Some Thoughts on Tolkien’s Elven Horses

Finding sources and scholarship on Tolkien’s Elf Horses is surprisingly not easy. There is ample discussion about the Rohan horsesand with the first season of rings of power in the box, the horses of Númenor take some time in the sun. But elven horses haven’t received as much attention.

It is a little surprising because in The Lord of the Ringsafter a fine cast of ponies including Sam’s beloved Bill and Tom Bombadil’s Fatty Lumpkin, the first named horse we see is Glorfindel’s Asfaloth.

Asfaloth is a white horse, unlike the unnamed black horses of the Black Riders. It seems to share its rider’s propensity to light up dark places. It is lightning fast and very gentle; even when badly wounded and half-spectrum, Frodo is able to cling to his saddle until he is carried safely away from his pursuers. He also seems to understand Elvish: when Glorfindel calls out to him at Giddyap! Go faster! (Noro lim! Noro lim, Asfaloth!), he does it obediently.

Once he’s done his job of saving Frodo, he disappears from the books. The rest of the horses we will encounter are the Rohan horses, whose Mearasand various cavalry mounts, plus Aragorn’s own horse of the North, Roheryn. Roheryn, like her rider, looks tough but has great courage and stamina.

So who is Asfaloth and where does he come from? Is he a special breed unique to Elves, or is he a deadly horse that belongs to Glorfindel and has been imbued with some of his powers? Moreover, is it related to the Mearas? They are the horse-like Númenoreans, longer-lived than ordinary horses, with unusual intelligence and enhanced physical attributes.

I’m not a loremaster and haven’t read much beyond the basics –The Hobbit, LOTR, The Silmarillion—so I always welcome comments from those who are more erudite. The only thing I know for sure is that for Tolkien, horses mattered. They were an integral part of his world. Some of them had names, personalities and stories. They were important.

Therefore, it doesn’t surprise me that a dive into various wiki sources gave me the name of a horse of the Valar: Nahar, which Oromë the Hunter rode far back in ancient times. Horses existed until the beginning, then. We don’t know where Nahar is from or if he was immortal, but I’m going to assume he probably was.

If the Valar had horses, it makes sense to me that Elven horses descended from them. Then there may be an Elros and Elrond situation that results in the Mearas. Elven horses mating with mortal horses? Half-elven offspring running in savage herds where proto-Rohirrim cross paths with them?

This could explain Felaróf, the horse of Eorl the Younger, and possibly Shadowfax. They are supposed to descend from the horse of Oromë, or from that line.

A comment on last week’s article makes my fangirl’s heart leap with joy. Commentator ED observed: “As Eorl the Younger and his riders rode along Lothlorien on their way to Celebrant’s Field, the horses of the Eotheod seem to have received a boost of sorts.” Considering the power of the Ring of Galadriel and the general Elvish effect on all good beasts, it’s no surprise. I found some more details here:

In 2510, Eorl the Younger led his Riders across Lothlorien on the way to the Battle of Celebrant’s Field. A white mist emanated from the forest to hide the Shadow Riders in Dol Guldur.

It’s a protective barrier for the whole army rather than a speed or strength boost for horses, but I like ED’s version. Especially since my chief canon has been greatly helped by the cavalier elements of power rings. I was delighted to be corrected on one particular point by the commentator Tar-Elenion, who pointed out that while the Númenoreans did not use cavalry in war, they were indeed horse herders and they greatly valued their horses. Isildur’s deep connection to Berek is there in the canon, in the Unfinished Tales.

So are these horses Valar or, by extension, Elvish horses? Considering the number of gifts the Valar gave to the Edain who settled on the island, that wouldn’t surprise me. It’s very Tolkien-like for an island kingdom to have horses with exceptional intelligence and a fondness for bonding with humans, and for them to be the primary mode of transportation within the kingdom.

It’s also very European. The continent’s real-world horse breeds, especially the horses of Iberia and their cousins ​​and descendants, have traits very similar to this. They are long-lived, have exceptional stamina as well as beauty and grace, and understand the speech of Men.

Which brings me to Galadriel’s horse in the series. When I first saw the teasers, I thought it must be an elf horse. Galadriel rides him, after all, and his coloring is so unusual and his beauty so extreme. It must have come from one of the herds of the Elves.

I was surprised when the series aired that he was apparently a horse from Númenor, possibly from the royal stables. Or he belongs to the family of Elendil, although their other horses are much more traditional in their coloring: the black Friesian of Elendil (you can always spot them; they are the ones with floating feathers) or the bay Berek of Isildur. When the Impossible Cavalry thundering across the fields of Middle-earth, they’re a nice traditional mix of colors, including Miriel’s pretty gray. But there’s also Galadriel’s pale pink horse with blue eyes.

I’m waiting to know more about him. So far we have been told his name is Titan. He’s the best horse in the whole herd, according to Morfydd Clark, and she loves him. She rides him whenever she can. Riding it, she says, is an incredible experience.

It sounds a lot like what we know of elven horses. Titan is a very unusual color, what is called a bi-diluted cream. Hence the not quite white coat and blue eyes. He also happens to be an exceptionally well put-together animal (which isn’t always the case with horses bred for color), and he’s clearly got the temperament to match. I’m happy to incorporate it into my head-cannon as an example of the elven horse.

As long as I’m in my head creating a cannon, I can see Galadriel being taken to the stables. Elendil has his own horse, of course. But there’s the one at the end of the aisle, her pale head above the cabin door, who turns to look at her. Since he is a horse of Númenor and therefore wiser than most (and horses are extremely wise), he knows what she is. He can see how she appears on the Other side.

That’s when the click occurs. Horse people know this well. The horse and the rider meet and know each other: they are compatible. Since this is Númenor and horses are used to bonding with their humans, this horse knows what’s going on.

I’m sure Galadriel too. One of the other horses named in the canon is rockhallor, the horse of his uncle the High King Fingolfin. Maybe she always wanted a horse that loved her as much as Rochallor loved her uncle. Maybe it’s this one. Since it’s a cannon head, I like to think so.

Judith Tarr has always been passionate about horses. She supports her habit by writing works of fantasy and science fiction as well as historical novels, many of which have been published as e-books. She wrote an introduction for writers who want to write about horses: Writing Horses: The Art of Doing It Right. She lives near Tucson, Arizona, with a herd of Lipizzaners, a host of cats, and a blue-eyed dog.

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