Quite some time ago, I wrote a piece about why I’m not so fond of Elves in fantasy fiction. While I’m still anything but a fan of our pointy-eared perfectionists, I think that hating something without offering any suggestions for improvement is just…lame. Everyone can be a hater, but it takes constructive criticism and feedback to actually improve something. That’s why today, I want to take a look at how I would approach the old fantasy trope with the long hair and even longer lifespans. I’ll tell you which traits I would keep, but how I would put those into two new and different settings. Leave your lembas at home, it would just feel out-of-place where we’re going!
The good stuff
To start off, let me admit that I think Elves have a few good traits. First of all, I’m a big fan of their natural knack for magic. The reason for that is that I just love “naturally magical” races. The problem in most settings is that these races are your run-off-the-mill perfect Elves, which presents a dilemma to me. However, if the natural aptitude for sorcery is toned down or used in a specific way in the setting, I think that it can work in favor of the Elves’ coolness. Next to their thing for spellcasting, I actually like their long lifespans, and I’m even down with it when they’re practically immortal. After all, it offers many possibilities for drama: what would you do if the world around you changes ever so rapidly, while you just endure? Would you succumb to a longing for “the old days”, or would your wisdom offer counsel to the mighty and powerful? If Elves are the only race with a long lifespan in the world, it gives them a unique position compared to other races and opens up stories of family dramas and vendetta spanning centuries.
These two traits combined make Elves still very potent, especially when put into a setting where magic is a powerful tool. Imagine what a single Elf, who is able to live for centuries, could do when using his magical powers. Now, imagine that there’s an entire race of these, all born with a source of great power. Trust me, not all of them would use that power responsible, and that’s what I’m basing the following two interpretations of Elves on: the Nazi Elves and the Rebel Elves.
For the pointy-eared Führer
Let me say that I do not sympathize with anything the Nazi regime stood for. Just like every totalitarian state, Nazi Germany was a cruel and malicious engine of destruction, leaving a scar in not just a country’s history, but that of the entire world. With that being said, history provides us with ample inspiration for the reinterpretation of Elves. Let me run you through the birth of the Third Reich:
- World War I (or the Great War for all you Brits) ends, Germany is considered the loser and gets stripped of pretty much everything: cash, resources, land and most of all honor and dignity.
- Germany becomes the laughing stock of Europe, and no one really pays attention to the broken country.
- Hitler and his followers ascend to power, speaking to the boiling rage in a country that has been shoved into the dirt. Surrounding nations are like “meh”, thinking that Germany won’t try anything again.
- Hitler starts running the show, kicking off a regime of racism and warmongering, charging into neighbouring countries with ease.
- Many nations are now like “ehhh”, but still, no one really does anything.
- The world blinks once, and the Nazis cover most of Europe. World War II is in full swing.
Alright, this might just be one interpretation of history, but it’s the one that’s relevant to our little brainstorm here. What if the Elves in a setting were like Germany before WW2? What if they were also kicked and spit on, receiving the blame for a terrible war they were not fully responsible for? What if this enraged all of elfkind, and before the other races of the world knew it, these long-living, spell-slinging guys are all over the place, conquering countries and executing everyone who is not of their pure, perfect race? What if, unlike the Nazis, they would succeed, winning the war and ruling the world with an iron fist?
In such a world, Elves would be the master race, and could you really blame them for thinking that? They are practically immortal, and each and every one of them is a potential magical weapon of mass destruction. The Elves would rule their designated pieces of the world like demigods, keeping their blood pure and forcing the other races into slavery. Who will stop them? A great question, and certainly the start of an epic tale. However, far more interesting in this setting is that it takes one of the things I hate about Elves, and corrupts it through their rage and distorted perception of their own people. I’m talking about perfection.
Now, in this setting, Elves aren’t perfect. If they were, they wouldn’t have been the great joke of the setting before conquering the world. However, they are pretty damn special. Once they succeed in their rise to power, they will see their success as proof of their “divine mandate” to rule. Every newborn Elf will be groomed to be a leader, conqueror and all-out winner. This conviction of being perfect, of being chosen to rule all the world will be the driving force behind the Nazi Elves…and eventually, it will be their downfall.
So, this concludes part 1 of “Fixing Elves”. In the second part, I’ll be presenting you with a completely different twist on Elves, and a few closing words on making almost every classic fantasy race look unique in cool. In the mean time, I’d like your input. Would you read a story or play a game in which the Elves were coat-wearing, genocide-causing supremecists? Do you think that this is a touchy subject? Shout out in the comments!