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Elf Myths and Legends

Elves are mythical creatures from the tradition of European folklore. Being ‘at one with nature’, they live in woods, and according to legend they were left offerings at the springs and trees. Over time Elves have been represented as both; beautiful and wise noble creatures with small human-like form, and mischievous little people sometimes possessing a darker force.

Elves are mythical creatures from the tradition of European folklore. Being ‘at one with nature’, they live in woods, and according to legend they were left offerings at the springs and trees. Over time Elves have been represented as both; beautiful and wise noble creatures with small human-like form, and mischievous little people sometimes possessing a darker force.

Literature

The earliest mention of Elves in literature is from the Dark Ages, around 1000 AD. In the Old English poem ‘Judith’, the heroine is described as ‘brightly beautiful as an elf.’

By the time Shakespeare wrote of Elves in the 1500s they had lost their beauty, and were small, mischievous sprites appearing in the plays ‘The Tempest’ and ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’.

In 1590 Edmund Spenser restored a bit of the Elves grandeur in his epic poem, ‘The Faerie Queene’, which was a tribute to Queen Elizabeth 1.

It was Tolkien however, who fully reinstated the Elves with ‘The Lord of the Rings’. His reference was from Norse mythology, and his Elves were tall, intensely beautiful and benevolent creatures.

The Shoemaker and The Elves – The Brothers Grimm

‘The Shoemaker and The Elves’ is the story of a shoemaker, who although very hard working, was very poor. One night, with only enough leather left to make one pair of shoes, he cut out the pattern and retired to bed. In the morning he found an exquisite pair of shoes which ended up making him a great deal of money. This same ritual went on for several nights, until the shoemaker and his wife hid behind a curtain and found that some little naked elves were creeping in to make the shoes and then leaving. The wife made them some clothes out of gratitude, and although the elves danced with joy at having something to wear, they then rushed off and were never seen again. However, from that time on everything went well for the shoemaker.

Elven Differences

In Scandinavia, there are three types of Elves: the light Elves who live with gods and goddesses in the Upper world; the dark Elves who live in the Lower world; and the black Elves who were skilled as smiths and lived in the world in between. They were known to be of human size, and the females were very beautiful.

In Germany, the Elves are small, mischievous creatures. They bring nightmares by sitting on the sleeper’s chest, and are responsible for the old German word for nightmare ‘Albtraum’, meaning ‘Elf Dream’.

In England, Elves are regarded as whimsical sprites. In the Dark Ages however, they were akin to gods, and the manifestation of a spiritual aspect of nature, which worked alongside humans. They were divided into two classes; rural Elves and their cousins, hobgoblins and Robin Goodfellows (Puck).

© Copyright J M Lennox. All Rights Reserved.

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11 Comments
  1. Posted November 14, 2010 at 11:56 am

    Elves are interesting creatures in literature and art in general. I wonder what this art form says about us. Well, of course elves have very human emotions. How could they not? They were created by human beings.

  2. Posted November 14, 2010 at 12:44 pm

    Interesting read, you have done a good job in explaiing.

  3. Posted November 14, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    仙女

  4. Posted November 14, 2010 at 3:10 pm

    I like this one J.L

  5. Posted November 14, 2010 at 3:22 pm

    Very nice and informative.

  6. Posted November 14, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    A nice share buddy

  7. Posted November 14, 2010 at 4:09 pm

    A really enjoyable article. When I was teaching I did a dance with my class, based on the Elves and the Shoemaker, at the cathedral in aid of world poverty. This post brought it all back. Good work, Janette.

  8. Posted November 15, 2010 at 1:52 am

    Nice write. I am impressed from this

  9. Posted November 15, 2010 at 4:48 am

    very nice information. Thanks

  10. Posted November 16, 2010 at 5:35 pm

    Nice to read. Thanks.

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  11. Posted November 17, 2010 at 8:02 am

    I remember the story of the elves and the shoemaker.

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