Elves in fiction

Can anyone recommend any great books featuring elves which I really ought to read in order to catch up with what has been done by novelists writing about the realm of Faerie recently?  I’m trying to put together a society for the elves in Under the Hill, and it occurs to me that – since I don’t know what other people have done – I don’t know what’s cliche and what isn’t.

I have pretty firm ideas about what’s elvish and what isn’t. Tolkien’s elves = elvish, Terry Brooks’ elves = not elvish.  Michael Swanwick‘s elves = elvish, Katherine Kerr’s elves = not elvish (though her fae folk are much more so.)  They’re difficult to get right, IMO.  Even Terry Pratchett, who is otherwise a complete writing hero of mine, didn’t get the nuance or the ambiguity I think they need, choosing to make them straightforward monsters instead.

Anyway, what great classics of elvishness have I missed?  Has anyone read the Iron Elves series by Chris Evans?  Are they any good?  I certainly like the titles 🙂

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Alex Beecroft
13 years ago

LOL! I certainly agree that Tolkien’s elves are a very tough act to follow, and that perhaps nobody since has managed to write elves with so much history, depth and nuance. But he didn’t invent them. They go right back into Saxon, Norse and Celtic folklore, and forwards into folk stories like Thomas the Rhymer, so I don’t think that he can be the only one who could ever get them right.

Having had my memory jogged by people on my LJ, I’d add the elves of Jonathan Strange and Mr.Norrel to my list of ‘proper elvish elves.’ And I live in hope that my own elves will end up on that side of the balance rather than the other 😉

Alex Beecroft
13 years ago

Thanks, Nick. I have already read quite a few of the stories of the Tuatha de Danann, and the Mabinogian, and most of the English elf folklore, what was known about the Anglo-Saxons’ belief in elves (we get the word elf from them, though their plural form is “ylfe”.) Also some of the Norse legends. That’s why I’m fairly confident that I can tell a good fictional elf from a bad one 🙂

But what I don’t know is what’s been done in fiction since the last elf-centric book I read, which was Jonathan Strange & Mr.Norrel. So I don’t know how surprising the things I think that I’m doing different will be, or whether someone else has got there already. I don’t want to present something as a fantastic novelty if someone else has already done it!

Brian Cherry
13 years ago

All I can think of is modern day fae sociery in Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan books, and Laurell Hamilton’s Merry Gentry serieses. Merry Gentry is pretty hard core erotica among the fae, and both series are urban fantasy, so probably not what you’re looking for.
I think you shouldn’t be afrad to borrow what you like and not be afraid to put your own spin on things.

Alex Beecroft
13 years ago

Oh, thanks Brian! Actually Urban Fantasy is very much the sort of thing I was thinking about. It’s where most of the action is at in terms of elves at the moment, I understand. I’m not hugely fond of hard core erotica, but I must try a Merry Gentry book to see what it’s like. The Rachel Morgan ones too. Thank you!

Alex Beecroft
13 years ago

Thanks, Brian! I think it was Urban Fantasy that I was thinking of when I was wondering what had been done with elves recently, so that sounds like the thing to look at. It’s not that I’m afraid of doing my own thing, so much as the fact that knowing the kind of background my own thing will be set in will help me to know which bits need to be explained more, and which bits can be passed over lightly because everyone already knows about them.

One of the bonuses of my putting this post out was that I heard from a writer who has just released what she describes as a m/m urban fantasy, so I can pass that on 🙂 It’s called “A Hidden Magic” and is by Angela Benedetti, if you want to try it 🙂

13 years ago

Poul Anderson’s novel, The Broken Sword, describes a race of elves who have little sympathy for mankind. Unlike Tolkien’s cheery forest dwellers, they use cunning and guile to advance their own interests. The elves in C.J. Cherryh’s The Dreaming Tree are more compassionate than Anderson’s aloof mystics, but still less sociable than Tolkien’s crew. Both books are excellent examples of the elf archetype.

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