Thursday, October 23, 2014

Tough Travels – Elves

Every Thursday, Nathan (over at Fantasy Review Barn) leads the gang in touring the mystical countryside, looking for fun and adventure. His Tough Traveling feature picks one of the most common tropes in fantasy each week, as seen in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynn Jones, and invites us to join in the adventure. All are invited to take part, so if you're joining the journey late, no worries . . . we'll save you a spot in the caravan.

This week’s tour topic is: ELVES

ELVES claims to have been the first people in Fantasyland. They are called the Elder Race. They did not evolve like humans, but sprang into being just as they are now.

For starters, how can you talk about elves and not mention The Lord of the Rings? Arwen, Elrond, Galadriel, and Legolas are some of the most prominent and most memorable characters from Middle Earth. Essentially immortal, impossibly beautiful, and possessed of inhuman senses, they are wise old guardians of the land who have slipped slowly away into secrecy and hiding. Tolkien was hardly the first to write about elves, but he defined them in a way that would inspire the genre forevermore.



As important as Tolkien is, however, my first exposure to elves was through the Dragonlance Chronicles by Weis and Hickman. Divided into the Qualinesti and the Silvanesti, the elves here owe a lot to Tolkien's influence, but are very much a race in their own right. Alhana, Laurana, and Gilthanas are undoubtedly the most memorable of the elves, but it's the appropriately named Tanis Half-Elven whose inner turmoil and racial struggles really add something unique to the tale.




Of course, if you're going to talk about the Qualinesti and the Silvanesti, then you also have to talk about their dark, underground dwelling Drow of The Legend of Drizzt. Theirs is an incredible sort of anti-elven civilization, with a race of subterranean dark elves who live in the caverns of Menzoberranzan and worship the Spider Queen. Drizzt Do'Urden, a heroic exile from Menzoberranzan, is the hero of Salvatore's never-ending saga, bringing with him a different exploration of the racial prejudices faced by Tanis Half-Elven,



The first fantasy saga I can remember to do something a little different with the concept of elves was Guy Gavriel Kay's Fionavar Tapestry. Featuring both light elves (lios alfar) and dark elves (svart alfar), Kay's elves are almost Nordic in nature. The light elves are the most like Tolkien's, existing in a beautiful northern land that they're wrapped in a perpetual mist of protection, but the dark elves are something else entirely - small, warped, disgusting creatures that eat men and elves alike.



Another author to put a different spin on elves is Tad Williams with his Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy. Here, the Sithi are largely what we'd expect - long-lived, fair-skinned, and magical - but they have a decided Asian influence in their names, their clothing, and their culture. They're a mysterious, mythical race, but their history has a huge role to play in the fate of the world.





Finally, we have to circle back to Tolkien's elves once again and talk about The Sword of Shannara, which puts elves (and elf stones) at the forefront of the tale. While Brooks has been accused (unfairly, I think) of simply retelling Tolkien's classic, there's a mythology here that's quite unique. The elves of Brooks' tale are the last of the worlds magical creatures (although they are no longer immortal), living in one of two communities - that of the sky elves and that of the land elves.

9 comments:

  1. Great minds think alike. :) I mean, we went for mostly the same elves. But I have to admit I totally whiffed on "The Fionavar Tapestry." Not sure how I forgot those elves.

    Great list!

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    1. Comes with being Canadian - you're simply not allowed to forget GGK. :)

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  2. I see Brooks is popping up all over the place. I've not read any of his so far. Just bought two of the Dark Legacy of Shannara - I dare say I've picked something in the middle or end instead of the beginning!!
    You have to mention LotR - it would be rude not to!
    Lynn :D

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    1. Yeah, it's hard not to bring up Tolkien and Brooks, especially if you grew up reading fantasy in the 80s.

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  3. Whoa, GGK's Fionavar Tapestry has elves? That's something I need to check out. I've read a few of his books, but somehow never had a chance to pick up anything in that series.

    And nice to see you join in for Tough Traveling :D

    ~Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

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    1. Fionavar was his one-and-only stab at traditional epic fantasy. He really pulled back on the magical aspects and stuck with more historical fantasy after that.

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  4. Heh. Guess how many of those I have read! If you guessed one, you would be correct. I did try to read the first Dragonlance book a year ago, but I think you have to have grown up with it.

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    1. I think you're right about all things TSR (or whatever they call themsleves nowadays). I've tried revisiting Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms, but neither seems to hold up to the years. Still, great memories there - I wouldn't be a fantasy fan had it not been for Dragonlance.

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