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.


  1. Personally, and by no means am I a spokesman for the whole of fantasy fans, what most irks me about fantasy races is their cultures.
    Typically, it's 'The Elves talk like this, dress like this, and worship this way', while 'Dwarves talk like that, dress like that, and worship that way', while humans are likewise shoehorned into a medieval culture similar to Europe (unless they're the Evil Humans, in which case they tend towards turbans and scimitars).
    Regardless of race/species, I'm pretty sure culture would be more dictated by location.

    Unless the races segregate themselves to the point that they don't even trade goods with one another, there's no reason why all three races living in Fantasy Greece wouldn't all wear togas and sandals, while those living in Fantasy Norway would bundle up in furs. There may be a few fashion quirks (Dwarven Beard-Clips, Elvish Ear-Caps, ect), but I would think that from living together they'd worship the same gods, dress more or less alike, and eat the same things.

    And don't even get me started on all that Elf-made or Dwarven-forged nonsense.

    1. Hey RH, thanks for stopping by. I agree with much of what you're saying, although I have to admit that my Elves and Dwarves do have something of a mono-culture unto themselves.

      In my mind, the Elves live so long that they tend to change very slowly, so their culture has only been slightly influenced by their interaction with other races. They can also be somewhat proud, even arrogant: to the Elefdar, allowing themselves to be overly influenced by humans would be like a mature adult allowing himself to be overly influenced by a little child. The child might be cute and charming, but the chances of actually being permanently impacted to the point of changing one's lifestyle or behavior are practically zero.

      Dwerden tend to be more open toward external influence by Men, less so by Elefdar. But their largest settlement is in a string of linked subterranean cities, somewhat segregated from the rest of the western world, and any external influence still takes a long time to have a lasting effect.

      The human nations, on the other hand, are all culturally different, and conform in many ways to historical cultures and nations that existed somewhere between the Classical (Greek) Age and the Renaissance of Europe.

      I do not believe any culture is 100% good or evil, so while the bad guys may some day (in a different story) be wearing turbans and wielding scimitars, it won't be because I am abusing a cultural stereotype.