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.