Something’s Bugging Me About Tolkien

I’m working on my roughly biennial rereading of the Lord of the Rings — this is my fourth or fifth time through them, but having just finished Fellowship, something’s started to bother me that I hadn’t noticed before. It isn’t really a problem with Tolkien himself, or his storytelling. No, what’s really been bugging me is that the elves are total douchebags.

[Forewarned: I usually keep the language PG-13 at Robot Viking, but not today.]

The first time we meet any elves, it’s when the hobbits run into a pack of them in the woods at night not far outside of the Shire. The elves treat the hobbits like country bumpkins and call them dull to their faces. When they hear about the black riders, they confer for a bit, and then say, “Well, ok, come camp with us so we can talk — we usually wouldn’t be caught dead hanging out with you yokels, but just this once…” That’s fine and all, I mean, the hobbits are bumpkins, and the elves don’t seem totally out of line acting like a bunch of catty queens on their way to a Fashion Week afterparty.

We next encounter elves face to face when everyone reaches Rivendell. The place is lousy with ancient elves like Elrond who were actually around to experience the things that happen in all the old stories everyone is constantly telling. Rivendell seems like a very nice place, too, so it’s no surprise all the non-elves are a little intimidated. “Yeah, even the flowing water is musical, and the weather is always perfect, and you’re 8,000 years old, cool. Right.”

[As an aside, how much of a dick is Gandalf for totally setting Frodo up from the beginning to have to carry the ring all the way to Mordor? At the end of the Council of Elrond, everyone is all like, “I wonder who could take on such a burden? Who could possibly volunteer for such a quest? Can’t be any of us, we’re too awesome. If only someone would carry the ring around for us…” I can just picture Gandalf and Elrond leaning forward and staring at Frodo as they say all this. There’s an uncomfortable silence and finally Frodo goes, “Ok, fine, I’ll carry the fucking ring. Christ.”]

There’s also a funny contrast between all this “high elven” stuff and Legolas, who’s one of the more rustic wood elves. He seems pretty awed by everything at first, too, considering his people are partly feral. That’ll change, though.

So they head out, and Legolas, wood elf or not, reveals his heritage by running on top of the snow and dancing around while Boromir and Aragorn dig through the drifts. Very helpful.

But the real elvish douchebaggery shows up when we reach Lothlórien, which is not an elven cosmetics brand. At the border, they meet some elvish guards. “We would have killed you all, except we knew who you were, so it’s cool. You can’t come in our forest though.” Then there’s this blatant racism. “Ok, you can come in, but only if we blindfold the dwarf.” Gimli is rightfully all, “Fuck that!” and Aragorn comes up with a compromise. So they get into the magic elf forest and meet Galadriel and Celeborn. And that’s when the elves become absolutely insufferable.

We can establish that Lórien is indeed a lovely place. Tolkien makes this abundantly clear: “All that he saw was shapely…in winter here no heart could mourn for summer or spring. No blemish or sickness or deformity could be seen in anything that grew upon the earth. The elves shat flowers and farted rainbows, and when the rainbows touched the ground they turned into puppies made of rainbows.” Then Frodo climbs up Cerin Amroth and has a vaguely erotic encounter with a tree, feeling “delight in wood and the touch of it.” Then he looks out across the distance and sees how nice Lórien is, and how the rest of the world is a giant shitstain beyond Lórien’s borders. So, ok, Lórien is way better than everywhere else, Got it.

When they meet Galadriel, she just stares at everyone and mindrapes them. Then she makes sure everyone knows just who they’re dealing with. “We are super fucking wise. And we have gifts we can give you that are fucking amazing. Elf gifts. Each of you would strangle your own mother to receive such a gift. They are that fucking sweet.” Galadriel is also the most passive-aggressive elf ever. She goes on and on about how she can’t give them counsel, it’s totally their decision to make whether they want to try to destroy the ring or not. In the next breath she’s all, “But if you don’t, the world will be pretty much destroyed. Your call though. I can’t tell you what to do. I mean, if you don’t your mom back in Hobbledirt is probably going to get spit-roasted by orcs. And not the ‘cooked over a fire’ kind. Well, that too. But it’s cool if you decide not to.”

Then there’s the mirror incident. Now, this is one of my favorite parts of both the book and the film, but can we be honest and acknowledge Galadriel’s arrogance? “You offer me the Ring? Oh man, I would tear shit up with that thing. Check out this other ring I have, now imagine if I had that one too? I would be the Queen Bitch of all Middle Earth, I shit you not my hairy-toed friend. I shit you not.”

But what really irks me is how mopey the elves are. They let everyone stay for like a month, just to let them see how awesome it is there. “So, Lórien’s pretty nice, right? You guys probably don’t want to ever leave. But you have to. But isn’t it fucking great here? And we fucking made this shit. Elves made it. Not men or dwarves or hibbets or whatever the fuck you people call yourselves. Elves. And where we come from, across the western sea? Like 80 trillion times better than this place. We could only make Lórien kind of good because of all you fucking dirt farmers running around. But we’re going to go back there, across the sea, and leave this shithole for good. And isn’t that just the saddest goddamn thing you ever heard? Seriously, look how sad we all are. Because now you gap-toothed turdmongers won’t be able to enjoy all these awesome elven places that we made.  They’re going to turn to crap, just like the rest of your world.”

“But you never let anyone who isn’t an elf into your holy elf forests anyway!”

“Yeah, but it’s so awesome that it makes your lives better just knowing that they exist. And now you won’t even have that.”

Legolas gets in on the act too, even though his family probably lives in a doublewide.

Finally, as the fellowship leaves Lórien, the elves give them gifts. What do they give them for their journey to face the ultimate evil in his own dark and terrible domain? The MegaSword of UltraAwesome, which shoots fire and encases the wielder in a forcefield? Mithril armor for everyone? A wand of orc-inside-outening? At least a Potion of Detect Mordor or something? Nope. They get new jackets (“Made by elves, so you know they’re super awesome!”), some rope (“Elf rope, better than any fucking rope you’ve ever seen!”), and bread (“Don’t eat too much, it’s elf bread, you’ll end up shitting awesome.”). Oh, and a jar of Galadriel’s rainbow farts.

Fucking elves. Bunch of arrogant assholes.

16 Responses to Something’s Bugging Me About Tolkien

  1. Which is exactly why I have never played one in D&D. Elves suck.

    With the exception of elves in MTG – I love you guys.

  2. This is due to how long they live. Not to really defend them because I do love this post. But I guess it is something you need to understand. They remember the greater beauty across the sea and feel it calling them to return.

    But also as slagmacg comments most Elves feel above other. I think partly this comes from Tolkien along with the insanely long lives.

    I think one of the best examples of this is in Mass Effect, one of the races in the game only lives to be 30ish before they die. As such they are always in a rush to accomplish something and finish it in their life time. Even humans consider them fast moving.

    So think of the Elves some that have fought in wars from the founding of the world having to deal with these people that haven’t even got ancestors that were around then.

    So what you might take for them being snobbish is just the world wearing them down. They have been there done that gotten the t-shirt and then did it all again, a couple hundred times.

    That is at least my take on it all.

  3. Have you read the Silmarillion?

    You know, where Beren gets Morgoth to fall asleep, in the absolute best case of pwning– where he doesn’t kill the god of Evil, but cuts the Silmaril from Morgoth’s crown with the knife he stole from the elves he suckerpunched and takes off with the Silmaril, escaping even after a giant bus-sized wolf, infused with the power of Morgoth, bites off his hand with the artifact and leaving the god forever ‘faced for the fact that a *man* tricked him and took the last light of the West. The only man, by the way, ever to be raised from the dead in Tolkien’s mythology.

    Yes. A man.

    Really, almost all of this is explained in the Silmarillion, including the animosity towards the dwarves.

    -Ben.

  4. Wow Ed, I forgot to breathe for a while and was literally in tears. I tried to re-read sections to my boss but was laughing so hard it was pretty unintelligible. Sheer douchebaggery!

    Hibbits! I love it!

  5. If you were an immortal angel-person, you’d be a jerk too. Seriously, every damn stupid mortal that comes into your enchanted forest– one of the last bastions of magic left in the world– kills it a little more. Did you see what the stinking wizards & men & orcs are doing to Fangorn? & Mirkwood– it used to cover the continent! What happened last time you let the humans be in charge? Oh, they destroyed the kingdom of the north & all joined up with Sauron? Awesome. There WERE humans who weren’t the worst. They put them on an island. Then guess what…THE HUMANS SANK IT.

    No, I’m with the elves, here. Those stupid, stupid mortals.

  6. Magic’s Elves are often xenophobic dicks. Lorwyn’s are the most obvious where they destroy anything they deem ugly (read: Not elf). Magic just gets a bit of a break because they have so many different elven cultures across hundreds of years of time and space. Despite this, all of the elves who aren’t Ravnica are pretty much the sliding scale of xenophobic dickery, and the Ravnica ones are either scary death cultists, creepy hive mind life churchers, or Dr. Frankenstein, assuming you didn’t meet the feral ones.

    Elves have been xenophobic dicks since Tolkein, but at least Tolkein’s had a decent reason. The other races were generally wrecking things, Dwarves digging up Hell, Men breaking everything, Hobbits being Irrelevant and Wizards being all schemey. I’m not LOTR enough to know what elves build from, but I betcha they hate cutting down trees, while all the other races level forests for farm land. To the elves we must look like the villains from a Captain Planet episode.

    Interestingly, it’s the apathy of the Hobbits that saves the world. They just don’t care enough to want the ring Frodo had to take because he had no aspirations. Everyone else had an agenda, the Hobbits were just along for the ride until Sam and Frodo split. Then their primary motivation was to get that thing out of their lives. Galadrial would have been Queen Bitch of Middle Earth, and it all would have come from her desire to preserve the forest and her people.

  7. @mordecai – sadly that’s what I see when I look across a lot of the internet. and real life. Sometimes it’s hard not to be a dick when you see a bunch of douchebags screwing something nice up.

  8. I have no idea what the criteria are for articles on io9 is(seeing as you appear there now and again, I assume you know), but this seems like the sort of thing people would love there. Awesome, in other words!

  9. I was totally going to go to bed, then decided to check Robot Viking. Wound up reading this, and being very glad I put off bed a little longer to do so. Fekkin’ hilarious, man. Problem was that I just couldn’t stop myself from seeing an elf popping a squat, getting all red in the face as he drops a technicolor flower infused deuce, and having rainbow puppies frolic out of the multicolored mess. Horrid…

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