An Extensive(ly Silly) Guide To Telling Elves Apart
For some, we’re living in a golden age of high fantasy media. For others, we’re living in an era of bad wigs and canonically inaccurate Hobbits. Regardless of your feelings about it, Hollywood is pumping out a lot of fantasy shows and the gaming industry is keeping up a steady stream as well. And with all the pointy eared people running around these days, it’s easy to get your Noldor mixed up with your Aen Seidhe. Well, I didn’t get bullied in middle school to not eventually write a how-to guide on identifying elves from different canons, so let's dive in.
Elf on the Shelf
This elf is a cop. He will narc on you. You can identify him by his scary looking face and by the fact that his very presence is a threat: obey or be punished. It’s just parenting 101 to teach kids at the youngest age possible that they are being monitored and any deviance from societal norms will prevent them from getting what they most desire. Merry Christmas!
Elves, also known as the Aen Seidhe, in The Witcher were the first inhabitants of the land which is now, in their eyes, overrun with humans and monsters. Like everyone else in the world of Andrzej Sapkowski’s dark fantasy, the elves are a pretty grim bunch. They’re originally from a whole different planet and when monsters crossed over to their adopted homelands during a magical, astrological event known as the Conjunction of the Spheres, they created mutant humans to become monster hunters aka witchers. They’re easy to mix up with Tolkien elves, but the Aen Seidhe have more downturned pointy ears and wear furs and embroidered cloaks instead of the armor and gilded tunics of the LotR elves.
The Elder Scrolls
If it’s got a messed up face reminiscent of a skeletal Klingon and skin that makes it look very, very sick, buddy, that’s an Elder Scrolls elf. The Mer as they’re known collectively have four distinct branches you can play in the games, each with different base stats and prowesses. The dark elves are called the Dunmer, often having grey toned skin and red eyes. The wood elves, or Bosmer have more golden toned skin and tend to inhabit forested areas. The Altmer often have yellow skin and golden hair and are huge snobs. Interestingly, the Orsimer are also considered elves in The Elder Scrolls, but we know them better as Orcs.
Dungeons & Dragons
Wizards of the Coast
These elves are probably the most varied of the bunch. There are a ton of Dungeons & Dragons species most people would look at and say “that’s an elf!” And then everyone would dunk on you hardcore. Just because they’ve got pointy ears does not make them elves. True elves are, on average, slightly shorter than humans. They’re not immortal, but it’s not uncommon for a D&D elf to live to seven or eight hundred years old. Traditionally a secluded lot, they live in hidden tree top villages or elaborately beautiful cities. While they’re highly regarded for their wisdom and magical prowess, they’re freakin’ snobs.
New Line Cinema
Collectively known as Santa’s Little Helpers, these guys are the most mysterious of the bunch. The best historically accurate source we have is from the 2003 documentary film Elf. We know they are a cheery bunch who love to sing and have supernatural powers and speed when it comes to crafting toys. We also know a little about their diet, consisting of their four major food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corns, and syrup. The rest is a mystery. How long do they live? What happens when they die? We may never know.
Lord of the Rings
The elves that started it all. Our cultural conception of these noble fantasy folks all stem from J.R.R. Tolkien’s elves. Tolkien’s elves were created by that world’s god equivalent and were super duper noble. Over a very long and complicated history, the elves fractured into different groups. The ones we see in the films and TV series are known as the Noldor. They’re immortal and they love poetry. Unlike the elves in The Witcher, the Noldor have upturned pointies and love a flowing, drapey garment. If you’re seeing elaborately wrought, delicate metal work on a crown or a necklace, that’s Tolkien baby.
Much like Elder Scrolls, these elves are divided into three categories: High Elves (Asur), Dark Elves (Druchii), and Wood Elves (Asrai). The Asur wear stupid looking, big ass hats. The Druchii dress very scantily, live in icy climates, and are notorious slavers. And the Asrai have a greenish tinge to their skin and are the best bow wielders in Warhammer.
Often confused with Santa’s little helpers, these elves are miniscule and work tirelessly. They also have a penchant for brightly colored waistcoats and love one thing above all else: making cookies. The Keeblers toil over hot ovens which are inexplicably functional in a giant tree. Presumably they are not unionized or OSHA compliant because the fire hazard rating at their worksite must be off the charts.
Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list of all the elves skipping about in the realms of fantasy, but we hope you learned the most important lesson we tried to convey here: throw out your Elf on the Shelf.