The Elves: A Race Of Sues Edit
The Epistler remembers a time when he loved elves.
Well, all right, not really. But he remembers a time when he didn’t hate them. He is not a fan of Lord of the Rings, but he did enjoy the movies. There the elves were ageless, wise, beautiful and mysterious – albeit Galadriel did act rather stoned. But they were not perfect, and nor were they in the books. Flaws maketh the character. But after he read Eldest the Epistler came to hate elves, and he suspects he will go on hating them for the rest of his unlife.
Elves are already perilously close to being an unrealistic and aggravating race, because they are essentially a race of Mary Sues. Beautiful, powerful, long-lived, held in awe… basically, they’re designed to be perfect (which was the whole point of them as they were in LoTR). Any author deciding to ape Tolkien (the Epistler calls them “Tolk Folk”) runs the risk of over-idealising their elves and so making them unrealistic and a detriment to the story overall. It takes a great deal of skill to handle such a race believably, and one must be wary.
Unfortunately, as we all know, there is an author who decided to be one of the Tolk Folk who was not aware of these risks and who happily jumped in with both feet when it came to elves, and who is not exactly known for his subtlety and restraint. The results were absolutely horrific.
The “Wisdom” of the Elves
Everyone in the Inheritance series is “wise”. Really. In Eragon and even more so in Eldest, Paolini showed an obsession with being wise and meaningful at every turn. Not content to just try and tell a story, he insisted on having characters constantly spout “meaningful” remarks and bits of philosophy, often at highly inappropriate times – witness Solembum the werecat and his endless discussion of semantics, and Saphira’s phonily serene advice. Even Eragon himself tries to get in on the action, with generally amusing results.
It is in Eldest, however, that things completely go to hell. While writing his sequel, Paolini became much more aware that he was writing for an audience, and that said audience admired him an awful lot. Here his prose demonstrates the leap between an isolated homeschooled kid just enjoying himself and a celebrity with nineteen thousand ass-kissing interviews and dishonestly sparkling reviews and articles under his belt. The difference is striking. Now the overall tone is overflowing with barely-concealed arrogance and pomposity, as if the author believed he was writing something of universal significance – hence the clumsy attempts to sound sophisticated by pulling words out of a thesaurus, the even more boring descriptions and the endless plot deviations for the sake of providing exposition about things that have nothing to do with the plot. And, of course, the “wisdom” returns with a vengeance… especially when our zero finally arrives in Ellesméra, home of the elves.
Let’s face it: there are no “elves”, plural. There is only one “elf”, singular. They are a race that all seem to share one personality – sort of a fantasy equivalent of the Borg, if you will. They look the same, act the same, and are, in essence, the same. Which means all of them are equally hateful.
And all of them speak like some kind of ancient Zen master – spouting off aphorisms at a rate of approximately ten a page, all of which are presented as the height of ancient wisdom and intelligence. The only problem (aside from the fact that this very quickly becomes wearing) is that all of said wisdom is the particular brand of juvenile, self-important and insufferably smug faux-wisdom one could expect from a teenage writer with an inflated opinion of himself. Which is odd, because the author was actually about twenty-one at the time. Every teenager thinks he knows everything. Paolini is the same. The difference is that he is allowed to inflict that belief on millions of people around the world instead of having to grow out of it like everyone else.
As it is, the so-called wisdom of the elves comes off, not as wise, but as arrogant and preachy, and shallow. It is just one reason why even fans of the series dislike them. As for the Epistler, he hates the fact that he is expected to love the elves as much as their creator apparently does, and he hates how Paolini uses them as a mouthpiece for his own views. One thing this author needs to learn is that the world at large does not care about what he thinks, and that one cannot be entertaining while trying to force one’s views on others. Readers are not ignorant schoolchildren to be indocrinated with vegetarian athiest dogma, and they do not appreciate being treated as such. The Epistler especially does not. One of the commandments of writing is “honour thy reader”. Paolini does not treat his readers with respect, and the elves are a perfect (pun intended) symbol of this problem.
Elves: Nudist Hippies, Exposed
To give a brief overview; in Inheritance the elves are more or less an uneven mix of Tolkien’s elves and Tad Williams’ Sithi. They are powerfully magical, immortal, came from over the sea (and will return to the same place), vegetarian and supposedly glorify life. Those characteristics that did not come from Tolkien’s elves came from Tad Williams – his Sithi came from over the sea, supposedly driven to leave by a disaster. They live in a secret settlement in the middle of a forest, where it is always summer, away from the younger human race. Some try and help humans, some hate them. They used to rule the country but don’t any more. They are vegetarian, tall and very slender, and have naturally white hair (though some of them dye it), and are described in animal-like terms – being frequently compared to birds or cats. And finally, they are athiests who venerate nature instead of having gods. Paolini transplanted nearly all of these characteristics into his own works.
Inheritance elves “sing” things from trees – something stolen from the Ogier in Wheel of Time (a series which also includes horned beast-men who are a bit like orcs. Sound familiar?).
The Epistler has not read the Wheel of Time or Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, so all this information was furnished by the internet. But the more he found out, the more infuriated he became at Paolini’s audacity. The deeper one delves into his books, the more hideously plagiarised they are exposed to be. And some people cannot understand why hardcore fantasy fans hate Inheritance so much.
However, Paolini’s elves have an extra dimension to them: their ability to change their appearance. During the Deus ex Machina ceremony (one of the most tripped-out sequences in a book the Epistler has ever read), the reader is introduced to some extremely weird things: elves who have reshaped themselves to become animalistic (does that mean they’re furries?), to the point that they barely look like elves any more. At some point Oromis says – very arrogantly – that the only real fault the elves have is their vanity – they all look exactly as they want to. So is that why Oromis manages to look old even though elves are ageless? This aspect of their race is quite nonsensical and does not have any discernable impact on the plot; we do not meet any of these elvish furries at any other point in the story, and nor are any of them actual characters. At the same time, even though elves supposedly look exactly as they wish to, they all manage to conform to the same shallow image of beauty (ie all tall, thin and pale with long hair, as if they were an entire race of supermodels). Elves also (at least, going on Oromis’ famously disturbing nude scene) have no body hair, and the males cannot grow beards. Paolini obviously has no idea what this implies – firstly that male elves must have almost no testosterone, which would mean they technically should be bald-headed as well, and secondly that a complete lack of any body hair would force them to wear very thick clothing at all times, since body hair actually plays a very important role in keeping someone warm, and hence their apparent predilection for nudity is very puzzling.
Paolini’s elves are also vegetarian, and this has no impact on the plot. Instead, it is used as a way to make the elves look more “pure” and “advanced”. But there are a few problems with it. To begin with, modern day vegetarians don’t just live on fruit and vegetables alone. Fruit and vegetables contain plenty of essential nutrients, but they are insufficient to keep a person in good health. Vegetarians therefore have to take vitamin supplements and use meat substitutes in order to receive their proper dose of protein and other things that most vegetables do not contain. Do the elves have avacado? Tofu? Soy beans? There is no mention of them doing any farming (something that would necessitate the clearing of the trees they apparently hold in such reverence), and if they were trading with the humans who are apparently the only race that do farm, King Galbatorix would probably have the good sense to poison the lettuce before sending it along. Most vegetarians still eat milk products, but the elves don’t. By rights they should have thin skin, fragile bones and brittle, yellowish hair. They certainly should not be “stronger than the strongest human”, no matter what.
More annoyingly, the vegetarianism is not just there to give the elves an extra dimension. It is also used as another part of the “wisdom” aspect. Because, from the moment the elves first enter the scene, they immediately begin forcing their philosophies and lifestyle on Eragon. It would be all right, perhaps, if Eragon, having lived with the elves for a long time, came to adopt some of their ways because they appealed to him. But this does not happen. What does happen instead is that the elves proceed to systematically take away his human side and turn him into one of themselves. They do not suggest that he give up meat – they force him to. They don’t politely request that he remain clean shaven – they order him not to grow a beard. By the time the Deus Ex Machina ceremony takes place, Eragon has already ceased to be properly human and instead become a pathetic sub-imitation of an elf. The physical changes that then take place are merely the final step in a process that was already well advanced. It was this part of the story that finally drove the Epistler over the edge. He now despises the elves with every part of his soul, and he despises Eragon even more for being a vapid dupe who calls himself a mighty dragonrider and hero and yet at the same time allows himself to be manipulated like a piece of plasticine. He lets the elves turn him into one of their own with no more than a couple of token protests, and throws away his essential humanity without a murmur. And we are expected to think this is a good thing?
…let the trees shake to the Epistler’s scream of fury.
Why The Epistler Believes the Elves of Inheritance Are Evil
…or at the very least they are ignorant, monumentally arrogant, hypocritical, racist, intolerant, vain, cold-hearted and power hungry.
The Epistler has a theory.
The basic premise is that the elves, having discovered a way to bond themselves with dragons and take control of a new order of people – ie the dragon riders – used this new power to conquer the country. They killed the rightful ruler of the human race and forced humans to become their vassals. Meanwhile, they wiped out dozens of other races that did not fit with their idealised view of the world, and then proceeded to take rigid control of the entire country and its people; outlawing religion and destroying its temples and believers, and destroying anyone and anything that opposed or displeased them. The author introduces Galbatorix as the hero – a young man who has just discovered that he is a half-breed, whose dark elvish and human parents were executed. He becomes a rider, but when his secret is discovered he is persecuted and forced to flee. His dragon dies in an attempt to kill him, and after he finds another one he comes back to wreak revenge on the elvish rulers of the country and set the human race free of their tyranny. Now, why does the Epistler bring this up? Because the premise of these fanfictions is, in fact, scarily plausible.
At the beginning of Eldest, when the Varden is caught up in some very boring scheming over who will take up the leadership of their group, Eragon is expected to play a part in what goes on. In fact the possibility of his taking Ajihad’s place is put forward quite quickly, which is only to be expected – given that he is the strongest fighter in the Varden, and that dragon riders were always leaders in the past, and that, as the “hero”, it’s his god-given right to be the one to challenge the King directly.
Needless to say, though, he does not take it. Instead Nasuada – for all we know just as inexperienced and stupid as Eragon – is made the new leader. But she will probably find her new role a great deal less difficult with Eragon by her side to support her.
This does not happen. Instead, Eragon is rushed off to Ellesméra to complete his training with the elves.
Well, because the elves are the most powerful fighters and magic-users around, and they also happen to have a Yoda living with them.
And yet… and yet there is something about this scenario that the Epistler does not like. His guide to Ellesméra is Arya, the elvish princess and supreme non-demonitional deity of aggravating Mary Sues everywhere. In Farthen Dûr, the Varden’s stronghold, Arya acts like a world-class snot. She is openly rude to the Varden’s leaders, and to Eragon, even though she is supposedly an ambassador from the elves. Needless to say she is not called on this, because she’s an elf and everyone adores and reveres elves.
Along the way, our zero and his entourage pass through dwarvish country. There we are, uh, treated to some extended exposition about their culture (irrelevant, boring and unoriginal – Paolini actually spoke of “researching” dwarves for this part of the story. Uh, Paolini, there’s no such thing as dwarves. If you “researched” them, it was by reading other peoples’ books and taking their ideas. Which is not a good thing. Idiot). And how does Arya act? Why, she quite brazenly insults the dwarvish high priest, Gannel, and in the process she (very diplomatically) also insults his entire race simply because they have gods. Yes, that is something every diplomat should do.
And then she goes on to tell Eragon that he won’t be eating meat ever again. Shouldn’t that be his choice?
Of course not. He’s human, and far too inferior to make up his own mind. It’s up to the elves to tell him what to think.
When we actually arrive in Ellesméra, or, as the Epistler prefers to call it, Elvish Boot Camp, Eragon is immediately given an elvish home to live in. He has to wear elvish clothing, eat elvish food and speak the elvish language. He is not given any respect for his own ways; the elves treat his humanity as if it is a bad habit that must be given up. After all, how could anyone ride a dragon and fight evil if he wears a beard? Or eats meat? Dear gods, the horror.
And Eragon does not resist. Yes, he whines about being forced to give up meat, but before long he’s stuffing salad with the best of them. He doesn’t seem to realise that he’s being changed without his consent. When the Deus Ex Machina ceremony happens and he wakes up to find he’s basically turned into an elf, Oromis asks him if he objects to having been changed without being consulted. He answers no, and that he’s grateful to have been given such a great gift, and Oromis more or less says “yes, that’s right. It’s a gooood thiiing…”
The Epistler actually found this almost sinister. It marks the loss of the last of Eragon’s human nature, and thus makes him even less relateable than before. And the Epistler thought that would be impossible.
The elves are also hypocrites, and cowards. Supposedly they alone have the strength to be a real challenge to the canon Galbatorix, and yet they are the only race not to have openly challenged him yet. Instead they “hide away in their forest and wait to be conquered” (Murtagh, in Eldest). Why? It cannot be because they venerate life too much to want war, partly because war is upon them anyway, whether they want it or not. And in any case they are happy enough to march off to war later anyway.
The Epistler believes that they did nothing out of a mixture of cowardice and spite. After Galbatorix, a human, destroyed the riders, the elves retreated into their forest because they saw the battle was lost and that there was no point in their trying to fight back any more. So they left the human race to suffer because, hey, they’re only human, and who cares about what happens to them? They had ceased to be of any use, and so the elves abandoned them, along with the dwarves. And afterwards, when the Varden began, they continued to do nothing and let humans and dwarves do all the work. They wouldn’t fight because they saw nothing in it for them.
And then, one day, a new rider comes. The elves immediately demand that he be sent to them, and he is. They then proceed to indoctrinate him in their ways, and turn him into one of their own. You can’t be a rider without being an elf. How is this fair? How is this about equality and freedom for all? It isn’t. It’s about the elves using Eragon to destroy the rightful ruler of the country – who they despise because he is a rider but he doesn’t answer to them – in order to regain their supremacy.
Does Eragon learn any fighting or philosophy from the dwarves? No. But he’s fighting for them, too, isn’t he? What about the humans? Bah, why care about humans and what they think when you’ve got a brand-new pair of pointy ears? The Epistler doesn’t see a mighty and courageous struggle against the forces of evil here. What he sees is a young fool with more power than he knows what to do with, being used as a lackey for a race of arrogant, racist tyrants. Let us not forget the contempt he receives for being a human. Vanir the elf kindly spells out what the rest of his race are almost certainly thinking – why did the new rider have to be some lowly human? Some pathetic, round-eared human? It should have been an elf. Elves are better, elves know everything, elves are supreme.
This is racism in action. Most of the elves show what is referred to as “paternal racism” – they clearly believe in their superiority, but they look upon this as a reason to be pitying and sympathetic toward the sad little human. Vanir and Arya take the aggressive approach – Arya doesn’t hide the fact that she looks down on both dwarves and humans, and Vanir sneers at Eragon for being slow and weak and fallible, and corruptible. Because the gods know the elves certainly aren’t corrupt. No sirree.
Would the elves be upset if the “evil tyrant” was another elf who made them the dominant race in Alagaësia, instead of a human who did the same for his own race? No. Would they care if it was humans who were being persecuted and forced to hide away?
Because the elves have no hearts. They’re power-hungry, and they’re fascist. In short, the elves are evil.
Arya: Mega Sue
And the embodiment of absolutely everything the Epistler hates about Paolini’s elves.
…Arya’s leather outfit suggests pretty strongly that either a) Paolini doesn’t know where leather comes from and that vegans generally avoid wearing it, or, more likely, b) He didn’t come up with steal the veganism aspect until after the first book.
CP claims she did it to rebel. Yeah, sure. Cheap excuse. Not convincing.
Kippur's Note: Thus Ends the Epistle's as was gifted to them, even if it feels incomplete. We are grateful for this gift and if at any point in the future we are given a more complete version of this epistle we will fix it.
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