Elfquest: rooting for the wrong side all this time? (comic-book retrospective).
Elfquest, the beloved comic book series created by Wendy and Richard Pini, has captured the hearts of readers since its inception in 1978. The story follows a community of elves and other fictional species as they struggle to survive and coexist on a primitive Earth-like planet with two moons. The setting, known as Abode, has been self-published by the Pinis through their own company Warp Graphics, Marvel Comics, DC Comics, and Dark Horse Comics.
The world of Elfquest is full of wonders and magical creatures, including the elves themselves, who are descendants of highly advanced humanoid aliens known as High Ones. The High Ones traveled through space in search of a new home after their homeworld’s natural resources became depleted due to overpopulation. They eventually came to Abode, a world where human civilization had reached a level that was almost identical to Europe’s medieval period on Earth.
The High Ones, in order to facilitate contact with the humans, deliberately formed themselves like elves and reshaped their egg-vessel to resemble a beautiful floating castle that matched the native architectural idiom. However, when they began to make the ‘castle’ descend, the evolved simians (proto-Trolls) rebelled violently, disrupting the High Ones’ telekinetic controls enough to hurl the entire vessel and its contents back through time to Abode’s paleolithic era. The High Ones found that their psychic powers were greatly weakened on Abode, leaving them unable to defend themselves from the prehistoric cave-dwelling humans who fearfully attacked them.
Forced to adapt to their new, hostile environment, the surviving elves gradually gathered into several widely scattered tribes. Each tribe has its own set of adaptations and traditions, and most of them are unaware that any of the other tribes even exist. The known tribes include the Wolfriders, Sun Folk, Gliders, Go-backs, and Wavedancers. The High Ones’ evolved-simian servants also fled, mainly into networks of caverns where they became the subterranean race of Trolls.
Despite the challenges they face, the elves of Elfquest have become an integral part of Abode’s history and culture, shaping the development of human society over twenty thousand years. Their existence, however, is unacknowledged and unofficially suppressed by Abode’s world government.
And while it may seem simple to ask whether the series’ characters are “evil guys,” the reality is considerably more nuanced than that.
Let’s start with the series’ central protagonists, the elves, before moving on. On the surface, these individuals could appear to be the good guys. They are brave, heroic, and battling to defend their way of life against dangers on the outside. But if you look closely, you’ll start to notice certain nuances.
The elves are extremely territorial, to start. They guard their territory zealously and reside in a secret valley. They’ll actually do almost anything to prevent outsiders from learning of their presence. At first glance, that might not seem like a big concern, but consider the fact that they are purposefully avoiding the rest of the world. What are they trying to conceal? And why do they want to keep it a secret so badly? Not exactly “good guy” behaviour, either.
The elves may also be quite harsh in defending their way of life, which is another factor. They’ll start a battle at the drop of a hat, and they won’t hesitate to employ any tactics necessary to vanquish their adversaries. That covers everything from pure violence to wizardry. Although they may be battling to defend their people, is it really worth it if they are also endangering other people?
But what about the series’ “evil guys”? They must be the genuine bad guys, right? It’s not quite that easy, though. To begin with, the series’ primary adversaries are humans. And even though they can appear to be the clear-cut bad guys, it’s important to take their motives into account. Most of the time, the humans are just trying to get by in a tough environment. They are afraid of the elves since they don’t understand them. Is it really your fault that they wanted to defend themselves?
Of course, there are a few genuinely evil human characters in the series. Winnowill is an elf who has turned to dark magic and is now trying to subjugate her own people. But even she had some grey areas because she was motivated by a terrible history and a need for power to carry out her horrible crimes. Even while her history isn’t particularly sympathetic, it does give her character a little more nuance.
So, are the characters from Elfquest the “evil guys”? It depends, like with most things, is the unequivocal response. On the surface, the elves may appear valiant, yet their conduct is occasionally quite dubious. And even while humans could appear to be the bad guys, they frequently are only attempting to survive in a tough environment. The real “good guys” and “bad guys” in the series are ultimately up to the reader’s interpretation. Regardless of whose team you support, Elfquest is undoubtedly a thrilling experience.