Tag Archives: elves

Why I Spell It Elfs, Not Elves

“You’ve made a spelling mistake.” “I always thought it was spelt ‘elves’.” “Why are you spelling it like that?” I’ve had a few questions along these lines in the lead-up to publishing The Fey Man. It’s no surprise, because they’re all correct: the plural of ‘elf’ these days is indeed ‘elves’. But it didn’t used to be that way, not until J. R. R. Tolkien came along.

Tolkien is responsible for ninety percent of all fantasy tropes, or so it seems, and he addressed the question of the plural in the appendix of The Lord of the Rings, where he admits:

“…dictionaries tell us that the plural of dwarf is dwarfs. It should be dwarrows (or dwerrows), if singular and plural had each gone its own way down the years, as have man and men, or goose and geese.”

He goes on to say that he instead chose dwarves as a way of distancing his creations from “sillier tales”; he didn’t want readers to think of children’s stories of little people.

(As an aside, I would have loved to use dwarrows as a plural for dwarf. It’s a fantastic word but, alas, I think it would have been unnecessarily confusing.)

So why am I using a form Professor Tolkien (who you ignore at your peril, for he was a very smart man) thought was associated with silly tales? To put it simply: I want you to think of fairy tales when you read The Fey Man.

Many writers of fantasy follow Tolkien when they create their worlds: they draw on old mythology, often Norse but also Chinese and Christian and Hindu and so on. Mythology is a fascinating subject, but the gods and heros are so grand and dramatic they tend to overshadow perhaps the most pervasive mythology: fairy tales.

Fairy tales are interesting creatures. We all know the tale of Little Red Riding Hood, don’t we? Except we may not know that older versions of the story had the wolf bake Grandma into bread and feed it to Little Red. Or that the wolf had the girl throw her clothes on the fire before she climbed into bed. Fairy tales are such fluid things, appropriated by each generation and each new culture and modified to suit new purposes. Even now we’re creating darker versions of the tales we know. Fairy tales, in all their guises, are a big influence on the Fair Folk series and they resonate with the story on a number of levels.

That’s why the spellings Tolkien popularised didn’t seem to fit my novel. They suggested too much the fantasy worlds that had come before. I wanted something that seemed a little quaint, a little English, a little fairy tale. The elfs are still a race not to be trifled with. The dwarfs still demand respect and admiration. But they help give a little flavour of what I hope feels like a different world.

If you want to see what that world looks like, why not download a copy of The Fey Man absolutely free?

The Eastern Elfs of Tir view death as the most important part of life.

People of Tir: the Elfs of the Eastern Angles

The elfs of the Eastern Angles are, like their cousins in the West, tall, elegant and long-lived. They are olive-skinned, with a penchant for small, decorative tattoos. And they are obsessed with death; they desire above all other things, a good and honourable death. A good death can absolve a wasted life; a dishonourable death brings shame on an elf and her family.

The Fey Man begins with a visit from a small party of Easterners led by Neirin Tarian, Shield of the Eastern Angles, ruler of the elfs in the east. Privileged and arrogant, he has been Shield for only a short time by elfish standards and seeks an opportunity to step out from under his father’s shadow and win his people’s love.

Siomi has been protecting, guiding and caring for Lord Neirin since they were both children. Siomi seeks perfection in every deed, each morning reviewing the previous day and making amends for even the smallest slights.

Neirin is also accompanied by two soldiers. Brega‘s family lost a flourishing business and a strong reputation when her father suffered a shameful death. With no prospects and no future, she was forced to join the army to seek a good death and regain her honour. Brega has a sharp tongue and a unfavourable look, slow to trust and slower to forgive.

The other soldier is Draig, who joined the army out of a desire to serve. Huge even for an elf, he is strong, skilled and loyal. He is also one of Brega’s few friends; Draig recognises the pain and the decency behind Brega’s bitterness and Brega respects Draig’s unfailing honesty.

Neirin seeks to put an end to the Western advances before they reach the Eastern Angles. The libraries of the East tell him only the legendary sword Caledyr can free the dragons from the will of the West. No mortal alive knows where the sword lies, and so Neirin enlists the help of Thomas Rymour to help him find the immortal fay and therein find the sword.

* * *

Each race found in The Fey Man has had a different reaction to the legend of King Emyr that has shaped their personality and their philosophy. To the Eastern Angles, Emyr was an avatar of death that conquered them, and they grew to worship what they feared.

I also didn’t want readers to label the Easterners as “the good guys”. To that end each of them have habits, practices and ways of thinking that are unfamiliar and sometimes unlikeable. Of course it’s no fun to make a character one-dimensional, so don’t be surprised if some of these elfs aren’t what they seem.