Physically, Alfar are somewhat slimmer than humans, with angular, well-chiseled features and pointed ears that vary in length from race to race. Contrary to some tales, male elves can grow facial hair, but most only do so after reaching several centuries of age, and none grow beards as long and thick as that of a man or dwarf.
The Alfar were among the first intelligent races to inhabit Midgard, with Life Elves being most likely the first, followed by the Ljosalfar created by the Vanir, and the Dvergar created by the Aesir. They tended to the gods' creation and helped to beautify it. When the Jötnar created the Chaos Races, the elves began doing battle with them to protect their homeland. The rise of mankind took the Alfar by surprise.
Alfar tend to avoid contact with humans to an even greater degree than dwarves. Many men will pay a high price for exotic and finely-crafted elven jewelry, weapons, and other goods, but the Alfar are reluctant to engage in trade. This is partially because it makes them a target for human raiders, and partially because they consider men unworthy of owning such items. Luckily for the Alfar (and probably the raiders, who would find robbing an elf city far easier said than done), elven settlements are nearly impossible to find, some hidden by magic as well as by nature.
Some tales say that elves are all female. They often appear in Achaean tales as Nymphs, Dryads, and Naiads, perhaps confused with nature spirits because of the defense of the land and use of spiritual magic. These stories may have arisen from the typically beardless, beautiful, long-haired male elves being mistaken for women.
Although dwarves are also immortal, the elves view their immortality differently and it is an integral part of their culture and behavior. All Alfar are immortal, living to extreme ages with little or no physical change. They are not, however, invincible - they can still be killed by most things that would kill a mortal man. Long life may bring them great wisdom, but it can also change their outlook on the world. Time passes more quickly for them, days and weeks slipping rapidly by without a care. Some Alfar will spend months doing virtually nothing, where a human would become agitated and restless. This, coupled with their relatively low sexual drive and slow breeding, means that they have not spread outward over a large territory like humans.
As they grow older, the thoughts of the Alfar tend to grow inward, and they spend more and more time in deep meditation. Eventually, they have been known to "ascend" to the immortal realm of Alfheim, taking their spirits as well as their physical forms into the afterlife. The exact process of this ascension is known only to the elves who have accomplished it. Though it is the closest thing they have to "death from old age," this ascension is voluntary, and is considered a thing to be celebrated rather than mourned.
For a list of the elven races, see Category:Elves.