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Jay R
2011-07-30, 03:08 PM
I'd like to know when pointed ears became automatic for elves. I've done a little research, but it's not complete.

As near as I can tell, there was never a mention of special ears on elves in the original legends. Arthur Rackham's illustrations virtually always had pointed ears on nonhumans, but there was no mention of it in any books. Influenced by Arthur Rackham (I think), many but not all 20th-century illustrators used pointed ears. Garth Williams had some with pointed ears and some without.

But while illustrations used pointed ears more and more, I'd never read any description of pointy-eared elves.

Wendy Pini's Elfquest starting in 1978 clearly stated that elves had pointed ears. Is that the first clear, unambiguous statement in print?

There's no mention of elven ears in OD&D (and in the only drawing of an elf, you can't see his ears, which implies that it isn't a defining racial characteristic).

So my questions are these:

1. When did people first start stating in print that elves had pointed ears?

2. When did roleplaying game rules start including it?

Trundlebug
2011-07-30, 03:21 PM
You know Elfquest? Sweet, so many fellow fantasy enthusiasts I am acquainted with do not know Elfquest. I like me elves 4' tall, riding wolves with three fingers.

Anyhoo, you can probably point to Tolkien. Though if I recall there it is only alluded to. Haven't read in a while.

Or even better, european mythology concerning Faeries and the Sidhe, often described as 'feral'. Slanted eyes, sharp noses and pointed ears/teeth etc.

I'm sure someone will come along and write an essay for you :)

Ravens_cry
2011-07-30, 03:22 PM
Tolkiens elves had pointed ears. Not the head daggers you see on warcraft elves, but to a certain extent, yes. Also, Victorian fairies had pointed ears (http://www.artpassions.net/cgi-bin/faery.pl?../galleries/new/elf_and_fairy.jpg), at least some of the time.

Jay R
2011-07-30, 03:59 PM
Tolkiens elves had pointed ears.

Can you provide the quotation? I know some illustrators have drawn them with pointed ears, but I don't know of any place where Tolkien wrote that they had them.

As far as I know, Tolkien does not describe elven ears in any story, which I assume he would have done if that had been a racial characteristic. He left some ambiguous notes that people have argued over for years (http://tolkien.slimy.com/essays/Ears.html).

My questions stand. Who (besides Wendy Pini) clearly and straightforwardly wrote that elves had pointed ears, and what was the first RPG that said so. It wasn't Original D&D, so it had to come in sometime.

In ADD 1E, there is no mention of ears in either the description of PC races in the PHB or in the Monster Manual, but both pictures in the Monster Manual show pointed ears, as does the picture on page 122 of the PHB.

WalkingTarget
2011-07-30, 04:01 PM
Tolkiens elves had pointed ears. Not the head daggers you see on warcraft elves, but to a certain extent, yes. Also, Victorian fairies had pointed ears (http://www.artpassions.net/cgi-bin/faery.pl?../galleries/new/elf_and_fairy.jpg), at least some of the time.

Well, there is one thing mentioned in a letter he wrote that implies that they are more pointed than .

There are also a lot of references to his Elves and men being physically the same race (members of one group mistaken for the other, etc).

My take on it is that his elves' ears may have a slight pointy tendency, but not so much as to be an identifying mark. If anybody's doing any identification of elves, they generally note something about the light in their eyes or how musical their voices are. Ears don't get mentioned.

But, yeah. Pointy-eared elves/fairies/etc. have been around much longer than Tolkien in any case.

Edit - tricksy [S]hobbitses ninjas

Shadowknight12
2011-07-30, 04:03 PM
Tolkien said that his elves had ears like leaves. Everyone assumed he meant lanceolate (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lanceolate) leaves (find them here (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e8/Leaf_morphology.svg), fourth row from the top, second column from the left) so that was what artists represented, and that's what stuck.

EDIT: It's actually very likely he was going by folklore here, saying that the Fae (which is what elves were part of, in some European mythologies), being so attuned to the forest, had plant-like characteristics, including leaf-like ears.

Ravens_cry
2011-07-30, 04:17 PM
A lot of those leaves could be considered "pointed" and those that aren't are either unusual enough as leaf shapes that further description would be necessary (like bipinette or digitate) or are shaped like human ears, like reniform, and therefore not needing a special description as leaf shaped.
Humans show a, at least from our perspective, wide variety of features. Elves could still be considered members of the human species, the human race, while still having unusual ears. Ears that hair, hat or other head adornment could easily hide, as Spock showed in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

Drfaust
2011-07-30, 04:55 PM
I would say given the major influence folklore had on LoTR it defiantly has mythological roots. Its certainly not Norse. Though Norse mythology set the archetype of dark and light elves they where all very similar to dwarfs. I know the name Gandalf came from the Prose Edda.

It seems to me the pointy ears actually came from fairy lore when it melded with lore about elves. Tolkien seems to have intertwined them in the birth of high fantasy.

randomhero00
2011-07-30, 05:18 PM
Pointed ears are definitely not as noticeable as you might think, just as someone mentioned above. My sister, I swear to gawd, has elf ears(pointed) as well as looks fairly elven. But very few people have ever noticed. And those that do are usually into fantasy.

Anderlith
2011-07-30, 07:20 PM
Look at Humans & elves like dog breeds; Two breeds from the same race.

The German Shepherds have naturally pointy ears, the beagle does not. Same species, different breed

NowhereMan583
2011-07-30, 07:58 PM
In the tradition & time period in which Tolkien wrote, "elf" was synonymous with "fairy". Tolkien simply preferred the sort of fairies one saw in medieval romances (tall, noble, powerful) to the little winged pixies that the Victorians liked so much, and so that's how his elves were. "Fairy" and "elf" now mean different things -- largely because of Tolkien's influence -- but in the past the two myths cross-pollinated. Any pre-Tolkien tradition that describes fairies as having pointed ears can be carried over to modern depictions of elves.

gkathellar
2011-07-30, 09:01 PM
In the tradition & time period in which Tolkien wrote, "elf" was synonymous with "fairy". Tolkien simply preferred the sort of fairies one saw in medieval romances (tall, noble, powerful) to the little winged pixies that the Victorians liked so much, and so that's how his elves were. "Fairy" and "elf" now mean different things -- largely because of Tolkien's influence -- but in the past the two myths cross-pollinated. Any pre-Tolkien tradition that describes fairies as having pointed ears can be carried over to modern depictions of elves.

Tolkein's elves are drawn straight out of the godlike ślfe of Norse mythology, not the fairy myths of Western Europe. That said, you are probably correct that Tolkein's description of elven ears as "leaf-shaped" was likely influenced by Victorian and post-Victorian fables.

Serpentine
2011-07-31, 12:18 AM
I'm quite certain it has its origins way back in medieval folklore. I tentatively hypothesise that it's related to the "wrongness" that various fey things tended to have - cleft hoofs, or webbed fingers, or tusks, and so on. Pointed ears could easily fit in with that.

VeliciaL
2011-07-31, 04:46 AM
This is a shot in the dark, since I'm not at all knowledgeable, but could it have related to various descriptions of the devil/devils? Since just about anything "wrong" was kinda equated with demonic back then.

Serpentine
2011-07-31, 09:18 AM
I don't think so. I think this is older than Christianisation, or at least separate, and/or the influence going both ways.

Jay R
2011-07-31, 09:55 AM
I guess I'm not communicating. Can anybody cite an actual written source (not a drawing) before Elfquest that mentions pointy ears?

Secondly, when was the first mention of pointed elf ears in RPG rules?

If you know of a printed reference, please let me know.

Shadowknight12
2011-07-31, 10:45 AM
Sigh. Google is your friend (http://forums.lotro.com/showthread.php?403143-Elves-Ears).


Letter 27 in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Humphrey Carpenter with assistance from Christopher Tolkien.

That's for your first question.

I can't help you with the second question because I'm not a rpg connoisseur. Also, you should rephrase that enquiry because "elves have pointy ears" is unlikely to have ever been a rule in any RPG.

Urpriest
2011-07-31, 10:50 AM
Sigh. Google is your friend (http://forums.lotro.com/showthread.php?403143-Elves-Ears).



That's for your first question.

I can't help you with the second question because I'm not a rpg connoisseur. Also, you should rephrase that enquiry because "elves have pointy ears" is unlikely to have ever been a rule in any RPG.

It's probably a rule in FATAL...I bet you have to roll for ear angle...

Shadowknight12
2011-07-31, 10:58 AM
It's probably a rule in FATAL...I bet you have to roll for ear angle...

I wouldn't be surprised. FATAL is like an OCD, depraved neighbour that gets brought up whenever something ludicrous is mentioned.

Jay R
2011-07-31, 12:32 PM
Sigh. Google is your friend (http://forums.lotro.com/showthread.php?403143-Elves-Ears).

That's for your first question.

Thank you for citing your source. I've already cited both that quote and the other ones from Tolkien arguing in the other direction (http://tolkien.slimy.com/essays/Ears.html). If you take either half of the available citations from Tolkien, you can be pretty sure in one way or the other, depending on which half you took. But all these Tolkien quotes taken together are ambiguous. He never clearly states that elves have pointed ears, but he implies both that they do and that they don't at various times.

In any event, he certainly never mentioned them in the descriptions of elves in The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, etc., when describing elves.


I can't help you with the second question because I'm not a rpg connoisseur. Also, you should rephrase that enquiry because "elves have pointy ears" is unlikely to have ever been a rule in any RPG.

Rules nonetheless include descriptions of races. For instance, the AD&D 2E Monstrous Manual has a two paragraph description that mentions complexion, height, weight, hair color, eye color, features, complexion, build, and clothing preferences, but not ears:


High elves, the most common type of elf, are somewhat shorter than men, never growing much over than 5 feet tall. Male elves usually weigh between 90 and 120 pounds, and females weigh between 70 and 100 pounds. Most high elves are dark-haired, and their eyes are a beautiful, deep shade of green. They posses infravision up to 60 feet. The features of an elf are delicate and finely chiseled.

Elves have very pale complexions, which is odd because they spend a great deal of time outdoors. They tend to be slim, almost fragile. Their pale complexion and slight builds are the result of a constitution that is weaker than man's. Elves, therefore, always subtract 1 point from their initial Constitution score. Though they are not as sturdy as humans, elves are much more agile, and always add 1 point to their initial Dexterity scores. Elven clothing tends to be colorful, but not garish. They often wear pastel colors, especially blues and greens. Because they dwell in forests, however, high elves often wear greenish grey cloaks to afford them quick camouflage.

I'm trying to figure out when pointed ears became an automatic part of how we view elves, as important to mention as their eyes, height, complexion, etc.

Shadowknight12
2011-07-31, 12:46 PM
In any event, he certainly never mentioned them in the descriptions of elves in The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, etc., when describing elves.

That is correct. I don't have access to his 27th letter, but I would presume it's fairly unequivocal. There's no implication there. As far as I understand it, he said it plainly.


Rules nonetheless include descriptions of races. For instance, the AD&D 2E Monstrous Manual has a two paragraph description that mentions complexion, height, weight, hair color, eye color, features, complexion, build, and clothing preferences, but not ears:

This is not the norm for all RPGs. Some would have you believe that descriptions are rules. This is not always the case, since in many occasions (not necessarily the more modern RPGs) descriptions were largely left up to the player, as they were (rightly) considered merely cosmetic. If you want to know which RPG had pointy ears for elves as actual rules (that is, with the associated implication that diverging from the stated description was impossible without DM fiat), you'll have to rephrase your question. If you merely wish to know when the words "pointy ears" were first printed anywhere near the word "elves" on an RPG, that's a completely different matter.


I'm trying to figure out when pointed ears became an automatic part of how we view elves, as important to mention as their eyes, height, complexion, etc.

This is not the same as saying "part of the rules," FYI.

WalkingTarget
2011-07-31, 01:35 PM
That is correct. I don't have access to his 17th letter, but I would presume it's fairly unequivocal. There's no implication there. As far as I understand it, he said it plainly.

I take it you mean letter 27? Letter 17 is about the suitability of The Hobbit as a children's bedtime story (along with a discussion on the proper plural of "dwarf").

It is also something to think about, however, that letter 27 (where he mentions hobbits' ears being "only slightly pointed and 'elvish'") was written in 1938 to his American publishers. This, in my mind, leaves things open to the possibility that he's using a word (elvish) in a sense that the recipient would take it to mean, not necessarily how his own personal creations look. In particular, his comment about the ear shape was in response to hobbits as "a kind of 'fairy' rabbit as some of [his] British reviewers seem to fancy" - which might be imagined as having long rabbit-like ears - a confusion stemming from a name the Trolls call Bilbo, similar to how Twoflower wound up with 4 eyes on the cover of The Colour of Magic rather than simply having glasses.

Serpentine
2011-07-31, 01:44 PM
I guess I'm not communicating. Can anybody cite an actual written source (not a drawing) before Elfquest that mentions pointy ears?Drawings are valid sources, especially when it comes to appearances. I'm not sure why you're so against them.
Interestingly, neither of the books on fairies I own say anything about ears, although they have several pictures with pointy ones.
You might be able to find something in the costume notes of Midsummer Night's Dream.
Wikipedia suggests evidence from Victorian times, at least.

Shadowknight12
2011-07-31, 01:48 PM
I take it you mean letter 27? Letter 17 is about the suitability of The Hobbit as a children's bedtime story (along with a discussion on the proper plural of "dwarf").

That is correct. Post edited.


It is also something to think about, however, that letter 27 (where he mentions hobbits' ears being "only slightly pointed and 'elvish'") was written in 1938 to his American publishers. This, in my mind, leaves things open to the possibility that he's using a word (elvish) in a sense that the recipient would take it to mean, not necessarily how his own personal creations look. In particular, his comment about the ear shape was in response to hobbits as "a kind of 'fairy' rabbit as some of [his] British reviewers seem to fancy" - which might be imagined as having long rabbit-like ears - a confusion stemming from a name the Trolls call Bilbo, similar to how Twoflower wound up with 4 eyes on the cover of The Colour of Magic rather than simply having glasses.

Does it really matter? It's not like we can actually ask him what he meant. We have to interpret the evidence we have, not speculate over Tolkien's intentions. Someone who dislikes the notion of elves having pointed ears (and this goes double if he or she is a fan of Tolkien's elves) will claim pretty much what you're claiming, while someone who likes the idea of elves having pointed ears will use some of the arguments that came before.

Let us nip this in the bud, shall we? There's the evidence the OP was after, now all we need is for this thread to catch the attention of a hardcore RPG fan who can answer the second part of his question.

WalkingTarget
2011-07-31, 02:02 PM
Does it really matter? It's not like we can actually ask him what he meant. We have to interpret the evidence we have, not speculate over Tolkien's intentions. Someone who dislikes the notion of elves having pointed ears (and this goes double if he or she is a fan of Tolkien's elves) will claim pretty much what you're claiming, while someone who likes the idea of elves having pointed ears will use some of the arguments that came before.

I'm fine with saying that there is no definitive resolution. Recognizing ambiguity for what it is instead of insisting on a hard line stance is all I'm going for (sorry if that's not apparent).

I've got a long history on these boards (mostly in the Media section) of pointing out what Tolkien (and Lovecraft, and others) didn't say. It's like dwarf women and beards. I've recently seen references to it being mentioned in one of the History of Middle-earth books (which I don't have access to), but it's never stated outright in the stuff he published or in his Letters. What he did say allows for the assumption to be made, though.

Shadowknight12
2011-07-31, 02:09 PM
I'm fine with saying that there is no definitive resolution. Recognizing ambiguity for what it is instead of insisting on a hard line stance is all I'm going for (sorry if that's not apparent).

I've got a long history on these boards (mostly in the Media section) of pointing out what Tolkien (and Lovecraft, and others) didn't say. It's like dwarf women and beards. I've recently seen references to it being mentioned in one of the History of Middle-earth books (which I don't have access to), but it's never stated outright in the stuff he published or in his Letters. What he did say allows for the assumption to be made, though.

And that's perfectly fine. I'm just not really interested in this thread devolving into the denigration of individual tastes. And I can't just leave, I'm curious about where it first appeared on an RPG too! :smalltongue:

Eric Tolle
2011-07-31, 02:16 PM
For what it's worth, here's a bit of dialogue from the OldTrek episode "This Side of Paradise", aired March 2, 1967:

Kirk: "You're an overgrown jackrabbit, an elf with a hyperactive thyroid."

So we can see that like everything else in rpgs, elves having pointed ears stems from Star Trek. :smallcool:

Wardog
2011-07-31, 02:22 PM
Tolkein's elves are drawn straight out of the godlike ślfe of Norse mythology, not the fairy myths of Western Europe. That said, you are probably correct that Tolkein's description of elven ears as "leaf-shaped" was likely influenced by Victorian and post-Victorian fables.

Western fairies could be godlike as well, e.g. the Tuatha Dť Danann / Sidhe.

And according to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fairy#Etymology), "the word fairy derives ... ultimately from Late Latin fata (one of the personified Fates)"

(Not that this answers the OP one way or the other).

Jay R
2011-07-31, 08:13 PM
Drawings are valid sources, especially when it comes to appearances. I'm not sure why you're so against them.
Interestingly, neither of the books on fairies I own say anything about ears, although they have several pictures with pointy ones.
You might be able to find something in the costume notes of Midsummer Night's Dream.
Wikipedia suggests evidence from Victorian times, at least.

I'm not opposed to it; I've already used it. Pointed ears are rare before Arthur Rackham at the turn of the century, and in large part due to his influence, are quite common afterwards. There are round ears on the elf Goldy in the 1930s cartoon of King Midas; there are both round ears and pointed ears in The Giant Golden Book of Elves and Fairies, and pointy ears are much more common, published in 1951. Based on this evidence, it's clear that pointed ears were at least a common motif, but not a universal one.

That much can be learned from the drawings. But a drawing shows that a thing exists, and that this artist uses it; it cannot show that it is universal. I know that they were common in the 20th century, and that everyone thinks all elves have pointy ears now. What I'm trying to track down is when we made the switch from "common" to "universal". One of the reasons I'm doing this is that nobody I played D&D with in the 70s thoughts elves automatically had pointed ears. So I'm looking for that last turning point.


For what it's worth, here's a bit of dialogue from the OldTrek episode "This Side of Paradise", aired March 2, 1967:

Kirk: "You're an overgrown jackrabbit, an elf with a hyperactive thyroid."

So we can see that like everything else in rpgs, elves having pointed ears stems from Star Trek. :smallcool:

Thank you -- a clear, unambiguous quote. So by 1967, the connection has been in writing, even though my experience shows is isn't universal yet.


This is not the norm for all RPGs. Some would have you believe that descriptions are rules. This is not always the case, since in many occasions (not necessarily the more modern RPGs) descriptions were largely left up to the player, as they were (rightly) considered merely cosmetic. If you want to know which RPG had pointy ears for elves as actual rules (that is, with the associated implication that diverging from the stated description was impossible without DM fiat), you'll have to rephrase your question. If you merely wish to know when the words "pointy ears" were first printed anywhere near the word "elves" on an RPG, that's a completely different matter.

...

This is not the same as saying "part of the rules," FYI.

My original question was "When did roleplaying game rules start including it?" If it's mentioned in the rules, then the rules include it, as any gamer I've met uses the phrase.

Ravens_cry
2011-07-31, 11:26 PM
I have not seen the entire thing, but White Box D&D (http://monstersandmanuals.blogspot.com/2008/09/white-box-volume-i-men-magic-first.html)elves do not seem to have pointed ears. AD&D elves (http://mikemonaco.wordpress.com/2009/11/19/much-love-for-half-orcs/) did however.

Fhaolan
2011-08-01, 09:08 AM
Thank you -- a clear, unambiguous quote. So by 1967, the connection has been in writing, even though my experience shows is isn't universal yet.

Given the years involved, you're not dealing with 'writing' as much as 'publicly consumed media'.

Specifically, the Rankin/Bass christmas specials, starting with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in 1964. In that, the elves are depicted with distinctly pointed ears. As far as I can tell, a large number of American cartoon/comic/illustration from that point on had 'elves' shown in the same basic form.

Now, where did those artists get that idea? Rankin/Bass was a surprisingly multi-cultural company. Rankin and Bass themselves were American, the voice actors were Canadian, they pulled a *lot* from northern European legends for their stories, and the artists were pretty much all in Japan.

It's that last bit that I think is significant. The puppets for the stop-motion animation were all made in Japan. Many of the artists went on to become very well-known figures in the anime industry.

Because of this, it's possible your research is hitting a wall because you may be looking in the wrong place. The idea of elves having pointed ears may not come from a European source, but be an import from an Oriental source that just happened to infiltrate Western pop culture at just the right time.

In any case, it might be worth-while to see if you can track down the instructions given to the artists by Rankin/Bass to see how detailed they were about the visual appearance of the puppets. If they describe the ears, then it's a question of where Rankin/Bass got the idea from. If it *doesn't* though, that means the artists improvised and pulled from their own cultural background.