Elves Vs Dwarves: The Endless . . . Why Does This Thing Exist?

Legolas and Gimli

Legolas and Gimli

This is a part of fantasy that I never understood once I got into college.  Reading Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, I knew there was a problem between the elves and dwarves.  I never knew what the real problem was over.  I used to know, but I stopped caring because that’s just Middle Earth . . . and Dungeons and Dragons . . . and several other fantasy stories where these two races are used.  They seem to always be at odds in some way.  It’s either open hostility or constant ribbing like whenever Hulk and Wolverine team up.  I simply don’t get why this is still a thing since it rarely has an explanation.  At least one that is beyond an old feud over one group of the race not helping the other.

I admit that I nearly slipped into it when I started writing Legends of Windemere.  You can even see it in the prologue of Beginning of a Hero where the messenger meets an elf and there are dwarves nearby.  I had the dwarves mock the elf and she returned the sentiment, but that’s as far as it went.  More of a teasing nod to the tradition, but any issues between an elf and a dwarf that comes after is personal.  What I mean is that the characters have a non-racial issue with each other.  After all, Duggan Ironcaster is revealed to be old friends with Ilan Callindor since they trained as blacksmiths together.  Alyssa Goldheart’s trusted butler is a dwarf and they care about each other.  I guess what I’m saying is that I focused more on the character of the characters than their species.

Maybe this is something that stems from people treating Tolkien’s works like the holy Bible of fantasy.  Many people rail against this and hate the use of the same races.  They point to the dwarf/elf feud as evidence that an author has no originality.  Unfortunately, this can be taken too far and having a dwarf and elf fight over anything is considered a cliche.  Forget if the elf shot the dwarf in the ass with an arrow and clearly deserved the tankard to the nose.  You simply can’t have an elf and dwarf fight without evoking thoughts of this standard.

I would say that this slice of fantasy is the one part that I definitely would like to be removed.  Though I would say if there’s a good reason given then I’d get behind it, but the blind hate has been done too often.  Elves and dwarves seem to be steeped in fictional racism, which the central representatives of the race are supposed to rise above over the course of the adventure.

Come to think of it, fantasy races seem to be incredibly racist.  I mean, you have hatred toward half-elves for being half-breeds.  Everyone hates orcs, finds halflings annoying, elves pompous, dwarves rude, gnomes insane, and humans stupid or plain destructive.  Any race that gets added in ends up having a few reasons why people dislike them or they’re the one species that everyone loves and respects.  No wonder fantasy worlds are always in turmoil and some bad guy is trying to take over.  Maybe most of these villains are simply trying to unite the races and end the racism that plagues these worlds to the point where you have wars and apathy toward suffering.  Sure, they’ll rule the world with an iron fist if they succeed, but don’t you think a world of species that are always about to kill each other deserve such a fate?  I mean, if they can’t get along to stop the villain then they’re kind of bringing it on themselves.

Wow.  This post so went in a strange direction.  I think I need to sit down . . . and look over something that happens in Book 8.

Yahoo Image Search- Good Guy Sauron Meme

Yahoo Image Search- Good Guy Sauron Meme

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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19 Responses to Elves Vs Dwarves: The Endless . . . Why Does This Thing Exist?

  1. Sauron’s not so bad, after all, huh? 😀

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  2. Dominika says:

    Ha, that meme pic is perfect. Always knew Sauron was the misunderstood underdog.

    Perhaps the reason that the dwarf/elf thing persists, other than people liking it on a shallow level due to Tolkien, is that the races are used as the embodiment of intellectual concepts instead of an actual race like we know humans to be. Racism is always easiest when an entire race is considered under the umbrella of one concept for instance; Elves are Noble, Dwarves are Rough, and that’s as far as that goes.

    I’ve always thought of the elf-dwarf conflict as Elves being Celestial-Sourced and the Dwarves being Terrestrial-Sourced, thus opposing forces with tug-and-pull similar to the earth and sun, which lets me enjoy the dwarf vs. elf when I see it used in different works. Other than that though, there is definitely a prevalent issue about whole races being used as a single-concept pony. World of Warcraft, combined with D&D, really made it into an issue though, if I pinned it on something.

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    • I don’t remember if that feud was written into the D&D manual or not. Back in my early RPG days, we never really paid attention to that. So it was when I got beyond the hack-and-slash group that it turned up, which I always thought was strange.

      Still, you have a point about them originating as embodiments of concepts. The feud is a remnant of that since they’ve been evolving to species with varied personalities. Isn’t it strange how people still think humans are the only fictional race that can embody more than one concept?

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      • Dominika says:

        My experiences with fantasy and sci-fi tabletop RPGs tended to see people use races as feuding for simply the sake of races feuding in a similar manner to the elf v. dwarf thing. I also saw lots of players bring the Tolkien feud directly into the campaigns (so many 30 minutes spent on an elf and dwarf arguing), but I’ve been in other campaigns that totally ignored it too. It probably depends a lot on the group, timing, and situation.

        Yes, it is strange how humans are usually the only race with multiple concepts. It is partly why I enjoyed the comic series, ElfQuest, a lot because it switched humans being the spotlight race to elves being just as varied and complicated as humans are usually written.

        Giving it a little bit more thought, I think races being singular concept representations can be seen in sci-fi too with alien races tended to be written as homogenous cultures. Though, perhaps this isn’t as much to be avoided, but to be consciously aware of what concepts are being drawn on and why. A storyteller can use huge swaths of “individuals” as a metaphorical device and I think that’s what a lot of fantasy/sci-fi authors end up doing with races; using them as metaphors.

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      • My favorite campaign had an elf player and a dwarf player. The DM was trying to force the racial feud and the players simply refused. They kept finding ways to get along in the face of hate. Drove the DM nuts.

        I’m not thinking of how Klingons were violent and Ferengi were greedy. This stuck to most of the characters until you got those who were main cast to some extent. Guess you kind of need a named figure to get through the basis of the racial concept. That opens the door for a deepening of the species and culture.

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  3. sknicholls says:

    I don’t think I have ever really given much thought to racism in fantasy. I guess that’s because I see them as non-human creatures rather than races. Like animals. There are many who feel animals should never be killed. It it has a face and a mother they won’t eat it.

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    • I know some people like that. They get angry if I put a face in their mashed potatoes while their back is turned. 🙂

      I wish I knew why there are so many racism storylines in fantasy. Maybe because the other races do look at the others as creatures instead of sentient beings. We come from a world where there’s only one ‘top’ creature, so it could be that we find it difficult to fully understand a world that grew up with multiple ‘top’ creatures.

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  4. Sh. You might unravel the entire fantasy genre. 🙂

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  5. Pingback: Changelings on Tour: Charles Yallowitz | The D/A Dialogues

  6. excellent post, Charles, interesting debate to be had here.

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