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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

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Eerie Ears and Pointless Points
When young I associated pointy ears primarily with Mr Spock - although I see that Bram Stoker describes Dracula's too as being "extremely pointed", and that's reflected in most portrayals (it must admitted that Dracula's ears have been overshadowed by his teeth). The spitefully spiky pine elves who were the most frightening denizens of my youthful Rupert annuals had pointy ears, I suppose, but then everything about them was pointy.

That elves have pointy ears is one of those things everyone knows, and Peter Jackson has probably helped spread the meme further (there's an interesting discussion here about how and whether Tolkien himself intended his elves' ears to be pointed); but where does the idea originate? Certainly you can see examples in the work of Arthur Rackham and Cicely Mary Barker - but what about earlier artists? And is it purely an artistic convention, or does it have literary corroboration?

Would the players have been gluing points to their ears for the first performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream?

The question then would be whether this is a case of classical creatures such as satyrs (ears in tow) "evolving" into elves - Diane Purkiss's basic thesis in Troublesome Creatures, iirc - or whether it's much later artists looking for a way of representing elves and co-opting satyrs (their ears at least) as a model.

I was thinking mostly in terms of artistic representation rather than a direct line of inheritance, so let's assume a combination? I am perhaps unfairly skeptical of taking the first explanation as the total one because it's part of the mythos of Elizabeth Goudge's Linnets and Valerians (1964).

I must go and look at Book 1 of The Faerie Queene, which has both satyrs and elves - though I don't think the latter's ears at least are ever described as pointy. [ETA: Alas, Book I Canto vi is silent on the satyrs' ears.]

Well, this 1639 woodcut is certainly a very satyric Puck.

. . . I don't know if Kipling is the most reliable reference for performance traditions, but we have this mention right in the first paragraph of Puck of Pook's Hill (1906):

Dan was Puck and Nick Bottom, as well as all three Fairies. He wore a pointy-eared cloth cap for Puck, and a paper donkey's head out of a Christmas cracker—but it tore if you were not careful—for Bottom.

and then a few lines later:

In the very spot where Dan had stood as Puck they saw a small, brown, broad-shouldered, pointy-eared person with a snub nose, slanting blue eyes, and a grin that ran right across his freckled face.

Though that's back to the late nineteenth/early twentieth centuries again. [edit] Now I've just got this question in my head. Trying to find photographs of Victorian productions of A Midsummer Night's Dream is harder than I'd have thought. I can find various images relating to Iolanthe, which premiered in 1882. Pointed ears do not seem to be the hallmark of its fairies, although small wings are.

Edited at 2015-02-14 08:06 pm (UTC)

That Puck is very strikingly satyric! And it's a useful reminder that - as someone else mentioned to me - the Devil's also in the pointy-eared mix (which may indeed be where Dracula got his from). I wonder whether there's a distinction to be made though between having animal ears (which tend after all to be pointier than human ones) and having ears that lack fur but are pointy nonetheless? Satyrs and devils (and this Puck) tend towards the former, but later elves the latter.

I'd love to know whether the Chamberlain's Men took the goat-footed road for Puck. I'd simply not taken in that Kipling's was snub-nosed, by the way. That gives him quite a different vibe.

And it's a useful reminder that - as someone else mentioned to me - the Devil's also in the pointy-eared mix (which may indeed be where Dracula got his from).

Yes! All those cloven hooves had to go somewhere.

I wonder whether there's a distinction to be made though between having animal ears (which tend after all to be pointier than human ones) and having ears that lack fur but are pointy nonetheless?

I think so; the former are now much less common in representations of elves or fairies, although they're doing fine in manga, anime, and generalized geek culture. I wonder if that was one of the conventions that changed over during the nineteenth century.

(I suspect Dracula's ears are also pointed because they're animalistic, wolfish. His eyes reflect red, inhumanly.)

I'd love to know whether the Chamberlain's Men took the goat-footed road for Puck.

How much information do we have on the costuming? This is pretty heavily out of my field.

I'd simply not taken in that Kipling's was snub-nosed, by the way. That gives him quite a different vibe.

Much more Panlike, to me.

How much information do we have on the costuming?

I don't think we have much. Henslowe's diary may give us a clue as to props. However, we do have Inigo Jones's sketches for Jonson's masque, Oberon (you'll need to scroll down a bit). No points to such ears as are on display - though I have to add that there are a few wings, apparently more for show than use.

Edited at 2015-02-14 09:55 pm (UTC)

However, we do have Inigo Jones's sketches for Jonson's masque, Oberon (you'll need to scroll down a bit).

Those are incredibly cool.

though I have to add that there are a few wings, apparently more for show than use.

Fair enough. I was blaming the Victorians for the butterfly-winged convention, but maybe they were just lifting it from Cupid and Psyche.

Wings are another can of worms!

Wings are another can of worms!

I'm pretty much blaming the Victorians straight-up for that one.

[edit] The fairies in the Darwin children's "The Fairies of the Mountain" (c. 1860) have wings. I didn't read it for research, but there they were.

Edited at 2015-02-14 09:31 pm (UTC)