Crossing Bifrost – Races and Creatures – Dökkálfar (Dark Elves)

Happy Saturn’s Day

Dark elves in Norse mythology are the elves that live under the earth. The are called Dökkálfar in the Scandinavian tongue. They dwell in Svartalfheim which is realm just under Midgard.  It is one of those realms that is debatable as this is not one of the nine worlds in some people’s’ minds.  But it a realm that is perhaps part of another.

All elves are kind of demi-god in status and the Dark Elves are no different.  They have incredible powers and the dark elves had powers that as time went by became more malevolent in nature than benevolent like the light elves that dwell in the realm above Midgard. The dark elves are described initially as swarthy. But as time goes by you get the pale red-eyed version that is common today in most people’s minds.  They were also connected to the realm of Helheim and the dead.

These dark elves were often connected to wrong things happening.  From tangled hair to strokes, they were the cause of these things.  They had a dark and strange magic to them. As Christianity became more prevalent they became associated with the underworld.  Mostly this is what causes confusion about the dark elves. because they are not always seen as malevolent. but often are cast as the outcast role as well.  A cursed but powerful race is a common theme.

In modern times this plays out in probably the two best known examples of dark elves – The Drow in the Dungeons and Dragons universe which are malevolent worshipers of the Spider Queen and the Dunmer in the Elder Scrolls universe which are more of a changed and cursed race.  Outcasts and mistrusted though is a common theme for both because both races have some unique and at times troubled morality.

The inspiration for both these and other incarnations of the dark elves stretches back into Norse mythology with the Dökkálfar. When you read about Drizzt in Forgotten Realms or are playing your Dunmer character in Skyrim, you are part of a tradition of a race of beings that stretches back to the middle ages.

From a writing standpoint, I have used dark elves very infrequently. I hesitate because this race is often complex and more that the simple black and white most races have with morality.  Is there hatred of the surface dwellers justifiable?  Is the curse placed on them of being mistrusted justified?  It becomes a complex riddle when developing characters especially when you are trying to create a main protagonist that is a dark elf. I am looking to my first novel for publication and I am thinking of a dark elf character as the main protagonist.

Contrary wise, next to the Nords, my favorite Skyrim Race is the Dunmer. I play dark elf characters quite a bit.  Mostly because they can be very Chaotic and freedom loving and also remain completely flexible as far as goods and evil, so they can do good and evil quests with equal rational reasons for their character development.

I find them fascinating and as protagonists and antagonists the one thing you can say is they are formidable advisories. I don’t imagine that they will part from the realm of fiction anytime soon. For that I am very glad.

The Rabyd Skald – Wandering Soul, Bard and Philosopher. The Grey Wayfarer.