Let me preface this by saying I hate elves. Let me also preface this by saying I love elves. I hate elves because so many people have decided that elves are flat-out better than humans, and furthermore (this is what really pisses me off) the human characters in whatever story being told accept this like it’s a fact of life. I first noticed/became infuriated by this storytelling choice when reading the series Memory, Sorrow and Thorn by Tad Williams a couple years ago, but it’s cropped up in other stories I’ve read as well. Elves are portrayed as superior to everyday humans in every way–they live longer, are wiser, more skilled with weapons (as they’ve had several lifetime’s worth of training), are in tune with nature to a ridiculously hippie degree, and are generally the best craftsmen around. They are so stupidly better that it makes them the most uninteresting aspect of any story they’re in. And they know they’re better than anyone else, oh yes they do, taking every opportunity to mention it. It’s even worse when no one calls them out on their superior attitude–I can’t help but get the feeling that some of these authors feel themselves that humanity is composed entirely of bastards, and that elves are intrinsically better. To make matters worse, the elven template has been proven to make anything it’s applied to sexier, so you get a wild spew of subtypes thrown into the mix. You’ve got your high elves, your wood elves, your dark elves, your moon elves, your fair-folk elves, your space elves, your Mary Sue elves and all the rest.
And yet I can’t help but love ’em, the little bastards, because when done right they can have as many flaws and as much depth as the human characters. Here’s how elves work in my world.
The original elves were the standard, superior-race-in-every-way elves. They lived in beautiful cities that were built to be in harmony with nature. The best plays, swords, warriors, poems and stories all came from the elves. Their empire was called Zanchar, and it stretched across much of the known world. The elves, see, believed that they were superior to all other races, believed it to such a degree that no one could even argue with the fact. All evidence to the contrary received either a condescending laugh or a swift sword in reply. The world was a perfect one, with the elves of Zanchar enslaving the lesser races to serve their rightful overlords.
And then some motherfucker known only as Old Jack stepped in and everything went to hell.
After Old Jack’s War the continent of Zanchar became known as the Dead Continent. Its ashen and shattered plains are now home to necromancers who fight never-ending wars against each other with armies raised from the dead cities of the elves. Only two groups of elves are known to have survived that terrible war, living in hard-to-reach and (for others) inhospitable locations. The frost elves live in the north, and have built a frozen kingdom in tribute to the former glory of Zanchar, calling it Elsinier, and dream of one day returning their race to its peak of power. The painted elves, on the other hand, do not care so much for such grand political scheming. They live in the Sunset Jungles, among scattered tribes. Be warned: though they may appear friendly today, tomorrow they may come at you with poison and knives. Their humor is deadly, their laughter infectious, and their traditions nebulous.
Other races of elves may exist elsewhere in the world, hiding still from the cataclysm brought down on them by Old Jack. If so, they have hidden themselves well, for no one has found them, even in the thousand years since the mad archmage destroyed their empire.