Legolas and Stunt Archery in the Fellowship of the Ring

Wednesday, March 5th, 2003

In Legolas and Stunt Archery in the Fellowship of the Ring, a Tolkien enthusiast and amateur archer examines the gear (bows, arrows) and technique used in The Fellowship of the Ring — in the kind of fetishistic detail we expect of Tolkien fans:

Legolas’ Mirkwood bow: An elegant 60″ recurve of dark wood, possibly hickory, painted with gilded ivy leaves and tendrils around the handgrip and tips. The string is black. Apart from the gilding, everything about the Mirkwood gear is somber earth tones, to reflect the place it came from, and perhaps as camouflage. Supposedly a 150lb draw (wow), although as a stage prop it would’ve been closer to 15 to avoid arm fatigue and wobble.

Legolas’ Lórien bow: It’s worth renting the extended version of the DVD just to see the delight in his eyes when he’s examining it, and the amusement of Galadriel watching him with a smile that seems to say, “Aww, the puppy likes his new toy.”

The bow is a longbow with recurve tips, with a stunning scalloped profile and decorations carved in high relief. For safety reasons mentioned above, this bow is actually injection molded rubber as opposed to traditional wood. Like all the elves’ possessions and architecture, it is embellished with organic, graceful patterns reminiscent of roots and leaves. Is it any better than the Mirkwood bow? Well, he certainly shoots faster with it! There’s a ton of photos of the detailing here.

Aragorn’s and Faramir’s bows: Aragorn’s is a short self bow suitable for hunting, compact enough to keep it from getting in the way while he’s swordfighting. All Aragorn’s archery gear is utilitarian and looks like he made it himself. It looks like a scaled-down version of the Gondorian longbow, which first appears in the prologue of FOTR, and is used by Faramir and his company in the later films.

Galadhrim bows: These exotic double recurves are reminiscent of South Indian bows, and stained dusty gold like autumn leaves. Like the pommels of the Galadrim’s two-handed swords, the limbs of these bows are tightly wrapped in thin flat metal spirals shaped like vines or tendrils; I’ve never seen anything like that before. The Galadrim bows also have an unusual crest on top. The bowstring is simply looped or tied rather than hooked over a notch; this is an older style of stringing a bow.

Orc bows: They are ugly, stiff composite bows that may be made partly of metal. The goblins of Moria use thick recurves that have a crudely-wrapped handgrip. The formidable bow of Boromir’s Least Favorite Orc has metal chunks sticking out on either side of the grip, and its shape is similar to Mongolian bows. Other orcs use short wooden recurves. All are plain apart from occasional wrappings.

Misc. bows: The armies of the Last Alliance give you a taste of archery during the opening scene: early elves used longbows with minimal but typically elvish dribbles on them. The men of Gondor in that battle and in the Third Age have powerful longbows strong enough to punch through armor at long distances (below). The Rohirrim have small composite horsebows. It’s hard to tell whether it’s just riders/actors gripping the bows off-center by accident, but these horsebows may be asymmetrical, a special adaptation of some real-world horse bows which maximizes power while minimizing the risk of hitting the saddle.

The Corsairs of Umbar (on the Black Ships) have a crossbow they don’t get a chance to use thanks to Aragorn’s undead army. The Mumakîl riders have some truly bizarre bows — some are recurves, while others have odd rings on the limbs which are either exotic decorations or meant to be the ridges on some kind of animal’s horn. See the gallery that follows this section for detailed images.

There’s more. Much more.

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