The high elves have, compared to the forest-dwelling variants, approach to what would be a major luxury – due to their magical skills. In this post, I’ll share my thoughts about how to achieve much with magic instead of present-day technology.
About high elves
I tend to see the high elf archetype as a theoretical scenario of technical development in a world where magic exists and is the source of (almost) any advancement, instead of technology. Authors can use this to various ends for their story – from just giving them a life in comfort comparable to ours to things even many of us won’t dream of, and anything between. If they take that route, the high elves can blur the line between sci-fi and fantasy.
High elven cities
The defining difference tends to be that a high elf population lives in towns and cities and not just in the wilds or small villages. They can get a lot of variety in their population – and by them, take a fantasy spin on the same issues our civilization faced or faces at different times in history or present (wealth divide, social status, quality of life in a village vs. a town, etc.).
What I’ve realized is that, even in our history, cities were not all gold and glitter for a long time, with some exceptions. Hygiene could still be a major issues before some decent system of plumbing and sewers was created. And while gravity can do much (you can ‘power’ a water distribution by having a reservoir above the town and let the gravity do the hard work), there’s still a lot going on in those modern systems that requires external source of power – electricity.
Now, it’s not likely that elves would have that, so all that stuff would need to be either power naturally (gravity, as mentioned) or by magic.
While the reality can be a source of inspiration to some degree (water- or wind-powered mills, for example), they can only do so much.
Which is where magic comes in.
In my own approach, I’ve based much of (high) elven technology on an adjusted concept of geothermal energy. In our reality, geothermal energy uses Earth’s energy from deep below (where the temperatures are higher) as a source of power. I’ve merged it with the concept of magical ley lines (taking inspiration from Warcraft universe).
In my approach, these ‘ley lines’ (even though I don’t use thet term) and the planet’s energy are connected. The elves then use their magical technology to harness this energy in their homes – to power lights or stoves, to have warm water for bathing, and/or to heat their house in cold weather (aided by magical ways of thermal insulation as an inspiration by today’s low-energy houses). There can be further uses such as powering defensive spells around buildings of importance (town halls, prisons) or those who can afford such technology (typically the nobles).
Another potential use is powering portal networks for fast travel (in many cases, portals are very power-hungry magic, more so on larger distances).
Divide and conflict
As I said, affordability of such technology can become a part of the setting – creating a divide in living comfort of people depending on their income. This can be used for various purposes – to show the higher classes being dependant on technology (and struggle should they face life without them) or as a way to further define the struggle of the lower classes.
It can also be used to show differences between the high elves and the other races in the fictional universe, show the difference in their living conditions.
Major class divisons had led to conflicts several times in our history – which means they’re valid plot concept for fantasy as well. Another potential source of conflict is when the technology is something only a few people understand – which might lead to conflict if someone believes they’re inentionally keeping this knowledge to themselves to control its availability and secure their high income.
Or, if you want to give a fantasy coat to what’s usually a Sci-Fi plot: what if someone fears using such technology can harm the planet?
Everything is possible?
When delving into this archetype, one should probably set some rules early in their work regarding what is possible and what it not to avoid inconsistencies and plot holes. This should be done with the greater story in mind (especially the magic system and what limits it imposes).
I believe this archetype allows for a lot of potential uses and thus alot of complexity in stories that are on the larger end of the scale – which also bears risk of info dumps when these ‘systems’ are introduced. Another risk is word choice – which should reflect the setting. 21st century language won’t really fit there – and while it can be overlooked in indirect speech, it should always be kept in mind for direct speech.
I’ll wrap it up here. Feel free to share your opinions and insights – whether from forging your own stories or from books you’ve read.