FAQ / Do Elves have pointed Ears
Surprisingly enough, this seems to be a question that has “bothered” many Tolkien-readers for years. This must be one of the “classical” ones, asked in almost every Tolkien-related forum. And it is, also, one of those to which a lot of speculations, assumptions, hypotheses etc… have been dedicated, too! (Just like the one “Do Balrogs have wings?”, I suppose). But, it also seems, however, that there are only a few evidences available as a reliable source of information on this typically “elvish” peculiarity.
One of these comes from a letter of J.R.R.Tolkien written to the American publishers of The Hobbit, in March 1938 (Letter no. 27). There a description is given of what Hobbits looked like. Part of this description is as follows:
What did the Professor mean by those “elvish” ears of the hobbits? Perhaps the descriptive adjective “elvish” was in conformity with the more generally accepted idea of how an "elvish ear" might look like (actually – slightly pointed at the top). We can suspect that Tolkien meant precisely this. The Professor, in fact, had paid great attention to the appearance of the Elves. Throughout his books there are numerous descriptions of elves, both male and female.. But, of course, features other than their ears, were more important to the author in those descriptions.
- “I picture a fairly human figure, not a kind of 'fairy' rabbit as some of my British reviewers seem to fancy: fattish in the stomach, shortish in the leg. A round, jovial face; ears only slightly pointed and elvish....
So, it may seem that paying no much attention to this little “item” of the physical appearance of the Elves, the Professor had just left the reader with that generally accepted vision of an elf, as mentioned above.
Another very important observation on the matter, that I have been directed to in my search for the answer to the present question, is the fact that Tolkien actually intended his elves to have pointed ears.
In "The Etymologies", a very important work for the study of Tolkien's Elvish languages, first published in The Lost Road and Other Writings (1987), there are two entries for the elvish element "las" show that "las", as in the Quenya *lasse, meaning "leaf", is possibly related to "las" meaning "listen", and *lasse meaning "ear".
Tolkien wrote: "The Quendian ears were more pointed and leaf-shaped than [?human]...."
To a great extent, the present question leads to the extremely intriguing issue to observe - how written fiction provokes people’s imagination, and the latter, in its turn, gives birth to a new fiction…
FolderFAQ ToDo: Add Neutral Point of view (issue not really settled)