Cold Iron & Rowan-Wood

May 18, 2009

Sidhe considered harmful

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — Sam @ 3:22 pm

The Fair Folk, the Daoin Sidhe, the Tylwyth Teg. Elves. Fairies. Bloody nuisances, the lot of them.

These are an integral part of the Matter of Britain. Strange, beautiful, wonderful people, inside the hollow hills or sleeping under mountains. A race apart, creeping through the shadowed country just beyond our habitations, with their odd clothes and their enchanting ethnic art and their primitive technology.

And they’re my ancestors. So I resent their expropriation into a race of magical twinkly beings, living in cowslip blossoms or in harmony with the peaceful woodlands around their treehouse towns… or sideways to the sun, in the land under the hollow hills, with their beautiful things and their pointy ears and their gorgeous long hair. (Also, motorbikes. A disproportionate amount of modern-day fantasy about elves and fairies also features motorbikes. For instance, Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks – a book about which I have very little to say, except that the first time I read it it was by Mercedes Lackey.)

JRR Tolkien, of course, started off the modern fashion for elves, and most of the modern imagery for them. His elves are nearly all pompous windbags (Elrond, Celeborn) or presumptuous prats (Legolas, though he improves massively over the course of the book. Haldir doesn’t). Galadriel, of course, just rocks, but then she’s a Noldor rather than one of the Teleri. A lot of his inheritors, though, valued image over theme, and wrote about proud, reserved defenders of the woodlands, vegetarians in green tights with harps and bows and pointy ears, so that any gamer for decades could instantly get into character. (They usually also had Adjectivenoun names, in the classic American Fantasy style. That’s something else I want to write about later.)

Tolkien’s theme, in using elves, wasn’t to hold them up as something special and wonderful. The things and places of elves are too perilous for mortals to keep or stay in for long – elves may not have bad intentions in themselves, but their presence changes mortals irrevocably. Something like the way being exposed to Radiation of a Type Unknown to Science makes you into either a superhero or a broken mutant.

His imitators, on the other hand, tend to be more of the What These Guys Need Is A Mortal school of thought. The pointy-eared bastards are proud, arrogant, ancient, and possessed of Mystic Wisdom and badass sniper skillz, but somehow also strangely ineffective compared to the Heroes.

Also, the word “elf” makes nearly everyone think of pointy hats and little hammers.

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