Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Elven Hauteur: Tropes Given Definition

One of the many (many) tropes a reader can expect from any high/epic fantasy is the inclusion of a variety of mystical and mythical races; dragons, elves, dwarves, just to name a few.  If the novel includes elves (I suppose more a question of when), there is almost certainly an element of cultural hauteur involved.  Elves are portrayed to have chip on their shoulder, a sense that even speaking with humans is beneath them, somehow a chore.  Like humanity was a stray dog quietly pacing around a picnic table, accepted as being there but not really accepted for being there.
When I was scratching notes during my world building phase, one of the many things I needed to work was, of course, where and how the elves would fit into the story.  What relevant parts of their history could I weave into the narrative without containing some dreaded info-dump?  Would they have this seemingly ubiquitous stigma against the other races?  If so, two questions that I assured myself I would answer were: “How?” and “Why?”
World building can quickly become a rabbit hole that you can find yourself too deeply dug into.  Thankfully, this wasn’t one of them, partly because of a previous effort to determine the pantheon of gods and their conflict.  This conflict occurred millennia ago, and a single piece of scribble seemed to answer most of my questions:
“the elves were created by and were the primary fighting force of the Second Pantheon.”
Someone or a group from amongst the Second Pantheon of gods created the elves as part of the feye races, imbuing them with abilities, intellect and characteristics that made them particularly powerful as a race – not individually the most powerful, but collectively they produced the greatest synergies amongst the feye.  They were the most intelligent of generals, the most powerful of the mages, etc.  They fought this war alongside the other feye (dragons, treants, nymphs, etc) and their gods, against the First Pantheon who used and led their creations, the less refined but more physically powerful races (leviathans, orks, goblins, etc).
“All this occurred before humans were even conceived as a race.”
This note, along with the previous one provided the perspective I needed.  The cultural hauteur exists in context to their experiences in those god-wars and watching the humans crawl into existence, collect into tribes and eventually form the kingdoms/collectives in the current setting for my manuscript.  For all intents and purposes, the elves in Ihr’Vessen are the only super-power in existence, and they recently had to make room for the humans.  They still see the humans as lesser beings that have yet to live up their potential and possibly vie for overall stewardship of the realms.  Are the humans of the J’in Empire prepared for the task?  Can the clans of the Plainsfolk assume the mantle of responsibility?  Would the barons of the Free States suffice?
For all interaction between elf and human, a certain paradigm had to occur, one where humanity was at a distinctly perceived disadvantage (from both perspectives); the same would need to occur with the other races, in some cases much less so than others.  Humans would be viewed as inferior, not yet worthy of respect; humans conversely have a minority complex, always viewing themselves as less capable and less powerful.  They may be approaching parity, but not as of yet.  And so, I was left wondering how this arc would or could play out into the narrative.  I had some fun at my characters’ expense when humans started interacting with elves, but the progression of this worthiness was something I wanted to explore.  Humans start at about a mongrel level of expectation and acceptance.  Slowly, I want to see how that could be altered or changed.
For now, the elves remain the haughty, cool and indifferent bunch they always seem to be.  They are so much better at things and so much more powerful, long-lived and capable than the flash-in the-pan accumulation of knowledge and power the humans are limited to.  Would many of the elves consider it beneath them to interact with humans?  Likely.  Would they see any military intervention as simply “saving the humans from themselves, yet again?”  Very likely.  Hopefully this is a two-dimensional trope I’ll be able to somehow twist and bend a little, provide the reader with the context they need to accept the elven perspective, as opposed to simply slapping the reader with the ‘elves are l33t!’


  1. I don't think it is anything other than natural for elves to hold unusual attitudes towards shorter-lived races. If I try to imagine myself as a human being immortal, I would also have such an attitude toward the other humans who live such short lives that they seem to pass by at the flick of an eyelash. An elf in my story has been alive for more than forty thousand years, and I have to logically portray her interactions with humans--it would just be wrong of me to have them treat each other as pure equals!

  2. Pretty much bang-on to what I was trying to convey. Like you said, live long enough and you see things entirely differently than younger generations and cohorts (even among us humans); the effect would be multiplied a number of times the further one ages in difference. I just wanted to give some background, some texture to the elven hauteur my characters would experience. Sometimes all that world building provides a nugget or two to lace into the narrative though.