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Old 01-06-2003, 10:10 PM
Join Date: Jul 1999
Location: The Brink
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Santa's Elves...why aren't they Dwarves?

Here's an odd little question, that perhaps the resident mythology majors, DMs, and Cryptozoologists could help me with...why are Santa Claus' helpers commonly referred to as Elves, when in fact, aside from the pointed ears, they more resemble Dwarves? I mean-tiny guys with beards, who live in the Arctic circle building things all day. Is there some important reason for the difference, or is this just another addition to the Santa Claus legend that Coca Cola and Harper's Weekly made up in 1889, or something like that?

Well, thanks for your time, and sorry for babbling,

Old 01-06-2003, 10:22 PM
Join Date: Mar 1999
Location: Suburbs of Detroit, MI
Posts: 9,859
Now that you mention it, they do seem more life dwarves, don't they? Facial hair on elves is usually a big no-no, while on dwarves it's de rigueur.
Old 01-06-2003, 10:36 PM
Join Date: Dec 2002
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No answer on the elf thing.
See lore for Santa Claus / Coke.
Old 01-06-2003, 11:20 PM
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In Teutonic mythology, elves are skilled craftsmen, I believe conceived of as being somewhat below normal human size.

Dwarves are miners and smiths, rather than artisans, for the most part.

In an amusing turnaround from the past, your concepts of "elf" and "dwarf" are probably being colored by Tolkien -- who was afraid that the Teutonic conceptions would influence his readers as regards his Eldar and Khazad's English racial names.
Old 01-07-2003, 04:24 AM
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Maybe it has to do with curly-toed shoes.
Old 01-07-2003, 06:11 AM
Join Date: Mar 2002
Location: London, England
Posts: 432
I've always thought of them as more gnome-like actually - short, beardy, like tinkering with gadgets, enjoy a spot of fishing in the garden pond... maybe it's a mis-translation of some sort.
Old 01-07-2003, 10:11 AM
Join Date: Mar 2002
Location: KCMO
Posts: 11,117
...why are Santa Claus' helpers commonly referred to as Elves, when in fact, aside from the pointed ears, they more resemble Dwarves?

More resemble dwarves than they resemble what? Elves?

Dwarves have characateristic body proportions, typically full-size torso, full- to large-size head, and short limbs. Midgets typically have standard proportions but on a scale significantly smaller than normal. The depictions I've seen of elves seem to fall somewhere in between, with the addition of pointy ears. They certainly appear distinguishable from dwarves.
Old 01-07-2003, 01:35 PM
Join Date: Mar 1999
Location: New York, NY, USA
Posts: 12,614
I suspect it's a conflation of two things:

Clement Clark Moore's decription of Santa himself (in the famous poem "A Visit From St. Nick", aka, "Twas the night before...") as a "jolly old elf".

The image of elves as "secret helpers" a la the old fairy tale "The Shoemaker and the Elves."
"Sherlock Holmes once said that once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the answer. I, however, do not like to eliminate the impossible. The impossible often has a kind of integrity to it that the merely improbable lacks."
-- Douglas Adams's Dirk Gently, Holistic Detective
Old 01-07-2003, 01:43 PM
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Both elves & dwarves were part of the larger class of fairies. No clear dividing line are usually drawn between the different types of fairy, so some verlap is to be expected.

Also, I suspect translation problems between various countries Xmas stories have something to do with muddling the water.
The Edge... there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over.
~~~~Hunter S. Thompson
Old 01-07-2003, 06:14 PM
Join Date: Aug 2001
Posts: 313
Just chiming in to agree with Polycarp. The concept of elves as being as tall as humans, good with bows, immortal, wise, etc. came mostly from Tolkien (IIRC). Prior to Tolkein, the description of an elf varied based on the culture, but "short" seemed to be a pretty common theme. Check out elves in various old fairy tales.
Old 01-07-2003, 08:09 PM
Join Date: Oct 2002
Posts: 867
For what it's worth, while D&D was criticised as being highly derivitive of Tolkein, most incarnations of it went with the "short" elf theory (except for Dark Sun).

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