What the Elf is Going On?

Here’s an idea I’ve been playing around with, and hope to use in a story. I’d love to generate some discussion on this.

Elves are originally Germanic and Scandinavian in culture. They are listed as beautiful, pale creatures that use divine power to the aid or detriment of mankind. They have been worshiped and revered in the forests, mountains, and waterfalls.

Through the work of Tolkien and Blizzard Entertainment, elves have become a serious popularity structure to the point that getting the pointed elf ear is now available as a cosmetic surgery.

My idea is about the stereotype for elves. Everything from The Lord of the Rings to German folklore places these guardians of the forest as pale, Anglo-Saxon creatures, like Legolas Greenleaf in The Lord of the Rings.

Of all the cultures of human society, it isn’t the Europeans or even Western society as a whole that embraces nature and its protection as well as some of the island cultures.

Imagine, rather than skinny, white creatures, if elves were built like the Maori or Tongans. These societies made their weapons from nature, rather than building forges and recreating what nature has given them. Now imbue them with the magical powers that legends and stories have given the classic elf image.

Let me take a moment and clarify: I am not suggesting that classic fairy tales are wrong or inaccurate. I love the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson. These powerful storytellers defined a genre. What makes me nervous is that we have such a narrow view of what these fictional creatures can be. I think Blizzard Entertainment was on to something when for Warcraft III and World of Warcraft, the troll race had a Jamaican accent. There’s so many combinations that can provide powerful images and enhance storytelling.


3 thoughts on “What the Elf is Going On?

  1. I love the idea. Making islanders out of elves also works very well with their idea of some kind of paradise in the Western lands, e.g. where Bilbo, Frodo, and all of the elves went at the end of Lord of the Rings.

    You would have to change the elven association with fine, clever works of silver and mithril, but just picture the hakka with a purple, faerie glow…

  2. See, that’s an image I’ve been playing with. I read an account where before a battle in WWII, the Maori’s took off their uniform, pulled out their drums, and an entire army of islanders performed a hakka before battle. The sound and the sight of so many people doing the same screaming and stomping dance scared off the Axis forces.

  3. Drizzt lives.

    For every rose there is a thorn (cheesy much?) and dark elves have been part of the fantasy movement ever since authors began spinning antithesis into dubious anthropomorphism. I’ve never known of a dark elf that was good on purpose (the above mentioned Drizzt was only “good” by genetic predisposition, it seems) but I’m fascinated to think of a husky, rich voiced, caramel skinned islander-elf doing a hakka before battling evil on a cold dawn. Shiver me timbers, I’d love to observe that.

    I don’t know that being in touch with nature is the entire essence of the elf. There is a touch of faerie glamour that goes along with the legends. For a full illustration of that idea, read Terry Pratchett’s Lords and Ladies. Elves embody finely crafted, deadly strength perfected over decades or centuries of clean living. Some stories depict them as nigh unto gods for their beauty, longevity, and mysticism. Do islanders evoke such images of reverence? I’ll be the first to say that hearing a church full of unaccompanied, rich, Tongan voices singing hymns is stunningly beautiful — but is it elfin?

    No matter how you portray an elf, there are preconceptions to defy and personal opinions to ignore. Maybe your elves don’t have pointy ears and don’t know a bow from an antipasto.

    For the record: Orlando Bloom made a girly elf. Why must dude-elves be beautiful instead of gorgeously manly, like men ought to be in a just world? Maybe a five o’clock shadow and a hairy chest contradict our notions of their ethereal beauty.

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