Tolkien's elves were an ancient race of people that shared Middle-earth with equally fantastic beings like dwarves, hobbits, and wizards (and of course, the mundane race of men). Elegant and immortal, these elves would set the mold still used by fantasy writers today.
Tolkien dipped his hands into early fantasy literature and Germanic folklore for inspiration when crafting his race of elves. In Norse mythology, elves were supernatural beings sometimes associated with nature and ancestor worship that would occasionally interfere in the lives of human beings, for good or ill. Their Anglo-Saxon equivalents were not depicted as quite so ambivalent, with Old English texts usually portraying them as mischeivous or downright malevolent. These myths grew and spread through the centuries, with many different kinds of elves taking prominent roles in the modern folklore of various cultures.
Even today, elves persist in the western world via the Christmas elf of children's folklore. Many parents teach their kids the
Video games have become one of the most common mediums for modern depictions of elves in fiction. Their prominence comes cheifly via fantasy role-playing games, an electronic evolution of tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons, which was itself heavily inspired by Tolkien and the authors that followed his lead.
These elves vary, but more often than not they retain some degree of Tolkien-esque flavor. My favorite example, however, is Dragon Age, a series which attempts to subvert the trope by showing a world in which elves have lost their former glory, cast down and persecuted as second-class citizens by the humans of Ferelden.
My own work has yet to feature elves of any kind, primarily because this trope has become so well trod over the years. If I ever do dip my toes into this one, I'll likely make my own attempt at subverting the traditional role elves play in the story, likely doing away with the word itself. Thus far, the muse hasn't brought me anything that would be conducive to the pointy-eared folk.
As someone who loves mythology and appreciates its influence on literature, however, I do still enjoy reading stories with elves, dwarves, halflings and the like, even if they've been done to death at this point. There's something alluring and fascinating to me about the ideas and themes that permeate through centuries of time across multiple mediums and genres (hence the existence of this blog series), and elves are a perfect example. And yes, I did say multiple genres. Fantasy geeks, don't ever let us science fiction nerds make fun of your elves. We have a few of our own.
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Sundering by Jacqueline Carey
Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn by Tad Williams
The Lord of the Rings
The Dragon Age series
The Elder Scrolls series
The Warcraft series