The History Of Fantasy: Part 3 – The Aos Si

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Ever wondered where the idea of Elves originated?

Modern fantasy draws from a plethora of influences. We’ve examined the Greek, but what about the celtic and Irish? They are not the only cultures from which we derive modern elves, but as you will see, they are a source of inspiration.

The Irish have a history of what they call the Aos Si, or the Fae folk. Who are they? Across ancient Ireland and the land of the celts were littered something called cairns. These are piles of stones often associated with burial grounds and with the fae. Some believed the fae were immortal beings, almost angelic in nature. To others they were tribes of people connected to the gods. Those who believed this referred to them as the Tuatha De Danann – literally meaning “People of the goddess Danu.” They were a race of gods who were the original inhabitants of the islands of the west, masters of magic and immortal in their life span. Many of these immortal beings were often portrayed as mischievous, as in the case of Shakespeare, or as aloof and above the affairs of mortal man. At the very least they were not to be trifled with. They were to be respected from a distance or avoided altogether depending on your belief.

Where did they come from? That also depends. One belief was they were from beyond the western sea. Sound familiar? A dash of Tolkien anyone?

“A! Elbereth Gilthoniel!

silivren penna míriel

o menel aglar elenath,

Gilthoniel, A! Elbereth!

We still remember, we who dwell

In this far land beneath the trees

The starlight on the Western Seas”

To some they were guardians of the dead, most likely seen on the shortest day of the year when the dead and the living mingled. A little scary perhaps, but then these otherworldly beings were otherworldly for a reason. Lastly, a substantial group of people believed they lived in a world invisible to ours, but coexisting with it. On certain days, or in certain areas these worlds collided. Where they collided cairns were built to mark the crossing. Some believe that Stonehenge marks one such time and place.

There we have it. From such beginnings are derived many humanoid immortal beings that we read about in our fantasy novels. The more you study history and culture, the more creative you can be in designing your own. 

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