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:
It’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
At 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
The 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
You 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!