How Elfquest made me a better man

Lisa Murakami posted a letter to the Elfquest Facebook Page about sharing Elfquest with her 7-year-old son. Male role-models in media are still grossly lacking (or just gross), and Elfquest’s men make more sense to her.

… he LOVES [the books] just as much as I did. And one thing I’ve noticed about them is that they offer more multi-dimensional male characters than anything else I’m aware of for little boys, even now. Cutter is able to empathize and to be sad, along with being tough and manly. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate having this sort of a fictional role model for my little boy. I have all my old books but I only had the hardcover for 1 and 4 and the others are falling apart, and I have been snatching up the other books in hardcover on Amazon and Ebay and paying top dollar because they are such a treasure. I hope you are able to take great joy in your creation and all that it has meant to so many. Boys and young men need better role models, role models with emotion (but who are also still “manly”) and I’m sure you did a great service to so many by providing some!

This took me back to my own discovery of the books, at about the time Peter Graham famously defined in saying that “the golden age of science fiction is 12.” Elfquest offered me images of myself that still aren’t readily available to young men in pop culture. I grew up in England, less fixed in its gender expectations than America, but where otherness often has prescribed forms of its own, like characters in a play. The world over, escape routes from toxic masculinity tend to demand some level of performance, a self-conscious adoption of counterveiling values, a rejection of the tides.

In Elfquest, though, none of that is present. Guys talk, look, touch, hug and even fight without exhibiting a flicker of machismo. Theirs is an adulthood absent of those anxieties, with nothing much to gain or lose by loving one another. If it’s sometimes coded in all-too-human ways, that’s fine, because it only amplifies the message of Elfquest’s light-hearted mix of rough androgyny and transposed gendering.

To be unburdened of expectations is a subtle but powerful gift. It arms boys against the pressures that soon creep in: the quick-start guides to patriarchy and rape culture offered by consumerism, advertising and social media. For me Elfquest was like someone leaning in and whispering: you don’t have to bother with any of that stuff. You can be what you are. If there’s a dark side to that, it’s that the voice also says: you don’t even have to fight it.

But fighting is fun, so here I am.