I have a terrible secret. Chthonic and furtive, one I have kept hidden lo these long last years, one which I have not dared to whisper even alone and on a moonless night. One which I have only through thousands of hours of sessions with mental health professionals have I finally become capable of admitting to the world.
My name is Daniel Polansky, and I hate elves.
Hate them. Can't stand them. Dislike them all around—be they wild, high, frost, dark, fire or sky, if they've go pointy ears and a shitty attitude, I don't like them. Never liked them, in fact. Back when I was prone to walking around with sheets of paper elaborately detailing the characteristics of imaginary heroes, said heroes were never elves. They were half-Orc Paladins, they were undead cowboys, on one occasion they were a sort of humanoid dragon with guns for hands, but they were never, ever elves.
The kid at the bar next to you who sniffs unattractively when he discovers the chicken is not free range is an elf. An elf stole my high-school girlfriend just before prom, wearing a bomber jacket and shades even though it was evening. Elves always have perfect hair, even if they've just been killing something with a knife, which they inevitably do in some dance-like fashion which bares no resemblance to violence as it actually takes place. Elves think they're so fucking special, living for a thousand years, and communing with nature, and feeling superior. At best, they're all cheap superheroics, faster and stronger and tougher than everyone else. At worst they're bastions of the most exhausting sort of pseudo-philosophical gibberish, environmental studies majors with long bows, and behind every oration about the importance of preserving the forest is visible the smug, smirking, self-satisfied face of the author. (See also: Avatar)
I dislike elves so much, in fact, that I went ahead and wrote a book about them.
How did that happen, exactly? Really, I'm not 100% sure. Every book I've ever written remains kind of a mystery to me, you just wake up in the morning and hash around on your computer and then go to a coffee shop and hash around a bit more and then at some point your editor is sending you ARC copies of your book and you go, oh, shit, this hasn't been an elaborate hallucination at all, people are actually planning on reading this. And then you break out into a cold sweat and start looking frantically around for a drink.
Where were we? Elves, right. Going back to Tolkien, interspecies harmony has been used as a a rather too-obvious metaphor for interracial harmony—if Legolas and Gimli can set aside their differences, the elves and dwarfs and the men of the West gathering together to stand proud against the Eye of Sauron, then surely the least you can do is not walk across the street and smack a dude for being of a different phenotype. Every proper party includes a half dozen different-sized hominids, and maybe some sort of lizard man, and can't we all just get along?
A falsehood is no more true for its sweet sound. Here in the west we generally manage to stumble through the day without engaging in race war, but this is the product of a happy historical bubble in which we live, one which is dissimilar to the vast sweep of human history, and indeed of much of the world even as it currently exists. In Serbia they tell you things about Albanians which would make you very much not want to visit Albania, and in Albania they say very similar things of the Serbs. A man in Namibia once told me that his black worker needed to be smacked once every three months or so, just to keep him in line. At a cocktail party in Taipei, a pretty pre-school teacher pulled at my Jewfro, then smiled and without obvious evidence of ill-will informed me that my thick coiffure was evidence of my race's close kinship with the great apes. Speaking historically, what would seem to be very minor racial variations (Medes to Persian, Croat to Bosnian, Protestant Irish to Catholic) have been the source of the most terrible and savage violence.
And, of course, the distinctions between races, however neatly they are observed, are vastly minor compared to what would occur between two opposing species. Mankind, whatever his skin color or kink of hair, is obviously and objectively, not so very different at all. We look essentially the same, we're roughly similar in ability, we can breed successfully, we live a comparable length of time, we hold lovers tight to our breasts and laugh at the children we produce. How much more severe, how much crueler, would be our behavior if these divisions were not troughs but chasms? If you lived fifty times longer than the person next to you, and you were smarter than they were, and physically tougher, the heir of an objectively superior civilization—would you suppose that person your brother? Would you suppose that person your equal? If your house cat could speak, would you allow it full political agency?
No, the truth is, Elves are of no interest to me. People, by contrast, I find endlessly fascinating, if often contemptible and almost inevitably depressing. Those Above is not a book about Elves—not really. It's a book about people. What happens to our cherished notions of equality, of justice and morality, in a world in which we are not the dominant species? How would the existence of other intelligent life, by the standards of high fantasy a relatively modest supposition, effect essentially anthropocentric notion of morality?
Those Above is out now—if you like elves, there are elves in it (more or less). And if you don't like elves, well—bad things happen to them. Along with everyone else, for that matter.