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Sunday, January 5, 2014

Teen Elf, Action Dwarf

A forum thread asking “Why do people like elves and dwarves?” got me thinking about something, and I had a major insight.

Elves are vampires, dwarves are werewolves.

I don’t mean literally (although that might be a fun twist.) But the elven archetype hits a lot of the same notes as the vampire archetype, or at least the vampire in stories from a vampire’s POV. And dwarves as a contrast to elves hit some of the same notes as werewolves in stories told from a werewolf’s point of view.

I instinctively recognized there was something to the elf:vampire analogy a while ago, but now I think I can put it into words. Someone once said, about the popularity of the Twilight series, that teen fans love the Twilight vampires because they get to be teen agers forever. Twilight vampires are angsty, self-absorbed, manipulators. Nothing about them is straightforward: they have all these secrets and desires churning inside them. And the Twilight werewolves, although they do have a general secret, are an obvious contrast to vampires: they’re much more direct, say what they mean, wear their hearts on their sleeve, and even share thoughts with their pack members. Quick contrast table:

Vampires Werewolves
Introverts Extroverts
Self-Absorbed Pack-Oriented
Secret Desires Obvious Emotions
Self-Restrained (maybe) Impulsive
Schemers Bullies
Individualist Community-driven

Of course, some of those traits only apply to specific instances. Only the “good” vampires are self-restrained, with others callously pursuing their secret desires, and only the “bad” werewolves give into their impulsive response to violent emotions and beat their girlfriends. Still, when I watch the movies, the contrast was strong enough that I thought: Really? You’re telling teenage girls that all men are either manipulative sociopaths or pushy bastards, and the best they can hope for is to pick one who promises not to lie too much or beat you too much?

But back on track… what I’m seeing is that vampires are more detached from society and concerned with careful planning to get what they want, while werewolves are more gregarious and prefer direct action. And many depictions of elves and dwarves that I've seen, including in a game, make that same contrast. The elves are the ones who worry about the consequences of their actions and try to find a rational solution to their problems; the dwarves are the ones who rush in, axeblades a swingin’, because they don’t want to wait around while the elves debate the proper course of action.

Elves and vampires are the wine-sipping masterminds who think in shades of grey. Dwarves and werewolves are the beer-swilling action heroes who get stuff done.
Written with StackEdit.


  1. Nice observation. Or more generally, wizards and fighters, the dichotomy at the heart of fantasy.

  2. How funny. Particularly considering I've always preferred werewolves, but am somewhat more likely to play an elf over a dwarf (though I tend to play a halfling ahead of either, or just a simple human)

  3. I know that saying this means I'll lose any sense of respect others might grant me, but teen girls (and the movies) ruined Twilight! Bunch of vapid idiots with their shipping teams; completely missing the New Fairytale aspect of the series... feh, Anne Rice's vampires were better anyways

    Me, I've never been a huge fan of elves or dwarves. I like 'em just fine (gettin' a little sick of those soulless elves), but more as the mysterious Other that aids/hinders the protagonist. Vampires and werewolves are at least former humans

  4. And Halflings are the anachronistic idealized "Modern" Victorian Rustic. How do they fit in?

  5. The point where I am going to (mildly) disagree is about the characterisation of dwarves as extroverted, emotional and impulsive.
    That's the late-D&D caricature that depicts dwarfs like a bunch of angry diminutive Scots. I imagine them more like the (original) tolkienian race: stubborn , reclusive, calculating and taciturn (except when they speak or make songs about their treasures or technical achievements)

    1. I thought the Scottish aspect, at least, was there from the very beginning, being based on Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions. I'd imagine them somewhat like those in Wormy

  6. Elves are Vulcan, Dwarves are Klingon
    Elves are Chaotic but yet are restrained
    Dwarves are Lawful but yet are impulsive
    both have their secret ways.