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Elves are many different things to many different people, but it's important to remember the one thing elves always are: better. Better than you, me, and even other elves. Especially other elves.
They are also quite aware of that fact and will let you know it, again and again and you won't argue about it, (most of the time). After all, they've quite often been around for a lot longer than those upstart humans. The flavor of this betterness will vary across stories and authors between all-natural, magical, or just plain nasty. Some of them might be even be humble and will make sure you know about it.
High Elves: These guys are better than you, and they won't hesitate to remind you at every opportunity. They're usually physically superior in "every way that counts" which is to say, they don't count others' strengths as worthwhile. They'll frequently be part of an ancient civilization/kingdom that has been in Medieval Stasis since before human speech. These guys usually favor whites, reds, blues, and imperial purples and wear super-sumptuous clothes along with delicate jewelry that make fangirls squee with envy. Rapiers, bows, and spears are favored weapons for their ground forces, with the option of sleek scimitars in settings where rapiers are too modern. Unlike their more down-to-earth compatriots, they'll usually live in a Shining City that will invariably be cleaner than human cities. Usually very proficient with magic and producing magical items and artifacts. If these guys have any weakness at all, (aside from their blind narcissism, of course) it will usually be that they are slimmer and more delicate physically than both the other types of elves, and humans/dwarves, which means that while they're nearly always better magicians than humans, they are not always going to win a physical fight. Usually the most insufferably arrogant of elves, though they may not necessarily be openly antagonistic.
Sea Elves: Generally an aquatic equivalent to Wood Elves, though more rarely they can resemble High Elves or even Dark Elves. They tend to be physically identical to 'normal' elves, sometimes taking an exception for a discrete set of gills, webbing between their toes, or blue or green skin and hair. Sea Elves, when they aren't a more down-to-earth seafaring subset of the High Elves, live in beautiful Underwater Cities built out of coral or natural grottos. They may be able to turn into sea animals (usually dolphins) and even if they can't they'll be friendly with dolphins, sea serpents and similar creatures.
Half-Elves: Since all elves are (or think themselves to be) more attractive than humans, they often develop intimate relations and the results of all this canoodling are Half-Elves. These guys have half the coolness of their elf parent, but half the suck of their human side (including mortality, or worse by far, facial hair). They are usually outcasts, or if not outcasts, then have embraced one of their parentages to the exclusion of the other (usually the Elf part, because humans suck).
Pure-blooded Elves will usually treat Half-Elves far worse than they treat normal Humans. Expect High Elves to sneer at them or pity them, dark elves to damn them as mongrels and try to kill them, whilst humans tend to stand, point, gawp slack jawed and go "Oooo!" at them. Only rarely will Half-Elves be treated as equals, which gives them a Angst rating on par with the Friendly Neighborhood Vampire. Elves may even disavow the existence of Half-Elves altogether, because no Elf would ever associate with such an inferior species. It's not unlikely for the parent to be ridiculed or exiled, as well.note Disturbingly close to 19th Century "Tragic Mulatto" stories (see the entry in Pass Fail).
Straight and golden-blond or white shoulder length hair, straight dark hair, or flowing red tresses "the colour of autumn leaves" (with that quote) are common. For some reason other colors and curly or kinky hair are rarely seen, unless it's a setting where elves are distinct from humans by having a rainbow of unnatural hair colors, like metallic silver, ruby red, purple, bright blue, pink and green.
A strong warrior tradition, albeit one that is usually more refined than most. Perhaps because of the nature of the settings they exist in, pacifist elves are surprisingly rare. On an individual level, Elves tend to wield elegant, graceful weapons, such as scimitars, rapiers, katanas, daggers, spears, and especially longbows. Elves who wield large crushing weapons such as battleaxes and warhammers are incredibly rare, and most Elves wouldn't even touch a crossbow or a gun. Elves are also experts with magic - if you have a Magic Knight or a full-on mage in your party, s/he's likely to be an Elf. On a wider scale, expect an Elf fighting force to utilise mobility and stealth over brute force, with lots of magical backup.
The Abh from Crest/Banner of the Stars count as space elves for all intents and purposes. Pale blue hair, pointed ears (royalty only), and unearthly beauty. They live for over 200 years (but probably under 300), and would live even longer if they were not genetically programmed to die before their minds begin to degrade. The main difference between the standard is one thing: they're hiring. If a human joins their society then their children's DNA can be tweaked at birth so that they are born as Abh; if the human joins their nobility this is required because Abh have a sensory organ necessary to pilot their ships.
Tenchi Muyo: War on Geminar has the Dark Elves of Shurifon. Despite their name and appearance, they are more akin to Wood Elves since they live in a huge forest and are at peace with nature. Overall they are physically more capable than anyone else on the planet barring a short period of time in the day when they are as weak as newborn kittens due to being a transplanted species from another world. The main character Kenshi is the only one who is stronger and he isn't exactly a normal human either.
A more typical anime elf example happens in Zero no Tsukaima's third season. Tiffania Westwood is a elf who helped revive Saito at the end of the second season, and became a major character in the third. She's technically a Half-Elf, but has all the common traits of a Wood Elf; she's also the cousin of Queen Henrietta, and becomes a New Transfer Student at Louise's Wizarding School.
This notion of superiority isn't lost on the other races; the Dwarf Ghim openly insults the Elf Deedlit because of their reclusive nature.
The Wood Elf variant appears in Slayers; in general Elves live longer and have better magical skills, but they usually hide away and scorn humans. This is emphasized in certain cases because Elves generally align themselves with Ciefeed and his servants, the Dragons - the Dragons can have as much scorn towards humans, if not more.
In Magical X Miracle, elves are alternately called Hahaze and Onburu. They have an unusually high resistance to magical spells , resulting in them being used as bodyguards for important people in the Kingdom of Viegald. They have long, pointy ears and Cute Little Fangs, and have super speed when they need it. Fern, the resident Hahaze, takes to his Elvish smugness in the form of being the Snarky Non-Human Sidekick. They live in a Hidden Elf Village in the woods where they hunt. They seem to have some Celtic influences.
The Drule from the Voltron universe are Drowin space. Dark skin (purple in Voltron, grey in Voltron Force), white hair, militaristic, Always Chaotic Evil, dark coloured outfits, and in Voltron Force, Lotor has a spider mech. Drule may even be a portmanteau of Drow and Rule. All that's needed is for the Drule to be a matriarchal society where males are slaves or the military, and copious pacts with dark and evil forces beyond mortal reckoning(which Haggar covers, especially in the comics).
ElfQuest. the elves are smaller than the (very!) primitive humans around them and only slightly more advanced. They do have supernatural powers, such as healing and the ability to shape rock and wood. It's not until late in the series that the reader discovers they are really the descendants of Space Elves who were trapped on the planet ages ago. Their seemingly magical powers are really Psychic Powers and the Palace where their souls go after death can travel through space.
The Gliders , before they all died and their spirits went to the Palace of the High Ones, and Savah, the Sun Folk's Mother of Memory, play the High Elf archetype rather more straight, although Lord Voll and Aroree are considerably less haughty than the rest of the Gliders, and Savah is far too serene to be called haughty. Justified in that they're also rather older than most of the cast — becoming smaller over generations was an adaptation to the new world, and the Gliders in particular haven't had any new children in forever when first met. Oh, and of all the elves only the Wolfriders have facial hair due to their part-wolf ancestry.
In a subversion of the typical half-elf, the master trickster Two-Edge is half elf and half troll. The same psychological rules generally apply though, as Two-Edge uses his cunning throughout the series to force the other characters through "games" of his devising, in an attempt to reconcile the two halves of his heritage. Interestingly, his mental and emotional troubles were not caused by prejudice towards his hybrid nature but by his mother using her psionic powers to drive him mad, in order to hide the crimes she did to his father.
Subverted in The Demon Mages: there are various types of Drow elves, which vary in skin color, hair color, and magical resistances. The snobby attitude isn't present, however.
Suitably enough, Poison Elves subverts most of the prevailing Elf tropes. Sure, the elves are haughty and self important, but justified in that they did avert The End of the World as We Know It...back in pre-history. By the time of the events of the comics, the Elves have become just as urbanized, lazy, indolent, and outright bastards as the humans are. The protagonist doesn't much help anyone's opinion of the elves, but the author never presents any serious evidence to the contrary. Even the elves who live in enclaves are a far cry from the "Wood Elves" above, and only seem to be humans with ''really'' pointy ears.
Amusingly averted in Rat Queens. Hannah and Tizzie are just as shallow, amoral, alcoholic and violent as everyone else around them.
Averted in With Strings Attached. Elves are just another race of humans, not a separate species. The only “elfy” traits they share with elves from other works are that they have fine features and pointy ears. And in Ketafa they're second-class citizens and treated like crap.
As'taris is haughty, but not because he's an elf; he feels superior to the four because he's skahs (warrior class) and they're tirin (noncombatants).
Averted in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians fan fic Aska. The entire elf race are now 'solicitors, attorneys and the occasional insurance salesman'. The elf character Motor-Oil is a bumbling wreck after losing his girlfriend. Also, his name is Motor-Oil.
Played with in Power Rangers GPX, where they're the antagonists. They're not evil per se, but are very xenophobic, arrogant and the author compares their society to Imperial Japan. There are, however, genuinely nice elves, some of whom live among humans, and others who are more in the gray area. In other words, they're just as varied as Tolkien's elves, albeit more "humanized". Still, they're given something of a Doing In the Wizard treatment, but still have a mystical, if realistic, element about them.
It's A Dangerous Business, Going Out Your Door has the Pronghorn, whose horns are functionally similar to those of unicorns. The first pronghorn introduced, Niles Nigellus, is a polite, smooth-talking and well-traveled charmer who offers Dash the chance to realize one of her greatest dreams by guiding her through The Dreaming.
There's also the Deer of the Shimmerwood, who are known as aloof guardians of the forest who speak in riddles, come from an ancient civilization, and use powerful magic. As Dash puts it, "Deer are weird."
Prince Nuada and his kin of Hellboy II are elves, but play up The Fair Folk angle a lot more, hence the folkloric names. Nuada himself is possessed of semi-psychic abilities, incredible grace and poise, and despite being half his size can run rings around Hellboy himself in combat (when Hellboy is drunk, anyway, as Red does a lot better sober).
The Lord of the Rings plays this trope pretty straight, although it unusually adapts Tolkien's Wood Elves into High Elves, instead of the other way around which is more common in pop culture adaptations. Perhaps because, as the director repeatedly said, he wanted to emphasize just how badass the elves were — even the less technologically advanced, more in tune with nature types.
The Hobbit shifts away from this somewhat. It seems that the Lorien Elves were more High, while the Mirkwood Elves were more Wood, with them being generally depicted as quick to anger and aloof... which actually makes sense, since the only Mirkwood elf we saw in the films was Legolas – who (like Galadriel and Celeborn in Lothlórien) belongs to a High Elf family ruling over mostly Wood Elves.
The Na'vi from Avatar are blue-skinned, pointy-eared, lithe cat people who live in tune with nature, tame the wild beasts, have an innate link with the spirit of their world, and shoot 6-foot long arrows to impale helicopter pilots. Despite the science fiction aspects of the film, they're a lot more Wood Elf than Space Elf.
The Dark Elves from Thor: The Dark World are a combination of their namesake and Space Elves. They existed before light came to the universe and have ships and weapons that run on Magitek while maintaining their proud stature and honor.
Alliance Elves come in several flavors, though they still vary wildly from chapter to chapter.
Stone Elves who tend to be The Stoic, and have control over emotions, both their own and others. Logical and emotionless, they see reason above all. All white skin with typical elf ears.
Elves, the generic version, differ from chapter to chapter. You have your standard Wild, High and Tribal elves, mixed in with Sand and Willow elves. Different markings, mannerisms and histories separate them. The race as a whole gets the Archery skill at half cost.
Dark Elves are your typical Drow-esque elven race. Always Chaotic Evil and black skin with white hair.
Mystic Wood Elves are more Fae than Elf but still have the Elven ears. Typically more promiscuous and are big fans of parties and revelry. MWE's for short, they also have a pair of horns and are able to resist command spells.
Stone Elves who have Chalk white skin, and are usually divided into ones of two class types, Scholar or Fighter. They are also the most likely to fall into the Dark Elf stereotype.
Mystic Wood Elves, a hybrid between elves and satyrs/nymphs who have horns, are a race of Ethical Sluts (both reasons why they're often referred to as "the horny elves") and tend to be Trickster types.
Drae/Vornae. Despite looking like D&D Drow they are not Dark Elves but rather have a culture very much like samurai Japan. No one except them are quite sure about the Drae/Vornae divide as they look and generally act exactly alike except that the Vornae seem to be the higher caste.
The Alteriens from the Alterien series are similar to elves in appearance. In addition, they have many abilities that could be perceived as magic. They can, for example, fly, teleport, time travel, manipulate energy and see possible futures.
J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth (The Lord of the Rings), being the Trope Maker for high-fantasy elves in general, often superficially looks like a subversion of this, but it is really a case of an Unbuilt Trope. His Elves are immortal and ageless, tall, beautiful, musical, highly skilled, and physically far healthier and enduring than humans. They can also be as stupid or chauvinist as any human, and can screw up monumentally. There are elves racist or elitist against non-elves and/or against other elf-clans, as well as elves who value their human allies and show no such prejudices.
The popularity of this trope might be considerably lessened if more authors had read The Silmarillion. Tolkien's elves can be outright dumb sometimes, as well as self-centered, impatient, vicious, violent, arrogant, foolish, gullible, and other humanizing traits. For example the Elf Prince Feanor is a massive Jerkass who leads most of the Noldor Elves to Middle-Earth which ends up causing many of the troubles of the First Age. One WMG-style discussion came to the conclusion that the reason the elves in The Lord of the Rings are better is natural selection: all the stupid and violent ones got killed off by Morgoth (or each other). It's probably also a matter of experience: the elven leaders in the Third Age are thousands of years old, and have probably made their full share of mistakes and bad decisions and acquired a little wisdom. For example, Thingol starts out furious at the idea of the man Beren being in love with his daughter Luthien, but after Beren and Luthien actually get a Silmaril from Morgoth he gains more respect for humans and adopts Beren's relative Turin as a foster-son. Meanwhile one of his counsellers Saeros hates Turin and insults his people, finally trying to kill Turin, which leads to his accidental death.
Half-Human Hybrids are extremely rare, with only three to four known Elf-Human couples producing offspring — though the reason for their rarity is the anguish of Mayfly December Romances as often as prejudice. Half-elves are held in very high regard by many elves, because of the huge historical importance of each such family, and because most of them are part-angel as well. Humans with elven blood are extremely rare, and so a significant prestige accrues to them, at least in human cultures that ally with elves. All such claimants are high nobility. Diana Wynne Jones made the interesting observation that at least part of the reason why such pairings are rare is because Tolkien's truly immortal elves do not deal well with the inevitability of mortal death. They mourn lost lovers and friends forever...the loss always as fresh as when it first happened. Also noteworthy is that all half-elves have to choose their fate— immortal elf or mortal human— and thereafter they are functionally identical to the race they've chosen. Those who go the human route do live an order of magnitude longer than "normal" humans, but this is a direct result of divine favor, not due to their elven blood.
Middle-earth has various elven peoples and nations, ranging from highly ordered urban nations to rural forest-dwellers with little technology. Tolkien plays the Wood Elves / High Elves distinction pretty straight, if not codifying it. Aside from clan/ethnic and national divisions, elves are also split into the Light/High and Dark Elves: those that have been to the Blessed Realm of Aman during the Age of the Trees and those that haven't, the former being more blessed and enlightened than the regular mundane elves. But it's not that Dark Elves are evil — they're responsible for significantly less bloodshed than the Light Elves!
The Elves of Mirkwood, in their first appearance in The Hobbit, much more closely resemble The Fair Folk. The Wood Elves trope didn't really emerge, at least in published books, until The Lord of the Rings, where they are less isolationist, reported to be friendly with Aragorn and Gandalf, and represented in the Fellowship by Legolas.note He's actually at least partly of Gray (Sindarin) Elven descent, but Sylvan (Nandorin) in culture. Much like pre-WWI Europe, Tolkien's elven royalty didn't always match their subjects in ethnicity, and were more (Thranduil, Legolas) or less (Galadriel) successful in adopting their subjects' culture.
Objectively though, if you look at the entire history of the Elves and the general characterization, Elves are the "best" race, aside from the Maiar and the Valar themselves (and they're basically Divine Beings). This is partly where all the "Elves are Better" tropes came from, though LOTR Elves are rather melancholic and innocently arrogant than jerkass racists. It's kinda hard NOT to see everyone else as children when you're 3000 years old, and every mortal around is... well, not. The 3000 year old one would be considered a teenager by Elven standards. The most highly advanced men were actually taught most of their knowledge by the Elves, among other things.
One major minor character in the Lord of the Rings, Galadriel, is only in the third generation of elves (her grandparents were created by Eru directly rather than being born). She's literally older than the sun and moon.
An interesting difference between Tolkien's elves and his humans is that they get different afterlives. Humans pass from the world altogether and go to whatever place Eru may have set aside for them after death, elves go to the Halls of Mandos and remain tied to the world — which, it's not hard to notice especially for readers familiar with the Silmarillion, has been in somewhat slow and steady decline since soon after its creation and may well not be around forever...
The Hobbits are slightly fairy-like in their sneakiness and light-footedness — this may have been done to further distance the elven races in the book from the "cute" depiction by having the niche filled by people of another kind.
Though this concern wasn't very larger on Tolkien's list of priorities. Among his ideas was that the elves, after all the Middle-Earth shenigans happened and were reduced to mere spirits, communicated with children in dreams.
Kristen Britain's Green Rider series has the Elt or Eletians, elves in all but name. They're incredibly arrogant and very conscious of how much innate magic they have compared to humans. On occasion, though, the human characters will call them on it—and on how unhelpful they can be when the fate of the world is at stake. The trope is also subverted when the villain of the first book is an Eletian gone bad.
Steven Brust's Dragaera series has the Dragaerans. They stand an average of seven feet tall and have lifespans exceeding 1,000 years. They have slender builds and do not grow facial hair. The race was created when the Jenoine combined human stock with various animals to create various strains, which organized into Houses of the Dragaeran Empire. Some of these strains have pointed ears, though not all. Interestingly, they refer to themselves as humans and practice Fantastic Racism towards actual humans, whom they refer to as "Easterners." In some areas, they're called "elfs" and call humans "dwarfs."
Jacqueline Carey's duet of novels, The Sundering, is effectively LotR from the Big Bad's point of view. The elves aren't called elves (the name used is Ellylon) but they are in all but name. It's downplayed in that yes, the Ellyl are ageless, pretty, magical, and the favorite children of the lead Valar-expy. They are so perfect that humans have waged war on them out of envy for their gifts. They are also smug, self-righteous Knights Templar who are perfectly willing to genocide other races if they think it is their creator's will and will never admit to being wrong.
The Elves (the main family of fairies) in Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl series are pure Space Elf even though they live underground as they carry plasma rifles and their wings are nuclear-powered. There are fat ones, sweaty ones, ones with skin problems (on those pointy ears, no less), a lot of foul mouthed ones and facial hair. The trope is still played pretty straight in that Elves (as well as all the other Fairy races) see themselves as better than humans.
Glen Cook's Garrett, P.I. novels subvert the Dark Elf version of this trope: this world's dark elves don't live underground, are nihilists rather than spider fanatics, and dress like they just walked out of the medieval edition of GQ. Morley Dotes, the protagonist's sort-of-friend, fits the half-elf trope minus the low self-esteem, as he's half dark elf and has inherited several levels of Badass from his elven side (multiclassing in Chick Magnet).
High elves in the Garrett novels stick with their image, including being bigoted against their own half-elven offspring. Seldom seen in the novels, they're a bunch of uptight snobs, albeit more middle-class than "noble".
The long-lived, beautiful, magically talented Tiste in Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen are Elves by another name. Tiste Liosan are the standard arrogant High Elves, Tiste Andii are the Dark Is Not Evil flavor of High Elves, and Tiste Edur are the Wood Elves. There are also characters who are half-Tiste.
The elves in the Riftwar saga by Raymond Feist were originally a single race, kept as slaves by the ancient Dragon Lords. When the Dragon Lords vanished, they split into four groups. The Eledhel descended from the outdoor slaves, and became fairly typical Wood Elves, complete with a Tree Top Town. The house slaves, who worked more closely with their masters, became the Moredhel, surface-dwelling Dark Elves who spend much of their time fighting each other or the other inhabitants of the world. The Eldar, who specialized in skilled or scholarly work, withdrew from the world and became High Elves. A fourth group, the Glamredhel, were driven mad by the disappearance of the Dragon Lords; the final break between the Eledhel and Moredhel came when the latter waged a war of extermination against the Glamredhel. A small group of surviving Glamredhel are found later on in the story, in a Hidden Elf Village.
On the humorous side of things, Esther Friesner's Majyk by Accident series gives us the Welfies which are kind of a cross between elf and fairy and are snooty enough for both. In Welfie society, males are tall and willowy with the long blonde hair and the pointy ears but are expert archers and rangers. How they hide in the woods wearing sequin-encrusted pink leotards is anybody's guess. Welfie warriors (a male-only occupation) are the only tribesmen allowed to eat meat besides the elders. Welfie elders communicate only psionically. All Welfies can change their size and do so as a matter of fashion. When they're small, they live in mushrooms and housing shortages are created when tall Welfies are a la mode. Female Welfies are expected to remain subservient and "foot it fleetly upon the merry greensward, ho" whilst gathering flowers and moonbeams and generally being all pretty and stuff. Some of them resent this.
Elves in Kim Harrison's Urban FantasyThe Hollows novels are a large departure from the usual depiction. They look much like humans and only live a couple of centuries as opposed to the typical near immortality. They are a little faster and stronger than humans and while they can use magic, this is not unique to their race nor are they any better at it than any other. They pass as 'old money' humans to blend into society and maintain the remnants of feudalism. They lack the connection to nature most other types of elves have, but in an interesting example of Post-Modern Magik, they are heavily invested in illegal genetic engineering technology.
Mercedes Lackey's SERRAted Edge series features classic versions of High Elves (tall, pointed ears, magical, immortal) who incidentally drive race cars. They must have needed a little extra Bad Ass.
The Obsidian Trilogy: The Elves in Mercedes Lackey's and James Mallory's series have a lifespan on average of a thousand years, which has allowed them to develop an acute eye for detail and perfect various crafts. It's also allowed them to develop a rigid form of etiquette that humans often find infuriating (a key taboo is asking questions in any form, save in times of war).
Lampshaded when the main character begins to get snarky about mentioning their perfection. Also, the elves don't have much magic, since they traded it for "peace and long lives".
The Halfblood Chronicles series by Mercedes Lackey and Andre Norton features a race of elves that are Tolkien's elves put under the Bad Ass ray. Newcomers to this world? Yep. They fled there through a portal from a magical civil war in their own world. Stronger than humans? Yep. The first thing these refugees did was to conquer the nearby human kingdoms, set themselves up as all-powerful overlords, and mindwipe all humans until they believed they'd always been slaves. Arrogant? Yep. They hate each other as much as any other race and fight one another, mostly over power. And fading from the world? Double yep. Since they're so hateful, it's hard for an elven lord to find a bride he approves of, and they're slowly breeding themselves out of existence. Despite their innate magical powers, and humans' lack of same (except for the ones with telepathy), their Half Human Hybrids have magic twice as powerful as the elves' andtelepathy.
Lynn Flewelling's Nightrunner series has the Aurënfaie. For all practical purposes they are elves in terms of having very long lifespans, innate aptitude for magic and an isolationist homeland. However, other than being a race of Bishōnen, they are indistinguishable from humans unless one is familiar with them. Also, rather than having a single monolithic culture, within their (fairly large) homeland they are divided into clans with very different cultural sub-groups. This is lampshaded by the Aurënfaie protagonist Seregil when another character finally figures out (based on overheard conversations) what Seregil is and is surprised.
Seregil: You seemed to think we were all great mages or nectar-sipping fairie folk.
A Song of Ice and Fire deconstructed this concept with the Targaryens. They are what would happen if (relatively) normal people acted like brash, arrogant High Elves.
Also present are the Children of the Forest, who, while certainly quite different in appearance (they're only slightly larger than children, have catlike eyes and skin patterned like deers' coats, and their hands have four fingers tipped with black claws), otherwise fit neatly into the Wood Elf mold.
The Iftin of Andre Norton's Janus series are both Space Elves - they are (or rather, were) the original native intelligent species of the planet Janus - and Wood Elves. They were wiped out long before the arrival of human colonists, but set traps to create changelings so that their race would continue. Messing with any of the traps causes the person handling it to fall ill with the Green Sick, after which one is physically Iftin - green-skinned, pointy-eared, and bald - and carries some memories of an original Ift person, generally those memories geared toward survival skills, such as recognizing edible plants. The Janus novels play the trope straight - the traps cause the victims to become xenophobic toward their former kind; they theorize that this was at least partly intended to keep them from trying to resume their former lives.
Inheritance Cycle's elves are vegetarian, atheist, and possess superhuman physical strength and speed that allows them to best the most well-trained humans. They are every bit as arrogant and elitist as expected, view humans as too corruptible to be trusted with power and the dwarves as misguided zealots who, because they believe in gods, must surely be idiots who ignore all reason and logic. Eragon briefly adopts their vegetarian lifestyle, but relents on it in the next book, and rejects their notions of atheism altogether. In the third book, a being that may have been one of the dwarf gods appears, implying that the elves may be entirely wrong about this.
They also consider humans primitive and brutish, while they rely on innate (read: primitively instinctual) magic to beat the humans' siege engines, crossbows, and superior forging (the elf weapons are only "better" because they are imbued with spells and such.)
In John Ringo's Council Wars series, the Elves are both Better and different. They are a race genetically engineered as Super Soldiers in a long-ago war — ageless, superhuman in all physical characteristics, and made to look like hot pointy-eared chicks because, well, they could. They are protected by genetic copyright laws which say that no human can have their powers and appearance, and only Elves are allowed to live in Alfheim. (Ironically, Alfeim has become an overcrowded housing project because all elves crave the honor of living there, and since they don't die, the population just goes up and up. Or so our semi-reliable source says).
The elves featured in Andrzej Sapkowski's The Witcher series subvert many of these traits (which is made of postmodern subversion, so it would be strange if they didn't). They are long-lived, grow no facial hair, and constantly belittle humans, but they're not that better, and one can argue with them. They like to be In Tune With Nature, but having been driven by humans to barren highlands (the humans came from across the sea and did to elves what barbarians done to Rome), they had to learn human farming techniques to support their populace. They are actually Aen Sidhe — there are also Aen Elle, who have slipped into another plane at the time of Conjunction (let's call it a cosmic event many many years ago) and retained their sophisticated culture by slaughtering local humans. Now they play Fair Folk and kidnap humans from Aen Sidhe' plane to make them their slaves.
Deliciously parodied in The Harvard Lampoon's Bored of the Rings, where wood elves are tacky low-lives who run tourist traps, and high elves are effectively white trash with delusions of grandeur.
The Dragonlance novels give us Tanis (half-elf, reject), as well as the Qualinesti (High Elves) and Silvanesti (Grey Elves), the latter of whom are arrogant and xenophobic enough to be a deconstruction of the trope (especially after their refusal to seek help from the other races, and the Qualinesti, causes their country to become magically entrapped in a horrific nightmare-made-real). Later books also introduce the Kagonesti (Wood Elves as Noble Savages). There is also Dalamaar the Dark Elf (which in Dragonlance, isn't a race so much as individual elves being exiled from the elven nations), who's just as arrogant and haughty as the other elves, but also evil.
The Silvanesti are extremely stratified, isolationist High Elves. The Qualinesti are (slightly) more open in both senses but they are fully as civilized as the Silvanesti so they probably fall under High Elf too, just less extreme. Also for all their supposed 'betterness' the Elves sure seem to the collective Butt Monkey of the Dragonlance setting: Qualinesti was invaded twice inside thirty years, occupied for forty years and then destroyed by a green dragon. Silvanesti was turned into a nightmare realm by a (different) green dragon, was 'protected' by a magical shield that turned out to be sucking out the liveforces of all the Elves and was then invaded and colonised by the minotaurs. Currently both Elven kingdoms are in exile led (in a satisfying bit of irony) by the part human son of the despised Tanis.
The Sea Elves who lived in the ruins of Istar — they combine all the sueness of normal elves with merfolk! And they can turn into dolphins, too. Sueness all around.
Played with in the Tomb of Horrors adventure novelization (an old D&D adventure known for frequent fatalities), where a former paladin and his partner, an elf swordsman, are contracted to help plunder the tomb. A magically-sealed door requires the sacrifice of a magic ring to open the door, and the elf passes over one that keeps the wearer comfortable in all temperatures, in lieu of someone sacrificing something more useful. The ex-paladin goes into a hilarious rant about how he'd thought all along that the elf would never sweat in the heat nor shiver in the cold because it was just another way elves are "so much better" than humans, and couldn't believe his misconception was all due to a simple trinket like that.
The Elves of James Clemens' The Banned and the Banished fit most closely into the High Elf motif. But they live in a flying city supported by the Air based magic of all the people. They fly to war in similarly supported flying ships. The captains of which must be strongly magically talented to provide the lift.
The Bordertown books have a different type of elf — most onscreen are punked-out and rock-music-loving. However, they are all tall, slender, and silver-haired and -eyed, they are unashamedly magical, and as a race they seem to have a permanent case of incredible arrogance.
The Deed of Paksenarrion (a compilation of "Sheepfarmer's Daughter", "Divided Allegiance" and "Oath Of Gold") by Elizabeth Moon has elves which follow almost every piece of this trope, including dark elves.
The elves in Black Dogs actually consider themselves to be better, whether or not this is true, and act snooty and xenophobic as a result.
Averted in Harry Potter: While elves have very powerful magic they are a Slave Race to wizards and are perfectly happy with this. These elves rather more closely fit the description of brownies or some of the earlier legends of kobolds, though; they're called elves, but they're not really elves as this particular trope page describes them.
Quantum Gravity: Elves' ears reach the tips of their heads—though they do not stick out at any notable angle. They are either immortal, or close enough to it that humans haven't noticed. They can be controlled by their True Names in any realm, and any creature can be controlled by his/her True Name there, though elves are still the most vulnerable. By human standards, everyone is a spy, at least to some extent. The pale hair/skin/eyes holds true except for shadow elves who are particularly dark at night.
John Varley's Gaea Trilogy doesn't have elves, but it does have Titanides, a race of alien ''centaurs'' that fit nearly every aspect of this trope, except the immortality (but they breed very fast to compensate) and long history. As the Titanides were created by Gaea to be a Mary Sue race, and Gaea is addicted to human entertainment media, it's likely that she incorporated elements of this trope into them on purpose, especially the artistry and technicolor hair.
The Elves of the Shannara series used to be magical and long-lived, but now have human lifespans and are no more likely to have magic or know how to use their ancestors' stuff than anyone else. As a culture they do retain a lifestyle based on respect for the Earth, which makes them the moral center of the Four Lands in some ways, but individuals range from nice to treacherous and from sensible to foolish.
M.A. Foster's "ler" series (The Gameplayers Of Zan in particular) shows what happens when humans try to genetically engineer elves that are better (starting from themselves) but, being that this is their first go at creating a human descendant species, they get elves that are different instead.
The elves of R.A. Salvatore's Demonwars saga craft weapons of incredible power, make magic items vastly beyond the ken of other races (a healing bandanna kept a centaur alive after he was crushed in a cave-in, and appear to be the only Good race to possess souls (this is implied to be false.)
Subverted in Will Power by A. J. Hartley. The Fair Folk turn out to have stolen all the best parts of their culture from the goblins.
The Marat from the Codex Alera are graceful, white-haired humanoids who are mildly telepathic and live in harmony with nature- not strictly wood-elves, but they fill the same basic niche. It's worth noting, though, that while they're presented as being morally superior to the human Alerans in some ways (notably, the Alerans keep slaves, which the Marat find abhorrent), in others they can be a remarkably savage people (cannibalism is fairly common). At the end of the day, they're not really better or worse than humans, just different.
Not to hear Kitai tell it. To hear her, the Alerans are foolish, blind, deaf, crass, and damnit, she wanted a horse. She's probably just ribbing Tavi, since she has little respect for anything and a marked tendency towards teasing her friends, while her father Doroga is usually respectful of Aleran ways when dealing with Alerans (though he'll show where his daughter gets the snark if he thinks something really stupid is going on).
In Chris Evans' Iron Elves trilogy there are the elves of The Long Watch who bond at birth with trees called Siver Oaks, some to the point where they become functionally insane and eventually lapse into catatonia. Then there are Iron Elves, who are born with black ear tips, cannot bond with trees but, unlike the elves of the Long Watch can use iron. Originally such elves were left exposed to die, where they were scooped up and recruited by the Black Monarch. There are also the Elfkynan who live on the other side of the Cahlaran Empire, look like Long Watch elves and, except for the tree bonding act like them but neither they nor the Long Watch consider them elves.
Robin Hobb's Elderling combine this with Lizard Folk. They're tall, slender and beautiful and before catastrophe struck lived in a civilization of Crystal Spires and Togas, but they also have scales and claws. This comes from their having been created from humans as a servant race by dragons.
However, most prominent Elves are either complete asshats or outright evil. As a race Elves are airy, beautiful, exceptionally polite and gracefully tall. On the other hand, their obsessive dedication to honor, politeness and tradition just serves to hide (and encourage) the incredibly vitriolic relationships between different houses, and between the Divine (spiritual leader of the race) and the Shield of the Divine (military leader) and associated houses, with the end result being that have the entire elven nation is constantly on the verge of an all out civil war.
Thankfully averted with Damra and Griffith (and Silwyth to a lesser extent), who are all quite nice, if somewhat aloof.
In Terry Pratchett and Steven Baxter's The Long Earth "elf" is the designation Lobsang gives to several subspecies apparently evolved from chimpanzees. They are slender and lightly furred with faces (depending on which subspecies) of varying degrees of mixed features of human and chimp. One is apparently entirely bestial, another of about Neolithic level of technology, the third has the most human features and a larger braincase, despite which they are actually the least intelligent subset and are sometimes bred and used by the other elves as cattle. All can travel between the alternate Earths that make up the Long Earth and are the source of stories both of elves and more recently of The Greys.
Trapped on Draconica: They're called 'shadori', and have purple skin but still have the pointed ears. The most prominent example is Taurok, a soldier with greater nobility than most of the human cast and greater sword skill than anyone. Despite all this,his human subordinates think they're better than him and don't want to be lead by him.
Light And Dark The Awakening Of The Mageknight: Downplayed. The elves aren't arrogant and don't look down on others but if a human asks how they heard something or recovered so fast the elf will be quick to respond that their hearing is better and their bodies respond better to magical healing.
Stuart Miller in Painted In Blood: Understanding Europeans gives a description of Europe that looks rather like this trope. His reaction to it, naturally, depended on which Europeans he met at a given time; some people caused him to say Screw You, Elves!.
Elantrians were, before their fall to a mysterious disease, tall, slender, beautiful and literally radiant with a monopoly on magic and lived in a city of Crystal Spires and Togas.
Though this is explicitly because they are regular humans who've been enchanced by some very complex magic. In fact, humans are periodically transformed into new Elantrians, and this is implied to be the main source of Elantris's inhabitants.
The Sithi and their cousins the Norns from the Memory Sorrow And Thorn series are pretty archetypical elves, despite that term never being used for them. They're virtually immortalnote It's said that a Sitha lives until something kills them or they get tired of life- they do seem to eventually reach a point where old age starts getting to them, but it takes millennia, and only the Norn Queen- the oldest of either race by a fair margin- actually shows visible signs of aging, powerfully magicalnote though like Tolkien's Elves, they're not very comfortable with that word and not overly fond of mortalsnote though in most cases this is less about being snobby and more about the fact that certain mortals tried their hardest- and nearly succeeded- in committing genocide on them. They're also very alien by human standards, which seems like a combination of vast cultural differences, their long lives giving them an eerily long-term perspective, and the fact that most humans are pretty terrible at reading Sithi body language. The Sithi are a mix of High Elf and Wood Elf traits, and are generally benevolent, if isolationist; the Norns are arctic Dark Elves and extremely nasty customers- while the Sithi aren't exactly fond of humanity, the Norns think the only good human is a dead human.
The House of Night's vampyres- despite their name- fit this trope exactly. They are all ethereally beautiful, and live away from humanity in peaceful enclaves. Many famous historical figures (and celebrities) are retconned into being vampyres. They are matriarchal, but never sexist. They are incredibly wealthy, but never spoiled. They are stronger and faster than any human, but they never use this strength to do anything bad. They are deeply religious, but never bigoted. They are very long-lived, and look youthful even after centuries have passed. They can be identified by the exotic, intricate tattoos that grow over their bodies, and the "glossy, inhumanly attractive light that [radiates]" from each of them.
The Eldritch of the Paradox universe don't have pointy ears, but they are very tall and thin, can live for over a thousand years, and have Psychic Powers. They're also dying out from a combination of a low birth rate a side effect of the genetic engineering that caused their longevity, they're really a Lost Colony of humans, medieval medical technology that kills many of them in childhood, and inbreeding. They are allied with the highly advanced Alliance but most of the noble Houses are too xenophobic to accept their help.
Elves in An Heir to Thorns and Steel are immortal not only in the sense of never aging, but they also have a Healing Factor that means most Duels to the Death among them involve chopping each other up and burning the pieces. They're also inherently magical but as they get older more and more of their magic gets tied up in maintaining their immortality, with few exceptions such as the King and Prince. And the human kingdoms drove them out centuries ago because they have a habit of enslaving humans and draining magic from them so they all live on one hidden island ruled by a bunch of petty feudal lords who are constantly warring with each other.
Elves in Wind And Sparks cycle combine most listed traits of High Elves and Wood Elves. Arrogant, magical, warlike, in tune with nature, closed to outsiders. Yet "better" part is averted or subverted at every opportunity.
Their kingdom is old, but it cannot be very old, the world was created mere thousands years ago and there are still some creatures that witnessed the process. Yet it's old enough to become a Vestigial Empire with every House plotting against others. Del'be (their king) sees the advantages of peace with humans, but the clans of professional executioners living far from the battle zone wouldn't have it.
Despite centuries of decline (central theme of the cycle) human magic is still superior to elvish magic. Perhaps the decline hits them just as hard.
They consider bows a weapon unbecoming to men. Only women are allowed to use them, which means shorter range and lighter arrows. Crossbows are OK, but their rate of fire is much lower. When humans ally with Winged Humanoids who fling javelins from high above, elves can't do anything.
They seem to be the ones attuned to nature like nobody else. At one point an elf demonstrates a superhuman ability to "listen" to the forest sensing events miles away. Then a Badass Normal human beats him at his own game.
They are being ravaged by human diseases (another Magical Native American trait), but are too arrogant to use human medical knowledge.
Their ancient architecture is nice. But they don't seem to build anything new.
It's hinted that their conflict with human-dominated Empire started when a magic war made half the world uninhabitable, and refugees started encroaching on their lands. Since then they've been gradually losing lands.
The Aes Sidhe from the Mick Oberon series are basically High Elves, although in their real forms they're not overly tall, and Mick isn't that good looking. Other than that, though, he's stronger, tougher, longer-lived, more perceptive, more magical, and more pretty much everything else than humans, and never lets you forget it, either.
ALfhiem Online's Nine races are essentially many flavours of elves (the name even means "Elf Home"). Plays with the superior race thing, since Alfhiem IS a VR Game and everyone is, in the end, just a bunch of gamers. However, there is still a lot of racial tension due to the game set up...at least, until the rebooted version after the events of the Fairy Dance arc, which makes it practically disappear since the differences are now just essentially gaming style. See here for a quick breakdown of the different races and links to further info.
Live Action TV
The Minbari in Babylon 5 can be considered Space Elves. They're mysterious, long-lived, highly spiritual, physically superior, much more technologically advanced, all while having space ships that are so pretty they look like tropical fish. True, they have bones on their heads rather than pointy ears, but still. Culturewise, the Minbari are a very prominent example of a better-than-thou elder race. Minbari do not kill Minbari(except when they ditch that rule in the Minbari Civil War), Minbari do not lie (except to save another's honour or when it's really convenient), Minbari are led by noble and ancient tradition ( which almost led to massive genocide and permanently ravaging the future of the galaxy because they couldn't figure out how to stop), and their religion is ancient and wise and has a deeper understanding of the universe than any other lesser race is capable of (and was established by an Earthman in a Minbari suit — a Jesuit-trained Catholic, yet).
Delenn, the main representative of the Minbari on the show, also comments at one point that they do not pry into the affairs of others and are "told exactly what we need to know, and no more", just before being informed that a tabloid-like "Eye On Minbari" isn't accessible for her customized newspaper. At Sheridan's raised eyebrow, she comments that it is "sometimes good to know what your people are saying about my people. And I sometimes learn things about my own world before I am told what I need to know, and no more."
Minbari also have a couple of disadvantages compared to humans; high temperatures that humans would merely find incredibly uncomfortable will rapidly kill them (the Minbari homeworld is much colder than Earth).
Also, consuming alcohol will cause, as Lennier explains, "psychotic impulses and violent homicidal rages" (at which point Londo snatches away his drink before he can take a sip).
This is played for tradgedy in Objects at Rest. Londo, visiting Minbar, desperately needs alcohol to free him from his Keeper, so that he can tell Sheridan how he's being forced to betray them, but Sheridan brought no alcohol to Minbar, because it is harmful to Minbari.
In whole, the Minbari seem something of a Deconstruction of the trope at times, showing themselves capable of extreme hypocrisy, and willingness to endanger the future of the galactic civilizations for their skewed sense of honour. The benign and sensible Minbari protagonists actually appear to be atypical members of their species. Moreover, the Minbari obsession with tradition and ceremony is regularly played for laughs during Sheridan and Delenn's courtship.
Vulcans in Star Trek are also rather elf-y. Pointy ears, long-lived, super strong, spiritual, and mildly telepathic, with names that make liberal use of the Punctuation Shaker. The whole stoic persona is a bit unelfy, but their vegetarianism does make them pretty green. (Or perhaps that's just the copper-based blood. Which might be symbolic color-wise.)
In Star Trek: Enterprise, Vulcan stoicism is leavened with enough Arrogant Superiority to deposit them firmly in this trope.
In the 2009 film the Vulcans are on the edge of extinction. And many of them are plenty disdainful of humans.
In The Original Series, Vulcans have plenty of posturing and arrogance to go around; enough that Spock, while rationalizing it quite a bit, seems to very much not like that aspect of it. Also, Spock knows how to construct a bow.
In The Next Generation, a "Vulcanoid" people in a "Bronze Age" level of development have embraced rationality (though not to the exclusion of emotion, it seems) and, to an extent, pacifism. They also use bows and arrows.
In Voyager, Tuvok is revealed to have been a professor in archery science at one point. So yeah, Vulcans really do have the whole archery part of elfin-ness down.
On the half-elf front, we have Mr. Spock (half-Vulcan, embraced Vulcan side), who had nothing but disdain for human weaknesses like "emotion".
Spock also fulfills the "half-human means half-suck" rule. Vulcans are actually far more emotionally volatile than humans, and require their discipline and adherence to logic to control themselves. Logically, a human/Vulcan hybrid would experience emotions more strongly than a pure human, but less than a full Vulcan. So, being raised under Vulcan discipline and adherence to logic, as Spock enthusiastically did (choosing his "elf" side), Spock should have been LESS emotional and more logical and controlled than any pure Vulcan, ever. But no; Elves Are Better.
On the half-elf front we also have a character in the novels, T'Ryssa Chen, who embraced her human side so much that she got told she was working too hard at acting non-Vulcan. She also likes pretending to be an Elf rather than a Vulcan.
Word of God is that the author based her on an old D&D character of his. File this under "Things You Should Not Ever Do In Professional Work (and if you do, never admit to it)".
And the Romulans are dark elves.
Doctor Who: The Time Lords are high elves with time machines and their ears filed down: an ancient civilization of arrogant, practically immortal, telepathic people with superhuman intelligence, agility, and senses, as well as a profound love of ritual.
They are, however, generally hated. The Doctor himself has, at best, disdain, and at worse, hatred for his people in general. "Daleks, Cybermen... they're still in the nursery compared to us! Ten million years of absolute power... that's what it takes to become really corrupt!"
The elves on Charmed are usually short, have pointed ears, and can use magic. The sisters often talk to an elf nanny.
LazyTown's Sportacus was a traditional Icelandic elf named Íþróttaálfurinn ("The Sports Elf") in the original Latibær plays. In addition to being amazingly fit and agile, he also had magical powers. To make the character more universal, he was changed into a superhero for the TV series.
Although it hasn't been confirmed, it's possible he is still an elf in the TV series. His ears are always covered, he leads a very hidden life and it would certainly explain why he is able to perform such amazing feats in every episode.
It's worth mentioning that he's still an elf in the TV Series dub in Iceland.
Norse Mythology is where it all started. They were more magically gifted, long lived/immortal, and very beautiful. The dwarves, in Norse the dvergar, were a subrace of elves, and commonly called svartálfar or dökkálfar (black/dark elves), who aren't believed to have been a separate race from dwarves. They even mated with humans to create Half Human Hybrids. There were some things which didn't make it into modern times: they could also phase through walls, they lived on their own plane called Álfheimr, and they had facial hair.
In earlier Norse myths, the Dvergar were entirely separate from the Álfar, having sprung from Ymir's flesh as maggots. The idea they were a subset of elves was made fairly recently as far as the myths go, when Christianity was already taking hold in Scandinavia.
The Elves were also minor gods who held power over the lands they inhabited. Humans would hold Álfablót, where they would sacrifice animals, and sometimes slaves to the local elves for the sake of good crops. It was also possible for humans to become elves after death, like King Olaf Geirstad-Elf, and so Elves could be ancestor spirits that look after a people or household.
Interestingly, their early depictions were less negative than usual for The Fair Folk, being seen as largely morally ambivalent. As society Christianised, they were seen in an increasingly negative light, up to the point that they were demons in all but name.
According to one older theory, the Precursors of Celts in Britain and Ireland were flanderized as The Fair Folk in Celtic mythology, who lived underground and were stewards of nature. (Something extremely similar happened to aboriginal cultures in Africa and elsewhere and their treatment in folktales after they got invaded, BTW.) Celtic ideas eventually cross-pollinated with the Nordic version; it could be that all of them were prehistoric references to earlier Neanderthal, aboriginal, or Basque inhabitants that had been killed off. Some people have other theoriesabout Elves...
The above is less widely regarded than it used to be, however. Celtic faerie traditions match closely with other stories from around the world, so while there may be elements of the supposedly conquered precursors, there is definitely an animist tradition at work, as well. It helps that the Celts weren't the only culture that thought of The Fair Folk as chthonic: compare modern Icelandic beliefs about elves inhabiting rock formations, the Oreads and Lampades of Hellenic belief, and the South American Native tales of underworld spirits, amongst many, many other traditions.
The nymphs of Classical Mythology. Despite being flanderized into benevolent Horny Devils, in actual mythology they were very similar to what we think of as wood elves.
The Finnish word for elf, haltia (used almost exclusively in literature, both indigenous and translated) is cognate to word haltija, meaning "proprietor" or "possessor". The original haltias of Finnish mythology were proprietary or patron spirits or creatures of various places, locations, or occupations. They were considered to be semi-corporeal, very much like what Tolkien's elves would become by "fading" if they stayed in the Middle-earth instead of escaping to the Undying Lands.
The ancestor spirit association is also present with haltia. For long it was believed that the first person to set a fire in the stove of a newly built house would become its haltia after death, looking after and protecting its occupants. Later on these spirits became mixed with the Scandinavian tomte, and became invisible, gnome-like servants of the household with no history as deceased humans, similar to the house elfs of Anglo-Saxon lore.
The web video series Edward the Less does an extended spoof of this trope with the Round-Stander People, as epitomized by the Noble One. He is tall, handsome, proud, arrogant, loutish, and craven, with an instinctive penchant for selling out his allies in a pinch, extensive knowledge of the shockingly vicious traps with which his people have so nobly strewn their forest, no reservations about using violent coercion, and is full of tales of his many "petty, conniving, yet selfless" deeds: Soapy: "So your shooting me in the leg was actually very brave!" Noble One (gallantly): "And I would gladly do it again!" Granted, he does offer a really nice topical salve to friends he's injured once he gets his way...
The standard modern version of elves may not come directly from Lord of the Rings, but rather descend indirectly from it via Dungeons and Dragons. D&D unabashedly copied Tolkien's elves and their cultures: it has high elves, wood elves, dark elves, and half-elves, and inspired decades of fantasy writing. There is a slight subversion in that D&D's elves are a foot shorter than humans, except in the Forgotten Realms setting which loves this trope too much for its own good.
One of the worst examples of this trend was 2e's Complete Book of Elves which... well, there's a very good reason that its Fan Nickname is "Book of the Master Race". This splatbook ran with the trope to a degree that made even some fans of elf characters want to holler Screw You, Elves!.
Even before the Complete Book of Elves, the basic rules for player character races in AD&D2 established that elves and humans could interbreed, but that the offspring of half-elves could themselves only be half-elves or humans — never "true" elves again, no matter how distant the human part of their ancestry might be.
If elves are arrogant, then drow (evil elves banished underground) are elves squared: They regard every other race with contempt, and use arranged breeding, eugenics and infanticide to weed out any drow that is "defective" or plain not handsome enough.
Interestingly, at one point this was not true. The elite Drow leaders were usually cruel and barbaric, but most Drow were semi-slaves tending towards Neutral. They could be quite helpful to the party who at that time was largely assumed to be good.
The number of elven subraces (including aquatic elves, winged elves, and star elves, to name a few — eleven different races at least) has grown to the point where the 4th Edition of Dungeons and Dragons prunes it down to Elves (wood elves), Eladrin (high elves fairy folk), and Drow (dark elves). Oh, and the half-elves, too. Right back where it started. Now taking bets on how long before the subraces start to proliferate again...
Pre-4th Edition D&D splits the high elf archetype into two separate subraces: The noble but friendly high elves, who have a bit of wood elf flavor as well, and the regal yet arrogant gray elves, who fit the trope to a T. Both names are taken from Tolkien, though their descriptions were switched around a bit. The wood elf archetype was also split into the wood elves proper (civilized but rustic, and stronger than the average human) and the wild elves (perilous savages).
Interestingly, half-elves have become an established minority who are more often born to two half-elf parents than a mixed-race couple. There are even half-elf noble families. This is partly due to an early attempt by shifty elves to capitalize on the short human lifespan by marrying aristocratic humans and outliving them to inherit their estates. At this point the two races were new to each other and the elves had no idea they could actually cross-breed with the humans. Embarrassed by the their children, the elves mostly ran for it. But as these first generation half-elves were usually born as heirs to noble houses, they did not end up being socially-ostracized by humans (just the opposite). Then when the Dragonmark of Storm appeared among the half-elves it was taken as a sign that they were destined to be a "race" unto themselves. An interesting aversion in Eberron is that orcs are Closer to Earth than elves, having a strong tradition of druids who saved the world from an extraplanar invasion.
While the Drow of Eberron are jungle-dwelling tribes that hate giants and are associated with scorpions instead of spiders, whether they're evil or neutral varies from tribe to tribe. Individual Drow can be of any alignment, since Eberron is built on explicitly disavowing the Always Chaotic Evil trope.
Spelljammer has Space Elves — the motley collection of elves hailing from every world with elven population. Most of which became so obnoxiously haughty that next to these groundling elves began to look nice.
Elves in Mystara mostly fall under the Wood Elf variant, although they make a lot more use of magic, owing to the Basic/Expert/etc system having given all elves spellcasting ability. The dark elf trope is partially averted, in that the subterranean shadow elves aren't black-skinned or Always Chaotic Evil, and are actually pretty naive if you get to know them. Too bad they're pissed at the surface elves for not telling them that the planet had recovered from a nuclear war thousands of years ago, never mind how the surface elves had no idea the shadow elves were still down there. Several elven populations on Mystara are actually well-integrated with their non-elven neighbors, particularly in Graakhalia (elves and gnolls as buds!) and on the Savage Coast.
At least under the Basic/Expert/etc system, half-elves don't exist on Mystara. Human/elf pairs aren't very fertile, and their descendents are either humans or elves, depending on which parent is male and which is female. Oddly, Mystaran elves and ogres have proven genetically compatible, giving rise to a hybrid race of Giant Ugly Half-Elves.
Under the original Dungeons & Dragons rules, "Elf" was a class, as was "Dwarf" and "Hobbit". Elves could choose once a day whether to be a fighter or a magic user, and were subject to the weapon and armor restrictions of whatever class they chose — elves who were in fighter mode could use any weapon, wear any armor and use any shield, but if they were in magic-user mode, they couldn't use any armor (unless it was magical armor, which human magic-users could not use) and were limited to the weapons of a magic user.
The Ravenloft setting has High Elves in Darkon and Sithicus. The latter are more snobbish than the former, having a country of their own; the fact that the Land of Mists has only existed for ~400 years, and Sithicus for a fraction of that, means that their claims of "ancient heritage" tend to fall flat for the Genre Savvy.
Elven lifespan seems to have been shrinking monotonically with edition, from 900-1500 years (depending on variety) in the old days to 200-300 in 4e.
LeShay: They are described as being to elves what elves are to men. They are a race of epic, immortal superbeings with spell-like abilities and hit-dice up the wazoo, can make you their best friend just by looking at you (hard to resist gaze attack) and can summon twin +10 Keen Brilliant Energy Bastard Swords they can wield without penalty (for those not in the know, they have a very high chance of scoring a critical hit, can ignore most kinds of armor, have ridiculous to hit and damage bonuses, and you can't kill them and take them because they are made of the elves' personal energy). They supposedly survived the death of the last universe.
4th edition D&D, as personified by its Points of Light setting, seems to be trying to avert this with its Eladrin/Elf/Drow triad:
Eladrin are the root-stock from which elves and drow sprung, but they both diverged after a violent, centuries-long civil war that has left the eladrin a Vestigial Empire in the Feywild, huddling in heavily-fortified cities that are under near-constant siege. Not just by drow, but also by the formorians, a race of evil fey giants who are horrifically ugly, insane, incredibly smart, adept with magic and possessed of various kinds of Eye Beams. The setting emphasizes how much of their old homes the eladrin have lost, and how unlikely they are to get it back, especially with all of the fey monsters they have to battle on the side... like a species of hive-minded carnivorous beetles that specializes in eating eladrin alive, so it can wear their skin as a disguise to get more prey.
Elves, meanwhile, are deserters, cowards and run-aways from the civil war who fled to the mortal world instead, and have since degenerated, losing a notable amount of their fey powers — eladrin can teleport more or less at will, elves just run a little quicker than humans, and elves live a century less than eladrin do.
Pathfinder Elves are much like their D&D counterparts, with the added change of eyes that are almost all iris/pupil. During Earthfall, they mostly avoided the devastation by fleeing to the world's equivalent of the planet Venus. Those who stayed behind were forced underground and eventually became the Drow. As it turns out, Elves who become consumed by hatred and/or evil will turn into Drow.
In Magic The Gathering, elves are the default humanoid creature type for green. Most of them qualify as High Elves or Wood Elves.
But in Lorwyn's Evil Twin plane, Shadowmoor, the elves are the only race that isn't Always Chaotic Evil. In Lorwyn, the elves believed themselves to be the stewards of beauty and perfection... and in the Crapsack World of Shadowmoor, they are.
The Eldar of Warhammer 40,000 are akin to Space ElvesElves In Space! to the 'T', as the term Eldar was used by J. R. R. Tolkien to describe a subset of elves. Much like other denizens of the Warhammer 40K universe (Orks, the now-defunct Squats, Necron), they are based on counterparts from the Warhammer Fantasy universe. Heirs to one of the oldest civilizations in existence, their hedonism and magical power created a Chaos God that almost destroyed their civilization and has plague the galaxy since. They even have two cousin factions: the Dark Eldar (who are dark elves Recycled In Space with the dark aspect turned Up to Eleven) and the Exodites (who are more or less planetary wood elves who prefer isolation and pastoral environments).
The "better" part of the trope is, however, up for debate as the Eldar are genocidal pricks(read: just like everyone else in the setting) willing to instigate wars (from behind the scenes) in which billions of humans can die to save a few thousand Eldar. The Second and Third Armageddon Wars are a perfect example of this, an Eldar farseer engineered the rise of an Ork Warboss who went on to start the two wars which claimed billions of human and ork lives because he had foreseen that if he did not then ten thousand Eldar would die. He later looked back on the act and stated that it was completely worth it. The "up for debate" part, however, is because this isn't particularly out of the ordinary for any of the factions in 40k. Doubtless the Imperium of Man would do the exact same thing if the roles were reversed, to say nothing for the unquestionably more evil sides. Other Craftworlds have been rather more cooperative when confronting a greater threat, although they will not hesitate to act if they feel threatened in any way.
In general, Craftworld Eldar don't act too much like standard fantasy Elves. Rather than being loose and free-spirited, they live highly disciplined and regimented lifestyles as dictated by the path they have currently chosen. Not that this is without good reason, since we've seen what happens when theyare loose and free-spirited.
As for the Dark Eldar, they're a race that make Drow look like saints —their home city of Comorragh is less Valinor and more Hellraiser. Practically everything they have is decorated in Spikes of Villainy and their only goal aside from survival is to screw around and make others suffer. Dark Eldar sustain their immortality through torturing as many people as possible.
The High Fantasy counterpart Warhammer, has fairly standard High, Dark, and Wood Elves (and Sea Elves, but no one talks about them anymore). The High Elf army book goes on and on about how the High Elves are the greatest wizards, warriors, etc. etc. etc. in the world.
The Wood Elves are quite different from the standard Elf, they can be very cruel and capricious and generally act more like The Fair Folk, especially their king Orion and his Wild Hunt. The High and Dark Elves are admittedly pretty standard, although the Cult of Executioners aren't the kind of thing normally associated with Dark Elves.
Even the High Elves are different (arguably MORE different than the other two) mainly due to the structure and tone of their military, which tends to focus a lot on combined arms. And also on really, really big swords and axes, which aren't usually considered classical Elf weapons. But then, they wield their six-foot long two-handed swords gracefully. Also, instead of the usual stereotypical rangers, they instead have Shadow Warriors, which are Ninjas really (down to the outfits).
Oh, and they have lion chariots. Among other thinks. Warhammer elves should be commended for combining elven grace and being very badass.
The now-defunct Mage Knight miniatures game had the standard Three as well, played fairly straight. The High Elves were a race of Knight Templars, the Wood Elves shared power with a consortium of Centaurs and other woodland critters, and the Dark Elves were vampires-in-training lumped in with the 'undead faction'.
The Elves of Shadowrun average a foot or more taller than humans, with a more-than-proportional corresponding increase in arrogance.
Around 2011 AD a noticeable percentage of human mothers began, apparently at random, to give birth to Dwarf and Elf babies. Dwarf/Elf and Either/Human couples give birth to only Dwarf, Elf or Human babies; no Half-races exist. Elf/Elf couples breed true so long as there's enough available magic; but when magic dips, they give birth to apparently human children. Thousands of years later, when magic rises again, their otherwise-human descendants give birth to elf babies. There's also a random genetic quirk that can make an Elf ageless rather than the normal two-hundred plus lifespan. By 2050 AD, a handful of conspiracy-loving Immortal Elves who survived since the previous cycle of magic have organized many of their born-since-magic-returned-in-2011 brethren into full-fledged Hidden Elf Nations. Generally speaking, the elves who live in normal human society know nothing about Immortal bloodlines or previous ages of magic and are frankly annoyed that the elf-centric countries exist, because it's Fantastic Racism Fuel.
But it gets subverted, as the Ancient Wise Immortal Elves are actually pretty useless. They have grotesquely strong magic ability, but their leadership is decidedly suspect: being a great statesman or economist wasn't what let them survive all those eons. Tir Tairngire (Oregon) and Tir Na Nog (Ireland) are both unusually repressive (even for Shadowrun!), and economic disaster areas — kept running largely by property and laborers stolen from non-elves, run for the benefit of unusually selfish (even for Shadowrun!) feuding elf leaders. They like to espouse philosophical/mythical/historical stories which they know for a fact are blatantly false in an effort to degrade the status of non-elves. In addition, a few Immortal Elves have a tendency to wreck things, usually by assuming that "magical power" is the same as "knows how to use it properly".
As of Shadowrun 4th edition, Tir Tairngire's elven government has effectively collapsed, and been replaced by a coalition government where the greatest influences are a charismatic ork prince, the AAA megacorp Horizon, and the Great Dragon Hestaby... who are actually bidding fair to put Tir Tairngire back together where the elves failed. You couldn't design a worse Humiliation Conga for the Immortal Elves than this, given how they feel about orks, human-run megacorps, and especially dragons.
The sidhe of Changeling: The Dreaming are the closest thing the setting has to elves. They're inherently beautiful, and are considered to bear the "divine right" of rule after returning to Earth in the late '60s. This is a bit of a sore spot for some commoner fae, who spent centuries trying to fight off the tide of Banality while the sidhe faffed about in Arcadia.
Dragon Dice features two types of elves - there are the Coral Elves, who are equivalent to High Elves living in flying coral ships, and the Lava Elves, who are equivalent to Dark Elves living in volcanic subterranean caverns.
The card game Warlord put a different spin on Elves. These elves are covered in fine scales, have horns growing above their eyebrows (which are sometimes mistaken for pointy ears if their hair covers them wrong), and live only 30 years unless they use necromancy to lengthen their lives.
Averted in Talislanta, where the complete absence of elves in the game-setting was actually used in advertisements to promote the game.
Some of the numerous races in that game do look kinda elvish...
Our Ariane Are More Mystical and Our Muses Are Flakier than your elves could ever hope to be.
Ariane, Danuvians, Mandalans, Marukans, Mirin, Muses, Phantasians, and Thaecians can all easily be called Elves with the serial number filled off. Most of them are as beautiful, magical, and spiritually superior as the best examples of elvishness.
In Uresia: Grave of Heaven, the author stated that every elven community was in fact a separate subrace - so you did not only had High Elves, you had Mountain High Elves, City High Elves, Wood High Elves...
In Tormenta, a D&D setting, not only the elves lost their nation, Len Ã³rienn, in a war against goblin-kin, having refused an alliance with humans, but their goddess, Gl Ã³rienn, lost a battle against the leader of the goblin-kin army, and then went mad in frustration, bringing to the world Eldritch abominations in the name of vengeance, which in turn didn't work because they killed EVERYTHING and not just goblin-kin (and didn't even strike where the goblin army is, for what matters). Then, the Tormenta invaded her own divine realm, demoting her to a minor goddess. To make matters worse, she was so terrified that she accepted protection from the minotaur god of power, Tauron - a god that demands the weak to serve him. So the elven goddess is but a sex slave, the elves have no nation, no goddess, no pride and no love from the setting's creators. Oh, and most half-elves were born from rape in the war.
The elves of Yrth in GURPS: Banestorm were evidently better than humans at some point but their civilization seems to have fallen to the point that most of them live in tiny villages far from major cities. The oldest elves are all brilliant but seem to have no real ambition.
Very deliberately subverted in this article dealing with the elves of Greyhawk. The author, given that he hated both the Mary Sue depiction of elves and the vicious backlash against them which often depicts elves as the Butt Monkey of any given setting, instead depicts the elves of Greyhawk as being truly gifted and exceptional in a variety of areas...but they've never managed to parlay these talents into widespread power or even unity. When it comes to magic and nature, elves are rightly known for their amazing skills...but they've always been extremely fractured and divided, due largely to infighting among the elven gods when they were first created, which prompted the newly born elven race to split into several factions.
The elves in Burning Wheel go back to their Tolkien roots, with the split between wood elves and high elves being primarily reflected in the Wilderlands vs Citadel/Etharch settings. It is not, however, that difficult to move between the settings — an elf born in the Wilderlands could easily grow up in the Citadel setting. On the whole, however, they are simply better than the other stocks (Men, Dwarves, Orcs). Their main drawback is an inability to use Sorcery, instead depending on a system of magical songs that represent their closeness to nature and the world as a whole.
The game does avert most of the tropes associated with dark elves, who are described in the Paths of Spite supplement and are just like normal elves except the mystical Grief the normal elves suffer from has been transmuted to Spite.
The Elf of the fantasy rpg-themed board game Talisman fits mostly in line with Wood Elves, due to the special bonuses they get in Woods and Forest tiles. The "better" aspect is highly questionable, as many fans consider the Elf's special abilities to be quite underwhelming in comparison to other characters.
Subverted in the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks. The book Titan, which functions as an background on the world most of the gamebooks are set in, indulges this trope when discussing the elves, but in practice it emerges more as an Informed Ability considering that most of the world's great heroes and wizards tend to be human, and most of the world-shaking events are orchestrated or thwarted by humans. Statistically, most elves are decent fighters, although certainly nothing that most human adventurers can't handle. A possible justification occurs when Titan mentions that the elves have been suffering a long, slow decline since the Götterdämmerung and Apocalypse Hows that have struck the world of Titan over the centuries. As a further subversion, while the flavor text in Titan treats the elves this way, most of the elves you actually meet in the gamebooks are generally pretty nice, if occasionally suspicious of human strangers who pass through their territory.
This trope's name is true of the Fair Folk, at least as compared to Muggles. It's enforced by actual game mechanics: every other character (including Exalted) start with a minimum of one dot in each Attribute, before character creation begins. Fair Folk nobles, however, start with a minimum of three dots in each Attribute, so even in their worst area of physical, mental, or social ability, they will be better than is average for humans. Plus, they receive enough dots during character creation that they will begin play with multiple Attribute ratings of six dots or more, which is both superhuman and better than even Exalted can start with. And just to rub it in, they have a special Charm, "Imposition of Law," which allows them to become so expert at any one skill that they receive an automatic success on every roll with it (which only fails to apply when they go up against another being with Charms or attempt to do something that is actually physically impossible). The Fair Folk are better than you. It's the rules.
RuneQuest Elves aren't that much better than anyone else, but they're plants.
In the German tabletop RPG The Dark Eye the four main elf races are "Auelf" (meadow or floodplain elf), "Waldelf" (wood elf), "Steppenelf" (prairie elf) and "Firnelf" (ice elf). They all share a very nature bound behaviour and are naturally talented with magic - they're all fully able spellcasters on top of anything else they do. They're descended from beings that "stepped out of the Light", and all of them except for the wood elves are descendants of the old High Elven civilization that built great cities, but eventually broke apart so spectacularly that modern-day elves disdain the trappings of "civilization" (including, among much else, big cities, book-learning and the worship of gods) and instead try to live In Harmony with Nature.
In Banestorm most elves are simple vilagers living In Harmony with Nature. Dark Elves are an evil cult that wants to magically expel all non-elven life from Yrth.
In Chronopia the Elves are slender, haughty, long lived who view themselves as the rightful rulers of the world, and have a history of slavery and backstabbing to get what they want. They segregated into four houses who's views and motives tend to vary. They are willing to ally with the other races against the Devout but without the Devout they would focus on making themselves powerful again.
Heavily inspired by D&D as it is, 13th Age has the High Elf/Wood Elf/Dark Elf triad, literally by those names, although all three are in theory tied to the same Icon - the Queen of the Elves. They used to be united, but broke after the war with the dwarves, and even though the Queen's three-part crown is intact the three kindreds are referred to as the "Three Shards of the Crown". Drow are considered a full playable race, although their racial power being called "Cruel" may be a bit of a turn-off in some cases.
Age of Wonders has both the Wood and Dark Elf variants, both of which tend to have their share of attention over the series despite the existence of up to 13 other races (as of Shadow Magic). Wood Elves are good and like Light Magic, Dark Elves are evil and like Death magic. Go figure.
The "High Elves" and "Space Elves" roles are filled by the High Men/Archons and Syrons, respectively. Perhaps.
Subverted in Dragon Age. Elves were enslaved by humanity and are now regarded as second-class citizens. They also lost their immortality (according to legend, just being around humans made them age), and their genes are completely recessive to human genes (resulting in any elf/human child being born as a pure human).
Although the Dalish elves seem to combine the High and Wood elf types, both living in the forest and being rather proud of themselves as the only followers of (their patchwork version of) true elvish tradition. Whether or not they are an example or subversion is a matter of debate. While many of them act hostile and superior to outsiders, they are not portrayed as being morally superior or enlightened.
The backstory has elves very near to the Tolkien standard, with a large empire, powerful magic spread throughout the population, and near immortality. Then stuff happened. The Dalish remnants are given a homeland by Andraste after rebelling against the Tevinter Imperium... which is wiped out again when the Chantry orders an all-out holy war when the elves refused to convert from their own pantheon.
In The Masked Empire, Briala discovers that the ancient elven empire was just as corrupt as the present day human empires of Tevinter and Orlais. Only the elven nobility possessed immortality, and they treated lower class elves as slaves.
The Awful Truth revealed near the end of Dragon Age: Inquisitionis that the elven empire was not destroyed by the Tevinter Imperium. It was destroyed by the elves themselves in a civil war. If anything, the enslavement of the survivors was simply opportunism.
In the tablet game Oubliette, elves are the only race that has an unlimited life span. This is important because a character ages every time they rest and if they reach half their maximum life span, there's a chance that their stats may drop whenever they rest. The closer you are to your race's life-span limit, the bigger the chance of losing stat points. Because Oubliette runs on Vancian magic, a party is going to have to rest alot in order to keep up their spells and hitpoints. For Oubliette, it's not surprisingly to eventually form your party into an all elf party, as you slowly retire characters from other races and bring in elf replacements.
In Warcraft, the elven races originated from the Night Elves. It was revealed that THESE Night Elves originate from a specific tribe of Trolls, evolved by the magic of the Well of Eternity, but little to nothing is known of them. The original culture was a mash-up of High and Wood Elven until their queen blew up the world. The survivors split when the surviving magic users refused to give up magic.
In the original game of their appearance, Wood Elven tendencies were shown with their giant Ent allies and other bestial units. In general, because of their extreme age, they tend to be perceived as “haughty” by other races, and many players. Some important characters (hated even by Night Elf fans) such as Fandral Staghelm play the arrogance card a lot, and extends their “arrogant, haughty jerks” characterization. Their allegiance to nature, which makes them a bit aloof to more worldly matters, helps set them apart from more “human” values, so they end up being seen as arrogant, uninterested, or stupid. In either case, they are definitely resolute in their decisions and will place themselves high as ultimate allies of Nature.
The returned Shen´dralar faction of the Night Elves seem to not shy out of boasting their magical prowess.
High Elves were aptly named. Then the Scourge nearly exterminated them and a majority of the survivors became Blood Elves, who while reckless and often huge jerks, are not really Dark Elves.
Also trolls (Ancestors of the aforementioned Elves) to some extent. They aren't particularly pretty, being gangly, rawboned and pointy-nosed, with tusks and blue or green skin. They also have three toes and three fingers, including the thumb. They also aren't particularly haughty and have a tribal culture. But they have the long ears and have been cast as the Horde counterparts to Elves since WC2.
Wretched, felbloods, and naga could all be construed as Dark Elves, although all of them have been magically altered somehow (into scuttling little mutants, semi-demonic humanoids, and ugly sea reptilian things, respectively). The naga even have a culture that appears to be reminiscent of D&D drow. They have a matriarchal culture, have an evil goddess, were cursed into a new form, but they live under the sea instead of underground.
The same thing is true of the Night Elves. The males especially are built like four brick shithouses stacked together and have often quite bushy facial hair. The females are much more slender, but still quite muscular, like Olympic athletes.
If you compare Night Elf males with their human counterparts, you'll notice they're actually relatively slender. It's just that the men in practically every species in the game appear to be built out of barrels. Still, the overall effect does leave Night Elves rather resembling the local trolls in shape, which makes sense as they're related.
The Warlords strategy game series have three factions of Elves named: High Elves, Wood Elves and Dark Elves. The backstory of the setting explains that they all used to be High Elves, before a Prince named Mordaine dabbled in DemonDaemon Magic. When he brought his discoveries to his people, they were promptly rejected, despite him honestly just trying to help his people. As you probably can imagine, the whole thing escalated in a rather nasty civil war, ending with the Year of the Seven Fleets, a time when they simply built seven fleets and split up, forming new colonies around the world. Most of them still exist, but one of the Dark Elf ones blew up when the Horsemen of the Apocalypse entered the world. I guess dabbling in Daemon summoning really was a dumb idea. And if you read through that entire Info Dump, then go get yourself a Muffin, you've earned it.
The Protoss of StarCraft are an excellent example of ElvesIn Space!, with their height, slenderness, long lives, advanced technology, beautiful architecture, endless arrogance, dogmatic split (between High and Dark Templar, no less), declining society, and the fact that they (and Jim Raynor) are the only good guys. Although the really arrogant ones tend to be Knight Templar types who give a lot of grief to the extremely humble JesusTassadar.
Slash Em Extended allows all elves to take on any role and alignment, which was impossible in NetHack. It also has an Elf role that can be paired with a non-Elven race, enabling human, orcish or even alien or insectoid elves. Pairing the Elf role with the Elf race will grant a big multishot bonus for bows, too.
The Elder Scrolls features variations on the Tolkienian Elf archetypes. Starting with a Precursor race called the Aldmer, they broke off into groups known as the Falmer (snow Elves), the Chimer ("changed ones"), the Altmer (High Elves), the Orsimer ("pariah folk", the Orcs), the Dwemer (Deep Elves, or Dwarves), the Bosmer (Wood Elves), and the Ayleid ("Heartland Wild Elves"). The Falmer were supposedly killed by the Nords; all but one Dwemer was killed off by mass absorbicide (theories vary wildly on exactly what happened) and the Chimer were changed into the Dunmer (Dark Elves) by Azura after the War of the First Council. The Ayleid either slaughtered by humans or assimilated into other elf cultures. Exiles from Altmer society are the Maormer (tropical Elves); the Orsimer are those Altmer who worshiped Trinimac, and were transformed as well when he changed into Malacath; some breeds of Khajiit are difficult to distinguish from Bosmer; last but not least are the Bretons, who are Man and Mer hybrids. And fascinatingly, they all avert Perma Shave—elves in the Elder Scrolls can have as much facial hair as anyone.
The Altmer are respectable "we're more civilized than you" High Elves. While they are frequently labeled by canon sources as exceedingly arrogant, this rarely if ever comes up in the games, where most high elves are polite and genuinely amiable. As for the "better than you" part, admittedly the High Elves tend to be more magically gifted and longer lived than humans, and human scholars admit (however grudgingly) that many of their advances in the fields of science, magic, alchemy, architecture, philosophy, literature and culture owe credit to the Altmer. The common tongue used on the continent is also based on Altmer language.
"I suppose it is my duty to help those less fortunate than myself."
In Skyrim the Thalmor High Elves fully live up to their reputation of arrogance by embracing full-on genocidal racism. One common taunt by Thalmor agents in battle: "Elven Supremacy is the only truth!" Everyone who is not a Thalmor tends to not listen,including other Altmer, to the point where the normal rules for bountiesarewaived. In fact, the Thalmor are so bad, they want more than to just enslave humanity: Their ultimate goal is to unmake Mundus, the mortal plane itself (this is because they're descended from the Ehlnofey, gods who became mortal at Mundus' creation. They believe by unmaking it, they can re-obtain their divinity).
The Bosmer live in the Valenwood and are forbidden (by pact) to eat and/or damage any of the plants. (They will use imported wood.) They're complete non-vegetarians and subsist entirely on meat. This means that cannibalism is not just a common racial flaw, but an acceptable societal standard. They're seen as flighty and thievish.
According to their traditions, they're required to eat anyone they kill in combat. It's actually mentioned in one of the games that they fast for several days before engaging tribal warfare. Fortunately, Bosmer living outside of their home country seem to have given up this practice.
Most disturbing of their traditions is the one taken when their territory is being overrun by invaders. They give up their lives as elves and transform into ravenous beasts who devour the invading races.
Orsimer were once Altmer who worshiped the hero god Trinimac, who, after his transformation by Boethiah, continued to be their guide. Pariahs due to this worship, they were driven out and gradually transformed into the race of modern times. The Orcs, prior to Daggerfall, were a warrior-like outcast race that were scraping for a homeland to call their own, often demonized as nothing more than brute animals. After the events of Daggerfall, Orcs were accepted into Imperial society as a strong and noble race, for the most part.
Dwemer were "deep folk", mistranslated by some as "short folk". They were a solely practical race who believed that divinity was their birthright through bettering themselves. They fit quite nicely into "Space Elves," what with all their steampunk technology.
It's implied that the Dwemer disappeared during a failed attempt at reaching divinity. They all disappeared at the same time, leaving their complex ruins and machinery running.
They also seem to have been fond of long beards, and may have been the first race of Man or Mer encountered by a race of giantsnote thus providing a second explanation for why they were called 'dwarves'.
The Dunmer form a traditionalistic, racist, religious society who practice slavery, ancient magic, back stab their own for acceptable political gain, and, despite their current tolerances, would just kindly wish for the Empire and anyone who is not them to get off their land. Actually, some of the Ashland Tribes aren't as bad as the Three Great Houses because the former still adhere to courtesy laws ...
And, as of Skyrim, a combination of a large volcanic eruption and a slave revolt has left them without a land of their own, turning them into refugees. Their degree of integration is variable, from blending in, to being outcasted, to outcasting themselves, and, all in all, resemble the treatment medieval Jewish people got.
Dragonborn confirmed that the northern and western parts of Morrowind are, in fact, once again habitable, and House Redoran organized these parts into a nice, independent aristocratic republic.
No one thinks about the Bretons much. They're naturally better wizards than any other race though. Also, thanks to their extremely high innate magic resistance, they're Game Breakers in Oblivion. Turns out that every magical effect (including those that lower magic resistance) are defeated by 100 percent magic resistance (which Bretons easily achieve by just equipping ONE particular ring).
They're also a lot more man than elf. It's not a race of half elves, it's a race of men with some elven heritage WAY back in their history.
More or less- exactly how long back that heritage is, and how much of it there is, varies between Breton and Breton. It is suggested that a few families still have so much they are round-eared Mer. Most of them are the above-stated men with a little Mer heritage, though.
Bretons are also a lot more visibly Mer in supplementary material (including ingame texts), despite Oblivion and Skyrim giving them models virtually identical to imperials.
And the Bretons were deliberately bred as a eugenics experiment of sorts by the Aldmer of High Rock, who mixed with their human slaves to create a race that combines the strengths and eliminates the weaknesses of the two races.
There are about 20 unique kinds of Khajiit according to the Imperial Library, swinging from bestial and Bosmer characteristics, but they all like illegal narcotics. Khajiit are treated like slaves to the Dunmer, like sneaks to most everyone else, but they're not really that bad.
The Falmer appear in Skyrim definitely looking worse for the wear after centuries of enslavement at the hands of the Dwemer. They are monstrous blind Morlock-like beings that raid the surface alongside their pet Chauri, killing and eating anything and anyone they meet. They are the onlyAlways Chaotic Evil race, and their souls have become so twisted that they can be captured in white soul gems — typically black soul gems are needed to capture humanoid souls. And the caverns and Dwemer ruins of Skyrim are crawling with them.
Dawguard, the first expansion, has two Falmer, the un-regressed version, one of whom implies that they are beginning to recover as a race... And also admits that you probably aren't furthering a genocide so much as purifying the gene pool.
Arcanum Of Steam Works And Magick Obscura features typically haughty Tolkienian Elves that are long-lived, good with magic, live in trees and consider all other races "lesser". However, facing the vast expansion in the power of the humans following their industrial revolution, they have either retreated into their treetop towns or integrated into Human urban society. Since they consider themselves the oldest race in the world, some are rather annoyed at fossil finds that suggest Humans evolved first and that the Elves branched off from them later due to the influence of magic.
Half-Elves are also a playable race. Unlike most depictions, they're basically liked and admired by everybody (except Half-Orcs) as they're seen as lacking typical elvish arrogance.
Subverted rather hard in Final Fantasy XI. The Elvaan race certainly may look the part of a classic elf race, with long bodies and pointed ears, but the resemblance ends there. They have a martial society where all the men (and presumably most of the women) are expected to have combat skills. They have little skill in magic, shown both by a lack of spellcasters amongst NPCs (in fact, the magic store acts surprised to get customers) and by the fact that their MP and INT are lower than average although they have good MND... they are more devout to Altana than any other race, and the few mages they do have are usually White Mages or Red Mages. They have little appreciation for art, with the city designed prioritizing function over form (although the palace has a fairly perfunctory opulence). But one thing they maintain to a tee is the arrogance. They view the other races (and all foreigners regardless of race) with derision, tolerating them only because of the global threat of the beastmen. That hardly prevents them from espousing their xenophobic beliefs on people. If you're not from San d'Oria, NPCs will insult your player character, claiming they don't have what it takes to stand with the Elvaan, even if you're an Elvaan yourself.
The Elezen from Final Fantasy XIV play this a bit straighter. However, it's only the Duskwight Elezen (basically Dark Elves) who can use offensive magic effectively, and they were actually the original Elezen race, having lived under caves for hundreds of years. The Wildwood Elezen are generally not as xenophobic, having in fact integrated with the human equivalent, but they are racist towards Duskwight Elezen, seeing them as traitors who would not fight and eventually ally with the Hyur when the time came. The Ishgard Elezen might be closer to the Elvaan, though, but currently we have not seen them. (Although that is set to change with the expansion pack coming this spring.)
Subverted, sort of, in Dwarf Fortress, which is understandable given that it's from the point of view of the dwarves — elves are arrogant and can do some nasty damage with wooden weapons, but are otherwise shown more as annoying than otherworldly or superior.
With the release of the new version, though, DF's elves are now famous for outnumbering their enemies "83 to one"◊, and still losing... To make things worse, they eat their enemies' corpses.
The elves' cannibalism combined with their tendency to kill for minor offenses such as chopping down a tree often leads to a vicious circle that results in the elves getting out of world generation in the middle of multi-century long wars with every race they've ever come across.
There have been reports of badass elves killing demons (demons are leaders of goblins) and eating their corpses!
A few mods feature elves with metal (normally bronze or even steel). Most often this means that you end with extremely small human/dwarf/goblin civs, with a couple of gigantic elven empires dominating everything.
The Suikoden series arguably subverts this trope, as their elves have the arrogant, condescending attitude turned up to eleven, but never really do anything to back up their claims of superiority. Indeed, most of the elven characters available for recruitment are rather sub-par in comparison to the human characters, and with the better ones there's no compelling reason to use them over another character. In Suikoden I, this is shown in the storyline, as well, when the elves' arrogant assumption of superiority and refusal to accept outside help results in their getting wiped out by the Scarlet Moon forces.
Played with in Suikoden IV. The elves are Not So Different from the human natives of Na-Nal: both groups are self-absorbed Jerkasses convinced that they are the ones who 'own' the island while the others are just intruders. This eventually has horrific consequences: the elves manipulate the Kooluk occupying forces into slaughtering the humans while staying safe in their Hidden Elf Village. One elf helps the heroes stop the massacre, and is promptly exiled for her trouble, while the rest of her kind pull a Karma Houdini, in sharp contrast to the original game.
The series non-jerk elves are a rarity overall, but it's rarer to see jerk elves that has a name and is a Star of Destiny. To wit:
I & II: Kirkis has enough common sense to actually know that humans are just same as them, and eventually went to become what could be 'the first non-jackass elven leader'. Sylvina wasn't exactly flaunting the elves superiority, but still too scared to trust humans or other races. She eventually tried to trust humans for the sake of her love Kirkis, and she did. Stallion is a big braggart about his speed, but he's still willing to help others and rarely flaunts on how much better elves are (speed, on the other hand...). Rubi is an odd case, he was actually exiled from the above jackass elves because Even Jackassery Has Standards, but he still remains a standoffish asshole that bemeans the weak, until he joins and got better.
III: Roland just instantly joins humans on get-go and was a steadfast, loyal ally to Chris until the end. Nei was raised by humans (and is a Game Breaker with the right setup). They're both possible couples.
IV: The IV example above is named Selma.
V: Isato is a decent, good hearted elf that serves Haswar loyally without prejudices. However, his fellow elf Urda is extremely xenophobic and hates humans like every other nameless jackass elves out there.
In Mother 3, the Magypsies are a group of immortals with powerful magic and the friendship of the beasts of the forest. They live away from human civilization, caring little for our brief lives, and are named for the 7 modular scales in musical theory. They look like hairy men in garish drag, wave their limp wrists, shake their bums, and stretch their bass voices falsetto as they call people "dahling" or "snookums." If you're now blinking rapidly and giving off strange high-pitched yelps, you've caught on.
They can teach you how to use your psychic powers too. Sadly, you might not want to know how.
Caster of Fate/stay night almost fits the High Elf example of this trope perfectly. Pointed ears, extremely proficient in magic, originally from a ancient kingdom, and she wears mostly purple. She also wears a somewhat tight fitting dress beneath the hood and cloak she is usually seen in.
Parodied in Overlord. Its elves are arrogant, self-absorbed dimwits who believe themselves to be the sole source of beauty in the world, despite having no discernable talent or ability at anything. They've been driven almost to extinction by the dwarves before the game starts, and you have the option to send them the rest of the way (though the Overlord canonicallysaves their pathetic hides). Their Ironic Hell in the Raising HellExpansion Pack forces them to watch and act in a terrible play that mocks them and their Mother Goddess while celebrating their downfall.
Elves in Spellforce are Wood Elves, with something rather unusual - mages focusing on ice powers. Oh, and they have unusual accents that may or may not be the result of extremely bad voice acting.
In Radiata Stories, the Light Elves are mostly the Wood Elf type, except they have the arrogance of the High Elf type. They're also physically between elves and fairies (they get fairy wings and flight). The Dark Elves in that game aren't much like typical Dark Elf types, and are generally less arrogant, but they are also half-elves, and half-human.
Heroes of Might and Magic V has Wood Elves (Sylvan) and Dark Elves (Dungeon). They used to be one, until a demon deception split them, forcing the latter to go underground. They are polar opposites, though they both have relatively powerful, but low growth creatures and have dragons as their tier 7 units.
The old Might and Magic 'verse had the Vori/Snow Elves, who didn't show up much, but were amongst the oldest of elven civilizations, if not the oldest, and highly isolationist, Elves/Wood Elves/Light Elves, who blended Wood Elves with High Elves, except noticeably less openly arrogant than the cliched standard (at least for being elves; just like humans, fairly arrogant elves do show up, but they tend to be arrogant about other things, like being King), and not all that superior to humans (they are implied to be about as guilty as the humans when it comes to the Timber Wars, for example), and the Dark Elves, who once fought a war with their Light cousins... but nowadays are uneasily reconciled with them, carry the Hat of trade and tend to live in more humanlike cities not laying in forests or in caves (they are also rather fond of bows and blue). Notably, Perma Shave is not in effect for the Light or Dark Elves (no full-blooded Snow Elf were shown in person).
The Newmen of the post-Algol Phantasy Star series are genetically-engineered elves created by humans to create a more intelligent race. Unlike other Space Elves, they're more Wutai (as revealed in Universe) than nature-loving or medieval, and they use the same kinds of weapons everyone else uses. They do, however, have their own flavor of haughtiness in Universe.
Their lifespan is also completely random - in the Gamecube version of Phantasy Star Online, one Newman NPC (evidently having been dwelling on this for some time, since it's not even remotely related to the mission you're on) says that she could live for another century or spontaneously die tomorrow, and there is no possible way to predict this.
The Nedians in Star Ocean: The Second Story are a Deconstruction. When they're first discovered, they seem fairly typical; they ruled the galaxy in a utopian society until a group of superpowerful rebels appeared out of nowhere and forced them into hiding for the good of the universe. An easily missed late game side quest reveals something quite different. Nede actually ruled the galaxy through force of arms and their own innatesymbology. The "rebels" that forced them into hiding were actually bio weapons created by the Nedians themselves to stop the real rebels. Their programming was changed when their creator's daughter was killed in a terrorist attack, causing him to go mad. It wasn't even the Ten Wise Men who forced their species into hiding and they certainly didn't do it for the altruistic reasons their descendents were told. The battle with the Ten Wise Men had severely weakened their hold on the colony worlds. They destroyed Nede and fled to an artificial planet because they were terrified of what the newly liberated races of the galaxy would do if they reached Nede. The Morphus of Star Ocean The Last Hope, at first glance, seem more like stereotypical fantasy elves in space, until you put two and two together after examining their dictionary entry and certain aspects of their own artificial planet.
EverQuest plays this trope straight and helped fortify it for more modern standards when the game was released in 1999. The Elven word for "Elf" is "Dal", and the species are broken into various types found all across Norrath:
Feir'Dal: Wood Elves: Descendants of the original elven race created by the God of Nature, Tunare. They live in the treetop city of Kelethin in the Greater Faydark forest. Naturally (no pun intended), they are more in tune with nature, with a society consisting mainly of Druids, Rangers, Rogues (who work for the city itself,) Bards, and Warriors. They have a very friendly position towards outsiders, and get along well with Humans. They stand 5 feet tall and have a tan complexion and hair colors running the normal human gambit between black, brown, blond, and red. They typically live to be about 650-700 years old.
Koada'Dal: High Elves: Cousins to the Wood Elves, the High Elves live in the nearby city of Felwithe (anagram for White Elf) in the Greater Faydark forest. They stand a foot taller than the Wood Elves, have incredibly pale skin, a fair complexion, and usually have white hair, but can have shades of red or blonde as well. They are especially skilled in the magical arts, but also are devout clerics and paladins to their goddess, Tunare. They are generally good natured towards others, but are usually very arrogant towards others and think highly of themselves because of their intelligence. Only the Erudites surpass them in intellect (and look down on the High Elves in terms of arrogance because of this fact.) They typically live to be about 800 years old.
In EverQuest II (which takes place 500 years in the future and in an alternate timeline,) the city of Felwithe had undergone significant changes as a result of their own king being assassinated during a war with the Dark Elves. This lead the ruling council to declare that the High Elves must revert back to the original elven race they once used to be. Through the use of magic and inbreeding, the High Elves turned themselves into the Renda'Dal, or "New Elf". They grew slightly shorter and have more prominent elvish features such as longer ears and thinner faces, and shortened their lifespan to about 150 years (in order to ensure their racial survival by enforcing the need to procreate more often). They have also shunned all outside contact with other races. Even other High Elves who lived outside of the city were no longer welcome. Everyone who entered "New Tunaria" were treated as hostile.
Going even further, the immortal vampire Mayong Mistmoore has taken an interest in the Renda'Dal. Using some of them as subjects for experimentation in the catacombs under his own castle, another race was created. Most of the experiments resulted in the hideous disfigurement of the test subject, turning them into troglodyte creatures akin to the Morlocks. These rejected test subjects were thrown out and forced to live in the lower caves of the catacombs. Enough of them have gathered together to form their own primitive society of sorts. They wish to only be left alone and attack anyone who comes near. They have been branded as the "Myr'Dal", or "Cave Elf."
Teir'Dal: Dark Elves: Innoruuk, the God of Hate, was jealous of Tunare's creations, so he stole away the first king and queen of the original good natured elven race and warped and twisted them into the Dark Elves. Standing 5 feet tall, have dark blue skin, white hair, and share the same aesthetic qualities as the Wood Elves (Blue is sexy). They live in the underground city of Neriak and are faithfully devoted to Innoruuk. They are adept in the practice of magic, which also includes Necromancy. Other professions include warriors, assassins, and shadowknights. Despite being evil for the most part, there are some Dark Elves who have proven that they are not inherently evil by nature and work for the forces of good. Dark Elves typically live about 600 years old.
Ayr'Dal: Half Elves: Always the offspring of a human and one of the three elven races, most commonly Wood Elves. Half Elves can be good or evil, depending on who raised them. Standing 5 feet tall, Half Elves have more human features, including slightly rounded earss, facial hair, and a skin complexion ranging from any of the three parent elven races (except they're never nearly as blue as Dark Elves naturally are.) The Half Elves call themselves "Ayr'Dal", meaning "Outcast Elf", brought on by the fact that they have no racial culture or heritage to call their own. They've actually taken this lack of culture and used it as their own. They usually have a appearance to reflect their nonconformity towards society, including Mohawks, facial piercings, and a general rebellious teenager attitude towards others.
Although not a playable race, EverQuest II introduces the Sul'Dal. A long forgotten race of Elves who shied away from worshipping Tunare, and turned to Anashti Sul, the (now former) Goddess of Health. Anashti wished to give the gift of Eternal Life to Norrath in order to "Cure Death", and unintentionally released the undead on the planet (which the other gods did not take kindly to, and banished her to the Void as a punishment.) The Sul'Dal were granted eternal life by becoming undead. Some among the community believe that "Sul'Dal" translates into "Sand Elf", but given the connection to Anashti Sul, it is more widely believed that "Sul'Dal" translates into "Eternal Elf".
Living within the Sul'Dal's city of Akhet Aken are also the Rin'Dal and Ara'Dal, who are believed to be social classes in their society rather than individual races.
Despite not getting much in the way of a racial backstory, the forest dwellers and woodland dwellers of Kingdom of Drakkar both qualify as elves (wood elves and half elves, respectively). However, it's subverted by the fact that most players prefer to play City Dwellers (humans), due to their better stat dice.
Although Elves in Mabinogi fit the typically gracile, agile, archery and magic using stereotype; they're differentiated by being a tribal, desert culture, that shares a collective consciousness.
Elves in Divinity II: Ego Draconis are dragon elves, just in case you didn't get their superiority from just the word "elves".
Parodied in Kingdom of Loathing, when it's not subverted or inverted. Crimbo elves are some of the weakest mooks, and can lethally overdose on sugar buffs. But the 'Elvish' effect from attending a rock concert:
Your brain is full of the mannerisms and customs of the ancient Pork Elves. When you walk, your hips gyrate like those of a moxious elf. When you talk, your lips curl in a sneer like that of a mighty elf. When you think, your thoughts are as mystic as the Pork Elves' favorite food, the fried peanut-butter-and-banana sandwich (renowned for its mystic nature).
Majesty has an unusual take on elves. While they are primarily archers and known for being light on their feet they are also highly prone to drinking, gambling and general debauchery. Their main benefit to the kingdom is an economic one as they significantly boost the gold output of your Marketplaces and raise revenue when they perform as bards. And they're quite androgynous-looking.
Rift has the more-or-less classic high elves Guardian-side and the wiry, gray-skinned, tribal Kelari Defiant-side.
Elves shown in Warriors of Might and Magic have dark skins, (not black), Air element and rush at you with strange battlecries when you approach. Their boss gives you a sidequest, but eventually backstab you.
Real-Time Strategy Game Armies Of Exigo features the Wood Elf and Dark Elf variants. The former are allied with the human Empire, providing archers, druidic Dryads, and other long-range support. The Dark Elves, on the other hand, live underground, have an alliance with the Voidwalkers and a whole host of Big Creepy-Crawlies, and are bent on reclaiming their place on the surface.
In Dragon Quest VIII, elves are mentioned as one of the races (along with humans and monsters) inhabiting Trian Gully. However, only one elf, Rajah is shown: she has green skin, red hair, big boobs and pointy ears.
Touhou Project has Elven expies in the Tengu, down to their pointy ears, their long lifespans, (though all youkai share that trait), reputation for being condescending braggarts, and their highly secluded insular society (they have troops on 24-hour watch defending Youkai Mountain, but from whom?). The only Tengu we know are reporters and a member of the aforementioned mountain defense.
The Lunarians are an even better example, being a concealed civilisation (on the Moon) of ungodly-powerfulnote The only Lunarians seen in the games are Final Bosses, while the Watatsuki sisters were described as "too powerful" to appear outside of a manga."eternal beings", who look down on any inhabitant of Earth as "impure". For bonus points they have insanely advanced technology (developing something similar to an Infinite Improbability Drive in the Stone Age), and claim to have invented magic and created youkai.
Ironically, the character who looks most like an archetypal elf, Parsee Mizuhashi, is a hashihime, the vengeful spirit of a cheated human housewife. Her Pointy Ears appear to be the result of a drawing error.
Elves of Dragon Pass are somewhat far from the average elf, what with being plants, but they are long lived, attuned to nature and good with a projectile weapon.
Christine, the heroine of Arkista's Ring, is an elf that goes to fight the Shogun's armies of minions and retrieve the titular artifact by her lonesome. She's still a Fragile Speedster, so she needs a lot of health and armor to remotely survive the later levels.
While in Guild Wars 2 by name, no elves exist, but developers have confirmed that the humans do indeed fulfill the narrative niche in the story usually reserved for elves, being beautiful, magical, highly civilized, have an ancient civilization, very loud about those facts, and are in severe decline as the younger, more energetic races begin to dominate the world.
The Legend of Zeldasupplemental material occasionally makes the distinction between "Hylians" and regular humans, aka "Hyrulians"; with the former having pointy ears that are said to hear the will of the gods. Link and Zelda are Hylians (judging by said ears), and they also have the other common elven traits of being magical, (usually) blond, in Link's case clean-shaven, and pretty. Just don't actually call them "elves" unless you want to hit the Fandom Berserk Button.
Ravenmark Scourge Of Estellion has the Cardani elves named so for the swamp where they live. No one outside the Cardani swamp is aware of their existence. They are smaller than humans, although not as small as Jackdaws, with long ears. Unlike a typical depiction of elves, these are always hungry for more... whatever. It can be living space, food, glory, etc. This constant search for more is called "fukuyoka", although no human quite understands what the concept means (and the developers don't do the best job explaining). Some parts of their culture indicate that they may be a Fantasy Counterpart Culture of Japan. Some of their commanders wear samurai armor and wear tengu masks, their blade weapons look very similar to katanas and naginatas (although they're called swordstaffs), their homes also are vaguely reminiscent of Japanese architecture. On the other hands, their warriors are called Braves, which is what Native Americans called their warriors, and some of their priests look like they're wearing voodoo priest clothes and their ranged units use blowguns (this, at least, can be justified by the fact that trees don't grow in the Cardani swamp, so they have to make do with reeds). This fits the overall tendency of the game world cultures not being counterparts of just one Real Life culture. None of the other cultures, by the way, calls them "elves". Instead, they're almost universaly referred to as "rat-men". Unlike the "civilized" cultures, they don't fight in daggers (small units that can be joined with like daggers to form deuces and trines) but in swarms, so many of their tactics rely on We Have Reserves.
Armies Of Exigo features Wood Elves as allies of The Empire, supplying Rangers, Eagle-mounted Valkyries, and Dryads (who essentially fullfill the Druid role). The Fallen are an alliance of alien beings, giant insects, and Deep Elves—underground dwelling Dark Elves who specialise in necromancy and cold magic and want the surface world for themselves.
Elves are one of the three precursor races in the Tears to Tiara universe. Members from powerful lineages, like Ashtarte in Tears to Tiara 2 once went around the world teaching humans knowledge and offering wisdom and guidance.
The Elves in 8-Bit Theater are a parody of this trope. They like to think of themselves as superior, but are just as moronic, gullible, xenophobic and destructive as every other race. Possibly worse. In fact, they were responsible for oppressing the world for thousands of years with the help of evil dragons, caused at least one civilization to be incomprehensible because they had cooler stuff (namely Airships), have been exchanging atrocities with the dwarves for a long time for control of the Earth Orb, and have conquered the Giants to pillage their lands and use them as weapons. Even the Dark Elves aren't as bad as the main elves (the one we see is something of an Only Sane Man among the Dark Warriors), though exchanges between Thief and Drizz'l reveal that that's simply because the Dark Elves were out-bastarded.
Dream Catcher actually doesn't have this. The only thing Elves are better at is hearing because of their pointy ears. No large lifespan, height or anything. As far as we know.
Errant Story goes to great lengths to deconstruct Tolkien-esque elves. Not only do they have the conventional 'high/wood/sea/dark' elf distinctions (and then one of them gets huffy when a human points out this out after an elaborate lecture on the different groups), they have precisely the sort of snotty arrogance that typifies this trope, especially after they have spent a few centuries in hiding following the Errant Wars. But it is their treatment of half-elfs ('errants') that is most telling: they made a huge mess of things when they first encountered humans, then after this led to a bloody civil war, refused to do anything to clean up the mess except ruthlessly hunt down and kill their own hybrid descendants.
And the Errants only exist in the first place because for some reason it's much easier to conceive Elf-Human hybrids than pure Elf children. The war happened later one when it turned out that Errants with magical power have a tendency to suddenly go utterly insane.
Erfworld has the Royal Crown Coalition (get it?) made of the classic "Good Guy" fantasy races. Their elf allies are divided into: Woodsy (tall), Shady (goth), Luckless (die offscreen), Eager (Link), Schlemiel (Jewish), Altruist (nurses), Lofty (aloof), and Superfluous (emo). There's also the Tardy Elves, but we don't get to see them because they move too slowly to get to the battle in time.
The prequel book gives us High Elves, who... are. Then a dragon eats them.
Tales of the Questor have elves with a very serious problem. In their past, the race had lifespans that were marginally longer than humans and one Elf monarch wanted to stop his people from aging. So, he made a deal with a magic giant salamander for a spell that would ensure Elves never got old, which unfortunately was done by limiting Elf lifespans to 20 years (Half-Elves live a bit longer). The King tried to fix this catastrophic problem by getting a magic goblet that could give immortality to any elf drinking, which worked until it was stolen/destroyed/? (nobody remembers). As a result, Elf society collapsed with a population unable to get enough maturity and the race degenerated to a bunch of petty thieves and vagrants with nothing to live for. Naturally, when Quentyn the Questor learns of this from his new elf companion, Sam, you can bet he'll keep an eye out for that goblet in his quest.
The elves of Inverloch play the haughty aloof part of this trope straight. They live in a forest city like Wood Elves, but in attitude are High Elves. When some of their kind are born without magic or immortality, they are banished, and the more they're shown the more unsavory they are—it becomes clear that they're complacent, arrogant racists who view everyone else as lesser beings, leading the main characters to declare Screw You, Elves!. And the "mortality" disease is a punishment from the Spirit Realm.
Parodied in thisSluggy Freelance strip where elves are described as "mythological hotties who wouldn't give humanity the time of day." Mostly averted in the rest of the series, where elves are short, not particularly attractive laborers at cookie companies and Santa's workshop (though they do get some cool black ops equipment).
Drowtales: simultaneously played straight and deconstructed, since the various elven races are similar in power and demeanor to Greek and Norse gods in comparison to the goblin species who can't manipulate mana. And towards each other. The elves are immortal humanoids with magic powers and a culture vaguely reminiscent of a matriarchal version of the ancient Rome. They're arrogant enough to consider humans dumb animals, enslave them, and use them for food, but the whole thing is really more Deliberate Values Dissonance than arrogance.
Heliothaumic has the Dark Elves described above in the dying country/empire of Ilthmir, which is an oppressive monarchy wrecked by civil war and ruled by a 600-year old queen. It also has these Elves breeding with humans to produce the Half-Elves, the vast majority of which live outside of Ilthmir and embrace their human side more.
Haru-Sari has an interesting twist on elves: They are born from human mothers or genetically engineered, and have the power of magic. They are stuck in prepubescent bodies for their entire life, and they are treated as dangerous second class citizens by the society around them. And they only live for about 30 years before their affinity for magic kills them off.
Averted in The Order of the Stick. Vaarsuvius spends a fair amount of time being arrogant and lecturing people in as polysyllabic a way as s/he can think of, but genuinely seems to care for people, clearly isn't always right, and recently got suckered in a big way by a trio of fiends. Furthermore, V's arrogance is incidental to hir elvenhood, stemming far more from hir wizardry. The only thing that comes close to this trope was V's mention about how hir noble elven metabolism is so efficient that V only has so concern hirself with such base needs as going to the bathroom every few weeks. Which frustrated anyone who wanted to know what sex V was when they arrived at a bathroom.
The drow (dark elves) are apparently played straight, although the abundance of Wangsty no-I'm-the-non-Evil-exception drow in games and game-books is poked fun at.
It had to happen ... we now have confirmed in El Goonish Shive how elves work. Apparently, if you're the child of a human and an immortal, you're an elf. And, to some, an abomination. Still, since immortals seem to have rigid 'hands off' rules, the elf that does show up laments about his limited career choices with regards to fighting. And then, once negotiations break down, attacks with a sword and exploding magic crows.
And promptly gets his ass pounded by a human wizard (who is by reputation a complete dumbfuck).
Who had aparently done nothing for most of his life except fight violent abominations (the result of his great failure) and wait for more abominations to arrive, against a high school teacher, that had the wizard at his mercy but let his guard down.
Mocked in this strip of Phil and Dixie. Phil stands by describing an elf's wonderful traits while an elf stands by berating him for being fat, insecure, ill-mannered and incapable of getting a girlfriend. Dixie gets the last laugh, however.
Parodied in WIGU when Wigu and Hugo encounter retarded Hillbilly Elves in the woods, who still believe themselves superior to humans in every way except one.
Tolkienesque elves and Santa's elves mix in Balderduck's single panel strip #9
A number of types of elves exist, naturally, in Elf Blood:
The High Elves, or just plain ol' Elves, are not nature loving technophobes but more along the lines of the Holy Roman Empire with Magic. Makes sense when their ancestral home, Alfheim, is supposedly hidden somewhere in central Europe. Though the modern elves lack it, historically they retained the 'aloof' aspect of ordinary elves.
The Dark Elves, while not evil or even particularly bloodthirsty, were shunned for a while by the High Elves and had to work exceptionally hard to gain any respect in Alfen society. Comparisons can be drawn to European Jews at the time of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
The Death Elves, who are essentially Elf Blood's equivalents to dwarves. Except they're seven-foot tall grey-skinned nomad-descended brutes who can't use magic.
Oglaf has elves, most prominently Sandoval, the Xoan ambassador to Mistress.
This may have something to do with why all the characters in Elven (yes that is the name of the comic), are all elves. However, a few pages have been shown to poke fun at games like World of Warcraft.
My Roommate Is an Elf features an elf named Griswold interested in human culture, and living with a human in an apartment. Griswold is capable of magic and has a Healing Factor, and apparently a long life as his roommate, Harold, will likely be long dead by the time Griswold develops his first wrinkle.
Roxanne in Rusty and Co. is not so much — then, she was raised by humans since she was a wee little elfling.
Fairy Dust has two main kinds of elves. Tiny elves are pathetic and frightening wrinkly little monsters that need regular consumption of fresh humanoid flesh to stay alive, and use their venom to hunt larger races. Great elves are free of tiny elves' genetic weakness and look more like one expect fantasy races to look like. Although they have no vital need for cannibalism, they are allergic to animal flesh and may choose it over vegetarism.
Wildlife: A'zi set out to create a race based on humans but physically superior. Commenters failed to suggest any other names, so she called them elves.
Tales Of MU plays around with this, most obviously by having dark elves who insist they're simply regular elves and it is the surface-dwelling "faint elves" who are the evil bizarro version. Half-elf Steff also both overestimates her keen elven eyesight and underestimates the nightvision of humans, on separate occasions.
However, one of the reasons that elves used to be discriminated against are that they're awesome, as this professor explains:
Professor Hart: Good? Good? Ms. La Belle, elves aren't 'good'... they are better. These people can run twice as fast as you can without making a sound. They can see to the farthest horizon on a starless night and they can hear the heart beat of a mouse. They don't sweat. If they fart, you'll never hear about it. They can go into a human town and fuck everybody's wives, sons, and daughters for fifteen hours straight, they are going to live forever... and can you imagine what would happen if the brand-new emperor had stood before his people and said, 'Hey, these are the people who are going to be in charge of you.' Do you think the people who had just thrown off one tyrant would have just rolled over and accepted that?
Verging on a Deconstruction at this point, with the revelation that Elves don't even need to breathe, but if they don't engage in mortal behavior, they start losing their connection to the world and become something else entirely.
The trope is parodied in this piece of RPG Motivational art: "Elves. Anything you can do, they can do better."
From what little we know of them, the Sidhe in the Whateley Universe may well have been embodiments of this before their version of the end of the world as we know it happened. The modern-day reincarnation of one of their most powerful queens is already considered one of both the most powerful and the most beautiful students on campus before the end of her first semester, and it's been strongly hinted at that her ancient original (whose personality lives on in her head for the time being) was easily a hundred times more awesome and at some point ruled not only over her own people, but the humans living in the area as well — to say nothing of dealing with a variety of supernatural movers and shakers on at least an equal basis. (We haven't yet learned much about the 'common' Sidhe, but there have been a hint or two that the humans were second-class citizens at best back in that day. This is apparently the past of this universe's Earth.)
Arcana Magi features Modern Elves who work for Avalon Tech Enterprises. One Elf is on the Board of Directors. One Elf is a chemist. Another Elf was seen testing a pair of flying boots and Karl the elf invented the manaboard. Fynir Robinson is an Modern Elf Agent of Mystic Intelligence.
In The Dragon Wars Saga, the Haltia (it's Finnish for Elves) are grouped by affinity powers and this affects their appearance. It's also been implied that while they are very long lived they aren't immortal.
In Aelan mythology from Ustal Naror islands, elves are better than humans, but not as good as for example stones. Eldarins are the best elf-like beings.
If we ever get good human genetic engineering, elves might be a realistic outcome. How would lots of people engineer their children, or themselves? Tall, pretty, thin, smart, and as long-lived as we can manage. The main aesthetic competition might be from designs with exaggerated sexual characteristics: manly Conan men and busty women vs. the Bishōnen androgyny of most elves.
In the family of ape and hominid species, humans are the elves, in a way: 'gracile' vs. 'robust' bodies, weak, neotenous, longer-lived, much swifter runners (other great apes have slow and clumsy walk on land) and much much smarter. And we act as arrogant and snotty (not to say plain genocidal) towards them as any good elf would be to humans.