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 Elfquest and the Lack of Cake

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Davrille

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PostSubject: Elfquest and the Lack of Cake   Wed Dec 07, 2016 4:02 pm

This is an essay I wrote for the Livejournal community "elfquest" back in 2006. I found it poking around an old fanclub email list, and thought some folks might find it interesting.

Elfquest and the Lack of Cake

Part One
Some months ago, I ordered copies of the original comic series: the last four issues. Purely for nostalgia. A few weeks after that, I was talking with a friend of mine** about writing and characterization, and she used Elfquest as an example of a story having an "icing" layer, and a "cake" layer. The "icing" is the obvious story; the "cake" is the deeper meaning and questions the author has put into the story. Up until the last five issues, June said, the comic had a hefty chunk of "cake" to go with the "icing". After that, however, the "cake" disappeared.

I asked her what she meant. She brought up the deeper detail the novel /Journey to Sorrow's End/ went into, and then, to my surprise, the orgy.

Why? I asked

Her answer: because it was completely contradictory to the sexual mores Wendy had set up in the previous issues.

Up until issue #17, there was no indication the elves, particularly the Wolfriders and Sunfolk, had orgies. There was no indication the elves joined with anyone except their lifemates after lifemating. Before lifemating, yes. This was even mentioned in an interview Wendy did "in character" as Skywise and Cutter for a 'zine back in the 1980s: there was no sense of shame or impropriety if Foxfur, say, wanted to be with Skywise one night, and someone else the next.

Having multiple lifemates doesn't count.(As Savah said, "though it is not a common practice, others in the village have taken more than one mate!") The implication is still you're supposed to be monogamous with the people to whom you're lifemated. And later, in /JtSE/ Leetah thinks, "And unbreakable alliances tend to limit one's freedom."

Finally, Dewshine's Recognition to Tyldak. The obstacle isn't simply the mutual dislike between the two, it's the expectation that she'll lifemate with him. But if joining with someone other than one's lifemate(s) -- even once -- is acceptable, why was there a problem? Cultural expecations? Possibly. I'd argue (as June did) that part of those cultural expectations was monogamous lifemating.

That changed in issue 17, with no build-up, and very little follow-up reflection from the elves.

Why?

I think Wendy was tired. It was the last leg of the race, and from comments in the newsletters and letters column about having to remind herself that "this(the comic) is fun. I'm having fun.", she just wanted to get it done. On top of that, IIRC she was having problems with her health, too, at that time.

An understandable feeling. But I miss the cake.

Part Two

I'm going to start in the original series, then jump around to the later ones, for reasons that will become clear.


Besides the orgy, June mentioned the Go-Backs and Two-Edge as being part of the lack of cake in the last five issues of the original series. She didn't go into detail as she had with the orgy, as we got talking about again about the desire to just wrap something up and Be Done With It. Since then, however, and especially since writing part one of this essay, I've reread the the last five issues, and I think I have an idea of what she meant.


For June, Two-Edge was a letdown. He wasn't, in the end, the cool, mysterious character Wendy had painted since issue seven. He was just insane.

I can see her argument. It isn't until SaBM and later Shards that we see anything more to Two-Edge than the insane master smith who has, as one wag said in the letter column of issue #20, "one heck of a way of flipping a coin!" Unfortunately, even in Shards (and the brief glimpse of Two-Edge in Jink) he seems to become the maniacal madman whenever the plot needs it, whether it makes sense or not.


As with Two-Edge, no real detail here from June, just the comment that the Go-Backs didn't get the amount of "cake" beneath the "frosting" that the other tribes did. In my recent re-reading, I noticed something that led me to agree with her. With the other tribes, there's some indication in the story, verbal or nonverbal, that the tribe's way of life and philosophy has its good and bad points.

The peace offered by the Sun Village allows Redlance to manifest his plantshaping magic. In issue 6, Cutter says that "Some of you, like Rainsong here, have almost become Sun Folk yourselves!" In issue 8, Nightfall says Leetah has the right to raise the twins according to her own customs. The downside of the Sun Folk's culture becomes clear in the next issue, and is voiced aloud by Leetah later on: the Sun Folk had become too dependent on Leetah's healing, and that dependence had weakened them.

Because of how they're introduced, and Winnowill's machinations afterward, the Gliders are portrayed as being Bad Guys right from the start. Clues that the tribe isn't so one-side are subtle. That they've made a peace (to their advantage, but peace nonetheless) with the local humans the Ho'an G'tay Sho is only briefly touched on, as is the level of comfort and artistry they live with. Even Skywise says, "Blue Mountain /is/ a world of its own -- and it's fantastic!" His statement that Brace, Door and Egg have "become what they do" is wrong was explained in a latter issue's letter column as being the Wolfriders' perspective -- not necessarily the authors' statement.

The Go-Backs don't get anything like this.

Though we're told the Wolfriders "soon discover that they have much in common with their hardy hosts", that's the closest to a positive trait the Go-Backs are given. There's only one acknowledgement from the Wolfriders that their pragmatic, unsentimental view of war is necessary: when Cutter prevents Leetah from healing one of the ambushed trolls.

The brutality of war aside, the Go-Backs aren't given nods for any traits unconnected with fighting. They're adaptable, often in ways the other tribes aren't. They're the one tribe able to breed consistently without Recognition. They've managed to carve out homes in a harsh
climate without the aid of magic. They tan and dye leather, domestitcated elk, learned to work metal enough to make "daggered horns" for their elk. The only thing that comes close to this is Kahvi's question to Clearbrook: "Who knows how good the being is, once this armor, the body, is laid aside?"

In the original series, the Go-Backs got the short end of the stick, I think. In the series to follow, it gets worse. They're made into Wolfriders-sans-wolfblood, "redeemed" by being Two-Spear's Revenge, but with far less brains and collective personality. This idea not only shortchanges the Go-Backs, but makes the idea of removing wolf-blood commonplace, undercutting the horror that was supposed to be in Winnowill's "purification" of Windkin in SaBM. When all's said and done, I think Warp would been better to stick to the original timeline printed in issue #21: the elk-followers who would become the Go-Backs began long before Timmain became a wolf.

And then there's Kahvi. As chief of the Go-Backs, she had the most characterization of the tribe in the original series: the most "cake" out of all them, if you will. Kahvi wasn't my favorite character, but I thought she was an interesting foil to Cutter, Savah and Winnowill alike. Then, in the following series, specifically the horrid _Kahvi_miniseries, her character is sliced, diced, practically turned into Julian fries, and only "redeemed" by acknowledging her wolf-blood. Kathy told me in a conversation once, "That's not the character I fell in love with."

That's not the character I found interesting, either.
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Lunakat

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PostSubject: Re: Elfquest and the Lack of Cake   Wed Dec 07, 2016 4:21 pm

That's interesting. I think the cake was solid and consistent through the entire original quest. The Go Backs had a vastly different culture than the Sun Folk (for very good reasons). That was made clear. And the so did the Wolfriders and Gliders. Elfin societies were shown to be as different from each other as human societies. The question of "one heart and one mind" was overly simplistic for them. Just as it would be for us.

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PostSubject: Re: Elfquest and the Lack of Cake   Wed Dec 07, 2016 7:01 pm

The Go-Backs and the Gliders have always been made out to be the elfin tribes that are 'lacking' in comparison with the Sunfolk and Wolfriders. The Gliders were turned into puppets and all but died out in Siege at Blue Mountain, then the Go-Backs got split in two and banned from the Palace by a power-drunk Rayek. Later on they degenerated even further into thugs without Kahvi there to 'raise them up'. And don't get me started on the Wavedancers and Hidden Ones Spooky Fungus. On their sexuality, I think there were hints of it with Skywise's harem of Sunfolk maidens. Ruffel,Maleen and Vurdah all willing to share. And yeah, Two-Edge was nuttier than a fruitcake, but he was a crafty,tricky maniac who was as dangerous as Winnowill or Guttlekraw, even moreso. Personally I feel the trolls and humans got more shafted in development, especially the trolls who never seemed to develop a culture outside of metalsmithing and greed.
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PostSubject: Re: Elfquest and the Lack of Cake   Thu Dec 08, 2016 1:22 am

That's what can happen when a series goes on too long. The cake gets stale, then thrown out entirely, and a lotta people are left wondering "What happened to the series I fell in love with?"

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PostSubject: Re: Elfquest and the Lack of Cake   Thu Dec 08, 2016 10:59 pm

I think the "missing cake" is mostly missing because of the respective readers expectations. As stated above, Skywise's harem was implicated; the Gliders aren't really fleshed out either (stagnated as the Sun Folk but with a touch more evilness). Of course, Two-Edge is a madman, but since Blue Mountain it was never implied he was anything else.

That doesn't mean there is nothing wrong with EQ or the OQ, but I think it's criticised for the wrong reasons here

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namuhna

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PostSubject: Re: Elfquest and the Lack of Cake   Fri Dec 09, 2016 12:50 pm

I always saw the big orgy as more of a go-back culture thing, definitively not something deeply ingrained all elves in general. Actually, for me, that orgy is part of the "cake" when it comes to how go-backs see life. Nobody but the Go-backs are ever shown to do orgies of that size, it's pretty exclusively them and it's done to celebrate life, a reward earned by those who may lose their life in the coming battles.

During the orgy we also see very clearly that two wolfrider couples prefer only their lifemates, two of them do not participate at all, Cutter sharing Leetah with Rayek is kinda made into a big deal too in some ways, and before all of it Kahvi asked very politely if Leetah shared. The orgy is actually very controlled and respectful, an invite to do something different which some are totally into and others really don't want to be part of, no hard feelings. So as far as I can see it really don't contradict anything regarding elves sexual habits in other tribes at all. Not much different from Sunfolk dancing for joy or wolfriders howling in grief.

And err... I mean the reason Dewshine didn't want to get it on with Tyldak wasn't just mutual dislike and cultural expectations from recogntion and all, tho I'm sure that played a big part , but there's guaranteed children involved and the whole seeing each others soul-thing. Those are pretty big problems. But if we have to consider having sex with others, then Dewshine is actually one of those who prefer to keep to their "heart's desire" in the big orgy so that could very easily still have been one of the problems for her exclusively as well, and the go-back orgy does not negate that.
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PostSubject: Re: Elfquest and the Lack of Cake   Fri Dec 09, 2016 3:04 pm

Not to mention Dewshine was somehow scared of losing her freedom if she consummated Recognition with Tyldak, but I forget how. Maybe the fear was related to identity loss. "I'll be a Wolfrider and I'll bear a Wolfrider's cub, or I'll die!"

Heh. Maybe that's what made the cake go stale. The series is having some identity loss.

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PostSubject: Re: Elfquest and the Lack of Cake   Fri Dec 09, 2016 9:50 pm

I'd agree there are always probably two stories. The first is the one the author wants to tell, with the plot and the characters they are interested in. And sometimes, if the author wants to, they can include allegorical themes to make statement about thier culture or politics. The description of "cake" sounds like that kind of thought out infusing of second meaning, but I really don't think there was that much of that in the original quest. I never got the feeling that it was setting out to make any kind of broader statements about anything. I don't think there ever was any "cake" in that way.

I think the second story that we see in EQ is that of the ideas of the author that have influenced thier story-telling. In the case of EQ it was a project that they worked on for so long that we see how thier own opinions changed from the beginning of the story to the end. They start with a very conservative view of what a relationship was as portrayed in this life-long monogamous mating, but then gradually relationships in the story change as the author's ideas do. That's what I think of as the "cake", and I don't think it disappeared, it's always there as the author grows and learns.

I do think that we see the Wolfriders being very surprized by the orgy, so I don't think it was something they were familiar with, but it was kind of a progression for them from "if we Recognize it will be forever" to "maybe Recognition doesn't have to be forever" to "hey, let's all get naked." And maybe it was the Pini's desire all along to make a statement about relationships and they had to lead the readers to it the same way the Wolfriders did, but I don't think so.

But I probably have a completely different view as I thought the last five issues were the best in the series and the Pini's were really hitting thier stride. I didn't feel it was "let's get this over with" until the Final Quest, when they seem to have a checklist that they are trying to get through as quickly as possible. No cake, no icing. Not even a freaking pop tart.

EDIT: OK, I just realized how silly some of my statements above are. Of course the Pini's didn't make up the story as they went. They would (one assumes) have had it all, or mostly, plotted out before they began. So the progression of Recognition from being a undeniable, permanent bond, which the first five issues hinges on, to something uncoupled from the biologic drive, as we see by the Go-Back's orgy and Nightfall and Redlance's Recognition by choice, was an intentional part of the story. But it makes it even clearer that the cake never disappeared.

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Last edited by Outlier on Tue Dec 13, 2016 10:38 am; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: Elfquest and the Lack of Cake   Tue Dec 13, 2016 7:52 am

I've been thinking about cake abit, and I totally stand by my earlier point that the orgy is a part of it (mmm cake and orgies), but I'm gonna modify it abit. I may not have understood op's point precisely but... The cake of elfquest as far as I can see is openness and sharing and accepting other peoples ways and cultures and coices. The lesson and question that elfquest brings is all about sharing and openness, like Shuna says; humans can't look at something without envy or something or other... Elves are always willing to share, their ideal self is never ever judgmental and they try out whatever falls their way and is appealing to them and learn from other "cultures" with an open mind but never judge eachother if some don't want to.

...Except when they do of course, but the ideal is merging tribes, and those who like their own ways stick to them and those who don't like them are accepted into the ways of the other, and they all accept it, ideally. Some wolfriders stay in the sunvillage and are immediately accepted and some sunvillagers, aroree and go-backs join the wolfriders, Sunstream kinda joins the wavedancers for abit and Moonshade and Skywise become palace-dwellers. All are accepted with open arms.

So for when they do not accept with opennes and non-judgementalness, it's always those who will not accept that others change that are portrayed as the bad guys, while those who may not like it and voice that, such as well mostly strongbow, may be portrayed as difficult but definitively always as part of the good guys on the basis that in the end they do not stop others from making their choices, they just complain about it.

Change is good, but staying the same is good too, Strongbow has been very right about some things after all. But through it all, the true lesson of elfquest is that we can only chose for ourselves and love others enough to let them make their own choices, even when they may be wrong. And the different elven cultures and their ways is very much part of that, dancing, howling, dealing with recognition in different ways, orgies and all.

I would say it's a very nice lesson, and very much a very essential part of all of elfquast and definitively a huge deal in the final quest. I'd say The Final Quest actually goes right into the heart of the cake of elfquest! I'd actually say that the icing is kinda what's lacking right now. The cake is the main point isn't it? And to me that hasn't really changed, but the icing is what makes us want to eat it after all, and the cake just isn't that appealing anymore even if it's the same it's ever been.

(That said tho, imo elfquests lesson and cake is there throughout and it's very sweet but not that solid and obviously not very welll researched and definitively not refined or adapted to real life situations. The ideology incredibly naive imo when considering human history, see also discussions about blackface, but that's a part of a different discussion so I think I'm just gonna stop)
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