Ylfe, Álfar, Elves - Tom Shippey

Comments by squire, May 18, 2007

This article inhabits a weird parallel universe right next to Eden's article on "Elves". Shippey focuses on the traditional Anglo-Saxon or Norse folk-traditions about Elves; Eden focuses on Tolkien's fictional response to those traditions. Neither trespasses too far onto the other's territory; in fact, transcending courtesy, neither includes the other in its 'Further Reading' list!

According to Shippey, Tolkien's fictional creation of his Elf-tribes, their relation to the light of the West, and their superhuman attributes were all semi-scholarly "solutions" to explain how the various Northern folk traditions began. Eden takes most of this material for granted, moving quickly on to a far more detailed account of Tolkien's fictional Elves'  history and cultural and linguistic characteristics within the legendarium.

Shippey's account is, as usual, clear and concise, though perhaps a bit too short for its scope. He never fails to reconnect the reader to Tolkien's fiction to illustrate his points about Tolkien's scholarly confrontation with the paradox of the good/evil "Ylfe".

So as the Encyclopedia finally finishes up with one last single "Y" entry, the eternal question recurs one last time: why on earth could these two articles not have been combined? At the very least, this one might have been re-titled "Elves: Ylfe, Álfar" to make it clearer what it is about.