The blogger at Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog spent a year reading the authors recommended by Gary Gygax, creator of D&D, in Appendix N of one of the rule books, and reports. A few of his more interesting conclusions are:
- ... Next to the giants of the thirties, just about everything looks tamed and watered down.
- It used to be normal for science fiction and fantasy fans to read books that were published between 1910 and 1977. There was a sense of canon in the seventies that has since been obliterated.
- Ideological diversity in science fiction and fantasy was a given in the seventies. We are hopelessly homogenistic in comparison to them.
- The program of political correctness of the past several decades has made even writers like Ray Bradbury and C. L. Moore all but unreadable to an entire generation. The conditioning is so strong, some people have almost physical reactions to the older stories now.
- The culture wars of the past forty years have largely consisted [of] an effort to reprogram peoples’ tastes for traditional notions of romance and heroism.
Author John C. Wright, of an older generation, read this and brought up the topic of how elves have changed in the popular mind.
He offers Goethe's poem "Der Erlkönig" (The Elf King) as a point of departure:
Who rides, so late, through night and wind?
It is the father with his child.
He has the boy well in his arm
He holds him safely, he keeps him warm.
"My son, why do you hide your face in fear?"
"Father, do you not see the Elfking?
The Elfking with crown and cape?"
"My son, it's a streak of fog."
"You dear child, come, go with me!
(Very) beautiful games I play with you;
many a colourful flower is on the beach,
My mother has many a golden robe."
"My father, my father, and hearest you not,
What the Elfking quietly promises me?"
"Be calm, stay calm, my child;
Through scrawny leaves the wind is sighing."
"Do you, fine boy, want to go with me?
My daughters shall wait on you finely;
My daughters lead the nightly dance,
And rock and dance and sing to bring you in."
"My father, my father, and don't you see there
The Elfking's daughters in the gloomy place?"
"My son, my son, I see it clearly:
There shimmer the old willows so grey."
"I love you, your beautiful form entices me;
And if you're not willing, then I will use force."
"My father, my father, he's touching me now!
The Elfking has done me harm!"
It horrifies the father; he swiftly rides on,
He holds the moaning child in his arms,
Reaches the farm with great difficulty;
In his arms, the child was dead.
Wright speculates as to why the barrier between the younger reader and older fiction has been built:
The moderns have been taught to hate and loath their own country, their ancestors, their parents, and been told everything written before the current day is racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic, transcismophobic, and pure evil. These nutbags think that their own standard bearers of the Progressive movement, the founders of their genre, were not Progressives like themselves.
One need only hear sexual libertarian and radical egalitarian nut Bob Heinlein being excoriated as a member of the misogynist phallocratic patriarchy to realize how far off the edge of the world the lunatics have sailed the ship of fools.
This is not some lunatic fringe belief. It is lunacy, of course, but not fringe. It is mainstream. The core institutions and standard bearers of Science Fiction, the largest publishers, the most prestigious awards, our once-respected guild the SFWA, the oldest and most famous magazine: they all buy into the narrative and all support the narrative with a singleminded fury that is Bolshevik in its vehemence, patience, and pettiness.
And what about the change in elves? I will be cruel and make you click over to Wright's blog if you really want to know. It is a long but worthwhile read that takes us back before Goethe to Chesterton to Tolkien to Gygax to now.
But in it he says, "What Tolkien did not do, for it was not part of his purpose, was show what dangers look like when dangers are beautiful."
I think we know, now, and I think we see their effects in at least Generation X through the millenials, many of whom seem to have sought out the Elf King's daughters.