Tough Travels: Elves

Tough Travelling is normally a beginning-of-the-month post, but since it took me a little longer to get the ball rolling on this one it’s a middle-of-the-month post this time round… the plus side being I’ve had more time to ruminate on some worthy elves to list!

The Tough Travelling feature was originally created by Nathan at Fantasy Review Barn, revived on Fantasy Faction, and is now hosted by the team at The Fantasy Hive. Inspired by Diana Wynne Jones’s humorous classic The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, every month it puts the spotlight on a particular fantasy trope, theme or cliché, and invites bloggers to list stand-out books related to that week’s theme.

This month’s theme is elves

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

The Elves’ claim is borne out to some extent by the well attested fact that their flesh is less gross and substantial than that of humans.

In looks, Elves are taller and more slender than any humans, and very beautiful. Most of them appear youthful.

All Elves feel themselves superior to humans and make it very clear that they do not operate by human rules. This is true, in that many of them can do some MAGIC.

If you meet Elves, expect to have to listen for hours while they tell you how great numbers of their race have become so wearied with the thinning of the old golden wonders that they have all departed, departed into the West. This is correct; many Elves have indeed gone West, to Minnesota and thence to California, where they have great fun wearing punk clothes and riding motorbikes.”

I confess, I was worried when I saw this topic. I know as a fantasy reader I should be drowning in good suggestions for books that feature elves… but the truth is that aside from that most classic and original example provided by Tolkien, many of the elves that come to mind are from books I read so long ago I can barely remember what they were like, or if I even enjoyed reading about them or not. I guess I just don’t seek out many books with elves in them these days.

When I thought about it a little harder, however, some great examples did spring to mind, and I also realised that I’d read a lot of books with ‘Fae’ or beings from the ‘Faerie Realm’ who were essentially elves by another name – pointed ears, supernatural beauty, superior manner and all.

So in spite of my initial trepidation, I’ve still found four tales of elves that I can happily call favourites:

Artemis Fowl

Book Cover: Artemis FowlIt’s been a while since I read Artemis Fowl – it’s more of a children’s fantasy, after all – but I remember loving it, and in particular, liking Captain Holly Short.

She’s an elf, and the head of LEPrecon – a fairy police force that monitors a secret underground magical society and stops supernatural creatures from wandering illegally into the earthly human world. Throughout the series Holly finds herself entangled in the elaborate schemes of mastermind Artemis Fowl, and their reluctant and often antagonistic relationship was a key part of what made these stories so amusing and enjoyable.

The Bitterbynde Trilogy

Book Cover: The Ill-Made MuteAt first I wasn’t sure whether to include The Bitterbynde Trilogy, because the supernatural beings are often referred to as ‘The Fair Folk’ and not elves, but on reflection they are so very elvish (matching pretty much every description from the Tough Guide!) that I’ve decided they count.

These fair folk don’t appear as much in the first book, but they play a crucial role in the series, as does the link between their world and the human world. I’ll avoid mentioning my favourite elf due to spoilers, but I will say that most of the elves in this series are the dangerous kind who destroy human lives without a thought, and who you would most certainly be better off avoiding.

Although this series has some very indulgent passages (including paragraph-long lists), and drags a bit in the third book, the story has so many unexpected and fascinating elements, and such a rich world and a fairy-tale-like feel and romance, that I forgave it these flaws, and it’s still a favourite.

Throne of Glass

Book Cover: Throne of GlassThe word Fae gets used a lot in the Throne of Glass series, but they’re essentially elves: pointy ears, beautiful features, long hair, killer archery skills and all. The male elves also have an annoyingly possessive and protective streak when they find their ‘mates’, which adds an interesting dimension to things.

The series has strong romance elements as well as everything you’d expect from a fantasy: assassins, elves, dragons, shapeshifters, witches, magic, cruel fairy queens, evil forces, princes, kings, special swords, secret heirs, prophecies… I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and it does fall into rather a few clichés, but I always find it entertaining and have come to love many of the characters. It’s not finished yet, so I’m eager to see what happens in the end.

Lord of the Rings

Book Cover: The Lord of the RingsYou have to give it to Tolkien, he pretty much shaped our modern understanding of what elves are, and entrenched almost every characteristic we associate with them. He even invented the Elvish language… so it’d be remiss of me not to give The Lord of the Rings a nod for this topic.

I, like many fans, loved the friendship that developed between Legolas and Gimli, and how it flew in the face of the animosity that existed between races of the dwarves and elves. I also liked that Legolas was often far less superior and high and mighty than the other elves, so if I’ve got to pick a favourite elf for this one, I’m going to be predictable and go with Legolas.


For links to more Tough Travelling posts, or to join in yourself and see next month’s theme, check out the host page on The Fantasy Hive.

And if you have your own favourite fantasy elves, feel free to mention them in the comments!

< Last Month’s Tough Travels: ‘Snarky Sidekicks’

Next Month’s Tough Travels: ‘Shapeshifters’ >

58 thoughts on “Tough Travels: Elves

  1. I had to really think about this too! I actively avoid fantasy directly descended from Tolkien. But how about this – Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell? The Raven King is definitely elvish – slender and, it seems beautiful yet cunning and obeying nobody’s rules but his own. He was also my favoruite thing in the TV show.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes I’m also often wary of things that feel too derivative of LOTR or like they are trying to be carbon copies, though I like new versions of elves if they are done in an interesting way.

      I’ve read Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell and and I didn’t think of the Raven King, but now you mention it he was definitely very elvish! I haven’t seen the TV show but I’m curious to.


  2. Wow! I thought I’d be able to think of something.. But, going to my shelves and wracking my brain the only thing I could think of were the Fae from “The Invisible Library” series who were sort of Elven in description in looks… But, the word Fae in general mostly pertains to Fairy Folk more than Elves…Tough one!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Harry Potter has elves too. They are enslaved beings and serve a particular family. They are uncannily loyal to that family. They tend to punish themselves harshly in the event of even the smallest lapse in duty. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • You know Harry Potter is I think the only works where the elves are oppressed and also ugly/powerless. I reckon there’s more mileage in that which Rowling will return to. Maybe in Fantastic Beast 2!! 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

      • True, they’re a great example of elves that break the stereotype! They’re almost more reminiscent of goblins (though of course not so nasty) or maybe of the elves that help Santa in Christmas stories. I loved the house elves so I definitely wouldn’t mind seeing more of them!


  4. I read Artemis Fowl years ago and loved it. Unfortunately, I didn’t read the whole series, only the first 3 books if I recall correctly.

    Never heard about The Bitterbynde, I’ll check it out 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes I think I may have also only gotten 3 books in – I have trouble remembering which book I got up to! I guess they are self-contained stories so you don’t always need to continue to get a resolution.

      I hope you like Bitterbynde – I found the first book in particular really intriguing and surprising.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Great list – I’ve only read LotR off here – I feel very bad!
    I’m always puzzled about the fae and elves and the difference – I guess that’s probably because we’ve all got caught up with Tolkien’s description of elves and it’s stuck somehow – I think they’re the same aren’t they?
    I really should read Artemis Fowl.
    Lynn 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    • Well I looked at other Tough Travels lists, including yours, and hadn’t read anything except LotR (and Harry Potter) either!

      As for elves vs fae, I looked into it before writing this post and didn’t come up with anything conclusive, but I got the general sense they might once have been different but have been used interchangeably for so long it’s all gotten a bit muddled. I did see several descriptions of ‘Fae’ as a general term for a whole range of magical beings and fairy folk, with elves listed as one possible type of Fae… and that fits with the usage in a few fantasies I read so I’m going to think of it like that… for the moment anyway 🙂


  6. I’m currently reading Melissa Wright’s trilogy Freya featuring light elves, dark elves and fairies (not to mention the occasional humans, though most elves don’t believe they exist) It has me enthralled, which I guess is credit enough.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Interesting read, as usual! I really don’t read much true/traditional fantasy… I think the only Elfish works I could think of are The Hobbit (I’ve never read LOTR!!!) and the Harry Potter series (in which J K Rowling wreaks a terrible, petty vengeance on the Elven races by making them small, ugly, and enslaved)

    Anyway, I thought the fae/elf similarities were interesting, so I did some googling. Maybe you’ll find these thread curious? The second one is…. eccentric – the people in the thread seem to be talking about elves, fae, fairies, and so on from experience!

    “Elves and Fairies are from the same source material. Tolkien used the word Faerie to distinguish what he was talking about from the Victorian idea of tinkly cute fairies.

    The Fae, the Sidhe*, and the Elves are these Other People, elegant, but dangerous, who live in an alternate reality intersecting with ours.” –

    Liked by 3 people

    • Haha well for a long time I was in the reverse situation – I hadn’t read the Hobbit, only LOTR… now I’ve read both, but I still haven’t read the Silmarillion, so I obviously haven’t graduated to the highest level of traditional fantasy fandom yet 🙂

      Thanks for the links – I’ve often been confused by the words Fae and Faerie and how they relate to Fairy (especially as I’ve also seen Fae spelled Fey and Fee), but that makes a lot of sense that it was an attempt by Tolkien to suggest a different type of magical creature to the tinkly Victorian idea of fairies! It certainly worked, as now I think about it, “fairy” naturally make me think winged Tinker Bells, and “Faerie” makes me think of something more Celtic, old, and ethereal.

      Btw that second thread you linked to is gold. I liked that one person just went to the elves and asked them directly what the difference was 😂

      Liked by 2 people

      • I was thinking more like a Tall Poppy Syndrome type deal – ‘Damn those fancy elves, think they’re so great, think they’re better than humans… I know! I’ll make them kitchen slaves!!!!” 😀


    • I haven’t read Ella Enchanted but it’s on my to-read list! I hope you like Lord of the Rings when you get to it – I found the first book quite slow and difficult to get through, particularly the first half, but the two following books had me enthralled!


  8. Not sure if this counts because it’s predominantly a game franchise (though it does have some novels) but the Dragon Age has an interesting take on elves. They used to be the dominant and most advanced race in their world (like the Tolkien elves) but wars and conquest forced them into centuries of slavery and nearly all of the culture and history was lost.

    In the ‘present’, elves are no longer slaves but they are definitely second class citizens. They endure racial slurs like knife ear and rabbit and they either live under the thumb of humans in cities or in the wilderness as nomads.

    It’s an interesting take and some of the elf characters in the series have absolutely no common character traits with Tolkien’s elves (Sera, in particular).

    Liked by 2 people

    • I don’t know that game franchise, but that’s a really interesting representation of elves! In most books I’ve read elves are always superior and at the top of the hierarchy, and sometimes they are even the ones doing the enslaving… so that’s cool to see the stereotype turned on its head!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. This isn’t a book, but I enjoyed the re-imagining of elves in the Netflix movie “Bright.” Basically, elves were spoiled, uppity rich people (compared to the low-class, violent, and gang-prone orcs). It was an interesting way to make social commentary using fantasy elements.

    (Disclaimer: it’s not a great movie, and the critics tore it apart….but it WAS interesting.)

    By the way, this series of posts has inspired me to read the “Tough Guide” for myself. I already have a copy on my shelf!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You know I actually just watched ‘Bright’ last week! I know all the critics were tearing it apart, and they made some good points that I agreed with, but I still enjoyed it overall. I found the portrayal of the world and the supernatural characters interesting and quite different to other urban fantasy films I’ve seen. The elves were particularly good – I especially loved the bad elves (I’ve forgotten what they’re called) they were so freaky and scary and evil they actually gave me chills!

      Cool you are reading the Tough Guide!! I’ve been planning to at some point too… I’ve read segments of it (both for these posts and in other contexts) but never the whole thing. You’ve reminded me that I should have one on my shelf too!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. More often than not, elves in fantasy seem to follow the Tolkien trope: they are older than humans, superior in knowledge and abilities, but aloof or egotistical at times. This is why my favorite spin on elves is how they are portrayed in the Dragon Age video games. In that world, elves are hated and oppressed by humans. City elves are second-class citizens, and wild elves are regressive and tribal, rather than timeless and wise, are often at conflict with the human cities. In either case, they are not seen as superior to humans or other races, which I find to be rather unique. Thanks for sharing the topic! 😀

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I have to say I don’t read a lot of fantasy with elves in it and will mostly find the term “fae” in all of my books, ToG included. I’m not a diehard fan of the genre so I was a bit unsure whether they’d be the same thing or not, so I’m glad you clarified that 🙂
    I think Maas’ other series, A Court of Thorns and Roses, also has fae as main characters so if you haven’t read that one, maybe you’d like it.
    There are some really cool mentions here, which I plan to read sometime in the future. I never read Artemis Fowl, but I read The Wish List by the same author and wasn’t really taken by it. Maybe the writing or the fact that it felt a bit too juvenile? I don’t know. But it might be different with AF. As for LotR, so far I have no intention of delving into it just because of how massive and intricate it is, and because the movies never really appealed to me. That might change, but right now that’s where I stand.
    Thanks for sharing, Nicola! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes I think I also read a lot more books with “fae” rather than elves – maybe fae are more trendy now 😉 Btw if you like Fae and fairy-tale-ish stories, I can highly recommend Bitterbynde!
      Ah yes, I’ve actually read A Court of Thorns and Roses and really loved the beginning but was disappointed by the last half of it… however, I’ve heard good things about the sequels, also from readers who had issues with the first, so I’m still thinking of continuing it some day.
      I haven’t read The Wish List, but I think Colfer’s writing is definitely more aimed at children. I remember really loving the first books of Artemis Fowl, and I know older readers who’ve enjoyed them, but I’m keen to reread them to check if they still hold up for me now. I hope so (especially since I listed them!)
      And I think if you didn’t like the LotR movies, you might not like the books – they are very intricate (and the first book is quite slow) so you have to be into that kind of thing to enjoy them. I did, but then I also really loved the movies.
      Thanks for commenting! 🙂


      • My problem with LotR is not so much that I haven’t enjoyed the movies but more like I haven’t even been able to finish them? Seriously, I just start watching them and then minutes later loose interest. I don’t even know that much what it’s about? Only that there’s a quest for a ring xD Yes, it’s that terrible.
        I agree about The Wish List but there are so many MG books that I am able to enjoy that I no longer count that as an excuse? I don’t know. Also, did you know Artemis Fowl is getting a movie? That should be great news for you ^^
        I will definitely try the ACOTAR series, though I know the sequels are much better. And I will check out Bitterbynde as well 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • Wow LotR is one of those ones I presume everyone knows either from the films or books or both! But then for a long time I didn’t really know anything about Star Wars, and now I’ve seen most of the films I’m still not a big fan of it, so I know the feeling of finding a super popular franchise just doesn’t grab you. (Btw the quest in LotR is to take an evil ring to a mountain where it can be destroyed once and for all – so you were pretty close 🙂 )
          I didn’t know Artemis Fowl was getting a movie, that’s awesome!! Maybe I’ll end up watching that instead of re-reading it (unless I get my act together and re-read it before it comes out… we’ll see). I hope you like Bitterbynde if you read it!


        • I’m the same with Star Wars… Both are enigmas to me and I don’t get all the hype around them. Maybe one day I will 🙂
          Hahaha yay! I’m glad I’m not as ignorant as I thought xD
          Me neither, but it sounds interesting! Hopefully it’ll be just as good as the books 🙂
          And thank you! ❤

          Liked by 1 person

  12. Ah yes, I do get what you mean when it comes to elves- beyond Tolkien, I really don’t seek out books featuring them. But I *love* that you went with Artemis Fowl!! I love Holly’s antagonistic relationship with Artemis and it was such a fun series- it’s been so long since I’ve even thought about it as well! And yup, you’re right about the fae in TOG- they’re basically elves (although, now I think about it, in mythology elves are similar to fae, so my thoughts are starting to get all circular 😉 ) And Tolkien had to be on this list! Gimli and Legolas’ friendship is amazing!! Awesome post!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad you’re an Artemis Fowl fan too!! It seems to be one of these ones people read a while ago and don’t mention much, but have good memories of (I guess it was published in the early 2000s). I must reread it some time. And yeah, differentiating fae and elves can get very confusing… I just decided for my purposes they were pretty much the same thing 🙂
      Yeah I couldn’t not include Tolkien for this one, would have been heresy 😉 Thanks!!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Pingback: The Narnia Book Tag – Blame Chocolate

  14. I really enjoy Tolkien’s work and I have read all of the Artemis series. Holly is one of my favorite female characters. She has a lot of spunk and her interactions with the other characters in the book are often amusing.
    R.A Salvatore’s “The Dark Elf Trilogy” is really good also. The culture of the Dark elves is underground and revolves around a spider goddess. Other then that the elves are the typical beautiful, live forever and use magic kind. It follows the life of Drizzt, a dark elf from an underground elfish community who rejects his culture and religion. I really enjoy his character and his desire to do what is right even when the society around him says its wrong. I also like that he has a black panther as a companion. Drizzt’s adventures continue after the trilogy, but I like the first three books most.

    Liked by 1 person

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