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On elves and cold
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Cirashala
Wakandian


Dec 29 2020, 2:39am

Post #1 of 27 (1555 views)
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On elves and cold Can't Post

So...it seems as though Tolkien may not have been consistent in his writings when it comes to how elves react to cold temperatures. I will have to paraphrase, as I'm not home right now with my books, so bear with me.

For instance, Legolas on Caradhras "Walked in light shoes over snow or stone" and "the cold and snow bothered him very little".

Also in FOTR: Haldir's elf watchmen/border patrol had many skins and furs on their flet, supposedly used for keeping warm and sleeping (I can't remember if any of the elves were wrapped in them). This implies that they could, in fact, be bothered by cold, since they did not know the Fellowship would be coming and would be in need of such warmth.

In the Sil: Many elves died in the bitter cold crossing the Helcaraxe (grinding ice). I know that may not be the same as snow, given it's literally POLAR conditions, but still...

Also in the Sil: When Voronwe and Tuor are trying to reach Gondolin, Voronwe alludes to his freezing his keister off, and Tuor remarks "You're not looking much better" AND Voronwe expresses concern that they may BOTH succumb to the "snow-sleep" (Reference to hypothermia? And I find it quite curious that Voronwe and Tuor, exceptional Man that he was, were BOTH struggling with the cold).

Also of note- the elves never really settled in the far northern areas, in part due to Morgoth, but it's also implied that it was just too dang cold.

I could be wrong, but I also believe that there might have been a few more references in the legendarium regarding elves and how they experience cold temperatures, and their overall resilience to it.


So what are your thoughts? Can an elf, as implied by Voronwe, succumb to snow-sleep (aka hypothermia/freezing to death)? Do they feel cold? Would they wear warm things or use warm blankets, etc (the skins and furs on the flet, despite the fact that Nenya altered temps in Lorien to appear a little more springy and less bitter winter)? Would they wear gloves? Could an elf potentially die of cold exposure (like in a blizzard or in frigid temps well below freezing), just as a mortal Man can?

Would the cold actually bother them, or is Legolas some kind of super-elf that doesn't feel cold because he's too "kewl" to be bothered by snow? It appears that there are more total references to elves being bothered by cold as well, compared to Legolas's Caradhras experience.

Also, if Tuor was still alive at a point where Voronwe implied that they both might just "lay there and succumb to the snow-sleep", rather than continue on, does that mean that elf and Man tolerance to the cold isn't all that far apart from each other? Like the elf might last a little longer than a Man would, but that both are susceptible to it?

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Cirashala
Wakandian


Dec 29 2020, 4:31am

Post #2 of 27 (1502 views)
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A few additional tidbits on elves and cold- thanks Gramma! [In reply to] Can't Post

From Gramma's TIME post- a couple points I missed!

At the departing of the Fellowship from Rivendell (bold mine):

"All were well furnished by Elrond with thick warm clothes, and they had jackets and cloaks lined with fur."

All implies Legolas was furnished with these items as well.



After a couple of days on the road (FOTR):


"For many sunless days an icy blast came from the Mountains in the east, and no garment seemed able to keep out its searching fingers. Though the Company was well clad, they seldom felt warm, either moving or at rest."

Also implies Legolas's inclusion here. And yet...the storm bothered him very little...




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squire
Asgardian


Dec 29 2020, 2:39pm

Post #3 of 27 (1480 views)
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To some degree, Legolas presents a problem in writing about the Fellowship [In reply to] Can't Post

As you say, "all" in these passages seems to include Legolas as feeling the biting cold.

But Legolas' Elven identity is rarely explored or exploited in the story, for the sake of enhancing the danger and vulnerability of the company. Whenever he is featured, he displays the superhuman powers that Elrond said (regarding Glorfindel's inclusion) would be useless in a secret quest: immunity to cold, walking on top of snow, seeing incredibly far distances, never actually needing to sleep, shooting invisible objects in pitch darkness, etc.

So we could punt and accept that, whenever we read that "All" or "They" suffered or felt this and that discomfort, Legolas is the exception. It's just too clumsy to keep saying so. "All but Legolas..." or "Except for the Elf, they seldom..." hardly qualifies as heroic prose!



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noWizardme
Asgardian


Dec 29 2020, 4:33pm

Post #4 of 27 (1472 views)
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I'd agree and go further... [In reply to] Can't Post

It's not a superhero-like story. That is, the plot doesn't bump our heroes into problems so that these can be solved in any significant way by Legolas' special abilities, or Gimli's, or even by Gandalf using magic overtly. It's almost as if Tolkien often forgets about these things -- or at least he doesn't explore them and behaves as if the Fellowship (and other characters, as per the examples in the OP) were a bunch of real-world humans.

I'm not sure whether that's dramatic effect, Tolkien failing to work out the full logical implications of what he's said earlier, or part of Tolkien theme about the limitations of conventional power. Maybe several of those, of course.

Unless I've forgotten something it's really only Aragorn whose 'superpowers' are allowed to solve significant problems (such as critical first aid for Frodo's semi-magical Weathertop wound, or using the palantir successfully) and even then only sometimes. And that makes sense given that Aragorn has to show that he is developing into the rightful king.

~~~~~~
"You were exceedingly clever once, but unfortunately none of your friends noticed as they were too busy being attacked by an octopus."
-from How To Tell If You Are In A J.R.R. Tolkien Book, by Austin Gilkeson, in 'The Toast', 2016 https://the-toast.net/...-a-jrr-tolkien-book/


Cirashala
Wakandian


Dec 29 2020, 8:57pm

Post #5 of 27 (1458 views)
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"limitations of conventional power" [In reply to] Can't Post

So maybe the elves' resilience to temperature extremes is limited, even though their resilience elsewhere in the "human condition" gives them default immortality?

I like this idea! And it seems more consistent, given the other characters I mentioned (Voronwe especially, who is Noldorin to boot, so even more enlightened, for lack of a better word, than Sindarin Legolas).

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Cirashala
Wakandian


Dec 29 2020, 10:07pm

Post #6 of 27 (1451 views)
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A "too late to edit" afterthought [In reply to] Can't Post

Luthien, I would argue, is the closest thing to a non-Vala superhero in the legendarium.

But she's half-Maia, so...still.

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Elthir
X-men


Dec 30 2020, 6:01am

Post #7 of 27 (1443 views)
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being bothered [In reply to] Can't Post

I'd say that Elvish bodies were more resistant to hardship, including cold, than mortals, but were not immune to it, and could succumb to it.

Voronwe's statement in The Fall of Gondolin (Unfinished Tales) is: "As for me, I am of the Noldor, and long must be the hunger and cold the winter that shall slay the kin of those who passed the Grinding Ice."

And he adds about how the bread of the Elves can sustain them. So that's about being slain, but it also suggests to me that the Elves have better endurance in any case.

Note 5 to the Commentary on the Athrabeth (Morgoth's Ring) states that the Elves were capable of: "far greater and longer physical exertion ( . . . ) without weariness; they were not subject to disease; they healed rapidly and completely after injuries that would have proved fatal to Men; and they could endure great physical pain for longer periods. ( . . . )"

And how long was Voronwe traveling in the "harbourless winter" with Tuor before he begins to even speak of the snow-sleep -- compared to the incident on Caradhras?

There are some hints to help guess the time in Voronwe's case, but for now I'll just say: much longer.

Smile


From The Ring Goes South: "The storm had troubled him little, and he alone of the Company remained still light of heart."

Earlier the company revived and found fresh hope and vigour, after some miruvor . . . and so here, I do think Tolkien has excepted Legolas in some measure, as he alone had remained light of heart.

That said, I haven't looked at every possible wintry circumstance to check if Tolkien is "consistent enough" across the board, but anyway, to my mind the Caradhras incident, while harsh, was relatively swift as far as Legolas was concerned, and he was bothered "less" in body and less in spirit by it . . .

. . . but that doesn't mean he wouldn't have preferred a drink in front of Elrond's blazing hearth.

Wink


(This post was edited by Elthir on Dec 30 2020, 6:04am)


Cirashala
Wakandian


Dec 30 2020, 6:27am

Post #8 of 27 (1436 views)
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True, but... [In reply to] Can't Post

One flaw in Voronwe theory- TUOR WAS WITH HIM. And while I can't argue that their journey in the cold was much longer than the Caradhras crossing, it was still short enough that Tuor, though an impressive Man, was still alive at that point as well. So it was at least short enough for Tuor to survive up to the point of their snow-sleep conversation.

It is still implied that both were greatly suffering from the cold though, and that Voronwe believed that he might succumb as well...eventually.

Hmmm...I just realized a very subtle, yet present, nuance in the Legolas quote that I think helps bring more into context (and blows the weather thing out of the water):

"The storm had troubled him little, and he alone of the Company remained still light of heart."

Everyone else was extremely discouraged and melancholic in that scene emotionally (as well as being frustrated by the snow, but again-emotion), EXCEPT for Legolas. The presence of troubled may not actually indicate the physical effects of the storm at all (though he could walk/run on top of the snow, not "swimming" through it).

It might have indicated emotionally troubled, not physically, and this is reinforced by the following subject "light of heart".

Tolkien may not have been talking about Legolas and the snow and cold at ALL. He might have been talking about the melancholy everyone FELT at the time- except Legolas. The storm had bothered everyone EMOTIONALLY, and made them very discouraged.

So it could have simply been that the others, due to the snow, lost HOPE, and Legolas had not. Perhaps the miruvor's effects lasted longer with the elf vs the others, or he was very optimistic in general that they would be ok.

Perhaps we were simply looking at the quote all wrong in the first place ;) The cold could have very well bothered him, but emotionally he was still ok, versus the others who weren't.


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noWizardme
Asgardian


Dec 30 2020, 11:35am

Post #9 of 27 (1420 views)
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I'm puzzled by Legolas' behaviour for another reason, though [In reply to] Can't Post

Firstly -- Could be! If the idea is that elves can be less distracted by discomfort than mortals, then that would seem to answer the apparent inconsistency.

Legolas' behaviour in the snow is still odd though (if you don't mind a tangent to the original question?)

I say that because I think the Fellowship is in genuine mortal peril after their night in the blizzard, with the quest at risk of failure. I don't see them as just disheartened or lethargic and confused from hypothermia, but in no real danger. If Legolas is in better shape than most (physically, mentally or in morale) then I'd have thought it was time to add his best contribution to the general escape plan. But I don't see how running off does that - it seems to me more like a silly stunt.

So I expect I'm missing something - Tolkien must have included this passage for a reason, and I doubt the reader response he was hoping for was "I see -- elves have superpowers that are not terribly useful, and in addition Legolas is a jerk!"

~~~~~~
"You were exceedingly clever once, but unfortunately none of your friends noticed as they were too busy being attacked by an octopus."
-from How To Tell If You Are In A J.R.R. Tolkien Book, by Austin Gilkeson, in 'The Toast', 2016 https://the-toast.net/...-a-jrr-tolkien-book/


Cirashala
Wakandian


Dec 30 2020, 4:57pm

Post #10 of 27 (1412 views)
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I took it to mean [In reply to] Can't Post

that he was trying to encourage them/uplift their spirits/morale, and when he took off running, he DID help...he was scouting ahead to see if the way was passable at all (and I think his motivations for doing so were to try and find a way to make it easier for them to get through, since it's not like he can help them walk on top of snow like he can. Maybe carry them one by one? But I imagine Gimli, being a dwarf with a mail shirt and helm and heavy axe, etc, would be like trying to lift a panzer tank O.o), AND he came back to give them the great news- that the huge drift they were battling was only the width of a wall.

Yeah, maybe he was being a little cocky/showing off too, but he does seem aware that the Men are stronger than he is/more doughty (I laughed at your "reader's takeaway" ROFL Laugh) and are better suited to try and plow through the snow so the hobbits, etc, could get through. Not like THEY could try to plow through a drift quite a lot taller than they were!

Still, given his abilities, maybe he was being so cocky/playful because no one, not even Gandalf and Aragorn (who should know that elves can do this) bothered to even ask him to help/use his ability to help out in that situation. So it might also have been a "Well, fine. Since they didn't bother asking me to help by scouting ahead, I'm just gonna do it anyway. Guess they forgot I am an elf. I'll show them!" And popped off that "I go to find the sun!" as a retort for it? Wink

Still though, he did contribute quite a lot by running off, as you put it. He actually saved the entire company's lives! They were about ready to give up and feeling REALLY blue (both physically and mentally) and depressed, and his scouting job and good news gave them the push to keep going and get OUT of the perilous mess they were in. If he hadn't done so, they might have risked spending another night in there and could very well have died, since IIRC they burnt all their faggots (term, not derogatory) of wood that first night (not to mention the snow would have been twice as bad and they might've been buried alive with no way to get out).

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Elthir
X-men


Dec 30 2020, 6:24pm

Post #11 of 27 (1399 views)
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freezing apples and oranges [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
One flaw in Voronwe theory- TUOR WAS WITH HIM. And while I can't argue that their journey in the cold was much longer than the Caradhras crossing, it was still short enough that Tuor, though an impressive Man, was still alive at that point as well. So it was at least short enough for Tuor to survive up to the point of their snow-sleep conversation.


Well, for me Voronwe's statement suggests that he can last long without food, and in the cold, but will eventually succumb to both these hardships. So firstly, ruling out "immunity" for example.

But in addition I feel it's in accordance with Tolkien's "Commentary quote" on Elvish bodies (already quoted in the thread), that Elves can endure hardship better than Men, as well as JRRT's description of Elvish bodies below.

Also, for me the talk of "snow sleep" is more about giving up because of Tuor -- Tuor says he had counted himself the hardiest of Men, and had endured many "winter's woe in the mountains" (but had a cave and a fire then), and he doubts his own strength to go much farther. . . but then he adds let's go on, before hope fails . . .

. . . in my opinion, Voronwe is simply responding that they have no other choice but to go on in any case, unless they give up now "and seek the snow-sleep" which is obviously not what either want.

So, how much longer Voronwe could have lasted beyond even the mighty Tuor is simply not known, but the impression (for me) is that he could have bested Tuor here.

And you can take my word for it, the trek here was much longer than the attempt at Caradhras -- but of course the circumstances are not exactly the same as on the mountain . . . where things could get dangerous quickly, but I think Legolas would have outlasted Boromir, for example, if the Caradhras crossing -- again, given its arguably different hurdles -- had gone on "too long", just as Voronwe would have outlasted Tuor in their circumstance.

Legolas was "endowed with the tremendous vitality of Elvish bodies, so hard and resistant to hurt that he went only in light shoes over rock or through snow."

JRRT, a much later (than BOLT of course) "wrathful comment" in reaction to a pictorial rendering of Legolas, The Book of Lost Tales II.


(This post was edited by Elthir on Dec 30 2020, 6:36pm)


Cirashala
Wakandian


Dec 30 2020, 6:45pm

Post #12 of 27 (1393 views)
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I agree that the elves would have lasted longer [In reply to] Can't Post

but my overall point (and question) was (and this might've been missed) is whether or not elves COULD succumb to the cold or not. Not necessarily how long it would take them to do so per se.

I completely agree that both Voronwe, and Legolas, were very hardy and strong, and could have outlasted mortals under similar conditions. Def not arguing with you on how dangerous the mountain would be, as opposed to valley conditions. I live at the foot of the northern Rocky Mountains in the US myself, and we're actually having a snowstorm today. 100% agreed on that one Smile The upcoming winter storm warning had gotten me thinking about elves and cold/temperature extremes/exposure.

What are your thoughts, Elthir, on whether or not elves feel cold and can get uncomfortable with it or feel pain from being too cold/shiver,etc, like we can (only with a better endurance for it than us), and whether or not extreme cold conditions could kill them? Tolkien says that elves can be slain, and I find it quite interesting that Voronwe uses the term "slay" as well in this conversation.

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Elthir
X-men


Dec 30 2020, 9:28pm

Post #13 of 27 (1386 views)
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I thought I answered this? [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
but my overall point (and question) was (and this might've been missed) is whether or not elves COULD succumb to the cold or not. Not necessarily how long it would take them to do so per se.


I even used the word "succumb" earlier Smile

But anyway, yes my take is that Elves felt cold and could eventually be slain by it. The Helcaraxe was filled with vast fogs and mists of "deathly" cold as well as clashing hills of ice: "Therefore Feanor halted and the Noldor debated what course they should now take. But they began to suffer from anguish from the cold, . . ."

And as I said above, I think Voronwe is talking about being slain/dying, due to hunger/cold . . . again, at some point, but surely if he gave up.

We know there's a new book coming out edited by Carl Hostetter, but I'd be very surprised (if Tolkien brings up the matter that is) if JRRT says that Elves didn't feel cold or couldn't eventually die from it.


(This post was edited by Elthir on Dec 30 2020, 9:36pm)


Cirashala
Wakandian


Dec 30 2020, 9:49pm

Post #14 of 27 (1379 views)
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Ah, yes... [In reply to] Can't Post

You did mostly answer the question and I just missed it Unimpressed Man, I hate being sick...Pirate

Anyway, thanks! Smile

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CuriousG
Asgardian


Dec 30 2020, 10:22pm

Post #15 of 27 (1380 views)
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Tolkien was anticipating movie-Legolas [In reply to] Can't Post

who, with his lovely hair, was too pretty to EVER be confused with a jerk. Smile


Cirashala
Wakandian


Dec 31 2020, 2:05am

Post #16 of 27 (1365 views)
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LOL! /// [In reply to] Can't Post

 

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No One in Particular
Fantastic Four


Dec 31 2020, 2:37am

Post #17 of 27 (1368 views)
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Voronwe [In reply to] Can't Post

Depending on which version of the story you're on, Voronwe wasn't starting at full health and vigor. In some versions he was he last survivor of a shipwreck, for example. But the different versions kind of run together when I don't have the books right in front of me.

While you live, shine
Have no grief at all
Life exists only for a short while
And time demands an end.
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Cirashala
Wakandian


Dec 31 2020, 2:56am

Post #18 of 27 (1362 views)
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I remember that! [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks for that reminder! Cool

Poor guy couldn't catch a break, could he?

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noWizardme
Asgardian


Dec 31 2020, 4:47pm

Post #19 of 27 (1329 views)
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Ah yes, OK [In reply to] Can't Post

Yes, I can see that working. I think (interestingly enough) we have different interpretations of this exchange between Legolas and Gandalf:


Quote
"If Gandalf would go before us with a bright flame, he might melt a path for you," said Legolas. The storm had troubled him little, and he alone of the Company remained still light of heart.

"If Elves could fly over mountains, they might fetch the Sun to save us," answered Gandalf. "But I must have something to work on. I cannot burn snow."


Legolas' idea is either a joke, or if it's in earnest it's a very bad idea. (Aside from any problems with How Magic Works, Gandalf has already been reluctant to use fire because of attracting the attention of watchers who can either see fire conventionally, or sense magic). SO then it's a matter of "In what tone does Gandalf respond"? I now see that it can be read as a good-humoured response (with an equally ridiculous suggestion). Or he might be snapping back in a flash of temper (as he does on other occasions when a worrying situation is not going his way and he feels responsible but not in control).

If Gandalf was having a sense of humour failure, the I'd say Legolas shouldn't have escalated it further. Too much stress in the expedition to respond in kind, if you want to keep working together right now to avoid disaster. Hence my saying he sounds like a jerk. If I read it as all smiles now, then it's very different!

It's fun to find these points where I've always read it one way and never realised there's another way!

On the other point, yes, it makes sense to think that what Legolas does after he runs off is to scout the way for the diggers.

~~~~~~
"You were exceedingly clever once, but unfortunately none of your friends noticed as they were too busy being attacked by an octopus."
-from How To Tell If You Are In A J.R.R. Tolkien Book, by Austin Gilkeson, in 'The Toast', 2016 https://the-toast.net/...-a-jrr-tolkien-book/


noWizardme
Asgardian


Dec 31 2020, 4:49pm

Post #20 of 27 (1334 views)
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...but in that case [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
Tolkien was anticipating movie Legolas, who, with his lovely hair, was too pretty to EVER be confused with a jerk.


...but in that case, surely Legolas would run off in the wrong direction, lead the digging men astray, and end up taking the hobbits to Isengard.


...or is that joke about Legolas' poor sense of direction as old and tired as I am? Wink

~~~~~~
"You were exceedingly clever once, but unfortunately none of your friends noticed as they were too busy being attacked by an octopus."
-from How To Tell If You Are In A J.R.R. Tolkien Book, by Austin Gilkeson, in 'The Toast', 2016 https://the-toast.net/...-a-jrr-tolkien-book/


(This post was edited by noWizardme on Dec 31 2020, 4:50pm)


Cirashala
Wakandian


Dec 31 2020, 8:31pm

Post #21 of 27 (1323 views)
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Maybe [In reply to] Can't Post

Legolas popped out a joke to boost morale (or he, like Sam, had unrealistic expectations of what a wizard could actually do), But I see it (esp with the following "light of heart" comment) that he was just gently ribbing him to boost morale. Gandalf replied with a sarcastic retort, so Legolas decided to keep it going and play along (verbally), while actually being useful at the same time (scouting ahead). I can almost see Gandalf tempted to stick his tongue out at Legolas behind his back as he runs away in annoyance LOL.

"If Gandalf would go before us with a bright flame, he might melt a path for you," said Legolas (being cheeky). The storm had troubled him little, and he alone of the Company remained still light of heart. (Joking to try and make everyone smile and uplift spirits by teasing Gandalf)

"If Elves could fly over mountains, they might fetch the Sun to save us," answered Gandalf (sarcastic). "But I must have something to work on. I cannot burn snow." (Shut up, you little elvish brat! Not helpful!)

"I go to find the sun!" (You rotten little turd...)


Snarky Gandalf is great Laugh

Honestly, this is VERY reminiscent of Legolas and Gimli teasing/ribbing each other later on...which actually makes perfect sense!

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Cirashala
Wakandian


Dec 31 2020, 8:33pm

Post #22 of 27 (1322 views)
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HAHAHAHAHA!!!!! [In reply to] Can't Post

That is just absurdly ridiculous enough to make me die laughing! Laugh

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My Hobbit Fanfiction

My historical novel print and kindle version

My historical novels ebook version compatible with all ereaders

You can also find my novel at most major book retailers online (and for those outside the US who prefer a print book, you can find the print version at Book Depository). Search "Amazing Grace Amanda Longpre'" to find it.

Happy reading everyone!


Cirashala
Wakandian


Dec 31 2020, 9:09pm

Post #23 of 27 (1318 views)
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You know, I think... [In reply to] Can't Post

we all might have disseminated this scene enough to realize, given the context clues, that "troubled" didn't, in fact, refer to the storm's physical effects on Legolas at all Smile

It seems pretty clear to me by now that the whole point of that exchange wasn't the cold and weather, but rather the MORALE of the Fellowship. If we take ALL the context clues together, then it appears as though Legolas was the only one still light-hearted enough to be able to joke, and that was Tolkien's point.

It wasn't about whether or not Legolas felt cold. It was about the overall MOOD of the company at that point, which was at a very low point due to Caradhras' persistence at preventing them from continuing on that path to Mordor, which forced them to take an even more dangerous road through Moria. Basically, he's showing that everyone but the elf was extremely discouraged and depressed because of their first major obstacle of the quest.

Legolas, however, proves his emotional/spiritual resilience against evil there, and as beings of light, the antithesis to darkness, it would make sense that it would take more than an inconvenient and frustrating snowstorm to truly dishearten an elf as much as it had his companions. It is similar to how he did not fear the "ghosts of Men" in the Paths of the Dead scene when the others (except maybe Aragorn) were terrified. Plus, he could walk on top of snow, so it wasn't as much of a physical obstacle for him as it was for the others, who had to dig their way through (this is reinforced by Tolkien mentioning that he was walking on top of it as well= showing that elvish trait).

Which means that elves do, in fact, feel cold just like mortals do Smile They can just survive the discomfort and/or pain of it (and have the ability to endure hypothermia) a lot longer than mortals can Cool

My writing and novels:

My Hobbit Fanfiction

My historical novel print and kindle version

My historical novels ebook version compatible with all ereaders

You can also find my novel at most major book retailers online (and for those outside the US who prefer a print book, you can find the print version at Book Depository). Search "Amazing Grace Amanda Longpre'" to find it.

Happy reading everyone!


Voronwë_the_Faithful
Wakandian

Jan 1, 1:35am

Post #24 of 27 (1309 views)
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Now I don't have to post [In reply to] Can't Post

Since you beat me to it. Wink

'But very bright were the stars upon the margin of the world, when at times the clouds about the West were drawn aside.'

The Hall of Fire


Elthir
X-men


Jan 1, 4:26pm

Post #25 of 27 (1274 views)
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I've been more limb-lithe this week . . . [In reply to] Can't Post

 . . . between naps anyway Wink

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