Dark Elves or obscure elves are often considered as the evil counterparts of the Light Elves (or High Elves) in many mythologies and fantasy settings. They are often at war with other elves.
In the Celtic language, the Daoi-Sith (or Daoine Sidhe) are "dark elves", while the Du-Sith (or Erdluitle) are "black elves". Both terms are obscure, and the latter seems to have been used as a proper name.
In Norse mythology, Svartálfar ("Swartelves" or "black elves"), sometimes considered synonymous with duergar ("dwarves"), are subterranean creatures who dwell in the world of Svartálfheim. They may be either benevolent or malevolent. The original Svartalfar worked the forges on the lowest level of the world tree. These beings were not considered evil to begin with, and the Black or Dark skin was a result of working at the forge.
The Dökkálfar ("Darkelves") are male ancestral spirits who may protect the people, although some can be menacing, especially when one is rude to them. They are generally light-avoiding, though not necessarily subterranean.
Apart from an ambiguous folktale of uncertain origin involving one Sir Lachlan Mor M'Clean , there are no known surviving myths or stories associated with these creatures in Celtic mythology, so it is impossible to tell whether they were thought to be elf-like, troll-like, or something completely different, or if they were even similar to each other, if they were good, evil, or either, etc.
While the terms exist and were apparently used for something, it is currently impossible to tell exactly what. However, it seems possible that they are related to the Trowe and Drow of Scottish folklore, if not direct precursors.
British Isles folklore
In the Orkney Islands, the Trow or the black elves are similar to the Svartalfar or to Scandinavian trolls or dwarves, and inhabit mines and caves. They may be either good or evil, but the evil variety are more common.
The Drow or the dark elves are the Shetland Islands equivalent of the Trow, but unlike the trow, they are thought of as exclusively evil. They are tiny elves known for their mining and metal-working, not unlike dwarves. A useful way to envision them may be as evil, subterranean counterparts to tiny shoemaker elves.
Inspired largely by the preceding indigenous European folklore, dark elves are a common element, although usually very highly embellished with outside influences and rarely displaying many elements of the ancient folktales that inspired their inclusion, throughout fantasy fiction of many types.
Due at least partly to influence from the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game, and perhaps also to the ever-growing tendency toward synthesis of folklores, it is not uncommon for both Trowes and Drowes, along with Black-elves and Dark-elves, to be pictured as otherwise beautiful but dangerous and sometimes corrupted versions of the Norse Light Elves that have come to replace the tiny fairy-like elves of British folklore as the dominant model. As the image associated with the word "elf" once again became one of tall, slender, human-like creatures of otherworldly beauty, so did the image associated with the Black-elves/Trow and the Dark-elves/Drow.
In Tolkien's Middle-earth, the Moriquendi the Elves of Darkness are, in essence, the Elves that did not join the Great Journey over the sea and behold the light of the Two Trees in Valinor. However, such Dark Elves were not inherently evil, and could be quite noble, if a bit backward. The term "Dark Elf" in Tolkien's writing seems to hold an additional special meaning, as it is given as a special title of Eöl of Nan Elmoth. Eöl wears black armor, carries a black sword, is dark-hearted, and spends a lot of time with Dwarves, underground, in the dark. His title is therefore quite fitting.
It could be argued that the true evil elves of Middle-Earth are the Orcs, since in some editions of Tolkiens writings they were once Elves, but were transformed by torture and sorcery into becoming servants of evil.
Dungeons & Dragons
In the Dungeons & Dragons multiverse, especially in the worlds of Greyhawk, the Forgotten Realms and Eberron, dark elves are called drow. They are dark-skinned and white-haired and are generally, but not exclusively, evil. Many other games and works of mainstream fantasy fiction derive their "dark elves" or "night elves" from the drow of Dungeons & Dragons.
In the Mystara/"Known World" setting, night elves night are a race of subterranean elves who have been mutated via magic.
In the Dragonlance setting, dark elves are not a separate subrace of elves (in fact, the drow of other worlds do not exist on this one). In this setting, "dark elf" is a label given to any elf that is outcast from elven society, typically (although not always) for evil practices.
Record of Lodoss War
Dark elves from the fictional world of Lodoss to Senki are brown-skinned and not necessarily evil, but primarily aligned with the forces of Marmo, the enemies of the story's heroes. These Dark Elves are capable of deep loyalty and love.
As with most metahuman races in the Shadowrun world, many elves are born from the same ethnic groups that normal humans come from, meaning that there are African elves, Indian elves, and Arabic elves, for example. However, the closest thing to the "dark elf" in Shadowrun is the elf metahuman variant subgroup called the Night Ones, most of which come from Europe. The Night Ones have an aversion to sunlight and are different from other elves by possessing a fine fur coat that covers their bodies, indistinguishable from their skin at a distance and usually colored from black, violet, or dark blue. Popular media has dubbed them dark elves, and the group is sometimes stereotyped against as being members of a cult or an "evil" metahuman race. In the in-character comments of a sourcebook, a character derisively calls a group of Night One pirates, "the Muppets", because of their purple fur resembling the Muppet.
In the fictional universes of Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000, the generally evil Dark Elves (known as Dark Eldar in the Warhammer 40,000 universe) do not dwell underground, nor are they dark-skinned.
In the Warhammer universe, they call themselves the Druchii and live under the ruthless fist of the Witch-King Malekith and his sorcerous mother Morathi. The Druchii live in Naggaroth and are cruel raiders with much hatred for all other races; especially their lighter kindred, the High Elves. The Dark Elves were actually the ones responsible for sparking "The War of the Beard", the great war that divided the formerly-friendly Dwarf and High Elves, though only the High Elves know this and the Dwarfs would disbelieve it if they found out. It is implied in the army book that Malekith is Morathi's lover.
In the Warhammer 40,000 universe, the Dark Eldar live in the extra-dimensional city of Commorragh, from which they launch raids upon the rest of the galaxy, to capture slaves to be brought back to Commorragh to amuse the Dark Eldar as playthings or torture victims.
The Warcraft series of computer games, night elves, though not quite the traditional Dark Elf, are a predominantly good ancient race of elves with varying skin colors from pale blues to pale pinks to white. They have glowing eyes, as well as extensive lore. They are remarkable for being influenced by historical pre-Christian Celt, Norse and Hellenic Artemisian culture in design, featuring antlers and so forth, with significantly few Dungeons & Dragons trappings. They live within a matriarchal society, as the result of most male dark elves (the druids having been in hibernation for about 10.000 years. When not dressed for war, Night Elves dress elegantly in Japanese-influenced robes in beautiful, elaborate nature-focused yet permanently nocturnal cities.
The Elder Scrolls
In The Elder Scrolls series of computer RPG, Dark Elves (often referred to as Dunmer) lived generally peacefully with other races. They were the predominant race in Morrowind, their native province, and held many of the highest positions of authority. In addition, much of the mythology surrounding Morrowind revolved around them. They are generally conservative by nature, being very devoted to their pantheon of gods, and are distrustful of "outlanders". Dunmer culture is split between the settled people of the cities and the nomadic Ashlander tribes. Dark can easily be applied to them as "gloomy" or "morbid", for such is their temperament. Dunmer are said to have been punished with their red eyes and dark-bluish skin colour by Azura, one of the most prominent Daedra, either for disobeying her in one of the most crucial moments of their history or for turning to worship the Tribunal, along with the Tribunal killing Nerevar, the savior of the Dunmer. Many Cyrodiil scholars prefer the theory that the bluish-grey skin is an adaptive response to the frequent volcanic eruptions on Vvardenfell.
In truth, the term Dunmer more properly means Cursed Elves than Dark Elves. However, the term Dark Elves is far more complimentary. Although generally civilized, the Dunmer possess many savage and barbaric traits. While the Tribunal maintains a general peace amongst the people, the House Wars amongst the ruling class remain strong in memory. In addition, thanks to the Armistice allowing Morrowind to maintain many of its own laws, it is the only province which practices chattel slavery of the "lesser" races, which the Dunmer consider to be most other races and even some of their own species including Altmer and Bosmer.
The Dark Elf being of the Tier'Dal or Elves have magical abilities which lead to them the classes of the Cleric, Enchanter, Magician, Necromancer, and Wizard. They may also take on the classes of Rogue, Shadow Knight, and Warrior. The deities that they follow are those of evil like their creator Innoruuk, or the god Solusek Ro. They may also swear fealty to other gods like Bristlebane or Rallos Zek.
The Dark Elves are a spawn of Innoruuk, who created them from Tunare’s Elven race. They are quite similar the other forms of Elves throughout Norrath, but tend to lean more toward evil ways: necromancy, death and destruction. The Dark Elves have a skin tone of dark blue and also are very fragile creatures. They reach a height of about five feet with evil running through their blood. The Dark Elves reside in Neriak, which is a large city divided into three sections. They tend to prefer the dark and the underground, and ally themselves with the dimwitted, but strong and black-hearted Ogres and Trolls.
Dark Elves in EverQuest have high agility and intelligence and rely on these attributes more than anything else.
Final Fantasy IV
In the Computer RPG Final Fantasy IV, the Dark Elf holds the Crystal of Earth, which he stole from the peaceful kingdom of Toroia. The player is tasked with retrieving said crystal, a task complicated by the Dark Elf's ability to manipulate magnetic fields — metallic equipment does not work in the cave in which he lives.
In Final Fantasy IV Advanced, the player loses to the Elf when they pick up the Twin Harp from Edward. However, Edward helps the player out by playing his harp, disrupting the magnetic field and enabling the player to equip metal.
Age of Wonders
In the Age of Wonders series of computer strategy games, the story begins with the arrival of humans to the Valley of Wonders and the slaying of the elven leader. This causes the elven race to split into two parts: the light elves (keepers of the light) and the dark elf (the cult of storms). The light elves wish to keep peace with the humans, while the dark elves want to take revenge and destroy all traces of mankind. It is explained that while "the immortal-born elves cannot truly know death of the body" they can still experience death of the spirit, which transforms them into utterly evil and ultimately self-destructive creatures.
The player has to choose in the Role-playing campaign one of the two factions.
Lineage is a Korean MMORPG. Dark elves are introduced in the later expansion packs. In its sequel, Lineage II, the user can choose from five races: Human, Light Elf, Dark Elf, Orc, and Dwarf. Dark elves were once members of the light elves that were banished for practicing dark magic. They have opposing qualities and traits: light elves use white magic and are quick and agile, but lack offensive strength. Dark elves practice dark magic, have high offensive capabailities due to superior mental and physical strength, and are nearly as agile as the light elves. However, dark elves suffer from weak defensive abilities, and are more prone to being stunned. As with every class (except Dwarves), the dark elves are separated into two classes: fighter and mystic, opening several avenues of play style. They worship Shillien, the goddess of Death, and are considered malevolent.
"Sacred" is a classic Hack and Slash RPG by the German company, Ascaron. One of the possible races is Dark Elf.
Mega Man Zero
In Mega Man Zero the Dark Elf was created as the ultimate weapon during the era of Cyber Elf development, towards the end of the Maverick Wars. According to legend, the original X used the power of this Elf to finally destroy Sigma for good, thus ending the years of constant fighting. Following the construction of Neo Arcadia, the Elf was stolen from a laboratory, and used by the evil Dr. Weil to instigate the Elf Wars. X and Zero together stopped Weil and his reploid Omega, and after Zero went in to suspended animation for 100 years, X sealed the Elf away for good using his own body as the seal.
Dark Elves in Arcanum are Elves who believe in the old Elven beliefs, that Elves are superior to all other races. They have also chosen to actively attack humans for their use of technology which interferes with their magic and their destruction of the Elven forests. If the player in the game chooses to turn evil he spends some time working for the Dark Elves. Unlike in most modern fantasy fiction the Dark Elves do not appear physically different from the Light Elves, they can only be recognised by their set of ethics.
Midkemia dark elves - called moredhel - resemble the elves (eledhel) and the glamredhel, the "mad ones", but have dark hair. They're quite warlike because of the path they follow of dark powers. They mostly inhabit the Northlands, and also the continent of Triagia, and are usually only seen in the more populated parts of the world robbing and raiding. Some of the moredhel return to reside with the eledhel in a process of change inwardly and outwardly, called the Returning, but they are often killed by their kin before they reach the home of the elves, Elvandar.
The truth, known only to the elves themselves and few elf-friends, is that the moredhel and eledhel are the one race both of whom were slaves under the Midkemia. When the latter disappeared the field slaves turned their back on their former masters' evil ways and became the eledhel, while the house slaves who had been in closer proximity to their masters sought their power and methods and became the moredhel. The eldar, keepers of lore and of the Valheru's sacred objects, left Midkemia and made their home on the world of Kelewan unbeknowest to anyone, as they kill anyone who tries to enter their forest.
They play a significant role in the novel A Darkness at Sethanon (Riftwar series) and the computer game Betrayal at Krondor.
Might and Magic
In the Ashan continuity of the Might and Magic series, the dark elves are a renegade faction of elves who live in underground dungeon towns of the land of Ygg Chal and worship Malassa, the Dragon of Darkness, while their wood brethren from the kingdom of Irollan worship Sylanna, the Dragon of Earth. While traditionally the two breeds of elves hated each other, the most recent event of Ashan history, Queen Isabel's War, saw the first ever military alliance between the two communities - namely, between Findan of Irollan and Raelag of Ygg Chal.
Famous Dark Elves in fiction
Malus Darkblade is a Dark Elf Noble of evil renown in the Warhammer world - he is possessed by a Daemon called Tz’arkan. His quest to rid himself of this Daemon is legendary. At one point he succeeded although it cost him his own soul. It took many years after that to track down the Daemon again and win his soul back, only to have Tz’arkan imprisoned inside him again.
For now it seems Malus has accepted his fate and has returned to his home of Hag Graef to lead its armies to war. None know what his true intentions are, but he has lost none of his thirst for power.
In battle he rides upon his trusted Cold One Spite and wields the fearsome Warpsword of Khaine. In times of need he can summon the Daemon and allow Tz’arkan to control his actions, by the mechanism that the daemon holds sway while he sleeps and he is in control while awake. To this end, he carries a variety of stimulants and soporifics, so he can fall asleep in combat. This is great risk though, as while posessed he can attack his own troops as well as enemies.
Drizzt Do'Urden is a Drow in the Forgotten Realms fantasy world. Drow are dark elves that live in subterranean caverns deep beneath the surface in the Underdark of Forgotten Realms. Not only does Drizzt refuse to reside in the Underdark, he has renounced the Drow's Spider-Queen Lloth(instead embracing Mielikki, goddess of the forests and rangers), ruined his family and half-destroyed Menzoberranzan, the city of the Drow, and is thus considered a renegade. While most Drow are considered evil and power hungry, Drizzt is benevolent and humble. He is often persecuted for the reputation of his race, but as he does more good deeds, he slowly gains a reputation for himself, allowing him acceptance without prejudice. His preferred weapons are twin scimitars, although he is perfectly capable of using a variety of other weapons he may need to use if the situation arises. His companion is Guenhwyvar, a magical panther whose only way to Drizzt's plane of existence is a small figurine. Drizzt goes about his many adventures with his companions. Bruenor the dwarf, Cattie-Brie the human, Wulfgar the Barbarian, and Regis the halfling
Gorath, Cheiftan of the Ardanien
Gorath is a renegade Dark Elf (Moredhel) from the fantasy world Midkemia. He betrayed his people to travel south across the Teeth of the World (a mountain range which separates the Moredhel from the rest of the world) in order to warn Prince Arutha ConDoin of the coming war in an effort to stop the Moredhel leader, Delekhan, and save his people from utter destruction. His story is portrayed in the video game Betrayal at Krondor and again in the novel based on the computer game, Krondor: The Betrayal. This book is the first novel in The Riftwar Legacy, followed by Krondor: The Assassin, Krondor: The Tear of the Gods, Krondor: The Crawler , and Krondor: The Dark Mage.