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 CakePart 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.
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.