Save The Elves!!!
The only thing worse than being embarrassed – that squirmy, wormy, queasy embarrassment, like when your pants rip open during an assembly, or when you fall off your bike in front of that girl (or guy) you really like in Grade Three – the only thing worse than that sort of embarrassment is when you don’t feel it for yourself, but for somebody else.
I’d much rather contend with my own feelings of inadequacy than to feel the sympathetic ache of seeing the toothaching, gut-wrenching, soul-crushing humiliation of those who do not deserve to be the objects of – well, not public mockery, but public reduction. It’s a horrible feeling.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am embarrassed for the elves.
No, really. I am. Once upon a time, elves and fairies (and brownies, and sprites, and pixies, but let’s keep this under control) were sort of merry shadow folk that lived in the woods and had rings of toadstools and stood up to about your knee and were basically Another Reason Not To Go In The Forest, in a time when going in the forest was a Very Bad Idea, particularly if you were young enough not to know better.
If you stepped into an fairy ring, or ate fairy food, you’d be a resident in the Land of the Fairies for a good long while, and when you got back you’d still be young but all your friends would be old, gray, and dead. Elves also provided a pretty good explanation as to why young John or Jane or Lyssander was just not quite…right. They didn’t have Down’s Syndrome back in the day, nor any psych evaluations as we know them now, so the kids that were born different… well, they were changelings.
So yeah. Elves. Fairies. Little fellers causin’ trouble and, if the spirit moves them, making shoes for widowed cobblers. Elves were fairies, and fairies were elves.
It wasn’t much of a living, but it was honest work.
And then came Shakespeare and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and it was all downhill from there. He wasn’t the first to delve into the idea of fairies interacting with the human world – heck, the Greeks were doing Deus Ex Machina thousands of years before, with gods that basically acted like big freakin’ nuisances – but I think it was old William that really got the lid off, and got people thinking about how much fun it would be to write more stuff with those zany fairies and elves.
The second Great Unravelling came a while later, when a fellow named Tolkien decided to write some rather long books with elves in them, and spent a lot of time thinking about how they might live, and how they might talk, and what sort of society these fantastic beings might have.
And then some time went by, and about fifty years later, lots of guys wearing black lipstick and eyeliner started writing stories about "faeries", and as soon as you got into the goofy "magick" spelling by people that thought Tori Amos was speaking Just To Them, it was game over for the fairies. And the elves.
Poor little magical bastards.
So now, if I walk up to you in the street and say "ELF!", you would probably immediately think of some anorexic person with Spock ears and a piss-poor hairstyle. Or maybe just hit me, which would be pretty reasonable under the circumstances. The elves, once holders of the perfectly respectable post of Cautionary Tale, have become the sexualized ideals of fourteen-year-old girls that write excruciating poetry in Math class and go by online names like GossamerWing349. And the sexualized ideals of their male counterparts, who look pretty much identical but call themselves things like BloodShadowDreamer901.
If I say "ELF!" now, most people just think of Orlando Bloom, who became famous playing an anorexic guy with Spock ears and a piss-poor hairstyle and a name that sounds like a Legion of Substitute Heroes reject. A quick review of fantasy comics on the web (or anywhere else, for that matter) quickly reveals that the subject matter of 99% of fantasy comics is people with Spock ears and piss-poor hairstyles looking (a) wistful, (b) vengeful, (c) stern, (d) grim, or (e) constipated. Oddly enough, expressions a through e are exactly the same, and one is left to discern the actual mood being rendered by the dialogue, which generally serves only as evidence that perhaps thesauruses, like automobiles, should be used only by those who have basic training and respect for the damage they can do.
Let’s give it a try.
You thought of him, didn’t you? Orlando Bloom. Lego Lass, girlfriend of Matter Eater Lad. Spock ears, goofy hair, and ninja skills that leave the casual viewer slightly mystified as to why, if one elf can kill a million zillion orcs, the race is dying out in the first place.
Oh, wait. I know why. Embarrassment. In the Lord of the Rings books (I hear there might have been films, too), the elves are moving deeper and deeper into the woods, and eventually retreat to the Magical Elf Lands altogether, giving up on our plane of existence. It’s not because the humans have encroached on their beloved woods, though. It’s not because Magick Has Flee’d Thy Lande. It’s because there are a gazillion slightly overweight teenagers with dyed black hair and crackle polish tromping through the underbrush batting their eyes and cooing at the poor shy devils. All they wanted was to live quietly in the trees and sharpen their ears, and some bizarre little zeitgeist turned them into sex symbols. And now, every time Eldenthorne decides to look for Elven Mead on eBay, he inevitably stumbles across online fantasy comics in which he and his brethren have lost some weight and spend most of their time looking like they’ve had their brain pulled out through their nose by one of those mummy-hook thingies.
I’d leave our dimension too. Hell, I’d be grabbing the next giant eagle and leaping straight into the Eye of Sauron if I knew that sticking around would mean being adulated by soppy-eyed kids that think Neil Gaiman is the New Hemingway.
I’m ranting, aren’t I?
I was asked to write a column on science fiction and fantasy, and it started off as a reasonable enough idea in my head to sort of try to explain why science fiction comics on the Internet generally seem to be of higher caliber than fantasy comics. And, as I was taking notes, I jotted down that science fiction has an inherently broader scope to it – everything from sentient robots riding boogie boards on Jupiter to a guy with a particularly interesting sandwich – while Fantasy is pretty much a smaller shoe to be horned into. And taking these notes, I drew a little diagram of the various places that sci-fi can go, the types of compelling stories it can tell and how easily it lends itself to allegory.
When I made a chart for fantasy, all I got was elves and dragons. And then I sort of freaked out, and everything got hazy, and now I have this monumental elf-rant behind me.
I think the point of this is cautionary: if you want to do fantasy comics, that’s cool. There’s no shortage of great fantasy novels, great movies, and… well, no great music, just "filk", which is the musical equivalent of something you find under a nectarine that rolled behind the fridge last October and you only got to it today because you decided to finally sweep back there … but all fantasy is not bad.
But lordy, people, those elves have been abused enough. Science fiction has its share of worn-out archetypes – the grizzled space marine, the future detective, the intrepid explorer – but even the most hoary cliché can be fresh again if you’ve got the energy to sink into it. Elves, though. Elves and dragons. Elves, dragons, and vampires. That’s the unholy triptych of fantasy, the leech that drags potentially good writers into the miasma of uselessness.
So that’s my challenge. That’s my tiny gauntlet thrown down in my tiny corner of this tiny online magazine. Give me fantasy without elves, dragons and vampires, and I will happily give you the time of day. Let the elves go. Let them toddle off to their happy elf dimension to eat happy elf pie and play happy elf bocci. Delete the dewy-eyed pin-ups of that emaciated fellow in black leather with the Spock ears and let him go join his friends.
Let us all hold hands and wish the elves well as they take a well-deserved break from our fiction and our fantasy for a few decades, to return at some point in the late 21st century recharged and refreshed, with freshly sharpened ears. But for now, let’s give those elves a break.
Uh… the Keebler elves can stay, though. They make good cookies.
Dalton Wemble is a contributing columnist for Comixpedia.