A bow (Sindarin: cú, ping; Quenya: quinga, cú ) is a long-range weapon usually, but not exclusively, made of wood that shoots arrows. A bowstring is attached to "nocks" (or notches) cut into the bow at either end to support the arrow, and also to transmit the energy which shoots it. The string is pulled back and released ('loosed') to shoot the arrow.
Bows in Middle-earth were chiefly used by the Elves, but other peoples had archers such as the people of Gondor and Rohan, the Dúnedain, Dwarves, and even Hobbits. People who use these weapons are called archers or bowmen.
As the Vala Oromë was a great hunter, he may have invented it or at the very least fathomed it for use as a weapon. However, as the Elves were firstborn, they invented it and mastered it, and from there passed it on to men and then on to others.
The longbow most likely came into existence during the First Age of Sun, but also have been first wielded during the Ages of Stars, either in Valinor or Beleriand by Teleri Elves. Wherever it made its first appearance, the longbow from the start was seen as an excellent weapon. The first to wield this deadly weapon were the Elves, but of which kind and of what part of Arda they resided in is up to debate. However, many others have also wielded this weapon in many other places of Arda.
The human woodsmen in The Hobbit were said to use great yew bows, as did Saruman's Uruk-hai.
The bows of the elves tended to have curves to allow them to shoot further and faster making them superior to bows fashioned by lesser races. Bows used by the Rohirrim were made short and compact to allow for more flexible usage on horseback, whereas the bows of Gondor were larger and were used more conventionally on foot.
Beleg Strongbow got his nickname from the massive bow he used, which was of course a longbow of Elven make. The longbow in Beleriand was used first by the Sindar Elves of Doriath and then spread to other peoples as they entered the region. Those others seen using the longbow were the Green Elves of Ossiriand (later Lindon), the Ñoldor, the Edain and later the Easterlings. The longbow had perhaps its greatest impact in Doriath, where it was used to hunt many orcs and evil creatures seen prowling around the forest. It was used in numerous battles, most notably the Nírnaeth Arnoediad (Battle of Unnumbered Tears), when the reinforcements from Gondolin, led by King Turgon, sent many archers into the fray against Morgoth. These archers also probably covered Turgon's retreat when the battle went ill for Húrin and Huor. When Beleriand fell into ruin, many peoples escaped from the destroyed land and with them went their weapons, the longbow being chief among them.
Many Elven kingdoms were founded in Middle-earth after the fall of Morgoth, and each used the longbow to great effect. The Silvan realms of Lórien and Mirkwood were widely known for their expert archers, who mostly used the longbow in their surprise attacks. The High Elves of Rivendell and Lindon also had highly skilled longbowmen, such as the famous Elladan, son of Elrond.
Legolas was perhaps one of the most skilled bow users in the history of Middle-earth. His feats included shooting multiple enemies with one arrow, shooting down a Mumakil single-handedly (in the film rendition), felling many Uruks at Helm's Deep, and making pincushions out of orcs at a league or more.
Among the Dúnedain
The famous Númenórean steel bows were among the greatest of the types of longbows. As the name implies, these bows were made of steel, and only the strongest among the Númenóreans could wield them. In the later days of the Dúnedain, the kingdoms of Gondor and Arnor both had units of soldiers known simply as rangers, whose chief weapon was a wooden longbow, most likely made of yew or Lebethron. When Arnor fell into ruin, the surviving Dúnedain became known as the Rangers of the North, highly known for their skill with the longbow among other traits. In Gondor, the Rangers of Ithilien were formed when their homeland, Ithilien, became depopulated after Mordor's forces displaced many of the people living there. These rangers were not unlike their northern kin, skilled with a longbow and capable of organized ambushes. Apart from the Ithilien rangers, many other Gondorian soldiers made use of the longbow, such as the Blackroot Vale archers and the standard Gondorian archer.
The Men of the North most associated with the use of the longbow are those from the city-states of Dale and Lake-town. Indeed, a famous archer and later king of Dale, Bard the Bowman, is said to have single-handedly shot down the dragon Smaug the Golden through use of a well-crafted longbow. This later led to a formation of Dale archers known as the Bardings, highly skilled and copies of the famous original! In fact, the longbow was an instrument of daily use among some Men of Dale, for hunting was a great pastime among the descendants of Bard. However, the Northmen of Dale were to come into contact with another power that also made use of the longbow, and to great effect.
Among Evil Men
The make of the longbow is simple, yet it adds up to a deadly craft. It is made of one whole piece of wood, which can be anything from mallorn to yew. The string is made from a similar range of materials, sometimes of elf hair; the string of Legolas' bow from Lothlórien was made from Galadriel's hair. The wood is slightly curved, and depending on the type of bow, may be strung with the curve or against it, the latter style making it a recurve bow with greater range. Some Elven bows may have been recurve.
The longbow in real life is credited to having been made and used to great extent by the Welsh and is associated with many English victories in the Middle Ages such as at Agincourt. This is likely where Tolkien got his idea of longbowmen.
Other types of bows
- Crossbow - A similar weapon to the bow. The crossbow is never mentioned in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, and only appears in various adaptations.