I’ve found that elves are some of the hardest of mythical creatures to write, simply because there are so many variations of them out there. Are they small, mischievous spirits or noble, human-like magicians? You have more creative freedom when writing an elf, but less original material to use as inspiration. Elves have evolved a lot over the years and throughout their literary lives.

History of Elves

Elves are first found in German literature. There were originally seen as human-like but dangerous, a threat to normal people. When the English got a hold of them, they evolved into small, invisible demons that caused illnesses. By medieval times, the English had taken a kinder view of them. Elves were again more human-like, more often female, and more associated with fairies and magic. Elves again evolved into tricksters in medieval Germany.

In post-medieval England, “fairy” and “elf” became nearly synonymous. At that time, other sorts of sprites and supernatural beings came into existence. Shakespeare used the two names interchangeably.

An illustration of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

Eventually, another sort of elf emerged. The best example of this new kind of elf can be seen in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” series. The elves there are immortal, human in appearance, and masters of magic. They are not inherently troublemakers, but peaceful, if a little withdrawn. This type of elf is much more popular in the fantasy genre today.

Make Your Elf Unique

I’d recommend trying to write an elf more like they originally were. I’ve seen so many of the noble, immortal elves like Tolkien’s that it gets a little old and repetitive. Look at how J.K. Rowling made her house-elves. Or try to play with their societal structure. Are your elves loners or do they form communities? Do they get along with non-elves? Can they use magic? What kind? Like I said, there a lot of ways to write elves and it can be a daunting task. But if you focus on a few key details, the rest will fall into place.

What is your favorite portrayal of elves?

Until next time, word nerds!

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