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Literature / Kid Stuff

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First published in Beyond Fantasy Fiction (September 1953 issue), this Short Story by Isaac Asimov is a Fairy Tale about a fantasy genre writer who encounters an elf that wants to kidnap him.

An elf holds Blanche Prentiss hostage while talking to her husband, Jan. The elf was banished from the island of Avalon for their mutant ability to use their mental powers to generate electricity. It believes this mutation represents a new era for elfkind, because now they can take full advantage of the technological achievements humans have created. Once Jan junior is home, Jan senior is sent to the library to collect engineering books on electricity and the internal combustion engine. Once he gets far enough away, however, Jan junior is able to squash it, and everyone is fine.


This story has been reprinted six times; Beyond Fantasy Fiction (the UK March 1954 issue), Earth is Room Enough (1957), Galaxy (Italy #57, February 1963 issue), Sirius (Yugoslavia/Croatia magazine #106, April 1985 issue), The Complete Stories, Volume 1 (1990), and Faeries (1991).

Examples of tropes within this work:

  • Alien Catnip: The elf mocks Jan Prentiss for trying to ply it with alcohol because drink doesn't affect elves the way it does humans. Literal catnip (with honey), however, is implied to have a similar inebriating effect.
  • Alien Fair Folk: Accourding to the elf, elves evolved before even the dinosaurs, but they remain very alien in their body shapes (insectoid) and abilities.
  • Bland-Name Product: Jan Prentiss submits stories to Farfetched Fantasy Fiction rather than Beyond Fantasy Fiction (which is where this story first appeared).
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  • Changeling Tale: According to the elf, some members of his race had allegedly used their mind control powers to get milk as fresh as possible.
  • Compelling Voice: Combined with Telepathy, the elf is able to exert mental control over the entire Prentiss family, mostly using it to dominate Mrs Prentiss.
  • The Fair Folk: An elf has appeared in the Prentiss household, holding the wife hostage while it plans to abduct the entire family to Avalon.
  • Featureless Plane of Disembodied Dialogue: The elf antagonist and protagonist Jan Prentiss are described in detail, but the office where the story takes place only has a desk and typewriter, and the wife and son are only given short descriptors.
  • Historical In-Joke: The elf from Avalon says the country is in the Atlantic Ocean, hidden using psychic powers. When the RMS Titanic crashed into the island, it took the focus of the whole population to make the island look like an iceberg.
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  • Ironic Echo: At the end of the story, Jan Junior takes a look at his father's manuscript in the typewriter, and calls it kid stuff.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Jan Prentiss is a writer, like Dr Asimov, writing for a Bland-Name Product version of the same Pulp Magazine that printed this story.
  • Muggles Do It Better: Accourding to the elf, when humans started really developing (around two centuries ago), electricity and dynamite outclassed what the elves could do with Psychic Powers. It admits that the elves suffered from an inferiority complex at seeing humans surpass them, so they retreated to Avalon, in the Atlantic Ocean and other similar Hidden Elf Villages.
  • Mutants: The elves in this story have a suite of psychic powers, and the elf antagonist is a mutant who demonstrates their mutation allows them to turn on a bare lightbulb while holding it.
  • The Namesake: The story is an oblique defense against the Fantasy genre ghetto. Blanche would prefer her husband wrote Mystery Fiction so that she could proudly tell her neighbours what her husband did for a living and dismisses the whole Fantasy genre as "kid stuff". Their son, ten years old, also dismisses such stories as "kid stuff" (despite killing an elf only hours before).
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Jan Prentiss sends in stories to editor Horace W. Browne instead of Horace Gold (the editor who published this story).
  • No Name Given: The elf, who drives the conflict as the Antagonist, never tells the Prentiss family its name (or even gender). A Justified Trope if fairy tales about names are real. Of course, considering they are telepaths, it is quite likely the elf names simply can't be pronounced by humans.
  • Our Fairies Are Different: Fairies/elves (it uses both names) are insectoid creatures that evolved Psychic Powers and use them to dominate humans. They come from many different types of insect families, such as beetles and butterflies.
  • Perception Filter: One of the Psychic Powers available to the elves is the ability to create illusions, such as Invisibility and icebergs.
  • Playing Drunk: The elf seems to be getting inebriated from the eggnog that Jan Prentiss intended for his writer friends, but it was a ploy to break his morale.
  • Precursors: The elves evolved before even the dinosaurs did, surviving for over half a billion years. Two centuries ago, they decided to hide themselves away from the human world, to avoid the effects of the industrial revolution.
  • Psychic Powers: Elves in this story have a suite of abilities, mostly of the Telepathy and mind control variety, while the elf antagonist is a Mutant who also has the power to generate electricity. It demonstrates this by turning a bare lightbulb on while holding it.
  • Real Event, Fictional Cause: The elf from Avalon says the country is in the Atlantic Ocean, hidden using psychic powers. When the RMS Titanic crashed into the island, it took the focus of the whole population to make the island look like an iceberg.
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  • Shock and Awe: The elf demonstrates electric powers by holding a light bulb and making it glow. When it channels the energy from a human, it can make the bulb glow blindingly bright.
  • Super Breeding Program: The elf is a Mutant member of its own race, capable of using its Psychic Powers to generate electricity. Once it has shown to the rest of Avalon how its genetics are superior, it plans to breed its children together and develop a race of super-elves.
  • Supernatural-Proof Father: Inverted. It's the dad who is used by the elf, because he, as a fantasy writer, can accept elves as real, but a comic book raised son proves problematic. Good thing the elf didn't keep up with the times enough to claim he's from Alpha Centauri.
  • Telepathy: The elf demonstrates telepathic powers by responding to Jan Senior's narration.
  • Ultraterrestrials: Accourding to the elf, his race had evolved before even the dinosaurs. For thousands of years, they lived alongside humans as "fairies", but a few centuries ago, when they saw that, despite their telepathic powers, Muggles Do It Better, they had a bad case of inferiority complex and withdrew to Avalon.
  • What Do You Mean, It's for Kids?: In-Universe, Jan Prentiss often makes this argument with his wife. Modern fantasy stories are full of mature and complex plots, he says, it uses fantastical motifs to comment on current events. Blanche isn't convinced until their son is able to resist the Psychic Powers of an elf because he doesn't believe in them.