One little, two little, fifteen little Noldor

wp_elves

I sat down yesterday for a reality check. Am I deluded? These all look different to me, even without their characteristic hair. So yes, they are all related (fathers and brothers and sons and daughters and cousins), so they are all immortal and ageless, and they are all beautiful in the same ethereal Elven way, and yes, there are some that are less characteristic than others. But to me, they look exactly as they should. Maybe I’ve become too much of a shepherd. Or, alternatively, it’s just that I don’t see Tolkien’s characters as wildly individual (bordering on cartoonish) as, for example, G. R. R. Martin’s.

‘What!’ cried Bilbo. ‘You can’t tell which parts were mine, and which were the Dúnadan’s?’
‘It is not easy for us to tell the difference between two mortals’ said the Elf.
‘Nonsense, Lindir,’ snorted Bilbo. ‘If you can’t distinguish between a Man and a Hobbit, your judgement is poorer than I imagined. They’re as different as peas and apples.’
‘Maybe. To sheep other sheep no doubt appear different,’ laughed Lindir. ‘Or to shepherds. But Mortals have not been our study. We have other business.'” — The Fellowship of the Ring, J. R. R. Tolkien

Or, in the words of the immortal Hiro Nakamura and Ando Masahashi: “They all look the same to me.” – “That’s racist!”

33 thoughts on “One little, two little, fifteen little Noldor

  1. wow. This is one of my aims – to get to the point where my drawing is consisant enough that rather than merely having distinctive hair and outfits, each character I draw regularly would have their own face (and body). I can see the differences between these – although I probably wouldn’t be able to pick most of them out of a crowd by using this as a guide.

    Some authors do seem to have a habit of making their characters feel a little cartoonish – or rpg video game ish. it was always one of the (many) things that amused me with wheel of time is how the characters float through the story collecting new signature items or appearence tweaks that define them far more than their personalities (since they all seem to share most of the same personality traits, again apart from signature likes, dislikes, and fears.)

    also I must say, your Fingolfin has a rather scary jaw…

  2. The faces in your drawing definitely look different from each other, to me. How much practice did it take to memorize all of them and make sure that you always draw each one in a coherent way? Or is it just something that comes naturally to you?

    I don’t think I ever mentioned this to you, but I never really liked Tolien elves much… Yeah, I do have a painting of Fingolfin on my wall (thanks you, Jenny, I fall in love with it every time I see it), and I like some elves, but I really dislike elves in general. Sitting there in their woods, aloof and cold, all: “We are wise and live long and have a perfect life and huge knowledge, but no way we are going to help you, because you are small and unsignificant…”

    Completely unrelated, but it’s a funny coincidence: your blog update came right when I was browsing DA and thinking: “I hope Jenny decides to draw some dwarves, because I am going to be sick of Peter Jackson’s dwarves look alikes very soon”. I won’t comment about the movie itself, but I am a bit annoyed that, as soon as movie from a book comes out, you can’t find any more good illustrations and all art turns into a movie fan art. It keeps happening: the Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Hunger Games, the Hobbit. Sherlock Holmes (not that I mind seeing Benedict Cuberbatch face around, or Robert Downey Junior). It’s just… please, internet, give me more illustrations and less fanart! :)

    • I know exactly what you mean. I’m this close to unwatching the Tolkien groups on dA. In fifteen new deviations, there are seven Lee Paces and five Richard Armitages, ALL drawn from the same two movie photos. *headdesk*

      I like the Silmarillion Elves far more than the ones in the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit. the Hobbit ones are merry and a bit silly (still charming). The LR are sad and aloof. The Silmarillion ones are just… ablaze. <3

      As for getting these characters to look the way they look – it was a matter of seeing their "types" in my mind's eye pretty early, but I didn't have the visual vocabulary to truly draw them with distinct features. As that visual vocabulary grew, I've been able to differentiate them better while still keeping their characteristic traits.

      • Silmarillion club doesn’t allow movie fan art ;) Regarding the idea for the Elves – I see them more alike than other races in Tolkien’s universe. Hmmm, saying that – Hobbits would be quite alike each other, too, in fact only human kind would have as wide range of types of beauty and faces as in our world, the rest some chosen characteristic types to give them their character (and satisfy my vision). For sure people will say my Quendi all look alike, but what can I do – I see them so alike and I’m not going to change it to satisfy someone else ;)

  3. As Lindir implies, is ignorance that leads oneself to believe that they’re all the same :) when we look at something you’re not accustomed to, our brain notices the similarities first, in order to classify the stuff up in a neat and comprehensible way; it’s just when we start to look at the things more closely that we notice the peculiarities that distinguish one thing from another. The characters that you draw are all related, and so are indeed similar, but all of them show their uniqueness through their features… Just, not everyone knows who they are, in fact, and so has no possibility to recognise them.
    ( and, on a side note, even if I have of course differente mind-images for all of them in my mind, I think that your vision defines very well each one of them! They are believable :) )

      • LOL! To my defense, even if I know it’s going to sound like a lame excuse, I keep switching between my work and personal laptop, and this makes typos very easy to make, especially missing letters when I hit the keys too lightly. Let’s ignore the fact that I should have noticed it and corrected it before posting the comment… :D
        And now I’ll just walk away whistling and feigning indifference.

        • There are lots of worse typos one can make, belive me. For example misspelling ‘guy’ as ‘gay’… in a sentence regarding Sir Christopher Lee! /Yes, I know I shouldn’t have confessed that, but I hope it makes you feel better/

          • Ahahah, thank you for sharing! Knowing I am not the only one making goofy typos does make me feel better. :)

            • Two of my favourite ones were “dwarven bread” for “beard” and “fart one” for “part one”.

              Both on deviantArt, where you can’t edit. :D

  4. I’ve been thinking how cool it would have been if all these major Elves had been in a drinking game and losing it they would have had to shave their hair … ;)

    They all look different but the differences are rather small, indeed.

  5. I really feel you are correct here. We host exchange students and one from South Korea said that its offensive to mistake them for a Japanese person or even Chinese. Through her I’ve gotten pretty good at telling Asians apart. Maybe it’s my Thai heritage…but I’d imagine the same for elves but I never thought of it that way haha. Now I feel less bad for having my versions of them look so alike yet so different to me

  6. I can usually recognize most of your Noldor. For example, in your last painting (when it was still a drawing), I recognized Maedhros, Maglor, Celegorm, and Fingon instantly (and obviously Feanor and Finglofin but that was obvious if you know the scene). I can’t remember if I recognized Curufin or thought he could have been Caranthir, and I can’t remember if I recognized Finwe since I’d never seen your version of him (still the crown’s a bit of a give away). I had to check the caption for Turgon and Argon.

    In your painting of the Oath of Feanor, I was able to figure out who was who by their facial expressions, characteristics, body language, and of course hair color just from knowing their personalities and your style even though I wasn’t completely familiar with your versions of all of them.

    So apparently I spend either too much time looking at your artwork, too much time reading Tolkien, or both. ;)

  7. I recognize some of your elves, but yes, the Silmarillion elves are cut from the same piece of cloth and caught up in the same maelstrom, victims of the same pride and curse.

    I keep thinking back to Tolkein’s idea that the immortal elves were so bound to Arda that they were incapable of changing it. Mortal men, on the other hand, were capable of the truly new. Along those lines I would expect elves to look a lot more uniform, Arda-like if you will, and men to have a greater range.

  8. That talk with Lindir that shaked a lot of my Elven adoration some time ago. I thought it was so smug of them / or just him, that when I saw Lindir during The Hobbit, even years later, I still wanted to punch the poor actor if I could. XD
    I don’t know where this Asian’s quote comes from, but I couldn’t avoid laughing when I, unintentionally, made a parallel with Lindir: RACIST ELF.

    • Personally I think people are a bit too quick to call racism in our culture. I think Tolkien and Lindir were simply honest. When you don’t have a lot of familiarity with something, that makes differentiating features harder to distinguish. Lindir was simply having a little good-natured fun with Bilbo, and Bilbo took it as such. Tolkien often gets accused of being sexist or racist simply because he wasn’t bothered about trying to be politically correct like writers today.

      It is interesting though that in this matter discrimination is encouraged, when in most cases the politically correct thing to do is to not acknowledge people’s differences.

      • I completely agree with you. Interestingly, I have never come across the notion that Tolkien was supposed to be racist until I came into closer contact with American culture, where everybody immediately jumps at any racism, real or imagined. Half a year ago, I found a post in an American forum that ranted about how the Hobbit cast was all white and there should be a good percentage of Black actors to reflect demographic reality.

        Yep. Demographic reality in an Anglo-Saxon setting.

        • This is an interest point of view. I have always interpreted elves as racist towards other races in Middle Earth. The “Puny mortals” kind of racism where they are above mortals, they know it and they act as such. My conclusion was not that Tolkien was racist, but that some of his character were and on purpose, to show a trait of a close and static society (and depending on which book – I had forgotten the silly elves of the Hobbit).

          As for persons of color not being in the Hobbit movie, it’s a bit like when it happened for Brave: yes, it’s true that both films are inspired by European mythology and history, but both are fantasy stories, not a documentary about Celts, or Anglo Saxons. BBC has cast a black woman in Merlin and it worked. One could argue that Merlin has a different kind of production level, register and tone than the Hobbit (or Brave, maybe), but they already changed so many things from the book in the Hobbit movie, would have it hurt that much to put some skin colour variety in characters?
          Persons of color are underrepresented in movies and tv shows, so much as some characters that are persons of color in original books are removed from the movies (Katniss in the Hunger Games book is dark skinned) so it’s natural that some of them would complain.
          Now, I am not a person of color, I don’t live in America and I should probably stop here as I am dangerously close to making a generalisation of the kind of “all persons of color think the same in America”. which is not what I meant.
          I am just saying that I do see the point of those who complained.
          Personally, other things have been changed in the Tolkien movies and made different from the book, I don’t think I would have jumped if I saw some skin variety among the hobbits or dwarves.
          If films with settings based on today’s society were more representative of the demographic reality, then maybe this kind of argument wouldn’t be necessary.

          • Perhaps I can’t talk, as I’m white. But I’m also female and wear glasses. That has never stopped me from identifying with black or male and glassless heroes in books. I think it’s silly to say “I can identify with this-or-that- hero because he or she’s the wrong colour/gender/level of visual impairment”.

            • I do see your point and I agree that our imagination is good enought to let us identify with characters that are very different from us. That’s one of the reasons why I love books: I can be anybody.
              But, as a woman, I do find myself under represented or misrepresented in the media, especially American movies, and it does irk me sometimes: I don’t think it’s right that some categories of people are severly under represented and misrepresented. And, while I am also white so I can’t know how it really is for a person of color, I think I can understand the principle and I find it unfair.

              Personally, I would love my Tolkien to stay as close to the books as possible, but I would also love to see more characters like Zoe from Firefly in movies and tv series.

          • I don’t think Elves in general are racist or intended to be racist, but there are some individual Elves in the Silmarillion who showed racist or prejudiced attitudes toward certain other racists. Caranthir for instance was always scornful of Dwarves which led to some resentment between their peoples, and perhaps Saeros’s mistreatment of Turin was brought on by a dislike for Men. But Elves thinking Men are worthless scum is never portrayed as a good thing.

            I don’t think Lindir’s conversation with Bilbo was an example of racism though. He never showed any real scorn towards Bilbo or other mortals. He and Bilbo apparently just knew each other well enough that they could banter about a bit.

            • Exactly, and that also fits in with what you said in your other comment: It’s is okay to acknowledge differences of races (or of sexes). Lindir obviously acknowledges that Elves are different from Men or Hobbits and he doesn’t know much about them. If you said that about a race in the real world, you would at once be labelled racist – though you never said anything derogatory.

              On the other hand, of course, there are more racial differences in Middle-earth than in our world, unless you include the cultural…

        • I suppose it’s all the cultural baggage. We tend after condemning something to try to go to the opposite extreme. The problem is that too many aspects of supposed anti-racism and anti-sexism contain the same attitude of prejudice that caused the original problems. We walk on eggshells around the issue of race and call racist anyone who acts differently, which is surely just another prejudice.

    • That quote is from the show “Heroes”, and it’s a clever pun on two levels – first because two Asians say they can’t distinguish white Americans, and secondly, because the guy in the photo is actually Korean but is playing a Japanese on the show, because they were sure no American watcher would bother. ;)

    • If you can get your hands on the Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth (part of Morgoth’s Ring in the HoME series), it’s a good, interesting portrayal of Elves’ view toward Men, among other things, and although Finrod admits to being a bit more sympathetic (for lack of a better word) toward Men than some, he corrects Andreth’s assumption that all Elves simply look down on Men. Here’s a small excerpt:

      “We may be ‘Children of Eru,’ as ye say in your lore; but we are children to you also: to be loved a little, maybe, and yet creatures of less worth, upon whom ye may look down from the height of your power and your knowledge, with a smile, or with pity, or with a shaking of heads.”

      “Alas, you speak near the truth,” said Finrod. “At least of many of my people; but not of all, and certainly not of me. But consider this well, Andreth, when we name you ‘Children of Eru’ we do not speak lightly; for that name we do not utter ever in jest or without full intent. When we speak so, we speak out of knowledge, not out of mere Elvish lore; and we proclaim that ye are our kin, in a kinship far closer (both of hröa and fëa) than that which binds together all other creatures of Arda, and ourselves to them.”

      Tolkien, J. R. R., and Christopher Tolkien. “Athrabeth Finrod Ah Andreth.” Morgoth’s Ring. N.p.: HarperCollins, 1993. Print.

      I highly recommend reading the whole thing. It’s seventeen pages of awesome. :)

  9. This is a great picture! Well done!
    And yes, I do see subtle differences between all of them, Maglor especially. His face is softer, perhaps a little more feminine than the others.

  10. the do all look different, but you must admit, that you didn’t quite exhaust the variety of nose, jaw, lip, (ear?), forehead, eyebrow (!) and eyeshapes that could be possible, let alone proportions like chin-mouth, mouth-nose, eye-eye distance. On the other hand, this way they indeed look genetically related, if not inbred. And don’t worry – this is your style, I don’t think you fail to distinguish the characters like other artists – some of them having problems to make them recognizable even with different hair or clothes (infamous close-ups of faces in manga/comic making me wonder – who the fuck is this pair of talking eyes in this panel???)

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