How you know them: Chiefly thanks to Tolkien, you know elves as Nordic-looking white people who may as well be extras from a lazy '80s porno. They are tall and elegant and fairly girly at all times, they live in forests and are experts at everything, but they still aren't good enough to be the hero because they have pointy ears, which makes them both different and, obviously, inferior.
As seen in: The Lord of the Rings, Sword of Shannara, Warcraft, Forgotten Realms, Warhammer
Shake That s**t Up: You don't need to go full Discworld with elves to make them nearly unrecognizable. That's the problem with most authors who try to break the Tolkien mold: They go so far in the other direction that they're only recognizable as elves because the author tells you they're elves. If we generally know elves as a race of near albinos, you don't need to make them 2-foot-tall proto-scrotums like Dobby. Instead, I would venture that having an elvish farmer in the mix who has a drinking problem could really shake up any fantasy story.
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"I spunked in you Lembas bread flour, ya bastards."
War has come to the people of Fartasia. It is a human war, because of course it is. The elves don't want to get involved, because of course they don't. But they will pompously send one guy, because they're pricks like that. Sure, we have whole armies and the world is in jeopardy and all life may end, but maybe this one f*****g guy who doesn't even have armor can help you save the day. Or not, we don't give a fig.