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Half the trouble with elves


I think half-elf is just a term to mean anything with enough elf qualities that its not entirely human from a human perspective. So this term would cover 1/8th elves, or 1/16th elves and so on until know one would know to suspect. From an elvish point of view one would be half human, right? I think the main. Reason this is not addressed and elves are not typically shown as mating a lot wi to humans and so it is such a rare thing the average human does not encounter them. In a world of your making you can certainly make it common enough that it would be something that was more thoroughly addressed.
This is what I was going to say.

I don't typically include elves in my own stories but if I had a situation like this I'd be using "half-elf" too. Trying to intricately explain just how my characters lineage is broken up sounds tedious to write, let alone read, especially if it isn't relevant to the story.

Just call them "half-breed" or your local equivalent and be done with it. Simplicity is a virtue after all.
not quite sure I 100% agree with this, my understanding is that when Elrond chose to be an elf, and married Celebrian, Galadriel's daughter, Arwen was therefore 100% elf, just like her brothers. After all, she was over a thousand years old when she met Aragorn... The whole business of Arwen choosing was simply cos she married a human - if she had married an elf the issue would not have arisen? Yes, it seems odd that ARWEN chooses, not her children, it isn't quite the same as Elrond and Elros getting to choose cos of what their parents etc had been - but what if Aragorn's son had chosen to be an elf after all? Would have seemed odd, Tolkien slipped an inconsistency past it because "story", and no one noticed? The gods do not seem to be 100% consistent on this one...?
She was indeed a full elf. She was actually given a different choice than Elrond and Elros. She was given the choice of Luthien (her great-great-grandmother). That is, she could chose to leave Middle Earth, like the other elves, and live out the rest of time in the West, forever bound to the world. Or she could become human and live her life together with Aragorn. But then she would die and depart the world (though presumably be reunited with Aragorn beyond the boundaries of the world).

That said, half-elves are very rare in Tolkien's world, and they're pretty much all exceptions. I think there's only 4 human - elf marriages in Tolkien's universe, with each of them treated differently. The gods were not really consistent, but that's a bit of a theme in his universe, and they adapted to the situation as best they saw fit.
Just call them "half-breed" or your local equivalent and be done with it. Simplicity is a virtue after all.
Local equivalent, please. "Half breed" has racist connotations in the real world. It shouldn't be used as an ostensibly neutral descriptor. If you use it in a story at all, have it slung as an insult.
I'm just stumbling over the idea of 3/4 or 1/8 or whatever similar mixes, because that's not how genetics work, heh. In theory at least, a 50/50 half elf married to a 50/50 half elf might end up giving one child a larger portion of their elf genes, each, than human genes. Another child might get more human genes than elf genes from both parents.

Does Altearth have geneticists and advanced science? Heh. Most societies pre-genetics would have non-scientific ways of describing and understanding these things. Maybe culture-based definitions, plus appearance-based definitions, would occur. A given "half-elf" might in fact be half elf and half dwarf, not half elf and half human, and no one would know this! (y)

I'm wondering if you could have a hidden or isolated city that is entirely filled with only mixed race individuals. Half elves, half dwarves, half trolls, half giants, half pixies, whatever. Mix and match with abandon, assuming lots of interbreeding over centuries. What would happen if a full-blooded human or full-blooded elf or dwarf walking into town? Heh. The populace might wonder what mix of race that individual is, i.e., just assume some mixture because they have no clue what a full-blood X would look like.


toujours gai, archie
That cuts to the heart of it, FifthView. I have a story in which a girl grows up believing she had a human mother and an elf father, but was orphaned at an early age. I at least hint at a certain prejudice against such a union, but it's far from the heart of the story.

But it got me thinking. Assuming I don't retcon it away, there would have to be at least the possibility of such a union. And if that, then why not other species? And what are the social ramifications of each? Lots of interesting speculation to do there. But trying to stay on topic, it also raised the question of how anyone would know. With elves there's a clear marker: they've a third eye in the middle of their forehead. Pretty clear indicator, that. If the genetic pool were less clear, there might be room for a vestigial eye, but if you've the eye, you're an elf. Not half, just elf.

But then, ogres have remarkably messed-up faces. I've described this in more than one novel so there's no room for a retcon there. So, how about an asymmetrical face *and* a third eye? Elf? Ogre? Monster?

Because you're right, these folk don't have genetic science (they do in later centuries), so they're going to go on appearances among strangers. In the local village it'd be more a matter of common knowledge and rumor regarding the parents.

Even more intriguing would be crossbreeds where there's no clear anatomical change. Maybe troll with orc? I'm not sure, as so far each of Altearth's peoples have a visual marker. Anyway, it all is interesting to me. Way more interesting than here's a half-elf so here's the stats. With a quick and earnest pace to LitRPG folks.


Fiery Keeper of the Hat
I haven't read through every response, but I did want to talk a little about how this works in my setting.

With my fairy races, someone who is only part fairy could either be Ferrish or a Fenodyrie, based on the type of fairy involved, whether it's one of the pretty ones or the roughset ones, respectively. There's a list of features for each, but a character would only have a number of those features based on how much fairy blood they had, and some of those features may be weaker or stronger as well. Someone who's mother was a Nymph is going to show a lot more Ferrish blood than someone who is 1/4th fairy, until it eventually disappears entirely.

Elves and dwarves and orcs also exist in this setting, and each of those half a (rough, unwritten) list of features for people with part of their blood. And if someone has different bloodlines, the features just overlap.

I don't have the notion of being "half-" anywhere in my notes or story. It's entirely "How much Ferrish blood is this character showing?"


I would perhaps not rely too heavily on genetics as an explanation for elves. After all, they typically exist in a setting where they can breed with dragons, octopus-people and and birdmen without suffering birth defects, sterility or incompatibility. Genetically speaking, this is tripping acid balls impossible. Buuuttt....Magic. Magic determines that the match can work, and magic may also determine that fractions matter that way.
Within a few centuries, it would get all muddled, at least along the borders.

I'm not really sure how muddled things would actually get. How much interbreeding would actually occur, and what would be the survival rate for the offspring? Neanderthals mated with humans, both with Denisovans, but maybe this didn't happen often enough to make much recognizable difference. I think I've read articles saying that some of the offspring was likely sterile—was it male offspring or female offspring, I don't remember.

But the question that constantly recurs for me is this: Would I, personally, be very attracted to a half-human, half-Neanderthal? I can't know, because I don't know exactly what that would look like; but, from the recreations made of Neanderthals, I very much doubt I'd find the mix to be attractive.

Just winging it here, but the spec-fic side of me would decide there's a very minority, acquired taste sort of thing going on, so even if mixed fantasy race individuals were not sterile, their breeding chances might be quite low. They might be shunned by whole communities or at least have their reproductive rates much lower. They and their children.

Is the magic in your world shared equally and commonly among all members of a race? Every dwarf has dwarf magic, and every elf has elf magic? If so, that does complicate things. If not, then what are the odds that these shunned mixed individuals will have a chance to learn and practice magic?


I think I've read articles saying that some of the offspring was likely sterile—was it male offspring or female offspring, I don't remember.
Really? I've read a number out of russia, china and mongolia that say most east-asians have denisovan ancestry.

Though I suppose this is off topic.

Given how pretty much all elves across fantasy are snobby about race (somewhat excluding the drow), I'd doubt there's all that many half-breeds, even along the borders.
Really? I've read a number out of russia, china and mongolia that say most east-asians have denisovan ancestry.

Well, and also most humans with origins outside Africa have some Neanderthal genes.

A quick search just now has revealed an older article saying that male offspring between a human and a Neanderthal was likely sterile, but not female offspring. But that's an older article. A newer study out of the University of Oxford’s School of Archaeology (link) suggests that hybrids were probably quite fertile. No one knows, of course. The Oxford study suggests that mammal species that are fairly close in origin chronologically are more likely to have fertile offspring. I would suppose in a fantasy setting, elves, dwarves, trolls, and the like are more distantly related, if at all, than Neanderthals, humans, and Denisovans.


On a side track, though related to the original question; what about the old European Changelings. Half-humans of ogres, fae, trolls, dragons and other, who had to/got to choose which side of their ancestry became dominant and burnt out the other side.


toujours gai, archie
FifthView, magic is slippery in Altearth. To be more precise, there is a magical substance (phlogiston) that operates through a magical medium or dimension (aether). This stuff permeates the world unevenly and is highly affected by external factors such as place, weather, even the alignment of stars and planets. And that doesn't begin to enter the magicians themselves as variables. Magic is not so much understood as it is understood in a bewildering variety of ways, with certain theories coming and going over the centuries. It is widely understood, for example, that elves have one sort of magic and dwarves have another, humans, gnomes, orcs, trolls, all have their own kinds. But exactly what those are, exactly how they are delimited, is neither widely agreed upon nor clearly delineated among the various peoples. More modern historians trying to make sense of this past are generally fascinated but not in general agreement.

As for the question in hand, it's still flexible. I haven't committed too many specifics to published pages. So I'm really just exploring ramifications here. If, for example, humans and elves could interbreed, what might be the parameters and implications of that? While it's true I can have happen whatever I want to have happen, the challenge is to know what I want to have happen. Only "true" elves get the third eye? Are there vestigial eyes, with accompanying aberrations. What are the social implications, not just among elves and humans, but the other peoples as well?

It's a fun sandbox. The reason why I title the thread with the word "trouble" in it, is I don't see many fantasy novels playing in that sandbox. For the most part, "half-elf" is just a term, not much more than a set of stats (ok, characteristics). I think there's more can be done in that direction. Half-measures. <g>


magic is slippery in Altearth.
This is your original setting?
To be more precise, there is a magical substance (phlogiston) that operates through a magical medium or dimension (aether).
using phlogiston as magical matter? Usually it's steam-punk fuel, while aether (or occasionally ectoplasm) is the magical substance.
Curious, for your setting, is magic a universal force, a local-ish exotic substance, or the shed light of souls? It usually has a lot to do with various authors approach to the rest of the magic system.
Only "true" elves get the third eye? Are there vestigial eyes, with accompanying aberrations. What are the social implications, not just among elves and humans, but the other peoples as well?
Does the third eye refer to an organ? The hundi chakra? or the european bastardized 6th sense version of the chakra?
Generally speaking, if this is a major thing for elves, Id say only true elves are born with it open and sensitive, half elves have a sort of muted awareness through it and humans and halves can train to open/use it fully.