Did Night Elves really descend from Trolls? A deeper look

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Calevarn
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Did Night Elves really descend from Trolls? A deeper look

Post by Calevarn » Thu Oct 27, 2022 11:01 pm

If you have even a marginal knowledge of the night elves, it is probable you've heard of this tale before.

It's a story as old as the hills, repeated and argued to death and beyond for nearly two decades, one that was effectively ended in 2011, during Cataclysm, when Blizzard published the second volume of World of Warcraft: The Magazine, which in no ambiguous terms clarified that the night elves did in fact descend from the dark trolls, with this lovely drawing:



But Turtle WoW with its wonderful magic takes us back in time to 2004, long before any magazine, so you might be wondering: do the night elves still descend from trolls? The answer is...not quite sure!

With this thread I'll provide two of the most relevant sources valid to Turtle I could find on the argument. The goal of this post is to inform everyone of how someone from back in the day may have come to read this topic, but also to prevent any misconceptions that may be caused by mistakenly confusing new material for the original.

The Official Race Description

Our first entry is all the way back from 2002, and was used as the official race description for night elves on the battle.net website until Cataclysm was released in 2010. This is what anyone who wanted to learn more about night elves first read when opening their page there.
The reclusive Night Elves were the first race to awaken in the World of Warcraft. These shadowy, immortal beings were the first to study magic and let it loose throughout the world nearly ten thousand years before Warcraft I.
(Full text: https://wowpedia.fandom.com/wiki/The_Wo ... ight_Elves)

Point
  • This passage seems to give a pretty exhaustive and definitive answer. The night elves were the first race in the world, so they could not have descended from trolls.
Counter-arguments
  • The wording in the passage may be debatable. 'The first race' could be a confusing expression for some. According to the Warcraft III manual, the night elves did not truly come to be until they found the Well of Eternity, and the Well of Eternity didn't exist until the Ordering of Azeroth, and by the time of the Ordering of Azeroth, Titans and Old Gods and some of their creations already existed. Technically speaking, they would therefore not be the first, unless the text was referring to them being the first among the other playable races.

    However, the manual also states that before finding the Well of Eternity, the night elves existed as a 'tribe of primitive, nocturnal humanoids'. It is unclear what these primitive elves looked like, or if they were elves at all, and which point of their origin 'awakening' refers to. The official race description is from an introductory page intended for new players, the overview is intentionally brief, so many details with other sources may not neatly fit.
  • All other sources, some which will be presented below, never adhere to the categorical wording of this description, casting some doubt over its reliability.
The Troll Compendium

This second entry is from a few years after the first, from about 2006 at the earliest I can find on waybackmachine, but still within the constrains of vanilla.
Little is known about the night elves' precise origins, for their race was formed so long ago that no hard evidence has surfaced to prove or invalidate this theory. [...]

Certainly many trolls do believe that the humanoids who developed into the night elf race were trolls. The theory does have some credibility, for there is at least a superficial physical resemblance between trolls and night elves. Furthermore, the troll race dominated much of ancient Kalimdor--the only continent on Azeroth before the Great Sundering--long before the night elves came into power. [...]

The trolls hated the night elves--a sentiment that persists to this day--and may have wished to marginalize the night elf race and its accomplishments. Also, attributing the night elf race with a troll heritage likely helped the trolls come to terms with their own shocking defeat.

Without additional data, there is little point in debating the merits of this controversial theory. No doubt it will remain a matter of contention for years to come.
(Full text: https://wowpedia.fandom.com/wiki/Troll_ ... t_Elves%3F)

Point
  • This passage is actively encouraging the reader to engage in speculation, unlike the first which provides a straight answer. In other words, Blizzard is telling us one thing, but also inviting us to dispute it and refute definitive answers.
Counter-arguments
  • The Troll Compendium makes two points for its argument:

    1. The night elves look somewhat like the trolls

    2. The trolls say that the night elves descended from them.

    Admittedly, neither of these make a very strong argument. A similar appearance doesn't necessarily suggest anything. After all, humans look somewhat similar to high elves and dwarves, who also look loosely similar to gnomes and monkeys and yeti.

    The second one, as acknowledged by the text itself, could be subject to bias. But beyond that, there is a glaring logical flaw in the fact this is referring to events that happened 10,000 years ago. To put it into perspective, ten thousand years ago most of our ancestors in the real world were still dwelling in caves, it was approximately 5,000 years before the Bronze Age, but we're meant to believe that the trolls somehow preserved this knowledge, as well as their hatred for the night elves, for countless generations.

    This is dubious to say the least, and doesn't follow any credible logic, considering most trolls have lived in tribal societies on the opposite side of the world and nowhere close to the night elves to maintain a feud or keep such an impeccable record of history over a period of time this large.
(A reference of this attitude between the Darkspear and the night elves also appears in-game in Alterac Valley, but it makes as little sense there as it does on the Compendium, for the same reasons)

Conclusion

By the end of this you've seen that the answer to the title's question isn't as clear-cut in Classic as it is on Retail.

Although at least one source gives a clear answer to the question, Blizzard also suggests an alternative, contradictory point of view, without providing a definitive answer, preferring instead to leave it ambiguous for the sake of player speculation.

It is likely that the writers were toying with different ideas and weren't sure themselves.

In any case, I hope I've been able to present the state of affairs as it is relevant to Turtle, so we can all have a better idea of what the story looked like compared to today. smiling_turtle_head
Last edited by Calevarn on Sun Oct 30, 2022 12:19 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Mativh
Posts: 106

Re: Did Night Elves really descend from Trolls? A deeper look

Post by Mativh » Fri Oct 28, 2022 8:57 pm

Good observation. I personally couldn't care less about the retcons done by Activision-Blizzard or anyone else who acquires the copyrights in the future.
Warcraft was made by certain people, and almost all left the company by now.
Activision changed the story, saying that elves are basically trolls whose evolution got accelerated by the well of eternity, they might as well have said that the elves are dwarves who lost their mining pick and were forced to live in the forest subsisting on magical berries that captured moonlight and transformed them into elves, or that elves are descendant of humans that interbred with an alien race that invaded azeroth at one point but died out because they didn't tolerate sunlight.
You get my point.

Turtle WoW is expanding on pre-activision WoWs lore, and so far has been respecting the original mindset and design philosophy of the game, so for me they have more authority than Activision does.

Originally the Night Elves were descendant of the Dark Elves, an enigmatic race. There are bits of lore about it in Darkshore. Dark Elves "awakened" at one point, which is a metaphor for the vague line that is crossed when hominids became human in real life. The Night Elves are considered to be the first intelligent humanoid lifeform, in the way we understand intelligence as a capacity to reason and form abstract thoughts to a greater extend than other animal species.
Warcrafts lore is heavily inspired by J.R.R Tolkien, which is inspired by Norse mythology, where elves are a mysterious ancient wise and fair race, and Warcraft drew on those concepts. Orcs in LotR are elves that got twisted and devolved with dark magic, that's why they have pointy ears. Orcs in Warcraft are a separate race from another planet (a copy of Warhammers orcs) but they preserved the pointy ears, and Trolls are in Warcraft the "orcs" of Azeroth, and a savage race that emerged after the dark elves.
The Night Elves are the oldest race, an ancient civilization, wise and enigmatic (from the point of view of humans).
All that is gold does not glitter, Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither, Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

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Nightowl
Posts: 28

Re: Did Night Elves really descend from Trolls? A deeper look

Post by Nightowl » Sat Oct 29, 2022 10:30 am

Night Elves descended from Drow of D&D. Even thought this is a joke it does also carry truth. Blizzard was never really original as there wasn't a single idea in their setting that was their own. Their strength lied in taking ideas of other and refining them towards mainstream appeal. Night elves was essentially a less edgy Drow without all the sexual backstabby matriarchy that worshipped a fallen Goddess.

As for the Troll>Night Elf conundrum. I personally view it as an obvious homage to the mainstream altar of "Out of Africa" theory. They took a dominant mainstream narrative and converted it into WoW's story in a form of subtle propaganda. No longer were they cool elves who were originally implied to be possibly hailing from Emerald Dream, nay, they were a different breed of troll because that some of us will subconciously accept what they desperately want us to accept. And hey, maybe they're right but I'd like to reserve all the judgement till we're 100% sure, and we really aren't. Recently there have been several discoveries that have moved the origin of humans several thousand years earlier than African Theory. Some have even postulated that humans are far older than 200k years, but these people are sadly silenced by the watchful gatekeepers of discourse.

To make my point more clear, I'd like to introduce a personal anecdote of mine. I've been involved in creative outlets and had the displeasure of coming face to face with a certain type of personality that wishes to push a certain type of narrative. And like implied in parapgraph above, lets just say that there are certain people who wish for you think what they want you to think, and they will stop at nothing by spreading their ideas - games, music, education, entertainment. It is what it is unfortunately. So WoW is not exempt of this reality, and it being THE FACE of MMO gaming for the longest time made it the unfortunate victim.

P.S: To this day I have absolutely no idea how Blizzard managed to get away with the blatant ripoff of Tieflings when they retconned original Draenei. But that's another discussion.

Totuga
Posts: 52

Re: Did Night Elves really descend from Trolls? A deeper look

Post by Totuga » Sat Oct 29, 2022 12:31 pm

I love this post, and the insightful responses.

I used to be awestruck by night elves. At some point, all thag awe was lost. I couldn't see exactly where, now I know: at retcons.

Thank you three for reviving my dreams turtle_in_love

Goof
Posts: 1

Re: Did Night Elves really descend from Trolls? A deeper look

Post by Goof » Sun Nov 13, 2022 8:09 pm

In regards to your points and counter-arguments, you kinda left out the fact that the Troll Compendium has multiple "pages" to it, one of which mentions a timeframe from a definitive PoV:
Troll Compendium: Early Troll Civilization
About 16,000 years ago, trolls lorded over much of ancient Kalimdor, which was the only continent on Azeroth at the time.
Meanwhile, the example you provided from the official race description:
The reclusive Night Elves were the first race to awaken in the World of Warcraft. These shadowy, immortal beings were the first to study magic and let it loose throughout the world nearly ten thousand years before Warcraft I.
Specifically mentions the elves were the first to study magic "nearly ten thousand years ago" and the way it's worded makes it sound like they're both a race that is ~10,000 years old and that the use of magic is also ~10,000 years old (which is subject to personal interpretation of course, the wording could be clearer), however:

Troll Compendium: Other Trolls - Zandalar Tribe
Once part of ancient Kalimdor, Zandalar is the birthplace of troll civilization, and, as such, strictly neutral territory for trolls. When the first Well of Eternity imploded, a hole was punched through Kalimdor. Deep fissures appeared in the continent, and the Zandalari hastily cast strong protective spells to protective their home from destruction. Even so, they could not shield the rest of the continent from widespread upheaval. The ground immediately beyond the Zandalari's shield was drawn underwater when Kalimdor broke into separate landmasses. When at last the Sundering was over, the Zandalari saw that their home had become an island.
This passage describes some incredibly powerful use of magic which clashes with the night elves' racial description, magic that not even the elves at the time could mirror in any part of their vast empire as none of it survived to the degree the Zandalari did, not exactly something you learn in the span of a few years if trolls supposedly came after elves, so the timeline is a bit jank in that regard.

Because of this I've always had the notion that the Zandalari—due to being a civilisation built by primarily scholars and historians—have always had better magic users in general than the Kaldorei did (bar some individual exceptions like Azshara, I'm talking in general, the average mage the respective empire could mobilize), but with the Kaldorei being juiced up by the Well of Eternity there was no chance for anyone to stand against them and thus the Zandalari's superior documentation—attained from having been around for far longer—on magic was of little use. Even pygmies would achieve world domination if they bathed in the Well of Eternity for a few centuries, it's OP.

But nonetheless, if you want a definitive answer for who came first in Turtle WoW-era lore, then it's as simple as looking to the Ask CDev series where Chris Metzen and Alex Afrasiabi answered questions about lore, and in the Ask CDev Answers - Round 2, this question popped up:

Q:
What races were on Azeroth before the coming of the titans?
A:
Besides the elementals, the only known sentient races on Azeroth when the titans' forces arrived to subdue the Old Gods were the trolls, the race known as "faceless ones," and the aqir. Due to the Old Gods' war against the titans, as well as the extensive terraforming that followed the war's conclusion, records of what races existed before even the Old Gods' arrival have likely been lost forever.
There ya go, at one point, trolls officially predated the Titans' arrival on Azeroth as well as the "Ordering of Azeroth" and thus were not a result of the Well of Eternity accelerating evolution as later lore was retconned to with the release of World of Warcraft: Chronicle Volume 1.

And the earliest date of something made by the Old Gods is the contents of the Mosh'Ogg Bounty which appears to have been made by the Old Gods ~150,000 years ago, so I guess the OG trolls started vibing on Azeroth something like 17,000 - 150,000 years ago. :kekw:

So the trolls were officially the only sentient race at one point; no elves, no tauren, etc. And this was according to both Chris Metzen and Alex Afrasiabi, the two original lore writers. Thus the trolls were first—whether night elves descended from them or not.

I personally think either way is cool, I just think the issue with Blizzard's portrayal of elves descending from trolls was done in too quick of a timespan, their modern timeline is very fucky-wucky if I may say so myself. A lot of it feels so rushed and illogical to me.

But I also really enjoy the idea of elves and trolls sharing a common ancestor as opposed to being directly related, thus explaining their many similarities and differences:
  • Perhaps their ancestor species had 4 fingers, explaining why the elves' lifestyle promoted the evolution of five smaller but nimble fingers while the trolls' lifestyle promoted the evolution of three larger but much stronger fingers.
  • Perhaps their ancestral species were long-lived and were able to regenerate fingers and smaller wounds rapidly, which the elves' evolution completely discarded regeneration to maximise their lifespan while trolls did the opposite, discarding an incredibly long lifespan for the ability to instead regenerate entire arms, legs and making decapitation the only safe way to know whether a troll is dead or not rather than just fingers and toes.

Totuga
Posts: 52

Re: Did Night Elves really descend from Trolls? A deeper look

Post by Totuga » Mon Nov 14, 2022 5:54 am

Ask CDdev round 2 happened in 2011 if memory serves.

So they happened after blizzard was bought by Activision.

Turtle wow is based on Blizzard's WoW afaik. Not Tencent's or Microsoft's.

Basing our lore in what two huge retconers, who can sell their endorsement to the highest bidder, won't do us or the lore any favors.

Metzen stayed in blizzard until 2016 or 2018 (can't remember exactly), so by that logic, we should respect the "lore" of every expansion up till that point.

Yes, that includes WoD. The book "war crimes", the time traveling of Garrosh, and Thrall executing his opponent through magic during Mak'gora.

Edit in case it wasn't clear: I'm implying that we should not treat anything made or said by blizzard since TBC's pre-patch as canon.

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Calevarn
Posts: 9

Re: Did Night Elves really descend from Trolls? A deeper look

Post by Calevarn » Mon Nov 14, 2022 12:00 pm

Goof wrote:
Sun Nov 13, 2022 8:09 pm
Specifically mentions the elves were the first to study magic "nearly ten thousand years ago" and the way it's worded makes it sound like they're both a race that is ~10,000 years old and that the use of magic is also ~10,000 years old (which is subject to personal interpretation of course, the wording could be clearer)
I agree with your last point, it is in fact very brief and vague, but if I might elaborate on your interpretation, the Warcraft III manual which precedes the official race description by only a few years, states that both Illidan and Malfurion are 15,032 years old, which would place the origins of the night elves at least several hundred, if not thousands of years before the 15k year mark (Since by then the night elves already had a sprawling Empire as mentioned further on).

These birth years are retconned in the War of the Ancients trilogy that places Illidan, Malfurion and Tyrande all around similar birth years near the 10k year mark, but again night elf civilisation in that period is portrayed as incredibly advanced, so what the official race description is saying, to my own interpretation, is that the night elves let magic loose through the world 10k years ago, rather than them having accomplished everything from their birth, to their rise, to their downfall in the 10k year mark. Which doesn't seem very plausible.

Furthermore, the War of the Ancients trilogy also gives us this tidbit of information:
“Mistress Tyrande, I am Dath'Remar Sunstrider,” the Highborne returned, not with a little pride. “Twentieth generation to serve the throne…”
(The Sundering, page 80)

Now, considering elves live for many thousands of years, 5k at the oldest mentioned (or 2k according to the RPG), the separation between generations would be enormous. By multiplying those years by the number of generations, it would suggest that House Sunstrider, and therefore the night elves, might have existed as far back as 100,000 years ago, serving a throne no less. More conservative estimates considering elves can always die of anything beyond old age could also place that around 60k to 50k or far lower. Or perhaps their generations work differently than we understand, or perhaps Dath'Remar is simply lying or is misinformed on how old his house really is.

Nevertheless, the point is that the story is indicating that the night elves are already really ancient by the time of the Sundering.
Goof wrote:
Sun Nov 13, 2022 8:09 pm
This passage describes some incredibly powerful use of magic which clashes with the night elves' racial description
Perhaps not necessarily. 'Letting magic loose through the world' might not mean that along with the elves, no-one else knew of magic before then. It says they were the first to study it, not the only ones to wield it.

There's also the possibility that the Zandalari used other forms of magic, which the official race description doesn't account for either in its vague language.

Obviously we now know that even troggs can become shamans, and that's its own form of magic, which wouldn't need any sort of elven intervention.

All of this aside, it is clear that the Troll Compendium has absolutely no regard for the continuity established by the official race description or other sources. It is contradictory, whether this is in a deliberate attempt to retcon or a result of miscommunication or inattentiveness like is often the case with Blizzard authors we can't know and perhaps doesn't really matter, but it is not surprising in the event that more contradictions appear.
Goof wrote:
Sun Nov 13, 2022 8:09 pm
But nonetheless, if you want a definitive answer for who came first in Turtle WoW-era lore, then it's as simple as looking to the Ask CDev series where Chris Metzen and Alex Afrasiabi answered questions about lore, and in the Ask CDev Answers - Round 2, this question popped up:
As mentioned by Totuga, I'm afraid you got your dates a little confused. This Ask CDev took place in 2011, that is WAY beyond Turtle WoW-era lore, which ends in 2006, so we can't take this into consideration.

The previous question from this very same Ask CDev, was answered with the response that officially decanonised the RPG, which again happened in 2011 as recorded by wowpedia here. (Scroll down to the post by Bashiok)

A lot of the other questions and answers from that Ask CDev also talk about later lore from WotLK and TBC, so again, definitely not from 2006. You can find the full list here.

Ultimately though, I want to repeat that my goal isn't to say that one source is right and all the other ones are wrong, or that there can only be one correct interpretation. I think we can all admit that the sources we do have on hand tend to often be superficial, vague or inconsistent, leaving us to make heads or tails of a rather messy tangle of information, which might not even have any heads or tails by the end.

So, my aim is for people to be aware that when addressing the question 'where did night elves come from' the answer is perhaps unclear, something up for debate even with the Troll Compendium, rather than the definitive 'they came from dark trolls' as many others seem to get confused with due to later lore.

As long as I achieve that, and we have fun weighing ideas, I'm happy smiling_turtle

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