Types of Elves: Exploring the Various Elven Races in Myth and Fantasy

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Elves captivate us across various cultures, each type with its own distinct traits and histories. In Nordic folklore, elves are magical beings with a close connection to nature, often seen as protectors of forests and rivers. Some tales describe them as small, nature spirits that are kind and helpful to humans, while in other stories, they’re tall and majestic, similar to how J.R.R. Tolkien envisioned them in his famous works like “The Lord of the Rings” series.

The elves of folklore are not a one-size-fits-all; they exhibit a dazzling array of personalities and social structures. For instance, the high elves are typically known for their wisdom and a strong affinity for magic, living in well-organized societies. Conversely, wood elves are more reclusive, preferring the solitude of ancient forests where they can be one with wildlife.

Furthermore, in different mythologies, elves are divided by their light or dark natures. Light elves are portrayed as benevolent and beautiful, radiating with an almost divine presence. Dark elves, on the other hand, are often depicted as more malevolent, dwelling in the shadows and sometimes even at odds with their lighter kin. These variations showcase the rich tapestry of elven lore that has evolved and captured our imaginations for centuries.

Nordic/Scandinavian Mythology

In Norse mythology, elves, also known as álfar, hold a prominent place. They are divided into various classes, with some living in Alfheim under the rule of the god Freyr. Let’s explore these fascinating beings.

Light Elves (Ljósálfar)

The Ljósálfar, or Light Elves, are radiant creatures likened to the sun. I find them enthralling as they inhabit Álfheimr, a realm associated with the Vanir god Freyr. These beings embody the quintessence of beauty and are revered for their grace.

Dark Elves (Dökkálfar)

In contrast, the Dökkálfar, or Dark Elves, are elusive and dwell within the earth. They are often depicted with a darker demeanor, thriving away from the sunlight. It’s intriguing how their existence offers a shade to the Norse cosmos, quite literally.

Svartálfar (Black Elves or Dwarves)

The Svartálfar, who are sometimes conflated with dwarves, reside in what is known as Svartálfheim. These beings are master smiths and craftsmen, working deep within the realms’ hidden crevices. It’s fascinating to see their role in Norse tales, often linked with magical artifacts and creations.

Germanic Folklore

In Germanic folklore, the concept of elves is rich with various characters and mythical beings. They are often linked to nature and moral ambiguity, and I’ll discuss some of the most fascinating ones below.


I’ve found that an Alp is a supernatural creature in German folklore, not too unlike the elves you might already be familiar with. It’s said to be mainly nocturnal, and I think it’s interesting how they were often associated with nightmares. People believed that an Alp could sit upon a sleeper’s chest, causing them a sensation known as ‘night terrors’. It ties into pre-Christian beliefs where mythical creatures were thought to have a more direct impact on human health and wellbeing.


Have you ever heard of the Erlking, or “Der Erlkönig” as it’s called in German? It’s a name used in European folklore for a powerful and often malevolent figure—the king of the elves. It’s fascinating to me that the Erlking is depicted in folklore as a seductive and dangerous entity, capturing the attention of many storytellers and poets. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s famous poem “Der Erlkönig” portrays him as a figure that preys on children, which I think really captures the darker side of these ancient myths. He’s a prime example of how elves in Germanic legends aren’t just playful sprites; they can have a dark and ominous presence as well.

British Folklore

In the British Isles, elves from folklore encapsulate a rich tapestry of magic and mischief. These mystical beings come primarily in two types: the Seelie Court elves who are generally benevolent, and the Unseelie Court elves, who indulge in darker deeds.

Seelie Court Elves

I’ve learned that the Seelie Court elves represent the more gracious aspect of British elf-lore. They are known for their kindness and are often seen as guardians of nature. Elves belonging to the Seelie Court might engage in playful behavior but their intentions are usually good. They possess magical powers which they can use to benefit those who respect their realms.

Tales often mention their acts of kindness, such as helping a lost traveler or gifting a household with good fortune. They’re linked to acts of goodness across the fairy tales of Britain. Some stories even talk about Seelie elves protecting humans from the mischief of their Unseelie counterparts.

Unseelie Court Elves

I’ve discovered that Unseelie elves are the shadowy figures of elfin mythology. Unlike the Seelie Court, they lean towards malice and are often attributed to the more troubling and harmful events in the British Isles. They are known to cause mischief and may even harm humans with elf-shots, also known as elf-arrows, which are thought to cause unexplained pains and ailments in livestock and people.

These elves are often portrayed as darker — both in temperament and often in their appearance, akin to dark elves. They carry out actions like stealing babies and replacing them with changelings, which are fairy children left in place of the human child. Unseelie Court magic is powerful and dangerous, and they are less likely to show the benevolence present in Seelie Court tales.

Celtic Mythology

In my exploration of Celtic Mythology, I’ve come across some fascinating beings that embody the realms of nature and magic. The elves, or the Sidhe in Irish culture, hold a special place in the folklore of Ireland and Scotland, renowned for their beauty and otherworldly arts.

Sidhe (Irish Elves)

I’ve learned that the Sidhe are often described as stunningly beautiful and forever young, thanks to their immortal nature. They’re closely linked to the natural world, embodying the spirit and essence of nature itself. These beings are known for their love of art and music, shaping culture with their magical influence. Their homes are believed to be in earthen mounds, which are common across the landscape of Ireland, and these places are often steeped in tales of enchantments with fairies.

Aos Sí (Scottish Elves)

The Scottish counterparts, Aos Sí, share many traits with their Irish relatives but have their own distinct flavor. Also tied to nature, I’ve found that their presence is felt in the deep glens and wild moors of Scotland. They maintain a close association with the fae and are part of a vibrant tapestry of Scottish folklore. Despite their beauty and magic, it’s wise to stay on their good side, as they can be quite tricky when crossed.

Modern Fantasy

In modern fantasy literature and art, elves are commonly featured as extraordinary beings. They often possess magical abilities and usually live in close harmony with natural environments like forests, seas, and mountains. My focus here is to shed light on various elf types popular in contemporary narratives, such as those found in J.R.R. Tolkien’s works.

High Elves

High Elves are typically the noblest, often considered the purest of all elven races. They’re known for their powerful magic, long lifespans, and regal presence. I find them similar to characters like Galadriel in “The Lord of the Rings,” embodying wisdom and a strong moral compass.

Wood Elves

Wood Elves, known for their deep bond with forests and nature, are more reclusive. They’re skilled archers and trackers, which reminds me of Legolas from Tolkien’s stories. Their artistry often links to their environment, melding beauty and utility seamlessly.

Dark Elves

Dark Elves stand out with their often more morally ambiguous or malevolent traits. They are commonly depicted living in dark, hidden places, contrasting the usually benevolent nature of other elven subtypes and are skilled in more sinister forms of magic.

Blood Elves

Blood Elves are known for their striking red or crimson hues in their garb or eyes, which symbolizes their magic, often derived from darker or sacrificial sources. They have a compelling history that typically involves significant loss or survival from catastrophe.

Sea Elves

Sea Elves reside in oceanic realms, bridging the gap between elven culture and the mysteries of the seas. My thoughts turn to their unparalleled swimming ability and their interactions with creatures of the deep, often illustrated in tales as protectors of marine life.

Moon Elves

Moon Elves are generally depicted as wise, serene, and with a strong connection to the celestial. Their magic can be linked to the phases of the moon, enhancing their abilities at night, and they often prefer seclusion under the moonlit sky.

Sun Elves

Contrary to Moon Elves, Sun Elves draw their strength from sunlight. Their societies are vibrant and active during the day, and they are known for their bright and uplifting spirits.

Snow Elves

Snow Elves are adapted to cold, mountainous regions. They’re as elusive as the snowstorms they’re named for, and their mastery of ice and snow magic makes them formidable in their frozen homelands.

Wild Elves

Wild Elves are untamed and free-spirited, with an affinity for the chaotic and unpredictable aspects of nature. They live a more primal lifestyle compared to their civilized kin and value strength and instinct.

Grey Elves

Grey Elves are often characterized by their intellect and scholarly nature. They seek a balanced approach to life and are mediators between different elf communities. Their knowledge of magic is extensive, and their art typically reflects their pursuit of harmony.

Sylvan Elves

Sylvan Elves embody the heart of fairy tales. Inhabiting the deepest, unspoiled parts of the forest, they are frequently guardians of nature, coexisting peacefully with fae creatures and often assist those who respect their woodland realms.

Christmas Folklore

In the realm of Christmas folklore, one of the most enchanting elements involves the creatures that assist Santa Claus. Let’s dive into who these helpers are and how they contribute to the magic of Christmas.

Santa’s Elves

Santa’s elves are a central part of the holiday lore. I find it fascinating that these jolly little beings are in charge of making toys for good children around the world. The concept of elves working tirelessly in Santa’s workshop, located in the whimsical North Pole, is a tradition that has captured the hearts of many. On Christmas Eve, their handiwork is loaded onto Santa’s sleigh, ready to be delivered to children far and wide. These elves are typically depicted as wearing green outfits, complete with pointy ears and hats, which adds to their mystical charm. They embody the spirit of giving and are integral to the festive season, representing a blend of various cultural mythologies merged into modern Christmas celebrations.

Icelandic Folklore

I’m always fascinated by the rich tapestry of myths that permeate Iceland’s culture, particularly the tales of the Huldufólk. These beings blend the extraordinary with the quaint aspects of daily life, making the folklore vibrant and relatable.

Huldufólk (Hidden People)

The Huldufólk are Iceland’s enigmatic counterpart to what many cultures call elves. Nature is their realm, inhabiting forests and meadows, tucked away from human eyes. They’re often depicted as friendly and share a striking resemblance to us, yet they boast an ethereal beauty that’s unmistakable.

Illness and misfortune might strike those who treat their dwellings with disrespect. It’s not out of malice but a deep connection to their home that prompts such reactions. Intriguingly, they are said to live parallel to us, enjoying similar daily routines, from farming to even attending church.

I’ve heard tales of how the Huldufólk will occasionally interact with humans, sometimes seeking help or offering assistance. A common narrative involves a maiden, revealing the hidden people‘s penchant for complex social interactions.

The belief in these hidden folks is not a distant myth but a living part of Iceland, with many locals genuinely acknowledging their presence. It’s a fascinating blend of fear, respect, and camaraderie that defines this unique aspect of Icelandic folklore.

Welsh Mythology

In the tapestry of Welsh mythology, elves are mystical creatures intertwined with nature. I’ll introduce you to the Ellyllon, known for their connection to the enchanting landscapes of Wales.


Ellyllon are the Welsh version of elves. They’re quite the tiny folk, smaller than the Tylwyth Teg, or the fair folk you might have heard about in Celtic stories. Imagine them dwelling in serene groves and lush valleys; it’s their secret home away from the human eye.

These little guys love nature, and they have a knack for blending in. They’re said to wear gloves crafted from foxglove bells—yep, the same plant that’s a famous sedative in old-school medicine. So, think about it: the Ellyllon are nature’s guardians, with a soft spot for forests and rivers, and they’re totally rocking their plant-based fashion.

So, if you’re wandering through the Welsh wilderness and you think you see a glove made of flowers, you might just be near an Ellyllon’s hangout. But remember, these critters are more than just forest dwellers; they are spirits tied to the very essence of the natural world around them.

Cornish Folklore

Cornish folklore is rich with tales of enchanting creatures. I often find that the blend of myth and landscape in Cornwall creates a tapestry of stories that are both whimsical and captivating. Let me introduce you to one notable group of beings native to this tradition.

Pobel Vean (Little People)

In my exploration of Cornish folklore, the Pobel Vean, or ‘Little People’, capture the imagination. These beings resemble what some might call elves. They’re known for their mischief and secretive ways. It’s said they possess magical powers, using them to interact with the world unseen.

The Pobel Vean are akin to what the locals sometimes refer to as pixies. According to legends, they love partaking in pranks on the unsuspecting. Yet, they’re not malevolent; their antics are usually harmless and often help teach important lessons or right wrongs in the most unexpected ways.

My interest in these tales reveals a fascinating aspect of their nature: their fairy-like qualities. Bearing resemblance to fairies, these creatures embody the magical essence of Cornwall’s landscapes—a place they’re deeply connected to.

Role-Playing Games and Video Games

Role-playing games and video games are a stellar playground for elves of all sorts. I’m excited to talk about their unique magic, roles in art and literature, and how they’ve been brought to life by creative minds.

Drow (Dark Elves in Dungeons & Dragons)

The Drow, denizens of the Underdark, practice powerful magic and are known for their ruthless schemes. They were introduced in Dungeons & Dragons, and their stark white hair and ebony skin make them an iconic elf subrace in this fantasy role-playing game.

Night Elves (World of Warcraft)

Night Elves wield nature magic and have a rich history tied to the world of Azeroth in World of Warcraft. They’re guardians of the forest and have a deep connection to the moon goddess, Elune.

Blood Elves (World of Warcraft)

In contrast to their Night Elf kin, the Blood Elves harness magic from other sources. Found in the same universe, they are descendants of High Elves who survived the destruction of their kingdom in Warcraft lore.

Bosmer (Wood Elves in Elder Scrolls)

The Bosmer, or Wood Elves, make their home in the forests of Tamriel in the Elder Scrolls series. They have a pact with nature, ensuring they never harm the vegetation of their homeland, and are unmatched in archery.

Dunmer (Dark Elves in Elder Scrolls)

The Dunmer, featured in games like Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, have red, glowing eyes and a fierce determination to overcome struggles. They’re known for their unique cultural practices and volcanic homeland.

Altmer (High Elves in Elder Scrolls)

Characterized by their tall stature and golden skin, the Altmer, or High Elves, are native to the Summerset Isles in Elder Scrolls. They are supremely skilled in magic, considering themselves the most enlightened elves.

Falmer (Snow Elves in Elder Scrolls)

Once known as the Snow Elves, the Falmer have a tragic history; they’ve devolved into a blind, subterranean race. They fiercely defend their dwellings in the depths of Skyrim from any intruders.

Literary Elves

When I talk about literary elves, there’s no bigger name than J.R.R. Tolkien. He created a complex world of elves in Middle-earth, showcased in “The Hobbit”, “The Lord of the Rings”, and “The Silmarillion”. Each type of elf has its own history, culture, and characteristics that fans love to explore.

Quendi (Elves in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth)

The Quendi are what the elves first called themselves when they awoke in Middle-earth; it means ‘those who speak with voices’. In Tolkien’s legendarium, they’re the first and oldest kind of elves, who later split into different kindred based on their choices and fates.


The Noldor are one of the branches of the Quendi and are famed for their knowledge and skill in craftsmanship. They’re known to be fierce and proud, often driven by their pursuit of knowledge and mastery over the world around them. Their story is marked by tragedy and a quest for the recovery of the lost Silmarils.


The Teleri are sea-lovers, often called the Singers by the shore. They lingered by the water during their journey to Valinor and have a deep connection to the sea. They’re characterized by their love for music, beauty, and craftsmanship, specifically in ship-building.


These elves are the Grey Elves, who stayed in Middle-earth and are known for their wisdom and friendliness with other races. They’re lesser known but highly respected, associated with the hauntingly beautiful woods of Doriath.

Elves of Lothlórien (J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth)

Lothlórien’s elves live in a magical forest kingdom, symbolized by its enchanting trees and the splendid Mallorn leaves that shimmer in the wind. They are ruled by Galadriel, a royal Noldor with a reputation for unmatched beauty and a deep knowledge of magic.

Elves of Rivendell (J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth)

In Rivendell, also known as Imladris, the elves have created a refuge for knowledge, beauty, and the arts. Led by Elrond, they play a critical role in the events of both “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings,” offering wisdom and shelter to those on epic quests.

Elves of Mirkwood (J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth)

Finally, the Wood Elves of Mirkwood, ruled by King Thranduil, are more rustic and less grandiose than their kin in Lothlórien or Rivendell. They are known for their stealth and are wary of outsiders, but like all of Tolkien’s elves, they possess a deep-seated love for the natural world.

Frequently Asked Questions

Elves captivate our imagination, displaying a rich variety of characteristics across numerous fantasy realms. Let’s explore some common queries about these enchanting beings.

What are the various elf subraces in Dungeons & Dragons 5e?

In Dungeons & Dragons 5e, elves come in many forms. There’s the woodland Wood Elf, the arcane High Elf, and the mysterious Drow. Each subrace brings its own unique abilities and traits to the gaming table.

Can you list different elf characters in fantasy literature?

Certainly! Legolas from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” is a renowned elf character. Drizzt Do’Urden, a Drow from the “Forgotten Realms” series by R.A. Salvatore, is another fan favorite. They represent just a sliver of the memorable elves in fantasy literature.

What are the distinguishing features of dark elves compared to other elven subraces?

Dark elves, or Drow, are known for their dark skin and white hair. They often live in subterranean societies and tend to have a reputation for being evil and cunning, a contrast to the typical portrayal of elves as benevolent and fair.

How are high elves depicted in fantasy settings?

High elves in fantasy settings are often portrayed as noble and wise, with a natural affinity for magic. They possess keen intellect and a deep cultural heritage that values art and scholarship.

What are some of the elf races found in mythology?

In Norse mythology, you’d find light elves known as “Ljósálfar,” and in Germanic folklore, “Alben” have often been depicted. These mythological elves vary greatly, from benevolent nature spirits to mischievous or even malicious entities.

Which is considered the rarest type of elf in fantasy lore?

The rarest type of elf might be the Avariel, or winged elves. Their rarity is due to their elusive nature and the fact that they’re not commonly found in most fantasy lore, occupying the skies with their majestic wings.