Sunday, 12 June 2016

From Elven To Elfin

Elves dwindled in folklore but were revived in fiction.

(i) Poul Anderson wrote that elves were originally gods. Warship crews returning home removed dragon heads in order not to offend the elves. -The Broken Sword (London, 1977), p. 10. Does this prove that elves had been gods?

(ii) In any case, by the time Northern Europeans began to write, elves had become tutelaries like Greek dryads or Japanese kami. Some attend the gods.

(iii) Tall, fair "light elves" inhabit Alfheim whereas Svartalfheim, "home of the dark elves," is probably inhabited by dwarves rather than by a different kind of elf.

(iv) Folkloric elves shrank into sprites and lost their connection with dwarves.

(v) The medieval and Renaissance realm of Faerie retained beautiful, magical inhabitants of human size.

(vi) Tolkien restored light elves, making them also wise and benevolent. I have thought that Tolkien's elves were unlike the diminutive folkloric variety and more like gods - powerful beings, "elven," not "elfin."

(vii) Young Poul Anderson, writing The Broken Sword, made ninth century gods and elves amoral and ruthless like the people who had imagined them and as they are shown in the Eddas and sagas.

(viii) Anderson writes in his Foreword to The Broken Sword that this text contains some scientific rationalization although I do not see it there. It is in his "Interloper" and Operation Luna. The rationalization that he mentions is the idea that magic is mental control of external phenomena and that a race exercising such control would be able to live indefinitely and change shape. Their metabolism was unable to bear sunlight and reacted disastrously with iron. Their technological advances included alloys of nonferrous metals, ships with frictionless hulls and anachronistic castles but their conservative, aristocratic, warrior culture would not develop science very far and therefore would not have gunpowder or steam engines.

(ix) Rupert Bear adventures with an ecological bureaucracy including Elves of Autumn, Imps of Spring and a Clerk of the Weather.

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

Commenting on your Points (vi) and (vii): JRR Tolkien HATED how the elves of legend and folklore had dwindled to diminutive, childlike sprites. And like Poul Anderson in your Point (vii) he did show in THE SILMARILLION how some elves could be as ruthless and amoral as any of the elves we see in Anderson's THE BROKEN SWORD or THREE HEARTS AND THREE LIONS. The elves we see in THE HOBBIT and THE LORD OF THE RINGS are what they BECAME after experiencing sorrow, grief, loss, and hard won wisdom.