The conflict between the elves of the Southlands and the elves who watch over them is shown in the first episodes of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. The elves of this region only just stopped working for Morgoth; to the humans, the conflict is hundreds of years old.
In a way that Tolkien never really shone a light on, it's a fascinating contrast, one that demonstrates the true alienity of daily human cohabitation with elves in a way that he never really shone a light on. However, we'd gone to the land of Numenor, where we were witnessing a crowd riot against elves for the most unrelated reason.
[Ed. note: This article contains spoilers for episode 4 of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.]
Rings of Power goes to a bustling Numenorean square early in the The Great Wave, where a guild craftsman one of the guys who was defeated in the previous episode engages in the traditional art of enthralling people.
Elf workers, plundering your trades! he prophesizes, based on the presence of one elf and one (already jailed) human ally. Workers who don't sleep, dont tire, and dont age! The presence of Galadriel and Halbrands on Numenor is a slippery slope to a total takeover of the Numenorean... economy? By... thousand-year-old low-wage workers?
His words engulf his audience in a derogatory chant of Elf-lover! against their own queen, until they are silenced by an equally brief speech for the opposite position and the sudden appearance of a round of beverages. So much for the people so righteous that the gods gave them a whole blessed island.
This is a dreadful line of thinking. Racism should not have a safe haven in human society. I do not support hating elves or anyone.
There are many more obvious, present, and logical reasons than you would hate elves.
Elves are pretty hateable, actually
The incredible abilities of Tolkiens elves have been a hot topic of discussion recently. And as a Polygons Tolkien expert I keep waiting for someone to ask me why have elves got it so much better than men in the Tolkiens legendarium?
Here are some things you should know if you are a man (or a female man, commonly known as checks notes a woman) in Middle-earth:
- Elves are more physically adept than you in basically every way
- The gods made a special paradise for elves that you are not allowed to visit
- Elves are immortal and you have to die. Like, soon!
Eslves aren't just beautiful, they're also graceful creatures.
Elves are Vulcans
From Tolkiens' elves, to a bunch of nerd minds, and Age of Aquarius thinking, you may trace the Star Trek's emotional detached, pointy-eared racial metaphor with mystic psychic powers.
Early Star Trek is fraught with Vulcan/human prejudice. Spocks human heritage puts him at the center of childhood bullying by Vulcan classmates who believe he will be disqualified from Vulcan standards. In Starfleet, he becomes the focal point of bigotry again, but from humans and not because they think Vulcans would take their jobs.
Characters who find Vulcan mannerisms so unfamiliar that they may be interpreted as offense or disdain develop prejudice against Vulcans. Humans who think humans and Vulcans cannot find common cause. Vulcans who think the same about humans.
This is the exact divide that should exist between men and elves: a cultural conflict that results in a lack of trust.
Why do humans have it so bad in Middle-earth?
Tolkien never portrayed human mortality as a negative aspect in his plays. It was part of the infinite intention of the creator of the universe that those who died would be known only to him and the god of the afterlife. And for a deeply Catholic man, it is a big step to present human imperfection as the blessing of a creator rather than punishment for sin.
Elves have a lot of advantages over humans, but you lowkey don't have free will. All elves are afflicted with a divinely inspired desire for Valinor that eventually eclipses all other desires in their lives. And what they have in physical form is ageing until they become weary ghosts. If you look at it that way, a god-made paradise is less of a bonus and more of a necessity.
Contemporary fantasy readers may be familiar with Dungeons & Dragons, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, or Marvel and DC Comics, where gods either demand mortal worship as their source of power, or seek out mortal worship as a matter of ego. The gods of Middle-earth are not discussed in any way.
The gods of Middle-earth are not sought after nor required worship, even if they dont appear very often. Humans must have faith, not that the gods exist, but that their work is a blessing, and that there is something for them beyond the living struggle of Middle-earth.
Elves have no need of faith in the gods. They can always perceive their divine work within them. And for a story written by a deeply rooted Catholic man, that is the most alien thing about them.
A man who despises the elves for having clear and concrete blessings where he only has faith is a man who despises the gods, which is, as we know from The Silmarillion, where the Numenor plot line is going. Sauron will manipulate the most blessed nation of men into despising their gods and launching a fleet into battle for their own immortality.
It's not about economic worry, but rather about anger at the creator who made elves and humans so different. And thats where elves will take your job fails to suspend belief. Why would an elf want to flip burgers when he can go to heaven?