The Falmer are blind, corrupted descendants of the ancient Snow Elves that live deep beneath the surface of Skyrim. They are known to stalk and attack intruders in various underground areas, primarily Dwemer ruins. Adventurers can often quickly tell when the Falmer inhabit a place thanks to their odor, which is said to be repulsive. They have been known to come up to the surface to attack the unwary. They are roughly man-sized, but hunched over and "ugly", resembling creatures of goblin-kind more than their own Mer ancestors. They have no noses, only bat-like long slits for nostrils, attributed in some Nordic folklore to Ysgramor cutting their noses off to "tell them apart from other Elves". Their ears are distinctly pointed, their skin pallid, and their eyes lifeless and black.
Much as "High Elf" and "Wood Elf" are interchangeable terms for "Altmer" and "Bosmer" respectively, "Snow Elf" is really just another term for "Falmer". The Snow Elves were a proud and prosperous race of mer who occupied a portion of modern-day Skyrim until they were displaced by the invading Nords. Many of the ancient Snow Elves were betrayed in a deal for asylum they struck with the Dwemer. The Dwemer forced their wards to subsist only on toxic fungi which twisted them into sightless slaves. It's the descendants of these slaves who many of the people of Tamriel have come to know as the Falmer, while their grand ancestors are remembered as Snow Elves. The Falmer were able to adapt to life underground, but have lost the sophistication the Snow Elves exhibited. For garments, they wear only rags and leathers. They live in tents and huts; employ traps to guard their territory, keep chaurus and shellbugs as livestock, and utilize roughly-made weaponry and tools, some even demonstrate an aptitude for magic.
Few know that an unknown number of Snow Elves rejected the Dwemer's deal and went into hiding, or that some of them survived, uncorrupted, into modern times. Knight-Paladin Gelebor of the Chantry of Auri-El, the only known Snow Elf still alive today, embraced the distinction between "Falmer" and "Snow Elf" due to the negative connotations "Falmer" had taken on among travelers over the millennia, but he personally knew his fallen brethren as the Betrayed. Falmer are cited in Skaal legends of Solstheim as "servants of the Adversary" and "evil beings".
The Snow Elves and Nords fought for centuries, from the Late Merethic Era to the early First Era, but the Snow Elves were steadily pushed back by waves of Atmoran reinforcements. The devastating loss of the Snow Elf leader, the Snow Prince, ended the Snow Elves' last, best hope. They had long maintained an uneasy alliance with the Dwemer, whose underground cities remained safe from the Nordic incursion on the surface. And so, faced with extinction, they called upon their kin for help. The Dwemer agreed to provide them a haven, but only at the price of their sight. The Snow Elves who agreed, the Betrayed, were forced to consume only toxic fungi which rendered them blind. Notably, the Nords also took Falmer slaves in the course of their conquest, forcing them to construct the city of Windhelm. During the reign of the Nordic High King Harald (1E 143-221), the last of the Snow Elves (at least, to the Nords' knowledge) were driven from the province's traditional borders.
Over time, the servants of the Dwemer became their slaves. Ancient torture chambers found in Dwemer ruins are suspected to have been used to keep their elven brethren in line. The Betrayed eventually rebelled, leading to the purported War of the Crag which raged underneath Skyrim for decades while the Nords above remained oblivious. This war presumably ended around 1E 700, when the Dwemer race vanished from the face of Nirn. While these Snow Elves are believed to have been rendered blind by the Dwemeri toxin, it's unknown whether this toxin is entirely responsible for transforming the Betrayed into their current state. Some suspect that it took many generations for them to be so thoroughly changed.
With the Dwemer gone, it was just a matter of time before the Falmer rediscovered their old enemies on the surface. Falmer raids to the surface world became common legend, and the Nords grew to blame them for almost every instance of misfortune. Nordic stories speak of these goblin-like creatures rising up from the ground in the dead of night to slaughter cattle, poison crops, attack lonely travelers, steal sleeping babes from their cribs, and spoil root cellars with poisonous slime. While few Nords will admit to fear of any kind, the topic of "snow ghosts" reliably sets any northerner on edge, and they are also called by many misnomers such as "bogles", "riekr-kin" or "clatter-coats". Ysgramor is credited by some Nords for driving the Falmer underground, the Nords see them no better than worms. They utilize tamed chaurus, a poisonous, chitin-covered insect found in the deepest reaches of Skyrim, for many of their needs. According to Gelebor, they have a strong hatred for all but their own race, and enslave the very few they do not kill. By the Second Era, the Falmer had devolved to their modern form and mostly dwelled in the Blackreach cavern system, though some old locals still knew them for their true nature as Falmer.
By the Fourth Era, it had become difficult for people to dismiss the Falmer as a myth, as they had expanded their presence in Skyrim's underground, making sightings much more frequent. Their existence, once treated as superstition, became common knowledge. It is thought that their increasing activity is related to a planned invasion of the surface world.
Other elves are frequently repulsed by the idea that these Falmer were once mer like themselves, and many question whether they are truly all that remain of the legendary Snow Elves. Knight-Paladin Gelebor, the only known answer to that question, held sympathy for the Betrayed, though they ultimately showed no mercy for the Snow Elves at the Chantry. The Falmer swarmed the Chantry in vast numbers, and the hundred or so Snow Elves hiding there were wiped out, leaving Gelebor the only survivor. Nevertheless, he only considered them sad and twisted beings. Gelebor doubted the Dwemeri toxin was enough to cause their transformation, and suspected that other forces may have been at play. While he doubted that they could be truly "cured", he had noticed a rise in their intellect over the ages, and he hoped that they could once again return to the light and the worship of Auri-El. While their intellect may be on the rise, the Falmer have still proved incapable of picking many of the sturdier Dwemer locks.
A frozen Falmer vampire (Skyrim)
- The Betrayed by Engwe Emeloth — Translated from Falmer Text by Calcelmo of Markarth
- The Falmer: A Study by Ursa Uthrax — A study on Falmer, recounting their war with the Dwemer
- Ghosts in the Storm by Adonato Leotelli — Author's tale of his encounter with the Falmer
- Pocket Guide to the Empire, 1st Edition: Skyrim by Imperial Geographical Society
- Staubin's Diary by Staubin — An account of an expedition into Nchuand-Zel
- Stromm's Diary by Stromm — Research notes on an expedition into Nchuzand-Zel
- Events of Skyrim
- Staubin's Diary — Staubin
- Brynjolf's dialogue in the Skyrim quest Blindsighted.
- Monsters of Northern Folklore — Minerva Calo, Imperial Chronicler
- Ghosts in the Storm — Adonato Leotelli
- The Annotated Anuad
- Pocket Guide to the Empire, 1st Edition: Skyrim — Imperial Geographical Society, 2E 864
- Ahzidal's Descent — Halund Greycloak
- Gelebor's dialogue in Dawnguard.
- The Falmer: A Study — Ursa Uthrax
- The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: Prima Official Game Guide — David Hodgson
- The Betrayed — Engwe Emeloth
- Events of Dawnguard
- The Story of Aevar Stone-Singer
- Frontier, Conquest — University of Gwylim Press, 3E 344
- Diary of Faire Agarwen — Faire Agarwen
- Fall of the Snow Prince — Lokheim
- Songs of the Return
- Dwemer Inquiries Vol I — Thelwe Ghelein, Scholar
- Pale Creatures with a Taste for Flesh
- Loading screen in Skyrim