I am flattered the have been invited to participate in the mighty Super-Blog Team-Up Redemption Event. Chris Sheehan of Chris is on Infinite Earths and Cosmic Treadmill fame suggested me as one of the new blogs this year and I am very grateful that he thought this blog was worthy of entry into the SBTU. Please do yourself a favor and check out all the blogs and podcasts participating this year, they will all be linked at the end of this piece.
My brother and I came to the Elfquest the same way many fans did, the Donning Company Trade paperbacks that we bought at Waldenbooks. These were published starting in 1981, and were one of the earliest comic collections ever sold in bookstores. Wendy and Richard Pini are pioneers as comic creators but also in the independent comics business.
Elfquest is a very personal book for me. It is the first independent, as well as the first high fantasy comic I remember reading. Having mostly read superhero, war, and Disney duck comics up until that point. Elfquest is the first comic that I read that was one continuous story and one that contained mature themes and imagery. For all these reasons it is something that I have read, re-read, and loved for most of my life.
For the purposes of this piece I’ll be discussing specific parts of what is commonly referred to as the Original Quest, the story that appeared in the first 20 issues of the comic. This part of the Elfquest saga covers the story of Cutter and the Wolfriders journey from their forest home to Sorrow’s End where they meet the Sunfolk, to Blue Mountain and finally to the First Ones Palace.
The story begins with humans dancing around a fire and a stone pyre adorned with skulls. A long haired human leads the chant and the reader is provided with a brief history lesson. Long ago when man was a bit more primitive and savage there was a terrible storm. As the storm raged an unusual structure appeared in the sky and settled in a wide open area. It was unlike anything man had seen before and looked like a shining castle. When the storm calmed the humans approached the castle and the doors opened.
From inside came several different beings, small winged fairy creatures, short stubby hobbit-like creatures, and tall slender pointy eared creatures. The tall beings approach the humans who react out of fear by smashing the stranger in the head with a club. The rest of the humans attack and all the newcomers flee into the forest. We will eventually learn that this story is the origin of how elves, trolls, and preservers came to this world.
Back in the present two elves are watching the humans. They see that the humans have captured an elf, he’s chained to the stone pyre. These humans still fear the elves and believe them to be demons. As the humans are preparing to sacrifice their captive, Cutter, the chief of the Wolfriders, leads the charge. The elves attack, riding their wolves. Cutter saves Redlance, killing one of the humans in the process. As they leave the human’s camp Cutter threatens the leader, telling him to leave his tribe alone.
Later the elves are back at their forest home called the Holt. They are regrouping and taking care of the hurt Redlance. Cutter wanders off followed by his close friend Skywise. Cutter laments that he didn’t think humans could be killed and believes that something bad will happen soon. Skywise tries to comfort his friend when suddenly a wolf howl alerts the two elves to trouble. Cutter communicates psychically, an ability the elves call “sending”, with his wolf and the rest of the elves. The wolf is warning Cutter that the humans are approaching the Holt.
When the elves meet the angry humans they find that they come bearing torches and are threatening to burn down the elves home. Cutter cannot believe that the humans would do this as the forest is their home as well. The human leader sets the bushes and trees on fire and one of the elves quickly retaliates with his bow and arrow just as Cutter screams for him to stop.
Cutter leads all the elves back to the Holt and tells them to quickly gather whatever supplies they can and decides to lead them to the underground tunnels of the trolls. The trolls are bigger than the elves and neither group likes the other much, but they put up with each other. They do a bit of bartering with each other for goods like meat, leather and weapons. Cutter leads the elves to the troll caverns forcing their way in. Here we are introduced to the troll named Picknose. Cutter forces Picknose and the other trolls at knife point, to lead them into the tunnels.
In the throne room Cutter is polite, sort of, as he tries to convince Greymung, the troll king, to share some of their supplies after all the years of the elves getting meat and leather for the trolls because they don’t venture outside their caves. As Cutter and Greymung argue Skywise stumbles and finds that his metal bracelet sticks to the round rock resting in front of Greymung. Cutter tries to knock him free and finds that his sword sticks to the rock. When they ask Greymung what it is he explains it is sacred and tells the elves to get away from it.
Cutter starts to gather the tribe to decide their next action. Skywise is still mesmerized by the stone. Greymung, fed up, slaps Skywise. This angers Cutter considerably and he lunges at the troll King. Cutter, now furious, he threatens the king. Greymung, trying to save his own neck, tells Picknose to take the elves down the tunnel of golden light so they can find a new forest home. As an apology gift from the king Cutter bashes a chip of stone off the magnetic rock for Skywise. Cutter then gathers the elves and they follow Picknose to the tunnel and their new home.
As the light starts to appear at the end of the tunnel the elves tell Picknose to wait while they venture out to make sure they have not been tricked. The troll is too quick for them though, he shoves the older elf, Treestump, forward and then springs a trap to cause a cave-in. The elves are now stuck at the end of a tunnel somewhere where they have never been, a great desert.
Cutter and the tribe decide they only have one choice and venture out into the desert. They travel at night when it is cooler and sleep during the day trying to manage as best they can but with their supplies dwindling the desert is starting to take its toll on the Wolfriders. Finally the elves come to a rocky area where they can get a little shelter and those that are the worse off can rest. Cutter and Skywise go exploring and on the other side of the rocky cliffs they find a village. And not just any village, a village filled with elves.
Cutter immediately decides that these elves are different, and does not trust them. He says they don’t have wolves, or tree houses, and they live in the sun, just like men. Meanwhile we are introduced to some of the new elves, Leetah and Rayek. Leetah is gathering water when Rayek comes up behind her and questions why she is tormenting him, dragging out her answer to his question about becoming lifemates. Leetah, playful flirting, is interrupted by the sound of howling wolves and cheering raiders.
Cutter and the Wolfriders ride into the village like barbarians. They grab what they want and push the new elves out of their way. Rayek tries to defend his people but Cutter quickly dispatches his wooden spear and gives him a foot to the face. Cutter sees Leetah and their eyes meet in a most unusual way. Cutter snatches Leetah up around the waist and the Wolfriders leave with their spoils as quickly as they came. Rayek leads some of the other elves up the cliffs chasing after the Wolfriders with the hopes of rescuing Leetah. The weak farmers are no match for the cliffs and only Rayek can give chase. Rayek does get up the cliffs only to be captured by the Wolfriders.
Leetah, still Cutter’s prisoner, struggles against him. Cutter however is a bit off after what seemingly happened between him and Leetah when they first saw each other. As Rayek is brought to the group he uses a power the Wolfriders are unfamiliar with to hypnotize Pike. The rest of the elves spring to action and take Rayek down. Cutter tells them to cover his eyes. Rayek struggles and cries out invoking the name of the High Ones. This peaks Cutter’s interest and instead of violently forcing these new elves to his will he talks to them. After the Wolfriders explain what happened to them Leetah takes charge and tells Rayek and the rest of the tribe to come back down to the village and they will discuss everything with her father, their chief, Suntoucher.
After some explanation the Wolfriders are welcomed to the sun dwelling elves village, Sorrow’s End. Leetah demonstrates her healing powers on Redlance. The Wolfriders are introduced to Savah a very wise and old elf, that they believe to be one of the High ones at first. Cutter knows that he and Leetah have recognized each other and are therefore meant to be together. Recognition is a powerful force, almost like love at first sight, but it really is much more than that. It is an awareness by each elf that they are soulmates. As the Wolfriders get acclimated to their new home Cutter begins to pursue Leetah, much to Rayek’s displeasure. It eventually gets to the point where Rayek challenges Cutter.
All the parties gather together and Leetah is asked to make a choice between her long time friend, Rayek, and the elf chief, Cutter. She says that she cannot pick one and cannot deny one. Since no decision can be made Savah tells them the Trial, a series of physical challenges, will determine who will be able to court Leetah, while the loser will have to stop his pursuit.
The first challenge is a test of strength and balance that Cutter wins. For the second challenge Rayek and Cutter must each recover a prized possession, which again Cutter wins. For the third and final challenge each elf has to face their greatest fear. The contest is that they will have to cross the bridge of destiny (how apropo) and touch the sun symbol on the other side. Cutter goes first, but in a couple of very dramatic moments he turns back, too scared to cross. He has failed. Rayek, quite confidently, heads out on the bridge and cannot help but brag how easy it is.
The wind comes up and blows Rayek off the bridge, but he manages to grab the side of the rock. Cutter seeing this and believing no elf should die this way crawls out on the bridge to save Rayek. Cutter pulls him up to safety. As he does Rayek “sends” at Cutter in such a forceful manner that Cutter is frozen and disoriented on the bridge. Rayek does not complete the challenge and goes back to the safe side of the bridge. Skywise threatens him and tells him to go get Cutter but is stopped by Savah. Cutter comes to and realizes where he is and that he can complete the challenge, which he does with a newfound confidence. Finally Cutter has won the right to court Leetah.
Up until this point I’ve gone into quite a bit of detail. The first couple chapters of Elfquest contain many of the elements that will be important throughout the entire story. The history of the original elves, the High ones, and other beings that came to this world in the great palace will become the focus for this story and the series over the next forty years. The loss of the Wolfriders home and search for a new one will be what drives them and is a theme that will be revisited many times.
While Elfquest is filled with numerous and wonderful characters at the heart of the story is Cutter’s journey. So far Cutter has killed a human, that lead to the destruction of the elves forest home. Cutter made the decision to go to the trolls to escape the fire, only to let his anger get the best of him, and that leads to the trolls tricking the elves into being expelled from the tunnels into an unknown desert. After the elves barely survive their desert journey, Cutter, again following his first instinct, leads a raid on the Sunfolk village, kidnapping their healer, and forever putting himself at odds with a very powerful elf, Rayek.
Simply put Cutter is a young, quick tempered elf who in a short time has put his tribe in danger pretty often. He goes with his first instinct and it costs him. He’s a young leader, whose tribe looks up to him and follows him loyally. Despite his best intentions though the Wolfriders are hardly safe when Cutter’s temper and wild side get the best of him.
And now back our story
Seven years have past. Cutter and Leetah have become life partners and have had to two children. Rayek has left the Sunfolk village. The Wolfriders and Sunfolk have learned to live together, each tribe sharing their skills with the other. The elves seem to have made a pretty good life together, but life is never quite that easy.
Savah uses her psychic abilities to search for other elves. One time when she is going through this exercise she “touches” something and gets an ever so slight response. On another occasion the elves home is visited by a weary human family that has somehow survived the desert journey. After some very tense moments Cutter lets the humans leave, much to consternation of Strongbow, a very angry elf who only communicates via the psychic sending ability.
After the visit from the human family Cutter is convinced that if one human family can find them then more will follow. After talking with Savah he comes to believe there may be other elves out in the world. He decides that he must leave his home, Leetah, and his children in order to find a new home for the elves where humans will never find them. Thus begins Cutter’s quest!
Cutter is joined by his constant companion Skywise. The first stop on their quest takes them back across the desert to the giant wall they first entered the desert from. They find another cave that leads them back to the trolls tunnels and throne room which have been abandoned. Eventually they make their way back to their old forest to find it has barely started to recover. Here they are taken prisoner by the crafty troll Picknose. While they are Picknose’s prisoners and servants Cutter and Skywise learn that there is another kingdom of trolls that live off in the mountains.
These mountain trolls are vicious, more violent trolls than Picknose’s group. They invaded Graymung’s kingdom, killed the king, and took the rest of the trolls prisoner. Only Picknose, his female companion and her mother were able to get away. Picknose also tells Cutter and Skywise about the master smith, half troll, half elf, named Two-edge. He tells them that Two-edge has a fabulous treasure, the key of which is in the hilt of Cutter’s sword. All of this, the fact that there are other trolls, and Two-edge’s treasure, re-enforces Cutter’s belief that there may be more elves out in the world.
Cutter and Skywise eventually free themselves from Picknose and continue on their quest. They meet a human couple that doesn’t fear them, but instead worships them, believing elves to be wise, benevolent creatures. This couple, having been ostracized from their tribe just want to return to their home. Cutter and Skywise agree to help them do this. This will eventually bring them to the Forbidden Grove and the Blue Mountain. It is here that they will meet a new tribe of elves and the fairy like creatures, the preservers.
While Cutter and Skywise are off having their adventures all is not well at home. Savah went out on one of her psychic journeys and did not return. Just before this happened she said that there was evil out there and it was something that Cutter should never find. With Savah catatonic and no more details about Cutter, Leetah, her children, and most of the Wolfriders decide to try and find Cutter.
Cutter is reunited with Leetah and his children when he frees them from the preservers cocoons, only to learn that the rest of the Wolfriders are prisoners in the Blue mountain. Cutter, Skywise, Leetah, the children and one the preservers, Petalwing, set off to find the Wolfriders. They meet Winnowill, a cruel and powerful elf who is keeping the Wolfriders as slaves and prisoners. They meet elves that can fly and ride giant eagles. And finally they meet Lord Voll, a very wise and old elf, that believes they are a dying race because there are no elf children. That is all true until he meets Cutter’s children, the only elf offspring he has known in hundreds of years.
Cutter and the Wolfriders eventually work out their differences with the elves of Blue Mountain and become their guests. Cutter believes that the Wolfriders are safe in Blue Mountain. Cutter and the Wolfriders learn much more about their history from Winnowill and Lord Voll. They learn that elves, trolls, and the preservers all came to this world from the stars together, in a palace that lands on a mountain. The rest of the story we already know, they leave the palace and are attacked and killed by humans. The remaining elves, trolls, and preservers scatter trying to find a home on this new world. They also learn that the first chief of the Wolfriders was the offspring of a wolf and one of the High ones who could shape shift.
This will all eventually blow up in Cutter’s face as Winnowill will kidnap his son and have the Blue mountain elves attack the Wolfriders when they feel the safest. The Wolfriders defeat Winnowill and rescue Cutter’s son. After all that has happened to the Wolfriders Cutter decides that the best thing for them is to return to the forest instead of pursuing the quest for the palace of the High ones, more elves, and some place that humans will never find them. Things don’t Cutter’s way, as usual, and when Lord Voll asks to take the Wolfriders for one last flight before they leave, he kidnaps them. He and his eagle riding elves fly for a long time, with the Wolfriders giving chase on the ground. They are headed to where he believes the high ones palace is.
Trolls attack the flying elves and kill Lord Voll and his eagle as they approach the mountain that is their destination. There is a battle and the Wolfriders are saved by another tribe of mountain elves. This new tribe of elves take the Wolfriders back to their home to give them shelter and heal their wounded. Once everyone is safe an old friend makes his presence known, and Rayek reveals himself. Rayek tells the tale of his journey. As Cutter and the other Wolfriders recover they find that they indeed are very close to where the palace of the High ones is. The only problem now is the mountain Trolls lie between them and their ancestral home.
The finale of the story features the Wolfriders, Rayek, and band of Trolls lead by Picknose all working together to defeat the mountain trolls and finally get to the High ones palace. We finally meet Two-edge and see what his treasure is. We learn that Leetah cannot heal all wounds. Cutter and Rayek, once bitter enemies, will work together towards their common goal. Cutter will guide the elves to victory and safety. They learn even more of their history as the enter the palace of the High ones. Feeling safe and empowered Cutter leads the elves back to the forest, presumably ready for their next adventure. It is a wonderful chapter and instead of going into all the details I would encourage you to read for yourself.
Elfquest, the original quest, is a wonderful fantasy story and a beautiful work of art. It is an extremely important independent comic. It is the story of heroes, tragedy, and triumph. Simply put it is just an amazing story that I love very much.
Cutter, the hero, continually leads his tribe into and out of danger. He makes poor decisions and is continually having to fix problems he might have been able to avoid had he not been so headstrong and impulsive. He kills a human which in turn angers the humans enough for them to burn down the forest they all live in. He leads his people to the trolls who send them out into a desert and their doom. He invades another elf village and acts like a barbarian. He continues to put his trust in those who will end up betraying him. In the end and through all the adversity he leads the Wolfriders to their ancestral home and safety, finally redeeming himself.
I want to thank you for joining me for this tale of adventure and redemption. I also want to thank the Super Blog Team Up team for inviting me to participate. Please visit the rest of the team sites, read and listen to their offerings, you won’t be sorry. They are all wicked awesome blogs and podcasts that are worth your time to visit and explore.
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The Unspoken Decade: What If V2 #46 and 47.
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