High Elves, Dark Elves, All Elves

Central to the struggle in the Tyrion and Teclis trilogy is the conflict between High Elves and Dark Elves. We all know what that means, don’t we? High Elves are glittering and noble, proud and good. Dark Elves are decadent and wicked, drugged out and crazy, given to torture and malice. They are as different as two peoples can be, aren’t they?

Actually, I don’t think so. I think they are exactly the same people. They are just the products of two very different societies. I believe that in every High Elf is a potential Dark Elf, and in every Dark Elf there is the seed of a High Elf.

Consider this. They were all one people once, before the coming of Chaos, before Aenarion and the Godslayer, before Morathi and Malekith. There once were only Elves. There were no High Elves and no Dark Elves. They had their regional cultures for sure, and they followed different gods at times, but all of them recognised Aenarion as their King and the Everqueen as their Queen. The Elves split at the time of Aenarion when he drew the Black Sword from the Altar of Khaine. He had already forged a martial culture, turned the Elves into a warrior nation. The furthest extreme of the militarised culture he created is one of the roots of Dark Elf nation of Naggaroth. It has since been shaped and honed and refined by the personalities of two of the most powerful and ruthless beings ever to live in the Warhammer world: Malekith and his mother Morathi. From Malekith comes martial discipline, from Morathi, decadence, a love of dark sorcery and the worship of ancient and sinister gods.

In the meantime, Ulthuan went a different road. When Malekith failed to pass through the Sacred Flame of Asuryan and the Princes elected a new Phoenix King, they dug the foundations of a more open, multi-polar society. The wars between Naggaroth and Ulthuan that followed caused both nations to define themselves in opposition to each other. The High Elves made themselves into the opposite of their enemies because they wanted to claim the moral high ground.

Elves are not human. They look a little like human beings. They are more beautiful and much longer lived but they are not entirely like us. They instinctively understand magic. They feel things more keenly. They exist in a heightened exalted state. Most of the time it is like they are slightly drunk or on drugs. They feel things very intensely and often with a strangeness of emphasis to the human eye. This is true of both Asur and Druchi. They have far more in common with each other than they have differences but one of the things about them is that they take things to extremes. Their emotions drive them to it. Once the Elves set their feet on a path, they follow it all the way. The High Elves are going to drive themselves to be noble and true. The Dark Elves are going to excel in decadence and savagery. In some ways though, they are playing a role. All of this is the outcome of choices they have made.

Their societies are also shaped by their life expectancy. An elf lives much longer than anyone in our world will, and our life expectancies are far longer than those of a human who lives in the Warhammer World. In the Old World human lives must be much shorter than even those in our own Middle Ages. Elves have to deal with the long term consequences of their acts. They plan on living to have to do so.

Dark Elf society is particularly shaped by two elves who have lived longer than almost anybody else in the Warhammer world: Morathi and Malekith. They have been there from the beginning. From them, as far as the Dark Elves are concerned, flow all power, all authority, all riches. Their personalities have shaped the nation. They are mother and father to it in a very real sense, gigantic parental figures who have always been there and whom it is always unthinkable to imagine ever not being there. Big Brother (and Big Sister) is very definitely watching, all the time, everywhere. There are vast networks of spies and informers and in some ways every Druchii is co-opted into the system. They are rewarded for betraying your kin and companions.

And this is the true source of the very real differences between the two Elvish nations. The High Elves live in a land where no one has ultimate power. Rulership rests on the consent of the ruled. The Dark Elves live in a tyranny, their lives shaped by two powerful semi-divine immortals. I strongly suspect that a High Elf born in Ulthuan and raised in Naggaroth would be a Dark Elf, and a Druchii headed in the reverse direction would be an Asur. In Blood of Aenarion one of the characters is a Dark Elf sent to Ulthuan as an adult. He is changed by the experience, fatally as it turns out. He provides what I hope is an interesting commentary on the strengths and weaknesses of the two systems.

Blood of Aenarion is on the long list for the David Gemmell Legend Award this year. You can vote here.

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19 Replies to “High Elves, Dark Elves, All Elves”

  1. I agree with this, particularly the bit about “a High Elf born in Ulthuan and raised in Naggaroth would be a Dark Elf, and a Druchii headed in the reverse direction would be an Asur”, with one caveat – the prejudices of those around them. If the parentage of the elf were known, they would never be allowed to develop as a normal part of either society (an elf with Druchii parents would probably be exiled from Ulthuan, and an elf with Asur parents would certainly be enslaved in Naggaroth).

    But yes, if the parentage were not known, the elf would certainly develop according to the culture, not parentage (nurture, not nature). These aren’t Orcs and Dwarfs – both cultures are Elven. Each contains some essence of the other, no matter how much they try to repress it.
    I confess I’ve not yet read Blood of Aenarion (waiting for the paperback) but I loved your earlier Warhammer work so am very much looking forward to reading it!

    1. Thanks Fredric. Perhaps some day I will get there. I would need to talk to the folks in Nottingham to pick up the latest theories on Ariel and Orion before I pontificated about such things!

      1. I seriously considered Dwarfs when I first had yearnings for Fantasy, and I role-played a dwarf for many years on the Lord of the Rings Fanatics Forums, so I suppose they are my basic go-to fantasy race, but I’m a Dark Elf player by trade (as it were).

  2. I must admit, you got me thinking about Jack Kirby’s New Gods, there, and especially Orion, the son of Thanos, sorry, Darkseid, raised by the New Gods. I’m looking forward to reading this one…

    1. I bought the Fourth World first volume just before Xmas, Michael. Classic stuff. Weirdest thing is that I can remember reading most of it the first time around in 1971 or thereabouts.

  3. I hope the next Dark Elves armybook will orient itself by this perspective. The 7th edition background was a bit “too evil” in my opinion, if you know what I mean (binding the souls of slaves to the city-walls, so they can hear their screams all the time … seriously?).

    It just wasn’t believable anymore. I get that the Druchii have a very harsh, militaristic society and openly enjoy their cruelty (whereas High Elves suppress it), but the 7th edition background was just too much. They were portrayed so over-the-top-evil that it destroyed all credibility.

    What makes a good villain a good villain, is that some parts of his/her personality are in the grey area, so the reader can somewhat empathize (not always of course). A loving family father, who cares deeply for his offspring, but raids villages and slaughters innocents without remorse and mercy, for example.

    1. I agree with you about what makes good villains, Andreas. I’ve always tried to present every character as if they were the hero of the story at least while you are in that person’s point of view.

      1. And you did a great job at that (in my opinion at least). Let’s just hope the author of the next Dark Elves armybook takes a page from your books and portrays the Druchii in a more “realistic” way.

        Greetings from Austria by the way, I’m a long time fan of your Warhammer books 🙂

          1. I have been living in Vienna for the last few years. Ironically, since I moved here I haven’t done any sightseeing (well, with the exception of “Schloss Schönbrunn”, because it’s within walking distance of my flat ;-)).

          2. I can understand the whole no sight-seeing thing. Same thing happened to me in Prague. I actually enjoy having visitors because showing them round reminds me of what a lovely place it is :).

  4. Hello William. I started playing WFRP campaign for Dark Elves and found your book and this tread while looking for some helping information. Maybe you could answer my question: whether or not high elf could be enslaved by darks and live for some significant time as a slave.
    Thank you for your book!

    1. Hey Kamilla,

      I strongly suspect that a high elf captured by the Dark Elves would have a very short life-expectancy most of which would involve torture. That said, I see no reason why a High Elf might not be spared for various reasons. I once planned a story about enslaved high elves being forced to fight in gladiatorial arenas for the amusement of their druchii captors.

  5. Good evening, Mr. King, I just wanted to say I love your Tyrion and Teclis trilogy and how well you depicted both Dark and High Elves. I think your writing really makes them shine both as a race and as different characters. aside from the more famous ones I particularly loved Archmage Belthania! I liked her so much I made my Player Character from a Warhammer based RPG as one of her apprentices! Other than giving you my thanks for this wonderful books I wanted to know, if you red them, your opinion on the recent background advance Games Workshop id making with the Return of Nagash book and the depiction of Tyrion, Teclis and Malekith presented there.

    I sincerely hope to read some other work of yours from the Warhammer World!

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