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Silvan Elves (also known as Woodland Elves) are described as being less interested in knowledge seeking than other Eldar, like the Noldor. Some of them are mistaken for Avari, those who never joined the Great Journey fromCuiviénen to Aman.

The Silvan elves were notably of Nandorin background and descended from the followers of Lenwë who were fascinated by the landscape and its features of the lands East of the Misty Mountains, and followed the Great River down into south and beyond. Many centuries later, they reappeared and spread themselves throughout the regions between the Misty Mountains and the Blue Mountains. Later yet, they appeared in the Beleriand under the leadership of their only king Denethor and were allied to Thingol, the elven King of Doriath. When Morgoth attacked Beleriand, Denethor was killed and his people suffered heavy causalities and later became a secretive people throughout the rest of the First Age.

When the Beleriand was lost and the Second Age was to begin, the Silvan elves who survived rejoined their kindred east of the Misty Mountains and gradually became citizens of the Elven realms of Lórien and Greenwood the Great (laternorthern Mirkwood), or were at times wanderers.

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According to notes made by Tolkien after the publication of Lord of the Rings and found in Unfinished Tales, Oropher, the Sindarin king of the Silvan Elves of Mirkwood, orGreenwood the Great as it was then known, raised a large force as part of the Last Alliance to overthrow Sauron. During the first assault on Mordor, he disregarded Gil-galad's tactical plan and led a reckless charge in which he was slain along with two-thirds of his troops. Rule of the Silvan Elves and field command of their remaining strength passed to Oropher's son Thranduil, the father of Legolas.

The Silvan Elves of Mirkwood are described as distrustful of Dwarves, but friendly to Men, with whom they trade. In The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins has to rescue the Dwarves of Thorin's company from these Elves. Later in the book the Elves are one of the armies in the Battle of Five Armies.

Legolas of the Fellowship of the Ring, although he lived among them and presented himself as one of the Silvan folk in The Lord of the Rings, was not one of them. As a son of the Elven-king Thranduil, who had originally come from Doriath, Legolas was actually a Sindarin Elf.

In the 1977 animated adaption of The Hobbit, The Wood Elves are depicted as having fair hair and pale lavender skin, with clothing predominantly brown and olive coloured garb.

Mirkwood runner by Magali Villen

The Silvan Elves of Lórien are also called the Galadhrim, literally "tree-folk". After the departure of Amroth in T.A. 1981, they were ruled by Celeborn and Galadriel. At the time of the War of the Ring they spoke a divergent dialect of Sindarin which had changed so much that Frodo Baggins, who spoke some Sindarin, could not understand them. Additionally, few Elves of Lórien could speak Westron, so that Haldir, one of the few who could, had to accompany them on their way to Caras Galadhon. During the War of the Ring the Galadhrim were the strongest of all the Elven kingdoms and aided in banishing Sauron the Necromancer from Dol Guldur.

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