View Full Version : The Elves
November 8th, 2002, 09:35 PM
I like Elves in Tolkien style, I like Elves period. And what's not to like about them? They are swift, strong, good with the bow, powerful with magic, strong, wise, ancient, cool looking. What more is there to write about?
November 9th, 2002, 12:35 AM
Aside from Legolas, LOTR didn't really get into the elves too much, was kind of a good effect.
I like Feist's elves. Calis and Tinuva are great.
November 9th, 2002, 12:32 PM
I don't hate Elves, it's just that, for me, they are a symbol of everything that I dislike about fantasy. I find them tiresome.
In my opinion, authors who use them in their fantasy fiction just demonstrate a lack of imagination.
But... For people who simply must use them, consider this:
Elves don't have to be swift, strong, good with a bow, powerful with magic, wise, ancient etc. Your Elves could be craven, reckless, physically weak, magically gifted, and amphibious. Or they could be psychotic, stupid, angel-winged, beautiful, and devoid of magic. What I'm getting at is that Elves could be any number of things, and if you're going to use them in your writing then I strongly suggest that you come up with your own original interpretation.
November 9th, 2002, 12:48 PM
Is Cupid a Naked Elf?
And is Cupid good or bad?
November 11th, 2002, 07:26 AM
Disagree with you, LeMort, up to a point anyway. If you change the fundamental stereotypes of any race you make them into another race. The path your going down suggests that dwarves could be tall. I would contend that they would no longer be dwarves...
Elves have been commonly established as such by factors like their longevity, hunting prowess (any forest dweller needs that, even on 21st century Earth), innate magical sense, speed etc. If a writer calls a race 'elven' he or she is asking readers to bring a knowledge set to bear (just like if they call a race 'human'). Going on to describe something else is pointless. Call them something else.
On the other hand, some of hte traits you mention are ascribed to individuals, not the race as a whole and I agree utterly that these should be brought to bear on elves as they should with any race or society.
I use elves in my writing deliberately but I don't try and recreate JRRT elves. Yes they live in forests, yes they live a longtime and yes they are good at hunting. They also look like elves (again, if they don't they aren't elves, just like a man isn't a man if he has six legs and gills) These define the race. What I muck about with are attitudes, religion, social strata, reaction to outside aggression etc. That's what makes them different. That's what gives them variety.
November 11th, 2002, 09:23 AM
You've got a point there, but we're not talking about a real race, are we?
Humans are defined by certain unalterable characteristics because, well, we are what we are. The same goes for anything that actually exists. However, Elves are just a fantasy creation and, as such, I think that it is a good idea to play with those fundamental stereotypes that you've mentioned.
The fact that readers assume Elves to be tall, long lived, pointy-eared, forest dwelling, and good archers can be use to the author's advantage. Portraying Elves in a radically different way is just one way to keep the reader on his toes and, basically, let him know that he can't use his preconceptions to predict what's going to happen in the story.
You mention that you use Elves in your own writing. Forgive me for saying this, but it does sound like you are recreating Tolkien's Elves. Sure, you've plonked them down in a different world and given them different scenarios to deal with, but it does sound like they are fundamentally the same. That might make them interesting, but it certainly doesn't make them different. Of course, not having read your work, I can't say for sure if this is the case. I'm basing my opinion on what you've said. I mean no offence... :)
November 11th, 2002, 05:02 PM
No offence taken, I assure you. And no, we're not talking about a real race but that doesn't mean you can make up any old thing and call it an elf.
I cannot say, and sorry to repeat myself, here I have a dwarf, but to challenge your preconceptions, he is six foot tall and willowy of frame. This is because he would then not be a dwarf, he would be something else so I should call him something else.
Myth and fantasy has given us (for better or worse and no problem if you don't like them) preconceived ideas about elves. Thus, if you use elves in your writing, you must nod in the direction of at least some of them or you are not writing about elves. There is a good reason why elves are portrayed as good archers for example. Pop down to the rainforest some time and ask a hunter there the best way to bring down a monkey from seventy yards. And if you are about to say that elves don't have to be born to the forest, I say again, if they are not, they are not elves, they are something else you are calling elves for the sake of trying to appear different and challenging.
Yes, in some respects, my elves are like JRRT's but only in some physical and broad racial characteristics. I have chosen to have them long(ish) lived because I have created credible reasons why that should be so and at a more emotional level, I like the conflict between their longevity and the desperation of seeing human friends grow old and die in front of them.
I see the challenge of writing about elves (like any fantasy staple) as taking the accepted and giving it a fresh outlook, a new angle. Evolution, not revolution. Not saying I always succeed mind you...
November 11th, 2002, 05:51 PM
I think that one way (and obviously not the only way cos that's up to each individual writer) to tackle this problem is to perhaps use one or more elements that we (i.e. fantasy readers) recognise about Elves, and then play with the others. For example, make them willowy, beautiful, forest dwellers and hunters, but ones with a short life span - perhaps something has happened in their past which means they lost their longevity.
Or, as I did in one yet unfinished WIP, create reasons for some of their attributes. My dwarves were short because they came from a highgravity planet, for example.
Or, do whatever you like. If you can approach stereotyped fantasy races in any way that is even a slightly different take on Tolkien's approach then you're onto something. and, as NOM has pointed out these 'stereotypes' aren't always a bad thing anyway - readers can immediately identify them and jump into the story without having to spend time figuring out the characteristics of the various races in the book first.
November 12th, 2002, 03:05 PM
A passage from my book Tulisia describing a very different (yet true to some stereotypes) elf. Sorry for the length of the reply, but the description is carried throughout.
Elves are a fascinating concept, and a fundamental part of the history of fantasy writing... but they don't have to be 'the same old elf' now do they?
The words died on his lips, and he noisily dropped the bundle of wood as he caught sight of the elf standing nearby. He knew it had to be an elf. It was just over four feet tall and slight of build, with angular features and telltale pointed ears. Its skin was greenish-brown, and textured like the bark of a forest pine. The creature was not dressed, but showed no overt characteristics of being either male or female. As Taire stare at the creature, he had a sense that the distinction did not apply.
The elf looked around and sniffed the air. Its head swiveled almost completely around on its neck, causing Taire to shudder involuntarily. It was clear that this was a truly alien creature. It movements and actions were smoothly deliberate. It stepped forward, its legs seeming to bend fluidly along their entire length rather than at a knee like a human.
As the elf approached, Taire felt wonder, not fear. He watched its approach and knew that he should call to Morgan or Halnan, and yet chose not to. Moving slowly and cautiously the elf approached until it was directly in front of him, its diminutive form coming only to his chest.
The elf reached branch-like arms up and placed its thin gentle-fingered hands on Taire’s shoulders. With surprising strength, it pulled him down onto his knees, where he could see eye to eye with the creature. The elf’s eyes were a luminous green; round with a diamond shaped iris, much like those of a cat. Taire blinked as the creature held his eyes for a long moment, its lidless eyes fixed upon him in a steady unwavering gaze.
November 13th, 2002, 02:04 PM
No offense, but Tolkien doesn't even give an overwhelming about of information on Elves' appearance anyway. Noldor were tall and dark of hair. They built stone dwellings and lived more often in huge cities, not forests. Sindar and Silvan Eleves were much shorter and had blond hair. But the pointy ears was a later creation attributed to tolkien. His letters often speak of his disdain for artists who always draw his elves with pointy ears.
Nor do all fantasy writers (even the most popular) stick straight to THAT definition. Terry Brooks' elves were rather short, for instance.
Tolkien's own elves were modelled after creatures of Shakespearean and English legend... fairy creatures.
As an entirely fictional race, they can be made to look like ANYTHING, and still be called by an author "elves." They're fictional. There is no set of 'rules' of how to portray them.
Regardless, though I am a great fan of professor Tolkien, I find elves in modern works to be tiresome now. There are very few original ways to paint a slender, pointy-eared, magically-inclined race of bowmen living in the great forests. If you start with that, you've already excluded a great deal of originality with the race. By the same token, using stereotypical dwarves, orcs, wizards, dragons, or goblins makes it abundantly more difficult to write anything truly creative, as its been done SO many times before.
In all honesty, at this point, when I pick up a book with a backcover telling me about the young elf and his friend the human, a mildly-humorous thieving little creature, and dwarf who set off to stop the evil wizard and his army of Goblins, I just put it back down. I've grown weary of the constant overuse of cliche and stereotypes with many authors.
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