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Elves and Elfy Things

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Kjbartolotta

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Elves are at least a little bit androgynous. I've never seen a male elf with a beard or a beer belly(or bald). That and blond, I think 75% of elves are depicted as blond.

Círdan the Shipwright was described as having a long beard in his old age, only bearded elf I can think of.

...

Oh yeah, and Santa.
 

Roxxsmom

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I will confess that when I pick up a fantasy novel these days it's a harder sell for me if I pick up those tolkinesque or D and Dish vibes with the presence of elves and so on. I think it might be because in so many traditional fantasy epics, elves and other races becomes a stand in for human diversity, or because the deeper implications of things like immortality (or a very long lifespan) are never really explored. They are, essentially, gracile humans who live in trees and perhaps have a different form of magic.

I can think of some books and video games that have broken away from this formula, though. I'd suggest you come up with your own unique spin on elfiness, maybe by introducing a different set of cultural traits or abilities, or by delving more deeply into the social and biological consequences of some of those elvish qualities fantasy readers take so for granted.

Oh! I forgot about Drizzt. He's black skinned.

I only got through two of those books and had to stop.

It always bugged me that the elves with a matriarchal society were unilaterally evil (aside from an occasional rebel, like Drizzt), while the patriarchal norms of human societies tend to be portrayed with more neutrality. I always gritted my teeth about that aspect of the old D and D universe of Baldur's Gate and so on.

And I know there are mythical antecedents, but I wish we could get past that dark skin=evil race cliche too. Come to think of it, a subterranean race would be very pale. Drow really should have been sans pigment, with white skin and hair and very pale blue eyes and poor vision. But then we get the evil albino trope, which is also problematic.

Maybe elves could be portrayed as being as diverse in terms of skin color ans cultural norms as humans are.
 
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MonsterTamer

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It always bugged me that the elves with a matriarchal society were unilaterally evil (aside from an occasional rebel, like Drizzt), while the patriarchal norms of human societies tend to be portrayed with more neutrality. I always gritted my teeth about that aspect of the old D and D universe of Baldur's Gate and so on.

Yes. I had a lot of issues with the first two I read. A friend of mine loves the series, and has read them all multiple times. I don't have the heart to tell her I don't share her love.
 

BenPanced

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Elves are at least a little bit androgynous. I've never seen a male elf with a beard or a beer belly(or bald). That and blond, I think 75% of elves are depicted as blond.

*is suddenly inspired to work through the mythology and finish his novel featuring masculine male elves with beards and hairy legs*
 

Azdaphel

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Le Donjon de Naheulbeuk, sylvan elves are:

Bad with a bow
Completely stupid
Totally naïves
Talk only about air brushing
Extremely beautiful (they take good care of their hair)
 
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kranix1

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I think Steven Brust has the best take on elves I've seen. He calls them Dragaerans and they have a lot of the snobbiness of your classic elves but are also more three dimensional. Check out his Vlad Taltos series. Quick, fun reads. One of the few fantasy worlds I keep coming back to.
 

jjdebenedictis

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Friendly Frog

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The pointed ears are a derivative of Victorian fantasy elements (and Christmas cards); Tolkien in a letter to his publisher states that Hobbits have very slightly pointed ears, but that elves' are more pointed.
It bugs me to this day that there is essentially very little reference to those pointed ears in all the actual texts. If any character encounters an Elf, they always recognize them by their singing, their language, the light in their eyes, etc... I don't recall once somebody going 'look at them pointy ears! Huh, must be Elven!' and you'd think pointed ears would kinda be noticeable!? Yet nobody ever remarks on it. 'Leaf-shaped' ears is the closest it gets but only in description not dialogue, and leaves comes in variety of shapes anyway so it remains very ambiguous. It's almost as if Tolkien wasn't sure which either. Man, the discussions I had about this on Tolkien messageboards.

But I must admit Tolkien's take on Elves is in my mind forever the touchstone for Elves. Everything else kind of gets lumped in the 'Fairy' category, which is far diverser and broader, from tiny sweet flowerfairies to scary fairy queens that ensnare people to lives of slavery and misery. Even Pratchett's take which was so deliciously deviant still relied on the common perception that Elves were beautiful and beneficial.
 

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Pointed ears are the only trait I think is the defining feature that convinces people these are elves and not fantasy humans. Sky's the limit for anything else and I think creators should throw out the rulebook in order to prevent the kind of eyerolling that fantasy readers/players give when encountering a story or game with an elf faction.

The elves that are portrayed as superior in every conceivable way but at the same time too passive to take centre stage for some vague reason ("we're fading"), while still being arrogant enough to lecture humans about human flaws is the stereotype people think of when they say elves are self righteous and too perfect.

While most problems faced by fantasy races can be solved by humans with whatever bonuses the writer can invent, this is true of fantasy in general. Most problems or crises can be solved through more real world and mundane means. Or at the least by humans with fantasy science and technobabble. But there's something to be said for style making up a large part of what makes fantasy identifiable as fantasy. So yes, many portrayals of elves do substitute for real world diversity in humans, but that's not a bad thing as it contributes to giving the setting the fantastical feel. If a setting was stripped down to a human centric worldview than all the fantasy races can be replaced with human diversity and the problem can be solved by normal people.

A human negotiator who is the most talented, charismatic diplomat thats humanly possible, may be able to convince all the bad guys that what they're doing is wrong and they should make peace. Doesn't mean that fantasy writers should default to humans. Just because humans conceivably could do something doesn't mean they should, or that they can in the same way, as humans have known limits that would require writing around.

I never really bought into the idea that elves designed to be immortal in the first place, would see it as the curse we would, or any mortal people presented with living forever would. Seems to me their psychology would fundamentally be made to or be evolved to handle it unless their creator was specifically punishing them.

*is suddenly inspired to work through the mythology and finish his novel featuring masculine male elves with beards and hairy legs*

I'm also going for elves with alot of sexual dimorphism.
The grizzled warrior elf:
acyOQZa.jpg

And other kinds:
XDEhWPM.jpg
 
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lonestarlibrarian

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On the YA side of things, I enjoyed Dunkle's treatment of elves (and goblins) in her Hollow Kingdom trilogy.

One of the fun things I especially like about it is how it depicts the elvish culture as being in its dark age, because their magic has been lost due to x, y, and z--- and the efforts of the elf lord in reuniting the broken, wandering bands and the early stages of trying to reassemble their civilization.
 

Kjbartolotta

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I so loved Brust's Dragaerans I made them into space elves, and wrote 120,000 years of history for them. I don't recommend this, but it was hella fun.

Sigh. I don't possibly have the time for it, but could you kinda, just...y'know...slide those notes on your space elves my way, cuz I kinda want to read 'em? My space elves are decidedly lackluster, thus the reason for this thread.
 

Roxxsmom

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I'll admit to liking the way the approached elves in the Dragon Age games. They took the popular notion of elves as the fallen remnant of a once-proud and powerful race, and explored what that might actually mean in a human-dominated world.

Basically, elves were either nomadic forest dwellers who clung proudly to the few traditions they still remembered and were deeply mistrustful of humans (with good reason, since humans often attacked them or drove them away), or they were a downtrodden servant or slave caste, living in "alienages" within human cities, which were essentially ghettos.

Because when has a cultural minority or people who are the remnants of a conquered or collapsed civilization ever been treated like equals, let alone regarded with admiration or reverence,* by the new world order?

*With fetishization or cultural appropriation, maybe, but not with the kind of awe Tolkien's elves always seemed to engender
 
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Albedo

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Or Elder Scrolls elves? ES lore is incredibly expansive and convoluted, but it seems that elves, dwarves, orcs and goblins are all regarded to be closely related races of 'mer', mer being kind of a sister, mortal, hominid species to man. In the games elves are kinda more ethereal and better at magic, but in a very mundane way. In Skyrim they're in an uneasy detente with the human-dominated empire, over fine points of religious doctrine. They're kind of fascistic, and definitely aren't treated as any smarter, more enlightened, or less cruel than humans.
 

Jaymz Connelly

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Not sure if it'll mean anything but -- I wrote a story last year that had elves. In the story, the only real difference between the elves and the humans was the pointy ears (cause I love me some pointy-eared elves *g*) and the way they did magic. Humans that have magic use it more intuitively, while the elves have to write their spells for them to be effective and they must use a special kind of ink. It was fun figuring out how the magic worked for the MC who was 3/4 elven, 1/4 human (mother was full elven, father was half elf, half human). There are good and bad in both races, in fact, the king of the elves is kind of a narcissistic psychopath. *g*

What makes an elf for me? Pretty much just the pointy ears. Anything else is up to the creator of the story. I've read stories with many different types of elves and enjoyed them all--although I do have to say, out of all the elves I've read about, Tolkein's elves are the most bland and sort of... empty. Like they don't really feel deeply about anything. I'm probably wrong about that, but that's just the way they came across to me. I prefer elves with a bit more spirit to them.
 

Filigree

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Sigh. I don't possibly have the time for it, but could you kinda, just...y'know...slide those notes on your space elves my way, cuz I kinda want to read 'em? My space elves are decidedly lackluster, thus the reason for this thread.

They're on my blog, under the Writing tab.
 

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