I’ve been toying with the idea of an elven cosplay for a long time—and by “elven” I mean “Lord of the Rings elven.”
I’ve loved the Lord of the Rings ever since I was a little boy and my father would read the books to me in all kinds of outrageous voices. The elves all had lisps, and when they spoke Elvish it would sound suspiciously like Pig Latin…
I spent many childhood years imagining the fantastic realm of Middle Earth—a vision which was expanded further by the intricate world building in Peter Jackson’s film trilogy.
For this reason, when I make LotR fan art (like my Faramir armor), I usually create my own original designs, but with enough concepts borrowed from the films that they could fit right into that universe too.
I followed this same process when I decided my first piece of elven art would be a sword. If I was starting an elf costume, I wanted it to be a character we never see in any movie (i.e. not Legolas or Galadriel, etc.) so that I could put my own spin on things.
Of course, if I was doing an original character, I couldn’t just buy a replica of a sword from the films. Ancient Elvish swords were unique to their owners, so it wouldn’t make sense to have Arwen’s sword in the hands of anybody but Arwen!
So, I decided that I was going to build a sword for Nimrodel. That way, I could borrow the basic aesthetic of the elf swords in the movies, but also create a sword that was entirely unique.
Who is Nimrodel?
Now, unless you’re a diehard LotR fan, you’ve probably never heard of Nimrodel. She’s only mentioned in passing in one of the many songs Tolkien wrote into the trilogy:
An Elvin-maid there was of old,
A shining star by day:
Her mantle white was hemmed with gold,
Her shoes of silver-grey.
A star was bound upon her brows,
A light was on her hair
As sun upon the golden boughs
In Lorien the fair.
Her hair was long, her limbs were white,
And fair she was and free;
And in the wind she went as light
As leaf of linden-tree.
So begins the “Lay of Nimrodel” sung by Legolas in The Fellowship of The Ring.
The Tale of Nimrodel
As told in the Fellowship, as well as Tolkien’s Unfinished Tales, Nimrodel was a beautiful Elvish maid of Silvan descent who lived in the trees of Lorien. She loved Armoth, king of that land, but for many years she refused to wed him because he was a Sindarin elf, and she blamed his people for bringing war to her land and destroying the peace of old.
When the Dwarves awoke a Balrog in Moria and brought terror to Lorien, Nimrodel fled as a refugee. Amroth found her near the eaves of Fangorn, where she had thought to make a home, but the trees were more menacing there than in Lorien, and would not let her enter.
Amroth again asked for her hand in marriage, to which Nimrodel replied “We shall be wedded when you bring me to a land of peace.”
Amroth replied that there was no such place in Middle Earth, but such was his love for her that he promised to even leave his own struggling people and take her across the sea to the ancient Western land of Valinor.
The two began a perilous journey together toward the port of Elf-Haven, but they became separated in the troubled Southern Realm.
Amroth sought Nimrodel in vain, and finally determined to travel to Elf-Haven alone in the hopes that she had also found it. When he arrived, however, Nimrodel was not to be found, and there was only one sea-worthy vessel left, almost ready to depart.
Amroth boarded the ship, but pleaded for weeks that they would wait for Nimrodel. One night a great storm arose, tore the boat from its moorings, and sent it far into the sea. When Amroth awoke and saw the distant coast he shouted “Nimrodel!” and launched himself into the ocean. He was last seen swimming desperately for the land that held his lost love.
Little else is known of Nimrodel and Amroth. The elves never saw their king again, and presumed him drowned. Some legends say that in her searches for the sea, Nimrodel found a stream in the White Mountains that reminded her of home, and there fell into a deep sleep.
Perhaps the story ended in tragedy like this, or perhaps Amroth lived, followed these legends, found his love, and together beside the stream they are still enjoying the peace which Nimrodel sought all her life.
The Blade of Nimrodel
The tales of Nimrodel and Amroth don’t mention any combat, nor a specific sword that Nimrodel might have carried, but surely among so many misadventures she must have needed one.
Although too often subjected to it, Nimrodel had no love of weapons or violence.
This sword, then, needed to be the weapon of a peace-loving lady who never wanted to wield one.
Making the Sword
As I mentioned before, Nimrodel’s sword was made to be unique, but still fit into the Middle Earth aesthetic of the films.
I love the look of the long, thin, curved blades that the movie elves wield, but since I don’t have my own forge yet, I needed to purchase a blade blank, and it was surprisingly difficult to find one with the right shape and dimensions.
The blade that I eventually found was actually built for a Chinese Qing Dao sword. I purchased one made from damascus steel because it has more visual texture and looks less modern than a stainless blade.
I made a few concept sketches for the hilt before purchasing the blade blank, but once I had it in my possession I was able to trace the shape of the tang (the metal part that extends into the hilt) onto a piece of paper and design an exactly-scaled sketch from there. Here’s what I came up with:
Schematic drawing. The line under the hilt represents one inch.
The overall hilt design was meant to be a natural extension of the blade’s gentle S-curve, (much as with the whale knife from my Alaskan collection). The cross-guard and pommel are subtle, and although the hilt is made from six interlocking pieces, the decorative carvings flow from one segment to the next freely as though the entire hilt were a bundle of rolled leaves bound together with a single ring in the center.
For artistic purposes, I wanted the segments to be made of two contrasting materials. Possible candidates included jade, tiger’s eye, bone, antler, wood, and horn. I even purchased a rough block of tiger’s eye, but ended up deciding that working it on such a large scale would be unrealistic with the tools I had on hand (stay tuned for the things I did wind up making out of it though!).
After toying with a lot of materials I decided to make it out of exotic hardwoods. Wood would be both practical to work with, and also appropriate for a tree-dwelling elf.
The lighter accents for the cross-guard, the ring, and the main pommel were made of Brazilian Cherry, which has an almost metallic golden shimmer reminiscent of the tiger’s eye that I first had in mind.
The darker shaft pieces and the scrolled tip were made with a wood called Padauk, which has a lovely deep red color. No staining was required for any of the wood.
I transformed my schematic sketch into a vector image using Adobe Illustrator, printed it both forward and reversed (for the opposite side), cut the prints into pieces for each hilt segment, glued them to the wood block, and roughed out the shape with a saw.
Trimmings from the sword hilt showing how I attached my drawing to the wood and sawed the segments into shape.
I made sure all the pieces fit together, then I drilled through the middle of each, stacked them in place on the sword like beads on a string, and glued them together.
At this point it the hilt still looked like blocks of wood (albeit interlocking blocks of wood). It was important, however, that I had all the pieces glued together before I started into the intricate carving. The whole hilt needed to carve like one piece of wood so that the designs would flow naturally between the wooden segments.
After days of carving, sanding, painting elvish script, and finishing, the final result was something I could be proud of:
Bottom, side, and top views of the finished sword hilt.
The finished product was a beautiful, feminine sword which was consistent with both the character introduced in Tolkien’s books, as well as the film universe which grew up around the novels.
This is my first piece of elvish art, but I doubt it will be my last. After all, now I need a costume to go with it!
In the meantime, here’s an Eowyn cosplayer posing with the sword!