Tough Traveling: Elves
The Thursday feature “Tough Traveling” is the brainchild of Nathan ofReview Barn, who has come up with the excellent idea of making a new list each week based on the most common tropes in fantasy, as seen in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynn Jones. Nathan has invited anyone who is interested to come play along, so be sure to check out the first link for more information. Compulsive list-maker that I am, I’m very excited to take part!
This week’s tour topic is: Elves
ELVES claims to have been the first people in Fantasyland. They are called the Elder Race. They did not evolve like humans, but sprang into being just as they are now.
When it comes to elves in fantasy, I imagine quite a few minds will jump immediately to Tolkien’s elves, which have pretty much set the standard for the taller, slimmer, more beautiful, graceful and intelligent elf archetype you see often in pop culture — and don’t forget, they’re usually more environmentally conscious, at one with nature, and immortal and magical too! On the other end of the spectrum, however, we also have the popular image of the short, tiny and cute elf, with a tendency to be workers or servants. Think Christmas elves or the house elf Dobby from Harry Potter.
To cut to the chase, elves seem to show up a lot in fantasy fiction, but I want to talk about some of the ones I’ve encountered while reading that I feel are a bit different from more conventional portrayals.
Iron Night by M.L. Brennan
Talk about unconventional, Brennan’s series features a very unique and different portrayal of elves. First of all, they’re not beautiful and they don’t even look remotely human, their faces more resembling lizards. They are also a warmongering race, and are so bloodthirsty and love to kill each other so much that they’ve virtually decimated their own population. With low fertility rates and the problem of inbreeding, now the elves (they call themselves the Ad-hene) struggle to find ways to procreate and increase their numbers again, resorting to some pretty heinous methods.
From what I’ve seen of the first couple books, the MHI series seems to be a pretty run-of-the-mill, testosterone-injected action- urban fantasy, but it’s got some pretty interesting elves. Protagonist and super geek Owen Pitt was excited when he realized he’d be meeting the elves of the Enchanted Forest, only to find out that it’s Enchanted Forest Trailer Park and the elves that live in it are trailer trash rednecks.
Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne by David Gaider
Rather than being regarded as the fairer folk and the “higher” race, elves in the Dragon Age universe used to be an advanced and immortal society until humans showed up and conquered them. They were enslaved until Andraste freed the majority of them, though now slaves are still discriminated against and many of them are forced to work as servants and live in designated slum-like areas for them in cities, called alienages. The remaining free elves are closer to the original glorious and noble elf archetype, living deep in the woods trying to retain whatever’s left of their once great culture.
The Riyria Revelations by Michael J. Sullivan
Another series where elves — or at least those humans with elf-blood — are considered at the bottom of the societal hierarchy or have been enslaved. Full-blooded elves are actually pretty powerful, magical and practically immortal creatures, but because they have such a low birth rate, humans pretty much came along and zerged them into submission. All elves living among the humans now are actually half-breeds, while the full-blooded elves mainly keep to themselves and want very little to do with the rest of the world.
Jhereg by Steven Brust
In these books, the elves called the Dragaerans are better and more amazing and more powerful than humans, which is why they actually have taken over the world. They’re also arrogant, unbelievable assholes who think that their race and everything they do is perfect. Strangely enough, despite their tall slender frames, pointed ears, longevity and magical abilities, Dragaerans actually consider and call themselves “humans”, while the REAL humans, the Easterners, call them “elves” or sometimes “faeries”.
Well of course the Shanarra books have elves, but, in my younger days, I found the Shannara books pretty darn boring. Fortunately, my brother introduced me to the Genesis of Shannara series, which takes an interesting post-apocalyptic twist, explaining that the fantasy world that many of us grew up with, is actually the, well, the actual world we grew up with and ended up making a mess of. Now, the elves, who have been hiding out all this time, are making an epic come back and bringing the wishstones back into play.
Another series that turns the usually holier than thou elves into outcasts, shunned by the human world. In the Witcher series of video games, elves are the downtrodden, and the motto is that “the only good elf is a dead elf.” But the elves aren’t down for the count just yet…
Elves are back on top in the revamped world of EverQuest, but that just means they have further to fall. Especially when they start messing with dragons.
The typical fantasy races appear in Carey’s Sundering series, but the bittersweet love story is told mainly from the point of view of the bad guys, including the warlord who kidnaps the elvish princess, Cerelinde