Let's go ahead and get to it.
The original draft for this post spends the first thousand words quoting all the information found in the OD&D books as a foundation; but I've since decided NOT to go down that road. Here are the basic takeaways of note (with regard to OD&D elves):
- They are never noted as having an exceptionally long life span; there is no mention of longevity at all in any of the books (nor are there special notes regarding elves under the entries for the potion of longevity or the staff of withering as there are in later editions, like B/X).
- With regard to appearance, there are no notes stating elves have pointed ears or that they are beardless (contrariwise, the illustration labeled "ELF" on page 32 shows an individual with a longer beard than the "DWARF" on page 8). Per Greyhawk, elf skin color ranges from "tan to fair" with "wood elves being the darkest." Height is given as "five or more" leaving open the possibility of rather tall individuals.
- The original books state that "elves are of two general sorts, those who make their homes in woodlands and those who seek the remote meadowlands." No distinction is made between these two types. In the Greyhawk description of the elf class, four types of elves are listed: wood, high elves, meadow elves, and fairies...this last being a term found in the Chainmail fantasy supplement where it was used interchangeably with "elf," much as was done with dwarves/gnomes, goblins/kobolds, and pixies/sprites. The 1E Monster Manual will "clarify" this by stating "faerie" is the term for Grey Elves, even as it removes the term "meadow elves" from the game lexicon. Aquatic elves are added (along with a host of other underwater variant monsters) in the Blackmoor supplement.
- Elves are "not naturally adapted to horseback." While they have the split-move-and-fire ability found in Chainmail (and originally used to model the speed of horse-born archers like Huns, Mongols, etc.), it only applies to elves on foot.
- In the wilderness encounter tables, elves are on the GIANT TYPES sub-list (along with dwarves, gnomes, and treants). It would appear that the "giant class" of monsters (i.e. the enemies against whom rangers receive a special damage bonus) was meant to apply to ANY type of nonhuman humanoid.
It is highly interesting to me that elves, as originally presented in Chainmail, were NEUTRAL in alignment (albeit with "a slight pre-disposition for LAW"). By OD&D, of course, they appear on both the Law and Neutrality lists, but this explains why elven clerics (only available as NPCs) are limited to 6th level of experience...per OD&D no cleric may progress above 6th level unless aligned with either Law or Chaos.
The main inspiration for my elves are Moorcock's Melnibonean fantasy race (Elric and all his kin). I've written before about the general similarities between the Elric books and D&D, and the specific similarities between Melniboneans and the D&D elf. For my campaign world, I am embracing these parallels, although they are not an island or sea-going people (I already have my Numenorean/Valyrian sea king-types in the descendants of Atlantean refugees...and they are all "normal" humans). Instead, elves are a coastal-mountain folk living in the Chilean region of the Andes...though I admit to being tempted to move them farther north.
[the Sea Lords being a notable exception]
These are the elves of Red Earth. They are otherwise as found in the OD&D books.