Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Random Thoughts: Those Awful Elves, Unacceptable Even in Their Own Times, Unaccountably Shocking, and the Sparkle Treatment

Okay, y’all. Let’s get this straight. “The Good Folk” are not good. They are scary as hell. People have these euphemisms for elves and fairies because the are utterly terrified of them. It’s sort of like Robert E. Lee referring to Yankees as those people or maybe like when I get into an argument with someone on the internet and start calling them sir. The honorific signifies just how much outright loathing lies just beneath the surface of these otherwise flowery phrases.

They are not like us. You don’t even believe in God, but you somehow want to categorize them as being “all God’s children.” You think medieval Christians were just being bigoted when they classified them as being more akin to demons or vampires. You are so hung up on some kind of watered down materialistic naturalism that you reflexively want to treat them as just another human being with pointy ears.

That’s stupid. You should be afraid of them. They have the capacity to do far worse things than merely kill you. Your conviction that there’s no such things are souls or the supernatural will not protect you from them. To get a grip on just how alien they are, you’d do far better to read H. P. Lovecraft or William Hope Hodgson than whatever fairy tales you grew up on. Because they violate every conception of reality that we have.

Their motives are utterly inscrutable. They want our children. They replace our children with changelings. God knows how exactly they make these doppelgangers, but they do. And you have no idea… no idea what they need human babies for. No idea!

They are not just unnatural. They are not just uncanny. They are the personification of pure chaos and they are inimical to everything we take for granted. So stop romanticizing them. Stop giving them the “noble savage” treatment. Stop making them into the stock standard “Mary Sue” race of every fantasy setting you work up.

Elves and fairies should scare the hell out of you. They are more dangerous than vampires, more cruel than trolls, and more weird than Cthulhu. We have a lot of stories and fables designed to cover up that fact. I don’t care about St. Christopher or St. Muirgen or St. Senara.  The Church was dead wrong about this stuff if they thought these things were redeemable. They only had the luxury to make such pronouncements because other people before them actually dealt with the threat. After all, it’s easy to be magnanimous when the things you fear have largely been eradicated.

bhalsop: Look at any author from the past, and ask if s/he is acceptable to modern forms and sensibilities. Most would not be, but we still read Dickens and Thomas Hardy because they wrote so well about the mores of their time. Somehow scifi writers aren’t given that same courtesy.

Jeffro: The question is whether we would be acceptable to them.

Timid1: Or whether they were acceptable to their own times and sensibilities. I wonder how “radical” some really were. For example, Dickens had social commentary in his writing, but was it really daring for his place and time, or was it what his audience wanted to hear?

Jeffro: Lovecraft was more than likely beyond the pale even in his own day. And the answer to that is, “we don’t care.” I mean really… so what?

This kind of shunning, purging, and contempt is never directed at icons of the left. I mean for all their talk of the crime of “erasing people from history”, these schmucks sure seem to do a lot of it. It’s just another face of the sort of ritualized denunciation that passes for intellectual/academic critique today. It is literally retarded. Disingenuous. Bankrupt. It’s the bailiwick of ignorant hacks that have nothing better to do than gin up yet another pointless “Two Minutes Hate” in order to suck up to the cool kids.

And about Lovecraft? His stories are superb. They’re positively timeless. His influence is stunning. His foibles and peccadilloes and all around wrongheadedness are probably the least interesting thing about him. If you are the sort of person that reflexively denounces him every time his name comes up it’s only because you think that such displays will cause the real Lovecraftian horrors of today to eat you last.

Of course, it never works that way, does it…?


There’s so much like that. They keep telling me that it never went out of style, that fashions haven’t changed near as much as I’m saying. But that doesn’t explain why the old stuff is like water to a man stranded in a desert. It is different. Maybe elements of it never quite went away, but getting it straight and unvarnished is unaccountably shocking. I don’t think you can know what we’ve actually lost without slowing down, stepping back, and actually reading the older works.

The reason you don’t really do anything in your campaign with gods and demi-gods beyond just declaring they’re where cleric spells come from is that there’s really nothing else the players need them for. You’ve basically given elves and goblins and witches the Stephenie Meyer “sparkly vampire” treatment– we collectively neutered the supernatural before she even started writing. There is no threat that the players can’t deal with by simply rolling for initiative, brandishing magic weapons, or running away.

10 responses to “Random Thoughts: Those Awful Elves, Unacceptable Even in Their Own Times, Unaccountably Shocking, and the Sparkle Treatment

  1. Stevie June 4, 2015 at 11:59 am

    Just to say that I really appreciated you coming over to File770; as I’ve said before, it’s great when people discover stuff they love.

    Also, I see you are in agreement with Terry Pratchett’s view of elves, though his character Granny Weatherwax was rather ruder than you; his ‘Lords and Ladies’ was published in 1992, and it remains one of my favourite books.

    • jeffro June 4, 2015 at 12:02 pm

      Ah, hey… my pleasure. It’s good to get out of the old echo chamber now and then…!

      Also: Interesting. You are the second person this week to refer me to Terry Pratchett on this topic. Thank you for the tip.

  2. L. Beau Macaroni June 8, 2015 at 12:57 pm

    I like your take on elves, more in keeping with the frightening legends recorded by early folklorists like the Brothers Grimm than the Tolkeinesque “good people” view of elves that D&D style fantasy (which includes stuff like World of Warcraft) has drifted towards.

    This is not to say that I dislike Tolkein’s elves – I actually have a lot of respect for the late Oxford don and his work. But his elves were more like a “Golden Age” race of man, as opposed to the “Iron Age” mortal men found elsewhere in Middle-earth (or by implication, our own world.) I think that the concept of successive “races of man”, each less knowledgable and physically robust than the ones that came before them, is an apt image of the relationship between Tolkein’s elves and his mortal characters. The works of classical authors like Hesiod spell out this descent of the current mortal, fallible race of humans even more explicitly than Tolkein, but I view the two presentations as related.

    The Tolkein-inspired view of elves stands in stark contrast to the capricious and deadly creatures called elves in a lot of European folklore. These are the child-abductors of legend – if not evil, at least alien to mainstream human mores.

    What do elves do with the mortal babes the rob from the cradle? A Gamemaster might not need to have a ready answer to that question, but the “you don’t know” approach will require a certain amount of cooperation from any players who wish to play the mysterious “fair folk.”

    • jeffro June 8, 2015 at 1:03 pm

      Tolkien’s elves are better than he gets credit for… but a bastardization of his work was used to “sparklify” fantasy for an entire generation. I don’t think he would have appreciated it much.

  3. dwarzel June 8, 2015 at 11:56 pm

    A pertinent quote from Pratchett’s Lords and Ladies that seems to line up with your conceptualization (just to give you an idea, as you maybe don’t want to jump into a new series on book fourteen):

    “Elves are wonderful. They provoke wonder.
    “Elves are marvellous. They cause marvels.
    “Elves are fantastic. They create fantasies.
    “Elves are glamorous. They project glamour.
    “Elves are enchanting. They weave enchantment.
    “Elves are terrific. They beget terror.
    “The thing about words is that meaning can twist just like a snake, and if you want to find snakes look for them behind words that have changed their meaning.
    “No one ever said elves are nice.”

  4. Daddy Warpig June 13, 2015 at 8:31 pm

    If elves are both alien and (coincidentally, callously) inimical (see Rick Cook’s Wiz Biz series for elves just like this, to where asking them for a favor invites destruction, and also “Faerie” by Raymond E. Feist) then how can they be PC’s in an RPG?

    Their inscrutability was the source of their menace, and was based on NOT knowing what exactly their culture and psychology was like. When one plays a Fae, that mystery and arbitrariness is stripped away, and the lore becomes common among all players / readers.

    More, if they are exceptionally casual towards human lives an interests, in player hands that tends to become “always chaotic evil”. As monsters, this approach works INCREDIBLY well (and is my preferred approach for the alien fae), but as PC’s it seems not to work as well.

    I comment, because I’m dealing with this issue in making my own campaign world right now, and I’m not sure how to handle it, other than making PC’s outcasts or even changelings: fae raised by humans. (That seems WAY too X-Men, though.)

    Food for thought, in any case.

  5. Daddy Warpig June 13, 2015 at 8:33 pm

    Also, what works would you suggest that illuminate the inimical nature of the fae? “King of Elfland’s Daughter”?

    • jeffro June 14, 2015 at 4:48 am

      My two favorites for that right now are “The King of Elfland’s Daughter” and “The Broken Sword”. The first one is maybe a little dry and whimsical. The second one seems to be written in response to it. Although “Elves as Chaos” originated in “Three Hearts and Three Lions”, these other two books show more that the nature of the elves is hardwired into all the world building stuff. If you switch to a basically materialistic setting (like a lot of people do), then you lose the stuff that makes them alien.

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