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Images of elves – examining the extent of the Tolkienian transformation, and subsequent 'postmodern' visions (Part Two)

By Mark Wegierski
web posted June 13, 2016

This essay is based on a draft of a presentation co-written with Wojciech Szymanski, M.A., read at the 2014 Fantastic Literature Conference (Supernatural Creatures: from Elf-Shot to Shrek) (Lodz, Poland: University of Lodz), September 22-24, 2014.

Terry Pratchett's Discworld is constituted by magic. Metaphysical ideas of our world (e.g., teleportation, mind-reading, generally the ability to control matter with the power of mind) and fantastic things, e.g., unicorns, elves, trolls, mages, witches, are rather ordinary phenomena on the Discworld. Because of its strong magical field, almost all of that world's abstract creation is animistic (e.g., the personification of death; hangover; the force responsible for the mysterious disappearance of socks in the washing).  

Elves in Pratchett are nothing like those of Tolkien. Here elves kill humans for fun and wreak havoc for the sheer pleasure of it.

Elves are wonderful. They provoke wonder.
Elves are marvellous. They cause marvels.
Elves are fantastic. They create fantasies.
Elves are glamorous. They project glamour.
Elves are enchanting. They weave enchantment.
Elves are terrific. They beget terror.

The thing about words is that meanings can twist just like a snake, and if you want to find snakes look for them behind words that have changed their meaning. No one ever said elves are nice. Elves are bad.

Terry Pratchett, Lords and Ladies. London: Transworld Publishers – Corgi, 1993, pp. 169-170.

Pratchett's elves are parasitic beings from other dimension. They use narratives to control their hosts. They lure people with stories created by editing what is remembered and fight their enemies by manipulating their thoughts. They also possess an almost magical ability called ‘glamour' – the ability to confuse and overawe. They manage to invade Lancre because the barrier separating the worlds was broken by the staging of a play very similar in plot to Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Because of the reality leakage thus created they manage to launch an attack on the Lancre Castle. The invasion is finally averted but evil is not vanquished. Elves wait for another chance when the layer of reality will be thin enough, and people start dreaming too often – they will be there.

The elves of Pratchett, though set in a much more playful world than that of Warhammer Fantasy (chronicled below) are quite similar to the Dark Elves in Warhammer, in their being as deadly as beautiful.

To be continued. ESR

Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.




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