Historical Dark Elves

Posted in Information on January 28th, 2011 by lotus253
Dark Elf

Dark Elf

I love Dark Elves! They are one of my favorite fantasy critters. Here is an ultra-short primer on their history!

The first historical mythological context of the Drow was seen in ancient Norse, Germanic, and Scottish mythology/folklore. The Drow, also called Dark elves, are seen in Germanic and Norse mythology. Dark elves were called the Dökkálfar (old Norse) or the Svartálfar; However, the Svartálfar were mainly referred to as black elves, as “Svar-“ means ‘Black’, while the Dökkálfar were referred to as the dark elves. These Germanic myths of the dark elves were first documented in Snorri Sturluson’s Gylfaginning Edda. These were considered the opposite of the Ljósálfar, or “light elves” (Simek, R., 1993, p.295-296).

The Svartálfar from Norse mythology were humanoids that lived underground where they flourished in a place called Svartálfheim, or “Black-Elf-World”. According to the folklore they worked forges on the world tree at the lowest level, and it was thought that they developed their black skin from working the forges (Dark elves, 2007). Also these elves were believed to act either benign or evil, but most myths told of the elves acting evil (Lindow, J., 2001, p. 110).

The Dökkálfar from Norse mythology were a bit different from the Svartálfar. While they did not like the light they did not live underground usually and were considered ancient male spirits that could protect humans, however they were often malevolent. They were considered the opposite of the Ljósálfar (light elves and/or high elves) Scottish folklore developed their version of dark elves from the Norse. They were referred to as Trow or black elves and were homogeneous to the Svartálfar. They lived in mines and caves and were sometimes considered to be good, but most stories portray them as being evil (Dark elves, 2007).

Gary Gygax in the game Dungeon’s and Dragons created the second and most commonly known context for the Drow. He based all of the games mythology on ancient mythology, such the mythology listed above. This is a role playing game using paper, dice, and a pencil, most commonly played by the gaming and nerd culture. In my experience I have found that more males play this D&D then do females. The Drow are a playable race in this game. In general a Drow character has the social-alignment of evil. They have black skin and silky white-silver hair, generally. They usually have red eyes, but may have grey, amber, or even violet eye colors. Their eyes are sensitive to the light and they cannot tolerate sunlight well so, they live underground in a place called “the Underdark” (Vaughan, G. A., Schwalb, R. J., Pryor, A., Marmell, A., 2007).

In this fantasy realm there is a vast amount of mythology and story behind the Drow. There is so much mythology; this essay cannot cover it all. Depending on which branch of D&D is being played, generally there is one goddess that Drow worship called Lolth. She has eight corporal forms, however she is mainly depicted as a Drow, a Strider (half Drow and half spider), or as a spider. She is often referred to as the spider queen. Also in the Drow realm the females rule and are the clerics to Lolth. The males are looked down upon and are often sacrificed to Lolth. In other branches of the D&D, such as Forgotten Realms, there are two other popular Drow gods. The first, Eilistraee is the only goddess that is good and attempts to lead the Drow from their evil ways, while the second, Vhaeraun, is an evil god yet his followers are males that wish to overpower the females of the race. All of these gods and goddesses are continually at war with one another (Vaughan, G. A., et al, 2007).

The third context Drow are found in is really an off-shoot from D&D. Again the cultures involved are gamers and nerds. Many books were written about the Drow from the mythology found in D&D. These books again depict the Drow, as being evil however there are a few exceptions. In the Forgotten Realm series the Drow Drizzt Do’Urden and Liriel Baenre reject their evil culture and choose to follow a moral path they felt in their hearts (Salvatore, 2005).

The last and fourth context for the Drow can be found in video games. Again, the cultures involved are gamers and nerds, and again most males play these. Some video games are part of the D&D world and those games include: Dungeons & Dragons MMORPG, or Massively Multiplayer Online Roll-Playing Game, and the Neverwinter Nights series, Icewind Dale, etc. Other video games, however, are not related to D&D directly; yet still contain Drow by other names. The Drow are referred to as dark elves since they did not have the copyrights to call them by the same name as D&D. Dark elves can be played in the following role playing games: The Elder Scrolls Series, Everquest (mmorpg), Everquest II (mmorpg), Lineage (mmorpg), and Lineage II (mmorpg) are just some of the examples. Again, generally the dark elves are socially-aligned as evil.

“Dark elves.”, (2007). Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved September 13, 2007, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_Elf

Lindow, J.(2001). Handbooks of world mythology: Handbook of Norse Mythology. Denver, Co: ABC Clio.

Salvatore, R. A. (2005). The Legend of Drizzt, Book I: Homeland. Renton, Wa: Wizards of the Coast.

Simek, R. (1993). Dictionary of Northern Mythology. (Hall, A., Trans.). Rochester, NY: D. S. Brower. (Original work published 1984).

Vaughan, G. A., Schwalb, R. J., Pryor, A., Marmell, A. (2007). Dungeons & Dragons: Drow of the Underdark. Renton, Wa: Wizards of the Coast.

Watson, T. Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master (personal communication, September 12, 2007