What is a Dark Elf?

 
 
 

Dark Elven Maiden

Dark Elven Maiden

 

About Dark Elves

Simply put, a “Dark Elf” is a mythical humanoid creature having pointy ears, slender with human features, and dark skin ranging from blue and purple to absolute black. Dark Elves are not always good or evil and have been portrayed in many different settings for many hundreds of years.

General

First, let’s look at what an Elf is in general terms: An elf is a mythical humanoid creature of northern European mythology. Elves appear in differing forms throughout history, but they tend to have similar features and characteristics. Elves tend to be slender in form, often aesthetically pleasing, depicted with an abundance of endowments. There are conflicting tales concerning the height, life span, and even the ear shape of elves, but for the purposes of fantasy works Elves generally have pointy ears, long life spans measured in centuries, and heights ranging from a few feet to the size of a normal human. These trends are an idealization of human fantasy and may be found in other mythological beings, such as titans, nymphs, fairies, and ever heroes. Given all of these differences, we are lead to the question: How does anyone categorize an elf since classical fairies, nymphs, etc, have many of the attributes described. The difference shouldn’t be sought in their appearance, but their archetype. Elves are an idealized sense of what humans could aspire to. They are often very wise, as skilled in their arts as a Kung Fu master, and beautiful beyond normal human measures. They cheat death with their extended lives and healing magic’s, while remaining young and well endowed for the majority of their lives. These are common human aspirations which exceed the bonds of tribe and tongue. We love Elves because of what we are not.

Dark Elf Warrior

Dark Elf Warrior

The Dark Elf

As humans come in many different sizes, shapes, and colors, so to do Elves. Because of their fantastic nature and the literary muse of their envisioners, Elves tend to be cast in themed groups based upon physical features, habitat, or abilities. The literary Dark elf is actually a product of the writings of a famous Icelandic poet and historian Snorri Sturluson, c. 1179-1241. Snorri’s famous book (poem), the Younger Edda, makes a short reference to the Dark Elves as being the maintainers of the fires burning deep below the world tree, or Yggdrasil:

Then said Ganglere: Great tidings you are able to tell of the heavens. Are there other remarkable places than the one by Urd’s fountain? Answered Har: There are many magnificent dwellings. One is there called Alfheim. There dwell the folk that are called light-elves; but the dark-elves dwell down in the earth, and they are unlike the light-elves in appearance, but much more so in deeds. The light-elves are fairer than the sun to look upon, but the dark-elves are blacker than pitch. Another place is called Breidablik, and no place is fairer. There is also a mansion called Glitner, of which the walls and pillars and posts are of red gold, and the roof is of silver. Furthermore, there is a dwelling, by name Himinbjorg, which stands at the end of heaven, where the Bifrost-bridge is united with heaven. And there is a great dwelling called Valaskjalf, which belongs to Odin. The gods made it and thatched it with, sheer silver. In this hall is the high-seat, which is called Hlidskjalf, and when Alfather sits in this seat, he sees over all the world. In the southern end of the world is the palace, which is the fairest of all, and brighter than the sun; its name is Gimle. It shall stand when both heaven and earth shall have passed away. In this hall the good and the righteous shall dwell through all ages (Sturluson, 17).

 

Note: In the Younger Edda the word for Dark Elf is dökkálfar, literally “Dark Elf” and the word for Black Elf, another reference to Dark Elves, is Svartálfar, literally “Black Elf”.

Dark Elves are often seen in popular fantasy, such as video games and books, most notably in the role playing game Dungeons and Dragons. In these contexts Dark Elves tend to have commonalities: They tend to be subterranean, matriarchal, reclusive, evil, and extremely powerful. Above all else, popular fantasy tends to place light colored elves at odds with Dark Elves. These themes are reminiscent of story devices found throughout all of recorded literature and probably reflect many of the basic truths, fears, and longings of humanity.

 Sturluson, Snorri. The Younger Edda. Trans Rasmus B. Anderson Chicago: Scott, Foresman and Company. 1901.

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