I've been wondering about this issue for a while. Don't want to cheat and steal by strictly copying Tolkien's peoples but also having trouble coming up with something original. I like the way Donita K. Paul handled it but again, don't want to populate **my** world with **her** critters. Maybe the thoughts of others will jar something loose up above my neck ...
In my fantasy work, I have used elves and dwarves almost as Tolkein does. Those are their names. There is an expectation of how they will act in the mind of the audience already. Breaking it a little can work well. Break it too much and the audience winds up confused.
With my elves, there is a lot of tension between the wild elves who live in the forest and the settled elves who live in cities. Some of that tension is also religious, as the settled elves are mostly Children of the Son (I hope I don't have to pay Star Trek for that name) while the wild elves (excuse me, Arcadians) are spiritists.
I haven't used dwarves much, but when I do, they will be alchemists and inventors along with miners. I don't want to spoil any surprises, but the dwarvish weapons will turn the tide for the good guys at a major battle.
I also have some new races. Namely, the Sachalin and Fenrin. These two are called "merges" because they came about by mages combining humans/elves with great cats/wolves.
True holiness comes when we loathe sin not when we loathe getting caught.
This is a good topic, myrthman (and welcome to The Anomaly!).
Tolkien's work is so seminal that you virtually can't conceive of a fantasy without elves and dwarves. The elves are always tall and lean with pointed ears, and the dwarves are always short and stout with braided beards and Scottish accents. Oh, and orcs.
The D&D franchise helped perpetrate the permanence of these races, adding halfings (for hobbits) and various half-breeds between these set races.
If you elect to just go with the old expectations of the genre, you (and your readers) are in familiar territory, but you're also being admittedly derivative. You're a copycat. On the other hand, if you invent all new races it sometimes feels like you're trying too hard and readers may not want to work that hard to grasp your new species. They may think, "Why didn't he just go with elves?"
So you're kind of stuck. You could just relax and use the conventions of the genre, rather like using the old standbys in Westerns: the gunslinger, the Sheriff, and school marm, the bandito, etc. Why reinvent the wheel? Or you could do the work of creating something truly original and expect your reader to stick with you.
Or you could, like TSR did, invent hybrids and half-breeds.
If you invent a whole new set of races, I'd recommend you use some kind of overarching logic for how you're doing it. Don't just invent a tall and lean race with pointed ears and call them delves, for instance. Don't do a one-for-one replacement of Tolkien's races. Think strategically about your world.
Are there humans on your world? Are they all pretty much the same? Are there other intelligent species besides humans? If so, how many? What do they look like? Which has traditionally been the dominant species? Do the various species live in harmony? Is there a symbiotic balance between two species (as on Naboo)? Are they all bipedal? Are they all carbon-based?
In other words, if you're going to blaze a new trail, go ahead and be fully creative. Don't just say, "I'm not going to copy Tolkien" but only go so far as to invent a bunch of new races that are essentially Tolkien's but that go by another name or are only cosmetically different. Go ahead and give us both barrels of weird species creativity.
I've kinda been leaning toward going with elves, dwarves, men, etc as envisioned by Tolkien with some twists on their origins. The general idea for the story is a symbolic call to unity for the Church: only united can the three races triumph over their mutual enemies. However, because of history and geography, the races are at odds with each other (historic wars, general attitudes, separate countries with gated borders, etc.). In order to achieve victory, the main characters have to do something (don't want to spoil the surprise!) to get the races together to resist as one unified people.
My idea for the origins of each race necessitates that biologically they are the same; the differences come from different backgrounds through history. Do you think elves, dwarves, and men could "realistically" descend from the same stock? I guess this could work in an all-human world; after all, different cultures IRL have different traits and abilities but we're all human. Definitely something to think about. Thanks for the input thus far.
Post by Divides the Waters on Dec 2, 2007 2:17:47 GMT -5
Newbie here, tossing in my two cents' worth:
I suppose anyone likes the familiarity of elves, dwarves, whatever, but my thinking is that they are useful only insofar as you are sticking to the various mythologies that have built up around those characters. I personally like to blend genres a bit, so my fantasy novel may have races that seem more like Star Wars than Middle Earth. I think that the most interesting stories come from the heart as well as the imagination, and it doesn't just take throwing together old "tried-and-trues" and stirring briskly to create a story. You must start with characters you care about, and a strong plot.
I'd say that the idea of there being variants of human stock is fairly realistic; after all, the "hobbit" skeletons found recently shows that people have come in all sizes and shapes for some time now. But the question becomes, are you using immortal elves (representative of fallen man in Tolkien's work), bearded dwarves (both sexes) who mine in the earth, etc.? If these are all variants of mankind, then the notion of "racism" (in a more literal sense than we have to deal with in our own societies, which are really "nationalities," not "races") becomes even more tangible. I rather like your idea, but I'm wondering if the names might not be a distraction to the universe you're creating. I read a great book series once (The Windows of Heaven, by Kent Powderly), where the author chose to refer to certain animals by different names. I loved his books, but that was one thing I found distracting. If you have the perception of a unicorn firmly in mind, you might find it a little off-putting that he uses it to refer to a certain kind of dinosaur, etc.
My idea for the origins of each race necessitates that biologically they are the same; the differences come from different backgrounds through history. Do you think elves, dwarves, and men could "realistically" descend from the same stock?
Certainly. Let's say that humans are your created species. Then some of them try to steal from the temple, and are punished by being turned into the first dwarves. Or some humans worshiped nature and became elves as punishment. Or the change might be a reward. You might use elves as the created creature even. What about making that a plot point? Each race believes they were the created race and the other two were punished into their shape? You could even have different members share their derivation stories in the narrative. "That's not how it happened! The dwarves came about this way..."
True holiness comes when we loathe sin not when we loathe getting caught.
That would be neat to explore but my idea is a bit different. It involves a handful of seeds given to someone deserving of the honor of choosing where and how to plant them. He plants some here, some there, and some elsewhere. The seeds grow into the first elves, dwarves, and humans but the geography of the various places (coast v. mountains v. plains, etc) affects how the races develop over time into what we recognize now (with a few twists to keep people wondering). The timing of when the seeds were planted affects some things. The proximity to an Edenlike island affects other traits. What do you think?
Post by Divides the Waters on Dec 5, 2007 1:56:40 GMT -5
I think that most "origins" tales like this are best left in the scripture/legend category. That is, relay the information through people looking back, either through verbal or written lore, rather than experiencing it as a reader firsthand in a straightforward historical context. For one thing, it allows the ambiguity of time passing to give the story a little more (or less!) credence. For another, it allows for more interesting dynamics if your characters each have their own version of the creation story (not too unlike what we have to deal with today). The seeds story is great, but I would rather hear it related by a character or read about in a piece of writing within the story itself.
I'm not sure you can get away from calling dwarves and elves just that. Those types of characters were around before Tolkien. He revised and probably gave us our vision of those today, but he did not "invent" the species. Orcs and Hobbits, yes, those are his, but they are still variations of earlier types of beings. What can change, without alienating your audience, is their history, their basic character or their abilities. Maybe your elves aren't quite the upstanding magical creatures that Elrond and his bunch are. Maybe your dwarves are really more like orcs or even trolls. Terry Brooks works a lot with elves and while they are similar to Tolkien's elves, they are not by any means "copies". I think you have many avenues without switching to a totally unknown backstreet.
In my opinion, there are few things more exciting than a completely fresh world with brand new races and landscapes. If you really like something that Tolkien did, you can try to implement some elements without being a complete copycat. However, I like to create my own races, with little to no resemblance to those of others. I personally don't have any trouble keeping track of new races in the books I read, and its always neat to meet characters completely outside of anything you've seen before.
I have read most of Terry Brooks' Shannarrah series, except for the most recent ones. He also mixes in gnomes (see also the Oz books by L Frank Baum) and beneficial trolls (as opposed to Tolkien's adversarial trolls). Lewis used dwarves in Narnia but not elves. He went more for Greek and Roman mythology than Norse and Germanic mythology. I personally think it's good to use a blend of established and new races or species. Use a mix like elves, goblins, and two or three new races you make up completely. Also, don't forget the possibility of merfolk, or some type of flying species-- ground and underground are not the only places people can live. Aquatic and aerial species bring variety. Come up with one or two species that are your own and no one else's, and let them interact with more familiar entities. Degrees of innate magical ability also help to set some races apart from others. Just some thoughts. I am currently working on a non-religious fantasy taking place in a sleepy place much like alpine late medieval Europe, where practically all the humans have come to disbelieve in magic. They get jolted to their senses when a disgruntled civil servant stumbles across a book of magic, and employs a dragon to help him conquer the country. . . . . however, he did not count on the intervention of the fairy folk. . . .
This is true, too. Sara Douglass has her Icarii, bird people and the Avar, a sort of elk or moose like person. Also is Terry Brooks' Magic Kingdom of Landover series he has the comedy relief G'Home Gnomes.
I have a fantasy that I've been working on for a while now and it has a new race of people I call Gimlets. I also have an evil bunch of little somethings that I haven't found a name for yet. I'm looking for something appropriately sniveling and ugly, but haven't come up with it yet.
Part of the beauty of fantasy is that we can expand the races and worlds. We can come up with all sorts of new and incredible things.
I have a race that I have called the Naerie. It's not just faeries with an "N." They're sort of analogous to angels IRL. They just tend to interact with the elves, dwarves, and humans (if I choose to stick with the standards).