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Everyone who has played either Warcraft III or World of Warcraft knows that Night Elves have the magic ability to melt away into the shadows of the night, a power known as shadowmeld. According to the Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos Manual, shadow-melding is a magical ability:

Empowered by the goddess Elune, night elf warriors possess the ability to completely blend in with their surroundings between sunset and sunrise, rendering them invisible to their enemy. This effect, however, can only be achieved while the warriors are standing completely still.

In-game, it is first used by Tyrande Whisperwind's in the Night Elves campaign (Chapter 2: Daughters of the Moon).

My question is: what is the first appearance of Elves capable of shadow-melding as an INHERENT MAGICAL ability in fantasy?

(Note that in Tolkien's works, this ability appears to be one of physical camouflage. I'm only interested in the magical ability to hide)

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    My understanding is that this is general camouflage, not some mystical ability. (same as Hobbits, btw). Is there a reason to assume WoW isn't the same? (never played the latter) – DVK-on-Ahch-To Dec 15 '14 at 20:22
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    I don't have specific date, but I'm pretty sure the answer is Dungeons and Dragons if you mean mystical racial ability for Elves specifically. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Dec 15 '14 at 20:36
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    Why the close votes? I think this is a valid question that is objectively answerable. – Alfredo Hernández Dec 15 '14 at 21:37
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    Second possibilty, because you had a pretty poor wording on what specifically you consider in and out of scope (e.g. you listed Tolkien, which seems to imply normal camourflage and NOT racial ability, as the meat of your question; and you didn't mention Elves in the subject) – DVK-on-Ahch-To Dec 15 '14 at 21:45
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    @AlfredoHernández - I marked to close because the ability to hide in a shadow isn't a magical ability in Tolkien's LOTR, it's merely a function of having a dark cloak and being able to stand still. I've never seen the trope of elves inherently being able to disappear into shadows. – Valorum Dec 15 '14 at 22:05
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Premise for the research

From Wikipedia's article about Elves in fantasy fiction and games, I've compiled a list of possible candidates in which shadow-melding could be an elvish motif of magical nature:

  • Literature
    • The King of Elfland's Daughter (1924).
    • The Broken Sword (1954).
  • Games
    • Dungeons & Dragons.
    • Warhammer.
    • The Elder Scrolls.

Analysis of the Elves' Nature in the different Universes/Lores

Orion watched him go with his bow in his left hand, till he (Oth) disappeared in the wood, like a shadow going to a gathering of shadows and merging amongst its fellows.

The King of Elfland's Daughter, Chapter XI: The Deep of the Woods.

The quote above is the only one that vaguely adresses the shadow-medling matter. Similarly to Tolkien's works, this seems to be a physical camouflage or rather just a figure of speech.

There seems to be no reference at all of any kind of invisibility in the shadows in The Broken Sword.


In Dungeons & Dargons there is an Illusion Spell called Cloak of Shadows that is described as follows:

Your body seems to shift and fade between the material plane and the plane of shadow.

In The Elder Scrolls (pre-Oblivion games, as Oblivion was launched a few years after Warcraft III) there is a similar skill called Chameleon:

This effect lets the target blend into the surroundings so no one can see him.

There also exists Shadow Walk (which is described exactly as D&D's Cloak of Shadows, but I'm not sure if it is featured before Oblivion).

The issue with these abilities (both of magical nature) is that they are class-specific abilities rather than race-specific. Consequently, in these two universes there are no Elves capable of shadow-melding as a general rule.

Final conclusion

The final conclusion is that what I believed to be a trope in fantasy, is no trope whatsoever. Apparently, not only Warcraft III is the first to introduce Elves with the inherent magical ability to merge into the shadows, but it also seems to be the only (please, correct me if I am wrong) Universe in which Elves have this magical feature.

  • I'm no expert in Dungeons & Dragons and The Elder Scrolls; feel free to edit my answer if there is wrong information. I did my best researching the nature of shadow-melding in these universes. – Alfredo Hernández Dec 16 '14 at 13:55
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    I wouldn't call myself an expert in AD&D, just an avid fan & longtime player. I agree with your conclusion - at its core, the ability is an extension of the trope that elves are stealthy but as an inherent racial MAGICAL ability... that seems to be something original to the WarCraft universe. – Omegacron Dec 16 '14 at 20:43

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