Out of all the creatures Skyrim has to offer, possibly the most tragic of any of them is the Falmer. The white tunnel-dwelling monsters, formerly snow elves, lay claim to most of Skyrim’s subterranean territory. They are well known for killing any random traveler who may make the mistake of wandering through one of their many front doors, with most being found through a deep cave or dwarven ruin. This claim also includes BlackReach, the once thriving market where all the dwarven cities connected through a series of tunnels or elevators found on the surface. BlackReach also spans over 50% of Skyrim’s main body underground, making the falmer threat ever more pressing as it allows them to spread without being seen in unknown numbers throughout the entire dwarven ruin road system. Small twisted creatures that appear of a humanoid origin, with pointed ears of an elf, white skin, sharp claws with teeth to match, and weapons made from the shells of the large centipede-like creatures they harvest when the creature molts. They are a sight but not really intimidating at first glance. Upon moving in closer, if sneaking, one can observe them walking the perimeter of their area. Some will be cooking at a fire pit, while others are holed up in little huts they created for shelter. Should they hear you, you finally get a really good look at the creature. You see that instead of eyes, it has scar tissue across the face where they should be. This is where the tragedy lies and why I am so sympathetic to them, even in their hostility.
Once snow elves, they had lived in Skyrim long before any human race but had welcomed the Nords with open arms. It was only after the human migration began expanding (such as Bosmer and Atmoran citizens now moving to the new land) that they began to get wary. The humans started building their own history on the land, claiming it as their ancestral land by divine right of gods with names the elves had never heard of, leading to the age-old path of war between the races. Sadly, the snow elves, not well-known for being a warrior-like society, were no match for the humans who were so well versed at war among their own people. Those who had made study of the elves and their magic offered aid to the human army to help defeat the enemy. The elves were often enslaved and forced to build, even being the constructive force behind such cities as Solitude and Windhelm that the player can still visit today. Those not enslaved were slaughtered and their bodies were left to rot where they fell.
One last attempt was made in the form of a great army. The Snow Prince led the elves, while a survivor of the sacking of Saarthal named Ysgamor led his sons on the human side. It was a monumental moment in the war, ending in the fall of the Snow Prince and the retreat of the elves in defeat. While the younger elves cried out for another battle– more planned and with a better strategy, the elders (who held the final say) would see this as foolhardy. Instead, suggesting that they approach their cousins, the dwarven race of the Dwemer, for refuge. The dwarves accepted on the condition that the elves take a potion to better suit them for the new life underground, without the sun’s light. It was a trick. It is believed that the eyes of the Snow Elves were a conduit of their magic (further supported by the Eyes of the Falmer statue, which you will see throughout the thieves guild storyline). So the dwarves, fearful of their cousins’ ability for magic where they had none, had concocted a potion. Its effects blinded each and everyone, turning them from magical powerhouses to the minor magic-wielding versions we now see in our travels. Life in the tunnels underground twisted their bodies into the snarled, hairless monstrosities we see them as rather than the elves they once were.
The dwarves kept their word and provided refuge but at the cost of everything the proud people had been fighting to keep all along– their culture, magic, dignity, and freedom. They were slaves until the mysterious disappearance of the dwemer as an entire race, leaving them to take over the abandoned underground cities and various tunnels for travel between them. Fan theory has often suggested that the dwemer did not disappear but were overthrown by their elven hostages. The latter erased all traces of them by eating them and using their bones to construct the homes lying along the underground routes. It is a truly remarkable and tragic bit of history with so much text available on the subject, such as Falmer: A Study, which can be found in most locations that sell books randomly, or if you delve into the DawnGuard DLC, the ancient falmer texts, which hold the entire historical account from the snow elves side up until they enter the dwemer tunnels. It can be assumed these books were stopped when they lost their ability to see. Still, it is worth taking the time to appreciate the detail and effort put into the storyline behind these angry, murderous, and somehow still sympathy-worthy enemies.
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