Dark elves; the Unfortunate Implications of a dark-skinned race being Always Chaotic Evil aside, why are the underground dwellers dark-skinned and the surface dwellers lily-white? Shouldn't the Drow be pale from centuries of living underground? While elves in hot climates would be dark skinned, as are humans in Real Life. (Warcraft at least seems to get this right) Elf Only Inn had a point; if you did the same with humans, there'd be outrage. (I've even heard Drizz't described as an Uncle Tom).
Well, I can't speak for dark elves, but the reason given why Surface elves are traditionally pale is because they are nocturnal. They live in the moonlight and see by starlight. This is why they have low-light vision. It's also why elven vampires in the Ravenloft setting are out in the sun and die if exposed to moonlight. It's supposed to be tragic or something.
Only...elves, as in, the ones in legends, are always depicted as very palethey often have white hair (think Sesshoumaru), and it probably carried over to the Standard Fantasy Setting. Why were they traditionally pale? Maybe because "alv/alf/elf" comes from the same Indo-European root as "albino" and "albedo", and means "white, glowing, pale"—which kinda makes them more horror than Mary Suetopia (their race is called "The Pale Ones", tell me that's not creepy). Incidentally, no, humans are not darker skinned from hot climates, they're darker-skinned from getting more sunlight in equatorial latitudes—and nothing says elves would do that, since that would have to assume they have melanin (just a guess, but the metabolism of a being that lives for centuries is probably weird, and that includes tyrosinase production).
Huh. The old-style elves I'm familiar with have blonde hair, but don't have pale skin (they're vaguely gypsy-like in The Moorchild, fitting their status as abductors of children, and they look Japanese in Tithe.) I always thought the pale elves were an invention of Tolkien's.
Traditional Germanic elves looked just like humans, only far more beautiful. They were minor gods who were worshiped and offered sacrifices. Like humans, they could have any color hair, and the men often had beards. In fact, some elves originally were humans, but became elves when they died, then decided to hang around to protect their families - or if they were kings in life, their formers subjects. Elves probably originally didn't have pointed ears either. If they were described as pale, it was because paleness was a sign of beauty for the Germanic tribes. In this case though, they're describe as white because white was the symbolic color of divinity. White means pure, unstained, without flaws.
As for dark elves, they're cursed, there is no biological explanation for them. Now, if you want to go back where it all started in Norse Mythology, well, things change quite a bit. I've gone through The Other Wiki entry on elves a lot, for research for my own stories. I seem to recall two different explanations, neither one being a wizard. The first explanation is that their skin actually is very pale. It's their hair and eyes that are black. No real explanation for their hair and eye color, other than "they just are", but it makes sense. The alternative explanation is that, in the original Norse, dwarves and dark elves were one and the same. As You Know, dwarves love their metallurgy. Well, it takes fire to shape metal, and fire makes ash. The dark elves/dwarves are black from all the soot, and their true skin color is unknown.
As for light skinned elves, in the original Norse, there was only the high elves, and the dark elves. Wood elves came later by the English IIRC. So, in Norse, the elves were beautiful and fair, because that's just how they were. They were very powerful beings, one step away from godhood. I feel I should also add that, judging from the paintings/engravings from that era, norse elves looked badass (they were invented by vikings after all).
As for Unfortunate Implications, the similarities between dark elves and real black people are superficial at best (worst?). For one thing, black people don't naturally have platinum blond hair. And dark elf skin is usually inhumanly black. Their evilness also has no similarities to the stereotypes about black people. If a story featured dark elves with gold teeth, fros/cornrolls, and spoke in ebonics, well, you may have a point. But I've never seen that anywhere, usually dark elves just stab each other in the back and act like assholes in general.
This African-American troper thinks you're either missing the point or just don't know better. In 1970s Gygaxian Greyhawk D&D, which is where 99% of modern Dark Elf media tropes come from, the Drow were light-skinned Elves whose skin turned black because the Elven gods cursed them for their evil. Their black skin was repeatedly said to be the result of their turn to Lolth worship. Supplements even as recent as late 80s/early '90s AD&D 2E splatbooks explained that Drow skin was pitch black as a sign they were evil. Keep in mind that Most Game Designers Are White Guys, and that tabletop gaming in those days had a dearth of non-Anglo-based cultures (the few that existed were savages, Ethnic Scrappies, foils for adventurer parties (assumed to be lily white, naturally), or all of the above. Also keep in mind that equating dark skin with evil has a long and ugly racist history not just in fiction, but in Real Life (Google the "mark of Cain" some time and prepare to hurl). Not only that, but there were quite a few character designs and pieces of artwork in supplements that showed Drow as having skin tones much more in line with real black people; the Menzoberranzan box set sitting on my shelf does it, and that's just the most famous example. And while the racial stuff is wonky on its own, that's not even getting into the mountainsofquestionablegenderissues at play. "Unfortunate" does not begin to cover the implications in the popular portrayal of Drow, and I say that as a diehard fan of them across the alignment spectrum. There's a reason most modern portrayals of the Drow in various media lampshade this stuff or try to subvert it somehow. Fortunately, D&D itself got a lot better about it in subsequent editions, leather pantsing of the race by players notwithstanding. In the Forgotten Realms, Drow were dark-skinned all along, because they'd lived in jungles and tropical regions prior to the Descent when they were still Dark Elves, only turning a bit darker when they were banished and named Drow. (Plus, it's not nearly so egregious because FR Elves as a whole are a lot more varied in skin tone, depending on subrace). The race also got way more complex and interesting. Naturally Wot C had to pull a Wall Banger in the lead up to 4th Edition and inadvertently introduced the old skin color issue while dumbing down the race back to its Always Chaotic Evil roots and killing off the entire Drow pantheon but Lolth. Quite a few hardcore FR fans treat the Lady Penitent trilogy as Fanon Dis Continuity for a reason...
While I agree that there is certainly Unfortunate Implications to be had, I think that attributing "dark = evil, bad, scary" to solely racism is adding a political edge to history. Darkness and shadows are something to be feared by humans, as we are diurnal creatures. It also invokes a sense of death and decay, as dying flesh often blackens. Dirt can be linked to disease. And, just so you know—a fear of black, and a stigma of darker skin tones is true of tribal Africa, as well. The preference for lighter colored skin is somewhat unconnected—it is not so much that light skin is associated with the daytime and therefore purity and goodness, it is associated with the aristocratic elite. The people who do not need to toil in the sun, and thus maintain a lighter skin tone. Again, this is also true of darker-skinned ethnicities.
In all fairness there skin color varies greatly from light gray to pale purple, to jet black.
I'm not well versed in dark elves, but wouldn't dark skin make for excellent camouflage in dark, lightless caves?
Not really- if a cave is truly lightless, the stuff living there is probably either going to make its' own light, or be less dependent on the visible spectrum (relying either on light outside the visible spectrum- such as IR, or navigating by sound or some other non-visual method). Of course, if it's simply dark, or if the creatures living there make their own light, then yeah, dark skin is going to help, assuming they don't have one of the other methods as backup.
Any camoflage bonus their skin gave would be nullified by their platinum blonde hair.
Real species that only live in lightless caves tend to be bright white/pink. Could be that that's the basic color of flesh when you're not hiding it under pigment, or could be that what you're trying to blend in with in a cave is white limestone anyway.
I've been told by an Uncyclopedian that instead of becoming tan with melanin to block excess sunlight, at least some elven races become pearly with guanine so that they reflect it. Notice how real-world chemical sunscreens aren't black.
Would it help if the dark elves were in fact depicted as being blue-skinned, rather than black? This troper has seen at least one example of Drizzt Do'Urden being drawn with dark blue skin.
No, because blue is my favourite colour.
Come to think of it, Warcraft actually got it right.
So has Rift, since...although the Kelari elves are a bit creepy and decidedly gray.
Ruleof Cool may largely be in effect here as well, since the dark skin and light hair look really, really awesome when placed against nighttime backdrops. I don't know much about the history of dark elves, but from a strictly artistic perspective, their appearance seems more like an inversion of the traditional Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette in an attempt to make them look less ordinary. That doesn't do anything for the Unfortunate Implications of having skin tone serve as a marker of evil, though.
Doesn't bug anyone else how all elves are depicted as immortal, yet they're always all grown-up? Either they came out of their mothers fully grown or they just sort of appeared. Never getting older would, logic assumes, also applies to kids, so elves would never grow up.
I either heard it at some point or just assumed it as a kid, that they just stopped physically ageing when they were mature. Like lizards generally look about the same when they're grown up young as they do when they're older...Bad analogy, but you get the point.
My Tolkien is rusty, but I think the first generation of his elves were literally hand crafted as adults by the gods, so no pitter pattering little feet there. From the lens of simple logistics though, any society of immortals doesn't need a high birth rate to replace dying population (save for those killed in accidents), heck, the break even human fertility rate of 2% would likely seem Malthusian to them. Plus, being the natural-balance loving types, elf couples they likely only have a child every other century. Coupled with Immortality Begins at Twenty, odds are a visitor just plain never arrives at a time period when there are kids. (Heck, if I was an Elf, I'd actually try to coordinate with other couples to *ehem* have a mating season so our kids wouldn't grow up without any peers.)
That and if you had both a low fertility rate and your kids took a century or so to grow up... personally I'd keep em in a freaking fortress til they were old enough to defend themselves. Ever wonder why elves are usually an endangered species?
Didn't anyone see The Santa Clause? Elves take several centuries to grow up at the North Pole.
Now, I know there are exceptions to the notion of Elves being a morally Superior Species, but how come every single elf in fantasy is portrayed as The Beautiful Elite, with an advanced history much longer than humanity? Why can't humans be the first (non-divine) sapient species to appear in a fantasy world, it's Truth in Television for crying out loud! Besides, I'd like to see a fantasy story with Keebler-style elves who are the size of leprechauns and live in trees, doing domestic tasks. It would be funny...
I think it's because Most Writers Are Human and we like to think of ourselves as pretty much the ultimate in intelligent species, compared to which pretty much everything else (other than maybe some divine entities) must necessarily be flawed in some way. (This is reinforced by the fact that thinking up a species that we might actually accept as 'better than we are' rather than dismiss as a bunch of Mary Sues is genuinely hard.) Having the gods create us and then keep creating more new species even though they have us already kind of goes against that because it suggests that we are after all merely the flawed first shots at something better.
Actually, there are a few writers I know (currently unpublished, just in my circle of acquaintances), who are writing fantasy stories where all of the other Humanoid races split off from humanity as a result of magically-enhanced Microevolution. Think of it as Radiation turning Bruce Banner into the Hulk, only for an entire race, over the course of a few generations, and without the crippling social and psychological problems... It explains why they're so similar to humanity, but on various extremes of the human spectrum as far as physiology and psychology go. Heck, there are even 'sub-races' of these humanoid derivatives who split off in a slightly different manner! BTW, yes, we are still looking for more ideas on this subject, if The Troper Groupmind has any...
This is largely the background for the Shannara series by Terry Brooks. Elves are a different species, but trolls, gnomes and dwarves all descended from humans after a nuclear war.
Different humanoid races (humans, elves, orcs, dwarves, etc.) being more like different breeds of dogs than actual different species would explain why their half-breeds are fertile in most fiction.
Elves are advanced to the point where they can live within the forest without have to chop it all down. It's all a matter of perspective, humans think they're advanced because they dominate the forest, elves think they're advanced because they live at one with the forest, and dwarves think they're advanced because fuck you, I live underground where are no forests.
One contradiction in depictions of elves that's always bugged this troper is their relations with shorter-lived creatures. On the one hand, they're shown treating mortal humans with either pity, contempt, or aloofness because we don't live long, so are seen as pathetic, hopelessly-juvenile, or not worth getting to know because we'll be dead so soon. Yet at the same time, woodland elves supposedly have this deeply-spiritual and respectful relationship with the animals of the forest ... none of whom live more than a fraction of a human's lifespan! What's up with that?