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How to make Elves interesting?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Reilith, Apr 9, 2016.

  1. Reilith

    Reilith Sage

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    I've been mulling things over in my head about Elves. I honestly love them, in any shape or form, doesn't matter if it's a game or a book. But considering everything I've already seen, I'm thinking how to make them new and refreshing and interesting - not just magical, pointy-eared mysteries. I am also considering putting them up in a new project I+m starting, so I need ideas. What is it about Elves that you love and hate? What would you advise to keep and what to change? Are you more for the traditional Tolkin-esque Elves, or maybe more for the unconventional type such as Aurenfaie from Nightrunner? HULP!
     
  2. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    As far as Tolkienesque elves go, I love that for all their grace and beauty they are also very fallible. Feanor and his family are an extreme example -- they swore an oath against God Himself that they'd recover the stolen Silmarils, and in the end it killed all but one of them (unless the last eventually died of sheer grief). To a lesser extent, their attitudes toward humans and dwarves show relatable variation. Elves and dwarves are often at odds, but they also have decent trade going on for much of the First Age. The dwarves had a great love of pearls, which were only gathered by the Sea-elves who lived along the coasts of Middle-earth, but traded freely. Likewise the dwarves aided some of the elves in great feats of craftsmanship, such as the delving of Menegroth. On the human side of things, many Elves thought of Men as inferior, but some, like Finrod Felagund, held great love for them and wanted to learn from them and teach them himself.

    I also love the Sidhe from classical Celtic myth. They're beautiful and terrifying at once, some of them willing to steal human babies while others gently woo human lovers. And at least in my stories, even the cruelest are capable of changing for the better and gaining true friendship with humans, without forsaking their Fae-ness entirely. They sometimes just need a push in the right direction.
     
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  3. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I love the Aurenfaie, but I never quite pictured them as being elves. There are some similarities, so elves always seemed like a distant source material for the Aurenfaie, kind of hovered in the back of my mind.

    I'm almost totally disinterested in the traditional Tolkein-esque version or the D&D/MMORPG versions. I'm sure I could still enjoy a very well-written novel that used traditional elves, but they would not be particularly interesting to me themselves, as elves.

    I might not be the best person to give advice, then! But I'd suggest maybe creating a distinctive culture for them that veers from the norm. It really comes down to what you personally like most about them and what you could stand to change. If you changed them so much that they stopped being "elves" for you, what would be the point?
     
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  4. Reilith

    Reilith Sage

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    I know I've read somewhere that the writer said she hated the traditional Elf build and it is noted in her writing even. But the bottom line is that Aurenfaie still have that Elvish feel for me, even without the pointy ears of some other things of traditional variety. I guess what I am trying is to find something of the sorts, that doesn't scream Elf, but uses Elven-like culture as a base.
     
  5. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Truthfully, I've always thought that the problem with most depictions of elves is that they're somehow lesser than Tolkein's. They've gotten more normal, more human, more mundane with every new series. Many of the fantasy races have, but while it's sometimes interesting to make orcs behave more human, for instance, I feel it's kind of ruining the elves.

    To me, I would want to see elves who hold on to the original sense of mystery and give purpose to their extended age, rather than just portray the uppity old beautiful people who fling magic around.
     
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  6. Jerseydevil

    Jerseydevil Minstrel

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    It really depends on the context, but generally, I don't care for elves at all. Actually, both of my WIP are anti-elf, with one having them as the main antagonist species that gets decimated under concentrated rifle and musket fire. The other is an Urban fantasy where the Sidhe are major players in the supernatural world and as a consequence lord over unaware humans, at least until someone breaks out the green tip ammo. The main reason for this dislike is that they always come across are too perfect (Tolkien is the notable exception). They have immortality, impossible grace, beauty, wisdom, and all the rest and that for some reason grates on me. This has nothing to do with the fact that I am short, ill-tempered, and somewhat akin to a dwarf, the greatest fantasy race ever, without exception.

    Elves always seem to be at extremes. They are either too perfect or too evil. Just look at the Warhammer world. There are High Elves that are immortal and perfect beyond measure (arrogance as a flaw only goes so far), the Wood Elves who are so one with nature that they are militarized hippies, and the Dark Elves, that are pure, distilled evil with no redeeming qualities at all. That's the problem. There is almost no in between, no grey areas, no room for more development. Though most fantasy races fall into a stereotype, they at least are so different from humans that they seem unique. Elves usually come across as humans without flaws, and if reading a ton of fiction has taught me anything, perfection is at best boring. If you want to write them, make them more than just graceful people that don't die and spend their time gazing longingly at a dying tree.

    Just my three cents
     
  7. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    I find the best way to go about reinventing any fantasy creature is to focus in on an aspect of their original depiction and then go with it.
    For example, I read that in some periods of Norse mythology, light elves were semi-intangible. They were said to be made out of mist and light. So, why not have more ghostly elves?
    D&D got a lot of mileage out of making a subspecies of elves that were closer to Norse black elves.

    Second option is to focus on a few key elements and change everything else.
    In the Elder Scrolls video game series, Dwarves are bearded builders and craftsmen who live underground and tend to fight with elves. They're also relatively tall and very intelligent solipsists/nihilists whose aesthetic was mostly based on Mesopotamia.
    The thing that I did was take the Tolkien idea of elves being corrupted and turning into orcs and reversed it. So, orcs were turned into elves as a kind of magic/divine punishment. And I made them "inferior" less spiritual humans rather than "superior" more spiritual humans.
     
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2016
  8. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    My first encounter with elves was through Lord of the Rings which my dad read to me when I was 7 or 8. I thought the elves were cool, but didn't really pick up on much of the details.

    Later, but not much, I came across the Elfquest comics. I was probably 8 or 9 at the time, and they were the coolest thing ever, but I have a hunch I should try and avoid doing a more detailed analysis from my current perspective. Still, back then, these comics rocked my little world.

    As I recall, there was a bit of interesting world building. The elves had fascinating magical abilities and some of them were friends with the wolves. They also had a little bit of history that seemed interesting and which turned out to have some unexpected twists.

    If you have the time, you can read the comics online here: Elfquest Comic Viewer - just keep in mind they were first released in the 70's and I won't vouch for how well they've aged.
     
  9. Reilith

    Reilith Sage

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    Reading your answers now, I am seeing disdain for traditional Elves as much as the human-esque ones. Let me clarify my efforts: I am mulling things for a race that is Elven like but more towards the human specter, making them not perfect at all, and with human flaws that can sometimes even be worse than in humans. Another idea sprung in my mind as well. As they are magical and sort of descendants of gods, they used to be a lot like the gods - but through time passing their looks, personas and general existence morphed more towards human - the mix of blood, living away from the divine source of their magic etc.

    Sent from my HTC Desire 820 using Tapatalk
     
  10. Terry Greer

    Terry Greer Sage

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    The problem I always have with much fantasy is how similar it all is.

    I'd love to see something done that really is brave and inverts preconceptions, which most fantasy doesn't.
    This is understandable as people get interested in writing what they already like - so tend to want to write something that plays to their preconceptions. There's nothing wrong with that - but it can be uninteresting and pretty 'safe' for those of us who want something different. It also tends to be treated as just another racial type which is to me really wearing thin.

    Why not:
    Have fantasy races as extinct races that's left lots of interesting stuff around - or maybe there' not quite all gone just yet (but it takes a while to find them). Having fantasy races too common really devalues them.
    or have them really be something totally different to what the legends say or what you've been told about them in the story. E.g. just because something looks human and female (or male) doesn't mean it has to have (or even learn) human or gender-based emotions at all. (last years film 'ex machina' does it wonderfully for AI). Making them too human is possibly really what's doing them a disservice.
     
  11. Reilith

    Reilith Sage

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    Okay, I am actually loving the idea. This is why I love this forum it always gives me more ideas. Thinking fresh - have a race that resembles elves and has what I mentioned above, but as it turns out they are not what the history told them. Instead being "elves of divine origin" it turns out they are simple humans that at some point mingled with true elves which are almost extinct, putting the whole culture and nation into an uproar. It needs elaborating though.

    Sent from my HTC Desire 820 using Tapatalk
     
  12. Chwedleuwre

    Chwedleuwre Dreamer

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    If you want to keep the term "elf", you might include a comment about how pointed ears are one of those misconceptions about elves - or some such allusion that will make your elves unique. Other ways to distinguish mythic races would be to emphasize their unique speech patterns, clothing (style, colors...), habitats, food and drink, etc. What do YOU want them to be like? As far as I know, the word "elf" isn't copyrighted. tee-hee. So, perhaps the question is: Do you want your elves to be traditional (which tradition?) or your own version? Have fun with your writing. Best wishes for much success!
     
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  13. Reilith

    Reilith Sage

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    Thank you! I know I will not go with the traditional view of Elves in our irl terms. I do plan to give them a different culture and possibly high magic-religion correlated ideals. Together with the geography, foods, culture of living, dress-code and all else that accompanies them, I think they could possibly be different enough not to give off the sense of "Elves" right away. Also, they will have a specific name as a nation.
     
  14. NerdyCavegirl

    NerdyCavegirl Sage

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    There's just something about lean sexy arboreal archers with pointy ears, and that's the only preconceptions I usually have about elves. Though I'll take almost anything as long as they have pointy ears. My own elves start with those basic traits, lean pointy-eared forest humanoids, though they're simply another primate descended from early humans with their own adaptations. Sukokuek, one of my three most developed MCs that was just recently named, is from a race of arctic elves that more closely resemble hobbits. Short and stocky, pointy ears, dark hair, quite a bit of it on their bodies and/or faces, but still more slender than their arctic human counterparts. My elves are more of a "middle race", a role humans usually seem to play; more agile and flexible than my stocky more Neanderthal-like humans, but bigger and stronger than my third major race, the fun-size firekin. None are closely related enough to interbreed though, nor do their lifespans differ much.
     
  15. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Svrtnsse, I too loved Elf Quest. I even read the early issues of the first series when they were still black and white. Great fun, and a good example of how to be original while remaining within the basic stereotype.
     
  16. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    Oh well, for what little it may be worth at this point...

    My worlds were originally terraformed and settled by utterly alien species, some of whom were powerful natural psionic types. Indeed, much of their technology required psionic ability to operate. Time passed. These aliens took to abducting lifeforms from other worlds, including earth (and humans.)

    They decided that humans could be useful servants...if they had psionic ability. Gruesome experiments followed. Those humans subjected to these experiments that survived did receive powerful mental abilities.

    The aliens also conducted a slew of other bizarre experiments. In the one relevant to this thread, they summoned spiritual entities from the deep Astral realms and 'implanted' them in physical bodies (humans). This merger changed those bodies, granting them increased lifespans, pointed ears, and an affinity for certain types of magic. Aka 'Elves.'

    Then catastrophe beset the alien civilizations. Most of the aliens perished right off; most of the survivors fled. Their servitor races found themselves left to their own devices, and formed their own civilizations. The psionically talented humans became the first wizards.

    As far as my stories go, elves are way in the background. They're considered dangerous and alien, but there are groups that do trade with them, as well as other interactions. A few half elves are found here and there. The prominence of a few half elven characters is the main reason I kept the elves around at all.
     
  17. kennyc

    kennyc Inkling

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    I keep reading this thread title as "How to make Elvis interesting"

    .....
     
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  18. Logos&Eidos

    Logos&Eidos Sage

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    Look at what elves have become in minds of the fantasy audience.

    The elves are an idealized form of humanity, they are everything great and noble about humanity cranked up to twelve. Now D&D and other RPGs have tried to balance out this idealization by adding flaws.

    Slow breading.

    Slow to act.

    Lazy and unindustrious.

    Frail as a result of being built for speed and endurance,rather power and stamina.

    Magic Dependant, perhaps even a vulnerability to cold-iron.

    Some even take Tolkien's idea of elves as a fading people and portrayed elves as a subjugated once great people, analogous to various indigenous peoples subjugated by colonizing Europeans. I think this is also to make the human audience of the books feel better about themselves.

    You take what the elves are and play with these elements,rearrange and shuffle them until you get something distinct. I think that the biggest twist that you could make is not have then a reclusive fading power that is slowing losing ground to humanity.
     
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  19. kennyc

    kennyc Inkling

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    Yep that definitely sounds like the older Elvis! :) :)

    I'll show myself out now.
     
  20. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    I have elf-like races, but long story short, in a traditional sense they are not elves... one might say they look and some behaviors like elves (woodland people, bows, long lived, magical) but if you tried to breed them with Tolkien's or other traditional elves it wouldn't work, heh heh.

    Give them a depth of culture that sets them apart, that's a good start.
     
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