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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
Evidence of pointy ears for Elves and others.

Hamfast Gamgee
Grey Havens

Jan 22 2017, 11:23pm

Post #1 of 12 (1359 views)
Evidence of pointy ears for Elves and others. Can't Post

All right, here is a trivial question maybe, but one I have wondered about. Is there any actual textual evidence that Elves have pointy ears? Yes, I know that this is beloved in the movies, but not only in the movies in just about every modern artist impression or any fantasy tale about Elves that exists. But I must say that when I first read Lotr, I didn't really imagine the Eldar been like Vulcans from Star Trek, though I suppose that I can see the similarities. But is there any textual evidence from the books to support this? Or maybe, conversely, is there any places where Tolkien might say that an Elvish character definitely does not have pointy ears?


Jan 22 2017, 11:45pm

Post #2 of 12 (1336 views)
I'm with you [In reply to] Can't Post

I read both The Hobbit and LOTR without envisioning pointy ears on Elves, and I was surprised to see them in the movies. Elves are usually described as more beautiful than humans, i.e., they look like humans, only like the prettiest humans, and I don't see pointy ears on the Venus de Milo.

Tolkien is actually pretty sparse in his physical descriptions of people, usually limiting himself to eyes and hair. I think Gandalf gets the most detail, with eyebrows so bushy they stick out past his hat (or something like that), but there aren't frequent references to "Denethor was old, with an aquiline nose and hollow cheeks" or "Luthien had skin like silk and rosy cheeks," etc.


Jan 22 2017, 11:53pm

Post #3 of 12 (1335 views)
Some evidence. [In reply to] Can't Post

Tolkien once described Hobbits as having slightly pointed ears, but not as pointed as the ears of Elves. Take that for what it's worth.

"He who lies artistically, treads closer to the truth than ever he knows." -- Favorite proverb of the wizard Ningauble of the Seven Eyes


Jan 23 2017, 12:01am

Post #4 of 12 (1335 views)
Leading to quiet jokes in Gondor about "the King's ear" [In reply to] Can't Post

As Otaku says, Tolkien is definitely on record as imagining the Elves with pointed ears, although he doesn't make it explicit in any of the published stories.

In an earlier discussion we tried to work out the implications for all the Man/Elf mixed marriages, and came up short. "Are you elvish folk?" becomes a ridiculous question when asked of men whose ears are visible; and should we assume that Aragorn and others of the Dunedain descended from Luthien inherited a more pointed ear thereby, thus setting them off from more purely mortal men?

Like you, I wish Tolkien had bitten the bullet and gone for just that extra height and quiet aura of beauty and wisdom in differentiating the First and Second Children. I suspect he was, unconsciously perhaps, influenced by more conventional images of elves from late Victorian times, even as he said he rather disliked those creatures' cutesy and diminutive manifestations.

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Jan 23 2017, 4:07am

Post #5 of 12 (1316 views)
According to the same logic, [In reply to] Can't Post

Elves should have facial hair, like Men.

Curious used to argue that regardless of what Tolkien wrote elsewhere, in the books there is no reason to assume they are devoid of it (and Cirdan is explicitly described as being bearded). But I don't remember him making this very argument.

I tend to agree - but I must point out that Shakespeare (and other classical authors, up to George Moore and Bashevis Singer, are full with women masquerading as men, despite the physical differences. And unlike Eomer (who probably never laid his eyes on an elf before), Yentel's fellow-students should have been familiar with women.

Grey Havens

Jan 23 2017, 1:53pm

Post #6 of 12 (1293 views)
dating and revision [In reply to] Can't Post

"As Otaku says, Tolkien is definitely on record as imagining the Elves with pointed ears, although he doesn't make it explicit in any of the published stories."
- - - - - - - - - -

That's true as far as it goes, but not necessarily with reference to the letter Otaku is referencing, as the letter in question, to my mind, leaves open the possibility that JRRT is referring to popular depictions of elves in general rather than to his Quendi... though that said, I'm inclined to think the interpretation of this letter probably matches a statement in Etymologies, given the general dating of both texts.

Yet Tolkien is on record about a lot of things in the mid 1930s early 1940s that don't necessarily hold true later... and even if the more explicit record is an entry in Etymologies rather, written mid 1930s to early 1940s, in my opinion, in essence, Tolkien revised these entries in his much later document Words, Phrases And Passages...

... and in the revision (somewhere around the late 1950s early 1960s if I recall correctly), I think he leaves the matter ambiguous.

Over the years Tolkien changed his mind about how Elves reincarnate for example, or about how tall they were compared to Men, and I think it's at least arguable that he changed his mind about being explicit when it came to Elven ear-shape, even with respect to works he himself (as it would turn out) never published.

Grey Havens

Jan 23 2017, 2:09pm

Post #7 of 12 (1290 views)
Elven Ears [In reply to] Can't Post

Short answer: Tolkien does not describe Elven ears in anything he published.

In a linguistic entry (LAS-2), written in the mid 1930s or early 1940s, it's said that the Quendian ears were more pointed and leaf-shaped than human ears [text Etymologies]...

... but then in the late 1950s, early 1960s [text Words, Phrases and Passages] Tolkien revises his thoughts on LAS-words [which now includes SLAS- words] and does not make the same or similar description about Quendian ears that he had made earlier.

In other words, while Elvish-words for "ear, or listen" [lasto "listen"] and "leaves" ["lassi "leaves"] were set in publication in The Lord of the Rings, there is no longer an explanation [again, as stated explicitly back when JRRT wrote the LAS2- entry in Etymologies] that these words were connected due to the shape of Elven ears.

So in my opinion, no one knows for sure... even if we include posthumously published papers here.

Well... it's kind of a "shortish" answer Wink

(This post was edited by Elthir on Jan 23 2017, 2:15pm)


Jan 23 2017, 2:12pm

Post #8 of 12 (1289 views)
Tolkien’s ears [In reply to] Can't Post

I too had wondered after reading The Hobbit and LotR many times where in the deuce did this pointy-eared idea come from. I had always assumed that I had not noticed some mention somewhere, but no, there is no mention of Elvish pointy ears (or Hobbitish) in the corpus.

So we have to go outside the author published work to find any mention of such, and this is certainly where the idea came from. FYI, I think Otaku’s statement comes from Letter 27 written to Houghton Mifflin in 1938:

[Hobbits] had “A round, jovial face; ears only slightly pointed and ‘elvish.’”

And this from The Lost Road, (which I snuck off the internet as I don’t have the book).

“The Quendian ears were more pointed and leaf-shaped than [?human]”

This ‘leaf-shaped’ (flower-petal-shaped?) could lead us to wonder if Tolkien had ears in mind when giving the names of many hobbits.

Laura (mongrelized from Laurel), a tree with glossy large leaves (ears?)
Mungo (a rubiaceous plant with small drooping flowers)
Pansy (has round flat-faced petals)
Lily (a trumpet-shaped flower)

The Baggins family tree has many such names that could have been subconsciously (or not) referring to ears and inserted into the appendices: Linda (from the Linden tree); Belladonna; Peony; Poppy; Daisy; Myrtle; Rosa; Camellia; Mimosa --- and of course the hidden word-play with LOBElia.

‘. . . the rule of no realm is mine . . .
But all worthy things that are in peril . . . those are my care.
For I also am a steward. Did you not know?'

Gandalf to Denethor

Grey Havens

Jan 23 2017, 2:26pm

Post #9 of 12 (1284 views)
the two infamous quotes [In reply to] Can't Post

Yep, these two famed quotes date from about the same time, but there is now a later reference about words that hail from the roots (S)LAS- in which Tolkien does not compare Quendian to Human ears (we also now know that the word was "human" and need not be bracketed, as it was in Etymologies as published in The Lost Road).

I've little doubt that Tolkien thought his Quendian ears were "more" pointed and leaf-shaped at the time in question... I do doubt however, that Tolkien necessarily thought so later, noting that the explicit statement from Etymologies that you quoted is lifted from a larger entry about the root [edited] LAS-1, and there is no reference (in your post anyway) on the "leaf, listen, ear" words from the later text Words, Phrases, and Passages... which looks again at the same types of roots and words.

... although granted, Parma Eldalamberon 17 (in which Words, Phrases and Passages is published) is not as widely read or known as the Etymologies citation from The Lost Road perhaps.

Edit: arg... the entry is LAS-1 in Etymologies rather, not LAS2... so please imaginatively alter some [or all?] of my earlier LAS2 references in the thread to LAS1. It makes no difference to the argument, but I mis-remembered which LAS entry the "Quendian statement" was found in. Again, certain roots and words were revised later anyway, but if one has the actual Etymologies text, the Quendian comparison is in LAS1 rather than LAS2.

(This post was edited by Elthir on Jan 23 2017, 2:37pm)

Hamfast Gamgee
Grey Havens

Feb 1 2017, 10:19pm

Post #10 of 12 (1151 views)
At least I was not the only one then! [In reply to] Can't Post


Grey Havens

Feb 2 2017, 5:06pm

Post #11 of 12 (1133 views)
the fuller citations [In reply to] Can't Post

I just realized the fuller citations in question have yet to appear in this thread, so...

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
LAS1- *lassë leaf: Q lasse, N lhass; Q lasselanta leaf-fall, autumn, N lhasbelin (*lassekweene), cf. Q Narquelion [KWEL]. Lhasgalen Greenleaf (Gnome name of Laurelin). (Some think this is related to the next and *lassę ear. The Quendian ears were more pointed and leaf-shaped than Human).

LAS2- 'listen'. N lhaw 'ears' (of one person), (...)
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Again, that's from Etymologies, generally dated to the mid to later 1930s, early 1940s. And years later, in Words, Phrases and Passages, Tolkien writes the following entry in a wholly new text...

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Q lasse 'leaf' (S las); pl. lassi (S lais). It is only applied to certain kinds of leaves, especially those of trees, and would not e.g. be used of leaf of a hyacinth (linque). It is thus possibly related to LAS 'listen', and S-LAS stem of Elvish words for 'ear'; Q hlas, dual hlaru. Sindarin dual lhaw, singular lhewig.

lasse 'leaf'.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

So, what to make of this. Surely opinions will vary, but in my opinion we've gone from: "some think" LAS1 and LAS2 are related because of the stated fact that Quendian ears are more pointed and leaf-shaped ----- to ----- (years later): Q. lasse "leaf" "is thus possibly related to LAS "listen", and S-LAS..."... and that's it. In other words [pre-Lord of the Rings and early draft writing]: A) some thought there was a relationship because of an observable, physical fact (Etymologies) ----- to ----- [post-Lord of the Rings publication] B) the author of this text (Tolkien as translator?) again notes there is a possible relationship here, but no longer states the observable fact based on a comparison of the Quendi to Humans.

Thus I think it's arguable that Tolkien himself, or some later redactor possibly, is feigning ignorance of knowing (for certain anyway) about "true" Elvish ears, while allowing for the implied possibility.

Anyway, perhaps my opinion makes more sense with more context. Or less sense due to wordiness! Or... something.

Hamfast Gamgee
Grey Havens

Feb 9 2017, 9:25am

Post #12 of 12 (1013 views)
That's easy for you to say! [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks, however.


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