Tolkien fact 63 – “What do your elf eyes see?”

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There are many different settings, events, themes, and characters from The Lord of the Rings that have endured time and transcended the pages of the book and pictures of the big screen. Much of Tolkien’s world has been immortalized and solidified in our minds with fan-created artwork, short stories, websites (like this), and, best (or worst) of all, memes. Many memes have their origins in Middle-earth: “One Does Not Simply… Boromir,” “I Have No Memory…Gandalf,” among others.


But perhaps the most famous and well-known, even among people who aren’t familiar with the books or movies, is good ol’ Legolas announcing what his “elf eyes see,”  resulting in one of the most comical (though annoying and immature) Lord of the Rings memes on the web. At the same time, there is perhaps no other meme based on a scene from the movie that is more false than this one.

Let me explain: the meme itself is accurate. The Uruks really were taking the hobbits to Isengard. The orcs captured Merry and Pippin and were in transit to Saruman at this point of the story. Legolas’ elf eyes really did see that. However, the line immediately preceding what would soon live in Internet infamy is downright wrong.

Aragorn asks Legolas: “Legolas, what do your elf eyes see?” Legolas replies, looking off into the distance, “The Uruks have turned northeast. They are taking the hobbits to Isengard! [to Isengard!] [to Isengard!]” …and the ensuing song happily turns our brains to mush.

Now, the discrepancy that is glaring to me in this quote probably passes right over 99% of other viewers, not due to intellect or being inattentive , but simply due to a lack of knowledge (or care) of the map this world is based on.

Fear not! My cartographic obsession with Middle-earth finally comes in handy!

Emyn muil map

The map above roughly shows the area Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli are at when the scene in the movie is taking place (circled in red).

This map shows where Isengard is located (circled in blue):

isengard map

This is the same map with the Cardinal directions overlaid on top of the area roughly where the company of Uruks is at the time Legolas is speaking:

compass map

This map shows the direction “northeast” marked in green:

northeast map

So, I hope you can see where I’m going with this. Obviously the orcs were NOT turning northeast.

This scene is only in the movie and so the book does not share this inconsistency, but this also means we can only speculate as to how this error made it through the movie making process. Was the line written wrong originally? Did Orlando Bloom misread the line? Even if either of these two possibilities took place, how did this mistake get through editing? It is likely the editors simply missed it. Or they may have also noticed it and, like I mentioned before, knew that hardly anyone would take note of it. Did you notice it before you read this (or heard it somewhere else)? Unfortunately, at least for me, when such errors are brought to light in movies I enjoy, it tends to take me out of the experience the next time I watch it. This particular discrepancy is forgivable, though glaringly obvious after you notice it.

What can we learn from this?

  1. Even the best movies aren’t perfect.
  2. You can’t always trust an elf’s eyes.
  3. thehobbitsthehobbitsthehobbitsthehobbitsthehobbitsthehobbitsthehobbitsthehobbitsthehobbitsthehobbitsthehobbitsthehobbitsthehobbitsthehobbitsthehobbitsthehobbits

5 thoughts on “Tolkien fact 63 – “What do your elf eyes see?”

  1. They may not be taking the shortest possible path as the terrain might not be suitable, as well we do find the Uruks and Orcs along the edge of Fangorn, possibly in an attempt avoid Rohirrim or potential villages, even though it’s orcs and uruks.
    Movie Legolas says that they’re turning to the northeast, towards Fangorn, and his expression is somewhat puzzled by the fact, then we cut to the Orc/Uruk group stopping at Fangorn.
    It is probable, but it’s not necessarily for certain, that it was a mistake.


  2. The uruk-hai had to go around the mountains, so they would have gone past the range and then turned northeast, as Isengard is on the Western side of the mountains.


    • I get that sentiment but it’s just not feasible. The ring of Isengard is LEAGUES away from the Emyn Muil (roughly the area Legolas is at when he makes this claim). Although Legolas’ eyes are good, they’re not THAT good. Besides, the Uruk-hai were heading for Fangorn forest, most likely to cross over the mountains and not go through the Gap of Rohan, which they feared because of the threat of the “horsemen”. It is of course possible that the orcs turned Northeast to go around some obstacles, but Legolas would not see them doing this, call that out, and then conclude based on that information that they were traveling to a location far to the Southwest. It’s just not a feasible solution.


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