Elves (masc – elf from Proto-Germanic albiz (source also of Old Saxon alf, Old Norse alfr, German alp), originally found in Germanic and Scandinavian folklore, were a very mysterious race from the beginning of time. Later they became supernatural beings, mainly shaped as humans. They were worshiped in trees, mountains and waterfalls.
Elves is often used as a general term for fairies especially in the Nineteenth Anglo-Saxon literature.
The king of the elves, Oberon, and his wife Titania appear in some very important works of medieval literature, such as Huon de Bordeaux and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
You may also be interested in how Tolkien rendered the elfic concept in his own mythical saga.
In early modern and modern folklore, they become associated with the fairies of Romance folklore and assume a diminutive size, often living mainly in forests but also underground in hills or rocks, or in wells and springs.
19th-century Romanticism attempted to restore them to full stature, often depicting them as very young, probably adolescent (lack of facial hair on male elves), men and women of great beauty.
According to the Norse Edda, the white spirits, or Elves of Light, were exceedingly fair, more brilliant than the sun, and clad in garments of a delicate and transparent texture. They loved the light, were kindly disposed to mankind, and generally appeared as fair and lovely children. Their country was called Alfheim, and was the domain of Freyr, the god of the sun, in whose light they were always sporting.
The black or Night Elves were a different kind of creatures. Ugly, long-nosed dwarfs, of a dirty brown colour, they appeared only at night, for they avoided the sun as their most deadly enemy, because whenever his beams fell upon any of them they changed them immediately into stones. Their language was the echo of solitude, and their dwelling-places subterranean caves and clefts.
They were supposed to have come into existence as maggots produced by the decaying flesh of Ymir’s body, and were afterwards endowed by the gods with a human form and great understanding. They were particularly distinguished for a knowledge of the mysterious powers of nature, and for the runes which they carved and explained.
They were the most skillful artificers of all created beings, and worked in metals and in wood. Among their most noted works were Thor’s hammer, and the ship “Skidbladnir,” which they gave to Freyr, and which was so large that it could contain all the deities with their war and household implements, but so skillfully was it wrought that when folded together it could be put into a side pocket.
Elves vary in size from 4’10” and 5’8″. However, according to their delicate bodies they seem much taller than they really are. Often male and female elves are hard to discern, at first glance.
Both sexes usually have big, expressive eyes (in the most splendid colors). They wear their hair uncut and open, have graceful, fragile features and are of extraordinary beauty. Male elves also don’t have any beard growth.
Very typical for elves are their pointed ears, and high cheekbones. In modern descriptions, elves are either light or dark, the light elves having star-like eyes, faces brighter than the sun, and golden-colored hair; the dark elves are pitch black and have sometimes fluorescent eyes, this quality being indicative of their dealing with black magic.
Both are attractive, in appearance at least. Elves prefer greens and greenish-greys while dark elves prefer blacks, dark grey, and sometimes silver.
Dark or light, the elfic race is rarely seen and if so, elves only appear on certain times and on special places in the untouched nature. During the course of time elves moved to other places in the world and in many tribes their spiritual shape was lost completely and elves changed to beings consisting of blood and flesh.
The light elves are a peaceful, nature-loving who love beautiful things and often try themselves in the arts of drawing and music.
The black or dark elves are also called “Drow”. Beautiful, agile, proud, dexterous and extremely deadly, they are the Drow, Elves of the underground. Very few is know about them.
In comparison to humans, elves are stronger in spirit and in limb and have an exceptional constitution and endurance. When they grow older they seldom get weaker, instead they become wiser and even more fair.
Elven senses, especially of hearing and sight, are much keener and intense than those of Men and are highly resistant to extremes of temperatures and also have several natural defenses against magical influences. The long life-spans of elves may be accounted to one of the main reasons that elves are very calm and patient in all their actions.
Even if some elves are said to be immortal, elves of all other tribes die a natural death after long lives. The amount of years elves live indeed varies enormously, ranging from 100 years to over 1000.
It is also known that very often elves end their lives of their own will when they see a necessity to do so or if they think that their life’s goal has been reached. Of course elves may also die when they are wounded severely, but in general elves heal very fast when they are tended to quickly. Death on the other hand is nothing an elf fears. The fact of death is interpreted by the elves as a return to nature.
Elves live in forests while dark elves live in deep underground caves. In spring they are viewed celebrating the blossoms and during the summer they swim in the rivers with their friends ondines. Elves usually settle in dense forests or at wooded lakes and lead quiet lives without interfering directly in other races activities and struggle for domination.
Books about Elves
- The Hobbit or There and Back Again (1937)
- The Lord of the Rings (1954-55)
The elves in Tolkien’s books are immortal beings with godlike characteristics. They are full of grace and light and tremendous power. Tolkien writes of Rivendell and Lothlorien where live the elves; of Elrond, Galadriel and Celeborn, great elves who help the fellowship. Tolkien also created an entire history and mythology of the Elves of Middle Earth. These myths and tales can be read in the Silmarillion, which is an account of the Elder Days, or the First Age of Tolkien’s world.