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Re: Elves

Post by Elthir on Sun Jun 24, 2012 10:33 pm

My view is that Tolkien, in or near the later 1930s (and perhaps earlier), very probably imagined his Elves as having more pointed and leaf-shaped ears than humans. But I'm not sure he thought so later...

... and I think the strongest evidence for more pointed ears has (essentially) been revised in Words, Phrases and Passages, and so Etymologies is problematic, basically representing an old and possibly abandoned idea.

Of course that's only part of the case, but I try to raise the question of whether or not Tolkien abandoned pointed ears (which wouldn't be the only time he changed his mind about his Elves in any event) -- 'abandoned' at least in the sense of answering the question somewhat directly, one way or the other.

It's true in any case that certain Elvish words were already published by the time Words, Phrases and Passages was written: lasto, lassi, lhaw... so if in the 1950s or later JRRT did change his mind about Quendian ears, he was still 'stuck' with these words in a sense -- which I'm not sure need necessarily mean he was also stuck with the notion of his Elves having more leaf-shaped ears than humans, however.
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Re: Elves

Post by Elthir on Mon Jun 25, 2012 1:41 pm

From the primary link...

As far as noticeable differences between Peter Jackson’s Elves and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Elves, here is a brief but incomplete list:

1. Very few of Tolkien's Elves have blond hair; most are dark-haired (but there are more blond-haired Elves in Tolkien’s Lorien and Mirkwood than in his Rivendell).

Here I would argue that anyone limiting themselves to The Lord of the Rings can imagine very many blond Elves in Mikwood and Lorien -- I think the statement 'very few of Tolkien's Elves have blond hair' hails from posthumously published texts regarding the Vanyar and other clans, and a posthumously published definition (or characterization) of Eldar.


2. Tolkien's Elves speak in 'high, clear' voices, not low, husky voices.

Is this true of the films? I don't really remember; and I'm not going to watch them again to find out.

3. Peter Jackson's Elves seem to lack a sense of humor. Nearly all of Tolkien’s Elves display some amusement or at least express a sense of irony.

I do seem to recall the film elves being rather serious, in general anyway.

4. Peter Jaskson's Elves have pointed ears; J.R.R. Tolkien's Elves do not have pointed ears.

Again I would agree that they 'do not' in the sense that it can't be certainly proven that they do, so far.

To this confusion I would add that Tolkien arguably knew, or might have guessed, that at least some artists and readers were going to imagine his Quendi as having pointed ears -- it's not a perfect example (for obvious reasons) but if one writes a story where all the main characters are young and from Japan it hardly needs to be noted that these characters probably have dark hair, unlesss otherwise noted. That's arguably more certain of course, since a given person's idea of Elves might or might not conform to 'popular ideas' while it is observable in the Primary World that dark hair is a common trait among young people hailing from Japan.

And then again Tolkien's Elves did not conform to certain popular notions in any case.


I find it somewhat humorous that Tolkien would include (Appendix F) the observation for readers that none of the Quendi ever had wings. Would any readers of The Lord of the Rings have suspected this if it hadn't been included? Elves who were tall and wingless -- two notions that might fly in the face of popular fancy (at least in Tolkien's day, but small winged 'Elves' or fairies still flit from flower to acorn even today, in general I would say) -- but what about pointed ears? I still find it a bit odd that no one ever seems to have asked Tolkien directly, including Pauline Baynes.

Is this why her Legolas wears a hood, obscuring hair colour and ears? But she could have asked Tolkien directly (or maybe she did and no one felt the need to record the answer).


5. Peter Jackson's Elves wear some sort of 'elf armor', a sort of stylized plate armor; J.R.R. Tolkien's Elves wear chain mail.

This is true I think, but is not Elf-specific: if I recall correctly Tolkien's Western Men do not appear to wear plate armour either, outside of the seemingly metal vambrace noted in The Return of the King (and I think some of the warriors in Sauron's forces wear some sort of plate armour too), while some of Jackson's Western Men do wear this type of armour.
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Re: Elves

Post by Pettytyrant101 on Mon Jun 25, 2012 2:53 pm

I think the telling thing for me is in the early stuff he clearly thought elves had more leaf shaped ears. And whilst he dropped that bit of the description he never changed the word association and he never came out and said they did not have pointy ears either. I'm not sure we can treat an absence of information as a denial of information.

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Re: Elves

Post by Elthir on Mon Jun 25, 2012 6:33 pm

Pettytyrant101 wrote:I think the telling thing for me is in the early stuff he clearly thought elves had more leaf shaped ears. And whilst he dropped that bit of the description he never changed the word association and he never came out and said they did not have pointy ears either. I'm not sure we can treat an absence of information as a denial of information.

That's true Petty, Tolkien never specifically denied this information later. But I still think there is another consideration as far as 'raising the question' of revision, as I say.


Is it part of the legendarium, for example, that the Numenoreans invented flying ships? Of course if it's impossible to know if 'leaving out' is actual revsion or not, I can see the argument for demanding positive evidence of revision -- but from another perspective that seems to toss out the very real possibility that an author has changed his or her mind, and simply felt no need to deny an unknown (something unknown to his or her readership in any case).

I consider that Tolkien has no great reason to go back and find an old document to cross out that which is no longer held to be true (or part of the legendarium), or to note anywhere that a given idea is now rejected -- he might do so, and even does sometimes, but he doesn't necessarily need to, or will not necessarily remember to, even if desired; and in the end the reader has yet to encounter that 'old' description anyway, and never will from Tolkien's perspective, if it remains part of a rejected draft.


Or perhaps I'm too influenced by the fact that over the years Tolkien changed his mind about how tall his Elves were, for instance, or about how they reincarnated, or seemingly about whether or not they were bearded (although here we have JRRT publishing a description of an Elf with a beard), and even possibly changed his mind about hair colour (given that the Vanyar were Eldar by all accounts, Appendix F implies they are mostly dark-haired -- unless this was just a slip or JRRT hadn't fully made up his mind yet, as CJRT wonders).

I'll put it this way then, for now: so far I can't fully adopt the stance (in the context of draft texts never published by the author) that something written and never specifically denied later holds true for the legendarium, not necessarily anyway; or at least not without raising the question of revision by simply 'leaving out' (leaving room for each case to have different considerations)... as uncertain as this is, admittedly; and as silly as this might get in theory too (I realize).

In any case these grey areas help confirm my position about how high author-published text 'should' really stand above everything else.


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Re: Elves

Post by Pettytyrant101 on Mon Jun 25, 2012 7:24 pm

I think the difference here lies in the subject matter.
Tolkien was fighting against a very Victorian view of elves which lumped them in with faeries as diminutive, winged and pointy ears.

Tolkien goes out of his way to make sure there is not an asociation with wings, or diminutivness. Yet he does not feel the need to do the same about the stereotypical ears.
Maybe he considered that a minor thing not worth altering and then later thought he should have, but it doesn't seem to have bene important enough to him to make a definitive statement on it anywhere as he does the other 'victorian' attributes of elves.

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Re: Elves

Post by Mrs Figg on Tue Jun 26, 2012 12:03 am

this is a quote from Tolkiens letters, in describing Hobbits having pointed 'elvish' ears, its clear to me at least, that it means elves had pointy ears.


"I am afraid, if you will need drawings of hobbits in various attitudes, I must leave it in the hands of someone who can draw. ... I picture a fairly human figure ... fattish in the stomach, shortish in the leg. A round, jovial face; ears only slightly pointed and 'elvish'; hair short and curling (brown)."
JRRT - Letters #27, writing to Houghton Mifflin circa March-April 1938




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Re: Elves

Post by Pettytyrant101 on Tue Jun 26, 2012 12:53 am

Good find Mrs Figg! cheers
Well that about wraps that up. unless......Elthir? Suspect

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Re: Elves

Post by yooper on Tue Jun 26, 2012 2:59 am

I have participated in a similar discussion before, and many folks will dismiss the quote from Letters #27. Typically the reason is that here Tolkiens use of the word 'elvish' could refer to the Victorian fairy/leprechaun-like elves of a broader (non-Tolkien) folklore. This is one interpretation of why Tolkien placed the word 'elvish' in quotations.

I think that is a fair point...but probably over analyzing. I am reasonably confident that Tolkien intended his elves to have pointy ears, and the Letters #27 quote is great support for that position.
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Re: Elves

Post by Elthir on Tue Jun 26, 2012 1:16 pm

Well that about wraps that up. unless......Elthir?

In addition to yooper's comments, this letter dates to around the same times as Etymologies (which by the way is a linguistic document concerning various Elvish tongues, ultimately abandoned; and which does not reflect the history and relationship of the Elvish tongues as envisioned much later for the world of The Lord of the Rings).

In an earlier post I referred to this letter: 'To my mind one problem with Etymologies (and the letter noted in the essay as well) is the date.'

Tolkien goes out of his way to make sure there is not an asociation with wings, or diminutivness. Yet he does not feel the need to do the same about the stereotypical ears.

I think this has some reasonable force to it myself (which is why I brought up the not great example of literary characters from Japan), but in the end it is a 'negative' argument as well, so to speak, instead of a positive denial, as with the wings in Appendix F.

Maybe he considered that a minor thing not worth altering and then later thought he should have, but it doesn't seem to have bene important enough to him to make a definitive statement on it anywhere as he does the other 'victorian' attributes of elves.

I'm not sure Tolkien ever made up his mind, or cared enough as you say Petty; although I tend to doubt he would be happy with an exaggerated picture of pointedness -- to not go out on a limb here.

And I think it's possible that the 'possible' relationship of Words, Phrases and Passages could speak to an Elvish association between leaves and ears in general (including certain beasts), not simply their own ears; although it would have been their own ears before meeting Men in any case.


In other words, in Elvish minds perhaps Elvish ears were no more associated with certain leaves than the ears of Men might be, but due to this linguistic detail, discovered or noticed by scribes or students of Gondor after the Elves had 'faded' for example, there arose the false idea that the Elvish ears were more leaf-shaped than those of Men, ultimately leading to 'modern fancy'...

... although I've been placing that theory before actual trained linguists to see if it might wear well enough, and so far I'm not exactly sure that it does (all I've gotten so far is one opinion: that it's possible).
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Re: Elves

Post by Mrs Figg on Tue Jun 26, 2012 2:56 pm


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Re: Elves

Post by David H on Tue Jun 26, 2012 3:14 pm

I've often noticed when I try to look up a passage that I remember as particularly vivid, that Tolkien's description rarely includes all the detail I remember, and on inspection the prose often appears deliberately vague. I've come to believe that this is exactly what gives his stories much of their realism, and I give him credit for doing it by design.

The author of an actual historical document would rarely digress from the narrative to describe everyday details that should be common knowledge to his readers. Tolkien gives his readers the same respect, leaving it to them to fill in most of the details from their imagination. The result for me is much more vivid images than if every body-part and article of clothing were described.

If I'm correct that this ambiguity is part of JRRT's craft, then even revising the etymological quotation doesn't necessarily imply he had revised his personal vision of elven ears. It might only mean that he decided it was a needlessly distracting detail.

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Re: Elves

Post by Elthir on Tue Jun 26, 2012 10:16 pm

If I'm correct that this ambiguity is part of JRRT's craft, then even revising the etymological quotation doesn't necessarily imply he had revised his personal vision of elven ears. It might only mean that he decided it was a needlessly distracting detail.


That's another possibility.

Although I'm not sure Etymologies (the far more definitive statement) would be necessarily distracting, as it's not part of a tale but part of a very different document.

The inclusion in Etymologies seems quite Tolkien-esque to me: a brief statement buried in a lot of linguistic information. However so does the Words, Phrases and Passages version... as well as (I think) the theory that Tolkien might be trying to 'explain' how a false notion about 'Elves' arose in the Primary World, through language.

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Re: Elves

Post by David H on Tue Jun 26, 2012 10:52 pm

[quote="Elthir"]
... as well as (I think) my theory that Tolkien may be trying to 'explain' how a false notion about 'Elves' arose in the Primary World (through language).

I don't think I follow this part. I'm not seeing where there is an explanation, or what the evidence is for a "false notion".

It seems to me that when the professor felt an explanation was necessary he could be very clear indeed, but in the case if ears it seems that there is only slim evidence for pointy, and nearly none for round. Surely if Tolkien had cared he would have weighed in a little more clearly on one side or the other as he did on so many other details, rather than increasing the ambiguity?

I'm also curious why there is so much interest in the size and shape of elven organs..... What sort of forums are these, anyway?

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Re: Elves

Post by Pettytyrant101 on Tue Jun 26, 2012 11:10 pm

Oh there are far worse places Dave, forums where they don't stop at ears at all! Shocked Mad

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Re: Elves

Post by halfwise on Wed Jun 27, 2012 12:26 am

David H wrote:I've often noticed when I try to look up a passage that I remember as particularly vivid, that Tolkien's description rarely includes all the detail I remember, and on inspection the prose often appears deliberately vague. I've come to believe that this is exactly what gives his stories much of their realism, and I give him credit for doing it by design.

The author of an actual historical document would rarely digress from the narrative to describe everyday details that should be common knowledge to his readers. Tolkien gives his readers the same respect, leaving it to them to fill in most of the details from their imagination. The result for me is much more vivid images than if every body-part and article of clothing were described.

If I'm correct that this ambiguity is part of JRRT's craft, then even revising the etymological quotation doesn't necessarily imply he had revised his personal vision of elven ears. It might only mean that he decided it was a needlessly distracting detail.


I went to hear a renowned Tolkien scholar talk once (Verlyn Flieger - whose talk I enjoyed much more than her books btw) and made the comment to her that I never quite figured out how Tolkien did such a good job creating his worlds. I'd start to read a passage with the intent of analyzing the writing, but always got so sucked in that I forgot to analyze. Seems to fit in with your theory of leaving room for the imagination to do what it does.

Anyway, I asked her if she had any theories behind what went into Tolkien's craft, how did he accomplish his spell?

She paused for a thoughtful moment, then said ... "Talent?"

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Re: Elves

Post by Elthir on Wed Jun 27, 2012 3:35 am

David H wrote: I don't think I follow this part. I'm not seeing where there is an explanation, or what the evidence is for a "false notion".

As I say, it's my theory, and thus my explanation too. At least very early in his myth making, one idea behind Tolkien's legends was that they represented the 'truer stories' (known to the English) about the Elves, about whom the legends of the Irish and Welsh, for example, came to tell garbled things. Perhaps notions about pointed Elvish ears were garbled too, especially over time, and the source was in origin a theory based on details found in the Quendian tongues.

It's just a possible interpretation (as I say I would like to hear more opinions from trained linguists on the idea), an interpretation that doesn't end up with the Quendi having different ears than Men.

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Re: Elves

Post by David H on Wed Jun 27, 2012 7:46 am

Elthir wrote:
As I say, it's my theory, and thus my explanation too.....It's just a possible interpretation (as I say I would like to hear more opinions from trained linguists on the idea), an interpretation that doesn't end up with the Quendi having different ears than Men.

In that case you should carry your research to it's logical end.
I'd encourage you to keep an open mind though. You never know what you'll find.
What would you say if I proposed the theory that Númenóreans had pointed ears, for example? Wink
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Re: Elves

Post by Elthir on Wed Jun 27, 2012 12:58 pm

David H wrote: In that case you should carry your research to it's logical end.

Which is? Can you... ahem... 'point' the way?




Last edited by Elthir on Wed Jun 27, 2012 5:48 pm; edited 5 times in total
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Re: Elves

Post by Pettytyrant101 on Wed Jun 27, 2012 1:22 pm

I actually quite like your theory Elthir- if I'm following it right you are sayig there was a mistaken association made at some point, either in Gondor or afterwards, which associated an elven word for leaf with a shape of leaf, leading to a mistaken assumption elves had leaf-shaped ears which has stayed with us down the ages, gradually having wings and small size added until we get to 'victorian' elves at the bottom of the garden.
There's a sort of elegance to that theory I like and I can see it happening with language, a simple mistake to make leading to a completly erroneous view.

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Re: Elves

Post by Elthir on Wed Jun 27, 2012 1:37 pm

That's basically it Petty! And thanks.

Again I've no evidence from Tolkien to support this specifically. The idea came about from musing over a 'what if' scenario: what if Tolkien had altered his opinion about Quendian ears in the (seemingly rather notable amount of) years between writing Etymologies and Words, Phrases and Passages (WPP), but still felt the need to explain the linguistic evidence that he had already published before writing WPP (the evidence being the words noted).

In WPP he writes that we have a 'possible' relationship (indicating to me that he is not writing as Tolkien as author, who would know), but if any relationship merely reflected that the Elvish mind associated ears in general and certain kinds of leaves, it could (it seems to me) arise among scholars -- scribes and linguists who had never actually met any of the Quendi -- that maybe the Quendian ears were more pointed and leaf-shaped than Men's ears. Supposition became 'fact' or folklore, contributing to a 'garbled' notion that persisted down the years (possibly mixed with other ideas too).


Of course it looks like no one ever asked JRRT in any case! But it's only a what if type musing anyway.
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Re: Elves

Post by David H on Wed Jun 27, 2012 2:10 pm

I'm sorry if that last post was a bit terse. It was intended to be encouraging.

I was only trying to say that I believe a good theory deserves to have every effort made both to confirm and to refute it. You never know what you'll find along the way. (Warning: this belief caused me to spend hundreds of hours last winter reading through 18th century newspapers and business correspondence in dusty archives because of a minor historical theory of mine. I learned a lot, and in the end my theory had been almost abandoned to make room for a more interesting theory.)

In your case you referred to talking to linguists. It sounds like an interesting thing to do. It also might be interesting to follow the subject from a biological line. The little bump on some human ears called "Darwin's tubercle" has long been believed to be a vestigial pointy ear, but I understand that this has been recently challenged by some geneticists.



My Númenórean pointy ear comment was only meant to point out that we really don't know much about what the Atanatári looked like: noses, ears, chins, cheekbones, foreheads, hairlines and such. Therefore when you refer to an interpretation that doesn't end up with the Quendi having different ears than Men, and when some modern men have pointy ears, it seems worth considering the possibility that everybody in the First Age had pointy ears. If nothing else, it's another test of the theory.



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Re: Elves

Post by Pettytyrant101 on Wed Jun 27, 2012 2:20 pm

Razz Dave- as if we're not having a hard enough time just trying to find out if elves had pointy ears- now your proposing everyone might have had them! (interesting theory though- the pointy eared humans one- being a theory I have previously missed).

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Re: Elves

Post by Elthir on Wed Jun 27, 2012 3:59 pm

Hmm, certainly if someone is willing to pay me for any time further research might take... Wink

I've also made an assumption due to seeming silence (!) as I assume no Primary World language exhibits arguable word relationships that might speak to a people associating ears with certain kinds of leaves (merely guessing some linguist would have noted it by now, somewhere in a Tolkien context). Of course if a compelling example did exist, and possibly helped my theory in some measure, it might also cut into the arguable creativity of Tolkien having invented this in connection with his Elves.

Incidentally, in Etymologies LAS is not nearly the only root/base/stem that is distinguished with numbering, meaning (as I think I understand things here) it is not the only example of an identical stem producing two semantically different (or perhaps semantically different enough to deserve separate entries I guess), sets of Elvish words. The meanings below are the very basic meanings connected to the stem or base:

AM-
AM1- 'mother' AM2- 'up'

ANA-
ANA1- 'to, towards' ANA2- 'be, exist'

AR-
AR1- 'day' AR2- 'outside'

KHAL-
KHAL1- '(small) fish' KHAL2- 'uplift'

LAS-
LAS1- 'leaf' LAS2- 'listen'

LIN-
LIN1- 'pool' LIN2- 'sing'

LIR-
LIR1- 'sing, trill' LIR2- 'row, range'

LUG-
LUG1- 'heavy' LUG2- 'blue'

To point out some; also noting that we can have relationships, or possible relationships, between other stems that are yet not identical: BARATH- is noted as 'probably' related to BAR- and BARAD- for instance.

The updated scenario for The Lord of the Rings and LAS appears to be LAS1, LAS2, and SLAS, and I think Tolkien could simply have explained that 'possibly' related means just that. If Tolkien is playing his own game as fictive translator, unless he has seen an Elf (and with short enough hair or whatever), he can only guess at a possible relationship when looking at words hailing from LAS and LAS/SLAS, and if there is one, what might be behind it.

Although I think he might have seen at least one faded Elf, but that's another matter Very Happy

Do we just have existing words that can be theorized to hail from identical stems as a result of linguistic investigation (sound change and so on), with no connection between the 'leaf words' and the 'listen, ear' words -- as in no real reason behind it all; or at least no reason that anyone could possibly trace with any real compelling argument.

Or am I off the path here in some way, not being a trained linguist (I wonder).


Anyway, so far at least, this seems to me the easier way to 'get around' the already published words of course, again assuming the 'what if' that Tolkien desired to further disconnect (in some measure at least, moving from a fairly notable comparison in an earlier text) his Quendi from popular notions in this way.
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Re: Elves

Post by David H on Wed Jun 27, 2012 4:47 pm

Elthir wrote:Hmm, certainly if someone is willing to pay me for any time further research might take... Wink

Pay????For spending cold winter days in warm, mahogany-paneled reading rooms with perky archivists at your beck and call??? Suspect
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Re: Elves

Post by Elthir on Wed Jun 27, 2012 5:44 pm

Well it's warm where I live already. At least for now.

And I'm thinking of taking up the care and raising of grey snow-horses, for example, to possibly add to my list of things to do. Enough jools might open up some time for this research however.

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Elthir
Sharrasi's prentice

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