A few thoughts on a Tolkien Topic: Elves
by, 23/Jul/2013 at 11:07 PM (22028 Views)
This is the post where I readily confess that of all of Tolkien’s races, none has been as frustrating to me as the race of elves. I could write a lore post about this, but at the same time, I’m not really interested in discussing the lore of it.
Obviously, I am not referring here to Plaza’s elves or Plaza’s elven areas. I have nothing against the members of these areas, nor their love for this race. It just so happens that Tolkien’s elves stand out in a hundred different and eminently pertinent ways.
In his movies, PJ describes them as “immortal, wisest, and fairest”. And to the ignoramus reading the books for the first time, that’s exactly what they are. There is a ... fairness... in their very conception, that makes you feel as though the company of an elf would somehow wash you, the person, the reader, of the many indignities of your daily life.
Of course, the Lord of the Rings is not about elven kind; in fact they are less prominent than all the other races, and achieve less than any other. But one can nevertheless not help it at first sight; their otherworldly nature, which is freely visible in their completely fey states of mind, are moreso enthralling because they are so marginal, so measured, and so... non-central. In a sense, in the Lord of the Rings, all that is elven is fair, and so of course, the ten-year old reader that I once was would wonder the reverse: is all that is fair elven?
Many Plazanites (and I daresay many Tolkien fans) are...wounded souls. People looking for fairness and poetry, for a new world to escape to. And it is perfectly understandable to me that they, and all other Sci-Fi fans, would start out idolizing the elves. Not because they are perfect (I think the Silm is pretty clear on the colossal mistakes they have made through their history). But because, just like Eowyn in RoTK, in them we ardently desire “only a shadow and a thought: a hope of glory and great deeds, and lands far from the fields” of our mundane daily lives.
In this respect, elves are awesome, much more awesome than humans, who are subject to the same faults as we are, but lack the refined mien and capacity for beauty... much more awesome than dwarves, which although quite strong need anyone and everyone, be he fan of film-maker, to make beard jokes, much more awesome than the Istari, who in choosing to seem like old men fail to satisfy the thirst for grandeur and recognition, that many fans carry deeply within their hearts. Elves, however, do all that and more.
In turn, therein lies the rub. I don’t really need to explain this, I think everyone understands me: you see, the number of Plazanites who’ve confided in me that elves have a Mary-Sue sort of perfection to them, or who are irritatingly “polished”, or that “they got all the good perks” is quite large. I wish I had counted, but... I did not.
One writer that I personally adore is Isabel Allende; and this quote of hers, made during a TED talk, applies to both nice people and elves:“Nice people with common sense do not make interesting characters. They only make good former spouses.” And it is true: from a storytelling point of view, elves are boxed in by their very own shiny mien. By having only superficial flaws that anyone can see from a mile away, or not at all, they essentially do their own race a disservice.
From then on, of course, a storyteller has a few avenues to explore: either, like the writer of a certain webcomic featuring a white-haired elf protagonist, you turn the trope on its head and make elves a perfectly evil race; or you do the Forgotten Realms thing, and send them off to live on the Island of Evermeet, with only the “less perfect” members of the race daring to brave the wilds where others reside. Or, like Peter Jackson, you invent the elven equivalent of the “plebs”_ which, according to one actress by the name of Evangeline Lily (playing “Tauriel”) we are about to discover. Though how being “common” will work, when what we admire is inherent, not acquired... we shall see.
That said, I am forgetting the final option: turn the trope on its head a different way, change the elves physical appearance into something infinitely smaller and frail, make them slaves, and assign them to serve a bunch of spellcasters while wearing a tea cosy (sorry, I meant towel) each. Yes, I am referencing JK Rowling; her take on the “house elf” was, to me, an eye-watering surprise, though not an unwelcome one (because the characters make sense as they are).
I’d love to hear your views on this matter_ as RPers and storytellers.