How much should we accept Elf superiority in fiction?

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How much should we accept Elf superiority in fiction?

Post by FaxModem1 » 2018-10-06 03:03am

In works of fiction, if there are multiple races, or subsets of a race, there's the trap of one race being innately better than others. This is usually the elf. One needs only look at any scene involving elves from the Lord of the Rings trilogy and see them out perform humans in every area. They're cleaner, prettier, better fighters, everything they make is even better crafted than the other races who are known for crafting, they can even walk on snow without gravity affecting them, etc.

This doesn't have to be literally elves though. They can be Vulcans, Ba'ku, telepaths, Minbari, Nox, Tollan, etc.

The point is clear though, you are not as good as these people, and you should feel bad for that. Is this a good thing to have storywise? Should this be done away with to show that they're just the same as others, or is this a necessary device in storytelling? Is this better than the inverse, in which the 'superior' race's haughtiness is brought to full bore, and constantly called out on it by others?(such as the Vulcans in Star Trek Enterprise, as one example)

What's the best way to handle this in a story? Should a race be blatantly superior in every way? Or is this a bad story tool, and should be phased out in such fiction?
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Re: How much should we accept Elf superiority in fiction?

Post by Crazedwraith » 2018-10-06 04:06am

I would dispute that that is the point for many of those examples.

Also sometimes people are better than you: suck it up. I this individual examples of the trope are criticisable not writing off the thing as a whole.
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Re: How much should we accept Elf superiority in fiction?

Post by Raw Shark » 2018-10-06 04:10am

FaxModem1 wrote:
2018-10-06 03:03am
What's the best way to handle this in a story? Should a race be blatantly superior in every way? Or is this a bad story tool, and should be phased out in such fiction?
I'm not sure that I see the same lack of trope subversion here that you're invoking. Some LOTR Elves are at least nearly as prone to selfish impulses as the next character (eg: "I want a mostly-human boyfriend with extreme longevity and badass facial hair screw you Dad," "I want a badass magic ring screw you world," etc), not to mention a certain amount of smarm and a "Poor immortal me," fatalistic, ennui-ridden self-destructive streak. Fictional telepaths run the full ethical gamut from Charles Xavier (mostly decent life but still a disabled heterosexual with at least slightly voyeuristic habits), to B-5's oppressed but not exactly Gandhi-esque revolutionaries, to bugfuck nuts psychopaths like Gregg Hartmann. Speaking of Minbari, at the risk of pulling a Godwin here, let's start a violent and more or less until later in the series rigid caste system that can hold a major grudge and also cheerfully fellates genocidal wannabe overlords with a serious history of practicing eugenics in exchange for better party favors, and oh yeah, the most innocent-seeming one in the main cast also attempts murder (really, Will Robinson?) over unrequited love that one time. And if we want to go way back, Lucifer anyone? IMHO a lot of these stories set these supreme beings up specifically to let supposedly more-flawed beings take them down, morally.

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Re: How much should we accept Elf superiority in fiction?

Post by Abacus » 2018-10-06 05:20am

Most fantasy writing has a trade-off between abilities. Elves have great reflexes and eyesight, making great bowmen -- but are physically weaker than men, and therefore prone to be pwned in melee; etc, etc.
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Re: How much should we accept Elf superiority in fiction?

Post by Q99 » 2018-10-06 07:00am

Abacus wrote:
2018-10-06 05:20am
Most fantasy writing has a trade-off between abilities. Elves have great reflexes and eyesight, making great bowmen -- but are physically weaker than men, and therefore prone to be pwned in melee; etc, etc.
I mean, a lot of the time they're *also* faster and more skilled, with speed often being taken as the 'god stat' in melee.


Some writers do tend to do an 'we're just better,' race and I used to be really into that but have often grown more eeeh, as quite often the 'elite' status just makes 'em kinda jerks. The Minbari from B5 are one like this- overall they're treated as a 'good guy' power when one of their big acts in universe was a war of annihilation with intended genocide launched over a single incident and most still not getting what's wrong with that.


That said if they have other aspects, that can be fine. Vulcans were mentioned and for them it's quite clear their logic and emotional suppression is a double-edged sword. That's cool.

Really, it's all about execution.

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Re: How much should we accept Elf superiority in fiction?

Post by Imperial Overlord » 2018-10-06 07:18am

FaxModem1 wrote:
2018-10-06 03:03am

What's the best way to handle this in a story? Should a race be blatantly superior in every way? Or is this a bad story tool, and should be phased out in such fiction?
It's a useful tool, if you use it right. Vulcans in TOS, for example, are presented as different than us and better than us in most ways. It challenges notions of human centered universe in a human centered show while not having them being a threat and embracing diversity. It was mostly well handled. Vulcan and human relations in Enterprise is mostly embarrassingly bad writing with plot railroading making the scruffy and tenacious humans right and the arrogant Vulcans wrong.

Another good use of the "better race" is Bakker's Second Apocalypse series. The Nonmen are the elder race of the series and they are beautiful, powerful, far more intellectually and aristically accomplished than men who invented sorcery and have created greater works than any human empire. They are also ancient, nearly extinct, nearly all are suffering from some for of super PTSD, and were destroyed as a race and a civilization by their own hubris and greed, undone by the enemy that now threatens humanity. Many of them (for relative values of "many") are degraded shadows of their former glory. The knowledge and learning they have passed to men, now mostly (but not entirely) lost thanks to the Apocalypse, will be their legacy as a race. They're interesting, flawed, and tragic.
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Re: How much should we accept Elf superiority in fiction?

Post by Zixinus » 2018-10-06 09:35am

In works of fiction, if there are multiple races, or subsets of a race, there's the trap of one race being innately better than others. This is usually the elf. One needs only look at any scene involving elves from the Lord of the Rings trilogy and see them out perform humans in every area. They're cleaner, prettier, better fighters, everything they make is even better crafted than the other races who are known for crafting, they can even walk on snow without gravity affecting them, etc.
All human races are equal in the end. But why would be different species, with notable biological differences or even established species-boundaries, be equal in all measures?

That said, I'd like to note that LOTR elves also had weaknessess that others didn't, especially in the face of Sauron. Sauron, a corrupt elf himself, corrupted other elves. The Dwarve kings were corrupted but not subjugated. And Man is unbound in their nature in a way that elves aren't.
The point is clear though, you are not as good as these people, and you should feel bad for that. Is this a good thing to have storywise?
It can be, yes. Humbling the protagonist or even an entire species is not a bad thing. Establishing that the protagonist or protagonists' species/people/kingdom/group is not the best there is also can help and make their victories more meaningful.

There is also the question of how they are better. Are they innately better or better because of having more practice at being better? A species identical to humans except living several times longer would be better at doing various stuff simply by having more experience. Or were they better for some other reason, like simply being an older people or having the favor of gods or something?

It should also be noted that "better" is not "perfect". Maybe an ideal to some concept of ideal (ideally living in harmony with nature, ideal warriors, ideal survivors, ideal people to make an utopia, etc.). But it can be also great to show the difference between states, the power balance, etc.
What's the best way to handle this in a story? Should a race be blatantly superior in every way? Or is this a bad story tool, and should be phased out in such fiction?
It depends on what story you're trying to tell and how. You can use a "superior" species in both good and bad ways. It depends on what the writer is trying to say and how they think of it all.

The concept can have problematic issues with it, especially racist concepts or tropes that can creep up. But it is not inherently bad storytelling or worldbuilding.
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Re: How much should we accept Elf superiority in fiction?

Post by Crossroads Inc. » 2018-10-06 12:25pm

This is why I just omit Elves from my own fantasy world.
So many of the "traditional" races have so much built in baggage these days.

Elves, Dwarves, Halflings, I give the whole group the boot and start fresh.
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Re: How much should we accept Elf superiority in fiction?

Post by Lost Soal » 2018-10-06 05:51pm

Crossroads Inc. wrote:
2018-10-06 12:25pm
This is why I just omit Elves from my own fantasy world.
So many of the "traditional" races have so much built in baggage these days.

Elves, Dwarves, Halflings, I give the whole group the boot and start fresh.
The last set of Elves I read were from the Magnus Chase series where they were largely similar to humans, obsessed with wealth and power (middle class elves lived in mansions), held the other sentient species in their realm as little better than cattle, hated elves with any disabiliries and had almost entirely abandoned magic and archery (only the primary elf character could do it). Can't remember off hand if their lifespans were mentioned.

Edit- Oh and this series uses Norse Mythology as its base.
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Re: How much should we accept Elf superiority in fiction?

Post by Tribble » 2018-10-06 06:43pm

With regards to LOTR elves, while it's true that they have greater abilities then the other races... it's also completely besides the point since a major theme in those works is that strength of character matters a lot more.

LOTR Elves may be greater in terms of physical feats and wisdom... but so too are their failings and their ultimate fall. Meanwhile it is the Hobbits, despite being the weakest and least skilled/wise, that end up doing more for the side of good than anyone else. And they did it not out of a sense of pride or want for adventure, but simply because it was the right thing to do.

One of my favourite moments in the first Hobbit film sums this up rather nicely:
Galadriel: Why the Halfling?

Gandalf: I do not know... Saruman believes that it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I have found it is the small things, everyday deeds of ordinary folk, that keeps the darkness at bay. Simple acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps it is because I am afraid... and he gives me courage.
IMO this is a theme that tends to get lost sometimes, particularly when it comes to gaming. After all, who wants to be the halfling "thief" for a group (unless it's absolutely vital for a mission / dungeon) when you can be a cool wizard/warrior/elf?
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Re: How much should we accept Elf superiority in fiction?

Post by Starglider » 2018-10-06 10:27pm

Tribble wrote:
2018-10-06 06:43pm
After all, who wants to be the halfling "thief" for a group (unless it's absolutely vital for a mission / dungeon) when you can be a cool wizard/warrior/elf?
People who enjoy roleplaying a comedic character. A sizable minority of players prefer to be the jester of the group.

As for superior elves, usually it's individually superior skill, health and lifespan but low population and birth rate. Which is perfectly adequate as an explanation for why they aren't ruling the world, quantity has a quality all of its own after all.

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Re: How much should we accept Elf superiority in fiction?

Post by Raw Shark » 2018-10-07 02:40am

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AGE 12 ME AS MY FIRST RPG CHARACTER (OOC): ...that's a fuckin' joke, right..?

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Re: How much should we accept Elf superiority in fiction?

Post by Elheru Aran » 2018-10-07 07:52pm

Zixinus wrote:
2018-10-06 09:35am
That said, I'd like to note that LOTR elves also had weaknessess that others didn't, especially in the face of Sauron. Sauron, a corrupt elf himself, corrupted other elves. The Dwarve kings were corrupted but not subjugated. And Man is unbound in their nature in a way that elves aren't.
Point of order: Sauron wasn't an Elf, he was a Maiar, essentially a demigod, corrupted in his own turn by the fallen Melkor, who was more or less the original Lucifer figure of Middle-Earth...

Notably as well: Melkor was the one who created the Orcs, not Sauron. Sauron, while powerful, was nowhere near the amount of clout that Melkor was throwing around. Melkor was a global threat; Sauron was much more small-time by comparison, though by the end of the Third Age he was starting to build his way up there via the Rings. If he'd been in possession of the One the whole time, he probably would have had much more weight to throw around; as it was, the Last Alliance defeated him in pitched battle immediately after he took a big hit by going down with Numenor.

Really compared to the LOTR, the Silmarillion has a lot of flawed Elf characters...
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Re: How much should we accept Elf superiority in fiction?

Post by Tiriol » 2018-10-08 09:21am

Elheru Aran wrote:
2018-10-07 07:52pm
Zixinus wrote:
2018-10-06 09:35am
That said, I'd like to note that LOTR elves also had weaknessess that others didn't, especially in the face of Sauron. Sauron, a corrupt elf himself, corrupted other elves. The Dwarve kings were corrupted but not subjugated. And Man is unbound in their nature in a way that elves aren't.
Point of order: Sauron wasn't an Elf, he was a Maiar, essentially a demigod, corrupted in his own turn by the fallen Melkor, who was more or less the original Lucifer figure of Middle-Earth...

Notably as well: Melkor was the one who created the Orcs, not Sauron. Sauron, while powerful, was nowhere near the amount of clout that Melkor was throwing around. Melkor was a global threat; Sauron was much more small-time by comparison, though by the end of the Third Age he was starting to build his way up there via the Rings. If he'd been in possession of the One the whole time, he probably would have had much more weight to throw around; as it was, the Last Alliance defeated him in pitched battle immediately after he took a big hit by going down with Numenor.

Really compared to the LOTR, the Silmarillion has a lot of flawed Elf characters...
Natural selection at work: most Elves we encounter in LotR were wise enough, lucky enough or intelligent enough to avoid the bigger disasters and personality flaws that led to Elven hubris and destruction time and time again, starting with Feänor being a colossal dick. Or they had been so thoroughly humbled by the whole exile experience (Galadriel) that they know their mistakes and don't flaunt their gifts any more. Or they were too young to take any part in the bigger foul-ups of Elven history.

If we are really, really nit-picky, Melkor didn't create Orcs, either (as in "conjure them up out of nothing"). He corrupted Elves (there seems to be a pattern here...) into his service (and Silmarillion does have lines about Sauron taking part in it) and being sadistic, destructive little bastard he was, he did the corruption part with mutilation and torture. There are other theories about Orkish origin (one is that they are corrupted Men), but in Silmarillion the answer still is: Melkor made Orcs from Elvish stock. I think it was Sauron, though, who first had the idea of arming Orcs with actual weapons after Melkor was taken captive.
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Re: How much should we accept Elf superiority in fiction?

Post by Zixinus » 2018-10-08 01:08pm

It's a theme in general. The higher and mightier they were, the lower they'll fall and the greater evil they'll do. Or leave behind.

In sci-fi, it's usually Ancient Aliens with Super-Technology. Said super-technology was frequently a link to what killed the all-so-mighty-race if not the cause (Mass Effect especially).
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Re: How much should we accept Elf superiority in fiction?

Post by Q99 » 2018-10-09 05:08pm

I think it's a case where Tolkien used them as a story of hubris and such, and a lot of writers took from that, "Elves are cool and better than everyone else."

Also even with Tolkien, they were fairly obviously favored over dwarves and the like.

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Re: How much should we accept Elf superiority in fiction?

Post by Elheru Aran » 2018-10-09 05:39pm

Q99 wrote:
2018-10-09 05:08pm
I think it's a case where Tolkien used them as a story of hubris and such, and a lot of writers took from that, "Elves are cool and better than everyone else."

Also even with Tolkien, they were fairly obviously favored over dwarves and the like.
Leaving aside the embarrassment of Tolkien's Dwarves basically being fantasy Jews... you try creating an archetypal fantasy race and not getting a bit attached :P that said, well yeah, they were pretty much where he started with Middle-Earth to begin with, and were almost the central species of his legendarium if it wasn't for LOTR and the few outstanding Human characters of Silmarillion. Oh, and the Hobbits, he obviously had a soft spot for those, mostly because he depicted them as Men with the bad parts cut out. That and the whole utopian pastoral ideal he had going on around them.

Honestly though what most fantasy versions of Elves miss is that the original version, Tolkien's vision of them, culminates in them leaving Middle-Earth for the West because they... screwed up. They weren't 'too good' for Middle-Earth... they simply weren't able to make it work, mostly thanks to their arrogance and, yeah, hubris. If Feanor had left well enough alone and just told the Valar straight off when Morgoth stole the Silmarils, he wouldn't have killed off a bunch of his kinsmen and packed off most of the species to Beleriand to make a complete hash of trying to defeat the Dark Lord. It took more or less literal divine intervention to sort it out, and the end of the Silmarillion basically amounts to the Valar and Maiar telling the Elves, "okay, we saved your asses, now get back in the damn car, we're going home".

It's not a story of superiority, it's a story of perfection not being good enough. The Orcs are far from perfect, but they pretty routinely manage to defeat Elven armies. Men are far from perfect, but they're still the ones to more or less literally inherit the Earth. Dwarves are left to fade beneath their mountains, the Ents fall asleep in the forests, and the Hobbits likewise slip into the pages of history. This is where the religious angle in Tolkien's work really comes through-- Men cannot depend on long lives and extraordinary powers to make an impact on the world, so they must work hard and be morally excellent to stand out during their short lifespans.
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Re: How much should we accept Elf superiority in fiction?

Post by Elfdart » 2018-10-09 09:36pm

Q99 wrote:
2018-10-09 05:08pm
I think it's a case where Tolkien used them as a story of hubris and such, and a lot of writers took from that, "Elves are cool and better than everyone else."

Also even with Tolkien, they were fairly obviously favored over dwarves and the like.
Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword depicts elves in a similar way, only many of them are quite depraved (including their king) and iron affects them the same way silver does werewolves. They are also outperformed in both the mystical and martial arts by Skafloc, a human who was brought to their realm as an infant, since his shorter lifespan gives him a sense of urgency that no elf could ever have.
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Re: How much should we accept Elf superiority in fiction?

Post by Solauren » 2018-10-11 08:07pm

I think you're all reading it things a little much.

Most of the fiction I've read, Elves are on the decline, or well past their heyday. (i.e in the Forgotten Realms).

They just act superior, because of all their 'glorious history'.

I've regarded them as a way towards generic social commentary about older people not realizing the bigger picture.
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Re: How much should we accept Elf superiority in fiction?

Post by Q99 » 2018-10-11 09:58pm

They tend to be in a vague 'decline' while being individually awesome and such. Often in cases where why they're declining really doesn't make sense considering how awesome they are ^^ Or it's just 'low birthrate but we're still super smart and you should listen to us.'

D&D has some of it too, a number of Elf books have really been in the 'elves are more awesome' camp, like AD&D 2ed's Complete Book of Elves.

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Re: How much should we accept Elf superiority in fiction?

Post by Solauren » 2018-10-11 10:29pm

Q99 wrote:
2018-10-11 09:58pm
They tend to be in a vague 'decline' while being individually awesome and such. Often in cases where why they're declining really doesn't make sense considering how awesome they are ^^ Or it's just 'low birthrate but we're still super smart and you should listen to us.'

D&D has some of it too, a number of Elf books have really been in the 'elves are more awesome' camp, like AD&D 2ed's Complete Book of Elves.
AD&D2e had horrible quality control for the most part.
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Re: How much should we accept Elf superiority in fiction?

Post by Raw Shark » 2018-10-12 11:45am

Fuck Elves. I mean, literally. If an elf takes your Johnson, you've probably got it made in this setting.

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Re: How much should we accept Elf superiority in fiction?

Post by Raw Shark » 2018-10-12 11:50am

Raw Shark wrote:
2018-10-12 11:45am
Fuck Elves. I mean, literally. If an elf takes your Johnson, you've probably got it made in this setting.
And if an elf [/does] take your bow, you have my official permission to beat them within an inch of this mortal coil and hand it back..[/i]
]

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Re: How much should we accept Elf superiority in fiction?

Post by Tribble » 2018-10-12 12:31pm

Raw Shark wrote:
2018-10-12 11:50am
Raw Shark wrote:
2018-10-12 11:45am
Fuck Elves. I mean, literally. If an elf takes your Johnson, you've probably got it made in this setting.
And if an elf [/does] take your bow, you have my official permission to beat them within an inch of this mortal coil and hand it back..[/i]
]
You're right! Elves are just Orcs with good publicity.
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Re: How much should we accept Elf superiority in fiction?

Post by Zixinus » 2018-10-12 01:55pm

In the Witcher novels, elves are a prosecuted minority who are often targets for racial hatred (they're thrown together with dwarves and others) and non-rarely tend to passionately hate humans. As humans have assumed the majority in this world. They have old history around but they're mostly gone. In it, the elves and others ruled this world along with lots of magical creatures and humans were invading newcomers that brutally established themselves as mayority.

There was also one guy that gave an explanation that elf women loved human cock as one of the reasons for their downfall. I'm not joking, although the character in the story might be. He actually is found making "fake" cave paintings to give the humans false history. In it he paints the hunters having extraordinary long dicks just to mess with the possible human scholars, so he might just be obsessed with cocks.

What is revealed to be an interesting turnaround is that the elves are multi-world species that are actually very powerful. And in a shocking turn of events, on worlds they rule (or at least, the world Ciri got to) they used humans as slaves.
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