Writing Fantasy Races: Elves? Which Elves?
Out of all the fantasy races, Elves are my favorite. Tolkien’s elves, Warhammer Elves, any given Elf in a video game. Not the Keebler Elves, though their cookies are at least decent. Nor Christmas Elves with their match-matchy outfits. Elf on a Shelf is especially right out. Yes, he’s a Christmas elf, but he gets special mention. See, my problem isn’t with Elves, but in how they’re portrayed in 4 million different ways.
That’s a problem, sometimes, when you start talking about Elves. Or in my case, writing about them. If I talk with some of my friends, they track with me because they’ve read more than one fantasy book. Others think I’m talking about Santa’s helpers. Usually they look at me as if I just ate candy canes I rubbed on the backs of toads.
But worse than the strange looks I get is the reality that Elves don’t have a common image or story. They’re not like a real-world thing to which you can point and say, “this is an Elf.” Nor are elves the work of one person who wrote everything about them. If they were, you could borrow the idea and point back if you were so inclined.
Fantasy Races Have a Stereotype Problem
Everyone reading your story will interpret Elves (or any other member of the fantasy races club) from a different experience. As far as I know, there’s not even a consensus on whether Elves must have pointy ears. One person commented about how in my story the Elves had a party, which he hadn’t seen before. While that was at least neutral feedback, it could have gone the opposite way. It could have been, “Are these wood elves? Because that’s out of character for them. Even more-so if they’re high elves! Only the North Pole elves have parties, and then only once a year when the toys are delivered.”
I could take the time to explain what the Elves in my story are like, and how I see them. But then I’ve just spent all that time and effort on something that half of my readers will just already assume. I feel as if I break the expectations too often I’ll disappoint my readers who expect “an Elf’s Elf.”
Instead, I’m going to leave the Elves to Tolkien. He wrote them better anyway.
This is one of the reasons I haven’t been writing in my stories for awhile. I had to take a step back and think about a few issues, and why some things just weren’t aligning. I have what I think are a few great options that tell more about the characters than labeling them “Elves.”
They won’t be knock-off Elves either. They’ll keep some traits of fantasy Elves, because that’s how I first imagined them. But this won’t just be a name swap. For it to have meaning this must give each character their own room to shine. If not, they should probably be humans.
Elves Can Still Inspire Your Other Fantasy Races
But if I were to write elves into Elerien (again), I’d stand the expectation on its nose.
While everyone expects Legolas II, or Galadriella (Galadriel’s unwritten niece), I’d steal/borrow from Nordic myth. I reckon that was Tolkien’s inspiration, too.
In 1998, 54% of Icelanders believed in elves or “Hidden People.” And some people have become experts in elves.
According to most, elves keep to themselves and even tend to look like humans. But if you disturb them, maybe by building a road through their land, they will mess you up.
Even from minor research on Nordic elves, inspiration struck. The creature I have in minds is actually a bit terrifying. But I still won’t call them elves.
If you write about elves, cool. I won’t mark you down in an Amazon review. I think the idea of elves is still very enchanting. But I realized that the other part of this is that I’ve been leaning on elves as a crutch, and that possibly other writers are, too. Instead of doing that, I’m giving them a culture and traits all their own. I know my stories will be better for it.