about improving the question to get it reopened? – Anthony Grist May 24 '15 at 18:53
  • @AnthonyGrist - In which case other users can step in and edit. If you see something worth salvaging, you're always welcome to retrieve it from the bin before if gets auto-deleted. – Valorum May 24 '15 at 19:01
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For the bonus question

Tilion. The guardian Maia of the Moon.

...but Tilion was a hunter of the company of Oromë, and he had a silver bow

But Morgoth hated the new lights, and was for a while confounded by this unlooked-for stroke of the Valar. Then he assailed Tilion, sending spirits of shadow against him, and there was strife in Ilmen beneath the paths of the stars; but Tilion was victorious.

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