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Comments For On Writing Tolkien's Elves
Oshun, as always, you present a very interesting and persuasive case! I don't know exactly where I sit in all of this. I just write them as I see them, but definitely not lofty and above it all. I think I take a longer view (but then I write more in 3rd Age) with Elves and make them more understanding, though they may not like something. But you're definitely spot on with First Age and even Second Age elves I think. They were entirely out of control at times and that's how it should be! Throwing Eol off the walls of Gondolin? Not a controlled, tempered decision. That was sheer fury for what he'd done!
The movies definitely inform people now more than the books, and that's too bad. Yes, the Silm can be a hard read if you're not familiar with the language but it's so worth it. Knowing the backstory just blows the world open and ties so much together.
I know you wrote this years ago, but it's great and I'm sorry I never reviewed it. I have always loved your courage for speaking your mind.
Credit to the "Homo sapiens eldarensis" term goes to PandŽ :)
Eeps! Of course it is! And I am embarrassed at the essay because it was dashed off quickly and does not sufficiently discuss its influences, aside from the citations from Tolkien and the quick reference to Darth Fingon/Claudio. There are so many more, Pandemonium a giant among those and, of course, Dawn's Another Man's Cage and all of her stories in the Fall of the House of Feanor series. I think I will have to draft another one which includes some of those. It is fundamentally flawed by not reflected the discussions that influenced it. And the writers whose fictional work are examples of the kind of Elves I think to read. Not today! I have a character biography to write.
As one of the elves writers here (though I can't say for real if I can still be considered a writer since I haven't written anything Tolkien related since the Years of the Lamps, but that's an entirely different story), I can only say: YES YES YES! (I'm lucky, I logged on to the SWG for the first time in ages and from the start I picked your wonderful essay to read. Thank you!)
I love (my and the other authors') elves being human, made of flesh and blood, having meat on their bones figuratively speaking. Homo sapiens eldarensis, anyone? I often tried to approach and portray them as such. If they were those ethereal creatures made of moonshine, how on earth they could be able to survive winter months in that godforsaken Doriath, eating only grass and drinking spring water? I know you prefer Noldorin examples :D but I couldn't help myself, being a Sindar fancier. Love the explanation and analysis you offer here.
Actually, you bring so many interesting aspects of writing the Elves that I'm going to re-re-re and reread your essay. Love how you show how stereotypical fanfiction approaches can sometimes be and how seeing the FA elves (the ones who cared as opposed to the end of TA ones who seemed to care no longer) with the LotR glasses set firmly on one's nose can sometimes be a trap.
Thank you once again and good luck with writing elves (and everything else)!
Oh, Binka! So nice to see you around. I miss you and work. I wish we could tickle your muse and wake it up. Thank you so much for reading and commenting. How eloquent. I wish I had some of your words before I finished the essay and could have quoted you. I love your Sindarin examples.
"I love (my and the other authors') elves being human, made of flesh and blood, having meat on their bones figuratively speaking. Homo sapiens eldarensis, anyone? I often tried to approach and portray them as such. If they were those ethereal creatures made of moonshine, how on earth they could be able to survive winter months in that godforsaken Doriath, eating only grass and drinking spring water?"--just perfectly the point I wanted to make. Beleg's massive bow and Mablung's mighty axe would not be weapons an author tends to put into the hands of any hero without some meat on his bones and who is not willing to get those hands dirty.
I would assert that they are complex, human, emotional, and filled with passion.
And that's why Tolkien is not a hack fantasy writer but a great author for the ages. If anything, the Silm was never published because he was too interested in the backstory of the characters, and never got around to finishing the proper narrative.
The “description of Glorfindel as ‘fair and young and fearless and full of joy,’ along with Elrond being described as ‘kind as summer,’ would seem to give lie to the interpretations which portray Tolkien’s Third Age Elves as grim, ethereal sourpusses.”
Yes, and Peter Jackson (though I really am a fan) is partly responsible for this.
Very interesting read, though I think I'm already in the choir here...
Thank you so very much for reading and commenting on this essay. I am pleased as can be that you liked it.
I agree that Peter Jackson bears some responsibility for the slow-moving ethereal elf school of writing. That non-canonical funereal procession through the woods! among other things.
Preaching to the choir is the best! Well, you must know that I have been hooked on your stories for years. Of course, "The Princes of the Noldor" is a gorgeous set of pieces about the most human and passionate Elves of the Silmarillion (from my very partisan view). I notice that you have never posted it here and have been meaning to ask you for ages if you would consider doing that.
You know I have thought about this quesiton so much over a long period of time. I totally conceive of my elves as very human, but I also remind myself. Maybe the question is one of a cultural worldview. Time after all, how we conceive of time, etc. shapes our philosophy, which in turn shapes our institutitions. So maybe the trick is not thinking of humanity as a universal, but as reflective of particular foundations that inform thought and thus structure. So if you have a people that are immortal (as long as this rock is around), this ultimately HAS to shape their worldview (and as we know humanity is replete with different worldviews). I've toyed with how the hell does one WRITE that into existance. I for one am not a philosopher who studies knowing and being, BUT it intrigues the hell out of me.
And that's what I like about your piece, it differentiates the ages. Our First age loves are certainly younger elves, newer to the world versus those that have tarrried for longer periods of time. But I still would love to read (i'd like to take a crack at it myself but get caught up in minutia) a story that really constructs a worldview for elves that deals with this fundamental aspect of their society. I mean consider our own mortality, how so many of our various cultures, accompanying worldviews, are deeply reflective of this problem. What the hell happens after we die?
Another thought your great piece brings to mind is around dialogue. SOmetimes when I write my elves, in the back of my mind, I think they are too damny wordy. An immortal people would have more time and be more choosy with words. There would be less NEED to talk. This reminds me of some cultures that believe that speaking to much is a waste of time and that our actions (our intent) is achieved through other means. I mean think of the psychology growing up where your day to day actions communicate who you are as opposed to words. Ok I am rambling.
Not sure if I am making sense, but this piece rocks. I love it. It's got my mental juices flowing!!! But what the hell its all good!
Thank you so much for reading and sharing your reaction and responses to this piece. If it gets those "mental juices flowing" then I am delighted. What could be better.
For myself and my own purposes I am not as interested in theory or philosophy relating to the nature of Elves as I am as a writer interested in characterization, personality, and emotion. I am at my core a character-driven writer. So, for me, fascinated as I am by the First Age in general and the Noldor in particular, it is important for me if not to fully understand Tolkien's intent at very least to arrive at some approximation which allows me to create actors for my own stories. We cannot entirely know Tolkien's will, not only because he is not here to ask, but because he contradicts himself and gives very different emphasis on the same issues depending upon who he is speaking to (the Letters evidence that).
I have not cracked the code to understanding the effects of the incredible longevity, although I have some inkling of how it might work. The Noldor arrived bright-eyed from Aman hellbent to change their circumstances and their world, not just to regain the jewels and take revenge. The long war, without the aid of the Valar, against Melkor depleted their forces and sorely tried their hope. They gradually transform from agents of change to those who look back, first at Aman and later at their glory days of grand alliances, victories, and heroism in the face of defeat. These things cause them to become the Elves we meet in the Third Age in LotR.
Sorry to go on and on. Thank you again for raising such interesting points and for reading this and commenting.
Very well researched, and well written too. Many of the things you extrapolated from the text flew right over my head as I was reading the books. I like your assesment of Lindir- world-weariness is less petty than the arrogance I always ascribed to him.
I'm very, very new to Tolkien fanfiction, and I've never been involved in fandom, so I don't know if your point of view is prevalent, or even if the human nature of elves versus a more divine one is an issue in itself- but I do remember feeling a little put of when I first started reading LoTR fanfiction, as elves were often portrayed in super-human extremes, either supremely good or supremely bad. To me they felt, if anything, more ancient than alien, as if the differences with men were due to the fact that their minds were wired for eternal (or very long- depending on interpretation) life, to process an undefinable amount of data resulting from a lot of accumulated experience. I don't know a lot about biology, but I think the biological effects on behavior and character granted by such a long life would be very interesting (if almost impossible) to explore.
Regarding the similarities between elves and men, the author's note from the story 'Never Speak Nor Sing' made the point remarkably well.
Lastly, I like how you build up your opinion of characters on evidence and analysis of their actions- that's not a given. I'm guilty of doing the opposite, deciding if I like a character and then interpreting their deeds accordingly.
To make a long, rambling review short: I liked it a lot, it actually made me think, and on top of it all you put it together in a pleasant, clear style. Well done.
Oh, thank you so much. I am really happy that you enjoyed this and found it useful. There are different school of interpreting how human or alien Elves are. Tolkien himself states they are human. They could not create children if they were not.
I suppose one might imagine Elves as evolving throughout their quasi-immortal lives to have very different concerns than mortals. Time is an enormous factor in determining ones choices in life as we know it. Tolkien explains a conservatizing element in that evolution. Most of us pick up the story in LotR where, with a couple of exceptions perhaps, we are dealing with Elves who have been living in Middle-earth, fighting what Galadriel calls the long defeat, for a very long time--thousands of years. For that reason, I rather prefer the First Age or even Second Age stories, especially when I am writing fanfiction, because I can relate better to the characters.
Thank you so much for reading and for commenting!