‘Tough Travelling’ is a weekly feature: every Thursday (hopefully!) I’ll be rummaging around in my memory to come up with various examples of commonly used fantasy tropes. Full credit goes to Nathan of Fantasy Review Barn for coming up with the idea: be sure to check out his blog!
This week’s topic is … ELVES.
ELVES claim 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.
Legolas, Elrond, Arwen, Galadriel, et. al.
(The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien)
Tall, blonde, elegant, pointy-eared: Tolkien pretty much wrote the manual on elves, and the elves in his stories created the mould for much of what has come afterwards. Immortal? Check. Forest-dwelling? Check. Improbably skilled with a bow? Check. Racial enmity with the dwarves? Check. One of the subplots of LotR focuses on Arwen, a female elf, who is conflicted between joining her family in immortality, or remaining with the mortal man she loves but be destined to outlive him by centuries. The films gave her a bit more of a prominent role, adding a touch of feisty warrior alongside all the mopy maiden stuff.
(The Riftwar Cycle by Raymond E. Feist)
Again, it’s been many years since I read his work, but from what I remember of Feist’s elves they are remarkably similar to Tolkien’s. Long-lived, magical, perfect in every way. One fairly awesome elf (Cailan? Calen?) even leads a rag-tag band of soldiers and outlaws under the banner of a false mercenary company in order to infiltrate an enemy army, which I suppose is a little different from Tolkien’s elves (i.e. sitting around looking disapproving).
Dobby the House Elf
(Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling)
The elves in Harry Potter are not tall, graceful and elegant. In fact, they are tiny, wizened creatures, whose sole purpose is to act as servants to the most rich and powerful wizarding families. They do possess magical power, but are severely restricted in its use: in fact, they are so strictly bound to servitude that they have virtually no free will of their own, and are magically compelled to punish themselves should they ever do or say anything against their master’s wishes.
(the Forgotten Realms series by R. A. Salvatore)
The Drow, or Dark Elves, are very different from the surface elves, and crop up in most fantasy RPGs. According to the mythos of Salvatore, the Drow live in colossal underground cities and conduct dark rituals in the name of the spider goddess Lolth. They are a cruel society, matriarchal, and are obsessed with conducting ruthless and bloodthirsty political schemes against one another in order to raise their family’s status in the eyes of Lolth.
(Eragon by Christopher Paolini)
My memory of Eragon is vague, and also tainted by the appalling movie version, but from what I remember, Paolini’s elves are nothing more than a convenient (and stereotypical) plot device. I may be being a little unfair here, but hey ho.
And that’s it for this week. I haven’t had a lot of time this week, so apologies for any garbled-ness!