Editor's Choice

Editor's Choice
Second-Hand Elf

Jonas Kyratzes | 4 Jan 2011 11:52
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It is not wrong to be inspired by the realm of Faerie; that has always been one of its main effects on humanity. But we are not speaking of inspiration. We are speaking of theft. Creatures are ripped from the worlds they belong to - not gently seduced with a song, or led with bold vision, but captured and sold on the market like wares. Neither has this process happened only to the Elves. When the long and tragic tale of the War of the Ring was brought to the cinema screen by Peter Jackson, many viewers believed they saw in its depiction of Gimli a typical dwarf: a drunken buffoon making a fool out of himself and never showing the slightest hint of culture or grace. Few remembered the Gimli Elf-friend told of in the Red Book of Westmarch, with his deep seriousness, his dignity, and his humor.

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It is not only the creatures of Middle-earth that have suffered this fate. What of Conan the Cimmerian, with his "gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth"? He, too, has been enslaved and turned into a caricature of himself for the masses, fighting under a variety of assumed names, rescuing buxom princesses, posing for the audience in a loincloth, and speaking with a comedic Austrian accent. You have seen him. You have, perhaps, even played his part in one story or another.

It is not only in the world of digital storytelling that this process of degradation has occurred. In literature, where there is now a huge fantasy market, much the same can be observed. The only difference, perhaps, is that now new lands have been discovered for the pillage: Stories and creatures may now be stolen from mythological or mythopoetic works that previously were left untouched. Vowing to leave behind "standard fantasy settings," writers now produce cheap and inferior copies of Irish, Russian, Chinese, Japanese and other stories; they enslave the daoine sídhe instead of the elves and claim novelty.

How could such a thing have happened to our ancient tradition of myth-making? The blame lies with many. We, the audiences, the readers and viewers and players, have allowed this travesty to occur because our longing is too great. We read of Middle-earth and are heartbroken at how much of it is out of reach, so when someone offers us more, we take it without thinking. We turn ourselves into the willing victims of the greedy and the stupid, who will always produce the worst until they are forced to do otherwise. The critics, whose profession is meant to prevent this from happening, are equally at fault. They have rejected not what is bad, but the entire form; where are the voices to praise the living masters and help show us the way?

Perhaps, as is so often the case, a large part of the problem is a lack of historical knowledge. How can we travel to the Lands of Dream if we think that Lovecraft only wrote about monsters, and do not know of Celephaïs? If we do not know of Chu-Bu and Sheemish, of the worm Ouroboros, or of the long journey of Odysseus, it is not unlikely that we will become lost and end up in a land of insubstantial shadows.

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