Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Earthy Elves Cliche




I've recently gotten into sword and sorcery, partly due to reviews I'm doing for The Portal, and also thanks to the freebie books from the World Fantasy Convention.  One theme that seems prevalent throughout sword and sorcery and high fantasy is the nature of the connection between elves and the earth.  I've also seen the same thing between witches or mages and the earth.  I do think that the connection must be there in order for the elves to feel, well, elvish, but I find the way in which it usually is done is growing a bit tiresome.

Take Chris Evan's A Darkness Forged in Fire, for example.  His Iron Elves, his setting, and the premise are completely different than what one would normally find in high fantasy and are very refreshing.  I realize he is more sword and sorcery, but I have to compare his book to high fantasy, as that is what I've read up until now.  I'm just starting to get into sword and sorcery.  Overall, I've really liked the book.  (Update:  I just finished the book and loved it despite my issue.)

However, the way in which he presents the Elfkynan and the Elves of the Long Watch is another matter.  In the story, the Elves of the Long Watch are elves that are completely integrated into the forest.  They know everything there is to know about the forest and see everything from the forest's point of view.  The Elfkynan are also forest dwellers with similar views, but to a less radical degree.  Speaking of the Elfkynan, an Elf of the Long Watch says, "...they have forsaken the stewardship that is their birthright.  These forests are yet children in this world and should not have been left alone to fend for themselves."  (Evans, Chris:  pg. 430)  In other words, the forest is a fragile thing that should be protected and preserved against undesirable change.

I feel a very close connection to my environment, but it feels nothing like the Elves of the Long Watch.  I have a much different paradigm, having grown up on a ranch in the plains and badlands of eastern Montana.  When one attempts to preserve nature, one tends to kill it.  If one tried to keep the range the same at all times, the damage would be horrific.

Constant fluctuations in natural systems are what makes them healthy in the long run.  Drought is a good thing when balanced by rainy periods.  It teaches a natural system how to recover.  My father severely grazes his range, right down to stubble.  A pasture that he's grazed looks terrible.

The key is that he then leaves the pasture alone for two years.  In those two years, the grass recovers and grows back thick from all of the manure left behind by the cattle.  The manure spreads seeds all over the place.  Noxious weeds, or weeds that spread rampantly, are kept in check.  The constant grind of hooves into the dirt works seeds into the soil around the water holes, which plants trees and shrubs that shoot up in the two years of rest.  The severe grazing also gets rid of old, dead plant matter that feeds prairie fires.  We've actually seen fires burn up to our fences, then go out.  The cycle of severe damage, followed by rest, creates a robust ecosystem.

In my view, this constant fluctuation of extremes is what embodies nature.  There are constant natural fluctuations in rainfall, temperature, and climate.  Sometimes these fluctuations last a season, a week, or eons.  Nature never stays static, and I've yet to find any earthy folk in a fantasy story that embraces this.  Every elf culture I've ever read values equilibrium, but the very soul of nature is change.

If the traditional elvish ideals float your boat, no biggie.  If an author, like Chris Evans, is using that traditional view to contrast and conflict with another, no biggie.  I'm just stating that the lack of variety is growing a bit cliche for me.

3 comments:

  1. Yes, elves as being creatures close to nature is a cliche. In some cultures, elves are mischievous, not to be trusted, and tricksters. Sometimes elves are used to represent an ethnic group or particular culture, rather than having the group be represented outright.

    Your brief explanation of agriculture makes an excellent point. Nice thought-provoking post.

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  2. I had never considered this before, but your view has a great deal more of realism and depth.

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  3. Thanks for your kind comments. I was worried my post would make some folks angry, as it kind of attacks the soul of environmentalism.

    Thanks again for stopping by!

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