Wednesday, 7 September 2011

I Hate Elves.

I’ve come to realise that I hate elves in fantasy literature. No, that’s not quite right. I hate the kind of shorthand that lets fantasy writers just say ‘elves’ or ‘vampires’ or ‘merfolk’. I hate what elves have become.

I quite like the idea of fantasy literature that features woodland folk cut off from the human world, or ancient, long lived people who don’t see the point of the petty squabbles around them, or even magical creatures with faintly pointed ears who like to use intruders for archery practise.

What I hate is when people write ‘elves’ like writing it is enough. When it’s obviously shorthand for ‘I know you know what I mean, because we’ve all played too much D&D/read Tolkien’. When the things we know about them aren’t things that the author has told us, but things that we just have to assume. When their place in the world is… well, not an integral place in the world. There’s nothing about them that comes from the idea of the world. They’re just elves.

For me, strange creatures should tell us something about the world we’re in. Yet too often, what they tell us is that the writer is lifting ideas from the general mythos rather than coming up with something brilliantly unique. Or that they can’t be bothered with description.

Not too long ago, I wrote something with elves in. At least, I think they were elves. I was never really sure. I certainly never used the word. And each one was their own person, rather than just a dull fantasy cliché. That’s not a claim to any particular brilliance on my part. Pretty much anyone else could do the same easily. It’s just that sometimes, people don’t, and I really can’t see why not, when it could do so much good.


Wendy Tyler Ryan said...

Good post. I agree that some writers throw in a species just because it's the hottest thing. And... You can tell they never really wanted to write about them in the first place.

M.J. Fifield said...

A great post and I agree with you completely.

The line "I know you know what I mean because we've all played too much D&D/read Tolkien" made me laugh out loud.

Tessa Conte said...

I agree - these days, you say 'elves' and you can pretty much see the picture of Legolas (as in Orlando Bloom) appearing behind people's eyes... it's kind of sad. Even if you wanted to have different kind of elves in your story, it's impossible, or nearly so. can be fun to play with people's per-conceived ideas...

Donna Hole said...

I don't like it when authors have their own preconceived notion of what a fantasy character should look like and expect their readers to be as unimaginative as the author.

For me, saying elf or vampire or werewolf gives a certain "feel" for the type of character I'll be reading about, but doesn't give an indepth explanation of the rich cultural norms of the unique world inhabited by this particular author.

Tolkein used Elves differently than Jack Chalker did; and you certainly can't compare Charlain Harris' vampires to Bram Stoker's, or even Ann Rice. Raymond E. Feist (Faerie Tale) and Terry Brooks (Knight of the Word) used Fairy's differently than each other, and the typical Peter Pan type fairy.

Personally, I like unique characters and cultures, even if they are well known creatures. Not like you can say "American" or "Russian" and get an instant stereotype, jut because you mentioned a race, so why think all fantasy creatures are the same?