THEY WANT US TO
Living In Elfland
by Sarah A. Hoyt
Special to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise
Recently here, one of those times that the comments get more interesting than the post itself, we came up with the idea that we are in fact elves. That either time traveling or some weird time-glitch bring us—or our descendants a few hundred years hence—in contact with people in the past and allows them a glimpse into our world.
There isn’t a story there—at least not for me—though there might be a throw away side character or three in future novels.
But, you know, when you think about it we match a lot of the stories about elves. We are almost impossibly long-lived, obviously supernaturally healthy. We can turn on light or cook or do any of the things that were near impossible if not impossible even a hundred, much less five hundred years ago, with the flick of a button. We see at a distance through magic devices (no? explain it to a medieval man. Use small words) and talk at a distance to each other. We can fly to the air to visit each other, and if we don’t mention details, I’ll bet you good money that a medieval person would imagine us tucking in arms and flying, perhaps in a spangle of sparkles.
Fairy horses? I’ve got nothing, though it wouldn’t surprise me if in another 100 years or so we didn’t have some kind of super horses, bio-engineered for performance and more carnivorous than not. Perhaps even, too, unearthly beautiful, because why not?
We can even heal bizarrely and startlingly for someone in the middle ages. I mean, if we come across a guy lost in the middle of nowhere, running a fever and we’re doctors or otherwise equipped for the emergency, a salve, an ointment, or even a shot can bring him back from the brink through the magic an anti-biotics.
Elf shot? Forget the whole thing about stone arrow heads. We can kill at a distance with startling accuracy.
The fairy midwife stories? Well, if these things are either isolated colonists into the past (something like Simak’s world where they’re running from certain extinction in the future) or sometimes the times contact at random and it’s a farmhouse (or something) that finds itself isolated in the past? Well! You know, I’d prefer modern delivery services, too, but if those aren’t available, I bet you those medieval-village midwives (once you disinfect them from head to toe twice) were pretty good at what they did, because they faced—with no modern knowledge or last-minute saves—the problems of childbirth, which are complex and varied. And enough kids survived that we’re here now.
Then there’s the whole “elves have few children.” Compared to the historical average, you guys might not even realize how little time a modern woman spends pregnant. Sure, they might end up rearing only two or three children at most, but rare was the pre-modern woman who didn’t have seven to ten children. And a lot of them died in childbirth, because the more you walk in the rain, the more you get wet.
This idea has been with me a long time, long before the discussion here. There was a germ of it last year when we went to the Denver botanic gardens illumination and I thought someone of Shakespeare’s England tripping through a time portal into this fairly mundane Holiday display would be dazzled. Hell, I always channel my inner 6 year old, who thought the church being illuminated for Christmas (white lights outlining the building and the turret) was an amazing miracle. And she thinks that the illuminated botanic gardens (or zoo) are a miracle.
Imagine the wonder. We’re profligate with light and getting more so, as it becomes cheaper and cheaper to illuminate the outside of our houses with twinkling fairy lights. (I’ve had no luck with solar. I think Colorado is too dusty. But they work places.)
Some of my neighbors illuminate with lights summer and winter, as do a lot of commercial areas. The colors are just different.
When this arose in the comments, Margaret Ball said “What about being unearthly beautiful?”
And though I know how beautiful we are—yes, all of us—in terms of not being deformed of pockmarked or even—and that was so common even 25 years ago—acne scarred, I confess that made me laugh a little.
And then over new years Dan and I went to the Rembrandt exhibition. We were looking through the prints and again and again came across drawings of people who were supposed to be young. Like sixteen to eighteen. They all looked forty. And then there were people who were supposed to be forty… I’d take them for eighty.
Sure there are renaissance paintings, say, the Venus on the half-shell, who look young and heart-breakingly beautiful. And probably were, even if the painter might have idealized her a bit. But the age thing keeps hitting us in the face. The men and women of the renaissance were far more in tune than us with the idea that the virgin was supposed to be 14—by church legend—and the audience of paintings would know that. Aware of that go look at medieval and renaissance nativity paintings. Oh, keep in mind Joseph is supposed to be in his thirties.
Now by the time you get to the 18th or 19th century and are looking at the paintings of the upper class, you don’t see that effect much. They were halfway to being elves. They still aged faster and harder than us, and do not ask about their dentistry if you prize untroubled sleep.
But if you looked at the people on the street in those days, or if you find paintings of the common folk, you’ll know exactly how we’re “unearthly beautiful” throughout our blessed long lives.
I remember reading, and now I don’t remember which painter or where, though I have an idea it was in the quattrocento (note that wordpress spell checker doesn’t know quattrocento and tries to make it afrocentric. Measure by that our mental decline compared to our material improvement) saying that he’d picked a model because she was so “beautiful” with unscarred skin and straight limbs.
Now do I really believe we’re time travelers? Um…. no. I always find it funny when someone comes here to argue with me and tries to claim my reasoning is faulty because “you write fantasy. You don’t know the difference between reality and imagination.” (Rolls eyes.) Sure, if you’re a psychotic locked up in a rubber padded room, that might be true. But I’ll argue you’re then not writing much fiction, and certainly not much that’s commercial enough to be enjoyed by others.
People tend to underestimate the amount of conscious work that goes into crafting a story, particularly something the size of a novel. They want to imagine it’s all a flash of passion and suddenly the story is all there.
Sure, that can happen, after you’ve written twenty novels or so, but that’s because your subconscious has been trained to do the heavy pulling by then. Even then you’ll recraft scenes or recast characters, because your subconscious knows what you like but not what other people will buy (your conscious doesn’t know that either, but it can make better guesses.)
Anyway, to write saleable fiction you need to be fully in control. Sometimes you let the imagination out to play, and then you pull it back in. And when you let it to play you know d*mn well you’re confabulating.
Sure. It’s possible that some time phenomenon makes us into literal elves sometime in the next few hundred years. I.e. that we’ll go back in time and meet our ancestors and give them their legends. Not that I can think of any mechanism right now, but then time is still very much a mystery in many ways.
What is more possible is that these things that were attributed to elves are the long-time dreams of mankind. Light. Living with minimal effort. Health. Long life. Not consuming your life in endless pregnancy.
Do we still aspire to a lot of other things, including longer life? Of course we do.
But to our ancestors? We live in an age of magic and miracles, and we live long and blessedly healthy lives.
Shakespeare made his mark on the world by living 2 years more than I’ve lived by now. And Kit Marlowe was cut down at 29.
We have so much more time. What are we doing with it? How much of it do we spend moaning and bitching that it’s all going down the drain and we can’t stop it?
Sure, we have challenges (I’m not sure humans could survive without them) and sure there are some pretty awful people trying to put their boots on our neck. (The wars in fairyland were always terrible.)
BUT we have all this time, all this health, all this light, all this ease.
Let’s be worthy of them and do something, even if the something is fight for freedom and pass the torch one more generation.
There might come a time to be curled up in the fetal position on the floor. That time is not now.
Up and doing.
In the end, we win, they lose.
Be not afraid.
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