Elves in modern fantasy tend to take after Tolkien’s model of slightly built, immortal, ecologically minded tree dweller. There are some variations on this of course and some writers have inverted the type/stereotype to produce dark elves, who are basically the same but ‘evil’.
My problem is that the evil portrayed is never really anything too scary. Evil in this context usually boils down to being a simple opposition to whatever the main protagonist wants. These elves have become little more than humans with pointy ears and an aversion to masonry. In a few instances they are shown to be a wiser, parent race or something quite alien. However the name ‘elf’ has, to my mind, become synonymous with a creature more akin to a faerie than an elf. And as for the custom of making them physically weaker than men, something which Tolkien saw no need to do, I have no idea where this comes from or what advantage this would have for the species beyond allowing the human characters to have an edge.
Dark Places, as those of you who have read it will know, involves elves. These are my variety of elf. They are not nice, they do not live in trees or much care for them except as something which they possess. In Dietrich’s world people do not worship elves willingly, nor do they side with them in war or venture forth to seek out their age old wisdom. In Dietrich’s world people are terrified of the elves. They make altars and leave offerings in places they think will please the elves or near to their lairs. They don’t do it with much ceremony – instead they deposit their offerings and scuttle home to bar their doors and shutters before praying to all the gods they know of that their children will be safe for another night, that their flocks and herds will survive the week and that their unborn children will be alive and in possession of the correct number of limbs.
These are elves as the Germanic tribes and Dark Age Anglo-Saxons might have known them. They might be the manifested spirits of the land or they might be a very alien and cruel race which enjoys pain and suffering as an end in and of itself. They don’t form societies that anyone would understand. They don’t partake of human politics and they certainly don’t help people out. Their gifts have barbs in them, their games are designed to hurt and their jokes leave people bloodied and grieving.
The elves are scattered throughout the world that Dietrich lives in. They are not a race in decline, they have no distant home to go to or pine for, they don’t need people and they are not threatened by most people. They are the lords of the land and people live in their realm on their goodwill and apathy alone. They are marking time, content to leave things as they are for the time being. Of course, this apathy is likely to fade as the men of Har Nast are in the habit of burning them out…