Elves of Mirkwood

From Tolkien Gateway
"Who told you, and who sent you?" — Gandalf
This article or section needs more/new/more-detailed sources to conform to a higher standard and to provide proof for claims made.
Elves of Mirkwood
"Greenwood the Great" by Anke Eißmann
General Information
Other namesElves of Thranduil, Elves of the Wood, Folk of the Wood, Wood-elves
OriginsSilvan followers of Thranduil and his kin
LocationsWoodland Realm, Ithilien
AffiliationLast Alliance of Elves and Men
LanguagesSilvan language, Sindarin, Westron
MembersOropher, Thranduil, Legolas, Galion
Physical Description

The Elves of Mirkwood were Silvan Elves that lived in the Woodland Realm of northern Mirkwood, under the rule of Thranduil.


During the First Age, the Valar summoned the first Elves to move with them to Valinor. There were three hosts that first set out to answer the call of the Valar. Of these, the largest host was that of the Teleri. They advanced very slowly, and would often lose sight of the other two, smaller hosts.[1] There was a time, when they reached the river Anduin, one smaller leader of that host, Lenwë, wished to go no further, and he and his people began to live in the forests surrounding the Anduin Vale as the remaining Teleri continued their journey to Valinor. Their descendants were the Silvan elves of Lothlórien and Greenwood the Great.[1]

Second Age

During the Second Age, many Sindar survivors, who did not sail to the West, did not wish to stay with the Noldor in Lindon and be dominated by them.[2] They travelled eastward from Lindon and eventually ended up in Greenwood the Great, where the Silvan Elves of Nandorin descent lived. The Silvan Elves were morbin,[3] but they shared the same Telerin ancestry. The Sindar longed to experience a more "rustic" and "natural" way of life and fully embraced and adopted their culture and language. Oropher, one of the Iathrim who spent his early life in Doriath,[4] was taken by them as King and founded the Woodland Realm in S.A. 750 with the capital at Amon Lanc.[5][2]

Originally Oropher's realm encompassed the entirety of Greenwood, with its capital at Amon Lanc. However, during the Second Age, he and his people migrated north three times.[6] According to one tradition, the first movement was northward beyond the Gladden Fields, due to Oropher's desire to distance himself from the increasing encroachments of the Dwarves of Khazad-dûm and his resentment of the intrusions of Celeborn and Galadriel in Lothlórien. However his people did maintain constant intercourse with their kin west of the Anduin. Oropher was also disturbed by the reports of Sauron's rising power and by the end of the Second Age he dwelt in the western glens of the Emyn Duir or Dark Mountains and his people lived north of the Men-i-Naugrim or Dwarf-road.[6]

Oropher joined the Last Alliance by summoning a great army which joined with Amdír's smaller force of Lórien Elves to create one large host of Silvan Elves; the Silvan Elves were strong and brave, but they had poor armour and weapons in comparison with the Noldor. Amdír and Oropher were unwilling to submit to the supreme command of High King Gil-galad who was a Noldo, and rushed forward by themselves before his signal to charge. As a result they suffered in the Battle of Dagorlad and Oropher who was to the fore was slain.[2]

Over the course of the War of the Last Alliance, which ended with the Siege of Barad-dûr in S.A. 3441, two-thirds of the Silvan army had been lost. The remnants of the army returned to Greenwood under the command of Oropher's son, Thranduil, and he was crowned king.[2]

Third Age

With the return of Sauron around T.A. 1050 southern Greenwood became dangerous and was renamed Mirkwood. Creatures like great spiders came to dwell in Mirkwood and Thranduil's folk retreated to the north-eastern corner of Mirkwood, where they fortified themselves near the Forest River.

By the middle of the Third Age, the Silvan Elves of Mirkwood were much reduced in number though Mirkwood still had a greater population of Elves than Lindon, Rivendell, or Lothlórien.[7] To avoid the encroachment of the Necromancer from the south, they dwelt in the lands north of the Forest River, living mainly in and around the Elvenking's Halls. They also had become increasingly withdrawn and wary of strangers, though they did trade with the neighbouring realms.

Quest for Erebor

Mirkwood elves as depicted by David T. Wenzel

In T.A. 2941, Thranduil's people were disturbed, three times, by a band of Dwarves while feasting in the forest. The Dwarves were captured after the third interruption and brought to the Elvenking's halls. Though they had trespassed, they were not imprisoned until after they had been questioned and refused to be forthright. Their leader, Thorin, refused to reveal the purpose of their journey from their halls far to the west in Eriador.[8] The others, taken separately, had been questioned, refused to speak openly, and also spoke insultingly of the Elves.[9]

Thranduil was content to wait for the Dwarves' stubborness to subside. Though prisoners in the king's dungeons, they were not ill-treated by the Wood-elves who "were reasonably well-behaved even to their worst enemies, when they captured them."[8] After many days of imprisonment, they escaped with the help of their companion, the hobbit Bilbo Baggins, who had avoided capture using a magic ring.[9]

After the Dwarves' escape Thranduil sent out messengers; the Elves heard that Smaug, provoked by the escaped dwarves, had left Erebor to attack Lake-town where he was slain by Bard the Bowman. With that news, it was believed that the dwarves must have died and the wealth of Thror, augmented by Smaug's pillage of Dale, was left unprotected. He set out towards the Lonely Mountain with a company of Elves with spears and bows. On the way they met messengers from Bard in Lake-town who was seeking aid for his destroyed town. Thranduil being "the lord of a good and kindly people," turned his march to lend them aid.[10] He gave them a great store of goods and skilled Elves stayed to help the people erect shelters for the winter. He and Bard joined forces and marched north in arms as Thranduil had perceived that the swift spreading news of Smaug's death was "an ill wind . . . that blows no one any good."[10] They were very surprised when they found out that Thorin and his company had survived Smaug's attacks, had taken possession of the Lonely Mountain and its treasures and that Thorin Oakenshield had claimed the title King under the Mountain.

Bard demanded a part of the treasure for Dale and Lake-town, which Smaug had destroyed, as well as for himself because he had shot the dragon. When Thorin refused to give away parts of the treasure, Thranduil and Bard besieged the mountain and Thorin sent for aid from his cousin Dáin II Ironfoot from the Iron Hills.[11] After a few days Dáin's host approached and fight seemed unavoidable. But in the night Bilbo brought the Arkenstone, a great jewel that Thorin valued above all to him open to negotiations.[12] The next morning Bard and Thranduil entered into negotiations with an angered Thorin, who agreed to pay 1/14 share of the treasure in exchange for the stone. The next day Dáin arrived with his forces and although Thranduil was reluctant to start a war over gold, the dwarves proceeded to attack.

At the last moment, when the battle was almost joined between the two sides Gandalf intervened and revealed that while they were bickering amongst themselves, the Orcs of the Misty Mountains and Grey Mountains under Bolg were using the opportunity to march against them. They had been incited by Gandalf's earlier slaying of the Great Goblin, but had now mobilized for a full-scale attack after hearing news of the death of the Dragon and the now relatively unguarded treasure hoard. With the counsel of Gandalf, the three commanders agreed that the Orcs were the enemies of all and previous grievances between them were put on hold in face of the greater threat. So the Battle of Five Armies began.

Thranduil's host was positioned on the southern side of the Mountain, and they were the first to charge. Many Wood-elves were slain,[13] and things looked grim when the Eagles arrived on the battlefield. They turned the tide and the battle was won. Afterwards an agreement was reached for the division of the dragon hoard by the victors.[14]

War of the Ring

On March 21, T.A. 3018 Aragorn and Gandalf delivered Gollum as a prisoner to Thranduil. He was guarded day and night, but the Elves pitied him and allowed him to climb a tree that stood alone. When one night in June of 3018, Gollum refused to come down, the Elves were attacked by Orcs and Gollum could escape in the confusion. Thranduil sent his son Legolas to Rivendell to inform Elrond, and in the Council of Elrond Legolas was selected as one of the nine members of the Company of the Ring.[15] He journeyed with the Ring-bearer Frodo Baggins towards Mordor. After the Breaking of the Fellowship Legolas continued to accompany Aragorn, fighting in the Battle of the Hornburg, the Battle of the Pelennor Fields and the Battle of the Morannon. Legolas also developed a close friendship with the dwarf Gimli, son of one of Thorin's companions: Glóin. This friendship did much to improve relations between the two peoples.

On March 15, T.A. 3019, an army of Sauron from Dol Guldur, tasked with destroying the Woodland Realm, attacked Mirkwood. There was a long Battle under the trees and the woods were set on fire. But in the end Thranduil defeated the invaders.

Because the Shadow over Mirkwood was lifted, Thranduil and Celeborn renamed it Eryn Lasgalen, the Wood of Greenleaves. They divided it up, so that Thranduil received the northern part as far as the Mountains, and Celeborn took the southern part below the Narrows, naming it East Lórien. The wide forest in-between was given to the Beornings and the Woodmen[16].

After the destruction of Dol Guldur and the cleansing of Mirkwood, Thranduil and the Wood-Elves remained untroubled for many years.

After the fall of Sauron, around Fo.A. 20,[17] Legolas brought south Elves out of Greenwood, and they dwelt in Ithilien, and it became once again the fairest country in all the westlands.[18] They stayed in Ithilien for "a hundred years of Men."[19] Legolas and the Wood-Elves later worked together with Gimli and the Dwarves to rebuild and improve Minas Tirith, capital city of Gondor, the realm of their mutual friend King Aragorn Elessar[16]. After King Aragorn died, Legolas sailed West, reportedly taking Gimli with him, and with them left numerous other Elves.[20][21]


It is unclear precisely what form of Sindarin and/or Silvan Elvish the Elves of Mirkwood spoke.

In "The Silvan Elves and Their Speech" Tolkien writes that, "Thranduil father of Legolas of the Nine Walkers was Sindarin, and that tongue was used in his house, though not by all his folk."[22] This implies that Sindarin was the language of court and Silvan Elvish or the woodland tongue was the language of the people. It was later written that, "by the end of the Third Age the Silvan tongues had probably ceased to be spoken in the two regions that had importance at the time of the War of the Ring: Lórien and the realm of Thranduil in northern Mirkwood."[22] However, when Legolas related the song of Nimrodel, a song about a Third Age event, he said, "it is a fair song in our woodland tongue."[23][note 1]

In "The Sindarin Princes of the Silvan Elves", Tolkien states that:

Oropher had come among them with only a handful of Sindar, and they were soon merged with the Silvan Elves, adopting their language and taking names of Silvan form and style. This they did deliberately; for they . . . came from Doriath after its ruin, and had no desire to leave Middle-earth, nor to be merged with the other Sindar of Beleriand, dominated by the Noldorin Exiles for whom the folk of Doriath had no great love. They wished indeed to become Silvan folk . . .

In Letter 347, written in 1972, there is a note which states: "The Silvan Elves of Thranduil's realm did not speak S. but a related language or dialect."[24] This could be a mixture of Doriathrin, or Old Sindarin, mixing with the Silvan Elvish of the Nandor and Avari.[note 2]

Portrayal in adaptations

Beorn says about these Elves that they are dangerous and less wise than their kindred. There seems to be a gap between the Sindar and the Silvan, as Thranduil disaproves Legolas's affection for Tauriel.

See also


  1. "Silvan Elvish is also referred to as the 'woodland tongue'." (J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment - Languages Invented by Tolkien - edited by Michael D. C. Drout, p. 339)
  2. See David Salo's A Gateway to Sindarin p. 13


  1. 1.0 1.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion: Of the Coming of the Elves and the Captivity of Melkor"
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "The History of Galadriel and Celeborn", "Appendix B: The Sindarin Princes of the Silvan Elves"
  3. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The War of the Jewels, "Part Four. Quendi and Eldar: B. Meanings and use of the various terms applied to the Elves and their varieties in Quenya, Telerin, and Sindarin" (pp. 376-7, 380)
  4. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "The History of Galadriel and Celeborn", "Appendix B: The Sindarin Princes of the Silvan Elves"
  5. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Peoples of Middle-earth, "VI. The Tale of Years of the Second Age", p. 174
  6. 6.0 6.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "The Disaster of the Gladden Fields", note 14
  7. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 347, (dated 17 December 1972) p. 425
  8. 8.0 8.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, "Flies and Spiders"
  9. 9.0 9.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, "Barrels Out of Bond"
  10. 10.0 10.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, "Fire and Water"
  11. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, "The Gathering of the Clouds"
  12. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, "A Thief in the Night"
  13. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, "The Clouds Burst"
  14. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, "The Return Journey"
  15. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Council of Elrond"
  16. 16.0 16.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix B: The Tale of Years (Chronology of the Westlands)
  17. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, "The Field of Cormallen"
  18. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, "Durin's Folk"
  19. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, "The Field of Cormallen"
  20. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, "The Field of Cormallen"
  21. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, "Durin's Folk"
  22. 22.0 22.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "The History of Galadriel and Celeborn", "Appendix A: The Silvan Elves and their Speech"
  23. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "Lothlórien" p. 330
  24. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 347, (dated 17 December 1972)