Battle of the Elves: North Pole Versus Middle Earth

By | December 15, 2018

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Rivendell, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)/image from Stack Exchange

These days, elves are usually thought of as either the toymakers of the North Pole or the archers of Middle Earth, though someone with a sweet tooth might think of Keebler’s cookie-makers. While the Keebler variety bears a strong resemblance to Santa’s helpers, the only feature they have in common with the elves of Tolkien’s novels are their pointed ears. Which begs the question, which elf is the true elf?

The most logical way to determine this would be to simply find out which elf came first. Tolkien-inspired elves appear commonly in role-playing games – both the video and tabletop variety, but the Middle Earth elves make their first appearance in The Hobbit, published in 1937, and then more prominently in the 1954 sequel trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. However, the idea that elves were once great beings was established in his earlier writings, beginning in 1916, which were published posthumously in the 1980s as The Book of Lost Tales.  

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Clement Moore’s Then Night Before Christmas/image from Goodreads

The association of elves with Christmas, on the other hand, dates back as far as 1822, when Clement Clark Moore referred to Santa Claus as “a right jolly old elf” in his classic poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” more widely known as “The Night Before Christmas.” Of course, his description of St. Nick does not resemble the North Pole elves at all. In 1856, Louisa May Alcott completed a booked called Christmas Elves; however, this book was never published. The first mention of toy-making elves to be published was a poem entitled “The Wonders of Santa Claus” in an 1857 edition of Harper’s Weekly. Then in 1873, an illustration titled “The Workshop of Santa Claus” which depicted Santa surrounded by toys and elves appeared in another magazine called Godey’s Lady’s Book