For those of you who follow me on Twitter (or anywhere, really) you’ve probably heard me gush about ElfQuest at some point or another. While I’m not quite a super-fan, Wendy and Richard Pini’s cult graphic novel series ElfQuest was my first fandom, and in some ways has been my most enduring. So when I realized that 2018 marked the 40th anniversary of the long-running series (just last week, in fact!) I knew I had to write a post about the impact it’s had on my life, and all the love I still carry for Cutter Kinseeker’s epic journey.
Created by Wendy and Richard Pini in the late ’70’s, the basic story goes like this:
Scattered across the primitive World of Two Moons, a race of telepathic elves struggle to survive and coexist. When the Wolfriders–a tribe of hunter-gatherer elves sharing a unique bond with wolves and led by a young chieftain named Cutter–are driven from their forest Holt by hostile humans, they set off to find a new home. But instead, they stumble upon a village of elves known as the Sun Folk, a peaceful, agrarian tribe who tell of the mythical High Ones, the powerful ancestors of all elves. Determined to reunite all the scattered elf tribes, Cutter sets off across the World of Two Moons in search of the legendary Palace of the High Ones.
I came across the series when I was very young–6 years old, maybe 7. My mom got the first volume out of the library for my teenaged brother, who took one look at the lush illustrations and fantastical setting and pronounced it “girly stuff.” Even though I couldn’t read or comprehend much of the dialogue, I spent hours looking at the art and piecing together the story. Later, I obsessively read and reread the graphic novels. My paperback copies of the Original Quest became tattered from over-use, the bindings breaking and the pages falling out. And when I wasn’t reading ElfQuest, I was playing ElfQuest. My younger siblings and I used to stick butter knives in our belts and spend hours climbing trees, pretending to be Wolfriders.
So what makes the series so great? I’m so glad you asked! *clears throat* *pats seat*
First of all, the artwork is incredible. Sometimes delicate and fey, other times brutal and blood-soaked, Wendy Pini’s art is always entrancing. It’s not perfect, of course–the first volume starts out a little rocky art-wise (hey, that’s what first books are for!) and in the latter volumes it took on some questionable ’80’s aesthetic flair, but that just means it’s never static. Fluid but not fickle, the artwork evolves with the elves’ epic journey and reflects the changes the characters themselves undergo.
Moreover, ElfQuest was diverse before it was cool. The series features an incredibly racially varied cast of male, female and arguably non-binary characters, and even though the graphic novels nominally follow Cutter, a male elf chieftain, there is an undeniable thread of feminism threading through the story. Although each of the elf tribes has different social mores, for the most part the female elves are free to be whomever they choose and do whatever they choose. Some are fierce warriors, like Go-Back chief Kahvi, or agile hunters, like Nightfall. Others are peaceful spiritualists, like ancient Savah, or gentle healers, like powerful and beautiful Leetah. They are both vivacious lovers and dedicated mothers; female sexuality is considered a natural and beautiful part of elfin life, never something to be ashamed of.
And finally, ElfQuest explores perhaps its most powerful theme, and one that is so very important in this day and age: racial prejudice and the arbitrary boundaries separating otherwise similar groups. When the elves first arrive on the World of Two Moons, they are labeled as demons by the native humans and savagely persecuted. Due to this treatment, elves deeply mistrust and hate humans. Similarly, a race of earth-dwelling trolls resent the elves for what they see as elitist and arrogant attitudes. But throughout the series the Pinis show us that the things that bind these disparate races as well as the divisions within the races are greater than the things separating them. And ultimately, the greatest evil and threat to the elves arises from within their own ranks, in the form of the corrupting influence of the wicked Winnowill.
The final volume of the Final Quest comes out this year to mark the end of an incredible 40 year journey! Will you be reading the end to Cutter’s quest? I know I will.