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Nandor Elves studies

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Some concept sketches of the Green Elves of Ossiriand. While the high elves in Tolkien's world, like the mighty Alfir of norse mythology, are presented as these great, wise, superhuman beings whose friendship and knowledge is given to (and greatly benefits) the people of other races they encounter, the dark elves of middle-earth seem to me more in keeping with the (perhaps somewhat more celtic) conception of the elves as elusive nature spirits; alluring and mysterious, but ultimately inaccessible to humans (the sindar, it seems, are somewhere in between)

all these studies grew out of a desire to take a stab at Denethor son of Lenwe, king of the nandor elves, the least lofty and "enlightened" branch of the eldar we get to know much about (and probably a good representative for what the various tribes of Avari who never made it over the blue mountains are like) it's fun to envision elves that are more savage and primitive than they're usually presented ("less wise and more dangerous" as it is remarked of the woodelves in 'the hobbit'); fairies dancing lithely through the dense, old growth canopies of tree-covered middle-earth dressed in nothing but leaves and skins, their king this great, ancient guardian of the forest bedecked in giant elk antlers as if, through countless centuries of confused retellings by men, he would one day find his way into ancient celtic mythology as the prototypical "antlered god" figure. actually my first attempt at that antler crown was the much more conservative design on the bottom right side, closer in keeping with the typical Tolkienian circlet, but those big ones, warcraft-y as they are, have really grown on me; they're just so much more wild, the kind of onamentation a "savage king" would have (it helped my perspective on the character to learn that "denethor" was not his name at all but a title and a sindarisation of "Ndani-tauro" meaning "savior of the dani," a much better sounding name for a more feral character, I think)
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© 2015 - 2021 TurnerMohan
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Nelyasun's avatar
wow, talk about details
EriolSarothron's avatar
in my humble opinion this is the best representation of the Nandor I have ever seen...a completely unique take on them...just incredible...and the antlers as Denethor's crown is incredible - it really conveys his dominance over the Nandor...although it does seem a bit impractical - but I guess it's just a ceremonial type of thing...

I'm really looking forward to see more of the Nandor and especially Denethor (and to a certain extent his father Lenwë)...

one more thing...do you intend to portrait Denethor "solo"?

anyways, excellent work!
TurnerMohan's avatar
thank you very much and the answer to your question is yes, i've got a solo portrait of denethor in the works as we speak (though your guess is as good as mine as to when it'll be finished :P )

stay tuned!
KarakNornClansman's avatar
Beautiful sketches with text. The tattooed face and horns seem over-the-top for Tolkien's Middle Earth Elves, but they'd make some excellent Wood Elves in Warhammer or suchlike! Bonus points for exploring real niche parts of the legendarium. Very neat totem posts and longhouse.
RohelineBear's avatar
Absolutely amazing work. 
Imdraproc's avatar
The Nandor have always been one of my favorite cultures in Tolkien's Middle-Earth, (along with the dwarves and Numenoreans, of which the latter I think of as a kind of pseudo-Punic civilization, what with its seafaring culture and Semitic-style language).

I prefer the Nandor over the Sindar and Noldor because I find them to be closer to the kind of elves I like: otherworldly, chaotic beings who seem more like a force of nature than a people. All too many authors make elves to be "humans, but better/prettier", so the only fantasy settings who I feel know how to write elves correctly are Tolkien's Middle-Earth, Warhammer Fantasy (wood elves in particular), and Exalted (with its Fair Folk).
I admit to feeling a little sad and disappointed over that the Nandorin lexicon never grew past some thirty words, and how peripheral the Nandor and Avari elves are in Tolkien's writing, but perhaps the fact that we got to know so little of them helped reinforce the mystery that's supposed to lie at the heart of fantasy elves. 

This does remind me of a scene in the Return of the King where the Dunlendings (whom Tolkien probably based off of the celts) flee with superstitious dread upon seeing Galadriel travelling with her elven entourage.
A mythology gag to the celtic image of the Sidhe juxtaposed to the Germanic Alfar, methinks?

Excellent drawing!
TurnerMohan's avatar
Haha, thirty words spilt on them. Sometimes i fall in love with a part of tolkiens world and become so interested in it that i forget what thin fumes i'm running on ;) reading and re reading the silmarillion over the years im perpetually amazed at how economic tolkiens recountings of the vast histories of the eldar days are (this is the guy that in LOTR would spend a page describing some coomb the characters pass by) and yeah i do think that in a sense there is an air of mystery given to the woodelves of middle earth by just how little we get to know about them. A part of nature rather than a culture is definitely my leaning with these, which can get complicated when you start asking yourelf quentions like "do they really need shelters at all? Or clothes for that matter
Imdraproc's avatar
Isn't that the beauty of good fantasy writing, though? No matter how much or how little the man wrote on a matter, it was always enough to whet one's appetite and inspire the reader to expand or create. One way to reconcile the depiction of the Wood Elves as a force of nature or a culture is to balance the two sides against each other. Clothes perhaps aren't worn so much for the sake of the elements, as mere personal adornment.
BenjaminOssoff's avatar
Fantastic concepts. I like the diversity of designs you come up with for different kinds of elves and other beings. These Celtic-looking Green Elves are especially cool. Would love to see them realized as a color painting someday.
TurnerMohan's avatar
That makes two of us. I'll get on em in color someday, promise :) they're some of my favorites of my own concepts, i'm glad alot of other people respond positively to them as well. 

Thanks my friend!
Hman999's avatar
I am duly impressed! Well done!
Libra1010's avatar
 Intriguing work Master Mohan; I'm not too sure about the Horned Lord, but I admire the other concepts you've packed so densely and yet fitted so neatly onto this particular page! (although I hope you'll forgive me if I imagine these Elves as a painted people, rather than a tattooed one - a camouflage used as vehicle by which the Green Elves might become one with their corner of the natural world, rather than a 'Hard Man ornament' which seems more Mannish in my mind's eye).

 Please allow me to compliment you on the continued quality of your pencilled work by the way!Nod  
TurnerMohan's avatar
well long before tattooing was a "tough guy" thing it was, atleast in certain societies, a more or less every-person thing, but i agree with the general point that permanently marking your body seems less something immortal creatures wouldn't necessarily be into, i imagine these designs (as i mention in my notes) as something that happens to them, whether by nature or whether they make it happen by means unknown to man, elves seem in tune with the working materials of the world around them to a degree that men dont understand.

pen work this time.
Libra1010's avatar
 Please allow me to beg your pardon for that failure of observation; I hope your enjoyment of my continuing admiration for your line-work is not diminished by my inability to tell pen from pencil!Oops! 

 Please also keep up the most excellent work - Deviant Art would be a less delightful place without expressions of your talent being posted as regularly as Real Life schedules allow!Nod 
silamir's avatar
I would've loved to read more about the dark elves, especially the ones of Ossiriand. The wild elves of Middle-earth are quite appealing. And I looooooove your renditions! So awesome, I can't stop looking! Wish I could see them in real life. haha
TurnerMohan's avatar
me too on that last part ;)

thank you so much!
silamir's avatar
;) you're welcome!
Zeonista's avatar
Hmm, Native American and Old Celtic together as a Nandor motif, it is very different than one usually gets. It really challenges the imagination for the Nandor of Ossiriand here, and it has some appeal. If Tolkien had a "noble savage" concept going, you seem to have found it, much different than the genteel Pre-Raphaelite wood-elves of Bilbo's time. :)  It is very much after the descriptions of the European explorers and early colonists who admired the physiques and natural attractiveness of the Indians they encountered in what is now the eastern USA. Those same accounts were of course made by Europeans acquainted with Tacitus and Livy, but they were made in honest account. The tattoos remind me of the highly detailed illustrations made by an artist in LaSalle's expedition, who worked from natural models without "interpretation". Indeed, many Indian chieftains had their portraits painted not just as a representational image, but also because like other great men of history they had a poise and authority which their simple dress and decoration embellished instead of mocking. Denethor has the look and feel of some of those portraits.

The Nandor tree-house looks a lot different than the Lorien-style flet from your previous illustration. It seems right, more of a necessity than a choice since marauding Orcs and Wargs probably didn't look up into the great trees often enough. ;)
TurnerMohan's avatar
amerindians and ancient celts are related in my mind because, whatever their differences as actual real-life cultures, they were both, in their turn, received by "western civilization" (and recorded for posterity by "western" writers) as (at least partially) "noble savage" societies with backward, nature-worship-driven religious beliefs and poor social organization, which stressed individualism and individual prowess, and produced many specimens of not only impressive physicality but of great personal bravery, but ultimately societies inferior to western rationalism and doomed to either defeat or assimilation. in a sense the ancient celts, especially those of ancient britain and ireland, occupy this position in roman history (and to a certain extent in the reckoning of the medieval english centuries later) of "white indians;" the writers of ancient rome having a similar relationship to them as american writers of the 19th century had to the native americans. Today ofcourse, with people taking an increasingly post-modern, post-colonial look at history, both the ancient celts and the amerindians are among those highly sympathized-with historic groups, we tend to see the best in them and lament their persecution, and the loss of the not-western but totally valid wisdom and customs their cultures might have had (far more pertinently with native americans)
tolkien was not a post-modernist, but at the same time he wasn't by any stretch a pro-modernist either, and his relationship with the "noble savage" seems to have been mixed (as was his relationship with all things celtic). they show up often enough in middle-earth; individual people or tribes/races/nations that are not "advanced" "enlightened" or even wholly "civilized" but have this natural courage and ferocity and an inherent sense of moral up and down. "virtuous pagan" is a term that often gets thrown around about tolkien's characters, and virtuous pagans and noble savages are essentially the same concept but the one seems to have to do specifically with being un-enlightened in the religious sense, where the other seems to have more specifically to do with being in the "barbarian" phase of cultural development, and many people in middle-earth qualify, particularly humans; essentially all the edain of the first age, the virtuous, hadorian-descended "northmen" of the second and third ages. they are, as it is remarked of the rohirrim, "wise but unlearned, writing no books but singing many songs," and it seems like the same could easily be said of the often provincial and "unlearned" but always-courageous and almost-always-on-the-right-side-of-things sylvan elves of middle-earth. being immortal elves they have an inherently better ability to see the "over-view" of the world than humans do (especially concerning the relationship between the sentient beings of middle-earth and the natural world around them) but it is notable to me that several of the lesser elves of lothlorien - and undoubtedly this would be true of many of thranduil's people as well - do not speak the common tongue, a thing you would never expect of any of the noldor in rivendell or the havens; it seems to me more likely than not that those would be the nandor-descended or avarin-descended people in those split sindar/sylvan realms (or, plausibly enough as elves are immortal, former residents of ossiriand themselves)
i envision them as "elves" according to the often strange and nonselnsical mythology of the ancient celts, as opposed to the more appolonian, rational, and relateable to humans "alfir" of nordic mythology, a better template for the more enlightened (and indeed more relateable to the humans of middle-earth) "high elves." really nordic mythology is no less strange or nonsensical to me than celtic mythology, and tolkien's assertion that is was is to my mind another totally unfounded expression of his germanic-bias, but middle-earth is a world built along the lines of that bias, so within it it seems like a good distinction, for artistic interpretations, to have the more enlightened elves fall over on the "germanic" side of what an elf is (atleast as distilled by tolkien), and to lean more celtic for the less-enlightened woodelves.
Zeonista's avatar
Unlike Indians or Gauls though, the Elves of Ossiriand don't seem to excite civilized admiration/envy. They are elemental creatures of the forest, flitting shadows half-seen among the trees. Or maybe just unseen, a voice speaking stern words of warning apparently from thin air, though just well hidden. It's theri woods, their rules, and if you don't respect that you do so at your peril... From the hidden and natural perspective the Green-elves really do resemble the attractive but alien daione sidhe or the whimsical-ethereal Tuatha de Danaan more than the standard type of Elf in Middle-Earth. It also helps explain the early confusion of the Sindar when first encountering Orcs, thinking them "Avari gone savage in the wild". Caranthir's sneering insult of Thingol as a "dark elf in his cave" also suggests a pejorative view of the described Moriquendi based on their very non-Noldor habits and habitations. (Trust the Sons of Feanor in general to disregard the hidden positives again. =P (Razz) ) It's a way of depicting those Elves in a way that suggests a greater diversity among the Firstborn in the Elder Days than might have been imagined. There is also a bit of cultural crossover here involving the Druedain of Brethil, with both Wild Men and Wild Elves being strange, sometimes dangerous, but just as likely to be friendly to specific outsiders if approached in the right fashion or possessed of the right power. (Beren and Luthien lived among the Elves of Ossiriand in their mortal years in possession of the silmaril; who knows what they made of it!) 
TurnerMohan's avatar
i don't know how the silmaril, or it's purported worth to anyone, would exactly translate for the nandor, but i'd think, being as keen eared as they are to the signs from mother nature, an elfwoman and a man, brought back from the dead, who love eachother and have birthed a child of both strains, is an inherently good, even sacred thing, practically their obligation to host (and protect, if need be, i would think)

indeed celtic tradition depicts elves as more flighty, "children of the forest" types, creatures who can occupy and in a sense be an enchanted forest or tree, or voice on the wind, and that seems very well suited to the green elves of ossiriand imparticular. the noldor by comparrison are made who they are (in large part) by exposure to the valar and maiar, and aule especially, who is the father of dwarves and a god of geology basically, so it would make sense that they're more grounded and appolonian as a people; more monolythic and with an emphasis it seems on things like individual genius or prowess, whereas the green elves i would think can for all intents and purposes entirely leave themselves, becoming spirits of the wood, enmeshed in the life force of the forest. it is hard to say ultimately how elves "should" have been, considering that the valar (and even tolkien as narrator once or twice) have doubted the wisdom of their desicion in calling the elves to the west rather than allowing them to discover themselves and the world around them at their own pace (it also seems to me that, for probably a larger-than-reported section of the elvish population in later ages, staying in middle-earth and essentially dissolving into place-spirits is the big, though largely unaddressed, alternative to going to the west, i can imagine many avarin elves opted for it)

it's remarked somewhere that the elves loved the druedain, and i'll bet these guys did, probably finding them the only type of men not blind to (and heedlessly abusive toward) the beauty and wonder of the world around them. really once you get beyond the noldor and the sindar (and the falathrim, another "intermediate," mostly telerin people, like the sindar) it's easy to imagine elves as getting pretty unrelateable to mortals. those people (the grey elves and especially the noldor) have a certain "overview" and enjoy making and building things, and meeting new people and exploring new languages, and so they can hit it off with dwarves or men, and forgive or atleast take in context their shortfalls and lack of wisdom, whereas the green elves seem like they'd be less sympathetic to creatures that are just blind and deaf, and think it's their natural right to hack down trees and slaughter animals with no sense of responsibility and no understanding of balance. they seem like they'd be the ones to give men names like "the usurpers," "the night fearers," or "the heavy handed" (or other names not dissimilar in intent i would think to the hawaiian "haole")
Iglybo's avatar
MerryMohProductions's avatar
Denethor here kind'a reminds me of some renditions of the Erlking, a german poem about a father riding out while his son tries to warn him of the Elf King and his daughters. Kind'a sad really. And the elves on the right kind'a give off this... "Orc-ish" feel, further tending that orcs may indeed have come from elves. :)
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