Author Topic: Some thoughts on role playing an elf  (Read 4152 times)

Cutholen

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Some thoughts on role playing an elf
« on: May 22, 2009, 06:42:33 AM »
G'day,

 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 "painings" 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 shere 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 playfullness 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.

Regards,

Tom
((The bloke behind Cutholen))

Orophor

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Re: Some thoughts on role playing an elf
« Reply #1 on: May 22, 2009, 09:47:53 AM »
Great post Tom. Thanks for sharing that with us.

O

Digger

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Re: Some thoughts on role playing an elf
« Reply #2 on: May 22, 2009, 10:45:33 AM »
My dear friend Bloke,

I cannot thank you enough for sharing these thoughts.  I am having a similar experience with my hobbit though it is not as complex as I imagine an elven character to be.  I have only begun to develop Tarlwyn, my elf.  I can agree that it is a challenge to get my head inside him.

We differ on one view, however, and that is about mortality.  Tarlwyn looks on that as a great blessing to hobbits and men and somewhat to dwarves.  He has been with the Goodsong family for several generations, and while he does mourn the deaths of his friends, it is not the same as a human would mourn.  To Tarlwyn their death is more of a mystery for he doesn't know what happens to them, just that they are gone from him.  Having experienced this grief so many times, he now has a longer and more seasoned view of it.  Time is itself the greatest puzzle in his thinking.  A year is nothing, and a hobbit's lifetime is only a brief season. The idea of hurrying is very different to him than to his human friends who greatly value single days and weeks.

So, again, let me thank you.  I have not even scratched the pleasure of thinking like an elf and acting like one.  For me, it is so much easier to be Digger, the hobbit.  Whether elf or hobbit or human, I believe and act as though life were very dear and a joy to experience each day regardless of the length of each's span.

Cheers,
Digger
another bloke on the road

Cutholen

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Re: Some thoughts on role playing an elf
« Reply #3 on: November 11, 2009, 12:43:25 AM »
I am sorry for my very belated reply.

I am not sure that we are disagreeing about death, in one respect.  Certainly the elves view the mortality of men as a gift to men, but that mortality is not a gift to elves.  If elves dies, they go to the halls of Mandos and the gardens of Lorien, and are healed untill they are at peace.  Afterwards they join again their companions of former years, in Valinor.  Though the years in the halls of Mandos be long, yet for elves they may seem short because they are immortal, and as a result can take a very long view.

Not so the fate of humans and hobbits.  When they die, they may pass time in the halls of Mandos, but in a seperate place so they can have no fellowship with elves in the hall.  And after that they leave the world for a fate unknown.  So should an elf ever meet a deceased human again, it shall not be till the end of the world itself, and even such a meeting is conjecture.  An elf that is an acquaintance of a human can enjoy their company as a brief blessing, a thing enjoyed for the moment.  But should they become friends, then the death of their friend must be a bitter pang indeed, for they will meet again never more.

It is true that Elves are blessed with the ability to live in the moment, to treat each small joy with wonder without thought of the morrow.  But I do not think Elves can remember dead mortal friend without some melancholy because they will never meet again.  I do not think their friendships are that superficial.  And for Tarwyn, each moment with Digger Goodsong he must be reminded by little gestures, by turns of phrase, and by similarity of appearance of friends now long gone; indeed of friends Digger never knew though they were his own ancestors.  Those reminders must add an extraordinary depth to their friendship, but they are depths not without sorrow.  It is difficult for me to express the emotional depths of such a relationship, but to me it would have something of the emotional character of Elrond's relationship to Aragorn once he knew Arwen loved him, and would choose mortality to be with him.  Such emotional relationships must be extraordinary in character, and have a great joy too them as well as a great underlying sorrow.  But who could seek them in abundance and live? 

Baridoc

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Re: Some thoughts on role playing an elf
« Reply #4 on: December 07, 2009, 03:52:57 AM »
What a wonderful post. The thought and care you have put into developing this character is inspiring. Thank you so very much for sharing your thoughts.

Baridoc (Perigard, Roree, Daffodile... etc.. )


Cutholen

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Re: Some thoughts on role playing an elf
« Reply #5 on: December 10, 2009, 04:25:57 PM »
Barridoc, thank you for your kind remarks.  I'm not sure "inspiring" is the correct term - possibly obsessive might be better.  Regardless, your comments have prompted me to add some more thoughts about what I think it means to be an elf.

One of the most unusual aspects of being an elf is that your parents don't die off.  Neither, of course, did their parents, nor their parents before them.  It is quite possible (apart for the depridiations of war and accident) for an elf to meet and talk to their (great x10) grandfather or mother.  That, by the way, would give tremendous stability to elf culture, but that is not my immediate concern.  My immediate concern is the way it effects the population balance.

Humans have lived through out the centuries with a predominantly young population.  The majority of the world's population, for most of the time humans have existed, have been under the age of twenty.  As a result, children grow up with other children.  It is a rare child that does not have many other children to play with.  In fact, because of our cultures tendency to place children in schools and the aged in care, children now grow up almost exclusively in the company of other children (which I don't think is good for our society).

With elves, however, it is different.  Just on general considerations, it is unlikely that elves of any genre should have a high birth rate, but in Middle Earth we know that they have a low one.  Based on known familly trees of elves of Arda (and excluding cases in which they have no children), an elvish familly typically has 2.3 children.  In "Lores and Customs of the Eldar" Tolkien states that elvish famillies seldom have more than 4 children, and it is elsewhere stated that Feanor's 7 children was an unequalled records in all the annals of Arda.  Michael Martinez has argued (see first link below) that the average number of children was 4, but that cannot be right.  If the average number was 4, then in about 50% of cases (at least) there would be more than four children, which contradicts Tolkien's statement.  Curiously, the standard deviation of the known familly sizes is 1.7, which would indicate that with an average familly size of 2.3, just less than 20% of elvish famillies would have four or more children, which fits well Tolkien's statement.

If the average were four, then in each generation of elves, just over 50% of the population would be children (ie, under the age of 100).  But if the average is less than four, then in each generation, the proportion of children would decline.  If the average were 3.8, for example, in the first generation 65% of the population would be children,but by the 50th generation 7% of the population would be children, and  by the 100th generation only 0.6% of the population would be children.  If the average familly size of elves were 3.6, then in the first generation 64% of elves would be children, but by the 50th, only 0.5%, and by the 100th only 3 thousandth of a percent.  On the more "realistic" figure of an average of 2.3 children per elvish familly, even by the 10th generation only 0.4% of elves would have been under the age of 100.

I apologize if you are put of by this rather dry mathematics, but it is necessary to establish a point.  Given that by the time of the war of the rings, there were only 50 thousand (by an optimistic estimate) elves on all of middle earth (see second link), it is probable that by there time there was not a single elven child.  Indeed, with "realistic" figures for elven familly sizes, even elves born in the late first age probably grew up without any other children as companions.

In fact, the situation would not have been quite as stark as that.  Elves had their children quite close together (in elvish terms), so at least 50% of elvish children would have grown up with a sibbling who was, if not a child, at least a very young adult.  Further, these ratios are maintained, only if there are no deaths, or deaths are drawn equally from all segments of the population.  The first is known to be false, and the second unlikely.  Assuming that both deaths, and journeys to Valinor are more likely amongs older elves who have already had their children, the ratios would not have been so bad.  But even so, on the "realistic" figure, it is likely that when Cutholen grew up in the early years of the sun, he was the only elven child, or one of a very few, in all of Ossiriand.

How would this effect elven psychology?  My guess is that elven children would not have been lonely.  Given that children were rare, they would have had the complete attention of any elven adult they cared to play with who was not occupied with matters of complete urgency.  In this respect, the childlike sense of wonder and play of adult elves would have been very important in making them fit companions for the few actuall children amongst them.  So complete is this care for children that I suspect, had an unknownn child of an Avari elf wandered into the Council of Elrond, Elrond would have been more likely to bounce them on his knee than to shoo them away.  However, play with playfull adults, however, attentive would not be the same as play with children.  Human children have their own values, which are not shared by adults (along with a few that are).  Elven children, however, surrounded only by adults would not develop these seperate values.  There values from a very early age would be those of the adults who surrounded them.  So while Elven adults are far more playfull than human adults, I think elven children would have been far more serious than human children.  In them would have been found that same combination of seriousness and highmindedness and playfullness that was found in elven adults.

Finally, being the focus of attention of all around you as you grew would undoubtedly effect an elfs sense of self worth.  I do not think you would find in many (if any) elf a sense of self doubt, of a lack of confidence.  Any elf growing in these circumstances would be self assured and confident.

http://www.merp.com/essays/MichaelMartinez/michaelmartinezsuite101essay66

http://www.sf-worlds.com/middle-earth/middle-earth-populations.html

« Last Edit: December 10, 2009, 04:28:17 PM by Cutholen »

Ariadan

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Re: Some thoughts on role playing an elf
« Reply #6 on: December 17, 2009, 09:57:09 AM »
*gets out of his chair and applauds vigourously - all the while saying "Wow"*

Well done!!