Sunday, March 17, 2013

Fantasy


Elves are a mainstay of fantasy canon, tasked with the role of being awesome and magical and just a little bit tragic to let you know you're in a traditional fantasy setting. And I hate the smug, glamourous bastards.

I'm not a huge fan of non-human sentient races in fantasy as a general rule because they tend to just be an excuse to create a stereotype that could be as easily achieved with humans. There's no need to make the denizens of the northern kingdom dwarfs, humans are more than capable of brusqueness, wild facial hair, odd customs and stand-offish behaviour; it's called the IT industry and we're not all short. The shorthand use of elves is a grating, self-pitying "look, there was a wonderful golden age and then humans came along and ruined everything and here are its final, tragic, remnants. Aren't people just the worst?" It's your world, author, you didn't have to include the effete, pointy-eared shits, then they wouldn't have had to suffer in graceful silence for eons.

In terms of narrative structure, elves provide an easy way for authors to perform massive info dumps care of an ancient culture with long-lived members who like to wax lyrical about the past. An elf answering the questions of some young ignoramus about the idyllic dawn of the world is third only to italicized songs and timeless wizards when it comes to fantasy exposition.

Then, when they're not talking about about the ways of the Bhal'dryl'kanh'ei'll (because they never use the word 'elf' to describe themselves of course) their job is to be the solution in every conceivable situation, an entire race of Mary Sues. Ambushed? Nothing to worry about, the elf is lithe and lightning fast and his sword moves like quicksilver. Trapped by magic? No you're not, the elf can sense its delicate tendrils resonating with the magic that ties his very soul to the planes of mystery. Trying to ambush someone? The elf is on it with his arrows that fly straight and true with the blessing of Lsuorh'Eullis the Moon Mother. Need to sneak somewhere in the dark? Silly clumsy humans, make way for the feather-light tread and catlike dark sense of the fey elf. Lost in the forest? It's fine, the elf will commune with the spirit of the fucking trees and guide you out.

My genuine hatred for elves didn't blossom until I took up RPGs of the pen and paper variety. There are two reasons that people pick an elf as a player character in any setting: the pragmatic decision to play an elf because they have good bonuses, or because you elves are really cool. I don't have a problem with the first reason, if a decision is being made based on that then the same decision would have been made if elves were unkempt toadmen with unfortunate odour problems. The second reason makes me want to punch a baby in the face. There is a annoying sadness about someone in effect saying "I don't want to play as a human, I want to play as something that is like human but beautiful and faster and mysterious and with hidden depths. I'm going to make everyone super jealous of how cool I am." Sure you are, buddy, sure you are. Now wipe the pizza grease off your fingers, pick up the dice, and roll for initiative just like the rest of us uncouth barbarians.

Because next weekend is the start of the 2013 season proper here, next week's word is football.

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