Of War and Elves
Grace balancing effectuality, deep culture balancing ingenuity, and beauty balancing strength — Elf armour and weaponry was meant to fill all of these areas. The only catch is that it was never meant to be.
War on Middle-earth began with Melkor. Everything to do with strife goes back to Melkor, but what the Elves injected into his malice was their own good. His intention backfired. When Melkor taught the Noldor to make weapons, he intended for them to kill each other. Eventually, however, these weapons were turned against him and his servants.
But what do we really know about the weapons and the fighting styles of the Elves? Peter Jackson’s rendition certainly helps us out. Carrie Thiel, the motion capture combat choreographer said
“Nice straight lines for the Elves. The Elves had a very … almost cat-like quality to them, if not a very upright, almost bird-like, top.”
This theory is obvious in all of the battle sequences. While the orcs are crouching and fighting in packs, the Elves are standing tall, wielding their swords in arcs rather than in the frenetic chopping motions of the orcs.
The Elves were also deeply connected to nature. Its influence could be seen in their armour, their dwellings, their weapons, their clothing, and practically everything else. Shapes in nature also influenced the design of the weaponry. Often the Elves are compared to trees. The grace suggested by that simile suggests that their general way of movement is in arcs and straight lines, like a tree.
Obviously the weapons themselves affect the fighting style — the elven swords are long, somewhat curved, sometimes waisted blades. While they are excellent for broad sweeps, short thrusting and stabbing movements would be awkward. In the Prologue, watch Elrond stabbing down at an orc. Not very efficient. The shields are the closest the Elves get to a club-like weapon. Think about it: that shield can be fairly effective if you get it full in the face! Ouch.
The shape of bladed weapons influences their optimum motion patterns. For elves, their weapons tended to take a leaf-shape. Drag (air resistance) may account for only a little friction, but that little friction may make the difference between life and death for a fighter. Therefore, the aim with any weapon is to optimise the patterns of motion to eliminate as much drag as possible.
One wonders why these patterns of movement leave so much of the Elf’s torso exposed so much of the time. My reasoning for this seeming lack of foresight is not only that Elves have grace, but that they also have speed. They would rely on this speed, and their armour-maker’s skill, to be able to block any offensive blows coming their way.
Until now I have put off the subject of the bow, mostly because I would write a very long and unrestrained article on it. The weapon itself dictates the style of the fighter. If the archer’s body is turned too much towards the target, than his footing is unstable. Believe me; with something as capricious as an arrow, the archer needs all of the stability he can get. If the archer’s posture is bad, it decreases his stability. Hence the archer’s excellent, long posture. Plus, posture is attractive!
Long lines and arcs are the nature of the bow. Take a look at one. It’s a long line … and, guess what, an arc. The long lines of the archer’s stance mimics the bow, and the firing arm is bent somewhat in the shape of the string’s bent position at full draw. Not a textbook definition of congruence, but it is probably as close as the natural Elven (and human) body can get to the shape of the bow. Notice that the Elf-archers’ bows are long rather than the short, squat types we see in the hands of the orcs. Compare Lurtz’s bow to Haldir’s.
Also notice the orc-archers’ stance and compare it to the Elves’. The orcs are hunched over, with remarkably bad footing. Their feet are excruciatingly close together! I wonder why we never see any of them fall over in the middle of firing. That would be great, wouldn’t it? We observe Lurtz, just about to shoot the first arrow at Boromir, and THUMP! there goes Lurtz on his face, and the hobbits can hew him to their hearts’ content.
Elvish battle tactics
The Elves’ battle tactics are never shown in the movies, nor are they expounded on in the books. We can reason, however, that they used the shield-wall method, judging from their positions in the Prologue and the size of their shields, and the fact that they used straight lines of attack rather than the scattered orc method of attack.
In “The Silmarillion”, the Elves of Ossiriand used the surprise-attack / ambush method with their bows. It is possible to suggest that this might have been used later in Lothlórien during the first, second, and third assaults from Dol Guldur, and possibly in Lothlórien’s attack on Dol Guldur itself. In Appendix A of “The Lord of the Rings”, the reader can find that Celeborn “led the host of Lórien over Anduin in many boats.” What we wouldn’t give to have P.J. include that in the extended edition of The Return of the King!
Nature, grace, and beauty all had their place in the Elven world. It saturated their fighting and weaponry and the whole of their lives. Even an implement made to kill or defend the bearer was made with beauty and style.
Note: I do not refer to myself as “we.” I refer to all true Ringies as “we.” When “we” read something, it is not My Precious and I reading something. We promise. *cough* I mean, I promise.
– video on www.lordoftherings.net
– The Silmarillion
– The Lord of the Rings
– Deduction and reasoning (geometry proofs can be handy, occasionally)
– Archery experience … believe me, you will have very poor aim if you have bad stance – even if you manage not to fall over. Trust me and don’t try it for yourself, especially with an arrow in hand.
Research by sindar_gloriel