Go, elves!

Those of you who know all about my love for elves will appreciate why I’m linking to this.

Need I say more?

Actually, I probably do.  Those of you who are not uber-geeks may not realize that it’s trendy within fantasy writer circles (and uber-geek circles) to look down your noses at any fiction containing the “e-word” as a blatant Tolkien rip-off.  Because Tolkien invented the word elf, right?  (Well, no, he didn’t, but never mind that.)  This whole anti-elf-snobbery irritates me to no end, especially since I’m trying to write an epic fantasy series with elves in it, which I don’t think is a Tolkien rip-off, and it would be nice if someone paid me money for it one of these days.

What makes it even more irritating is that it’s apparently perfectly acceptable to have a physically attractive species of mystical long-lived hominids in your short story or novel, as long as you don’t call them elves.  They can even have pointy ears.  It’s just the word that pushes people’s buttons.  Seriously.  I have a short story that I’ve been trying to sell, in which one of the characters is an elf, and although it hasn’t been accepted, I have yet to receive any negative feedback from editors on that character’s obvious elfness.  Because in that story, I changed the name of his species.  I won’t tell you what I changed it to, but it still sounds a lot like elf.  Whereas when I do use the word elf in other short stories set in the same world (featuring the same elves), any feedback from editors tends to include disparaging comments about the elfness of those characters.

I insist on using the word elf in some of my stories (and in my novel), despite obvious reasons not to do so, because I’m writing about cultures where humans have interacted with this other species for thousands of years.  If there were a real world where that were the case, I think the humans who had the most interaction would use a word that felt familiar to them.  “Elf” is the closest familiar English word to the type of alien people I’m trying to describe.  That’s why I use it.  (The story in which I used a different word has a human protagonist from a culture that hasn’t interacted with these folk nearly as much, so they seem more alien and weird to her; hence I decided it made sense to use an invented word instead of a familiar English word.)

Anyway, go read the article I linked to on the Black Gate blog (and thanks to Donald for bringing it to my attention).

This entry was posted in writing and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Go, elves!

  1. Tim Akers says:

    I honestly feel bad that the fantasy I’m working on right now *doesn’t* have elves in it. But that’s ok. The next one does.

  2. Kristin says:

    I like non-elf fantasy, too!

  3. Bob Keenan says:

    Hi Kristin, fellow SW&W anthologista!

    Yep, DL’s Labor of Love includes a piece from me, as well, a reprint, “Inheritance for Dummies,” from his online zine.

    BTW, you can say “elf” another way and stay quite true to its meaning. Try “Shidhe,” the Celtic name (pronounced “Shehee”) for the High Elves of Irish mythology. In fact, when I first read the Hobbit sooooo many years ago it’s scary, I thought Tolkien had used the Shidhe as his role model. Alas, not, he was more influenced by Norse/Germanic legends, though some do insist the Celtic myths played some role.

    I’ve about five chapters of an urban legend tale where elves are quite prominent. Your experience doesn’t give me much hope, not that the publishers’ attitude will stop me, being a thick headed Hibernian myself.

    All the best,
    Bob Keenan

  4. Kristin says:

    Hi Bob,

    I haven’t gotten my copy of the anthology yet, but I look forward to reading your story!

    It seems that there’s more dislike of fantasy with elves if it’s epic fantasy than if it’s urban fantasy, because people are less likely to assume that the author is cribbing from Tolkien.

    Good luck with your own elf fiction!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *