Elves (singular: Elf) are creatures of Norse mythology. The elves were originally imagined as a race of minor nature and fertility gods, who are often pictured as youthful-seeming men and women of great beauty, living in forests and underground places, like caves, or in wells and springs. They have often been portrayed to be either long-lived or immortal and as beings of magical powers. 


The English word elf is from Old English ælf (also ylf), from a Proto-Germanic *albo-z, *albi-z, whence also Old Norse álfr, Middle High German elbe. In Middle English, until the 14th century, elf was the masculine, while the corresponding feminine was elven (Old English ælfen, from *albinnja). The word's ultimate etymology may be the Proto-Indo-European root *albh- meaning "white", from which also stems the Latin albus "white". Connection to the Rbhus, semi-divine craftsmen in Indian mythology, has also been suggested (OED).

In this case, a Latin etymological root cognate would be labor. Elf can be pluralised as both elves and elfs. Something associated with elves or the qualities of elves is described by the adjectives elven, elvish, elfin or elfish. According to a convention of modern fantasy, the 'v' in elven or elvish refers to human-sized elves (who correspond more closely to those of the old Germanic paganism), whereas the f in elfin or elfish refers to tiny-sized elfs (who correspond more closely to the folklore of the Renaissance and Romantic eras).

Norse Mythology

In Norse mythology, two kinds of elves exist:

Light Elves

In Norse paganism, Light Elves were beautiful creatures and were considered to be “guardian angels”. The god Freyr, were the ruler of Alfheim, the home of the light elves. In terms of hierarchy, Light elves were minor gods of nature and fertility; they could help or hinder, humans with their knowledge of magical powers. They also often delivered an inspiration to art or music.

Dark Elves

Been the obscure counterpart of the Light Elves, the Dark Elves resided in Svartálfheim. The Dark Elves hated the sun and it's sunlight, because if they were touched or exposed to it they would immediately turn into stone. They use to annoy and threaten humans, to the point that nightmares were thought to be produced by the Dark Elves. These Dark Elves were called mare. A mare would sit on a sleeping person’s chest and whisper bad dreams to haunt the person. These elves could also haunt animals, especially horses.

In Popular Culture


  • House-Elves appear as servants of typically-wealthy, pureblood households in the Harry Potter series. They possess magic stronger than that of wizards, do not possess wands and are completely subservient to their masters. A large group of House-Elves work in the kitchens of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and are responsible for preparing the meals and cleaning the dormitories.
    • Dobby the House-Elf appears in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. He is killed in the latter book of the series.
  • Elves are among the primary races seen in The Lord of the Rings series.
    • The Elves possessed the power of the Three Rings, part of the Great Rings given to three races, including Dwarves and Men.


  • Dark Elves

    Dark Elves in Thor: The Dark World

    Dark Elves appear in the 2013 film Thor: The Dark World, under the command of Malekith the Accursed.
  • Dobby appears in the films Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1.

Video Games

  • Dark Elves appear as a playable race in The Elder Scrolls roleplaying game series.
  • Dobby is playable in both LEGO Harry Potter games.

Comic books

  • Dark Elves appear as recurring antagonists in Thor-related titles in Marvel Comics.



  • Creatures with similar appearance and traits to elves are referred to as sprites.