Monday, 16 March 2015
Characterisation - Dark Aelfs
“And you that sought for magic in your youth but desire it not in your age, know that there is a blindness of spirit which comes from age, more black than the blindness of eye, making a darkness about you across which nothing may be seen, or felt, or known, or in any way apprehended.”
― Lord Dunsany, The King of Elfland's Daughter
A little while ago I spent a little time on this photograph for a friend who is undergoing cancer treatment, and who knows the little aelf, Teathyme .
Modern writers or game designers have a bad habit of picking up a concept from modern or old literature and then using the word without attempting to understand its original meaning. Dark aelfs come to us through the oldest and most sacred Nordic writings - and figure as important in the greatest story in literature about the failure of justice. Yet, the fragmentary nature of the expostion leaves lots of questions.
In Nordic writing, aelves live in an interesting universe - one where transportation is offered between the 9 worlds by rainbow. They are portrayed as hunters of metals. Within this universe, individuals are capable of shape-changing (and I envision the possibility of the aelvish adopting cat forms - and, for short periods, human form). In Nordic literature, they are capable of constructing organic body suits, giving them and others the power of flight.
In my own writing I have envisioned dark aelves having regard to the original sources. In the literature the Nordic gods turn to the dark aelfs, to construct a chain to bind the dangerous wolf, Loki's son, Fenris. Where chains made with ordinary materials, included folded steel, have failed to hold him, the aelves construct a superior method of binding. Like sentiment, this chain binds tight, but is made from the most intangible items we can imagine: the sound of a cat’s step, the beard of a woman, the roots of a mountain, bear’s sensibilities, fish’s breath and bird’s spittle.
I envision these as miners and engineers capable of great works, willing to go to great lengths to secure their own interests, partly blind to the problems that activity creates.
In the gentle folk stories of the medieval period, the aelvish became predominately female. I have chosen to create a loose society of the aelvish, clan based and matronlinial. In keeping with the medieval descriptions, I have kept male aelvish back home, living in life partnerships with their world-going female counterparts. Solstice tells Onesti:
"Blood sister, I was young when I met him, my life partner. True, he does not understand everything and never will. But we sing and in his eyes I am content."
Into this world I have envisioned 5 individuals:
Onesti: Older, female, initially unfamiliar with humans and disinterested in their problems.
Teathyme: Young, female, who has struck up a friendship with Storm when discovered stealing an egg, playful, careless and capable of making terrible mistakes.
Tharia: Older, female, miner and guardian, decisive and powerful
Gossamer: Younger, female, cautious, a healer
Solstice: Ageless, decisive and brave to the point of placing herself in great danger, a lover of ice-cream
It might be thought that all have life partners, but only Solstice is willing to bring her life partner into the world, although she does not expose him the risk of the blue dragon.
Solstice explains to Pete in dragon form (the Painter) how the aelvish social system works:
"I explained what it is to be a life partner. To commit to one alone and build a nest, a family, a life history. To learn to sing together and together take chances against the dark. To slowly build wealth, power and influence among the clans. But to not let that poison delight – to accept the warmth of another’s embrace and their songs without regret or condition. To dance with many, to lose myself for a moment in the shoes of another and look into new eyes with hunger and joy. But, just as I would never challenge another life partner, I would not place my own life partnership at risk."
A number of people have contributed to the visualization of the aelf in the story.