Space Elves – Circa 1933

In the pulps, even Mars had its strange and fey races:

He had knelt on the bank, and was just parting the rushes, when a reflection in the water before him made him look up. A huge black bat was pursuing what at first glance appeared to be a large butterfly. Apparently disabled, the smaller creature fluttered groundward, falling into the rushes not ten feet from Thorne.

In a steep spiral, the bat swooped toward its fallen prey. Leaping to his feet, Thorne saw the futile fluttering of a pair of lacy, opalescent wings above the rushes, and knew that in a moment more the bat would claim its victim. He jerked a javelin from his quiver and hurled it at the descending monster. It struck the black, furry neck with such force that the barbed head emerged from the other side.

Now it was the bat which tumbled into the rushes, only a few feet from the creature it had struck down.

Having satisfied himself that the ugly thing was dead, Thorne stepped over for a closer look at its intended prey. But as he did so, the lacy wings suddenly rose above the bushes, and he stifled a cry of amazement when he saw that they were attached to the shoulders of a slender, perfectly formed girl about three feet in height.

Save for a girdle of filmy, pale green material drawn tight at the waist by a belt of exquisitely wrought golden mesh and ending in a short skirt, she was nude. Her silky skin was a perfect flesh tint, and covered with fine down, delicate as peach bloom. Her golden yellow hair was bound by a fillet of woven green jade links, circling her forehead just below two delicate, feathery antennae, which swept upward and backward like a pair of dainty plumes.

As he stood staring down at her, scarcely believing his eyes, she suddenly faded from his view.

The Earthman blinked and looked again. But where she had stood he now saw only the rushes which had been bent downward by the weight of her tiny body.

Faintly he heard the fluttering of wings overhead. He looked up and saw only the empty sky. Suddenly a little pixie voice, musical as a silver bell, broke the silence.

“I know you now, man of the Old Race,” it said. “You are Sheb Takkor, the younger. You have saved the life of Eriné, daughter of the Vil of the Ulfi, and she is not ungrateful. Hold out your hand.”

In obedient wonder, he extended his hand. A glittering something dropped into his palm. He saw that it was a tiny ring fashioned from platinum and set with a sparkling green gem.

“If you should ever need the Ulfi, rub the jewel and if there is an Ulf within scent of the ring he will be yours to command.”

“Very kind of you,” said Thorne, “but…” He suddenly realized that the fluttering had stopped. He was talking to empty air.

Yirl Du had come down the bank and was surveying him quizzically. “Your pardon, my lord. Were you speaking to me?”

“Yes. No. I was speaking to an Ulf – that is, to an Ulf maiden.”

“Has one of the Little People paid us a visit?”

“Not intentionally, I guess. You see, she was struck down by that bat.” Thorne indicated the carcass. “I saw her fall, thinking her only a butterfly, yet I pitied the creature and so slew the bat with a javelin. She became invisible and presented me with this.” He held out the ring.

Yirl Du exclaimed with astonishment. “Why, that is indeed a precious thing, my lord, and such a gift as only the Vil of the Ulfi or a member of his family might present to a man.”

“She named herself Eriné, daughter of the Vil.”

Thorne was brimming over with questions about the Little People, but resolved to curb his curiosity until he could talk to Thaine or Lal Vak. Sheb Takkor, he reasoned, would be supposed to know these things. To question Yirl Du about them would be to make him suspect either that he was not Sheb Takkor, or that he had taken leave of his senses.

Spending the 80th Anniversary of the Hobbit Jotting Down More Notes on Yesterday’s Tolkien Thing

Okay, there have been lots of conversations going on that are conflating certain things and certain arguments as being one and the same, and this leads to a lot of goal-post moving, so I’m going to try to untangle stuff here.

  1. Dungeons & Dragons was not “Tolkien + a few other things”
  2. Dungeons & Dragons was “Lots of things, including some Tolkien”
  3. Elves in the Hobbit are substantially different from Elves in Lord of the Rings and later Tolkien Legendarium; they are not “Tolkienesque” in the way that the term is generally understood.
  4. “Dungeons & Dragons is a Tolkien/Middle Earth adventure game” is a false statement.
  5. Chainmail, however, does include significant elements from the Hobbit; saying that the fantasy portion of Chainmail is Tolkien-the Game, is not entirely ridiculous.
  6. The Hobbit was far more influential on Chainmail and Dungeons & Dragons than the Lord of the Rings proper.*
  7. Elves in Chainmail are not explicitly “Tolkien elves”; they bear little resemblance to Lord of the Rings elves, though they do resemble elves from the Hobbit or the Rankin & Bass cartoon.
    1. Do people consider the Rankin and Bass elves “Tolkienesque”?
    2. Chainmail elves are mechanically identical to Fairies and share an entry.
    3. Chainmail elves can turn invisible at will;
  8. Orcs in Chainmail ARE explicitly “Tolkien Orcs”; their tribes are described in terms of “Hand Orcs”, “Mordor Orcs”, etc.
  9. Elves as they appear in D&D are substantially different from Elves as they are depicted in either the Lord of the Rings or the Silmarillion. Though a case can be made that they bear similarities to the wood elves from The Hobbit, they bear a much stronger resemblance to humanoid fey races from Poul Anderson.
  10. PC Races in D&D do owe some to Tolkien, but only Halflings are explicitly Tolkienian
  11. Tolkien did not have a literary monopoly on stout and hardy dwarves who live in the mountains, mine for treasure, or craft fantastic weapons; it does not pass a reasonable-doubt check, but it’s not far-fetched to say they were, if they did not become, Tolkien dwarves.
  12. Shifts in D&D towards more Tolkienian/Tolkienesque/Tolkiengrotesque races and trappings are the result of Tolkien becoming the “Goto” name in fantasy from the late 70s on as Tolkien Clones and Branded Gaming Fiction began to dominate the market and public conscious and therefore the minds of the people playing and later the people developing the game; this was not by design.

Note that all of the above is completely separate from the original discussion that:

  1. I hypothesize that The Hobbit had little/no impact on the 1st and 2nd waves of 20th Century Fantasy, though I remain open to and will look for evidence to the contrary.
  2. The Lord of the Rings’ influence on fantasy in the 70s and beyond is undeniable; its influence on fantasy prior to the mid-60s highly suspect
  3. Questioning Tolkien’s influence on literature from periods immediately contemporary with him and the intervening years between the Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings or the latter’s eventual paperback release =/= dismissing Tolkien’s work or his subsequent influence or denigrating it ala Michael Moorcock.

Lastly, if I’d remembered that this was the 80th Anniversary of the Hobbit, I probably would’ve avoided the topic entirely.

*:This one definitely needs citation, and I am looking for it, but it came from an interview with Gary where he pretty much comes out and says something along these lines.

File the Serial Numbers Off

I’ve said in the past and on numerous occasions that I don’t want to see stories about elves or stories where Cthulhu shows up. Even in a good story, when these sorts of elements are used and borrowed, they end up detracting from the story in my eyes.

If you’re not filing off the serial numbers of these things, it’s either because you’re lacking creativity and hoping to rely on established tropes or you’re hoping that by connecting your piece to those related tropes that you can elevate your writing on the merits of the reference. Or somewhere in between. There are shout-outs, yes, and these can be great – Shub Niggurath as the final boss of Quake or the hipster cultist shouting “Ia, Cthulhu!” before the fat Italian editor gets murdered in Foucault’s Pendulum were AWESOME. But if Quake had been a parade of named monsters from Lovecraft as opposed to horrors that FEEL Lovecraftian, or if Umberto Eco had peppered his book with lots of “LOL, Cthulhu, amirite?” it would’ve drastically reduced the effectiveness of the references.

But more than that, have some faith in your creativity! If you’re damnably insistent on writing elves, fine, but if you want to go the “our elves are different route”, which face it, everyone does these days, take a pinch of that creativity that makes your elves different and call them something besides elves. If nothing else, calling your elves something else, even calling them Morves or Velse will be an improvement, because people won’t look at it and say “oh, look, another elf story!”

And eldritch horror monsters? Why Cthulhu or one of the other big-name badguy’s from the Mythos canon, unless you’re trying to coast on the popularity of Cthulhu (and there are folks who will read anything Cthulhu, but that’s not the point)? Name your own big bad evil scary monster god. Sure, he can be Cthulhu, but if you call him something like Uhlthuc you can fool folks into thinking you’re some kinda original writer guy, or something!

Don’t use elves or Cthulhu as a crutch! Yeah, I know that Cthulhu is a cottage industry, but I can tell you right now that your stories will improve by at least %15 or your money back if your evil monster beyond the gates is Uhlthuc and your similar-but-different elves are ‘the Velse’.

(Note: If you submit a story using the names Uhlthuc and ‘the Velse’ and I accept them on merits of story, I reserve the right to withhold the per-word bonus on the first 2500 words; file those serial numbers off harder!)

Our Elves/Goblins Are Different

This remark:

The book doesn’t have much to say about the difference between elves and goblins beyond that goblins have darker skin.

from this review of the Goblin Emperor got me thinking about my own experiments long ago with Elves & Goblins.

Back when i was a high school kid, I wrote a lamentably long and awful fantasy saga (nearly half of it was written in various forms of verse, some experimental, other metric) of ridiculous scope, no doubt influenced by my own middle-school enjoyment of Magic the Gathering and its planeswalking gods stomping about across the multiverse.

The book I wrote covered 3 major interrelated arcs that spanned half a dozen planes working on the concept that magic users powerful enough could create anchor points in select areas within an 8 dimensional grid to create worlds out of possibilities and travel between them; of course, since temporal axes cannot intersect along such worlds, while one can shift between these planes, there’s no interrelation between the timelines of each world.  So, one asshole wizard’s crusade against life has corrupted the world at 0,0,0,0,0,0,0,0 on the multiversal plane and those who are trying to stop him have created a time loop across these planes because of having stopped there at one point.  Worlds are created, invaded, destroyed, and the cycle goes on.  The three arcs consisted of a series of wars against a lich king who had found a plane shifter’s spellbook, the aftermath of those who escaped that war to another plane only to find it attacked by one of the plane shifter (the Burning God) at the heart of the time loop, and the revenge quest of the other plane shifter (Garin) who finally destroyed the Burning God and left the decadent empire (and spellbook) which would eventually fall into the possession of his descendant who would become the Lich King.  It was written so that you could theoretically start at any point and it would tell a continuous story up to the point where you were back where you’d started.  Oh, yeah, and the Burning God, who was the overarching villain of the whole thing, was one of Garin’s great grandchildren who was resentful as hell of the fact that his great grandmother, the Nymph, had basically bred their entire race with the purpose of being her former (yeah, Garin thinks it’s pretty messed up too) lover’s army.

The way that elves and goblins worked were almost a grampa paradox.  Just for the hell of it, I made a little diagram:

Morilithic saga

Don’t ever expect these to be published in any way, shape or form any time soon; it’s still rotting in a box in my spare room, and a lot of the parts written in pencil are so faded I could probably barely make a lot of it out.  Plus, it’s about as bad as you’d expect from a teenager who’d mixed up a bunch of pink slime fantasy, Tolkien and had just read a ton of Hindu mythology.  Every time I sat down to edit it in the last 10 years, I would give up in disgust when i’d see all the names I’d cribbed from the Mahabharata.

What’s Wrong with this Picture?

I’ll give you a minute. And here’s a hint, it’s not the “Online”.

eso

What is wrong with that elf on the left?

One of the things I always liked about the ElderScrolls was that the elves were not the stereotypical “humans, but super sexy and with pointed ears”, which seems to be the route they’re going now. The Elves were different. They were alien. They were scary. They were not simply a more attractive idealized version of humans. The wood elves were cannibalistic halflings almost insectoid features, dark elves were blue-skinned red-eyed desert folk, and high elves were tall gold-skinned monsters. Now, I guess elves are pallid brunettes with flawless complexions, just like in every other game.

So far, I haven’t heard anything good about ElderScrolls Online; it’s expensive, bland, empty and really just makes you want to play a real ElderScrolls game.

Ugh!

UGH!!!!

I’ve been fairly forgiving of the Peter Jackson LotR movies, and they’re nice shiny fantasy eye candy, even if they lack in substance.  But seriously?  Introducing a random female elf character in the Hobbit screams awful bad idea.

All of the parts with Liv Tyler’s fish-faced Arwen were the most tedious and groan inducing moments in the original trilogy.  But at least her character was semi-canonical (it’s been ages since I read the books, but I vaguely remember at the end of RotK, some elf lady kind of showed up out of nowhere and Aragorn is all “By the way, she’s with me, read the appendix if you care.”)

Also, I find it amusing the spin they put on her being a “lower” elf .  To really get what that means, you kind of need to be familiar with a lot of First Age stuff and inter-elven racism.  Basically, most of the elves in Middle Earth are “Dark Elves”.  There is a huge flowchart out there on a site somewhere or another that gives all of the details, but basically, there are 2 kinds of elves.  The light elves, who went to Valinor, and the dark elves who didn’t.  Of the Dark elves, there were the Grey Elves who started off toward Valinor but for some reason or other didn’t make it, and then there were the really Dark Elves who said “Walk across two continents AND sail over an ocean? No thanks!” (these should not be confused with the one guy who is specifically referred to as a “dark elf”).

So, um… she’s a “low” elf kind of the way that tribes of Israel who didn’t cross the River Jordan to settle are “low” Jews. It’s a bad explanation that doesn’t really give the appropriate context to idea they’re trying to convey.