Friday, 8 August 2014

Creature Feature: Elves

In this column I talk about some of the more unusual fantasy creatures and/or creatures it would be cool to see in books.

I know what you’re thinking, elves are everywhere in fantasy.  And they are, though a lot of newer books have started using fewer traditional fantasy creatures in favour of a variety of human, which is fine.  But I’m not talking about the Tolkien style elves that are human height (or taller) paragons of wisdom, gravitas, and goodness.  I’m talking about real mythological elves.  You know, the playful, revelrous, and often mischievous miniature humans common in Northern European (especially German) folklore.  The ones that dance in a circle in moonlight, bewitching unwary humans who stumble by with their beauty.  Though they’re often intermixed with fairies, dwarfs, pixies, brownies, etc. elves were originally their own separate, distinct creature.

"Rackham elves" by Arthur Rackham - Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons -

Aside from children’s stories and Christmas tales, traditional elves don’t show up that often.  The only adult book I can think of is Saga by Jeff Janoda, a novel that deals with medieval Iceland.  And the elves aren’t real in the book, merely believed to be real by the populace who leave offerings for them and hope to not attract their wrath.  I believe Terry Pratchett’s elves are human sized, though he brought back their merry nature and enchanting ways in Lords and Ladies.  

Right now the thinking is that elves need to be retired for a bit (or forever), but I think rebooting them in their original form could be entertaining and still give people a break from the cliches they’re tired of.  But I’d love it if more authors thought of creative uses for old tropes, the way Chris Evans did with his Iron Elves trilogy, by giving them guns.

Elves have been staples in fantasy since both were created and they’ve gone through several modifications.  I’d love to see them make a return.

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