Sea Elves Picture

In the myths of mankind's interactions with supernatural "others" in our early days, those others are often connected with water; rivers, lakes, springs, and of course the Sea. This was a facet of mythology thousands of years before Tolkien conceived his fictional universe and, as is often the case in his writing, the version he offers us seems as if it were some lost, real-world history from which our diverse myths concerning the sea - its menace and it's allure, it's vast mystery - draw their source. Neptune and Aegir, Calypso and the sirens, norse myths of the immortal lands beyond the Western Sea, sailors' tales of singing mermaids, all are re-iterations in an endless telephone game, of a time when humanity shared the world with the Elves, spoke with them and heard their song, and then slowly saw them depart over the waves, never to return.

Among the elves, I account the Nelyar - the last and most populace of the three tribes, ranked behind the light minyar and the deep Tatyar - in something of a position of cultural unsung heroes; though often overshadowed by the mighty Alfir-like noldor, the various peoples and nations of the Nelyar, in their nature and character, in their connection with natural places in our world - woods, rivers, the sea - in their cheer and their song, most resemble the common image of the "fair folk" that has endured in human mythology, and the influence of Doriath and Cirdan's havens, the Sindar and Nandor, Luthien and Elwing, and the gift-bearing mariners of Tol Erresea upon our ancient ancestors' imagination finds iterations even today in Disney movies like "Tangled" or "the Little Mermaid." In the 'sea elves' of Alqualonde (along with the people of Thingol) Nelyar culture found its highest expression, and they are ever defined by their relationship with the sea and the servants of Ulmo. I like to think that the dual masculine and feminine nature of the sea and water as personified in Osse and Uinen would factor heavily in their cultural aesthetics, with Olwe's crown, the cresting wave, representing the foaming, aggressive, tumultuous energy of the sea, while that twisting nautilus shell-hairstyle represents its maternal, cornucopia-like bounty (the latter I like to imagine - and have designed it as such - as the forerunner, through a long line of cultural borrowing, to the karma helmets of the numenoreans' guild of venturers, remarked to be devotees of Uinen, and really this whole composition is in my imagination something you'd see perhaps while flipping through some massive tome in Armenelos, or Minas Tirith long after (or perhaps even culled from Elrond's collections for the Red Book))

A general thing that I try to retain with my elven designs (as I believe Tolkien tried to preserve in his writing of them) is the sense of these creatures as the "elves" of our collective mythologies, above and beyond their identity as merely "tolkien elves." the early medieval, anglo-saxon lense through which we are presented by Tolkien with the ancient world in which they lived does not have to dictate the aesthetics of that world, relegating everyone in middle-earth to vaguely vikingish tunics and trousers. I am encouraged increasingly to a more primitive, inhuman, children-of-the-forest type picture of the eldar in their early days, and their material culture. Like us they came into the world naked and in a primal state, but are connected to the world in ways we aren't, and engage with it from a place of confidence and affinity rather than fear and enmity. To try and justify the necessity of clothing or architecture for such beings (a subject of some debate to Tolkien himself apparently) I would say they originated more as a creative and decorative impulse than out of necessity to shield themselves against the elements. The weaving of hairs and fibers, braiding and twisting and felting, are to them arts born out of desire to emulate the beauty and texture of the world around them and it's creatures. There should be, I think, a slight element of HR Giger about them; though wondrous to our eyes, the elves should always feel a little alien and uncomfortable to our sensibilities; that twisting bun on her head may well contain living micro-cultures that glow or give off scents, hosted for a while and then loosed into the sea with a plunge.
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