E is for Elves

E is for ElvesToday is the fifth day of the A to Z Challenge! I’ll be posting about one letter/word on every weekday in April. Don’t want the barrage of posts? Sign up for my newsletter and I’ll let you know when I start doing new stuff next month!

E is for Elves.

As a fantasy author I can’t talk about mythological creatures for long without thinking about elves. These days I suspect most people immediately conjure to mind an image of elegant, Tolkien-like elves, but in truth they have as many forms as there are myths about them.

Elves first appeared in Norse mythology as a race of minor gods, associated with nature and fertility. Humans could actually become elves upon death if they lived particularly worthwhile lives. These elves were not bound by regular physical laws and could easily pass through walls and locked doors. Like Tolkien’s elves, they were believed to be more beautiful than regular humans.

In Germanic mythology elves are very similar to those in Norse mythology but are also associated closely with dwarfs. Elves are said to live in Alfheim while dwarfs live underground, earning them the title of “dark elves” in certain scripts.

Old English beliefs about elves vary, Many tales portray them as harmful creatures but there was also a common belief that Elvish arrows(also referred to as “witch arrows”) could heal people. These arrows were actually stones now believed to be Neolithic arrowheads.

Danish lore features the Hudra, a type of elf with a hollowed out back. There are only a handful of tales about them but these elves are said to be only interested in drinking, dancing and of course mating.

Early modern tales in England typically showed elves who were small, fair haired and elusive, with mischievous personalities. They weren’t considered evil spirits but they often enjoyed interfering with human affairs.

Regardless of the mythology, elves are also usually connected to fairies, some of my favourite fantasy creatures. The two are considered to be kindred nature spirits and may sometimes work together to cause mischief. How strong the ties are depends on the mythology, but where you find one you’ll often find the other.

Of course, Tolkien changed what everybody thought about elves with not just Lord of the Rings but the language and mythology published around it. This has led to a sharp rise of the average height of elves in fantasy fiction and many, many derivative races of elves who frankly made some people sick of the race altogether.

It goes without saying that I’m a huge fan of Tolkien’s elves and in complete awe of the world and language he created around them, but I’d love to see more authors give elves their own unique twist.

What do you think about elves? Can you name any novels that give them a unique twist? Let me know in the comments section below!

2 thoughts on “E is for Elves

  • I’m a fan of Tolkien’s elves too! Although, my all time favorite elf is probably Dobby the house-elf from Harry Potter.

    • dlgunn

      Dobby! He was definitely one of my favourite side characters in Harry Potter AND one of my favorite elves. I thought the House Elves were a really great twist on the more typical elvish myths, sort of a cross between the mischievous elves of medieval England and myths of brownies.

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