Sunday, July 12, 2015

On role playing elves

Those who know me best know that no body of fiction has captured my imagination as have the works of J.R.R.Tolkien.  As part of that, I have thought about, and roleplayed at various times different elves, including the elf, Cutholen on Lord of The Rings, Online (LOTRO) during which times I was a member of the Tinnu uin galadhrim, a group who were excellent company.  As part of that group, I once wrote on what is involved in roleplaying elves.  The post, I think, helps understand what makes elves different to humans - or at least some of it.  I wrote:

"One of the joys of role playing, for me,is trying to get into my character's head.  That is an involved process for me.  It starts with a simple, and very brief outline.  Cutholen, for example, began, in conception as simply an elf hunter/scholar.  That was all I knew about him, that he was a male, elf hunter, who was interested in the scholarly study of history.  I soon started learning more about him.  From the character generation process, he was an elf from Lindon.  On thinking about that, I thought why not make him truly an elf from Lindon, ie, a Laiquendi, one of the green elves who settled in Ossiriand before the breaking of the world, and whose singing gave that land it's Quenya name, Lindon.  That same decision ipso facto, made Cutholen and elf of the first age.  Certain other considerations relating to his back story and some episodes with some dice narrowed down his age so that he was born in the 443rd year of the sun, making him approximately  6,600 years old.  It also gave him an immediate connection with Beren, one of my favourite amongst Tolkien's many fantastic characters.  Thinking about what that connection was, and how it has effected Cutholen's history has formed the basis of Cutholen's back story (which I am still working on), and such features as his unusual (amonst elves) fondness for humans, particularly Numenoreans and their descendants the Dunedain; and his unusually strong wariness with regards to dwarves.  The decision that he was an historian made him also a weapon smith and a cook.  It also gave him the in game skill at painting, a skill I ran with by making a variety of his "paintings" as a means of developing his character.
All this, of course, just distinguishes Cutholen as an elf amongst other elves.  I would employ a similar process when role playing humans, or dwarves, or hobbits.  More interesting is trying to figure out what is it like to be an elf per se.  In what way are elves different from humans (and dwarves and hobbits).
There are several aspects of Middle Earth elves which would lead to their being psychologically different from humans.  Examples that come to mind are the mere fact of being the first born of Illuvatar; their fondness of speach and of naming; their great fondness of tales and song; their close relationship with tree or stone or wave; their unusual relationship to death and the undying lands.  I would be very interested on reading what you variously have to say on how these aspects might effect elven psychology.  However, to me the greatest factor is the sheer potential length of their life span.
Consider how elven psychology must differ from human psychology for them to be able to face 6 thousand years of life with out being overcome with an oppressing boredom.  It has often been commented that their is a tension between Tolkien's descriptions of elves, for he describes them as being grim lords of high purpose (like Elrond and Feanor) but he also describes them singing silly jocular songs as Bilbo descends into Rivendell for the first time.  But that is not a tension but a necessary component of elven psychology.  In order to face the march of centuries and millenia without being overcome by terminal ennui, elves must by childlike in their sense of play and wonder.  It is just as likely that Glorfindel was a member of the evening chorus that greeted Bilbo as he rode into Rivendell.  Even the grimmest elven lord, in moments of relaxation, must have greeted the world with the same wonder and playfulness as a child.
Or consider the supposed arrogance of elves.  That arrogance consists primarilly in the aloofness of elves to humans and human affairs.  But that aloofness is again simply a function of their longevity.  Cutholen, for example, had he been close friends with just one human familly over the ages, would have known, father and son, over 210 generations in that familly.  210 friends, born and aged and died, and mourned and remembered over the ages; in just a single line of descent.  An elf who closely associated with humans would, of course, have not one friend in a generation, but many; and so that close association must multiply the sorrow in an elf's live beyond endurance. 
This same longevity brings other aspects.  It is often in the forefront of my mind as Cutholen "adventures" in various ruins, Fornost, say, or Anuminas, that Cutholen must have known them when they were fresh built.  He must have walked the halls of Anuminas with Elendil, and now must hunt orcs where once, long ages ago, he saw the children of his friends play.  Not just ruins, but entire landscapes have changed in Cutholen's lifetime so that he remembers Lothlorien before it had Mallorns; Eregion before it was a wastland; and even Angmar before there was a Witch King.  And the streams of Ossiriand which he loves so much, should he follow them west will bring him to a shore where still he remembers forest, and beyond the waves the great river and the place of his birth.  The land has changed and changed again, but still he lives on.
The longevity must also effect his perception of the arts.  Paintings on canvass, for example, we think of as an enduring art form because they will last for 200 to 500 years (with modern preservation techniques).  But that must mean that for elves, paintings and tapesteries are an ephimeral art form.  Statues in stone, may be more durable, but for elves the trully enduring works of art are the songs, tales and poems they love so much.  Kept fresh in memory, only they (and the jewels of the Noldor) are art that can truly march through the centuries with them.  No wonder they are so central to elven culture.
Anyway, just a few thoughts which I hope you find interesting.  I would definitely be interested in your various takes on them, and other aspects of what it means to be elven."
These thoughts did not spring from nowhere.  In fact, I was driven to them by the paradox that the elves who greeted Bilbo at Rivendell in The Hobbit were undoubtedly Noldor, often considered by be grim questors rather than frivolous chorists.  My thoughts turned to it again on rereading a comment by Samwise Gamgee in Chapter Four of the first book of The Lord of the Rings:

"'[The Elves] seem a bit above my likes and dislikes,' answered Sam slowly.  'It don't seem to matter what I think about them.  They are quite different to what I expected - so old and young, and so gay and sad, as it were.'"

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