What If Humans Were Real?

What if elves were real? There are those in the south of England who believe that elves exist. I heard this when researching for A Gardener’s Tale.  When a twitter friend shared with me that he had heard of this in the north of England, it made me wonder…

Delyphin rubbed the points of his ears as he waited for Harwin who was always late. He checked his watch. They would have to walk fast to reach the bookstore before the famous author began his reading. 

“Sorry, I’m late,” Harwin said as he jogged up.

They set off, hands in pockets. There was no point in chastising Harwin – it simply didn’t help.

“I‘m looking forward to this,” Harwin said. “I loved ‘Lady of the Earings’. The way that professor describes these mythical humans, I really begin to feel they exist.” 

I nodded, too winded to comment. The professor was a strange chap, lecturing at an elite university on ancient elven languages. They say he even invented an entire human language – as if all humans would speak the same language. Still he was a master of the epic fantasy genre.

We enter the bookstore, which is full and grab the last two seats.

Harwin leans in. “I hear he is planning on sending the humans on a new quest, that their world is threatened by some strange energy – ‘oyl’ – that is expensive, polluting and they go to war over it because there isn’t much.”

“That’s a bit of a stretch,” I say. “His humans are too smart to do that. Besides, they have the sun, the wind, and the waves of the ocean just like us. Why would they use this oyl?”

Harwin smiled. “You look rather irate. You might start believing in these humans too.”

“Don’t be daft, Harwin. That’s the beauty of epic fantasy. You get so into the story that you begin to believe the characters might actually be real. Next thing, you’ll be swearing you saw someone with round ears.”

We both laugh. That would be a sight.  The room hushes. The professor is about to speak. He opens his new book…and the world of the humans becomes real as he reads…

I can almost see their round ears and their oyl.

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Alon Shalev is the author of At The Walls of Galbrieth, Book 1 of The Wyccan Master series, which reached the Quarter Finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2012, released by Tourmaline Books. The First Decree, the sequel is due out in early 2013. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

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When is an Elf not an Elf? And why do we care?

Yes, my novel is compelling, special, well-written etc. just like the 499 other epic fantasy manuscripts sitting in the slush piles of every publishing house that offers YA epic fantasy.

I am working with an agent who is asking the challenging and insightful questions that will help my manuscript stand out from the rest. It is tough and I am feeling very possessive. Last week I shared his prompting to seek a Higher Concept.

One of the aspects that he wants me to consider is changing my elves, who make up many of the main characters and cultural references. He suggests that I consider changing the elves for a new, mythical race that will set me apart from the rest.

Let me state from the outset that I have no doubt this man knows far more than I about the publishing world, has considerable experience and understands the current state of the publishing world.

But my elves? Our elves? Those of us who grew up on Tolkein, Paolini, Brooks and others, have standards, images, friends. Legolas and Anwen, Arya and Blodgarm, and many others have created a rich and familiar texture. We welcome them surfacing as we settle into a thick novel. We embrace them because there are common threads that pass between authors. We call it a culture, those who don’t read fantasy roll their eyes.

                               Nobel Haldir – we owe him for Helm’s Deep, no?

Terry Brooks’ children know that he is not all there, he tells us as much when he opens his book Sometimes the Magic Works: Lessons from a Writing Life. More on this book in a later blog.

But Brooks in not dissimilar to the rest of us, just considerably more talented! We pass through a gate in our imagination and reacquaint in a world that exists in a shared consciousness.

Here the elves are tall, thin, light-footed and beautiful. They are fast and posses stealth and discipline. They are in touch with the energy of the earth, the forest, the animal kingdom. They excel in archery, crafts and healing. Perhaps they are aloof, elitist, and closed to the other races, but this comes from their ancient and rich heritage. We know and love them.

We rejoiced to learn that Peter Jackson is bringing Legalos into a prominent role in the hobbit. Well, a few raised eyebrows, since Legalos was not even referred to by name in The Hobbit when he appeared flanking his father, the King of Mirkwood.

We accept, even with a bit of jealousy that he can fight at Helms Deep for five days, or run non stop for three and still not need to brush his immaculate hair. Nor do we care that his quiver seems to replenish itself, an occupational hazard of any archer who fights battles every other day.

We don’t mind because elves epitomize something that we identify with. We all want to be beautiful, brilliant, in excellent physical condition and, of course, environmentalists. When R.A. Salvatore created Drizzt Do’Urden and the dark elves of Menzoberranzan, a giant underground drow city-state he broke new ground.

Many of us were repelled and had it not been created in the hands of a master of fantasy, we would have rebelled. It was daring, it worked and by Book Three, we were rewarded with the typical elf one finds above ground.

It is tough to turn away from the basic tenets of epic fantasy: the teacher and student, the quest, the fight against a powerful evil, dwarves, elves, dragons, a rich natural world. There is something that has entered our collective consciousness and taken root.

It is why we read and reread the masters…and it is why we will return to read those who take over the role of entertaining us in a way that only epic fantasy does.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written two fantasy novels and the first will enter the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in January 2012. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#elfwriter).