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Places in Middle-earth

Elf-path, The

Type: Roads, Lanes, Ways

Region: Rhovanion/Misty Mtns

Other Names
The Forest-track
The Elf-road

Location: An east-west path through northern Mirkwood.

Description: The Elf-path is an east-west path made by the wood-elves through northern Mirkwood, from the Forest Gate at the western edge of Mirkwood to Thranduil's Caverns near the eastern edge.

On the map, "Wilderland", the Elf-path starts at the Forest Gate on the western edge of the forest, passing east and slightly south until it crosses the Enchanted River about halfway between the Mountains of Mirkwood and the Forest River, then bearing slightly north until it reaches Thranduil's Caverns near the eastern edge of the forest.

The Atlas of Middle-earth, Revised Edition, by Karen Wynn Fonstad, Section 4, Regional Maps

[Said Beorn to Thorin Oakenshield's company,] "But your way though Mirkwood is dark, dangerous, and difficult," he said. "Water is not easy to find there, nor food. The time is not yet come for nuts (though it may be past and gone indeed before you get to the other side), and nuts are about all that grows there fit for food; in there the wild things are dark, queer, and savage. I will provide you with skins for carrying water, and I will give you some bows and arrows. But I doubt very much whether anything you find in Mirkwood will be wholesome to eat or to drink. There is one stream there [the Enchanted River], I know, black and strong which crosses the path. That you should neither drink of, nor bathe in; for I have heard that it carries enchantment and a great drowsiness and forgetfulness. And in the dim shadows of that place I don't think you will shoot anything, wholesome or unwholesome, without straying from the path. That you MUST NOT do, for any reason.

The Hobbit, Ch 7, Queer Lodgings

[At] a place a few days' ride due north of the Carrock was the gate of a little-known pathway [The Elf-path] through Mirkwood that led almost straight towards the Lonely Mountain.

The Hobbit, Ch 7, Queer Lodgings

[Said Gandalf,] "Stick to the forest-track, keep your spirits up, hope for the best, and with a tremendous slice of luck you may come out one day and see the Long Marshes lying below you, and beyond them, high in the East, the Lonely Mountain where dear old Smaug lives, though I hope he is not expecting you." ...

The Hobbit, Ch 7, Queer Lodgings

So now there was nothing left to do but to fill their water-skins at a clear spring they found close to the forest-gate, and unpack the ponies.

The Hobbit, Ch 7, Queer Lodgings

They [Thorin Oakenshield's company] walked in single file. The entrance to the path was like a sort of arch leading into a gloomy tunnel made by two great trees that leant together, too old and strangled with ivy and hung with lichen to bear more than a few blackened leaves. The path itself was narrow and wound in and out among the trunks. Soon the light at the gate was like a little bright hole far behind, and the quiet was so deep that their feet seemed to thump along while all the trees leaned over them and listened.

As their eyes became used to the dimness they could see a little way to either side in a sort of darkened green glimmer. Occasionally a slender beam of sun that had the luck to slip in through some opening in the leaves far above, and still more luck in not being caught in the tangled boughs and matted twigs beneath, stabbed down thin and bright before them. But this was seldom, and it soon ceased altogether.

There were black squirrels in the wood. ... There were queer noises too, grunts, scufflings, and hurryings in the undergrowth, and among the leaves that lay piled endlessly thick in places on the forest-floor... The nastiest things they saw were the cobwebs: dark dense cobwebs with threads extraordinarily thick, often stretched from tree to tree, or tangled in the lower branches on either side of them. There were none stretched across the path, but whether because some magic kept it clear, or for what other reason they could not guess.

The Hobbit, Ch 8, Flies and Spiders

There was no movement of air down under the forest-roof, and it was everlastingly still and dark and stuffy. Even the dwarves felt it, who were used to tunneling, and lived at times for long whiles without the light of the sun ...

The nights were the worst. It then became pitch-dark ... [but] they could see eyes. They slept all closely huddled together... and when it was Bilbo's turn [to watch] he would see gleams in the darkness round them, and sometimes pairs of yellow or red or green eyes would stare at him from a little distance... And sometimes they would gleam down from the branches just above him; and that was most terrifying. But the eyes that he liked the least were horrible pale bulbous sort of eyes. "Insect eyes," he thought, "not animal eyes, only they are much too big."

Although it was not yet very cold, they tried lighting watch-fires at night... It seemed to bring hundreds and hundreds of eyes all round them... Worse still it brought thousands of dark-grey and black moths, some nearly as big as your hand, flapping and whirring round their ears. They could not stand that, nor the huge bats, black as a top-hat, either; so they gave up fires and sat at night and dozed in the enormous uncanny darkness.

The Hobbit, Ch 8, Flies and Spiders

[As] days followed days, and still the forest seemed just the same, they began to get anxious. The food would not last for ever: it was in fact already beginning to get low. They tried shooting at the squirrels, and they wasted many arrows before they managed to bring one down on the path. But when they roasted it, it proved horrible to taste, and they shot no more squirrels.

They were thirsty too, for they had none too much water, and in all the time they had seen neither spring nor stream. This was their state when one day they found their path blocked by a running water [the Enchanted River]. It flowed fast and strong but not very wide right across the way, and it was black, or looked it in the gloom. It was well that Beorn had warned them against it, or they would have drunk from it, whatever its colour and filled some of their emptied skins at its bank. As it was they only thought of how to cross it without wetting themselves in its water. There had been a bridge of wood across, but it had rotted and fallen leaving only the broken posts near the bank.

The Hobbit, Ch 8, Flies and Spiders

There was a flying sound of hooves on the path ahead. Out of the gloom came suddenly the shape of a flying deer. It charged into the dwarves and bowled them over, then gathered itself for a leap. High it sprang and cleared the water with a mighty jump. But it did not reach the other side in safety. Thorin was the only one who had kept his feet and his wits. As soon as they had landed he had bent his bow and fitted an arrow in case any hidden guardian of the boat appeared. Now he sent a swift and sure shot into the leaping beast. As it reached the further bank it stumbled. The shadows swallowed it up, but they heard the sound of hooves quickly falter and then go still.

Before they could shout in praise of the shot, however, a dreadful wail from Bilbo put all thoughts of venison out of their minds. "Bombur has fallen in! Bombur is drowning!" he cried. It was only too true. Bombur had only one foot on the land when the hart bore down on him, and sprang over him. He had stumbled, thrusting the boat away from the bank, and then toppled back into the dark water, his hands slipping off the slimy roots at the edge, while the boat span slowly off and disappeared.

They could still see his hood above the water when they ran to the bank. Quickly, they flung a rope with a hook towards him. His hand caught it, and they pulled him to shore. He was drenched from hair to boots, of course, but that was not the worst. When they laid him on the bank he was already fast asleep, with one hand clutching the rope so tight that they could not get it from his grasp; and fast asleep they remained in spite of all they could do.

They were still standing over him, cursing their ill luck, and Bombur's clumsiness, and lamenting the loss of the boat which made it impossible for them to go back and look for the hart, when they became aware of the dim blowing of horns in the wood and the sound as of dogs baying far off. Then they all fell silent; and as they sat it seemed they could hear the noise of a great hunt going by to the north of the path, though they saw no sign of it.

The Hobbit, Ch 8, Flies and Spiders

In a few days a time came when there was practically nothing left to eat or to drink. Nothing wholesome could they see growing in the wood, only funguses and herbs with pale leaves and unpleasant smell.

About four days from the enchanted stream they came to a part where most of the trees were beeches. They were at first inclined to be cheered by the change, for here there was no undergrowth and the shadow was not so deep. There was a greenish light about them, and in places they could see some distance to either side of the path. Yet the light only showed them endless lines of straight grey trunks like the pillars of some huge twilight hall. There was a breath of air and a noise of wind, but it had a sad sound. A few leaves came rustling down to remind them that outside autumn was coming on. Their feet ruffled among the dead leaves of countless other autumns that drifted over the banks of the path from the deep red carpets of the forest.

The Hobbit, Ch 8, Flies and Spiders

Two days later they found their path going downwards, and before long they were in a valley filled almost entirely with a mighty growth of oaks.

"Is there no end to this accursed forest?" said Thorin. "Somebody must climb a tree and see if he can get his head above the roof and have a look round..."

Of course "somebody" meant Bilbo. ...

In the end he poked his head above the roof of leaves [of an enormous oak] and then he found spiders all right. But they were only small ones of ordinary size, and they were after the butterflies. Bilbo's eyes were nearly blinded by the light. ... The sun was shining brilliantly, and it was a long while before he could bear it. When he could, he saw all round him a sea of dark green, ruffled here and there by the breeze; and there were everywhere hundreds of butterflies.

The Hobbit, Ch 8, Flies and Spiders

[Separated from the dwarves in the dark, Bilbo] sat himself down with his back to a tree... He was deep in thoughts... when he felt something touch him. Something like a strong sticky string was against his left hand, and when he tried to move he found that his legs were already wrapped in the same stuff, so that when he got up he fell over.

Then the great spider, who had been busy tying him up while he dozed, came from behind him and came at him. ... [He] had a desperate fight before he got free. He beat the creature off with his hands -- it was trying to poison him to keep him quiet, as small spiders do to flies -- until he remembered his sword and drew it out. ... Bilbo... stuck it with his sword right in the eyes. Then it went mad and leaped and danced and flung out its legs in horrible jerks, until he killed it with another stroke; and then he fell down and remembered nothing more for a long while.

There was the usual dim grey light of the forest-day about him when he came to his senses. The spider lay dead beside him, and his sword-blade was stained black. ...

After that he set out to explore. The forest was grim and silent...

The Hobbit, Ch 8, Flies and Spiders

He [Bilbo] had picked his way stealthily for some distance, when he noticed a place of dense black shadow ahead of him, black even for that forest, like a patch of midnight that had never been cleared away. As he drew nearer, he saw that it was made by spider-webs one behind and over and tangled with another. Suddenly he saw, too, that there were spiders huge and horrible sitting in the branches above him... [I]n the silence and stillness of the wood he realised that these loathsome creatures were speaking one to another. Their voices were sort of thin creaking and hissing, but he could make out many of the words that they said.

The Hobbit, Ch 8, Flies and Spiders

[After fighting off the spiders, the] dwarves then noticed that they had come to the edge of a ring where elf-fires had been. Whether it was one of those they had seen the night before, they could not tell. But it seemed that some good magic lingered in such spots, which the spiders did not like. At any rate here the light was greener, and the boughs less thick and threatening, and they had a chance to rest and draw breath.

The Hobbit, Ch 8, Flies and Spiders

[Said the Elvenking to the dwarves after they were captured by the wood-elves,] "It is a crime to wander in my realm without leave. Do you forget that you were in my kingdom, using the road that my people made?"

The Hobbit, Ch 9, Barrels Out of Bond

As he [Bilbo] listened ... the talk of the raftmen ... was all of the ... growth of the traffic on the [Forest] river, as the roads out of the East towards Mirkwood vanished or fell into disuse....

Those lands had changed much ... even in recent years.... Great floods and rains had swollen the waters that flowed east; and there had been an earthquake or two (which some were inclined to attribute to the dragon ...). The marshes and bogs had spread wider and wider on either side. ... The elf-road through the wood which the dwarves had followed on the advice of Beorn now came to a doubtful and little used end at the eastern edge of the forest; only the river offered any longer a safe way from the skirts of Mirkwood in the North to the mountain-shadowed plains beyond, and the river was guarded by the Wood-elves' king.

The Hobbit, Ch 10, A Warm Welcome

Contributors: Elena Tiriel 24May04, 15Jul04

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