Dangerous Elves and the Mysteries of Faerie Lore
Carolee Croft is with me today on the subject of elves, (of course), Faeries and the different perspectives we authors have. Here is her take on the subject and how she portrays them in her novel Ariella’s Escape.
What would you do if you were invited to a magical kingdom of faeries? Would you go without question, knowing that you might never be able to come back? Would you be the same person if you did come back to the real world?
If you’re familiar with a lot of faerie lore, you probably know, these creatures should not be trusted.
Many of us have come to know elves as a force for good through books like the Hobbit, but in medieval folk tales, the elves or faeries are fickle creatures with child-like tempers, sometimes bestowing blessings, sometimes bringing complete ruination or death.
Possibly the best example of these qualities is found in the story of Thomas the Rhymer. The faery queen decides to lure Thomas, a famous poet and singer, into faery land. What poet would pass up an opportunity like that?
The capricious cruelty of the faeries is evident in this tale. While Thomas enjoys a fascinating stay in the mystical realm of faerie, he returns to the real world a changed man. His longing for that magical world to which he can never return makes for a tragic ending to his story. However, in some versions of this legend, a bittersweet or even a happy ending is possible, adding even more layers to the notion of elves. They truly are mysterious creatures, both feared and loved for their magical powers.
Stories like Thomas the Rhymer are some of our earliest available sources of elf lore. Of course, J.R.R. Tolkien drastically changed the idea of elves to make them much more noble and kind, but my novel, Ariella’s escape, harkens back to those older, darker stories.
But it’s not only the darkness. For me, the best thing about elves is their mystery. They possess secrets that humans can never understand, which is what makes them so appealing to us mere mortals.
In my novel Ariella’s Escape, they have almost god-like knowledge. The elf king Larkos has many psychic gifts. He can tell everything about a person’s past, what they’re thinking, and even something of their future. As you can imagine, this is very awkward for the humans who encounter him.
So far, it sounds like I’m following the Tolkien model. But while Tolkien’s elves as portrayed in Lord of the Rings are entirely do-gooders, I thought it would be more interesting to make them more unpredictable, much like the elves of medieval folklore.
In Ariella’s Escape, the elves have a very sinister reputation. No one dares to enter their domain, and those who have by some chance make it out alive are cursed with madness. But these elves are not wholly evil, as my heroes discover.
They live in a natural environment, and unlike Tolkien’s elves, they certainly don’t live in cities or any kind of houses, not even tree-houses. They do have some cabins, but these are for guests. I’m quite sure that when humans are not around they don’t do anything as mundane as sleep under any kind of roof.
The novel doesn’t entirely reveal what it is they do in their spare time, but here is an excerpt from the novel which shows a glimpse into the elves’ lives:
At this moment, Mara exited her cabin, where she too had been resting. Her eyes were still wild and otherworldly, as they had become after her encounter with the Beolfia. In spite of this, Ariella approached her, wanting so badly to try to break through the barrier of her madness.
“Mara, are you feeling better?” she asked.
“No, no,” Mara replied sadly, “I will never feel better.”
Ariella reached out to clasp her shoulders, but Mara swerved away and ran to the edge of the clearing. Ariella feared she would run off into the woods, but instead Mara sat down underneath a tree, her legs folded and resting on the ground. The tree spirit had already sprung to life and was dancing before her. For a long while she looked up at it. Ariella wondered whether the shifting form of the tree spirit was something akin to what Mara’s madness would look like if it had a shape.
“Do you mind if I sit here and talk to you?” Mara asked the tree spirit.
It made the same musical sounds as usual, and she seemed to take it as a yes.
Ariella took a deep breath. Evidently this madness was going to be long-lasting, if not permanent. She decided to join the revellers instead, for it looked like everyone was assembled for the feast.
It did not have the rowdy and wild character of a human celebration. Humans often competed, trying to talk the loudest, look the most beautiful, or drink the most wine. Here, everyone simply was. If they did need to prove themselves, it must have been in subtle ways that Ariella could not comprehend.
Larkos silently indicated to her a place beside him. He stood up and bowed to her as she took her seat. Not to be outdone in courtesy, Demetrius did likewise.
“What were you talking about?” Ariella asked them as Larkos poured her a goblet full of wine.
The cakes they were eating looked delicious, and Ariella reached for one. Everyone around her was using their hands, so she did not stand on ceremony.
“The hunt,” Larkos said cryptically.
Ariella took a bite of the cake and discovered she had drifted away to the heavenly realms. It was sweet and chewy, and filled with the taste and scent of the most delicious flowers.
“I was just wondering,” Demetrius explained, “if one who does not challenge the Beolfia is completely safe from it.”
“Indeed that is so,” said Larkos, “though one is still not safe from oneself.”
“Too true,” Demetrius remarked.
Larkos turned to Ariella, looking intently into her eyes.
“You never intended to hunt the beast,” he stated more as a fact than a question.
Ariella shrugged. “No. I did not want to. Though now that I see your intention was never to kill it, I almost regret it. I wonder how I would have fared.”
The guests at the table were mostly elves, but there were others who could only have been thought of as oddities. A half-man-half-boar lounged on the far side, devouring everything within reach, food remnants smeared all over its snout. Closer to the center sat an ethereally beautiful woman with languid blue eyes, long wheat blond hair stretching so far back that it disappeared into the tree branches, where it moved and braided itself like a living thing, combed by unseen creatures. There was also a human warrior, sitting further off, who remained perfectly silent, ever-present tears streaming down his face. He did not eat, but only drank the wine.
“They have either strayed into our forest or come here out of desire to find us,” Larkos explained, guessing her thoughts before she had a chance to speak them. “We do not force anyone to stay.”
“Is Mara to become just one more addition to this strange gathering?” Ariella blurted out. “Are they all here to amuse you?”
The king looked at her gravely, then put a hand to his chest.
“Ariella, you already wound my heart with your beauty. I pray you do not hurt me further with your accusations of callousness.”
It was then that she saw him as a male for the first time. He had seemed a creature far above them in knowledge and power, too mystical to have an interest in love and its fatuous games. But now she beheld the fire in his eyes. His features were perfect, so perfect that it made it obvious he was not human. Such a beautiful face would be considered too feminine and laughed at by her fellow warriors in Dezearre, but Ariella was secretly partial to it.
“Be merciful,” he entreated, his elfish smile a beguiling mixture of sensuality and mystery.
Thanks for reading!
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