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World Builder
December 5th, 2005, 03:23 PM
While writing I've realized that the term "elf" grates on my mind's ear. I feel that the beings represented by the word are distinctive enough to warrant a unique name, and that using the conventional name distracts from the story. However, when I experiment with new names, I think that the readers are going to immediately associate these beings with "elves" and wonder why I didn't just call it like it was.

So, I guess I have two questions for the group.

1) If you read a description of my "typical elf," would you think of the classic elf? More tall and gracile than your average human, with an olive complexion and wavy black hair. Occasionally they're immortal (as long as they remain childless). They're the relics of an ancient civilization and are aloof and removed from modern human society, residing in cities that float among the clouds or in great fortresses beyond the north. Though I haven't worked out many characters of this species, and since a variety of stories takes place over rather lengthy period of time, they don't have a very coherent language/naming system; but examples include Thaedon*, Ymuzusha, Addolgas, Orrwn.

2) What do you do when you have something on the borderline of convention and going either way has its pros and cons? Do you side with the familiar or the original?

Edit: Forgot to add my footnote. "*Just realized that 'Thaedon' might sound a bit like Theodin to some readers. He's just a minor historical character, an old navigator prince."

December 5th, 2005, 05:03 PM
Seems like you could get away with making them non-elves. If you described an "elf-like" race that lived in forests, talked to the animals, nearly immortal, etc, I'm going to think "elf".

Taking them out of the forests and into Fortresses or cloud-cities immediately removes a big part of the "classic elf" motiff. You could tweak your elder race to give them other non-elf traits that would remove them further from being "elves by another name".

December 5th, 2005, 05:33 PM
One could argue that the Melnibonéan's in Moorcock's Elric series are basically elves. I don't hear that too often, though.

Also, one could argue that elves are really just humans. ;)

I really don't know whether I would think "elf" when reading your race; but I think I wouldn't care if I did.

2) What do you do when you have something on the borderline of convention and going either way has its pros and cons? Do you side with the familiar or the original?

Depends on development. Do I want to make the differences emerge slowly? Do I want to gloss them over? Do I want them to look more and more familiar as plot progresses? What if they'd be refered to by different names, by different cultures (Vampire-Elfs, anyone?)?

December 5th, 2005, 07:52 PM
An elf is a type of fairy and it comes from Celtic myths endemic to the British Isles, Ireland and France and also Scandanavian myths. In most versions of myth, elves are short, squat, and not particularly nice -- mischief makers. In other versions, there are light (nasty) and dark elves (even nastier,) who are human-like and who rule the worlds of fairy-land. Tolkein put that version front and center in Lord of the Rings, but left out the dark elves and made the light elves much nicer and nobler, and it has been the more popular choice in genre fantasy. (But a wider view might be Shakespeare's "Midsummer Night's Dream.")

Then of course, there are the shoemaker elves (the very small but nice kind,) of the fairy tale "The Elves and the Shoemaker," and the nice short elves that help Santa Claus make toys. Santa himself started out as a type of benevolent or sometimes benevolent elf, a Scandanavian/Northern Europe legend that was then merged with the story and miracles of St. Nicholas, an early Christian bishop. Which is partly why he's called a "jolly old elf." But those versions don't pop up so often.

If you have a race of peoples in your fiction that are elf-like, in the sense of being like Tolkein's elves -- human-like but not human, tall, gorgeous, skilled and long-lived, then they may be taken for elf-equivalents whether you want it so or not. Avoid pointy ears. Nobody knows how that started -- perhaps artists' renderings -- but it stuck. Olive skin is probably a better choice than dark or very pale skin. Making them tall and slender probably doesn't help. Cloud cities and northern fortresses (especially if made of ice,) will reinforce the idea of elven-ness.

But it hardly matters. If you call them something different and you use them in your story the way you need to, then you're set. You will run into a few readers who declare that they are elves and that you are being derivative and pedestrian. You will run into readers who declare that they are elves and they love elves and so think your story is really cool. You will have readers who get that they aren't elves and take them for what you make them in the story, and find it interesting or not, depending on their personal views. In the words of Mr. Nelson, "you can't please everyone, so you've got to please yourself." Have fun. And you might want to check out Katherine Kurtz's "The Adept" series. I haven't read it yet, but it might be helpful, even though it's a contemporary fantasy work and it sounds like you might be doing pre-industrial fantasy.

December 5th, 2005, 08:10 PM
Funny. Jeff Wheeler (BY FAR my favorite fantasy author other than Tolkien, and he's only written three or four books) uses "Shae." They are literally elves in all but name. Tall, stringy; blond; pale; agile; woodsy; whatever. I noticed the blatant similarities, of course, but I didn't mind. Just shows me that the average reader probably doesn't give a damn if you cheat your way out of race clichés, as long as you have a solid plot and writing.

Oh yeah, Wheeler also has good old dwarfies—in all but name.

December 5th, 2005, 08:36 PM
My favorite elves are the ones who live in trees and make cookies.

In my world I have a close relative to the elf. I call them Ravers.

Hieght : 5 to 5 '6
Skin : Milk White
Skills : Hunting and trapping
Location : Forests
Ears : Sorry not pointed

World Builder
December 5th, 2005, 09:36 PM
Thanks for the advice, everyone. I might have to check out "The Adept," Kat. A contemporary fantasy might be useful. Though many of the short stories that have spun off of the main plotline take place in pre-industrial society, the main story itself takes place in something akin to the Victorian Age. (eventually I'll need to get around to reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrel -- though that's more Regency era, i believe.)

I guess now I've got to settle on a good alternative name for them. Right now there's a couple groups of them. The only one that really needs a face-life, so to speak, are the Alfar. They were the original ones and were first modeled after the old Nordic traditions, a la Tolkien. How's the name Anthrus/Anthroi sound? (I suppose that would make the 'feral' variaties the descend from them after their civilization falls the "Phaenthroi".)

December 5th, 2005, 11:44 PM
When Christopher Columbus reached the New World, he thought at first they had reached India so he called the natives 'Indians'. Later, he realized his mistake but we've been calling the native americans 'indians' ever since.

Call your elves anything you want to. Sidhe, Fair Folk, etc. But really stop and concider what kind of beings they are. They're not human, they're not going to think like humans. They're going to think like Elves.

December 6th, 2005, 02:52 AM
If an extended family of elves lived in Houston, would they be called Texelves?

If a family of humans lived in Houston, would anyone bother to call them "the humans from Houston?"

Call them what you like, but I would suggest being careful how you use labels.
I understand, for example, that they were "Hobbits", but they were just as much "the people from the Shire".

Just stuff to think about,


Hereford Eye
December 6th, 2005, 10:53 AM
I think I met a family of them Texelves when I was living in San Antonio. They were pixie-ish little devils who thought of themselves as big as the prairie sky. They kept falling into the longnecked beer bottles. Eventually, they took the boats to the West and are now living in Monterey working part time at the Defense Language Institute translating Arabic into Sanskrit. They just love them runes, have a drinking song to the melody of The Rain in Spain called the Pruned Runes Routinely in the Ruins.

For my epic tale of the Wrong War, I changed the names to allow more freedom of action. My thought was that Elf and Dwarf and Goblin have semantic baggage they must carry along so that a pint-size race of forest dwellers would be more disconcerting to a reader if referred to as Dwarves yet my characters share some other traits such as irascibility. So, they became Duorph. The race that provides both the prime villains and some of the good guys became the Elph. Coblans are not expected to act like Goblins. Did it work? Won't know for a while.

But, then, I've always been partial to words such as photi. :D