Saturday, July 30, 2005

The Matter of Elves

I've been re-reading Terry Pratchett's Lords and Ladies for the first time in years, and found I had forgotten just how obnoxious his elves are in comparison to Tolkien's wise and beautiful beings. Magrat Garlick, Pratchett's "wet hen" witch who is about to become the Queen of Lancre in this book, thinks of elves as being like cats - they have pointed ears and hair you want to stroke, but they're as self-centred and cruel as cats too - they enjoy playing with people or animals in a hurtful way. Although Pratchett describes his elves as being beautiful, he indicates that this is because they use a glamour to disguise their true nature from humans, so that humanity can be tricked into accepting them. The most telling part of Lords and Ladies in this respect is this:

Elves are wonderful. They provoke wonder.
Elves are marvellous. They cause marvels.
Elves are fantastic. They create fantasies.
Elves are glamorous. They project glamour.
Elves are enchanting. They weave enchantment.
Elves are terrific. They beget terror.
(L&L, pp 122-23)

As far as Pratchett is concerned, elves are not admirable, they are evil and terrifying, and one of the best ways to counteract their influence is to carry iron. Pratchett's elves, in fact, are more akin to the cradle-robbing fairies of myth than they are to the wise and immortal elves of Middle-earth. They appear to have no imagination or real emotions, so they are fascinated by children, musicians and artists.

Of course, Pratchett is not the only author to portray evil Elves: R A Salvatore wrote The Dark Elf Trilogy; there are dark elves in Dragonlance, who are guilty of various crimes and have therefore been cast out from their communities. Dark elves also feature in the Dungeons and Dragons game realm. Although not all "dark elves" are evil, they are in the majority. Tolkien also created Dark Elves, in The Silmarillion, but the term there has less to do with good and evil, and far more to do with the fact that the Dark Elves, Moriquendi, had not seen the Light of the Two Trees.

Of course, Terry Pratchett set out to parody post-Tolkienian fantasy when he created the Discworld, and in his creation of the elves he has certainly succeeded.

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