Elf Realm: The Low Road

by Daniel Kirk
Amulet, 2008

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Elf Relm Low Road

Book Description
When Matt and his family move to a new neighborhood, they do not realize that they’ve inadvertently stumbled into the middle of massive upheaval in the fairy world. With the elves’ territory disintegrating and dark factions looking to seize control, apprentice mage Tuava-Li must defend her way of life even when that means cooperating with Matt, a human and a natural enemy, as he may just hold the key to keeping the elf realm from certain destruction.

Reviews of Elf Realm 
Elf Realm is a Fall 2008 Kid’s Indie Next List, “Inspired Recommendations for Kids” and a Book Links 2008 “Best New Books for the Classroom.”

Review from Booklist, Starred Review

The well-known author and illustrator of works like Snow Dude (2004) andLibrary Mouse (2007) ventures into the realm of elves in his first book for older children and younger teens. The Cord, or “low road” traveled by the elves throughout their realm, is failing, resulting in a collapse of the boundaries between human and elfin worlds. Fourteen-year-old Matt, while playing on the site his father is clearing for a housing development, steps on a sharp object. He pulls from his heel a small, bejeweled shoe, which is part of a pair that the elves hold dear and intend to get back at all costs. Matt meets an elf Mage to exchange the shoe for foot-healing medicine, an encounter that leads to further entanglements. The complex, suspense-filled plot pits humans against elves and elves against elves. Highly imaginative, richly described, and filled with a wide cast of memorable characters, this is a thoroughly engaging fantasy that never lags. The story is a bit more sophisticated than Kirk’s accompanying action-filled illustrations, and the human protagonist seems a bit younger that his chronological age. Still, readers will be easily absorbed in the story and will look forward to the second book in the planned trilogy.
— Holly Koelling

Review from School Library Journal
Gr 5-8
Readers fond of elves, fairies, and trolls will enjoy this fantasy feast. When Jim McCormack takes his young daughter, Anna, on an early-morning hunting expedition in the nearby woods, he stumbles on a royal fairy wedding, and, aiming his gun at a deer, he accidentally kills the groom. This precipitates an already smoldering conflict between the human and fairy worlds, exacerbated when Jim’s son grows up and begins cutting down trees to build a development in the fairy woods. When Jim’s grandson, Matt, cuts his foot on an important fairy shoe, the two worlds collide. The action is fast paced, and the fragile line between fairy and human worlds is clearly drawn. Characterizations are well done. Young Anna becomes a kind of human sacrifice, kept prisoner for years by the fairies as punishment for the murder of the fairy prince. Stunning imagery paints a believable sylvan fairy world, eerily spooky and dangerous. Humor in the form of a troll named Agar whose lair is cluttered with hoarded treasures lightens the mood. Large, full-page black-and-white sketches of elves with huge eyes and pointed ears emphasize the haunted, otherworldly atmosphere. After reading this intriguing fantasy, readers will take a careful look around them while walking through the woods.-Quinby Frank, Green Acres School, Rockville, MD

Review from Publishers Weekly 
In his debut novel, picture book author/artist Kirk (Library Mouse) delivers a complicated magical tale, the first installment of a projected trilogy. The veil between the elfin world and the human world has grown thin, and with humans cutting down forests to build houses and subdivisions, the elf community begins to lose its battle to keep its secrets. Two children, Matt and Becky, whose developer father is poised to destroy the trees that protect the elfin city of Alfheim from discovery, stumble upon a long-lost sacred wedding shoe that elfin royalty desperately wants back. The fate of the elves becomes intertwined with that of Becky and Matt, who must decide if they are willing to risk everything to save this magical realm. Without sacrificing plot for message, Kirk offers a subtle critique of the ways humanity mistreats the planet. His illustrations add an otherworldly beauty to what is otherwise a light, playful tale. Ages 10 and up. (Oct.)

Daniel Kirk speaks about Elf Realm
I have three kids, and I have always loved reading to them.
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As they grew to be young teenagers their taste became more sophisticated, and I found myself reading lots of young adult fantasy. I enjoyed the books as much as my children did, and over time, with my imagination sparked, ideas for novels began to appear as if from nowhere. A few years ago, on an autumn road trip across Pennsylvania, I was struck by the sheer number of deer, both living and dead, that I saw along the highway. It seemed so sad that these graceful, delicate animals couldn’t learn to watch out for cars! As the road snaked through the forest, I saw a few slender fawns disappear in the early morning mist. Where were they going, I asked myself, imagining a wonderful fantasy world where deer were safe from humans and their cars. They’re headed for a faerie wedding, came the answer in my head.  And the faeries are arriving on another kind of highway, a kind that humans have never seen. 

That is how this book got its start. My imagination got quite a workout as the story grew and grew, too big and too complex for just one book. And in the end I couldn’t help myself, I had to draw the characters I had invented, because I saw them so clearly in my mind, and wanted to share them with you, too. My book became an illustrated novel, though I hadn’t ever intended to do so much work! All I can say is that a universe came to life in my mind, and the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to get off the highway and take a closer look. I wanted to see for myself what strange and fanciful things were happening in the mist surrounding the hidden world I had first imagined, deep in the Pennsylvania woodlands.

Many people have asked me about where I got the names for the characters and places in Elf Realm. Many of the names come from my studies of Norse mythology. Alfheim, for instance, means “home of the Elves”, and is one of the mythic nine worlds. Sylvan Woods, where Matt makes his home, refers to a mythical deity or spirit of the woods. The Troll Tomtar gets his name from Swedish folklore, and a famous fairy tale annual called Bland Tomtar Och Troll. The Mage (which means witch) Kalevala Van Frier, gets her first name from a Finnish epic poem, and her last name from a 13th century reference to the Elfin sun goddess.

Some of my Elves live in a place called Ljosalfar. This is Old Norse for the place where good Elves, or Seelie Elves, live. The villains in my story are named Dokkalfar, which comes from Nordic sources and means dark Elves, or the Unseelie. King Valdis, appropriately, gets his name from the Teutonic spirit of slaughter, or destruction. Nebiros, Jardaine’s wicked servant, gets his name from a mythical demon.

Not all of my names come from Norse mythology; since the Elves in my story were once able to travel the world in their Cords, I figured they could pick up names from many ancient world cultures, both human and otherwise. The strange flying contraptions used by Macta and his family are called Arvada, which is a form of Arvad, a Hebrew word meaning wandering.  Agar the Troll gets his name from old Hebrew, and means stranger. Pittsburgh, where Matt comes from, is called Argant in my story. This is a variation on the Greek word Argyria, meaning shining and silvery; this refers to the fact that Pittsburgh was once a renowned steel town.

Jal-Maktar, an evil presence in Book Two of Elf Realm, gets his name from a form of the Arabic word Dajjal, referring to a deceiver or imposter. A saga is another word for fortune-teller. A synod is another word for council, or ruling organization. The holy trees, or Adri, get their name for the Sanskrit word for strength, and Bethok, the sacred tree of Alfheim, is the Celtic word for life. Many of the names in Elf Realm may sound strange to our ears, but almost all of them have some reference in ancient mythology.

“The Low Road” is the first book of the trilogy called “Elf Realm”. Book One was published in the fall of 2008. The second volume, “The High Road”, came out in 2009, and the third book, “The Road’s End”, was released in 2010.

Things to think about and do once you have read Elf Realm, The Low Road
Fantasy writers often say that they write about real-life concerns, but that they choose to tackle big emotions and important problems through the lens of fantasy, where an author can address touchy issues in an indirect way.
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I tried to look at several real-life concerns in my book, which you might recognize from your reading:

  1. The clash of cultures. Even though my Faerie characters are not quite human, they act in all-too human ways. Can you think of a few of the emotions that lead the characters in The Low Road to behave in the ways they do, and how their behavior determines the action in the plot? How do the beliefs of the Elves differ from the beliefs of the Humans, and how do these differences create fear and conflict? Our own human world is currently being torn apart by clashing cultures, and people seem to be inherently intolerant toward the beliefs of others. We live in a small world, and we must learn to share our planet. Do you think humans could ever learn to get along with alien species, or humanoid beings like Elves, when we can’t seem to get along with each other?
  2. The intersection of politics and religion. The Elves of Alfheim, Ljosalfar and Helfratheim have different religious beliefs, and the way they behave politically toward other Elfin clans or tribes, and toward Humans, is determined by their belief systems. In our political system we try to separate church and state. If you study the history of Christianity, Judaism and the Muslim faith, you will see how at various times religion and politics acted as one to achieve power and conquest. How do you feel about the separation of politics and religion? How do social and religious hierarchies and beliefs have a place in determining what happens in your family, your neighborhood, and your school?
  3. The relationship of man to his environment. Currently in our world, we lose thousands of species of plants and animals every year. Once a species is extinct, once a rainforest is destroyed, it is gone forever. What would endangered animals tell us if they could talk? I write about Elves and Trolls, who have a close relationship with their environment, as if they are endangered by unconscious and careless human behavior. In this way I try to make the dangers we currently face a little clearer, because the Faerie folk can tell us what is happening as a result of our blindness to our world. It is important to be aware of the footprint we leave on our planet, and that we share this world with many, many others who have the same birthrights that we do.
  4. The impact that our emotions have on our lives. Fear is a big theme in my book: fear of strangers, fear of contamination and germs, fear of our own strong emotions, fear of the future. Almost all of my characters are afraid of something; Matt is afraid of what the Elfin infection will do to his foot, Becky is afraid of keeping Matt’s secrets, Tomtar is afraid of what the Elves want him to do, and how he is so easily swayed by his emotions, Agar the Troll is afraid of losing the past, so he never throws anything away, Asra is afraid of growing up and commitment, and of not knowing her true purpose, Macta is afraid of becoming someone who does not deserve respect and honor. The list goes on and on! Courage is also an important theme: Matt must find the courage to tell the truth, Tuava-Li must find the courage to lead, Tomtar must find the courage to stand up for himself, and Asra must find the courage to choose her own future. Which of these characters can you identify with? What are some of the big emotions that control your life?

                              Copyright 2015 | Daniel Kirk