Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Men, Elefdar, and Dwerden

I was thinking about the civilized races of Aerde this morning, and about the human and non-human (or quasi-human) races that populate most fantasy stories. Tolkien, of course, established Elves and Dwarves, and to a lesser extent (oddly enough) Hobbits, as the standard races living alongside Men. Many other authors have freely used Elves and Dwarves created in a similar image as those of Tolkien, but fewer have used Hobbits. Aside from Dennis McKiernan's Warrows, and the Halflings of the Dungeons and Dragons games and spin-off novels, I'm not aware of any other novels having used a race like this.

I, myself, have no real interest in Hobbits as a race. I enjoyed The Hobbit, and loved The Lord of the Rings, but the Hobbits, for me, could just as easily have been Men with a particular cultural preference for farming, drinking beer, and smoking. I can't speak to the motivations of other authors, why they would so freely use Elves or Dwarves (but not Hobbits), whose descriptions and racial preferences clearly resemble those established by Tolkien. Perhaps it is that we at least have mention of elves and dwarves in our European myths and literature pre-dating the Middle Earth mythos of Tolkien, thus it feels less like plagiarism. Perhaps, like me, they are simply less interested in that diminutive race than the others.

Whatever the case, I have chosen to only use Elves and Dwarves in my fantasy world, although I did take the liberty of renaming them Elefdar and Dwerden. The names are loosely based on old variants for the same words, from Old Norse and Old English. (Speaking of old languages, I'll have to post about my linguistic influences in the future.)

If you read my stories, and know anything of Tolkien, you will see that I've borrowed much from his works. I'm simply treading a well-worn path taken by many authors before me. In this, I have no real desire to try and be "original", whatever that means. One advantage of using the common tropes of a well-defined genre, is that the reader can quickly understand the basic elements of the story without having to read whatever odd differences I may care to throw in, unless they are truly interested in getting into the details. For many readers, it will be enough that there are Elves and Dwarves, and that they mostly fit the high-fantasy archetypes one would expect. For those who desire to dig deeper, I will do my best to hide a few treasures in among the ordinary devices.

I think the more important aspect of having any races that aren't simply Men, is that the characters of all races be people. If I am successful in creating characters - Elves, Dwarves, or Men - who feel like real people, with all of their quirks, strengths and weaknesses, and loves and hates, then I will be quite satisfied.