Skip to Content

Did Legolas let Gimli win?

The friendship between the elf Legolas and the dwarf Gimli is one of the most beloved relationships in J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy series The Lord of the Rings. Despite their races’ longstanding rivalry and distrust, Legolas and Gimli form an unlikely bond while serving together in the Fellowship of the Ring. Their friendly competition over who can defeat the most enemies in battle provides much of the camaraderie and humor in the books. However, some fans have questioned whether Legolas, with his superior elven abilities, intentionally allowed Gimli to win some of their contests in order to spare his friend’s pride and strengthen their friendship. Examining the evidence around their major competitions can provide insight into this debate.

The Battle of Helm’s Deep

One of Legolas and Gimli’s most famous competitions occurs during the Battle of Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers. As the Rohirrim and remnant of the Fellowship defend the fortress against Saruman’s Uruk-hai army, Legolas and Gimli challenge each other to see who can defeat the most enemies. By the end of the battle, their reported totals are 42 for Legolas and 43 for Gimli. Some readers contend that Legolas, with his keen elven sight, reflexes, and centuries of combat experience, should have easily exceeded Gimli’s body count. This raises the possibility that Legolas may have deliberately underreported his number of vanquished foes in order to help Gimli save face. However, several factors make this unlikely.

First, the Battle of Helm’s Deep was a chaotic melee combat situation, making precise counts difficult. With Orcs, Uruks, Rohirrim, and Fellowship members all intermingled in the fray, neither Legolas nor Gimli would have been able to get an exact tally of their personal kills. Their reported numbers likely represented their best estimates rather than confirmed totals.

Second, the terrain provided more advantages to Gimli. As an elite dwarven warrior wielding hand axes and fighting primarily on the ground, he was well-suited to the tight quarters within Helm’s Deep’s walls and courtyards. Meanwhile, Legolas often served as an archer on the walls during the initial stages, limiting his melee combat opportunities until the Uruks breached the Deeping Wall. He then had to shift from his optimal ranged fighting style to close-quarters battle.

Finally, luck plays a role in any combat situation. With so many potential targets on a dynamic battlefield, random chance may have simply led Gimli’s axe to find more Orc necks to cleave than Legolas’s blades or arrows. Declaring a narrow victor does not necessarily mean the loser underperformed.

Given the heat of battle, terrain disadvantages, and role of chance, Legolas likely gave an honest count for his kills. The evidence does not support the theory that he intentionally allowed Gimli to inflate his total. Their contest at Helm’s Deep was close but fairly scored.

The Exploration of Paths of the Dead

After parting ways with the rest of the Fellowship, Legolas and Gimli join Aragorn and the Rangers of the North on the Paths of the Dead under the White Mountains. Legolas once again challenges Gimli to a competition on who can defeat the most cursed ghosts and undead spirits haunting the underground route.

By the time they emerge on the other side, Gimli claims the victory with a count of 23 to Legolas’s 17. Here, the validity of the result seems more dubious. The ghosts posed no physical threat to the companions – their fear was spiritual rather than mortal. Neither axes nor arrows could slay spirits, so the contest was purely about boasting rights.

Some cite Legolas’s nerves of steel, immortal life experience, and absolute lack of fear of death as reasons he should have easily “defeated” more spirits than Gimli. If the game was fair, why would the stoic elf underperform against the more temperamental dwarf?

However, ghosts and ghouls are outside the expertise of either character. As an elf focused on harmony with the natural world, Legolas would have little experience with the supernatural. And while dwarves delve deep underground, theyMine for ore and gems – not hauntings. Neither would have faced large numbers of undead before, putting them on even footing.

Additionally, courage is not the only factor – perception matters too. With their heightened senses, elves commune with nature in ways dwarves cannot. But dwarves have superior darkvision, having evolved to live underground. This would give Gimli an edge in noticing ethereal spirits in the dim caverns. Between courage and perception, the two friends were matched enough for the contest to be close.

In the end, Gimli’s bravado may have slightly exceeded his actual feat. But the gap was small enough that Legolas likely reported his number truthfully, not needing to throw the contest. The Paths of the Dead competition seems fairly scored.

The Battle of Morannon

At the climactic Battle of Morannon, Legolas and Gimli continue their competition as they fight alongside the Men of the West against Sauron’s forces at the Black Gate. During a lull in the battle, they compare notes one final time:

Legolas 41
Gimli 42

Once again, Gimli has the slight edge. But at this stage, their friendship is so strong that Legolas no longer needs to protect Gimli’s pride. He could report his true count, secure that their bond supersedes any contest.

Some may argue that surely the elven prince’s centuries of experience and supernatural abilities should allow him to best a dwarf. But several factors counter this notion:

First, the terrain was disadvantageous to Legolas’s skills. The cramped landscape around the Black Gate hindered his archery and agility, playing more to Gimli’s close combat style.

Second, the Orc armor and weapons had improved, making slaying foes more difficult than earlier battles.

Third, sheer luck determines many outcomes on such a chaotic battlefield.

But most compellingly, the two friends were now fighting truly side-by-side, covering each other’s backs. Rather than competing, they worked in concert to defeat as many enemies together as possible. Their friendship had progressed beyond rivalry to true cooperation and care for the other’s survival.


In reviewing the major competitions between Legolas and Gimli, the evidence suggests that Legolas reported his numbers honestly each time. While Gimli may have exaggerated here and there, Legolas likely never intentionally undercounted his feats out of pity, friendship, or any other motive. The contests were closely matched both in prowess and in spirit.

Their friendly rivalry brought some levity to their grim quest, helping sustain them through their trials. Yet it never undermined the fellowship, trust, and affection between elf and dwarf – quite the opposite. In the end, their loyalty and sacrifice for each other meant far more than any game. As Legolas remarked after hearing Gimli’s final count: “You have passed my score by one, but I do not grudge you the game, so glad am I to see you on your legs.”