Elves: 101 [The Beginner’s Guide]

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Nowadays, when you hear the word elf, you probably think of Santa’s little helpers. But elves are much more than just Santa’s handmaidens.

Elves are a type of mythical creature that can be found in many different cultures all over the world. They are most common in Northern Europe and North America, but can also be found in the Far East, Africa and South America.

In some places, they are considered good spirits who protect humans from evil. In others, they are thought of as bad or evil spirits that cause mischief and pain for humans. Sometimes they are portrayed as dangerous little creatures who hide in the woods at night – you know, like Santa’s Little Helper elves.


In this article we are going to explore the world of elves from a mythological view. You will discover who elves are, where they live, what they like to eat and how they act towards humans. Read on to discover just how magical, mystical and mysterious elven-kind really is.

1. What is an elf?

A elf is a type of mythical creature commonly referred to as a fairy, elf, nymph or other similar terms. They have been featured in various cultures across the world for many hundreds of years. Although different cultures have their own take on what an elf is, elven-kind share many common characteristics.

To help you understand what elves are all about, let’s take a look at some of the most notable and popular myths about them:

Elves are creatures with supernatural beauty and immortality.

In some stories, elves have wings and can fly, but most of the time they are portrayed as little people, more or less human in size (although sometimes they have a lower-than-average height). Elves are also often described as being extremely beautiful with long hair and graceful movements. Their magical beauty often captivates humans and there are many stories of humans falling in love with elves because of their innocent, ethereal and alluring nature.

Elves are immortal.

It is said that elves do not age or die in the same way as human beings do. They are often portrayed as being immortal and cannot be killed by any ailment or high age. However, this also means that they can never be bothered to reveal themselves to humans for fear of being killed or captured.

Elves live in magical worlds and forests filled with wonder.

As mentioned above, elves are often portrayed living in woods and forests. The Elves’ magical homes are commonly referred to as Elf-havens, or Elfhomes. These homes are usually located high atop trees and many stories tell that they can only be accessed by means of magic, therefore hiding them from human eyes.

3. Where do elves come from?

Elves have their origins in Norse mythology. In Norse mythology, dwarves are considered to be the oldest beings in existence – older even than the gods of Asgard.

European and American Folklore about Elves – Different Perceptions of Elves

In European folklore about elves there is a distinction between the types of elves that live in the woods and those who live in the mountains. The ones who live deep in the woods are considered to be good spirits, whereas those who live on mountaintops are seen as “wild” and unpredictable.

This distinction between the two types of elves is most likely due to geographical separation; as medieval Europeans would not travel without reason to the high steep rocks of a mountain top.

The mountains also offered greater protection to the supernatural beings from humans. A lake or some other simple method to travel would still allow for human interaction, but the rocks and trees of a mountain top would offer an excellent hiding place for the most special of elves (in terms of both safety and security).

In America, elves are mainly associated with Santa`s little helpers, the North pole and the Christmas season. But in a sense American folklore about elves is very similar to European folklore about elves as elves are mainly seen as good or bad, with very few in-between. They are portrayed as being mischievous and fun loving, but also dangerous if angered.

In north America the most popular elf stories are those of the forest elves. Also have the stories about Santas little elfs, or the Cratchits elves. The differences between American and Canadian folklore involving elves is that more often than not these elfs are friendly. Canadian folklore, as well as other folklore in other European countries involve much more negative elfin characters, such as evil elves and black elves (Drow).

4. What do elves look like?

There are many ways to describe the appearance of an elf. Some say that they are “fair, ethereal creatures” and often portray them as being beautiful, small and youthful. Elves are usually portrayed as human-sized beings with supernatural beauty and grace. Others believe they are “funny little people” with large ears, pointy feet and an insatiable love of mischief.

5. Different types of elves

There are many different types of elves, and some of them may be more similar to those we see today than others. Here are a few:

Half elf

Half elves are half human half elven. Half elves are said to be very rare. They are slender like elves, but also often have the same facial features as humans. Half elves are not as strong or fast as full elves, but are longer-lived then humans.

High elves

The high elves are the most similar to the ancient European fairies and the lillend from Norse mythology. They are small and beautiful beings who dwell deep into the mountain’s forests, dwelling in beauty and grace. They are often portrayed as being mischievous, but often appear to protect humans from evil creatures – such as trolls or black magic.

Forest elves

The forest elves are similar to the folke from Scandinavia. They are more mischievous than the high elves, and their hands and feet may be pointed like an animal’s paws. They often make homes in forests or other places deep in the mountains, making them more secluded from human interaction.

Mountain elf

Mountain elves are one of the most common types of elves, and are associated with the high elves above. They dwell high in the mountains, in small villages, usually with large castles and mansions.

Light elf

Light efls are often associated with the fair folk or the good elves in other folklore. They are known for helping humans when in need, and usually live deep in the forest where they protect humans from evil creatures.

Dark elf (Drow)

Dark elves are also very common in folklore and fantasy novels. Dark elves are sometimes known as black elves, although dark elves have many different names from all different countries. Another name for dark elves are Drow and are often known to dwell deep in the forest, usually underground or in large caves where they hunt animals. They also some times dwell above ground, although they are almost always isolated from humans.

Sun elf

Sun elves are very rare in folklore and usually only appear in fantasy. They are sometimes also known as gold efls and related to high elves. They usually dwell in forests and associated with nature.

Moon elf

Moon elves, also known as silver elves, can be found in fantasy novels and television shows. They are often associated with the fair folk or good elves as well as mermaids and sirens. Their skin is often grey or silver and the males can have white or golden hair.

What is it about elves that makes them so appealing?

Elves are believed by many cultures throughout the world to be magical and have supernatural abilities. There are many similarities between the elves we know today and those of the mythical past. For example, elves were once thought to be spirits of nature.

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In conclusion, elves are often portrayed as being fair, mischievous and with supernatural abilities. They are very similar to humans in the sense that they have human-like features but are also different in that they cannot die from disease or old age.

If you want to learn more about fantasy creatures, check out our list and read about the most interesting questions and answers on fantasy creatures.

The Elves Challenge

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