The other day, someone said to me that Tolkien’s elves were the real thing, because he was a Medievalist and so he knew. I’m a Medievalist and I know, too, and what the real thing is depends so very much on where one is and what one is writing. I’m not at all certain that Tolkien would have liked to be told that the closest thing to his elves in Old French tales are the blonde fairies (with hair that is red-gold, like fine wire, and the palest of skins and the prettiest of rose colouring on their cheeks) in the Arthurian romances. They are not the stuff of folkdom. They’re not even terribly legendary. They’re the object of quests by knights who don’t quite fit at court. They have the best tents and the most beautiful horses and an unlimited number of handmaidens more beautiful than anyone else in sight apart from the fairy herself. They’re not that real. When I stop and think about Tolkien’s elves, they’re not quite as perfect, but they come close at times. They’re not perfect because they’re annoyingly “I know so much and don’t see why I should tell you.” Neither of them have wings.
These fairies are not the hidden folk of any of the various regions in Western Europe. They’re a literary construct. In fact they appear in the Marvel and DC of their time. I shall refer to the lead fairy (the one who the knight wins) as the Nick Fury of the magic realms from now on when I need to, on panels. [Read more…]