Yep. This blog post is going to be similar to my post about unicorns I made awhile ago.
Most folktales about the fair folk come from the British Isles (although I'm well aware that the rest of Europe had these stories too!). But the ones most familiar I think are the ones from Ireland. In general, they're miserable little buggers. (Bugger is such a naughty British term. :)) Fairies would steal children, cause back luck, and make mischief. There are also courts, some good and some bad.
Elves...man I can't think of their traditional stories beyond the Elves and the Shoemaker and Santa Claus. Maybe they're the nice ones. Ah wells. Sometimes they're lumped together as the "Fair Folk".
It was when Tolkein and D&D became popular that newer notions of "elf" came about.
The Modern Day Elf/Fae
I'm sure the true origins of the modern day elf or fae can be completely traced to visual media like Hollywood and comics. (Thank you ElfQuest...I think).
The Elf is often beautiful and wise, fully of grace and somehow "better" than the human counterpart.
The Fae is more exotic, intoxicating, tricky but still somehow better than humans. (Not always prettier as it turns out).
The "Fair Folk" in the old tales were often described as cruel, but beautiful.
Of course then there are the children's version of the creatures which are always wholesome and cute. (Seriously though, I love the Disney Fairies.)
There is certainly nothing "wrong" about modern versions over the traditional. They do tell different stories now. And in ways have made the creatures very different things.
The Stories They Tell
When you read a fantasy about elves or fae, they're no longer a creature (usually) but a "race" of sentient beings. There are new expectations about what the elves are and how they act. It's quite normal now for an elf to be tall instead of short, arrogant instead of generous enough to make shoes, and often in some sort of conflict based on racism between another race in the world.
The origins of these creatures vary as either children of stars or trees or demi-gods or a cross between an angel and a human (my least favorite origin story).
In the folktales the stories were...well folky I suppose not a very drawn out engineered story about resolving conflicts or having superpowers. And that's another thing that's new. Sometimes elves have superpowers...thanks to anime and video games.
Point of this is that Fairytales have certainly changed into something else. Elves are now more visually interesting and exciting.
Getting to my Point
Old versus the new, I have to say that visually I prefer the new and think I like their role in stories better. Now that it's become a trope and general folktale of our age (I suppose), I feel it's just as acceptable. Granted most people would "blame" Tolkein for his establishments in fantasy the genre, I think that many would agree that the idea was there somehow but just not always called "elf" or "fae".
However, I do enjoy the old traditions of the fair folk for what they are. It is interesting that this is where the modern elf came from. But there are some things about the modern fair folk I don't care for. And I feel many agree with me. So here we go.
- Constant descriptions of their beauty, perfection, or awesomeness.
- Long hair
- Arrogance and general aloofness as if they're SO much better
- Half-Elves that are somehow better than elves
- Immortality (immortal creatures are boring. Long-lived is fine.)
- Forbidden romance between elf and human
- Obsession with being tree hugging/worshipping hippies OR being used as an advocate for nature vs. technology
- A general tension between elf and dwarves
- Very sexual creatures (which I guess is in their nature)
- Again with the "I'm so pretty descriptions".
- Basically being human but with bug wings
- Actually I really don't have much to complain about Fairies. They're not nearly as over-used as elves...or I just haven't been reading the right books.
So I have a few...it's no secret. My deal though is that they're really NOT elves. Nope, they're aliens from another planet. People just called them elves because that's what they looked like. The aliens just went with it. Their "powers" are just natural abilities and technology.
(And technically that IS my backstory for my elves, but it's never apparent in any of my stories so it can't be called cannon I guess.)
In general, I go with the anime stereotype, visually. But I try to write them differently and avoiding all the things I don't like about modern elves. In my current work, Song of the Brinds, Elves and Fae are a race. They don't have magic. They're not very nature based, in fact quite the opposite they're very into science and technology and rather un-religious. I guess you could say they're still arrogant but it's the type of arrogance that the Imperialists had about developing nations. That's different than say arrogance towards humans because humans are like little children incapable of learning in their short years of life.
In another story I'm doing about fairies, because it's more of a children's tale I take the Disney Fairy Tale route.
And I've taken up enough of your time. This was very much a fluff post.
But in short, movies and video games and comics have changed fantasy forever. Deal.