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Related: Do Tolkien's elves have pointy ears? and Why do Vulcans have pointed ears?

I doubt Tolkien is the origin. How far back in literature or mythology does it go?

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    It definitely dates from antiquity. Tolkien's elves are most closely related to the fae in European folklore and the descriptions of those relate heavily to pan and the pagan "woodland" gods and demiurges; Warning - Links are definitely not suitable for work : i2.mirror.co.uk/incoming/article1766565.ece/alternates/s615/…, holeinthedonut.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/…
    – Valorum
    Dec 26, 2014 at 17:16
  • @Richard: This second one is Pan or some faun, which is part goat, so the horns and pointy ears don't really address the elves for me. Dec 26, 2014 at 17:25
  • As I said, the two are very heavily interlinked in European folklore.
    – Valorum
    Dec 26, 2014 at 17:29
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    The Wikipedia article on Pointy Ears dates the association of pointy ears with Elves to 19th century Victorian literature, but the citation it gives looks weak to me.
    – user8719
    Dec 28, 2014 at 16:26
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    Spock had pointy ears because Gene Roddenberry wanted him to be obviously alien. Pointed ears were not his first choice, but the budget constraints and difficulties with prosthetics made point ears the final solution. Feb 21, 2015 at 0:07

4 Answers 4

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With regards to Tolkien elves pointy ears:

It's a tradition that goes back to Victorian and earlier presentations of the faeries. The faeries in these old pictures all had pointy ears, and Tolkien retained that trait; in the old versions of his legendarium, the faeries of England were either degenerated descendants or misguided representations of Elves of Middle-Earth, so there were some traits shared between the two.

Source

As far as vulcans are concerned, this has been answered here :

scifi.stackexchange

Gene Roddenberry wanted a slightly satanic looking character. He's never explained why, but he liked the look.

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This likely has it's roots in mythology and folklore and probably dates back further than we can tell. However, I have found a very good article on the subject here which points to the earliest reference being in 1629 of Puck by Robin Goodfellow and in His Mad Pranks and Merry Jests.

Puck, Robin Goodfellow

Here Puck is more of a Faun than a fairy or elf, however, in 1789 he was represented as baby/toddler with pointy ears by Joshua Reynolds.

Puck, Joshua Reynolds

It goes through the history in more detail than I will here but the basic idea is that it started to become popular in the late 1800's to early 1900's. The referenced article has the following conclusion.

Pointed ears are a quick way of showing that a character is not entirely human. They’re also easy to draw or to create in costumes. Personally, I'd point to Disney's Tinker Bell as well as Rackham's illustrations and Barker's Flower Fairies as the ones who really popularized the modern idea of the fairy. The pointed ears lead back to brownies and hobgoblins like Puck, and through Puck to Greek satyrs.

Where Racham's Fairy Song is from 1908 and Barker's Flower Fairies is from 1923.

Fairy Song, Rackham, 1908
Fairy Song, Rackham, 1908

Flower Fairies of the Spring, Cicely Mary Barker, 1923
Flower Fairies of the Spring, Cicely Mary Barker, 1923

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I'm being completely speculative here, but I'd like to point out that there is a genetic disease called Williams Syndrome that can make human ears pointy. This people can also have very good language and singing, making them kind of like elves.

Of course, this is just an hypothesized origin.

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Katherine Briggs, in her Encyclopedia of Fairies, goes into how fairies tended to have some flaw in their human appearance that betrayed they were not human. Some had pointed ears, others animal feet, or feet on backwards, some tails, some were hollow from behind.

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